2015 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend – Part 2 – Half Marathon – January 10, 2015

2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon

2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon

Having set no less than 3 separate alarms for 2:00am it was time to get up. With all four of us running the half marathon (me, my wife, my sister-in-law Rina and her husband Mike) we had made arrangements for a babysitting service (“Kids Night Out“) to be at our hotel room by 3:00am to look after the boys while we were gone. I was up and dressed and sat down to wait for everyone. It was hard not to doze off but I managed to keep it together. I didn’t have such a good nights sleep for some reason. Not nerves but just my head was pretty active with stuff.

These feet were waiting patiently for everyone else to be up and ready

These feet were waiting patiently for everyone else to be up and ready

Just before 3:00am there was a knock at the door and it was the babysitter. Shari and I chatted with her for a few minutes and we peeked in at the boys who at this stage were lying either on top or across each other without noticing. We left our details with her and set off to wait for the rest of our party. The temperatures were calling for mid 40s rising up to the 50s but we knew getting there early (as required by the race instructions) we would be standing around for quite a while. We were all pretty much bundled up as we headed to the race start at EPCOT.

Waiting for our running party to join us in the hotel

Waiting for our running party to join us in the hotel

As we arrived at EPCOT (remembering to take a photo of the car lane number in which we parked) we headed through the security checkpoint and into the pre-race area. Shari and I briefly stopped by the Team Up – Autism Speaks booth to say a quick hello to Phillip and then headed in to the meet up area for the Mickey Milers.

On our way into the meet up area

On our way into the meet up area

The meet up was scheduled for 4:00am with a group photo at 4:15am. We were catching up and meeting some fellow Mickey Milers for the first time and it was a good way to relax. It was chilly and almost everyone was wrapped up against the cold. Shari was already in her plastic trash bag with a bath towel wrapped around her to keep her warm. I was wearing my throw away jacket and gloves. It was great to chat with everyone. If you’ve never been a part of a team or running community (either locally or online) it is such a great experience. It was great to meet everyone. Most were wearing their easily recognizable team shirts (underneath all the warm gear) and it was easy to spot fellow runners over the next two days either on the course or cheering from the sidelines.

Mickey Milers meet up before the half marathon

Mickey Milers meet up before the half marathon

Shari, Rina and Mike were also chatting with people and trying their best to stay warm. One of the best things about these races is that even through we get there so early and stand around until they call us to the corrals people are friendly and approachable and you can always strike up a nice conversation.

Doing our best to stay warm

Doing our best to stay warm

So after wishing everyone good luck we headed to bag check and through to the corrals. Shari and I went through ‘S’ back check, Rina through ‘G’ as she registered way back before the wedding and Mike in ‘E’. Eventually meeting up on the other side we made the long walk to the corrals. Shari and I were starting together in Corral F and Rina and Mike were starting together a few corrals back. We said our goodbyes and good lucks as the corrals split in different directions and headed to the start. We got there just in time for the National Anthem so we knew we had about 5 minutes to the race start and probably another 10-15 before our corral was to get the countdown to go.

Heading to the corrals

Heading to the corrals

I’d made the decision (which turned out very wise) to check my throw away jacket so I had something warm to wear after the race and just grabbed my runDisney space blanket from a prior year. I’ll talk about that later.

Donald Duck came up on the stage and gave the countdown to start the race and off went the fireworks. I love that. Gets me every time. We waited as our corral got closer and closer to the start and then I ditched my space blanket, kissed Shari good luck and with race announcer Rudy Novotny calling us “Corral F – the fun corral” and calling us at with our Team Up gear we crossed the start line and we were on our way, only 39.3 miles to go. First we had to get through today’s 13.1 miles.

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Approaching the start line

There go the fireworks

There go the fireworks

As this was our first Goofy together we decided to be a little strategic with our photo stops knowing that we would see some of the same characters the next day. Depending upon the lines as we approached (and also whether we recognized some characters on sight) we felt okay skipping some today to catch them tomorrow. As we approached the first stop, Captain Jack Sparrow, we decided to skip. Shari at this point had been wearing her trash bag and was just beginning to warm up. She was running along like an inflated balloon with the bag willowing behind her and decided she was warm enough to ditch it before the first photo stop. She promptly discarded her bag…right in front of me (thanks Babe) and having seen the line for the Pirates we moved past and headed towards the Magic Kingdom knowing we would probably spend most of our pictures stops there.

This is one of my favorite photos each year along with the castle shot

This is one of my favorite photos each year along with the castle shot later on the course

As we made it through the turnstiles to the Magic Kingdom (free this time…although it has risen to $17 this year for cars!!!) we headed towards the TTC (Ticket and Transportation Center). As we passed by the back of the Speedway there was a new character stop this year. ‘Wreck it Ralph’ and ‘Penelope Von Schweetz’ were together. We stopped for a quick photo which didn’t come out in the light. We made a note to make sure we got back there tomorrow. We then headed further up and saw Jack Skellington and Sally. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is one of our boys favorite movies and we pretty much know this story by heart after watching it and listening to the soundtrack so many times so that was a must do today.

What's this?

What’s this?

At the TTC we saw the first of the big cheering sections. Plenty of folks out there cheering everyone on. This is also a great place for a bathroom break as there are real bathrooms, not port-a-potties, and they are heated, which was great for this morning. It was still a little chilly out. From there we run under Bay Lake and past the Contemporary Resort and get our first long distance view of Cinderella’s Castle. We run around the back of Space Mountain and take a path backstage before arriving on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom. As you may know from my previous write ups for the 2013 and 2014 Marathon Weekends I absolutely love running up Main Street. It is for me the most special part of the race. The street is all lit up and there are cheer sections all along the route. You run with a direct view of the Castle all aglow with thousands of little lights. Breathtaking. It was starting to get a little light at this time (we had spent some time lining up for pictures already) but we still got the full effect.

Just breathtaking

Just breathtaking

Me and the little lady in our happy place

Me and the little lady in our happy place

The route of the half marathon (similar to tomorrow’s marathon) takes us up Main Street USA to the hub where we then turn right into Tomorrowland (another good place for a bathroom break if needed!!) and then into Fantasyland. We made the decision to spend most of our photo stops in the parks. Neither of us had any concerns about timing at this point as we knew we could pick up the pace on the second half of the course and our corral was far ahead of the balloon ladies. Let’s just say that we had a couple of 18-20 minute miles in the first half of the race.

Running across the bridge into Tomorrowland

Running across the bridge into Tomorrowland

In Tomorrowland the line for Buzz Lightyear was too long for us to stop so we headed over into Fantasyland where we saw the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. If you haven’t noticed by now, when I run with Shari we tend to have a very good time.

Off with his head!!!

Off with his head!!!

As we rounded Fantasyland we came across one of the characters we didn’t recognized by name. I knew him as the mime from ‘Tangled’ but as we didn’t know his name as we approached we didn’t stop. His name is ‘Ulf’ by the way. Usually during the half Donald and Daisy are situated by the castle but as there are improvements being made to Cinderella’s Royal Table there was no where for them to be. They did have Elsa, Anna and Kristoff on the balcony above the tunnel through the castle. I’m sure that if they had been available for a photo opportunity the lines would have been insane. We did a little goofing around (no surprises there) while in Fantasyland. Neither of us was able to pull the sword from the stone.

I'm sure she would have been worthy

I’m sure she would have been worthy

My excuse? Well, puny arms I guess ;-)

My excuse? Well, puny arms I guess 😉

With the Frozen characters on the balcony behind

With the Frozen characters on the balcony of the castle behind us

From Fantasyland we get to experience running through the castle. Always a great spectacle (if not a little crowded). We stopped for our picture in front of the castle before heading down towards Frontierland.

