It’s been over a week since I’ve run 26.2 magical (or not so) miles at the Walt Disney World Marathon. I’ve got lots of thoughts surrounding this race. Feel free to keep reading to learn what they all are. But reader beware: it’s lengthy.
If you’ve run with me at all in the last year, then you’ve listened to my gripes about how I had zero exceptions for this race. Here’s why:
- Baby #2 (whom I’m still nursing) turned one the weekend of the race. That’s barely enough time for my abs to come back together, let alone run a marathon properly.
- While my husband and I (but mostly my husband) taking on extra jobs has afforded me the opportunity to “stay home” to raise these kids, it hasn’t given me time to train the way one SHOULD train to run a marathon- the way I coach my runners to run marathons.
- I am not a marathoner. This isn’t the Olympics, folks. I’ve run a few of them. I am still not a marathoner. I’ll be sticking with shorter, faster races from now on, thanks.
- My knee. There is something up with it and it needs to be fixed. That is all on that for now.
Then WHY in the world did I run this thing in the first place? Because cancer sucks. And it doesn’t stop, so neither will I. Combined, Jeff and I raised over $5,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma and American Cancer Societies in this one event alone. During this cycle, I hit the milestone of $20,000 over the last 6 years raised for blood cancer research. If that helps even one family somewhere down the road, then bearing this burden has been worth it. So thank you for supporting us, whether financially with your generous donations, or just listening to my negative rants…or both. We couldn’t have done it without you!
With minimal training and no real-expectations, my race plan was to run a strong first half, then re-assess and go from there. I’d planned to cross the finish line on my own two feet at the very least. Though my overall feeling about the race was that it was a disaster, my plan was successful. Let’s recap the day:
1:50 am: Baby wakes up. Mental head-slap, silent groan. Feed baby, lay down for 10 more minutes.
2:15 am: Alarm goes off. Make coffee, eat oatmeal, pee, get dressed, wet hair, drink coffee, pee, etc.
2:45am: Leave Treehouse Villa to catch bus to Saratoga Springs.
3:10 am: Hop on bus to Epcot (roughly 6 miles).
4:10 am: Get off bus at Epcot. Re-read those times. This day was not off to a great start. At least there were no lines at the porta-potties. I pee again.
4:20 am: Hit Team in Training tent to see the lovely, Laura G., drop bags, go pee. Then we continued our trek to the starting line.
4:45 am: Pee again in the porta-potties at the corral…which was 2 miles from the bus. I clocked it.
So, to review, while you were sleeping soundly last Sunday morning, I had already fed a baby, been on 2 buses, one of which I sat on for an hour, walked 2 miles, and peed 5 times- all before 5am. And I still had a marathon to run. I haven’t even described the weather yet…
5:00 am: The race was supposed to start. It’s 81 degrees with 95% humidity. I can’t breathe. I feel like there’s an elephant on my chest. Anxiety? Barometric pressure? More pee? I don’t know. All anyone could talk about in the weeks leading up to the race was how we should be prepared w/ a dozen layers b/c “40 degrees is cold and it’s January, blah blah blah.” LIES! It was freakin gross out. And the start being delayed by 25 minutes didn’t help…
5:25 am: I finally see some fireworks. Let’s gooooo!
I’d had some pain under my knee caps during my 18 and 20 milers a few weeks back that I was nervous about (an indirect result of having 2 babies in the last 3 years), but felt strong going through the first batch of miles. From here, I’ll go to a mile-by-mile timeline as I take you on my journey to the finish line.
Miles 1- 8:
The first 5 miles were just loops around the outside of Epcot. Snoozefest…until mile 4-ish where my wet, messy bun fell out. I had 2 industrial-strength hair ties in b/c that’s what it takes to hold up this heavy mess. I pulled off to the side to put it back up but found only ONE TIE around my wrist Potential catastrophe. Holding my hair on top of my head with one hand, I got close to the ground and after a momentary panic, I found the missing tie. Hair went back up; crisis averted. As I got back on course, I hear a bunch of people yelling, “Already?” “No, don’t come back, it’ll only get worse!”…Uhhh…were they talking to me?! They were! THEY THOUGHT I WAS BARFING! Lol. Different kind of crisis, folks. But one of them struck up a conversation. Her name was Holly (that’s my niece’s name!) and she was a total doppelganger of my friend, Mary (who is also a runner and a Disney fan and I wish she were there with us). Holly was an instant buddy with whom I covered the next 4 super-sweaty miles with relatively quickly. I left her around mile 8 when she stopped to wait in line for a photo with someone I don’t even recall. I might have said, “Goodbye Mary.” Oops.
