Saturday, January 19, 2013

2013 Disney Half Marathon

This was probably my most "spontaneous" race to date. Ever since my first 5k, almost every race was something I scheduled and trained specifically for. Then my wife and I decided to get Disney annual passes. The next obvious step was to center some Disney trips around races. That led us to looking at doing Coast-to-Coast. Before we knew it, I was signed up for the Disney World Half, (thanks to my running club's guaranteed spot) Julie was signed up for the Princess Half, and we were arranging for babysitting for the Disneyland Half together.

Having just come off of a great performance for Wine and Dine, I was feeling great about my running and the fall weather was almost perfect here in Orlando. I figured that between Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, kids being home from school, and family obligations, I wouldn't be able to train consistently. So my plan when I signed up was to take it easy, enjoy the event, and get some pictures with the characters.

Of course plans change. Thanksgiving came and went and I didn't miss a run. Same with Christmas and New Years. On top of that, my training was going very well. I was hitting all my paces with a target pace of 8:30. Since I was within about 3 seconds of my 8:45 target pace for Wine and Dine, I felt pretty good. So In spite of a cold that made its way around my family around New Years, I was shooting for 1:52 with a secret goal of 1:50.

We were able to stumble on a really good rate at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and, after dinner with my parents at the house on Friday, we headed out to Disney to check in. The staff (as always with Disney properties) was extremely nice and helpful. The girl at the check-in counter was going to be running the half as well and was impressed when I told her I would be done by about 7:30 AM (always an ego boost when people are impressed by your time). About ten minutes from the house, I had realized I had forgotten to pack my gels. So after checking in, I went to a (somewhat) nearby store to grab some gels and picked up a new shirt for the race. Then we checked out some animals with the night vision goggles they have at one of the "savanah" overlooks (quite cool for sure). Back at the room, I laid out all of my gear and we managed to get the super-excited 5 year old to bed and I did everything I could to try to get some sleep before my 3:30AM wake up call.

I'm sure I slept, but not sure I slept much. The hotel phone was the first of my 3 devices to go off so I jumped out of bed and turned off the alarm clock (my phone went off about 10 min later while I was brushing my teeth). I geared up and popped a cough drop due to my lingering cold symptoms, threw my gEar bag over my shoulder, and headed to the bus.

I listened to some music on my phone on the relatively short ride from Animal Kingdom Lodge to Epcot and snapped some pictures on the way into the staging area. Unlike the Wine and Dine, the bag check is a pass-through situation so I checked my bag and rendezvoused with my Dailymile friend Craig C. for what ended up being a very long walk to the start. I had some good conversation with Craig who was doing the first leg of the Goofy Challenge (half Saturday and full Sunday) and said we our "good lucks" as we headed to our assigned corrals. There was some room to the side of the start so I did about a half mile warmup to get a feel for my pace and loosen up a bit before heading into my corral.

The problem with being in corral A is that there is a huge gap between the elite runners in the front and the rest of us mere mortals. That makes it hard to judge where to start within the corral. Luckily I found the 1:50 pacer and stuck around him while we waited for the start. He started off pretty slow due to the traffic and I couldn't stand giving those seconds up. I figured I would run on ahead and hope to never see him again.

The first 5k went well. I never felt too fast but managed just a few seconds behind my horribly-hot 5k race at the beginning of the summer. I skipped the first water stop but grabbed some water at the second one. I have gotten better at drinking on the run, but it still slows me down a bit. After mile 4 I took a gel and grabbed some more water. The first few miles are uneventful other than running through the entrance to the parking area where I high-fived a volunteer who was wearing giant Mickey hands. The course is pretty flat and open on the roads leading to the Magic Kingdom.

Next came the Contemporary Hotel and its underpass which goes under part of the lake. At the point where I wanted to attack the downhill, it got really congested and just couldn't cut loose the way I wanted. It probably only cost a second or two, but added some temporary frustration as I headed back up the other side.