Running through the castle

Running through the castle

This is what makes all those miles of training worth it

This is what makes all those miles of training worth it

As we ran through Frontierland we passed by Louis the Alligator from ‘Princess and the Frog’ and one of the characters from ‘Country Bear Jamboree’ who was in the place where I’ve seen Woody, Jessie and Bullseye in the past. We decided not to stop for these characters as we knew there would be a long line ahead of us for one of the princess backstage. We did stop however for a little photo opportunity with the steam train from the Walt Disney World Railroad.

Stopping the train to save my damsel in distress

Stopping the train to save my damsel in distress

We left Frontierland before the entrance to Adventureland and ventured backstage to where there was a long line for a photo stop with one of the Princesses. We decided to stop here despite the amount of time we had already spent in the park as the Princesses change out regularly and we figured we would get another opportunity tomorrow and if it happened to be the same photo tomorrow we could just skip and go on our merry way.

With Cinderella and Prince Charming (note that Cinderella was bundled up with a warm coat)

With Cinderella and Prince Charming (note that Cinderella was bundled up with a warm coat)

There was a water station just past this point which was the first one since the TTC area. This is the longest section of the course without a water station due to the logistics of navigating the areas of the park. We took the route out of the side of the park and onto Floridian Way which is the narrowest section of the course as you have everyone huddled onto one side of the road (the other side is open to emergency vehicles). This is also the section  that people refer to as ‘Cone Alley’. There are cones as far as you can see. In this stretch you run past the Grand Floridian Resort on your left, one of the Walt Disney Resort golf courses on your right and the Polynesian Village Resort on the left. Although space is tight here, as soon as you approach the resorts there are cheering sections which were very crowded and much appreciated. The Team Up – Autism Speaks cheering section was situated along this section of the course near the Polynesian. It really is a long stretch along the course here until approaching the overpass which takes you back to EPCOT. There are a few character stops on the course.

With Mary, Bert and the penguins

With Mary, Bert and the penguins

With Genie (who had just come out of the cast member trailer and was nice and toasty)

With Genie (who had just come out of the cast member trailer and was nice and toasty)

A quick selfie with the Baymax/Big Hero 6 mile marker (we knew our boys would appreciate this)

A quick selfie with the Baymax/Big Hero 6 mile marker (we knew our boys would appreciate this)

The road finally opened up from the cones and Shari and I were able to recapture some of the time we had lost during the early photo stops and the time in the park. It is pretty near impossible to make up time in Cone Alley due to the congestion. Unless you are in Corral A or decide not to stop for any photos this is not the race to try for a PR. I think the half marathon is usually more crowded than the marathon due to the numbers involved.

Finally an open space for us to run in

Finally an open space for us to run in

As we made our way along the course back towards EPCOT around mile 11 we encounter the only real hill on the course, the overpass, which takes us from World Drive up to EPCOT Center Drive. The cool part of this is when you are on the overpass looking back down below and seeing the endless stream of runners. It’s pretty cool to see everyone out there.

Heading into EPCOT we knew we were in the final mile of the half marathon. There is the short little out and back as we enter the park which takes us to the lagoon in front of World Showcase and then we head back towards Spaceship Earth and out towards the finish line. I felt a slight ache in my right knee around mile 12 so we took the last mile a little easy as we still had the marathon to run the next day. No sprinting to the finish line today.

Back in EPCOT with the finish line in reach

Back in EPCOT with the finish line in reach

Approaching the final turn

Approaching the final turn

One last stop for Minnie

One last stop for Minnie

Our half marathon was in the books

Our half marathon was in the books

We crossed the finish line feeling pretty good. It was still quite cool but we got our medals and headed to the medical areas to ice down. We had to wait for Rina and Mike so we took advantage of the time to ice down with the help of the volunteers who packed our legs in ice. Shari was nursing her right ankle and I was nursing my right knee. We saw Mike pass us while we were there but it was so busy he didn’t hear us call out to him so we sent him a text message and told him we’d meet him outside.

Sharing a romantic moment with my wife after the race

Sharing a romantic moment with my wife after the race

We make ice look good

We make ice look good

We did it

We did it

One thing that was missing from the finish line area were mylar wraps. Yup, no space blankets. It wasn’t as if it was a warm weekend or anything and I was sure that after the previous two days when the temperatures were in the high 30s/low 40s they would have been prepared, but no. No blankets. That’s when I was pleased I’d packed my throw away jacket in our checked bag.

We made it through the finish line area and grabbed our food. We took our picture and walked through to the Goofy lanes. No one was checking our bibs or looking us up based upon the pictures we took at the expo. Strange. Last year when I ran the Dopey Challenge they made us all pick up a wristband. With the new method I figured we would have to report into someone. By the way, there was nothing too amazing to report about the runDisney food boxes. Pretty much the same as last year. Would it break the bank to have bagels or a soft pretzel available?

So on to bag check. We entered the ‘S’ tent and Shari told me to pick up the bag but they couldn’t find it. They kept asking my number and I was showing them my bib but no use. They made us head out to a central table and report the bag and had a volunteer run back and forth into each tent for any loose bags. At this point it was getting cold without any jacket or space blanket. Shari was turning blue. Kind of matched her outfit but not appropriate to tell her that at the time. Ultimately they asked us how many bags we checked and we said one and then they asked if it was under Shari’s number. We hadn’t thought about that. Duh!!! Once we established it was her number they found the bag right away. Like runDisney would really lose our bag!!! Felt kind of stupid but thanked them all. At least we had something warm to wear now.

Based upon the race text alerts we saw that Rina was near the finish so we met up with Mike and waited outside for her. Once she came through the bag check we didn’t hang around (we had the babysitter charging mucho dollars!!!) as we had a lunch reservation at the Sci Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Hollywood Studios and we all needed to get back for a shower in time to get there.

We spent the afternoon at Hollywood Studios where we did some character meet and greets and had a really nice lunch. We managed to secure our Fast Passes to Toy Story Mania but this wasn’t the best park for the kids and we were all a little tired. We did head over to the Frozen Sing-A-Long which we had Fast Passes for. This allowed Shari and I a few minutes off our feet. We grabbed a light supper of pizza from one of the quick service options along Hollywood Boulevard but made sure we headed to ‘Sweet Spells’ to get some special treats carbs before we left for the night. We chose Hollywood Studios as our park as they had the earliest closing time for us (we skipped Animal Kingdom this trip) so we could say we stayed until the park close and still get home for a relatively early night.

Celebrating our half marathon in Hollywood Studios

Celebrating our half marathon in Hollywood Studios

A fun time at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater for lunch

A fun time at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater for lunch

With Sorcerer Mickey

With Sorcerer Mickey

With Baymax and Hiro

With Baymax and Hiro

We got home, got the boys to bed, laid out our clothes for tomorrow’s marathon and attempted to get some sleep before our early morning alarm in a few hours…

2015 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend – Part 1 – Expo January 9, 2015

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend 2015

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend 2015

So the weekend finally arrived. All the training was done, all the fundraising was done, all the packing was done. We had our advance dining reservations (actually done way back within the 180 day window in July!!) and all our Fast Pass+ reservations were booked. We were all set.

This year my wife and I were running the Goofy Challenge (39.3 miles over two days) for Autism Speaks. Last year I ran the Dopey Challenge (48.6 miles over fours) but wised up and ‘only’ signed up for the Goofy. Actually the big difference was that we were able to travel down as a family this year. The first couple of days of the week I was following my friends who were running the Dopey Challenge and were already down in Orlando. I was getting antsy.

Thursday evening finally rolled around and we set off from the Philadelphia airport on time. I think I was more excited than my boys about going to Walt Disney World (as always). We were traveling down with my sister-in-law and her husband who were running the half marathon this year.

