April 26, 2016

Princess Half Marathon Race Recap

I'm finally sitting down to write my long-overdue race recap of Disney's Princess Half Marathon.  While I'm usually late in writing my recaps these days (my poor, neglected blog), this is different. I've delayed writing it not because I've been busy  (although I am) but because I really did not like this race. I suffered too much.

I need to backtrack first.  I really did not have any intention of running another Disney race. I had done two at Disneyland (the Disneyland Half Marathon in 2010 and the Tinker Bell Half Marathon in 2013).  While I enjoyed both, I had vowed to never run another Disney race.  For me, they are WAY overpriced, and getting up so early (usually at 2:30, since their races start before it gets light in order to have the course clear by the time the parks open) is dreadful. I mean, I am used to getting up early for races, but 2:30 is ridiculous.  Plus, while it's fun to run in the parks, for the most part the course is NOT in the parks.  For example, most of the races at Disneyland (in California) spend about 3 miles in the parks, while the other 10 miles are along the not-so-exciting streets of Anaheim.  So my attitude has been "been there; run that" and I decided Disney was off my list for future races.

Except....except for the fact that my family had booked a vacation to Walt Disney World, in Florida, during our ski week holiday in February.  (I need to write a whole post on our fabulous Disney World experience).  And, as it turned out, the Princess Half Marathon was to be run on the last day of our week there.  Since I have a goal to run a half marathon in every state, and hadn't run in Florida yet, I signed up. I mean, I would already be there, right? I hear this race sells out pretty instantaneously, and was actually on the road traveling back from my Vineman 70.3 Half Ironman when registration opened, so we had to make sure I had access to a computer while on the trip.  Luckily, I was able to register (I didn't even want to try for the adjunctive 10k the day before; I didn't care about their Glass Slipper Challenge) and was all set. (For irony, I will also be running in the Tinker Bell Half Marathon again in a few week; I decided that since I was doing a race at WDW I might as well earn my Coast to Coast medal as well [the Coast to Coast medal is awarded if you do a race at both Disneyland AND Disney World in the same calendar year].  And because my two races are Princess and Tinker Bell, I get the special pink medal.  In for a penny, out for a pound).

I also need to give some foreshadowing.  On January 17th, I ran a full marathon.  The end was very painful, with shooting pain in my quads and inner/outer thighs.  After the race, I didn't run for a few days.  I then did a slow 3 mile run, and felt great.  A few days later, I ran other 3 miles, and was fine. The next weekend, I decided I wanted to run 6 miles (in preparation for Princess) and things fell apart.  The first four miles were great; then at mile 4, I had the same shooting pain, in both legs, in both inner and outer thighs.  I felt like I was at mile 23 of the marathon! I hobbled the 2 miles home, and decided not to run for the next 3 weeks (at that point it was 3 weeks until Princess).  I swam, I biked, and I walked, but I didn't run for 3 weeks. I wanted to rest my legs and heal.

On February 13 my family left for a whirlwind trip to Orlando.  I will write about this in another post, but suffice to say we went to all four Disney Parks, plus Universal Studios.  We did tons of walking (easily 10 miles or more each day) but I wasn't in any pain.  We stayed at the Port Orleans Riverside Resort, a gorgeous Disney property.  I needed to get to packet pickup, which was inconveniently located at the ESPN Wide World of  Sports Complex (I am used to Disneyland, with everything from packet pick up to both parks within close walking distance).  We decided to hit packet pickup the day before the race, and timed it so that I would arrive close to opening. I'm glad I chose this route, as I heard that the lines for packet pickup on previous days were horrendous.  By going Saturday, I missed all the people who had to come early to pick up their packets for the 5k and/or 10k.  A runDisney bus picked my family up from my hotel and dropped us off at ESPN.  The complex was HUGE, and I told my family to wait by the bus while I went in. I'm glad I did----it was FAR---probably about half a mile from the bus dropoff point---and even when I got there I was directed all over the place. Seriously, I had bib pickup in one location, then had to go to another building for my shirt.  It was a LONG walk and I don't think either of my children would have fared well, especially since we were off to the Magic Kingdom after with a long day of walking ahead. I was able to bypass all the vendors, and just escape with my bib and shirt.  After running back to my family, who was waiting patiently by the bus stop, we were able to continue our day.

