This was not the race I had planned.
It was not the race I had trained for or prepared for. It was not the race I wanted.
But sometimes we get stubborn in what we want. We get focused on getting things in only one way, one form. And the universe,well, it just doesn’t work that way every time. Often, we need to be open to the gift around us. What have I been asking for? Really asking for? And what did I get?
No, this was not the race I had planned. Thank goodness.
Welcome to my Disney Half Marathon experience.
Let me walk you through it.
Readers of my blog will recall that for the past two weeks I have been fighting some plantar fasciitis in my right foot. While it had been healing, the ultra prudent thing would be not to run a 13.1-mile race. For the record, my coach would have rather I spectated, but understood my desire to start the race and attempt the finish line.
So I went through an internal debate the day before the race. How do I approach the race? Do I try to go hard, perhaps set a PR? Do I just plod through it?
I knew this much: A. I wanted to start so I would start. B. I would listen to my body. C. I wanted to enjoy the experience.
Marathon Weekend at Disney isn’t just about distance running but about going the distance on unusual sleep patterns. The race began at 5:30 a.m. Runners needed to be in their starting corrals at 5 a.m. While there was free shuttle service from the resort hotels to the start at Epcot, Mark and I still needed a 2:30 a.m. wakeup call.
Even for an early riser such as myself, that was God-awful early.
But the morning went smoothly. I woke up, did some yoga (sun salutations), drank my Starbucks Via coffee (a holiday gift from Mark) and ate my oatmeal. Getting to the start was easy as was bag check and the bathroom lines. (This, as must runners will attest to, is very important).
The walk from the start/finish area to the actual starting corrals is about half a mile. For some reason, the walk took forever with bottle necks in seemingly unusual places. The procession included me, Mark and friend Greg. John, the other member of the running crew, had yet to arrive to the start as his shuttle driver apparently got lost on the way from the hotel to the starting line. This, I’ve been told, is not unusual for John. It’s why the guys like racing with John. He absorbs all the bad luck karma out there. But he rolls with it rather well.
Mark decided to start back in Corral B with me and the pre-race company was nice. Starting temperatures were in the low 50s — a pleasant change from the 20s in Buffalo but still a bit cool to stand around in for 45 minutes. We bought throwaway jackets at the race expo on Thursday, quite the fashion statement you can see, and it helped keep us both warm through the first mile or two of the race.
And now the race.
The countdown, the fireworks, the starting gun.
I was feeling pretty good. I was feeling really good actually, running at slightly above a comfortable pace. That first mile marker comes up rather quickly I think how good this all is.
We run along some highway on our way to Magic Kingdom. To our left is a hot-air balloon shaped like Epcot Center. Then we see part of the Hundred Acre Woods in the median. Then, oh dear, I have to pee.
And so starts the internal dialogue. Do I really have to use the bathroom? Should I go? Should I wait? Why didn’t I check the map to see where the bathrooms were on the route?
In the fourth mile, I hit the port-a-johns and out I go, through a crowd of volunteers and fans singing along to Chubby Checker’s “Let’s Twist Again.” It was energetic and fun and while not stopping to twist myself, I danced a bit while I ran, clapped my hands and started singing. It was a pretty good lift to my spirits and now with an empty bladder I was ready to go, make up some time from the bathroom stop and see if I could keep my sub-10-minute mile pace.
(Insert a musical interlude, in case you need a pick-me-up today.)[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjQwfkQj6e4&fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0]
The best part of the course wound through Magic Kingdom and the best part of the pre-dawn hour was seeing the park’s Main Street light up, bright and colorful and fanciful. We ran through Cinderella’s Castle and it was just a beautiful sight. The characters were out in full force. Fans were cheering. For a mile or two, I was a superhero.
Unfortunately, by the time we exited Magic Kingdom I had developed a problem worse than the stiffness in my right heal.
It was my inner thighs.
They had started chaffing.
Wait just a minute. I am not a newbie runner. I have done training runs and races in this bright pink skort I’m wearing. I applied Body Glide to all the appropriate body parts, including my legs.
What the heck is going on here?
