Race Day was here at last. My journey that began last summer when I registered for this race was finally at an end. I was so excited, I woke up several times in the night, and finally at 1:45 realized I couldn't get back to sleep. My race outfit was ready and waiting for me so I got dressed while DG slept on.
We left our resort at 3:40, anticipating ten minutes to drive there and park, as had been customary in our two 5Ks. HA! No such luck. We sat in slow-moving traffic until 4:15. We parked and began jogging up to the race village.
Using our "Divide and Conquer" approach, DG went off to drop our stuff in Bag Check, and I texted our friend from Tallahassee, Laura, until I found her. She was meeting us there - but was starting in a different corral. Unfortunately with the bottleneck of cars - then the mass of runners, I missed the Pacebook Running Club pre-race meetup and group photo with Sean Astin. I was sad because who doesn't love Rudy?
We said goodbye to Laura, and DG and I headed into our corral. I look pretty anxious, nervous, maybe even a bit frightened here, while DG looks relaxed.
The start line is so far away. Seems surreal.
We are near the front and by the stage, and finally our corral is set to go. The Fairy Godmother is on the right of the stage - and with her Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo and a flash of fireworks, we get our send-off. DG gives me a kiss goodbye and disappears into the sea of runners. It is still quite dark, and I won't see him again for several hours.
My race strategy was to keep the best pace I could until I got to the castle. Then I would relax a bit. That also meant I skipped all the water stops, character stops, photo ops, and restrooms for the first five miles. I carried my own water, took a small sip every 10 minutes, and trudged along. It was still quite dark for the first few miles, so I rationalized that pictures would not have come out well anyway.
I really was so worried about the sweepers that I tried very hard to keep a decent pace, despite the crowds. My biggest fear at this point was getting swept before entering Magic Kingdom.
The day was overcast, but the temps were climbing and conditions began to get difficult for some of the runners. It actually felt pretty good to me, and I was once again very grateful to be a Floridian.
At last I made into Magic Kingdom and onto Main Street USA. I had read about the experience on other running blogs, and while I had been on Main Street many times in the past for parades, shopping, etc. - I was still blown away. The people, the noise, the excitement, the dancing, laughing, hugging, cheering, photo-snapping, it was PURE JOY!
I held up my phone and snagged a few minutes of video. Unfortunately, I had some technical difficulties and could not get it posted here. Main Street USA was over all too quickly, and I found myself wanting to walk through the rest of the MK route to take it all in.
The course took us through TomorrowLand, and I had to stop to get a photo with DG's bestie, Buzz Lightyear. I had a feeling DG has already made this stop earlier, despite his avowal to run without character stops. (I was right. ha ha)
Entering FantasyLand I saw Gaston, several Princesses, Mickey & Minnie and more. Around the carousel and near the castle walls was a hub of several lines for characters. The lines were moving but they all seemed long to me, so I skipped them.
There was a predictable bottleneck through the castle. Lots of runners taking pictures of the murals and just soaking in the experience. I was not prepared for how slow it would be to get through the castle. But I guess every Princess wanted her moment, and I can't blame them. I wanted this moment to be magical too!
I exited Cinderella's Castle and was so emotional here. Hadn't believed I could actually make it this far and am absolutely ecstatic. I mentally tell myself, if I get swept later, I won't be devastated because at least I made it that far - farther than I thought I would.
I run into my friend Laura at this point and we jogged through Liberty Square and FrontierLand. I had yet to use a restroom, so I figured this was the time. The men's room was empty - so YAY for no lines, and double YAY for not having to use a porta-potty. Laura and I parted ways. She said there were thousands and thousands of runners still behind us, so no fearing the sweepers. (Hearing this - I got a little cocky and began to make some mistakes I regretted later.)
