‘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.

2014 New Jersey Marathon recap

This post is a few days later than anticipated but I just completed marathon number 8, the 2014 Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon. This brought a little redemption from when I ran this race last year 🙂

2014 Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon

2014 Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon

I decided to run this race again this year for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to see the course over it’s mostly original restored course a year after Hurricane Sandy and second, to earn the PR I had set myself as a goal last year before the wheels fell off. So having re-registered in December I set about training for this event straight after completing the inaugural 2014 Walt Disney World ‘Dopey Challenge’. Actually I was already a couple of weeks into the training program when I got back from Florida and so with 16 weeks to go I set about training for New Jersey.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this was a pretty harsh winter and I did most of my training (including long runs) on the treadmill. Thankfully I was able to run outdoors by the time the 20 milers rolled around. Coming into this event I had run three good races all below my marathon goal pace (9:00/per mile) and was feeling confident although a little apprehensive based upon last year.

The race director does a great job of keeping everyone informed of events and starting out 10 weeks before the day there were weekly updates on the New Jersey Marathon blog which were very helpful as the day approached. In addition, the organizers were very active on Facebook updating everyone on the activities going on and introducing the marathon pace teams to everyone. Communication was top class.

I headed to the expo on the Friday evening before the race as my office is very close by and I didn’t have time to come back the following day (I live about 60 miles from the expo/start line area). The race expo and the race start and staging area is at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, NJ. The expo is held inside the pavillion.

Arriving at the expo

Arriving at the expo

Entering the park

Entering the park

Arriving for packet pickup

Arriving for packet pickup

Packet pickup was very simple. I was picking up bibs and shirts also for two friends running the Long Branch Half Marathon (which started and finished along the full marathon course). The volunteers were very helpful and there were tables for bib pickup for each race and t-shirt pickup for each race. Shirts were offered in male and female sizes which I see more of these days rather than the unisex shirts that other races offer.

Bib pickup was simple

Bib pickup was simple

Shirt pickup was divided into male/female tables and also by events

Shirt pickup was divided into male and female tables and also by events

There was also a small section of race specific merchandise. I didn’t buy any of the official merchandise this year but there was a broad range of wear and accessories and all the designs were nice too.

New Jersey Marathon Merchandise Area

New Jersey Marathon Merchandise Area

The expo was small. There were a few vendors but they had a full speaker series scheduled during the expo on both Friday and Saturday. You don’t get that at many races. Also there was a chance to meet up with various members of the New Jersey Marathon pace teams. Each pace group had two runners assigned and they were there to answer questions. On my way out the door I passed the small ‘Skechers‘ table. They were beaming from ear to ear in the glow of Meb Keflezighi’s Boston Marathon win. I am sure they will be back next year with a larger table 🙂

Obligatory bib photo before leaving the expo

Obligatory bib photo before leaving the expo

On Saturday I had planned a full family day so they got a chance to watch me carb load on pancakes although to be fair I bought lunch for them too!!! After a couple of stops and a birthday party I finally said my goodbyes (leaving them at a local carnival) and hopped in my car for the drive to my hotel near the start line. I set up all my gear for the next day and ‘attempted’ to get an early night….yeah, like you can sleep the night before a marathon.

'Flat Ian' ready for the big day

‘Flat Ian’ ready for the big day

There was a fairly significant thunderstorm that evening so I’m glad I made it to my hotel just before the weather turned sour. It definitely cooled temperatures down. When I left the hotel the following morning my car had a layer of frost on the windshield. Great….I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. Luckily the weather forecast for the day looked good (if a bit breezy).

I set out fairly early for the race as I recalled from last year that the entrance to Monmouth Park is via local access roads. With the Half Marathon setting off at 6:45am (the Full Marathon set off at 8am) I knew that some of the local roads would be shut down for a while so I wanted to get there and parked before the start of the Half. Plenty of other people had the same idea but the traffic wasn’t too bad and I got there around 6.15am. The parking was well organized and they had folks working the parking lots to make sure it was all filled in an orderly manner. My Disney experience showed here as I took a picture of my parking lot location…more of that later.

Remember where we parked the car

Remember where we parked the car

The nice thing about the location is that runners get access to the pavillion early prior to the race. That means you have indoor bathrooms, somewhere to keep warm and a place to sit before having to head out to bag check. I made myself comfortable and relaxed.

Race morning inside the pavilion. Bustling with Half and Full Marathoners.

Race morning inside the pavilion. Bustling with Half and Full Marathoners.

Relaxing pre-race.

Relaxing pre-race.

I didn’t get a chance to catch up with my friends Beth and her brother Larry prior to the Half but I had planned on meeting a couple of other folks prior to the race. While sitting around in the pavillion I also bumped into a former colleague of mine (Marc) and met up with John Thompson from the ‘The Runner of a Certain Age‘ blog and podcast. I had planned to meet up with my wife’s former colleague from her time in London, Chris, but he wasn’t hanging out in the paviilion. I later found out he was staying nearby with family and didn’t plan on arriving too early as he didn’t need to.

With John and Marc

With John and Marc

Around 7:30 we bid each other good luck and headed towards the bag check. Being a point to point race we had to load our gear bags into a waiting truck if we wanted anything like a jacket or other items post race. I packed up my bag, put on my throw away shirt and headed for the corrals.

Ok...I'm ready

Ok…I’m ready

Just after entering the corral I bumped into Chris so I got the photo for my wife which I had been instructed to before the weekend and got ready for the start. I have said this before but I find it relaxing and takes away any nerves chatting with someone in the corral before the start of the race.

Meeting up with Chris.

Meeting up with Chris.

As we were starting at a race track the start to the race was quite unique…a bugle call. This was followed by a short burst of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’ (hey, this was the New Jersey Marathon after all) and off we went.

My goal for this year was the same as last year…you know, the one I blew last year 😦 I had been antsy ever since last year that I wanted to break 3:55 in a marathon and was training hard for this. Still it did give me a little nervousness going in knowing that I was trying to accomplish something I had not managed the year before. I did however feel more relaxed this year. I look back at how good and relaxed I felt running the Marathon on the last day of the Dopey Challenge this past January and how my recent 3 races had gone and felt I could do this.

The course at the start has quite a few turns as you go through the local towns then there is a long stretch out to Asbury Park where it gets all twisty again (seriously twisty) then the run back up the long straight and takes you to finish up on the boardwalk in Long Branch (see the map below).

2014 New Jersey Marathon Course Map

2014 New Jersey Marathon Course Map

Last year I know I went out too fast. I ran almost a PR on the first half of the course and then my heart rate elevated and I couldn’t bring it down. By mile 15 last year I started losing a minute per mile and finished the second half of the race 20 minutes slower than the first half. Not great and was very disappointing. This year I had vowed to be different.

