Mission accomplished. Last January I set a goal to complete the 2010 Disney marathon, and in May I outlined a training regimen to lead me to the 1/10/10 event. I finished yesterday with a time of 5:20. I placed 9,474th out of almost 17,000 finishers.
They say above all else, don’t try anything new during a marathon. But I did three things that I never did in training, and which were instrumental to my success.
- I walked. I reduced my pace by walking about 10 minutes every hour in order to reserve resources for the last 6 miles.
- I gobbled some Tylenol from a medical station half way through the race. They were handing them out like candy.
- I stuffed my face before and throughout the race.
The consequence was that my pace picked up throughout the race, and my last miles were the fastest of all. This is called having negative splits. I did nothing but pass people in the last 4 miles. I was giddy when I crossed the finish line. I finished the 26.2 miles feeling stronger than I did in any of my long training runs.
My error in training was that I never varied my average pacing as my distances increased. I almost always run a 10.5-11.0 minute mile, even in 5k’s. I thought I’d be able to maintain this for the 26.2 marathon and finish in less than 5 hours. What happened in training is that by running this overall pace I hit a wall at about 20 miles. I only learned in the week prior to the marathon that this is called ‘bonking‘, or completely expending all physical resources. I also neglected to eat and keep my energy levels up for the 3+ hour runs. I’d carry an orange, and gator aid, but that was about it.
So, I’d never completed more than 21 miles prior to this event, I was fighting a nasty head cold, and the forecast was for sub-freezing temperatures. It was enough to make me toss and turn anxiously all night prior to the race.
For race day, I had the enthusiastic assistance of veteran Disney marathoner and friend Seth Elsheimer, who volunteered to transport and get me to the starting line. Seth picked me up at 4am, negotiated the traffic backups, and got us to a favorable parking space. Still we had almost a mile to walk through check in and get to the starting corrals. Seth arrived there exactly at his 5:40 start time. I crossed the starting line 22 minutes later at 6:02am.
It WAS freezing cold, about 28 degrees. Runners dressed in layers and discarded things along the course. While running, I shed sweat pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a hefty garbage bag. Another pair of pants and socks I left at the starting line. I saw some nice things tossed aside: technical gloves, parkas, windbreakers. All the discards were collected for charity by Disney. I was fine with the cold. A cheap woven pair of disposable gloves ($3 from the runners expo) served me well. Once my core temperature gets elevated, it feels maybe 25 degrees warmer to me. Nonetheless, at the water stops the powerade was slushy and the water in paper cups was iced over. There was some hazardous black ice in shady areas of the course.
My mp3 player was not necessary, I used it for less than half the run. There was lots of entertainment, Disney characters, and ambient music along the course, especially when weaving through the parks themselves. In the middle of one long empty road, I came across Jeremy James, of Toxic Audio and The Caroling Company, singing a Beatles song karaoke-style.
The run itself was quite fun going through the parks: Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Disney Studios. We jogged through public byways and backstage alleys. There were Disney characters everywhere, and many runners stopping to line up for photos. By midmorning, there were park guests cheering us from behind traffic cones. Between the parks were long stretches; some quiet back roads, and one brutal 3 or 4 miles along a noisy highway which was totally exposed to the 15-20 mile winds. And the temperature never did get out of the 30’s. At about mile 20, there was a deliberate turnaround that allowed runners to watch for and greet fellow athletes passing the other direction for almost a mile. Seth was ahead of me and we hailed each other as we passed.
Co-workers and tri-athletes Jason and Kitzzy had told me they were volunteering at the 24 mile water stop, so I looked for them, and we exchanged greetings. I was buoyant by this time about the prospect of finishing, and it probably showed. Plus, I’d consumed some chocolate, and about 10 caffiene-laden gel tabs and I had started to turn it on. I caught up and ran with Seth for a bit, and then took off ahead of him. (Ultra-marathoner Seth did not have a strong race, but there is no shame in that; he was running against doctors orders and with an IV in his arm. He refused to break his streak of 17-straight Disney marathons.)
Linda and Gina drove down to see the finish, and there was a big area in the last .2 miles crammed with bleachers, families and friends. Gina reports that she saw me cross the finish line and get my medal with a huge smile on my face. They both doubletimed around the stands to the chutes and called out and got my attention as I was walking it out. Gina forced her way to the front and gave me a hug over the barricade. I stopped at the ‘perfect 17’ check in to wait for Seth, and when he showed up, Gina snapped some cell photos. I do regret that I couldn’t find coworker Kevin Yee who was volunteering at the finish line.
I still had to check out and recover some belongings, but eventually reunited with family, and we made our way to the car. As I slid into the passenger seat and groaned at the discomfort, daughter grinned and said “oh, the first bending of the knees!” 4-year crew athlete Gina knows this one well.
I’ll do this again, maybe not the Disney, but all the work and training was totally worthwhile. I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been in my life, and I can eat almost anything I want. I’ll really do a better more realistic job of training next time. I bet I can do a sub-5 hour marathon. I hope to keep up with some modest runs (8-12 miles) and do some half marathons on a regular basis. Thanks again to all my supporters, coworkers and friends for encouragement and advice along the way.
Now I need to set another goal.