On board our flight and ready to go.

On board our flight and ready to go.

Okay, so maybe my youngest looks a little more excited.

After settling into our hotel and getting a few hours sleep (more than we would be for the next two days) we got up early and headed over to the race expo. I was planning to wear the charity gear for the half marathon and our ‘costumes’ for the full marathon so I wore my ‘Mickey Milers‘ shirt to attend the expo. I also had my Mickey Milers button on my jacket so I could meet or catch up with fellow team mates.

The expo was held as in prior years at the ESPN Wild World of Sports. The bib pick up was in the HP Field House. The Goofy and Dopey bib pick up was upstairs while the half marathon and full marathon were downstairs.

Arriving at the Expo

Arriving at the Expo

Not too busy at pick up

Not too busy at pick up

Here we are

Here we are

Very excited to have this in my hands again

Very excited to have this in my hands again

While picking up the bibs we were handed our race shirts. I actually selected a smaller size this year at registration and that worked out well. The race shirts were really nice. The Goofy shirt would be useful in case of being stranded on an island…it was BRIGHT orange. I like the changes that they made to the race shirts last year and they kept them for this year too. Very nice and soft to the touch.

Trying on the Goofy shirt for size

Trying on the Goofy shirt for size

While we were there we bumped in my friend and fellow INKnBURN Ambassador Jill who started talking to my wife about the special runDisney shoes. Hmmm…

There was a little merchandise in the Field House but I don’t recall that it was open at the time we arrived so we rejoined my sister-in-law and her husband and headed over to the Jostens Center for the main expo. There were also some stand alone booths outside near the stadium but it was cool outside (it had been raining) and we knew most of the stuff we wanted would be inside.

One thing that was different this year was the new rule that anyone running one of the runDisney challenges during the weekend (Goofy and Dopey) had to have their picture taken with their bib. This was to replace the wristband system that was in place last year to prove that you have completed each race.

They're watching your every move!!!

They’re watching your every move!!!

As we entered we put into effect our plan to keep the boys occupied so we could all browse the expo. My wife and I use our old iPhones as iPods for our boys and so they have some games/apps/movies to keep them occupied. We chose a corner of the expo where they could see us and where we could see them. Everyone was happy.

The expo was set up like previous years and we hit the official runDisney merchandise section. It was set out in aisles by races with each race having some unique merchandise vs other races (e.g. jackets vs fleeces). After grabbing our car magnets we looked around for a while. We didn’t do too much damage this year. How much can you really buy these days having done these races for the last few years. Not much other than the year and color changes on some products. Still, some nice stuff. The character hats were unique though but not really runDisney as we did say some for sale in the parks later. I did notice that the ‘I Did It’ shirts were cotton this year and not the tech like last year. I had planned on purchasing one of those but skipped as a result.

Expo was spaciously laid out and not too crowded

Expo was spaciously laid out and not too crowded

Did most of our shopping down this aisle

Did most of our shopping down this aisle

Checked out some of the merchandise for the marathon down this aisle

Checked out some of the merchandise for the marathon down this aisle

The Mickey hats were fun. They also had Donald and Goofy variants.

The Mickey hats were fun. They also had Donald and Goofy variants.

The 'I Did It' shirts area

The ‘I Did It’ shirts area

Check out was quick and easy. We didn’t spend too much time there as we wanted to have a quick walk through the expo and we had Fast Passes waiting for us at EPCOT.

We did stop by to say hello and meet up with Jeff Galloway. Without Jeff’s training methods both Shari and I wouldn’t be multiple marathoners. We got a chance to have a quick chat with him. He is so approachable and encouraging.

Meeting Olympian and runDisney training consultant Jeff Galloway

Meeting Olympian and runDisney training consultant Jeff Galloway

A quick family stop at the expo for some Goofy fun

A quick family stop at the expo for some Goofy fun

Walking around the expo we saw the regular attendees. We didn’t go there needing anything so planned to walk around and see if there would be something unique. There were a few nice runDisney specific shirts at the Champion booth but there weren’t any left in my size by the time we got there. My wife however picked up a few ‘Sweaty Bands‘ including her runDisney branded band and I picked up a pair of arm sleeves by 2XU. My wife was intrigued by the runDisney shoes following our conversation with Jill earlier. While the New Balance runDisney process for getting these shoes includes pre-registering for an appointment (which we didn’t do) my wife is, how do I say it, umm…on the smaller size. Jill and Shari were of a similar height and Jill told her that she might be able to fit into the youth sizes for which there was no pre-sign up required. We headed over and before you knew it I was shelling out for some of the pink polka dot Minnie Mouse shoes (from the 2014 range).

runDisney Minnie Mouse shoes

runDisney Minnie Mouse shoes

Very happy with our purchase

Very happy with our purchase

Wearing the shoes later...with added charms

Wearing the shoes later…with added charms

They also had on display the new ‘retro’ “Steamboat Willie” 2015 runDisney shoes. They didn’t really do much for me and for the price of $185 they were a bit of a surprise compared to the 2014 colorful ones.

The 2015 runDisney New Balance shoes

The 2015 runDisney New Balance shoes

They were still selling the 2014 New Balance runDisney editions

They were still selling the 2014 New Balance runDisney editions

As I was waiting for everyone to wrap up their time at the expo I bumped into and said a quick hello to Runner’s World Chief Running Officer Bart Yasso.

A quick hello with Bart Yasso

A quick hello with Bart Yasso

So having left the expo we headed over to EPCOT. We planned to spend the day there as the team dinner for Team Up – Autism Speaks was planned for that evening at the Living Seas Pavillion. It had been raining when we arrived at the expo but had dried up but it was far from warm. My wife was already wearing her Goofy race jersey (I gave her the stink eye because I’m in the ‘don’t wear your race shirt before or during the race’ camp). As you can see, it was a little cold (ok…we may be exaggerating a little!)

As you can see we were a little bit cold....brrrrr...

As you can see we were a little bit cold….brrrrr…

After some time in the front of the park (yeah for Soarin’) and a quick trip around World Showcase with the boys we were all set to meet up with everyone for the dinner at the Team Up dinner. I did make a small purchase in the American Pavilion. My wife is a big fan of the Alex and Ani bracelets and they have a Disney line (of which I’ve already invested quite a bit). In the store they had a ‘Goofy’ charm which I bought as another keepsake to celebrate her ‘first’ Goofy Challenge.

Not to be worn until Sunday after finishing the marathon

Not to be worn until Sunday after finishing the marathon

We met up with everyone outside the Living Seas Pavilion at the front of the park before heading into the ‘Living Seas Salon’ banquet suite on the other side of aquarium. I had changed into my One More Mile custom Goofy shirt that I had made up for my first Goofy when I ran for Team Up back in 2013.

My special Goofy shirt

My special Goofy shirt

Custom T - back

Custom T – back

Dinner was hosted by Phillip, the National Director for Team Up and was a nice pasta buffet and dessert dinner. I think there were about 80 runners for this years team and at the date of the dinner we had raised over $163,000 for this event. While at the dinner there were a number of speakers sharing the stories of why they run for Autism Speaks. Some of the stories were amazing. Very inspiring evening. While the speakers were talking our boys were off in a corner making signs for us for the next day and generally enjoying the views of the aquarium.

2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

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2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

2015 Team Up Autism Speaks team dinner

After dinner it was a quick ride on Spaceship Earth, Illuminations fireworks and then heading back to our hotel for the first early wake up call (2:00am) for the half marathon.

‘Chasing the Unicorn’ Marathon race recap

Unicorn

Last Sunday I completed the ‘Chasing the Unicorn‘ Marathon along the Delaware Canal at Washington Crossing in PA. The good is that I completed the race, the bad, well let’s just get it out of the way, I missed my goal…by a lot. However, I’m not going to dwell too much on what turned out to be a great weekend anyway. In summary, it was one of my worst races but one of my best finishes. I’ll explain below.