Well…I ran a very aggressive first 10K at 8:34/mile pace without really planning on running that fast and then forced myself to back off a little. Still, I made the half way point at almost my half marathon PR 1:53 at 8:39 pace. As we approached the half way point we started running alongside some of the half marathoners and we also passed the marathon relay point. The split for the half marathon and the marathon was around mile 11. This then took the full marathoners down throught the long straight towards Asbury Park. I was constantly checking my heart rate the whole time during my walk breaks (I was using a 4:00/0:45 interval ratio). I was managing to keep my heart rate stable and was feeling good.

Feeling good on the early stages of the race

Feeling good on the early stages of the race

The weather was beautiful and sunny on the day and the crowd support around the towns was good. Not so much along the out and back portion as it was run through a very wealthy neighborhood and not many folks came out to cheer but those that did were appreciated. Going down towards the turnaround I felt good and was enjoying the course and the scenery. This was the part of the course that was changed from the previous year and I found it more enjoyable to run (less interrupting turns and a little wider). Once we hit Asbury Park there were lots of corners to turn before we hit the turnaround point around mile 18.5. Once we rounded that it was back up from where we had come.

You didn’t really notice the wind when we run downwind which we had down through mile 18.5. Once you hit the turnaround you hit the wind. The last 8 miles were effectively run heading into what felt at the time like a wind tunnel. Whew!!! This made the run back up towards Longport just that bit harder. On the return leg in Asbury Park we were able to run a little on the newly reconstructed boardwalk. This was a part of the course that was closed to us last year. Nice to see that the rebuilding of the Shore is ongoing and glad we got to run through part of the restoration.

I started to slow a little as the combination of running into the wind and getting into the last few miles of the marathon began to take its toll. After mile 22 I just had to buckle down and stick to my run/walk intervals. I figured if I could focus on just completing the run section without stopping I would make it to the end and maybe…just maybe I might meet my goal time. Plus there was the view of the beach to my right as I was running. What could be too bad.

I look like am under arrest from the fashion police for my 80s retro tube socks look

I look like I am under arrest from the fashion police for my 80’s retro tube socks look

Having inadvertantly hit my lap button while checking my heart rate early in the race I hadn’t noticed that my mile splits were slightly off the mileage posts on the course (I figured that out by mile 22). But I still had decent splits considering the wind resistance. Here are my splits.

My mile splits

My mile splits

As I rounded the final corner for the last 2 miles on the boardwalk in Long Branch I looked at my Garmin and new I was sub 4 hours but wasn’t sure if I would be sub 3:55. So now it was time to focus. All the weeks of training had to pay off now. I buckled down and focused on the finish line….which was hidden around a bend and took forever to appear. Nevertheless, I skipped that final walk interval and picked up my pace and headed for the finish line.

And…

Made it

Made it

The clock shows sub 4 but as I started in Corral C that morning the truth was on my Garmin.

I like what I see

I like what I see

Yup. I did it. I broke 3:55. My actual official time was 3:54:30.

Official result posted

Official result posted

Very happy at the finish line

Very happy at the finish line

Then I got to receive an awesome medal. Spinners are always cool but this medal in addition to being a spinner also had the towns we ran through shown on the back. Pretty cool commemorative medal. I let my star shine today just like the medal said.

Pretty cool medal

Pretty cool medal

At the finish line we received a bag from Panera Bread. I was quite excited as when we ran the San Francisco Half Marathon last June we received post run treats from Panera and they were yummy. This was a little disappointing. I know this is a much smaller race than San Francisco but in the bag was a breadstick (yeah…a breadstick) a banana and three pieces of salt water taffy. I have to admit I bought my own post race snacks. I have started doing that based upon my refuel needs. I bring along an Accel Recover bar and a Powerade. Just to have properly formulated fluids, carbs and protein.

Once I picked up my gear bag it was time to take the long walk back to the race buses which would take runners back to the parking at Monmouth Park. Just like last year, althought the walk was slow it was the best thing I needed at the time to keep me from stiffening up prior to my long car ride home. As I was taking the walk back I passed by the finish line festival. There was plenty for the kids to do and also some merchandise for sale.

The finish line festival

The finish line festival

I chatted with a couple of folks on the bus journey back to the start line and everyone seemed tired but in good spirits and happy with the day. I remember last year it felt the bus ride took forever but with a full complement of passengers and someone to talk to it passed relatively quickly.

Now, remember above I mentioned the parking? Well, I was parked at row 87. I have learned (unfortunately through experience at Disney races) to take a picture of where I parked the car so I can find it again. The bus dropped us off at row 1. That’s not too close to row 87. Sheesh…that was the toughest part of the day. Not too many folks walking with me by then so it was a loooooong sloooow walk back to the car. I did a good amount of stretching before I got in for the hour plus long journey home and actually felt pretty comfortable that I did.

I made one stop before I reached home to get my special post race treat. I hadn’t yet been to our local Rita’s this year so guess where I headed 🙂

A nice 'root beer' gelati

A nice ‘root beer’ gelati

A couple of days after the race (hence the delay in posting) I had to have some medical tests done which I had put off because of the marathon. As a consequence I was not allowed to take any anti-inflammatory meds for the next few days so it was time for a nice soak in an ice bath (brrrrrrr….) to help soothe out the tired muscles. Luckily no one was home so they couldn’t hear me talk like a sailor when I got in. However, it worked wonders and if you can ever do it post long run I recommend it. Just keep the kids out of earshot.

Waiting on the countdown to finish my ice bath

Waiting on the countdown to finish my ice bath

I had been in touch with John Thompson prior to the race and we had met up on the morning of the race. Subsequently he invited me onto the race recap episode of his podcast and we discussed our experiences together. I tend to talk alot (and write as much) so the episode was split into two parts. Here are parts one and two. Worth a listen. Also, here is the link to his blog and Facebook page. Thank you for the invite John.

So, I PR’d. I am very happy with my time and it felt great but looking back I’m not on the long lasting high I thought I would be. I was much more on a high finishing Goofy and Dopey and even when I completed the Disney Marathon in 2013 and Philadelphia Marathon in 2013 with my wife. PR’s are great but I think I get more out of the ‘fun’ of racing and the achievements than just times alone. Yes, I trainined hard and achieved my goal but in perspective I look back more fondly on the ‘experience’ than the time. I didn’t think that would always be the case. I’m kind of glad it is.

Anyway, would I recommend this race? Yes. Would I go and do it again? Maybe but only if I was running with my wife or a buddy. There are plenty of other races on my wish list and I have had two great experiences running here. I think it is one to consider at this time of the year and the race director and his team do a fantastic job of running this event. It’s a nice day at the beach.

Thank you for reading 🙂

2014 Bucks County Half Marathon – Race Recap

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Last weekend I ran the 2014 Bucks County Half Marathon. This was my very first half marathon back in April 2011 (my wife convinced me to sign up two weeks prior to the event that time). I also ran the event back in 2012 but it didn’t fit into my training program for last year’s New Jersey Marathon. This year, however, the plan called for 12 miles so this was a good fit.