I will spare the details, but suffice it to say, that chaffing hurts and when it involves your legs, which are in constant motion, well, it just … keeps … getting … worse. This was not magical.
What happened? I have no idea. But it slowed me right down. And the slower pace actually gave my foot time to stiffen up again. Luckily, there was no real pain, just some soreness and stiffness, but couple that now with razor-looking cuts rubbing against each other on my thighs and that nice solid run, that hope of at least a PR, or close to it, was gone.
At Mile 7, I cried.
I pulled over to the side of the road and walked for the first time in the race. In trying not to cry, one often makes the actual crying worse, sounding as if you might be hyperventilating. A woman slowed down to ask if I was OK. Bless you dear woman. I waived her on. I would be OK.
It was time to refocus.
What was I hear for? To have an experience. To enjoy the race. To celebrate the fact that I could run. To do something new. Really, what benefit would I get from pissing away the rest of the race just because I wasn’t going to have a great finishing time?
And so, the last four miles or so of the race became a run-walk experiment. I picked out landmarks and gave myself walk breaks. I listened to the people around me. I heard two people talk about running the marathon the next day as part of the Goofy Challenge. I bowed to them. Well, not literally, but I did do the homage motion with my arms and told them I bowed to them.
Along course I saw Mickey and Minnie Mouse and gave out high-fives to the spectators who lined the course. I watched other runners dressed in costume. Tinkerbell was a popular ensemble. So were any type of mouse ears. There was music nearly every mile. I found two aid stations offering sticks of Vaseline, which I eagerly took to soothe my aching thighs. All of those things made me smile.
The last mile, well 1.1 miles, was all about running. Didn’t matter how slow it was, I was determined to not walk after Mile 12. My legs were heavy. I wanted to be done. The course wound around back into Epcot. We were met by two characters I don’t know. One looked like Beaker from the Muppets. It wasn’t him, but I pretended it was. Somehow, that made me feel better.
Mile 13. Time to run as hard as I could manage to the finish line for the final tenth of a mile.
My legs were heavy. My breathing was hard. My thighs were screaming and my right heal, well, thanks to the other issues, I didn’t even think about my heal.
Instead I kept running. Finish strong, I thought, and I crossed the finish line in what turned out to be around my average half marathon time — 2 hours and 12 minutes.
And then I found the rest of the group.
Greg had run faster than he wanted. Mark ran a slow pace by his standards, but finished strong and happy. John, who made it to the start of the race after all, ran a solid time as well. All three of them were attempting to pace themselves since they were part of the Goofy Challenge and running the marathon the next day.
Me? I only did a half marathon, was not pacing myself for the Goofy Challenge, had a mediocre performance and a mysterious chaffing incident. I felt a bit inadequate around the guys.
Then I looked down at my hands, which still bore the words of the day written in bold black sharpie. On my right hand, my place of strength, was the word FINISH. On my left hand, my happy place, was the word REDONK.
I had looked at them throughout the race. “Redonk” is a form of “redonkulous” — a term used by my friend Jessica in place of “ridiculous.” The term makes me smile and frankly, running a major race a week after the holiday season ends, a race which requires waking up at 2:30 in the morning and a race that included enduring foot issues and chaffing, well, that really is just a bit “redonk” isn’t it?
And finish … that’s what I did.
Did I run the race? Did I finish? Yes and yes.
What else was there?
Really. I got exactly what I wanted. During my training for the race, my running became stronger as I set PRs in nearly every distance, increased my speed and endurance. The Disney race on the calendar kept me motivated through the holidays and change to cold weather. The Disney running experience was a hoot seeing costumed characters along the course and experiencing a new place.
Most importantly, I got to spend time with good friends doing something I love. This was what I brought myself around to after the breakdown at Mile 7. And while the immediate post-race was a bit pouty, after a shower (which was painful with the chaffing) and a nap, the wisdom inside matched my expressions on the outside.
So, it wasn’t the result I was expecting.
It still turned out to be the race I had planned.
(Still to come this week: Cheering on the Goofy Guys at the marathon, the Disney Marathon Weekend Experience and the Magic of Marathon Monday.)