I felt okay. My knee didn’t bother me (yet) and though it was humid as heck, the temperature actually dropped a little. Just before the transportation and ticket center, I saw Mater and Lightening McQueen. There was no line. At all. So I popped in for a photo, figuring Georgie would get a kick out of it (big Cars fans over here!). As soon as I stopped, though, I realized how soaking wet my shirt was and how the humidity was affecting my body’s ability to cool itself down. I decided I’d stop for as many pictures as I could…and take in fluids at every water stop, which runDisney added extras of due to the weather. I was also set on riding Everest once I got to Animal Kingdom, which sat around mile 17 or so- when else would I have an opportunity to do something like that!? I hoped I wouldn’t ACTUALLY barf…But more on that later. I picked up the pace going downhill under one of the world-famous water bridges as the sun was coming up and ran into Laura G. on the other side, with a whole Team in Training cheer station. That put a even more pep in my step as I approached the happiest place on earth. By now, I was sitting pretty around mile 10.
Turning down Main Street USA was kind of awesome. Goosebumps, even. Though, I couldn’t tell if they were from the nostalgia or a touch of heat exhaustion. So I slowed down a little to take it all in and save myself from fainting before I hit the Mad Tea Party. Parts of the course here were SO NARROW with a million sharp turns that it was almost uncomfortable. I felt so crowded that I couldn’t even enjoy my surroundings. I stopped at a row of porta-potties as we exited the park backstage near Splash Mountain. (Side note: I did not like all of the backstage areas we had to run through. I don’t think Walt would have approved, either. I offer no solution. Just didn’t like it.)… My watch read 11.6. Stopping to pee was my downfall.
As I stood up from my crouching hover inside the porta-potty, I knew my best miles were behind me. Something was funky with my knee. A different kind of funky than I felt on my last long training runs, though. I now felt a ripping pain along the outside of my right knee and saw a bruise forming where the IT band inserts. Weird. I haven’t had IT band issues in a decade. As I made my way back to the course, the pain would not allow me to keep the same pace I’d been going. Luckily, there were distractions here to interrupt my running, like water stops, tables with Biofreeze and wild turkeys (What? Noooo!) in front of Shades of Green. As I watched the turkeys curiously (yes, TURKEYS), I thought of my friend Erik (Mary’s husband, bigger Disney nerd than I), who is in the military and stays at SOG often. Again, I curse the fact that they couldn’t join us on this trip. When I saw the 13.1 flag, marking the halfway point in the race, I was satisfied with how I’d run up to that point and decided to convert to a 4:1 run/ walk.
My running was still pretty quick for the next few miles and the walking portion gave my knee enough rest to sustain the pace. Out on the highway, though, it was hot. And the pain was increasing. I was not a happy camper by the time I entered the Animal Kingdom. My saving grace was the notion of riding Everest in the middle of a marathon. I was still doing a 4:1 when I approached the Yeti-filled mountain. I saw a few people veer off and head to an open bar for a drink. My chuckle quickly turned into a low groan when I saw that the ride WAS NOT OPEN YET! Wind out of my sails. I wished I’d had cash on me to go back and grab a drink at the bar! On one of my walking breaks, I got distracted looking around (angrily) and must have somehow veered off course, because by the time we wound our way back out of AK, my shoes were full of sand. Um, what?! It was so annoying that at mile 18.5, I sat down, took my shoes and socks off (not the first time I’ve done so in the middle of a marathon), and brushed them clear of the sand and dirt. Here is where I mailed it in. I was in pain, I was hot, I had to pee again, and I was angry I didn’t get to go on a ride (what am I, like FIVE?!). I decided to walk a little extra to see if I could find Jeff, who was a few corrals behind me, making his way into the park. It took longer than I’d expected, but I saw him. He wasn’t looking pretty, either. The rest of my race was “run” with the purpose of letting him catch up to me so we could cross the finish line together. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t work).