It is held in Tyler State Park in Richboro, PA and is about 10 minutes for my house. I have trained in there for a number of my marathons. It is a great place to run. As I was driving to the event that morning I realized I became one of those people who paid to run somewhere I typically run for free. I guess that makes me a ‘real runner’ LOL.

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The packet pickup was pretty simple. It was held at the Newtown Athletic Club. There wasn’t an expo but they did have some race merchandise (new this year). The club was local so I was able to run in/out quickly so as not to mess up our day. This was great because my last few races have had packet pickups which have not been very convenient. Did I tell you that I love local races?

The weather forecast for the event was much better than in the previous two weeks (see LOVE Run and Hot Chocolate Run recaps) so I was looking forward to actually staying warm and dry. I set up my gear the night before as always before a race and chose to wear my newest shoes which I plan to wear for the marathon to get a few miles/long runs on them before the big day. They are a little red don’t you think?

Race ready with my red shoes

Race ready with my red shoes

Being a local race I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn like usual. With a 10 minute drive and no parking issues that I knew of I planned to leave the house around 7am for an 8am start. No problem…or so I thought. It looks like everyone else had the same idea. Yup…panic sets in when you are stuck trying to get into the park and it is already 7:30. I took a couple of pictures outside the park as I and dozens of others were trying to get to the starting area.

So....I guess everyone is local and had the same idea

So….I guess everyone is local. This was the line outside trying to get into the park

This was the line inside the park waiting to park

This was the line inside the park waiting to park

I finally made it into the parking lot, stretched by my car and walked a couple of hundred yards to the starting area. First things first when you get to a race close to the start time…you hit the port-a-potties. Again, everyone had the same idea. Ugh! There were about a dozen port-a-potties for about 700 people. I stood in line as the clock ticked down to the start time. The line didn’t really move. Ugh! Well…I looked around and saw that a few people were making their way across an adjacent field. What happens in the woods, stays in the woods.

Nature literally calls...

Nature literally calls…

The race was set to start at 8am (at least I thought it did). Actually, and thankfully, it started around 8:15am. I think there may have been a deliberate delay as when I was walking from the parking lot there were a few folks from the race crew running up and back with walkie-talkies. I figure they recognized the bottle neck of people trying to get into the park so pushed the start back.

Folks relaxing in the starting corral

Folks relaxing in the starting corral

There were no corrals like in bigger races. The faster runners placed themselves up near the front and everyone else kind of either stood with friends, near the back if they were walking or just stood where they were. I saw someone I knew (Jason) and headed back to wish him good luck. The National Anthem was sung and off we went.

Now the one thing about starting near the ‘Arts Center’ at Tyler is that by the center there is space to mill around (see the corral photo above) but within a couple of hundred yards from the start line the pathway significantly narrows. At best you can have 3 people run side by side comfortably. As you progress down that path (it’s a downhill) the sides off the path drop away so there is not much opportunity to pass other runners unless you like to live dangerously and don’t need both ankles to run on. Needless to say the first half mile pretty soon became a bottle neck. That is not the fault of the organizers but more a limit of the terrain in the park.

The race didn’t have waved corrals and the one corral we did have wasn’t stacked by pace like I have seen in other races. I have been to other races when everyone goes in one big wave but they have put out signs within the corral based upon pace so people could line up under 7:00/mile, 8:00/mile, 9:00/mile, etc which meant that people would start out with similar paced runners and that would somewhat alleviate bottle necks and people trying to pass in the first half mile or so. Just a thought.

It was actually too crowded that it was really unsafe for me to do my usual run/walk interval (currently using 4:00/0:45) because I feared it would be too dangerous for me to stop. Now I don’t necessarily have to take my walk intervals so I ended up skipping the first two intervals and ran the first mile with the other runners until there was enough space around me to make it safe to move over to the side for a walk break. The temperatures were already rising so I took water in early and pretty much skipped only a couple of water stations when they were close together.

The course for the race is a small loop of 3 miles and then two 5 mile loops. The 5 mile loop is my usual circuit so I knew what to expect and where the hills were. Interestingly the 3 mile loop was different from when I ran in 2011 and 2012. Where in previous times I had run an outer loop of the park down a steep hill back to the boat house area, this took a slightly less elevated route through the local elementary school parking lot and through a parking lot within the park and back along the creek which we had run on the way out on the 3 mile loop. It was nice as I was not looking forward to the larger hill that early in the race. Nice to run something a little different.

Heading down hill on the initial 3 mile loop

Heading downhill on the initial 3 mile loop

From here it was the usual (or should I say ‘my usual’) loop past the boat house and around the back of Bucks County Community College, past the farm and up the big hill towards the residential side of the park (I envy those houses every time I run past them). This loop repeats twice and with its long winding up hill direction it is usually my slowest part of the run. Today was no different. I seemed to be managing a decent pace considering and was able to keep my pace per mile below 9 minutes given the rising temperatures and the inclines. I was monitoring my heart rate as I have struggled in the past in this section and slowed myself down once I was close to 170bpm. This time I was doing fine and enjoying the run. You can see from my Garmin Activity the course and elevation.

This is one of the 'smaller' hills which we ran around miles 4.5 & 9.5

This is one of the ‘smaller’ hills which we ran around miles 4.5 and 9.5

Once you hit the part of the loop past the houses there is a nice downhill section where you can easily make up time until you round the corner to the starting/finish line area which we would run through on the first loop. The course was open to walkers. On the first loop we passed the walkers as we came back on ourselves before mile 3. We (or I) didn’t pass too many walkers until the second loop. I will commend them as a group as even in the narrow parts of the course no-one was blocking runners coming up behind them and they all seemed to be having a good time.

Personally this was a race that I wasn’t totally ‘racing’ but did have a time expectation not a time goal. I have been trying to focus on improving my speed going into the New Jersey Marathon at the end of April and I figure a good run in Tyler with all those hills is a good sign of my fitness/conditioning. The last two races I had run (LOVE Run Half Marathon and Hot Chocolate 15K) had been good performances for me averaging 8:34/mile for the half and 8:46 for the 15K so I was keen to keep my pace under 9:00/mile in Tyler which would lead to a sub 2-hour time. I wasn’t looking to push too hard or PR as I was supposed to be in ‘taper’ mode and this was scheduled to be a ‘long run’. The run itself felt comfortable. I never felt like I was pushing nor did I feel like I was running too easy and ultimately my finish time reflected this. I was very happy with my time. I was under 2 hours and beat my 2012 finish time. That made for two sub 2-hour half marathons in 15 days. I finished with an official time of 1:56:45 with an average pace of 8:54.

Happy at the finish line

Happy at the finish line

The medal goes well with my very red shoes. I think I need a running outfit makeover one day.

The medal goes well with my very red shoes. I think I need a running outfit makeover.

A good day

A good day

The finisher medal was in the shape of Bucks County, PA and was nice. Very impressed that the actual medal ribbon had different scenes of Bucks County printed on it.