ESPN Wide World of Sports

After a long day at the Magic Kingdom, I was able to head back to the hotel to get ready and go to sleep. I was going to dress like Mr. Smee (from Peter Pan), a costume I borrowed from a woman in a local running group.  I pinned my bib to the shirt, filled my Gatorade bottles, put Gu in my fuel belt, and went to bed by 9:30.  I had a 2:30 wake-up call coming.  RunDisey provides bus transportation from all of it's hotels (a perk of staying on the property) and the first bus was coming to my hotel at 3:00 a.m. I wanted to be on the first bus, especially since my hotel was so huge that it had 4 different bus stops.  I got up and dressed (quietly, as my family was sleeping) and headed out to the nearest bus stop by 2:50.  Right at 3:00 a bus arrived, and I was able to get on. I heard later from other runners that buses got very full and they had to wait for other buses; I'm glad I got on the first one.

shivering and waiting


A long drive later, and we were dropped off in the waiting area. I'm pretty sure this was by EPCOT.  It was rather chilly, and I was glad I had worn a throw-away jacket. We had to go through security, which I don't think we need to do at Disneyland, unless they've changed things in the few years since I've run.  As it was still very early, there was no line for the many port-a-potties, and I was able to get in and out.  Then I sat alone and waited, and waited and waited.  A DJ blasted music, and I watched the potty line get longer and longer, and I amused myself by looking at all the wonderful costumes. Truly, this is the best part of a Disney race----most runners dress up like some sort of Disney character, and I love seeing people's creativity.

Finally, a LONG time later, it was time to walk to the starting corrals. I had been trying to meet up with a long-time online friend from a mom's group I'm in---she was there to cheer on her husband---and right as I was about to walk to the start I was able to say hi. I was sad it was such a short meeting, but at least we got a quick hug in! I'll see her next week at Tinker Bell, hopefully.  Anyhow, the walk to the starting line was long.  LONG! I didn't measure it, but I would guess about 3/4 mile. At least 20 minutes, and along a very dark road. Crazy long walk.  I was in Corral F (corrals were based on proof of finishing time; they went from A-P).  I ducked into a port-o-potty before I got into the corral, and was there in time for the National Anthem and the Corral A send-off.  Disney is great in that each corral gets its own sendoff, complete with fireworks.  Eventually it was my corral's turn to cross the start line and we were off!

I started with a conservative run/walk ratio. I can't recall if it was 2:1 run/walk, or 1:1 run/walk, but whatever it was, I was fine.  No pain.  It was still pitch dark, and I just concentrated on the road ahead, which was decently well-lit but not super well.  I don't know Disney geography, and since I was shuttled around on the Disney buses all week I didn't need to learn, so I really have no clue where we were running. I"m pretty sure the course runs from EPCOT to the Magic Kingdom and back, but I'm not positive. Regardless, I started off great.  About mile in there was a character stop, with a long line of runners waiting to take their picture. I have never stopped to take character pictures during a Disney race, and told myself that I would only stop if there were Peter Pan characters. After all, I WAS dressed like Mr. Smee!

Things were going great, and I was having fun, until mile 4.  When I hit mile 4 I got the same pains in my legs as I did during that training run 3 weeks ago.  The exact same pain.  Both legs, running down both my inner and outer thighs, along with my quads.  What the heck?  I had no idea what was going on. I tried to run, but the pain literally stopped me in my tracks. I decided to try to lower my run/walk ratio, but I couldn't even run for 30 seconds. Actually, I couldn't even run a step.  This was not a pain I could run through; it was a debilitating pain.  The three weeks of rest had done no good at all.

the closest I came to a Peter Pan character stop

At this point, I had a choice to make: continue and walk the last 9 miles, or drop out.  And dropping out was NOT an option to me.  If it was a local race in San Diego, I have no doubt I would have stopped and called my husband to pick me up.  But this was my Florida half marathon. I wanted to cross Florida off my list of states.  Not only that, but if I didn't finish Princess, then doing Tink would make no sense. It didn't hurt to walk (and if it did, I would have had no choice but to quit) so walk it was.  I have never walked a half marathon before (heck, I've never walked a 5k before, except the one I did last year with my daughter) but I had no choice.  I had to walk from mile 4 to mile 13.1.