I had signed up for this race based upon the fact that I PR’d earlier this year at the New Jersey Marathon and this included running the last 9 miles into what felt like a wind tunnel. I felt that I could do better. This race was created in 2013 by the Race Director of runBucks (Pat McCloskey) as a late summer chance for folks trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2014. The unicorn is the symbol of the Boston Athletic Assocation.

Boston Athletic Assocation

Boston Athletic Assocation

You can read about my reasons for signing up in my previous post (‘Chasing The Unicorn…or at least trying‘). So with sights set on improving my PR I followed Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 plan. This was a bit of a step up from the Intermediate 1 plan that I typically use and had higher mileage and an extra 20 mile run in the program. Luckily it was a pretty mild summer in comparison to recent years so all those extra early morning miles were actually quite enjoyable.

Anyway, back to the weekend itself.

On the Saturday evening before the marathon runBucks hosted the Washington Crossing 15K which started at finished in the same place as the marathon on Sunday. My wife had run this race last year and she had registered for it again this year. My wife and I run a lot of races, some together and some separately. Mostly we run separately as one of us is always staying with the boys as these races are typically early mornings. This race started at 5pm on Saturday which meant that we could all attend the race as a family and my wife would have her own (very loud) cheering section.

So after a breakfast of Mickey Mouse waffles (the best way of carb loading) and a full day at Sesame Place with the family we headed to Washington Crossing to cheer my wife on as a family.

Sharing our signs with our favorite runner

Sharing our signs with our favorite runner

Asher's sign

Asher’s sign

Micah's sign

Micah’s sign

My sign

My sign

Ready to go

Ready to go

After the race had begun and everyone was off on their way the race director opened up the bib pick up for the marathon the next day so I headed over and grabbed my bib and race shirt. Then we sat around and waited for the first runners to come back in before taking our place along the finish line chute to cheer on Shari.

Waiting and watching the other runners

Waiting for Mommy and watching the other runners

Here she comes...

Here she comes…

Sprinting to the finish

Sprinting to the finish

...there she goes

…there she goes

My wife beat her time from last year, running a nice pace and pushing hard at the end.

Finish time. Good pace.

Finish time. Good pace.

Of course she was then mobbed by the boys who had been without her for over and hour and were probably tired of me and the waiting around!!!

Her best cheerleaders

Her best cheerleaders

Sharing her bling

Sharing her bling

There was a pavilion at the park where the race director had set up a pasta dinner buffet for post-race and also as a pre-race dinner for tomorrow so we headed over to eat. You would think my boys had were prepping for an ultra-marathon the next day…but they do have good appetites for sure. We even had to make a dessert stop on the way home (although I may have partaken in that too).

Once home we got the kids to bed and now it was my turn to prepare for the marathon the next morning. Based upon the forecast and my wife’s feedback from her race I began to wonder if I should carry water for the race. It was August and I have never run a marathon at this time of the year. The course itself being a double out and back on a narrow footpath meant that water stations were somewhat limited and my wife told me that crossing the two way traffic for water stops might be tricky. With that said, better to carry water and not use it than to run and need water. I decided to race wearing my Nathan Speed 2 hydration belt.

I set out my gear the night before as usual. I planned to wear my new Buddha shirt that I received from my recent INKnBURN grab bag. The grab bag is a selection of shirts that are either no longer made, one off samples or some of their current selection. You don’t know what you are going to get until the package arrives. I was very happy with my selection and opted for a nice bright color. Who says running gear has to be boring. It wasn’t as if I was going to win this race but perhaps I could make the ‘best dressed’ list 😉

'Flat Ian' the night before

‘Flat Ian’ the night before

It’s strange and nice to have a race local and be longer than a 5K. I got up around my usual time when I go out for a long run in the morning and got ready, grabbed my Powerbar and headed out to Washington Crossing. I had stated that I was shooting for a goal time of 3:50 or better. I wasn’t going to qualify for Boston but I knew this was perhaps a stretch goal having only just run 3:54 a few months earlier, but I had trained hard and felt good going into the race.

When I arrived I saw all these elite looking runners and was feeling a little intimidated at first. The night before they had announced that about 30% of the field planned to run 3:25 or better. Eek!!! What was I doing here??? But as I made my way from the parking lot to the starting area I saw other runners who were ’50 State’ runners and ‘Marathon Maniacs’ that looked like they were there for the ‘taking part’ and not just for the ‘BQ’. I also saw a few other runners wearing hydration belts and packs so I felt comfortable with my decision.

Ready to get started. Wearing my INKnBURN Buddha shirt.

Ready to get started. Wearing my INKnBURN Buddha shirt.

It was a cool morning and as we got into the corrals it actually started to rain lightly which was a little unexpected given the forecast. There were about 300 entrants into the race. They had a small early group start around 6:15am and this consisted of some walkers as well as those that may not meet the planned cut off time. The full race was to start at 7:15am. Each wave included about 50 runners. The waves would set off 30 seconds apart so being in wave 3 was just 90 seconds behind the leaders (at the start line).

The course itself was a double out-and-back loop along the Delaware Canal Towpath from Washington Crossing, PA to the turnaround point in New Hope, PA. The path itself is a soft easy trail of mostly crushed stone. It is narrow in places, almost single file, but mostly you could have two-way traffic so we got to see the leaders 2 to 3 times depending upon your pace. The elevation is minimal and for the most part the course is in the shade.

Here is the ‘Map My Run’ version of the course from the runBUCKS website.

Waiting in the corral for my wave.

Waiting in the corral for my wave.

Okay, to the race itself, and also the reason it has taken me over a week to actually post the write up to my blog.

With all the confidence in the world I knew in the back of my mind going in that this was a stretch goal for me. I had reduced my PR already this year by over 4 and a half minutes and I was looking to do the same. I don’t have a coach so I follow a plan and to all intents and purposes I am the one who manages my day to day training. With that in mind all I can say is that I learn a lot from experience. This was going to be one of those learning experiences but I didn’t know that when I started out…

As we started out I quickly went to the front of my wave so I could get ahead of folks early on and make sure that I could maintain my run/walk Galloway intervals (4:00/0:45) without interfering with a big pack of runners. I knew that the canal was narrow and this may be a difficult task (in fact I did have to walk through some messy places to get out the way of folks during the walking intervals) but I seemed to be maintaining my pace with the same folks for the first few miles. I used the same intervals that led to my PR back in late April.

During the first 6-7 miles it rained steadily. This was actually quite cooling and not heavy like the rain I had to run in during The Love Run earlier this year (although it was about 20 degrees warmer which helped). As you can see from my initial splits below I was on pace (actually a little faster) for the first 8 or so miles. To hit 3:50 according to my pace band I should be pacing at 8:47 per mile. I was feeling confident although I noticed that my heart rate was elevated in the normal range but not returning back as normal during the walk breaks. I tend to reach 160-170 bpm’s during the run and it usually hits 120-130 bpm’s at the end of the 45 second walk. This time I was still around 150 bpm’s after the end of each walk break. At this point I hadn’t taken any caffeine or a caffeine infused gels so I wasn’t sure why.

The first part of the race. So far so good.

The first part of the race. So far so good.

It wasn’t until around miles 9 to 10 when I started to feel a bit uncomfortable. I developed a pain in my side, not so much a stitch but an ache. It was a little strange but I couldn’t get rid of it even with a walk break and some water. Thankfully I had my water belt on as the water stations were a little sparse due to the course constraints around the turn around. By mile 11 I had an ache in my stomach which seemed to be more of a hunger pain than anything but I hadn’t done anything different in preparing for this marathon than in any of the other marathons I had run.