The 'Bucks' bling

The ‘Bucks’ bling

I joked that the medal was in the shape of a map in case I got lost. That is not too far from the truth. The very first time I ran in Tyler park was a week before the event in 2011. I printed off the course map with a plan to run 10 miles (at that point my longest run to date). I learned quickly that there are many routes in Tyler and also being new to this park its best not to hold the map upside down when you run. I’m definitely better at that these days 😉

The finish line area was in the small parking lot to the side of the start line. There was water, soft pretzels, bananas and even pizza. There were some local vendors who were sponsoring the race so they had samples of their wares. There were smoothie samples (which I skipped) and there were bread/cake samples (which I didn’t skip…multiple times). The crowds were decent at the finish line for a local race. I only saw a few folks around the park cheering others on but seeing as this was a 5 mile loop it made most sense to stay near the start/finish line area as you would see your runner pass by as they began the second and final loop and it was great to hear the encouragement.

One thing I did notice was that there were spectators in the finish line area eating some of the pizza and other refreshments. I didn’t stay too long as I had a busy family day ahead. I heard from another member of my running team (Mickey Milers) the next day that for the walkers the post race refreshment area was packed up by the time that they finished. Only the timing mats were out to record their finish time. The race website said that the race was open to walkers so it seems a shame that they didn’t get to experience the same benefits that the runners did. I hope in future years that everyone is treated equally.

Overall it was a great day for a run and a nice (if not familiar) race. Would I return again? Perhaps depending on my schedule. The novelty of running a half marathon in Tyler Park where I do a lot of training doesn’t thrill me as much as it used to but the atmosphere was good. I would recommend this race to folks who don’t train here as it is a good challenge in nice scenery.

Up next I have to get through the taper, learn to manage with limited mileage and catch up on my sleep. I take away from this the confidence that I am maintaining my goal pace of sub 9:00/mile going into the New Jersey Marathon. Fingers crossed I run a sensible and comfortable race. This was a nice warm up for me.

Thanks for reading.

Inaugural LOVE RUN Philadelphia Race Recap

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Yesterday I swam ran the inaugural LOVE RUN in Philadelphia.

When planning my schedule for 2014 post the ‘Dopey Challenge‘ I hadn’t wanted to race too much as I was focusing on the New Jersey Marathon at the end of April but I was ‘encouraged’ to sign up. To explain briefly, with myself, my Wife and Sister-in-law all running Disney events early this year my future Brother-in-law (Mike) felt he needed to get in on the racing action and signed up for this race. I was ‘encouraged’ to sign up so he didn’t have to run the race (or at least participate in the race) alone. My new role as race coordinator I guess. Anyway, this was the first LOVE RUN event so it was interesting to see how this race course and organization compared to other half marathons that are run here in the City of Brotherly Love. In the past I have run the Philadelphia Rock and Roll Half Marathon (in 2011, 2012 and 2013) and the Philadelphia Marathon (which also has a half marathon on the first part of the course in 2011, 2012 and 2013).

The course itself differed from these other two races which was a nice change (they didn’t release the course details until a couple of weeks before the race) so it would be enjoyable to run a different course. The race (like the others) started and finished along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and took a brief circuit around the city before venturing up into Fairmount Park and past the Please Touch Museum (Memorial Hall) before an out and back along West River Drive (Martin Luther King Drive) to the steps the Art Museum. Only one real hill to deal with (although it was a big one) and pretty flat until you hit the last quarter-mile to the finish which is all uphill too.

LOVE RUN Half Marathon Course

LOVE RUN Half Marathon Course

I was unable to attend the expo for this event so Mike picked up the bibs and race swag for me so I am unable to offer a review of that process. The race organizers (CGI Racing) offered vanity bibs on sign up so you could request a phrase or slogan instead of your name. I honestly don’t remember requesting this slogan but I was okay with it. In addition to the race shirt (a little black number 🙂 ) we received a mug with the race logo. Nice.

My race bib

My race bib

As we approached race weekend the weather forecast wasn’t looking too promising. Indeed, our plans for that weekend (a pre-season Phillies game) were called off due to the weather. I had mixed feelings about what to wear for the race based upon the conditions predicted. I ended up choosing a short-sleeved t-shirt with arm sleeves in case it warmed up. I also packed a changed of clothes should I need to change (Ha! Should I?…more on that later).

Mike arrived early Sunday with my bib and we headed down to Philadelphia together. I decided to park in an indoor lot to stay warm as we were a little early. This was a good choice for us later.

I think the shirt was pretty appropriate given the conditions on the day

I think the shirt was pretty appropriate given the conditions on the day

Early morning arrival. Mike and I stay warm in the car until its time to go to the start line.

Early morning arrival. Mike and I stay warm in the car until its time to go to the start line.

At the bag check area. Already looking a little muddy behind us.

At the bag check area. Already looking a little muddy behind us.

As we arrived at the starting area the weather was a little misty and had started to rain lightly. As we waited for our turn to the port-a-potties the ground was already damp due to the previous days rainfall and was already getting a little muddy and squishy (that’s a very scientific description). As we were getting ready to check our bags I pulled out a poncho I had packed and realized I had two. It was Mike’s lucky day!! Glad I saved these from our trip to Niagara Falls back in 2012 🙂

Ponchos ready to go

Poncho Buddies

The race announcer said there were around 10,000 runners in attendance and encouraged us to get to our corrals early. The corrals were not assigned numbers or letters but the bibs corresponded to predicted time so lower numbers were closer to the front and higher numbers to the rear. Mike and I headed to the corrals together which was quite an obstacle course. As the ground was wet most people stuck to the pathways which meant that we couldn’t just cross Eakins Oval to the corrals but had to maneuver around fencing put up by the organizers. At one point this involved climbing into the (dry) fountain and around a gate. A bit of a challenge when it was wet and slippy. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not blaming the organizers for the weather it’s just that I’ve never had to think about getting to a corral this much before. This couldn’t be helped but perhaps they might in future want to on the day look at the positioning of some of the barriers to see if they could be opened up a little more (without messing up any security in place).

As you can see from my start line photo it was very misty. You could not see the tops of the skyscrapers in the city. The rain also started to pick up a little once we got situated in the corrals (around 7:45am for an 8:00am start).

Misty morning in the corrals

Misty morning in the corrals

Not my usual pre-race attire. There is always a first time.

Not my usual pre-race attire.