As we headed into the Magic Kingdom, I started searching out photographers. Since I seemed to not get many pictures at the last Wine and Dine, I wanted as many as I could get. I took a good look at the castle and enjoyed the pre-dawn view with all the lights and high-fived the Mayor of Main Street. As we headed through the castle, photographers were lining the path and as I stuck out my hand to get ones attention, I heard an "are you kidding me" from behind as someone chose that second to pass. The video of me running out of Cinderella's Castle includes what was evidently quite the tussle as he was trying to pass me. It looks like I was trying to block him out but I had no idea he was there.

Just past Magic Kingdom came the 10k and the halfway point. Still feeling great, I thought about picking up the pace. After some prolonged self-negotiation, I decided to hold off for the last five. I popped my second gel somewhere after mile 8 and then got some more fluids at the mile 9 water stop. Somewhere around that point (I think it was after mile 9), I passed an amputee who had clearly outpaced me significantly. It sounded like he and his running partner decided to slow down so my guess is that he could have beaten me with one leg (for all I know he passed me later and I didn't notice). It was definitely inspirational. Also about mile 9 or so there was a really weird cold spot. I think it was maybe just a low spot that was a little foggy and cool. It has happened quite often on one of my normal running routes but this time it lasted so long I started to think something was wrong with me and I was having some kind of stress response. My breathing was OK and I didn't feel tired or like I was overexerting so I just kept going and eventually it warmed back up.

The last 5 miles, I decided to treat like a 5-mile tempo run. I figured if I could get down to my 8:15 tempo pace I could get in under 1:50. Up to that point I had been averaging about 8:25 but with a growing margin of error in my Garmin for every mile. I had seen the 1:50 pacer a few times but he was definitely pretty far ahead. My 5-mile tempo effort did manage to yield an 8:18, but then only 8:23. So then I decided I needed a 5k effort for the last 5k to have any hope of catching the pacer. Then came the overpasses. Mile 11 wasn't too bad, but mile 12 was brutal. After a relatively flat course, there were two large overpasses heading back to the Epcot parking lot. That meant 8:28 with a lot of effort. I'm pretty sure my form fell apart in mile 13 as I lumbered through Epcot. The route through Epcot is kind of an out-and-back with a little loop near the lake. I saw the pacer run by and had a last glimmer of hope of catching him. As my watch ticked 13 I knew I had about a quarter mile left due to the accumulated error of my less-than-optimal path. I accelerated through the 13-mile marker and checked my watch a little after to see that it had flipped from 1:49 to 1:50 just yards from the finish. Already running a 7-somehthing pace, I went into full-on kick mode when I hit the final stretch. There was a "kid" in front of me (ends up he was 14) and I passed him just before the finish line. Chip time - 1:50:50.

I'm not sure why I wasn't as excited this time as last time. I think I surprised myself before. I thought I could run 8:45s back then, but my training had been so tough and I spent so long running so slowly in comparison that I just didn't believe what the pace charts were telling me. This time, I was pretty sure I could do 8:30 so 8:27 wasn't so much of a surprise.

After crossing the finish line, I got my medal, grabbed my water and Powerade, and found a photographer for a "candid" picture of me with my new bling. Then I got my "offical" photo, pointing to my bib where my daughter had written "DAD" in crayon (I registered too late to get my name on it). I grabbed my snack box and a banana and headed to get my bag. I was hoping to come back and maybe get a massage since for once I wasn't in a hurry (wife and kid were possibly still asleep) but as I mentioned before, bag check was a one-way affair. As I walked toward the bag check tent, a volunteer called out my number to the volunteers inside (actually she was off by a digit somehow and had to call it out again). It was all very efficient and I think that is why I was so surprised that as soon as they handed me my bag, everyone in the tent started cheering. I was the only one in that tent at that time so they were all cheering for me. That was definitely pretty cool. I did not, however, fell cool when I tried to walk out the entrance of the tent and everyone started telling me I couldn't go back that way (no massage for me).

Since I was in the first few hundred finishers, the line wasn't too long for pictures, beer, or food, so I got my picture taken with Donald Duck (race director of the half marathon) and grabbed a $7 beer and a "breakfast bowl" from the food truck (eggs, peppers, onions, bacon, and hashbrowns).

Another little personal cheering session occurred when I got off the bus back at the hotel. I was sitting in the front of the bus and I was the first one off. When I got off the bus, all of the hotel workers and guests burst into applause. It was totally unnecessary and totally awesome at the same time.