I walked through the rest of the park, and just felt SO happy to be a part of this. I really wish I was with my husband, or that I could find a familiar face in the crowds to share this with me.I left the park skipping on Cloud 9. Oh, how short lived that was! Right up ahead was the Half Way There marker. There were several runners waiting to take a photo with it, and I started to head in that direction myself. Then I heard several runners yelling, THERE THEY ARE! EEK! The Balloon Ladies!!! They were right behind me. The guys on bikes came by, and said - stay with them or just ahead and you are fine. Well, unfortunately, I didn't have enough left in me to keep up with them. I used up my best efforts on the first half. They announced to our group, "You are 30 seconds behind pace". They later came and said "You are 2:30 behind pace - you have 3 minutes to get to Mile 8. There will be a big pickup there." Well, I made it to Mile 8 by a hair. The big buses were parked there and a cop stood out in front of me, arms crossed - presumably the first of those that would be blocking the path. I didn't look back. I kept going, and the crowd was no more. There was now a small group of us lagging behind, and I could no longer see the huge pack accumulated around the balloon ladies. It was VERY VERY quiet. I passed the Clif Bar station, and was handed a gel. I knew better than to try something unfamiliar, so I put it in my SPIbelt. I talked to a few of the guys on bikes. They told me that there were stilll 'a few more' pickup stops ahead. I called DG to tell him I would be swept any minute now. He had already crossed the finish line and told me that my sister, brother-in-law, and mother had driven out from Tampa to meet us at the finish! My heart broke a little here. I was so devastated that I would come in on a bus, and have to tell my family that I had failed. I kept thinking of my sister and I when we were little. I was seven years older than her, and she looked up to me so much back then. She was now eight months pregnant - with her first baby, my first nephew. I fought back tears, thinking of her face, and my husband's face. I was so disappointed in myself.I kept trotting along and took turns running on the grass, and walking on the road. I had resigned myself to getting picked up, it seemed inevitable with nearly five miles left, but I was going to keep going until I was told I HAD to get on a bus, and not one moment before. I wiped my tears and approached a few photo ops. Check out these handsome heroes and try to ignore the eyeliner that was streaming down my face. There were also some cute bachelors in tuxes, with a glass slipper, in front of the Wedding Pavilion. Since I was dressed as a 'Disney Bride', I REALLY wanted to stop - but I began regretting every stop I had made so far, and I just waved to them.The last few miles of road were brutal. I came up on the next water stop just before the hills. One of the volunteers jogged along with me, and pepped me up. She moved me to tears with her enthusiasm. She finally high-fived me, told me I could do it, and I trudged up the overpass hills. I was greeted at the top with R. Lee Ermey's recorded voice and army men from Toy Story egging me on. A long straightaway began and I glanced back. There was NO ONE behind me. NO ONE. But less than 50 yards back, a long line of sweeper buses was crawling along.Having NOTHING between myself and those buses - well it really scared me. So I moved into the grass, and I began to run until I couldn't run anymore. My 30/30 intervals were out the window at this point. The last big cluster of runners had already disappeared far ahead, (I was more than 8:30 minutes behind pace) but there were a few stragglers ahead. I caught up to them and jogged along. I passed a medical tent and there were runners lying in the grass nearby, injured or tired and waiting for their bus ride. (M*A*S*H, the television show flashed into my head for a moment.) I said quick prayers for them and myself, and kept focusing ahead. Everything felt like a dream and seemed to be happening in slow-motion.There was one more water stop before the overpass into the EPCOT parking lot. Another volunteer walked with me, gave me a great pep talk and a hug. I tried to remember her name, but my brain was fuzzy at this point. No one told me there was yet another hill ahead. I still can't run up a hill, but I was very glad I had learned to run down hills. I got a little mental boost from picking up speed, even if it was only a few seconds. I knew those buses were creeping closer - eager to snatch me up, so I didn't look back. The left lane of the road was cleared for outgoing traffic and the cars streaming past were full of Princesses cheering us on - waving their arms - and proudly holding up their medals to show me. Their happy faces were tinged with a tiny bit of horror at the sight of all the sweeper buses behind me. But, can't think about that. WHAT A GORGEOUS MEDAL! I wanted it so bad. I kept going and finally rounded that turn into the park.
Then I spotted her! The irrepressible Peggy Sue! This amazing lady has become a fixture at runDisney races with her "Hello Complete Stranger, I'm Proud of You Too!" sign. She didn't know me from Adam, and I had never set eyes on her in real life before, but I called her name and ran up to hug her. She hugged me back and asked my name. I told her and also said I was a member of PbRC - and that she was a bonafide ROCK STAR in our group. She told me that she liked to stay to the end of the races, and cheer for us that seem to need it most. Then she told me the sweetest words I heard all day, "You are safe from the sweepers now." My face crumbled for the umpeenth time that day. I got one last hug, and her husband took a photo of us - one for me, and one on her camera. Then I headed into EPCOT for my last mile.
The park was open to guests, and there were cones and roped off sections for the last runners to get through. There was a wall of people on each side of the cones - and they were cheering for us like we had just won the Superbowl! Some Princesses in the crowds waved their medals and chanted: Almost There. Almost There.
It was a blur really, I was so overwhelmed. I somehow made it through EPCOT and as I finished Mile 13, I thought I heard a choir of angels singing! I'm not even a fan of gospel music, but I was never so happy to hear and see this lively group.
Around this spot, I realized I was walking next to Jenna Boyd. She is famous to runDisney fans for completing her first half-marathon, Tinker Bell in January. She came in last during that race and got an amazing reception at the finish line.
Exiting the park, and approaching that last 0.1 of the course, my beloved DG is waiting for me at the last bend before the finish line stretch. He snapped this photo, waved to me, and said he would see me in a few minutes.
At last the long awaited finish line was in sight. Here are some screen grabs from me before and after the finish line. I actually gave Donald Duck a big hug at the finish, but I couldn't find a pic of that in the official race photos. (Edited to add: I contacted Marathonfoto - and they said they don't have ANY photos of me with Donald. sob!) It does show up in my finisher video, if anyone is curious enough to take a peek. My MarathonFoto pics link from my certificate, at http://mydisneymarathon.com/princess, under the results for bib number 33336.
The second photo is Donald hugging Jenna Boyd - you can see the confetti and hoopla. She started in corral A and walked the entire course. But, I can see why she wanted to be the last to cross the finish again. They do make a fuss.