I hadn’t really raced a half marathon for time since last April’s April Fools Half Marathon when I PR’d on a flat course in dry conditions. I didn’t have a plan to try to PR but I wanted to see based upon my training if I could get close to that time. I had two goals going in (1) to perhaps PR…long shot but worth a try, and (2) run a sensible race but shoot for sub 2 hours…more realistic based upon how I felt. I was trying to be a little more serious for this race so I didn’t plan on taking any photos during the race. It wouldn’t have been a great idea anyway based upon conditions. I did however decide to run with music which was the first time in a race for me since the 2011 Philadelphia Rock and Roll Half Marathon. I wanted to relax a bit and enjoy the run. I do however have to work on my playlist…it’s very confusing running to a mix of Disney tunes mixed with rock but I digress…

As the race started the rain started to pick up. Within a half mile I could feel the rain kicking up behind me and my compression socks were already beginning to get damp. I had thrown off my poncho before we crossed the start line but some other runners were less considerate. Although I saw people the whole way through running with ponchos, the first mile or so had me dodging, leaping and hopping over discarded ponchos in the middle of the course where within the first mile it is always crowded. It was already wet and slippy without these added hazards. I hope no one slipped and fell and I hope that my fellow runners in future would be aware of this and at least discard trash bag ponchos at the side of the course. Okay…off my soapbox.

With the rain and wind picking up we threaded our way through the streets of Philadelphia towards and past Independence Hall and then turned back towards the Parkway at around mile 3. There were no water stations on the first few miles of the course (not that I saw any if there were). According to the course map I had run past two water stations but if I missed them I didn’t see any tell-tale signs of water stations (discarded cups by the side of the street). By mile 3.5 we were back on the Parkway running up towards the Art Museum. I could already feel my shoes were wet inside due to the conditions. Oh well, only 10 miles to go.

As we rounded the Art Museum to the left around mile 4 I moved over to the left (as I tend to stick to one side for my run/walk Galloway intervals) and completely missed the first water station. Ugh. I was moving at a decent pace and I actually was wishing for a water stop. I didn’t want to cross in front of anyone so I just ran on down the underpass towards the entrance to Fairmount Park. Keeping to the side for my run/walk intervals was a challenge as this was where the water was draining off to. I tried my best to avoid the puddles but this was harder and harder as the rain became more intense during the race. In fact the water started to encroach on the width of the course for all runners in some low-lying points of the course.

As we made our way up to Memorial Hall there is the largest incline on the course. Luckily my walk interval came at the right time. We were already close to mile 6 but this stage. I desperately needed something to drink by now and did carefully weave my way across the flow to grab two cups of water. I managed to soak myself pretty good with two cups but I was wet already so I didn’t notice too much 🙂

Rounding in front of Memorial Hall took us on a minor out and back towards the downhill leading to the real out and back on West River Drive. As I approached the water station at mile 7 it was congested and so I ran to the furthest table only to find I had grabbed orange Gatorade! Yuck!!!! I’m not sure if it is just me but in every other race I seem to have run it is electrolytes first and then water second. All the cups were the same nondescript design so it wasn’t obvious what was in them. Oh well, I guess it was better than no fluids at all.

What goes up must come down. After the big incline leading up to the park we then got to run down the decline down to the out and back along the river. The out and back was from just after mile 7 to just after mile 9 which then turned us back home to the finish line area. By the time I got to mile 9 I was just totally soaked through. The rain seemed to get heavier (even sideways at some points) as we progressed through the morning. I was wearing gloves to keep my hands warm but by this stage they were just like sponges and I was making fists to squeeze the water out. It was also getting colder and from about my waist to my knees I was getting a little numb. Oh the joy!

I was however running a definite negative split. I had run my first half of the race at an even paced 8:40(ish) pace and I was now running at an average pace of 8:36 from about mile 9 onwards. I knew that I would probably not make that PR today but I felt confident that I was going to have a good time and meet my second goal. Heading to the finish over the last 5K was quite an experience. I was running well and felt comfortable despite the rain. The rain however was making quite an impact on the road surface and if there was a puddle I seemed to find it. I saw plenty of folks who were still on the ‘out’ part of the course still wearing their rain ponchos and plastic bags. I’m not sure how much this would have helped at this point as it was getting heavier. I looked at their faces as I was running the other way and people didn’t seem to mind too much. I guess if you’re wet enough you cannot get any wetter 🙂

I made it to mile 13 and I rounded the corner to the finish line. Crossing the timing mat near the finish I heard my name being called by the announcer and with a grin from ear to ear I ran across the finish line and quickly glanced down at my watch.

This sums up the day (thankfully my Garmin is waterproof)

This sums up the day (thankfully my Garmin is waterproof)

Here is my official result:

Official Results

Official Result

I missed my PR by 41 seconds (Atlantic City Half Marathon 2013) but considering the conditions I was very pleased with my run. A negative split indicates that I did run sensibly for the half marathon and I feel good going into the marathon next month.

The race medal

The race medal

Grateful for the mylar but still cold

Grateful for the mylar but still cold

I made it through the finish line area where thankfully they were handing out mylar blankets to all the finishers. I did not stay in the area to see whether they had enough for the later finishers but it was very welcome. A nice plus for this race is that everyone gets a free finish line photograph courtesy of the race and Chessie Photos.

At the finish line

At the finish line (courtesy of Chessie Photos)

From the finish line we went through a tented area to grab our post race food. Everyone was provided with a plastic bag with local Philly favorites (a soft pretzel, a Tastykake, a bag of chips, a Smucker’s Crustable PB&J and a banana) and beyond that there was an area serving hot chocolate. The ground was pretty saturated by this point and getting across to the hot chocolate station involved traversing what looked like a rainy outdoor concert area. The hot chocolate was nice and warm though.

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The finish line area around Eakins Oval

photo 3 (3)

The finish line area around Eakins Oval

The finish line area around Eakins Oval

The finish line area around Eakins Oval

I am so grateful my wife had talked me out of wearing my new shoes for this race. I am trying to break in a new pair before the marathon and had only run twice in them so far. These shoes were absolutely saturated and a little muddy (I trod carefully) and luckily after some TLC they are wearable again.

Muddy spongelike shoes

Muddy sponge like shoes

Finally got my gear bag. Water is still dripping from my face. Soaked, shivering but happy.

Finally got my gear bag. Water is still dripping from my face. Soaked, shivering but happy.

I waited around for Mike to finish. Unfortunately there were no places to take shelter so by the time we finally met up I was so cold I was visibly shaking. We had a hard time reaching each other at the finish line as our phones and fingers were so wet our iPhones became practically inoperable. I couldn’t answer calls because my fingers swipes had no effect on the phone. Hmm…technology is fabulous until it stops working on you.

With Mike and I finally reunited we headed for my car which I had fortunately parked in an indoor garage. I was unable to put my parking ticket in the machine as that was also soaked (ugh) and thankfully the cashier did not check my signature on the debit card slip I signed as I was shivering so much it looked like hieroglyphics and not my handwriting at all. Finally making it to the car we (very modestly) stripped down to put on dry clothes. I unfortunately still had to wear my soaked shoes and socks until I got home but my heated seats never felt so good.

After a (very long) hot shower I had feeling back in all my extremities and had the chance to relax a little. I got a chance to put on my race shirt and admire my new medal.