I picked up my older daughter from home, met my wife and little one for lunch at Sanaa, and spent the rest of the day at the Magic Kingdom. Then dropped the family off at home and returned to the Disney area for some grub and a beer with a couple folks who had done their first leg of Goofy that morning. Finally collapsed around 8:30 at the end of a great day.

Chip Time 1:50:50
Clock Time: 1:52:09
5k: 26:32
10k: 52:21
15k: 1:19:02

1,241 of 23,126 finishers
179 of 1,608 men 35-39
977 of 9,998 men


Friday, January 4, 2013

Have I Arrived?

When I ran my first 5k, the winner ran it in 19:xx. I remember thinking, "I could do that!" Almost 4 years later and I realize two things: that time won't win a lot of 5ks, and it is pretty fast for a guy my age. Now, after two excellent rounds of half marathon training with increasing pace, breaking 20:00 might be possible. "Might."

I'm still a running newbie. I only have a handful of races under my belt. The two most notable are my two half marathons. Before the first one, I don't think I ever ran 13.1 without stopping for a walk break. The only full I ran I walked through all the water stops. Now as I near my third half, I have broken 2:00, came close to 1:55, and now I'm targeting 1:52.

Most importantly, I feel like I've turned a corner. My goal when I started training last summer was to get faster but easier (if that makes sense). Up to that point I had gotten all of my pace through guts. Every mile was like a tempo run or harder. Speed work was at a blistering pace. Injuries of course followed. I got faster, but never felt like I could really hold onto that speed. After I ran the Wine and Dine in 2011, I thought I could hold onto that 9:00 pace for long runs and build from there. I was very disappointed when I found out that was the peak of my training and not a permanent change.

So what is different this time? Part experience and part attitude. The two go hand-in-hand. Experience tells me there is a difference between peaking for a race and long-term improvement. That led to an attitude this time to shoot for long-term improvement. The bottom line is, instead of sticking to my training plan to try to get to my target pace, I went after every run as an opportunity to build my pace. I wasn't following someone else's schedule hoping to reach my goal. I was running every run with a purpose.

So when I ran this last Wine and Dine in 1:55:40, I wasn't at all disappointed that I missed 1:55 by 40 seconds. Quite the opposite - I crossed the finish line pumping my fists and whooping and hollering because I knew the results weren't a peak, but a permanent change.

I still had my doubts though. When I signed up for the upcoming Disney half, I thought I would probably just hang on. I thought 1:55 was possible but probably not any significant improvement. I thought, "Maybe I'll get some good pictures with the characters this time." After all, most of my training would be interrupted by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.

That wasn't the case. The "interruptions" turned into great weather and extra time. My training philosophy continued and so did my improvement. The measuring stick I used for my last round of training (pace in speed work and tempo runs) confirmed my improvement. This all culminated in what is probably a perfect workout this morning.

My plan called for a six-mile tempo run and while my new philosophy may not be driven by the plan, the plan still works. So I set out for a two-mile warmup, three hard miles, and then one mile recovery. My goal for my warmup was race pace (8:30). I managed that for the first mile then dropped down to around 9:00 to save gas for the tempo section. The next three miles were like so many before - just the "right" pace. A pace I could hold for that distance but not much more. I managed the run while running, making sure to stay relaxed and not over exert even at a "faster" pace. I knew the last mile would be tough and had to push a bit at the end to get under 8:00, but was not completely gassed either. Another workout in the bag. Another measurement of my progress. Another positive reinforcement of my training.

So will I break 20:00 for a 5k this year? Who knows? I'd be happy with 20:40 for sure. Will I break 1:52 a week from tomorrow? Possibly. The bottom line is, I don't care. I love running again and not just running faster. I love running with my wife and my new friends from my running groups. I love long runs by myself, speed work in miserable heat, and tempo runs on cold misty mornings.

I think about the quote from John F. Kennedy a lot when I run: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." I definitely run because it is hard, but I enjoy it so much when it is easy. After the 2011 Disney full, my wife got me "Run Less, Run Faster". I have loved (mostly) using the Furman FIRST plan. I've loved running 3 days a week and still improving. Now maybe it's time for me to write a book: "Run Faster, Easier."