I reached the half way point at 1:55 so I was still only a minute or two back from my goal time but I knew I was slowing. The 13.1 mile turnaround was being managed by Tammy, a fellow ‘Mickey Miler’ who I had met with at the race the day before and was volunteering today. It helped to see a smiling face to cheer me at the halfway point. I was hurting at this point. I knew that my goal was probably not going to be met and pretty much made peace with that. It was a stretch goal after all but I figured if I could maintain a decent pace for the second half I might still PR for the day.

The hard part about an out and back, especially a double out and back, is that you know exactly how far you are in to the race and how far you have left to go. I wasn’t tempted to quit at the halfway point even though I could have. That was never on the cards for me. I knew whatever happened I still had to finish whether I made my goal, PR or was struggling.

I struggled for pretty much the second half of the race. It wasn’t a case of the wheels on the bus go round and round…they fell off. Here are my splits for the remainder of the race. You can see the decline in pace. It is quite a drop from 8:30s to 11:30s.

My second set of splits

My second set of splits – the wheels are coming loose 😦

My third set of splits - the wheels are completely off!!!

My third set of splits – the wheels are completely off!!!

I will be honest with you here. I never considered quitting, that’s just not what I want to do or set as an example to my boys. I did consider walking it in. I felt dreadful, empty inside, not in pain but not great. I just made sure I kept shuffling on. It wasn’t my best performance by any means. I set myself little goals in a hope to get to the finish. My heart rate was still high so I started to adjust my intervals to 3:45/1:00 and ultimately I ended up running 2:00/1:00 just to make sure I could keep going as the day got longer and the temperatures got warmer. My goals moved a little but I tried to make them attainable, for example, maintain the pace and break 4 hours. Once that goal was missed I set myself a goal of getting home in less than 4:10 and so on.

It was a little demoralizing but as I struggled in I noticed that no one was passing me. The faster runners had long finished (the winner ran 2:38) but I was still out there going forward. I knew I would eventually finish and as I had spoken with my wife the night before I expected to see my family at the finish line. I had told them that I hoped to be crossing the line around 11am (that would have been a 3:45 goal). My wife and kids were very patient as I missed that time by 30 minutes.

Finally, with about less than 2 miles to go I pushed as best I could. I could see the finish area across the park and buckled down to finish. As I was heading towards the finish line I saw that it was blocked by an ambulance. I younger runner had gone down less than half a mile before the finish line. My wife later told me that she was very worried it was me as she had expected me earlier and there was no news at the finish line other than a male runner had gone down. The EMS crew waved me around the ambulance and then I saw the finish line…and my family.

As I ran towards the finish line I heard my kids yelling out for me and jumping up and down with excitement. They had no clue as to how I was feeling at that point and there was not reason that they needed to know. As I ran up towards them they just beamed their big smiles at me. There was no one else coming in to finish at that time so I went over to the boys and told them to run in with me. I may have been feeling low over the last few miles but their being there for me totally lifted my spirits. We crossed the line as a family and I’ve never been happier to have finished a marathon. Goal or no goal, this finish is the best so far.

My best ever finish.

My best ever finish.

You cannot be that feeling. I may not have made my goal, I may not have PR’d, heck this was my slowest marathon (I ran 4:15), but at that moment it felt like my best. I totally got over any disappointment as this is a memory I will cherish. Having my boys run alongside me was absolutely awesome.

I made it through the finish line and got my medal and we headed over to grab the gear they had left when they joined me to run to the finish. I was beat. I think it shows.

I was cooked.

I was cooked. This is what a tough marathon feels like. Better to have experienced it and come out feeling positive.

So, I have two young boys who hadn’t seen me since the night before. I had no time to feel sorry for myself. They were all over me like a bee is to honey. They needed my attention more than I needed theirs so this was a very quick healing for any blues I may have been feeling at the time. No point in setting a bad example of being a misery in front of the kids. Get up, brush yourself down and know there are things more important than just PR’s. There will certainly be other races and many where my kids are not able to see me at the finish line. I aimed to savor my time with them. It really cheered me up. As you can see from the photo below I don’t look too disappointed. After all, I had still finished another marathon. That’s still something of an achievement.

Kids didn't even mind sweaty hugs. They were excited to see me after all.

Kids didn’t even mind sweaty hugs. They were excited to see me after all.

We headed over to the pavilion where there was food for the runners (and apparently for my offspring who again ate like they had run an ultra-marathon). The race director had catered well for runners both the night before and after the race today. In fact, I’ve never eaten French toast sticks as post race food before but they weren’t too bad. A little carbs with a little sugar. I was happy.

Post race food was provided. We ate well.

Post race food was provided. We ate well.

After a little food and some time to relax we started to head back to our cars so we could get home. After all it was still early enough in the day to have a full afternoon of activities with the family. By the time we headed out I had really forgotten how bad I had felt during the race and was pretty much over the fact that I had missed my goal. It was as simple as that. Over and done. Move on.

Happy to be with my family at the finish. The best cure for a bad race.

Happy to be with my family at the finish. The best cure for a bad race.

Still smiling. I still finished a marathon.

Still smiling. I still finished a marathon.

Okay...so not my best time.

Okay…so not my best time.

At the end of this all I can look back knowing that yes, this was a stretch goal, but I still finished another full marathon. I am not disappointed. In fact I may remember this as one of my favorites just because I got to share it with my family. I remember back in January when I finished the Dopey Challenge. As happy as I was to finish that event I remember feeling a little sad at the finish line area as I had no one to share it with at that very moment. The support makes all the difference between highs and lows.

Hard to be sad with support like this.

Hard to be sad with support like this.

I’m not sure I would rush back for this event again (unless I feel like redemption). This is not a negative on the race at all. I had a goal in mind and I didn’t meet it. I used this race for a specific purpose and as I train here a lot (for free) I’m not sure I would return unless I felt like it was the right opportunity. This race is designed as a BQ race specifically so it doesn’t have all the fancy bells and whistles of other big races. The race director did an outstanding job both days. I may return for the 15K next year as that will be fun to race.

The rest of the this year and into next I am running races with my wife. I’m not looking to PR in any of these but looking to have fun and enjoy the experiences together. I didn’t know what to say about my experience in this blog post (again, that is why it took me over a week), but now a week out from the race and reading what I have written above it really does have a silver lining. I may never catch that Unicorn but for me that is not the most important thing. I came late to running and every marathon finish line is a victory, fast or slow.

Thank you for reading.

April and May – Month(s) in review

As I was starting my review for May I realized that I never posted the month in review for April. It may have been that I was a little busy around the month end (see here) which took my mind elsewhere for a few days and I never actually realized my oversight until just now. April, after all, was a pretty big month for me.

April 2014 - Nike+ Summary

April 2014 – Nike+ Summary

My monthly stats show 152 miles but that is not the whole story for the month. I set a new Marathon PR (3:54:30) at the New Jersey Marathon. In addition I ran a the inaugural Philadelphia Hot Chocolate 15K and the Bucks County Half Marathon. With the inaugural Philadelphia LOVE Run back on March 30th this made for a very busy few weeks of training and racing. The cool thing about that is that all my race times were around my marathon goal pace so I actually went into the marathon with confidence. All the hard work paid off. I was a very happy fellow for a few days…until I had to take about 10 days of unforced rest.

Philadelphia Hot Chocolate 15K

Philadelphia Hot Chocolate 15K

Bucks County Half Marathon

Bucks County Half Marathon

What else…oh yes, my wife and I signed up for the Baltimore Running Festival. We will be running the Baltimore Marathon together. My hope is that we can bring her marathon PR down further. I’m confident she can. We also signed up for the 2014 Rock and Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. I was hesitant to do this again as I have run it for the last 3 years and we had discussed skipping this but for some reason we decided to give it another chance this year. After all, we have a family wedding later this year and we want to look good in the pictures.