Nice and warm at last

Nice and warm at last

My new bling

My new bling

It was a nice first event. Nothing at all could be done about the weather so it was unfortunate from that respect. I did enjoy the course as it was different from others I have run in Philly. I think an improvement next year would definitely be in the areas of the water stations and perhaps maybe some shelter provided at the staging areas in case the weather is similar. CGI should be commended on this as an inaugural effort. Volunteers were plenty on the course and they were great to be standing out there in the rain for all those hours. You always have to thank the volunteers but this goes beyond your typical thanks. Well done. I will return I hope next year (with my wife running alongside me too) and hope for some more agreeable springlike weather for 2015.

Thank you for reading.

 

2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend – Part 5 – Full Marathon – January 12, 2014

Today was the main event, the Walt Disney World Marathon. This was the last event of the Dopey Challenge and the culmination of 24 weeks of training. Did I mention that it was the last early wake up of the event too (score!!!) I guess with the excitement and adrenaline due to this being the big event I didn’t feel really tired despite all the previous days of running and park time. Also, with the thunderstorm the night before it cooled the temperatures quite a bit which would be great (as compared to the 2013 Marathon) So again today I dressed in my Team Up gear and coordinated my Pro Compression socks to match Dopey (you can see it was pretty close later in the recap) and headed out for another early arrival at EPCOT for the start of the race.

Cooler than yesterday and still dropping before the start

Cooler than yesterday and still dropping before the start

It was cool with a slight breeze as I walked towards the bag check area. After last year of bringing down throw away gear I got smarter thanks to a very helpful tip. I tend to keep those mylar blankets they give out after marathons and they are small and light enough to pack with no problem. I wore my blanket from essentially the time I got out of the car until the start of the race. It was easy to pack up in my gear back and doubled as something to sit on later in the corrals while we waited.

Excited for the race and wearing my Dopey colored socks

Excited for the race and wearing my Dopey colored socks

I didn’t see many familiar faces in the starting area this time around although I did bump into a new Facebook friend (Jennifer) who spotted me as I arrived. She was running her first marathon as part of the Goofy Challenge. I headed through the bag check very early as like the day before I wanted to get over to the corral and sit for as long as I could to rest up before the 26.2 miles which lay ahead. I will admit that this was probably the most calm I have ever felt during a marathon. This would be my 7th marathon so I knew I could do this but I think due to the continuous high from the weekend I was just relaxed. Anyone who knows me well (read ‘my wife’) will tell you I am always a little uptight before a big race. Today was just, in my head anyway, a long run and I was going to treat it that way and have fun. Time didn’t really matter to me much. It was day 4 of the Dopey Challenge and I was there to have fun and make it to the finish line.

Keeping warm before the race

Keeping warm before the race

As we all started the long walk to the corrals (via ‘Backstage Lane’) I started chatting to a few folks, some doing the Dopey, some Goofy and some running their first marathon. With words of encouragement being shared among us it really felt more of a communal long run than a big city race. People running a Disney race bring with them an expectation of fun and camaraderie that I have not experienced in many of my other races. Sure you say ‘hi’ to people but people just seem more open to chat about the events. It could be the nature of these multi-race events which is unique and everyone is checking to see how other people are doing and sharing thoughts. Just my opinion really.

As we approached the split between corrals A to H and I to P one of the people I was talking to suddenly said, “Hey, you’re Ian from ‘Philly2Goofy’. I thought you looked familiar”. I was totally taken by surprise, especially being as dark and so early in the morning. They said they had followed the blog and actually printed out the training plan I was following and stuck it up on their wall. I was flattered (although all the credit must go to Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway as I wouldn’t be here doing this without them). That totally lifted my spirits higher and I cheerfully headed to the corrals. I didn’t see Mark or Rob who I knew were supposed to be in my corral so I took a seat and waited while watching the pre-show. Various folks were brought up and interviewed including Dave McGillivray, race director of the Boston Marathon and Jeff Galloway. Both were running Dopey along with me and the other 6,999 folks.

Waiting in corral F

Waiting in corral F

During the pre-show one of the race announcers (or interviewers I forget which) ask who was ‘just doing the Marathon’. Let me say now for all readers and runners…THERE IS NO JUST…anyone out there running a Full Marathon is a champion and just because there are other challenges out there that runDisney has made popular should not in any way diminish the awesome experience and success of a person training, running and finishing a Marathon. I guess it is only at a Disney event when someone says of themselves I’m “just doing a Half or a Full” or even “I’m just doing Goofy”. Everyone is a runner and a champion for just toeing the line. There, I said it!!! I’m of my soapbox now. 🙂 Soon we would hear the ‘National Anthem’ and we knew we were ready for the start. Mickey (and even Dopey earlier before the race) was there to count us down and with fireworks shooting off we were starting. Yes, I got my fireworks today 🙂 All was good in the world. And then we were off.

The countdown was given by the 'Mouse' of the hour

The countdown was given by the ‘Mouse’ of the hour

I got my fireworks!!!

I got my fireworks!!!

Like yesterday, Bart Yasso was waiting on the left of the start line cheering everyone along on their way. I said a quick ‘Hi Bart’ and settled in for the first mile. Now at this point I want to do a little number crunching. At this point we had finished 3 of the 4 races that make up the Dopey Challenge which might sound like were 75% of the way there but in reality when you looked at the actual distance we had at this point run a 5K, a 10K and a Half Marathon which totaled 22.4 miles. As the Dopey Challenge would actually end up being 48.6 miles that mean we wouldn’t actually reach 50% or half way through the total mileage until we hit mile 1.9 in the Full Marathon. A little warped but, hey, we’re Dopey aren’t we 🙂

What we had ahead of us

What we had ahead of us

My strategy of stopping for photos early the day before worked well so I could maintain a steady pace going towards the Magic Kingdom where I knew I would be spending lots of time today. It wasn’t long before I saw that we were approaching the start of the way towards the Magic Kingdom and the Ticket and Transportation Center.

Nearing the park. Through the turnstiles to the Ticket and Transportation Center

Nearing the park.
Through the turnstiles to the Ticket and Transportation Center

It was encouraging again to see so many folks out cheering the runners as we approached the Ticket and Transportation Center and as we moved onwards towards the side of the Contemporary Resort we got our first view of the day of the Magic Kingdom. You will know from my recap from the Half Marathon yesterday how much I enjoy running into the Magic Kingdom and up Main Street USA. It is always magical. Today was as magical but also special. As soon as I ran onto Main Street I bumped into Joe Taricani, the host of ‘The Marathon Show‘ podcast. Joe runs holding an ‘On Air’ sign and speaks to runners as they experience their journeys. Today I got to run up Main Street with Joe and even made it onto the podcast. Another great experience and one that adds to the memories of this weekend. Check out Episode 228 to hear the recap of the day. In all of this I still managed to get my Main Street USA photo to make the day complete.

Main Street USA during the 2014 Marathon

Main Street USA during the 2014 Marathon

I had a specific goal for the Marathon this year in terms of photos in the Magic Kingdom. For the last two years I never got a shot of Mickey at the Castle. This year no matter the lines I was going to do it.

Am I late?

Am I late?