lots and lots of character stops. I stopped at none.

adorable Mary Poppins and Bert costumes
Soon after I had to drop to a walk, we entered the Magic Kingdom. It seemed to take forever from the time we passed through the entrance of the parking lot to the the entrance to the park.  Here there were lots of people on the sidelines cheering.  I entered Main Street (always fun) and again tried to run, but couldn't. UGH!  I continued walking, through Tomorrowland to Fantasyland.  When it was time to run through Cinderella's Castle (with Anna and Elsa from Frozen up above; that was fun!)  I decided to suck it up and run that part. It hurt like hell, but hey, I HAD to run through the castle!

Elsa and Anna

All too soon we left the Magic Kingdom and were back to streets.  This is what I don't like about Disney races; they advertise that you're running through the parks, and you are, but not for very long.  I walked and walked and walked, entertaining myself with my iPod and looking at people's costumes. More character stops were along the way, but I didn't stop---until I got to a green Army guy from Toy Story who was by himself, shouting at people, so I quickly grabbed a selfie with him.

I started to get concerned about my time.  The cutoff for the race is 3:30 (a 16 minute mile pace), which I believe is technically 3 hours and 30 minutes from the time the last runner in the last corral crosses the start line (or something like that). There are the famous "Balloon Ladies", who walk behind the runners and will sweep any runner that falls over the pace. I certainly didn't want to get swept, yet my walk pace was awful.  There was one point where we were on an overpass (I think this was as hilly as it got on this pancake-flat course) and I looked down and saw THOUSANDS of runners behind me. Then I was able to relax. I guess because I started in Corral F, and ran most of the first 4 miles, I was totally fine on time.

overpass---thousands behind me
loved this Mary Poppins and her chimney sweeps!

guy in an awesome Ariel costume

the best signs I saw

entering EPCOT

Finally, we entered EPCOT. By this point I was dying to be done. I was hot, tired, and sick of walking!  I had figured that we'd run in the entrance and run through the park and around the lake through the World Showcase.  That was not the case; we ran (or, in my case, walked) through a side entrance, up to the edge of Future World, and then made a U-turn.  Whew!  We really were barely in EPCOT at all, but by that point I was glad.  We exited, and not long after that was the finish line.  I crossed it, got my medal, a mylar blanket, box of food, and headed straight for the bus. My family was waiting for me back at the hotel, and we had to check out soon. I had planned on being back hours earlier. I had hoped to be done in 2:45, and finished in 3:50.  My slowest half marathon EVER, by almost an hour.

weary finisher

While I'm disappointed by my performance in this race, I'm also proud of myself.  I finished. I was in extreme pain running, and when running wasn't an option I chose to still walk, to move forward, to finish what I started. 

January 27, 2016

Carlsbad Marathon Race Recap

Well, it's been a week, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around the experience!  The Carlsbad Marathon is in the books!

Short story:  I did it! I became a marathoner (again) and this time feel proud of the experience!  I didn't reach my "A" or "B" goals, but I'm very pleased with my "C" goal, and only missed my "B" goal by less than 8 minutes.

Long story:  The Friday before, I went to the expo.  Unlike past times I've done this event (I've run the half marathon twice) I felt there weren't a lot of vendor there.  I met my friend T there, got my bib, shirt and finisher's jacket, made a pass around the expo, and got out of there. I had wanted to buy another shirt that said 26.2, but I couldn't find anything I liked.  I ended up only buying a 26.2 sticker, to be put on my car after the race. I also picked up the packet for my friend Mihael, who would be running the race with me.

Pre-race, I really struggled with what to wear.  I knew I'd be out there for a long time, and comfort was key. And while I knew the morning might be very cold, the forecast didn't look like it would stay that way.  I decided on long capris, a short-sleeved tech shirt (decided on my Divas Half Marathon one, where I got my current half mary PR), arm warmers, and my Vineman 70.3 visor, along with my throw-away gloves and jacket (and handwarmers). Regardless of how cold the morning might be, I knew once I started running I'd warm up quickly.