April was also registration time for the 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon weekend. Again I signed up with Team Up/Autism Speaks for a third year but this time ‘just’ the Goofy Challenge. My wife also signed up with Team Up so we are fundraising together (harder than training if you ask me). As part of our fundraising efforts we are running two virtual 5K fun run/walk events. This proved both popular and successful for me last year and we are hoping for the same this year. We actually have some really great medals and vendors have been generous to offer some cool prizes for participants this year. I hope you take a few minutes to take a look, perhaps join in one of the events and please do share this with your friends/running partners. It should be fun. Here are the medals designed for the events.

005K medal

005K medal

Going Goofy

Going Goofy

With a rather abrupt end to April (running wise) and a short break in training in May I had some ground to make up…well, really I was antsy and wanted to get back out there ASAP. Here is my recap for May.

May 2014 - Nike+ Summary

May 2014 – Nike+ Summary

I still managed to get 113 training miles in during the month and was very grateful to be able to do so. The weather outside in May has been glorious. Yes, there have been some cool mornings but with the exception of a couple of rainy runs it has been great to be outdoors in the early mornings as the sun is rising and get my runs in. Now that I am training using Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 training program my weekday mileage has crept up a little. I’m glad for the extra sunlight so I am not so reliant on the headlamp right now.

My wife ran in a couple of races this month. Early in May she ran a new PR at the Broad Street Run 10 miler in Philadelphia and on Mother’s Day I signed her up for a local 10K where she came back with a 2nd place age group finisher award. Go Shari!!! I’m a big fan (when I can keep up with her).

My wife with one of her awards (2nd place age group - Mother's Day 10K)

My wife with one of her awards (2nd place age group – Mother’s Day 10K)

The rest of this month has really been focused on managing the new training program and the increase in mileage. I am trying to follow the program diligently and doing the pace runs before the long runs. So far so good. Holding about an 8:30 min/mile pace on the hilly course where I train so I’m pleased with that.

On Memorial Day I finally took the bike out for my first ride of the season. I’m pleased to say that I got in 20 miles and felt comfortable. I have signed up for a third year now for the Cycle Bucks County riding event in June so I’m looking forward to that. I think 25 miles is my comfort level when it comes to cycling right now. I’m not yet ready for the Ironman training.

Memorial Day was also the last time we did a family run with our double stroller. The boys are just too big. We bought the double stroller back in 2012 so that my wife and I could both run together with the boys. We have put on well over 150 miles running together with the stroller including three 5K races as well as a couple of long vacation runs. We figured that the boys were on the cusp of the weight limit at the end of last summer but held on to it over the winter. We took it out on Memorial Day and I just couldn’t keep up with my wife. My boys are getting bigger and we were not able to keep up with each other. It was time for it to go but we had some great times running and a lot of fun. It went to a good home.

Our last stroller run. As you can see, the boys are big enough to push me.

As you can see, the boys are big enough to push me.

With the good results of the medical procedure behind me I can now concentrate on other matters. One thing I wanted to look at since I PR’d at the New Jersey Marathon is a chance to better it. I think I can do it. I signed up for a local marathon held in late summer on a flat and fast course along the Delaware Canal Towpath. It is in August so there may be some heat to deal with but that is my goal and after that I can enjoy Baltimore and then Goofy with my wife.

I’ve also signed up for the Gary Papa Father’s Day 5K in Philadelphia. I ran this back in 2012 and this is still my 5K PR (23:31) although I don’t run many anymore. I haven’t decided if I am going to race this for a PR or do this for fun. We shall see how I feel closer to the date. It is a good fundraiser for prostate cancer awareness and draws a large number of entrants. It is a fairly flat and fast course down by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. That is coming up on Father’s Day (June 15).

Also, I finally I decided to sign up for a race that I had been tempted to in the past but had not done yet. A midnight 8 miler in July as part of the ‘philadelphia#in24‘ series of races taking place along the banks of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia on July 19 through the 20th. It is a 24 hour event featuring an ultra marathon, a relay challenge, a midnight run and a 5K. Should be fun. I’ll be there all lit up in lights and reflective gear.

I have a pretty busy season coming up and lots to look forward to. It’s not all running though. As much as my wife and I pack in with our training and racing we still have plenty of time for our boys. There is a swimming pool in our development for those hot summer afternoons, we just bought a trampoline so our kids can tire themselves out (hopefully) as well as memberships at Sesame Place, the Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey, the Philadelphia Zoo and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia (thank you Groupon for all you do!). We are also planning a weekend in New York City with the boys and are planning a trip to the Statue of Liberty. As I said, running is just part of our lives…not all that we do.

Thanks for reading. Hope you are having a good start to the summer.

Not why, but ‘how’ I run

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Over the last three plus years since I began running many people have asked me why I run. We all have our reasons how we began and why we continue to do so and I am only to happy to share my story with them. But very often people ask me questions like:

  • Don’t your knees hurt running all the time?
  • I don’t know how you have the energy to do it?
  • How can you run that long and not be bored?

These are generally accompanied by statements like:

  • I’m not in shape, I could never do that!
  • I have (insert problem) so I wouldn’t be able do what you do!
  • I wouldn’t last even a mile running!
  • I would get bored after ‘X’ miles/minutes!

Here I am going to share the ‘HOW’ and see if these questions and comments can be answered. Here goes…

1. Set attainable goals 

I never thought that when I started the Couch to 5K program that I would ever be a marathon runner? I didn’t. But I set myself a goal. Finish the 5K program. This program took me from being a non-runner to being able to complete a 5K (3.1 miles) in 9 weeks. It was hard. I had shin splints, I had a hard time with stairs for a while. I had to repeat week 5 at least twice. I struggled. But you know what? I finished. I was amazed I went from nothing to running a 5K. I had started a new habit of running 2-3 times a week and built on my progress from there. Now I run 5 days a week.

2. Get fitted for shoes at a proper running store

Once I had run up to 3.1 miles it was time to get some real runner’s equipment. Shoes. I went to a local running store where I had my running gait analyzed by an experienced runner. Don’t concern yourself with looks and colors. Take their advice. Be prepared to spend a bit…but not too much…to get a good fitting shoe that will serve your needs.

3. Find a race

As I completed my Couch to 5K program I started to look at what I wanted to do next. I set my sights on completing a local 5 mile race that the local running club holds every Thanksgiving. It wasn’t easy, I didn’t manage to run the whole way but I completed the race with a decent pace (for me at that time). At that point that was the longest distance I had ever run. I then targeted what was is one of the major running events near me, the Philadelphia Broad Street Run. As part of my training I started running more and more 5K races to get used to racing and also as a dress rehearsal for ‘big events’. I’ve built up my race experience with longer distances since then.

4. Celebrate the little successes

By Thanksgiving in 2010 I had finished my first race (the 5 miler) and had at that time lost around 20lbs. I headed for a family vacation in Florida and took all my new running gear with a goal of running 30 miles over the vacation. On my final day of vacation I ran 6 miles (my longest run to date at that time). I achieved that and made sure to reward myself. I hit up the Nike outlet for some goodies.

I’ve used this success and reward cycle to keep building myself up. These successes were running 3 times a week, running 4 times a week, running 8 miles, running 10 miles. I’ve always made sure to celebrate in some way however small. Now after every marathon I treat myself to a new pair of shoes (typically just a different color of the same model shoe) as this inspires me to get out there and keep training.