The one and only Tigger

The one and only Tigger

With Royal Minnie and Mickey outside Cinderella's Castle

With Royal Minnie and Mickey outside Cinderella’s Castle

Every race or trip or famous landmark that I go to with my wife she always takes a ‘jump shot’. I have albums from vacations where my wife is doing a jump shot on almost every page of the book. It has become her trademark and although I do participate in the fun from time to time I never do so during a race, especially a marathon. Well, I was having so much fun over the course of the last few days I threw caution to the wind and just went for it. I was at mile 6 of the Marathon (mile 28 of the Challenge) and while normally I would be anxious about my knees I was feeling good so it seemed a given that as my wife wasn’t here I needed to ‘represent’ 🙂

Running through the Castle

Running through the Castle

I do look like I'm having fun

I do look like I’m having fun

I did notice as I ran through Fantasyland and the New Fantasyland that there were less characters out this year. Last year it was all Princesses outside New Fantasyland but this year there were none. I ran through Frontierland but didn’t stop for photos this time but headed backstage to exit the park. I finally found a Princess and stopped for a quick photo.

With Rapunzel and Flynn Rider (that's Eugene Fitzherbery for those that know) :-)

With Rapunzel and Flynn Rider (that’s Eugene Fitzherbert for those that know) 🙂

Coming out of the Magic Kingdom we are around mile 6.5 and begin our little trip up Cone Alley past the Grand Floridian towards the Speedway at mile 8. Again, no Mary Poppins today. She was hanging out with the Penguins in Race Retreat. There were a couple of character stops along the way. I even stopped for the Villains this year which was a first for me.

Hanging with Goofy on the golf course

Hanging with Goofy on the golf course

With Maleficent and Dr Facilier

With Maleficent, Scar and Dr Facilier

We hit the Speedway just after mile 8. I remember last year the sun was up at this time and the heat was already up high. This year was much cooler but there were some wet patches under foot which wasn’t great around Cone Alley as you sometimes run along some grassy areas trying to get around other runners. As we approached the Speedway I noted there were no characters outside like there were last year. Again, less characters throughout the course this year. When entering the Speedway there is a really narrow and steep downslope and upslope onto the circuit. As it was still wet underfoot the runners ahead had slowed down and there was a slight bottleneck at this point but once out on the track it opens up. The trick is to stay on the inner circuit of the track as it is flat with no banking. As was the case last year there were car clubs represented as you ran around the circuit. Different from last year was that there were no ‘Cars’ characters out on the track. This was fine with me as it allowed me to just keep running. I had spent a lot of time in the Magic Kingdom and although I wasn’t going for a time goal at all it was nice to just get a nice rhythm going.

Keeping within the speed limit

Keeping within the speed limit

As we excited the Speedway there was a quick trek over a grass median and we were off towards the Animal Kingdom. This is the part of the race that takes us past the Water Treatment Center. Well, the good news with the cooler temperatures and the slight breeze, there was no smell when I ran past this year. BONUS!!! I’m usually taking an energy gel around mile 10 so glad I didn’t have to deal with any added ‘extras’.

Together with Captain Hook and Mr Smee

Together with Captain Hook and Mr Smee

As I approached the Animal Kingdom I heard my name being called. It was Mark my fellow Team Up teammate. I hadn’t seen him earlier in the day while waiting in the corrals so I actually headed back to catch up with him to check in. He was nursing a leg injury which he had coming into the Goofy Challenge but he looked strong and I know that he did finish as I saw his results later on. After saying good luck I headed into the Animal Kingdom just around mile 12.

Wishing upon a star with Jiminy Cricket

Wishing upon a star with Jiminy Cricket

As we entered the park we ran past a variety of animals with their handlers. I found out later that the animals were all wearing special Marathon bibs with their names on. Cute. At the time that I arrived in the Animal Kingdom the ‘Expedition Everest’ ride was not yet open for the day. Some of my fellow runners behind me took the opportunity to stop and ride ‘Everest’ on their way through the park. It’s a Disney race, when else would you stop mid marathon to ride a coaster? Awesome.

Stopping to meet King Louie

Stopping to meet King Louie

We were very close to the halfway point at this stage of the race and we cleared the Half Marathon timing mat just after the water stop leaving the park. This was also the location of the Autism Speaks cheering section today so I made sure to say a big thank you to everyone for coming out and supporting the team.

Cheering on my cheering section

Cheering on my cheering section

I hit the half way timing mat at a time of 2:27:55, this was 15 minutes quicker than I had actually run the Half Marathon the day previously including all the photo stops. It was a complete adrenaline rush. I don’t know where this energy was coming from especially 4 days and 35 miles in at this point but I felt really good.

For the last two years I have avoided a photo stop with the Gravediggers from the Haunted Mansion. Each year I have seen runners lay down and have their picture taken with them. Every year I have looked at these people and thought they were absolutely crazy. How could you get up off the ground having run 14 miles already. This year I was feeling good and became one of those crazy people…it was fun. Luckily the cast member helping out was a pretty strong guy. I guess he had to be for this particular stop. He pulled me up with zeal and I was grateful I didn’t have to try on my own to get up 😉

Just kidding

Just kidding

The next stop on our journey would be the ESPN Wide World of Sports it is a long stretch (well 4 miles) from the Animal Kingdom to ESPN and there isn’t much to see around here. It is pretty wide open at this point and runners spread out. It’s nice to have some space after running in some tight lanes through the parks. During these part of the race Scott who I had met at the 5K spotted me and we ran together for a couple of minutes. We are both Galloway runners and we were running different intervals so we said our goodbyes when the timers went off. Scott looked like he was doing fine. Glad to know that everyone I had met up with over the weekend seemed to be doing fine. The weather today was definitely a positive factor for everyone today.

The ESPN Wide World of Sports is the one part of the course that I just find takes too long. I know it sounds silly as it’s only 3 miles but with all the twists and turns we take, maybe it’s just psychological, but when you think you are close to leaving you hit another turn and it is not the way out. At least this year was cooler (I’ve said that before a few times). As I entered the ESPN Wide World of Sports I made sure to grab a wet towel that they were handing out. Last year I missed it and regretted it. This year the towels were ‘ice’ cold. I squeezed the towel over myself and immediately regretted it. There was still a slight breeze and I started to get the chills. Eek!  I knew I would warm up but for the next mile I was shaking my shirt to try to dry it out a bit and warm up. Oh well, live and learn.

One of the cool things about running around this part of the course is that you get to see all the athletes getting on with their day of training and games. We ran past a soccer game in progress and there were many spectators on the course at this point. The ESPN Wide World of Sports also includes a lap around the outfield of Champions Stadium (spring training home to the Atlanta Braves).

Here I am going to share my biggest tip from running through the Wide World of Sports. As soon as you leave the stadium if you suspect at all that you have any gravel in your shoes stop and empty your shoes. You still have over 6 miles to go and you don’t need anything that will annoy you or irritate you. I’m talking from experience. This year I stopped and took out plenty of gravel. Phew.