My 4:1 run/walk had completely fallen apart by now. I ran as much as I could but walked more than I ran. At all intersecting points, I stopped and waited a little while for a Jeff that never showed up. Coach Les from Team in Training found me near Blizzard Beach and dragged me along for a few miles of a 1:1 run/walk with a pair of nice girls from another chapter. It sounded like nobody was having a great day, but I was grateful for the friendly face. At another intersection around mile 22, I could see oncoming runners and stopped one last time. I was confident something was wrong when Jeff was nowhere to be found and multiple pace groups he was previously in front of had gone by. But I had a finish line to cross and only 4ish miles to go, so on I went. He’d cross it too, eventually.
Enter zombie-ville, because I felt like the walking dead going into the Studios…but everyone around me looked the same-if not worse. There was plenty of water and medic tents every mile or 2. I was drinking a lot and my fueling was totally on point, but I was worried. Worried I was going to pee my pants. Worried I was going to poison the baby I’m still nursing with the gallons of BioFreeze I’ve been slathering on my knee, absorbing into my bloodstream. Worried my boobs were going to explode, being an hour (or more) behind schedule. Oddly, I was too delirious to be worried about the heat. In hindsight, it probably was affecting me more than I recall because I don’t even remember running through some of the parks. I just remember feeling like someone had a blow torch to my face (which was covered w/ a visor and sunglasses) and being thankful I bought those little packets of sunblock on Amazon to stash in my pockets! I’m sure I peed again, but I couldn’t tell you where or when. I walked an awful lot in those last few miles, really only running when I saw photographers. I even debated walking across the finish line, but my ego got the better of me. I crossed the finish line in a trot, wanting nothing more than to step right onto a bus to take me home. Instead, I downed a bottle of warm Powerade, had my knee wrapped in ice by a medic and found that a wet towel had been placed around my neck (the medal was in my hand, too heavy to wear). I hobbled over to my team tent and ate all the cookies as the ice melted, soaking my socks and shoes. It actually felt good.
The take away:
After the race, I thought to myself, again, “This was a dumb idea.” It’s a sentiment I’d muttered hundreds of times over the last 12 months. It was not my best moment as a runner. Maybe my worst, even. But there isn’t anything I regret about how the race played out under the circumstances:
Do I wish I’d trained better? Of course. But any amount of training in 25-50 degree weather wouldn’t have helped on a day like last Sunday in Florida. I thought of Roberta Groner- a nurse and mother from NJ who placed 6th in the World Marathon Championship in Doha, Qatar in 90+ degrees a few months ago. I wished I’d remembered her ice-in-a-bandana headband trick for this race.
Do I wish my knee didn’t mysteriously blow up? Of course. I have other goals on my list this year that require my legs to function properly, so it will need to be taken care of asap. The good news is, it didn’t hurt while walking. Other good news regarding potential problems I’d anticipated: I did not actually pee (or poop) myself, my wonky hip and my chronically bad foot were both fine. I was well hydrated before and during the race and my fueling strategy worked well. Small victories.
I have no idea what I actually would have been capable of if there were ideal circumstances on race day. That’s the unfortunate risk you take when you roll the marathon dice. But I don’t regret slowing down, or taking pictures, or waiting for Jeff. I’m glad I have those pictures for my kids to see and giggle at. If Jeff had actually caught up to me, crossing the finish line together would have been a fun memory (turns out, by the way, he spent some time in a few medic tents with heat exhaustion. But he’s got that medal, just like everyone else who made it to the end that day, regardless of how long it took them to get there). I’m also proud of the fact that we had a greater cause to run for than just ourselves. When you run for a charity, you’re running for the people who will one day benefit from the money you’ve helped raise. Go Team!
Special thanks to my parents, bother and sister-in-law, for taking care of Georgie and Johnny while we ran. This race was a good excuse to travel as an extended family again. However… I don’t see another runDisney event nor a full marathon in the near future. At least not while the kids are little. I have more important things to do with my time than run for 4 hours on a Sunday. I respect other mothers who make the choice to do it, but my priorities at this stage of life are quite different. Instead, I’ll be focusing on teaching my kids the importance of staying active and healthy by keeping them involved in my shenanigans, fixing whatever imbalances are causing this knee pain, and training for shorter races, like the Rutgers 8K, the inaugural Rock-n- Roll AC half, a Spartan Sprint, and a spattering of local 5Ks between now and the summer.
If you’ve run any runDisney events or had a crap marathon experience, share your thoughts in the comments! I’d love to hear what your goals are for the spring road racing season, too!