I got my medal and snack and wandered out to race village in a blur. I found my wonderful sis was waiting for me! She had made us a cute 'trophy'. See the closeup of the title below. For Awesomeness. ha ha. Pregnant and huge-bellied, I know it was hard for her to get around under normal circumstances - not to mention the crowds, plus riding the monorail, navigating the parking lot, etc. I was so touched that they came out for us.
I'm sorry this is such a long post. This was difficult to write actually, because it stirred up a lot of emotions (good and bad). It also triggered a lot of self-flagellation. My official results are here:
I was next to last to physically cross the finish line - going by clock time, but by net time, I was 21213 out of 21222 finishing women. In Team Results: Team Disney Bride & Groom came in 325, out of 361 finishing teams. This is all due to my husband's awesome performance, of course.
It is embarrassing for me to post my results and what follows. I've analyzed what I did right, and what I did wrong. For experienced and fit runners - this day wasn't a big deal. But for many first-timers and the 'out of shape' Princesses - this was very difficult and a very big deal. I didn't get dozens of photos and fun stops - but that's okay. I will do this race again - and do better. This was my first half and a learning experience. This post is to remind myself to stay on track at future endurance events, and also in case it may help future slow Princesses, that like me, are "borderline to being swept".
What I did Right:
- I may have started from a zero fitness level five months ago, but I did train for this race. I am very overweight and lost about 20 pounds in this process - not a lot, but it helped. My walking pace is still around 18 mm, and my running pace is 14mm. Averaged over a 30/30 run/walk ratio, I knew coming in to the start line on Sunday, that I was at a 16-17 minute mile at best. In other words, I would be lucky to get halfway. But if I did go the distance - I would be on track to finish in 3:45.
- I worked with a sports psychologist one-on-one these past two months for mental preparation and overcoming my fear of failure,
- I joined a local Galloway Run/Walk/Run training group a few weeks ago;
- I followed Jeff Galloway's Princess Half Marathon Training Plan for Beginners as strictly as possible,
- I sought professional advice from track coaches and I worked on form, technique, nutrition, and hydration,
- I mentally ran through my race day over and over again many times in the past few weeks - trying to anticipate what could go wrong and how I would react.
- I ate boring, predictable, and 'safe' foods in the days leading up to the race.
- I got plenty of sleep several nights leading up to the race - so even though I didn't sleep well just before, my body was well-rested.
- I drank lots of water. Over half a gallon/day the week leading up to race day.
- Race morning, I brought my own water and my customary fuel - to avoid surprises and unnecessary stops.
- Every time the sweepers (guys on bikes) asked me how I felt, I said in a very chipper voice, "I'm doing great and feeling good!". Then I plastered on a smile and started up a little trot. Nearly everyone I was walking with after mile 8 was swept. The few people I passed, I never saw again. If you showed signs of fatigue they brought you to the medical tent. I saw it happen to several people. It was only because of my perpetual thumbs up and big frozen grin that I was "allowed" to finish. And finish I did, by the skin of my teeth and the grace of God.
What I did Wrong:
- I stopped for photos and a bathroom break wasting too much time. I calculated I spent about 45 minutes on bathrooms, slowing down at water stations, and standing in lines for photos. Well - guess what? I finished 43 minutes later than I had calculated I would/could. So yes, it cost me dearly.
- I strolled through Magic Kingdom gawking at the characters, getting pixie dusted at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. I should have kept running.
- I drained my phone battery taking videos, forcing me at mile 7 to turn off my Galloway app, my music, and the built in interval timer. I had to think about when to run and when to walk, instead of doing it with my now-conditioned Pavlovian response to the bell. It was like being in a canoe without a paddle. I could follow the current, but lacked my usual tools to steer myself. Next time, bring a small camera for photos and video.
- I got the flu last December and was out of commission for nearly 3 weeks. Not only did I spend Christmas and New Year's (also my birthday) coughing and shivering on the sofa, I missed several key training runs to increase my distance. In mid-January, I was finally able to start running again - but my fitness gains from September through December had been almost completely lost. Next year, I'll get a flu shot.
- I wish I had called/texted/found a friend that was running and stuck with her to help pace me. Lots of first timers finished, and credit this to their pacers or an informal pace group. I will try for that next time instead of feeling out there alone and forgotten at the end.
- Find a solid training plan and stick to it.
- Keep yourself healthy.
- Consult experts as needed for training, nutrition, and recovery advice. (Their advice will come back to you when you need it and pull you through.)
- Have a race strategy, and a plan B
- Know when you expect to finish to help you stay on track for time.
- If you are at or below runDisney's required 16mm pace, then run/walk with a friend to pace you.
- Bring your own fuel and hydration so you can skip the aid stations.
- Don't waste time stopping for long lines - be they photos or a restroom.
- Use the men's room. It's EMPTY! (for a women's race only - ha ha)
- Think about whatever will motivate you to continue- block out any negative thoughts.
- When sweepers ask how you are doing: Smile big and say you feel great.
- Finally: keep moving forward until someone tells you to stop!