Also, I was worried about the hills on the course. I've done the half twice (recaps here and here) and LOVE the rolling hills on that course---I got some of my best race times on that course.  But the elevation for the full had me a bit worried.

look at that big peak on Palomar Airport Road!

Sunday morning I got up (of course, before my 3:45 alarm), got dressed, ate a Luna Bar, and was out of the house by 4:20.  There was no traffic, and I parked in my new "usual" spot there---far from the finish line, by the entrance, backed in. I know from experience that getting out of the mall can be a bitch!  I found Mihael and T, and hung out until the race start time, which was 6:15.  The full marathon only had a few hundred runners, unlike the very popular half marathon, and that didn't start until 7:45----so it wasn't crowded at all.  No lines for the port-o-potties.  And it wasn't cold! I was expecting it to be freezing, but it wasn't. 

When the race started, I stuck to my plan right away. I was to do the first four miles at a 1:1 ratio (run 1 minute, walk 1 minute) and then kick it up to 2:1 from miles 4-13 (and then assess from there).  It's always hard in a race to start at a 1:1 ratio, as it's demoralizing to start walking almost immediately after starting---but I knew, especially in order to finish 26.2 miles, that I would need to be conservative.

It was dark when we started, but the sun started to rise very soon.  In fact, about a mile in I was ready to shed my jacket and gloves.  A few miles in we turned toward the ocean (this part of the route is familiar to me, as it's the half marathon route) and it was gorgeous seeing the sun's reflection off the ocean.  I randomly met two women from my local Moms Run This Town group, and throughout the race we'd leapfrog each other.  I was feeling good here---keeping a good pace, doing my run/walk ratio, enjoying the view and the runners and my music---and of course, my friend Mihael, who is crazy entertainment.  Seriously, he kept me laughing throughout the race with his dancing, antics, schmoozing with runners, volunteers and police---he was a gem and a true friend to run this with me.  Early on a saw a port-o-potty with no line and ran in. (I had decided that if I needed to go to the bathroom, I'd only go if there were no lines, unless it was an emergency situation, which luckily never came to pass).

still fresh and happy
After mile 5, we veered off the half marathon course and onto Palomar Airport Road. I've never been on this road on this except once while biking. I didn't remember how hilly it was, but I've heard it's pretty hilly for the marathon. It wasn't super steep, but it was a definite incline, and it was LONG.  By this time we were "only" at miles 7-9, and I was already getting tired. I was keeping on top of my needs. My Garmin reminded me to take a Gu every 4 miles, I was drinking, both from the Gatorade on my fuel belt and the water and sports drinks at the aid stations, and was periodically taking my salt.  But I was getting tired already, and my sciatic was starting to hurt here (it hurts especially on uphills).   We turned around at about mile 9.5, and I took advantage of doing back that street DOWNHILL....let gravity do the work and skipped some walk breaks. I also took my second bathroom break around here.

all race pictures courtesy of Mihael. Thank you!
At mile 13 I took my pickle juice, to avoid cramping, something I have been doing with all my long runs.  I was supposed to try to start doing a 3:1 ratio, and did a few cycles of that, but it was too much.  I started to bonk, more mentally than anything. I started to struggle even with the 2:1 ratio---the pain in my legs was pretty intense. I was having big sciatic issues in my left leg, and my quads were starting to hurt, especially around my inner thigh.  I didn't understand why---two weeks before I had done 20 miles, and didn't hurt until mile 19, so hurting so early in the race was demoralizing to me.

hurting but smiling

Around this time we ran into the half marathoners, mainly the back-of-the-packers. The course got really crowded for a while, but it was nice to have new people to interact with.  I needed to use the restroom again, but because of the crowds, there were long lines.  I stuck to my original plan---it wasn't an emergency, so I didn't stop.  Not too long after, we left the half marathoners and continued on the full course alone.  We were on an out-and-back portion that got really hard for me.  I was in pain, and was really missing my family.  I had seen a girl walking the half with her parents, and as I ran by I noticed she was wearing a hearing aid---the exact same waterproof model that my daughter wears. That got me crying, and thinking about my kids. I was so raw, but Mihael told me to cry at the end, and save my energy for the race.  Around this time I stopped for my third, and final, bathroom break.