5. Take some chances

So having registered to run the 2011 Broad Street Run I continued to build on my mileage. As I had recently completed 10 miles in training my wife encouraged me to sign up for my first Half Marathon (the Bucks County Half Marathon). It was held in Tyler State Park where I now do most of my marathon training although it was new to me at that time. The week before the race I decided to take a trial run to see how I might do on the course. I printed of a map and started running. Unfortunately I had the map upside down but it taught me how hilly the park was!!! So with only a couple of weeks between signing up and running my first half marathon I felt great that I took that leap (or push) and took that chance. Now it gave me the confidence for Broad Street.

Every race distance I complete, every PR I earn now gives me the confidence to step up my game and toe the line for a new challenge.

6. Maintaining the motivation

Now what? I had completed a Half Marathon, I had run Broad Street, what was next on the plan? I hadn’t looked too far forward at this stage as I had still been running for less than a year. I set a new challenge. Break 2 hours for a Half Marathon. I set my sights on another local race, the 2011 Rock and Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. This meant that I couldn’t slack off during the summer as I was still a newbie and needed to build up again to a half marathon distance. This is what got me out of the door after Broad Street.

Today I look to plan my race calendar for at least the next 6-12 months in advance so that I can plan my training, have set goals and keep myself committed.

7. Listen to your body

Early in my running as I was continuing my training and increasing my distance running I started to become more and more uncomfortable with my right knee and ultimately I went to see a doctor. I did not want to stop running but I was waking up in the middle of the night with discomfort and it was getting painful on my daily 110 mile round trip commute.

I was referred to a physical therapist who had me run on the treadmill and she analysed my problem. I was an over-pronator. Although I had stability shoes I needed additional support and was recommended for some shoe inserts (over the counter were sufficient for me). I visited the physical therapist for a 6 week period twice a week and performed a series of exercises to build up the stability muscles around my knees, to learn how to stretch and to focus on my running form. I was also recommended as part of this to get re-fitted for shoes which I did. I have been in Brooks Adrenaline shoes ever since. (Over time as my body has got stronger I have moved away from the need for the inserts and now run with shoes straight out of the box).

By the end of the 6 week treatment I was stronger, my knees were aligned and I had a new focus on my running form that would go on to be a go to mental technique I now incorporate towards the end of races when I am getting tired. I was a fitter and renewed runner. I’ve learned to listen to the aches and pains when they occur and know when to rest and back off. I’ve also come more accustomed to the training. Where I once would have hurt or struggled for a couple of days after a long run I know how to self treat post run for better recovery. A lot of this is just experience and building up your own endurance.

I also started reading about running and training methods. Through my research I came across Jeff Galloway and his ‘Run-Walk-Run’ method. Learning about the method and applying it in training and racing has enabled me to achieve goals that at the beginning of my journey seemed out of touch. His methods have also allowed me to stay pretty much injury free as it changes up the muscles I am using through the intervals and also has allowed me to recover quicker.

8. Set bigger goals

After these little successes I set my sights on a bigger challenge, completing my first marathon. I signed up with the Runner’s World Challenge to run the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon which provided me with a training plan, supporting community and a daily e-mail providing encouragement (plus a cool shirt and a book on road racing).

Training for a marathon is a life changing experience. Never did I think that setting the alarm for 3am, strapping on a headlamp and a reflective vest would be something I would do but you get to a point where your habit becomes your lifestyle and something just ‘clicks’ and you do it because you want to do it. To date I have done 8 marathons (including a couple of multi-day distance events at Walt Disney World).

9. Preventative care

It’s not just putting in the miles that makes be a better runner, I have to look after my body as that is my tool to achieve my goals. I had already started dieting to lose weight prior to starting running but to run distance you have to fuel right. It isn’t about cutting out calories for the most part I probably eat more than I used to these days but it is eating the right foods at the right time in the right quantities. It’s about keeping the metabolism going.

I definitely eat more healthily than I used to. I seldom eat fried food or red meat anymore, anytime I do I definitely feel a difference. I seldom drink alcohol these days although I will partake in moderation. I guess that is the word, ‘moderation’. I still have a very sweet tooth. I look to satisfy my cravings with healthier alternatives but I also don’t beat myself up if I indulge from time to time. I journal all my food in the LoseIt app. I’ve been using that every day for almost 4 years now. It keeps me focused and in check.

I also get regular chiropractic adjustments. I go every 3 to 4 weeks to visit Dr Bagnell who has seen me go from being unfit and overweight to 50lbs light with my current fitness levels and he has commented on how different and beneficial it has been to my overall health. It is like a regular tune up for my body. A little realignment goes a long way. I’m pounding pavement for hour after hour, then I sit at a desk all day and drive a car for at least 2.5 hours a day. If I didn’t get myself in alignment regularly I would just be creating problems for myself and lead to long-term injury as I tried to over compensate for any discomfort. Training pushes your body to the limits, but if you can maintain your engine then your body will be kind to you and your recovery will be faster.

10. Have fun

You may have noticed from some of my previous posts that I like to have fun when I run. One of the best things that resulted from me running is that I get to run races with my wife. We are a good team. We both have somewhat different training schedules but we do run events together. I guess I am lucky that my wife is also a keen runner (we started within months of each other) and we get to share experiences together, visit new places and have a unique opportunity to sight see when we travel, for example running through all four Disney Parks at Walt Disney World, running along Niagara Falls and running across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Running across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA

Running across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

Running also happened to allow me to be a big kid again. I think you may have been able to tell that I am a big Disney fan. Well running has allowed me some unique experiences (through runDisney) like running races in full costume It has also enabled me to raise over $8,000 (to date) for charity.

Running in EPCOT at the 2013 Disney Family 5K

Running in EPCOT at the 2013 Disney Family 5K

Running through EPCOT at the 2014 inaugural Walt Disney World 10K

Running through EPCOT at the 2014 inaugural Walt Disney World 10K

That’s how I got to be where I am and how I stay motivated. What do you do differently? Share your methods and motivations in the comments below.

Thank you for reading 🙂

Chasing the Unicorn…or at least trying

Unicorn

Coming off my recent PR earned (on the second attempt) at this year’s New Jersey Marathon I didn’t really have anything on my race schedule until the Baltimore Marathon in October and the Walt Disney World ‘Goofy Challenge’ next January. Both these races I will be running with my wife and so there are two goals: (1) In Baltimore it is to break 4:30 with Shari in her third marathon (we ran 4:45 together at the 2013 Philadelphia Marathon) and; (2) To successfully complete the Goofy Challenge still upright and smiling.

It was interesting for me that my reaction to achieving my PR at the New Jersey Marathon was a very brief high, but it soon faded. Why? I don’t know. I had prepared for this for over a year (longer if you count the training leading up to the 2013 Marathon). Personally I look back on the race and think I can do better. Yes, I did achieve my goal but it wasn’t pretty in the second half. I was nowhere near a negative split and I didn’t pace myself well in the second half. Am I being too hard on myself? Maybe, but perhaps it’s a reflection on my new focus and desire to do a bit better and achieve greater goals. This is what spurred me into registering for the ‘Chasing the Unicorn‘ Marathon taking place August 17 this year.

Why is it called ‘Chasing the Unicorn’? What is it all about? Why am I running it?

The logo of the Boston Marathon is the Unicorn. The primary objective of this particular race is for runners looking to earn a BQ (Boston qualifying standard) ahead of the registration deadline in September. In order to run the Boston Marathon, runners need to achieve a certain qualifying time goal in relation to their age group. For male runners in my age category (40-44) the qualifying standard is a marathon time of ‘3 hrs 15 min 00 sec’.

This race was first put on last year as a response to the increased demand to qualify for Boston in the wake of the 2013 bombings. Here is an article from Runner’s World Magazine that was published about the inaugural event in 2013.

