Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wined and Dined

Last night (and for most of us at least a little bit into this morning) was the Disney Wine and Dine half marathon and after party at EPCOT. For me, this race was much more than that. I think my running story is a bit abnormal since I went from non-runner marathoner without any sort of natural progession in my running. All of my significant growth as a runner came after my marathon.

However, this growth didn't come without a price. I have been training for something or other for over a year. I went from marathon training to back-to-back 5k plans and started training for this half before I finished my second 5k schedule. I wasn't training to finish races any more. I wasn't training to just get past some distance. I was training to get faster. It worked in spades for my 5k and, in comparison to my marathon pace, it worked for my half as well.

In typical newbie fashion, my goal pace for my half was almost completely arbitrary. Having done a 4:30 marathon, my next milestone was 4:00. When they guy working at the running store said he ran a half and didn't train but still finished under 2:00, I decided that was my goal. A 9:00 pace had gotten pretty easy for me so when I started my half training I decided a 9:00 pace was a good target. Everything went fine for the first few weeks. Then the weather got hot and I fell apart. My long runs were miserable and I was fighting to just finish. The conditioning I had from marathon training seemed to have disappeared during my 4-5 months of 5k training. Then in all the heat I felt like I forgot how to run fast too. As I got closer to the race I started to doubt my ability to get under 2:00. As cooler weather came literally the night of my race, I knew I would be able to gain some speed but was still nervous.

The race started at 10:00 PM so that the after party at EPCOT could start after the riff raff...I mean tourists ;) had left the park. That meant that yesterday was one of the longest days of my life. After my parents arrived to watch the kids, we headed out for lunch and then down to ESPN Wide World of Sports to meet up with my wife's cousin and her husband. My wife's cousin-in-law was also running in the race (his first half and longest distance) and the wives were going to be enjoying the party at EPCOT. Then we headed to the hotel to check in and kill time until the race. Around 7:00 we got on the bus to head for the starting line. I was sitting at the front of the bus as all the runners were boarding when I saw a Garmin 305 pass in front of my face. That is when I realized mine was sitting on the floor of the hotel room plugged into the charger. I went from anxious and somewhat relaxed to completely stressed out. After going back to the room to get my watch, we met up with some more folks loosely related to my wife and headed out to the starting line. I don't remember exactly when we got there, but my guess is it was before 8:00 so we had to kill around 2 hours.

The starting area was about as much fun as a field surrounded by port-o-lets could be. They had music pumping out of a pretty serious sound system so it sounded like the world's biggest (and most casually dressed) wedding reception. I did a little 10 minute warmup and then around 9:30 I headed for my start corral and tried to find my pace compadres. I didn't want to be too close to the front, but didn't want to be stuck in traffic either. I settled in around the middle surrounded by some groups, some couples, but immediately surrounded by 4 other people who were by themselves like me and appeared to be equally nervous.

The start of Disney races is always fun. They had a "Disney Recording Artist" sing the national anthem. There was a lone wheelchair participant who started at 9:58 with their own set of fireworks. The first corral of runners started at 10:00 and then we started around 10:05.

The start was a little slower than I remember the marathon being. I immediately got concerned that I might miss my goal by seconds due to being held up at the beginning. I tried to just stay relaxed and not burn too much energy weaving around but still hopped up on the grass for a while to get around some of the traffic.

Somewhere in there, my shoe came untied. This was a first for me in my fledgeling running career. Believe it or not I had never had a shoe come untied on the road and definitely not on a race. I took note of the time. I think it took something like 17 seconds to tie it.

The course was more fun than the full - started at EPCOT, ran to and through Animal Kingdom, and then through Hollywood Studios on the way back to EPCOT and the finish. There were several overpasses on the roads between parks which gave a good opportunity to conserve energy on the way up and fly on the way down. I tore it up on the downhills regularly breaking 7:30 according to my Garmin.

The ending was strangely familiar from the full - through Disney's Boardwalk into the back entrance of EPCOT. However, instead of wobbly legs feeling like I would barely be able to walk much less run across the finish, I was going to be putting in some of my fastest miles of the race. I found a woman who was running what I felt like was a good pace. More importantly, I felt like I could beat her. I stayed on her shoulder for the last mile or so. Once I hit a bridge around the back of EPCOT, I powered down it and left her behind for good. I split mile 13 in 8:33 - the fastest split of the race - and finished with a 1:58:39.

The party after was great. Got a free can of beer (ok, that was the low point) and had a gift card good for food/beverage that I used for a pint of Guinness and some other food (and of course spent more than the gift card was for). We didn't plan on staying until the 4:00 AM closing time but by the time we made our way out of the park, most of the people were leaving as it was pretty darn close. Definitely going to make this an annual race for as long as I can.

By the way, it is now May 31, 2012. The race started on October 1, 2011 and just today realized that I never finished this post. I have obviously been neglecting this blog.