Mile 20 was a milestone for me, as I had not run past 20 miles in training.  Of course, we had to stop for a picture.

my initial thought on mile 20. note the finger

convinced to try one smiling

Now I was in uncharted territory.  I was taking a lot more walk breaks than was in my plan, and not doing well.  I continued to take my nutrition, and salt, as planned, and was almost out of Gatorade when I ran by a spectator handing out ice-cold bottles.  That may have saved me, as I stopped to refill my bottles.  The aid stations seemed fewer than I had expected, so I was glad to have filled bottles on my fuel belt again.  I hobbled along in pain, trying to run when I could, and walk when I had to.  I had a marathon race predictor installed on my Garmin 920xt, and would see the predicted finish time hover at about 5:58.  Could I beat my sub-6 goal?

At mile 23 I texted my family  as planned. I assumed I'd be about 40 minutes away from there.  But at mile 24, I was diverted!  On the website it says;

All full marathon participants who are unable to maintain the required 13:44-minute-mile pace will be redirected at Carlsbad Boulevard/Hwy 101 and Carlsbad Village Drive to the finish line via an alternate route. These participants will be using the sidewalk and will be considered pedestrians. The diverted route will be marked and supported, and will equal the full marathon distance.

I didn't know the time, but I heard other diverted runners grumble that they diverted us too early. I didn't know and didn't care---all I knew was that I was not going on the planned route. They had handed out maps to us, but I was too out of it to notice, so Mihael and I were running blind up Carlsbad Village Drive. Luckily he used his phone GPS, and we also eventually caught up with other runners.  We were on a regular street, on a sidewalk.  As promised, the sidewalk WAS marked (we saw where it was painted with "Carlsbad Marathon Mile 25) but it was NOT supported.  There were no aid stations. I was glad I had filled my bottles a few miles back!  Because we were now considered pedestrians, we had to stop at the intersections, which of course added time.  This was frustrating, but as I was exhausted, and this street was mostly uphill, I knew my sub-6 goal was out the window.

almost done!

Finally, FINALLY, we turned left on Monroe street, and it was a downhill toward the finish.  A false alarm, though, as we had to still do a small out-and-back before we were able to cross. I was mostly walking here, but when I turned the corner to the finish, you'd better believe I was running! I saw my family and best friend dressed in their orange team cheer shirts, along with some other dear family friends.  I was so happy to see them!  Mihael slowed down and I think was dancing before crossing, but I sped up and raced through the finish line. I wanted this to be over!  I crossed, was given a medal, a mylar blanket and a bottle of water, and I was done.

26.2 miles later

Finish time was 6:07.  Not shabby at all!  My previous marathon was 7:20, so a HUGE PR.  And only 7 minutes and a few seconds off my sub-6 goal.  Combined with 3 bathroom stops and stopping at all those intersections, I am very pleased with this.  

proud finisher

I saw my kids through the gate and stopped to hold their hands and get kisses, and then continued through the chute. I was very pleasantly surprised to see my friend T, who had finished the full 2 hours before and had waited!  He was with Steve, who had finished the half some time before as well. I was touched that these two friends waited around to watch me become a marathoner.  After reuniting with my family, we all (minus T, but including Steve) went to Soup Plantation for a much needed re-fueling meal.

I told my family (and they got it on video) that I was 90% sure I'd never do a full again.  But now, 10 days later, I'm already contemplating another one for next year.  But I really need to get a handle on my sciatica first, if I do.  That was very painful.

I'm proud. I'm proud of this race.  Yes, it was slower than I wanted, and yes, I wasn't able to stick to the run/walk ratio the way I wanted (more walking than planned)...but I did it. I finished, and finished strong, and felt proud enough to add this 26.2 sticker to my car.\

A huge thank you to Steve for training me yet again.  A huge thank you to my family, who gets my passion and understands my need to run long. And the biggest thanks of all---to my dear friend Mihael, who put up with me for 26.2 miles on a Sunday morning.  You gave me the good marathon experience I desperately needed (despite my pain) and I will never forget that.