As you may have read from my New Jersey race recap my marathon PR is 3 hrs 54 min 30 sec, not even close to the qualifying time unless I was in the 60-64 age category. So why is it that I have chosen to participate in this race and why was I allowed as I appear to be well outside the qualifying time?

I was already familiar with the ‘runBucks‘ series of races and the race director Pat McCloskey having participated in a few of his races in the past. My wife has won a couple of awards running in his events and is all too pleased to show me her awards (sore point in our household) 😉 I hadn’t considered running a race like this last year as I didn’t feel there was any way I would be reaching the BQ standards any time soon but two things made me reconsider. Firstly, I do some of my training runs on the canal and I have probably covered most if not all of this course during my long runs and secondly I think I can better my PR.

My wife with one of her awards (2nd place age group - Mother's Day 10K)

My wife with one of her awards (2nd place age group – Mother’s Day 10K)

I had struggled a little after the New Jersey Marathon back in 2013 and was a little demoralized having trained and not earned my PR but throughout the rest of 2013 I just set out to enjoy myself, run races with my wife and took my races with a relaxed attitude. I did attempt a PR in the Benjamin Franklin Bridge 10K which I did achieve but mostly it was about maintaining my fitness going into the inaugural Dopey Challenge back in January of this year. If you look at my recap of those four days down at Walt Disney World you will see how relaxed I was and how I found the marathon such an enjoyable experience (even after the previous three days of running) compared to my previous two years running that event.

I came back from Walt Disney World with a new confidence in my running and throughout all the training for New Jersey I felt comfortable and watched my speed become more consistent and a little quicker. In fact I ran three races in the four weeks leading up to the New Jersey Marathon at or close to my marathon goal pace. I felt confident going into the New Jersey Marathon and did in fact achieve my goal.

Okay, so not a BQ by any means but I do feel like I can do better. This prompted me to reach out to Pat directly and ask him if it was okay to register. I told him upfront that I wasn’t anywhere close to a BQ but I feel that this was the type of event that I could aim to improve my PR. It wasn’t going to be crowded (a very limited field) and I would be running solo so it seemed like a good opportunity to try. I also asked Pat if it was okay based upon the field size if it was okay to enter. I didn’t want to take away a BQ opportunity from a runner who was genuinely in a position to earn a qualifying time. Again, Pat reassured me that this would not be a problem just to keep my awareness up that I was going to be lapped…a lot (this is a double out and back loop of about 6.5 miles).

So here I am. Back at it in marathon training mode. In the past (marathons 2 through 8) I have used Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 1 training plan with Jeff Galloway’s run/walk method. This time I am ‘upping’ to Hal’s Intermediate 2 plan. It calls for a little increase in mileage (I get a third 20 mile training run) and with the summer here I can get up a little earlier and make time to do some speed workouts without fear of slipping on ice!! I know it will be warmer than I am used to training for a marathon but hopefully I will acclimatize enough over the summer to make this work. Here is my training plan for this event, the Baltimore Marathon and through the Goofy Challenge next January.

It’s going to be tough especially with the increased mileage but my goal is to be sub 3:50. Yup, I’ve put this down here in writing.

I’ll keep you posted 🙂

 

March 2014 – month in review

March 2014 - Nike+ Summary

March 2014 – Nike+ Summary

193 miles this month.

This was my biggest month of training by far since I started running back in 2010. I definitely had a few ‘moments’ this month feeling tired and sore but made a few adjustments to my training and finished the month strong.

Winter was still very much with us as we began the month so I was getting my training runs in on the treadmill at first. This included my longest treadmill run so far of 17 miles. Thankfully I discovered a wonderful (and at least for me) entertaining podcast which took my mind of the task at hand and got me through the run. This was followed up with a quick business trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida where I took advantage of the warm weather and had a couple of outdoor runs wearing t-shirt and shorts. Needless to say I ran further than planned on those days…I got lost twice and had to use my iPhone Maps to get me back to the hotel. This was then followed by a return to winter….and an 18 mile training run on the treadmill. Ugh!!!

Around mid-March we were fortunate to have some better/warmer weather for a few days and I was able to keep my training on track and for a week I was able to run outdoors in the park where we live. It was great to be back (if a little wrapped up for the weather) and I had some good runs getting used to some proper hills again (there were no hills on my work trip to Fort Lauderdale).

Next up was a business trip to Atlanta, Georgia where I had a good few runs in Piedmont Park and also joined a weekly group run from Jeff Galloway’s Phiddipides store. That was really fun and the weather, although a little chilly earlier in the week, was glorious for my last run out there.

It was during that week that my nagging heel pain started to really bother me. I took a couple of days off but still had a 20 miler to run as part of the training for the upcoming New Jersey Marathon. Since I had to get some physical therapy back in 2011 when I started running I have run with an over the counter shoe insert which acts as an orthotic to support the arch in my foot. It is a really hard/stiff insert and I have been buying a new set for every new pair of running shoes that I bought. I decided to look for something with a more plush heel to see if that would help and I purchase a pair of Brooks Transcend (Brook’s new flagship stability shoe).

Brooks Transcend

Brooks Transcend

While doing some research I looked into reviews for people using orthotics in these shoes. Looking at some of the message boards around I started thinking that the shoes are designed to provide support as needed, perhaps I didn’t need the orthotic in my running shoe as the shoe is design for stability and to provide pronation support. In my everyday shoes (not designed for running) I wear and orthotic with no problem but with the stability shoe was I doubling up on the support? I decided to take a couple of runs without them, although I still ran the 20 miler with the insert in just in case. I actually took out my iPod with me to get me through that run, something I had not done on an outdoor run in almost 3 years just to get me through any discomfort.

I took my first few runs (all 5 milers) wearing the standard insoles that came with the shoe and had no issues. The test would come on the longer distances. As the month closed I ran an 8 miler and raced in the inaugural Philadelphia LOVE RUN all without the orthotic and felt no discomfort. No heel pain during or after the run. I have subsequently returned to wearing my Brooks Adrenaline’s as I feel I don’t need the additional cushioning on the Transcend (and can save $50 on the cost of the shoes vs the Transcend). So I will attempt to continue running with the support designed into the shoe rather than adding an additional overriding support in the shoe. So far, so good.

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 14

Brooks Adrenaline GTS 14

I ended the month feeling good and set out to run the LOVE RUN half marathon at pace to see how my fitness was going into April and the marathon. Despite the appalling conditions (see here) I actually ran a sensible, comfortable race with a negative split and my feet felt comfortable without the orthotic. I actually ran my second fastest half marathon which also felt good and has given me some confidence going into a busy April.

As the month drew to a close the results of the lottery for the 2014 New York Marathon were announced and neither my wife and I were able to secure a place. We are looking at alternative marathons for this Fall as we will not be able to attend the Philadelphia Marathon this year. Currently we are looking at the Baltimore Marathon or the Atlantic City Marathon (both in October).

On tap for this month in addition to my last 20 mile long run before the marathon taper begins is:

April 6 – ‘Hot Chocolate’ 15K in Philadelphia

April 13 – Bucks County Half Marathon in Newtown, PA

April 27 – New Jersey Marathon in Oceanport, NJ

I look forward to improving weather and running outdoors more than indoors in the coming month. April also brings about registration for the 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon. In 2015 I will again be signing up to run with Team Up! with Autism Speaks but this time running the Goofy Challenge and not the Dopey Challenge. My wife also said she would be up for running the Goofy Challenge with me so that will be lots of fun.

In the meantime, I am still running with the ‘Mickey Milers‘ Running Team to raising money for the ‘Give Kids The World’ Village in Orlando, Florida so any support you can offer is greatly appreciated. Here is my personal link.

Mickey Milers Running Team

Mickey Milers Running Team

Thank you for reading.