Taking a lap around the running track at the ESPN Wide World of Sports

Taking a lap around the running track at the ESPN Wide World of Sports

Running the outfield of Champions Stadium

Running the outfield of Champions Stadium

Leaving the ESPN Wide World of Sports is just before mile 20. You’re beginning the home stretch. Mile 20 is usually where I slow down a bit but I was feeling fine so I knew now that I was going to make it. There is a 2 mile stretch back up towards Disney’s Hollywood Studios and there is not too much to see. They had the big screen out playing movies as they had during the 10K on Friday and all along the route back up (a very slight incline) they have motivational signs along the course. I had to stop for this one:

Walt said it best

Walt said it best

At the end of this 2 mile stretch there is the final ‘big hill’ of the course, the overpass to Hollywood Studios. Each year I have run this event they have had a toy soldier from Toy Story yelling out to runners to get up the hill. Again, this is one of those places that in previous years I have seen runners doing push ups with the drill sergeant (the crazy folks I liked to call them). Well, welcome me to the crazy club. I was feeling good and had the energy and I got down and did my requisite push ups to earn my photo opportunity.

Not kidding

Not kidding

At this point I know I’m 4 miles to the finish. I was getting very excited at this point. I knew the rest of the course from prior years and I knew I felt better than I had the last two years that I had run so I just went for it. I picked up the pace a little. We entered Hollywood Studios just behind Tower of Terror and rounded the corner to head through the tunnel alongside the costume department. Then you have the amazing view when you run up the Streets of New York and head towards the front of the park past the Sorcerer’s Hat. Other than Wreck-It Ralph as we entered the Studios there were no other character opportunities here. Last year there were three. A little disappointing but at this point in the race with only 5K to go you just want to keep going.

The parks were now open and guests as well as supporters were now cheering us on. I have heard many stories of guests being inspired by the runners to look into running a runDisney event in the future. I hope that we inspired one or two (or more) today. After the Studios we head along the Boardwalk through the International Gateway and head towards World Showcase.

Just outside of the entrance back into the United Kingdom Pavillion there was the main guy himself. Dopey. I stopped to say a quick hello and get my picture. Best photo of the week for me (can you say ‘Profile Picture’?)

The shot of the week for me

The shot of the week for me

When you hit the United Kingdom you are reaching mile 25. You are almost there. Essentially, barring a major disaster you can run, walk or crawl your way home. No one will take you off the course once you make it to here. 🙂 As I ran through the Magic Kingdom I heard my name being called out. I wasn’t sure from where but I later found out that it was Jill (one of my Facebook friends) who sent me a note later to confirm I wasn’t just imagining this.

I ran through World Showcase stopping for a photo with a couple of French-speaking ladies in the France Pavillion and then headed towards future world and the finish line.

Aurora and Belle

Princess Aurora and Belle

Running through World Showcase

Running through World Showcase

Almost there

Almost there

Completing the Dopey Challenge

Completing the Dopey Challenge

The home stretch

I did it!!!

I cannot tell you much about that last mile other than it being a blur of complete and utter happiness. I was doing it, completing the Dopey Challenge. Feeling great and realizing 9 months of fundraising and 6 months of training. In the process I recorded over 700 miles of training and raised over $3,800 for Autism Speaks.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!! I even ran the second half of the Marathon in around 2:12:30, 10 minutes faster than the first half for an overall time of 4:40:26.

I got my Marathon medal and headed over to the self-treatment area to ice down (I had a plane to catch in a few hours) before heading out to pick up my Goofy and Dopey medals.

With my Mickey medal

With my Mickey medal

Showing off the hardware

Showing off the hardware

Seeing as I had to leave later that evening I didn’t really have too much time to wait around after the race. I headed back to the hotel to shower and finish packing with the goal of spending as much time in EPCOT before I had to head to the airport.

*BLING* *BLING* *BLING* *BLING* *BLING* *BLING*

*BLING* *BLING* *BLING* *BLING* *BLING* *BLING*

My new ‘Ear Hat’ to celebrate my accomplishment.

My annual souvenir. My 'Ear Hat' with my milage.

My annual souvenir. My ‘Ear Hat’ with my mileage.

I spent the next few hours stretching my legs walking around EPCOT. I went straight to Innoventions West to have my photos taken with Mickey, Goofy and Minnie with all my medals.

Celebrating at EPCOT

Celebrating at EPCOT

A closing highlight of the trip

A closing highlight of the trip

I walked around the park congratulating my fellow runners who were all proudly wearing their medals. It is a great feeling of camaraderie which is really only experienced at a runDisney race. People hang around after the races and enjoy their post Marathon time. It feels great. Congratulations to all my fellow runners.

In summary, would I do the Dopey Challenge again? Not sure. I enjoyed it but I have done it now. I’d love to run Goofy again as I really enjoy the atmosphere of the Half and the Full. Racing on 4 consecutive days with 4 early wake ups and early nights was tough. I travelled solo this year as 4 days of running would really have imposed on my family. I missed them greatly. This is the first year they haven’t been there for me at the finish and that is perhaps why I didn’t stick around too long once I finished. I love running at Disney and I love Disney Parks. It is better when my family is with me. That is probably my ultimate reason for not doing Dopey in the future for now (but never say never).

What a great week. I met so many good friends this week and had a really special time running with everyone. I want to thank runDisney, the volunteers and the cast members as well as my Team Up teammates and all my fellow runners for making this a week to remember.

So, my final Fitbit stats for the day. I ran 26.2 miles and ended up showing 34.68 miles. For the whole of the 5 days I ran 48.6 miles and ended up walking another 44 or so miles. I think I need another medal 😉

Thank you for sticking with me through what has been a ‘marathon’ recap. I hope you got a sense of how much fun I had during the Marathon and the whole weeks events.

2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend – Part 4 – Half Marathon – January 11, 2014

Wake up number 3 for race number 3. I did actually feel like I needed to use the foam roller to get my eyes open today. Nevertheless I was up thanks to my 2 alarms and hotel wake up call and got up and dressed into my ‘Team Up’ gear. Today the closest I was going to get to a costume was my Pro Compression Marathon Socks were coordinated with my ‘Team Up’ colors. No more costumes this weekend. Looking at the forecast the day before there was a chance of rain and runDisney had already posted a heat advisory for the weekend. We would just have to wait and see how this would impact today. The goal was to take it easy so there was enough left in the tank for tomorrow’s marathon.

Bright and early again at EPCOT. Look at the temparature!!!

Bright and early again at EPCOT. Look at the temperature!!!

Day 3 and excited for the Half Marathon

Day 3 and excited for the Half Marathon

Again I arrived early at EPCOT and as you can see from the photograph above it was already quite warm. I headed over to the entrance to the ‘Race Retreat’ for today’s Team #runDisney meet up and after a quick photograph with the group I headed through bag check. I was definitely earlier than I had planned but I recalled last year’s Half Marathon where it was absolutely jammed getting to the corrals. This year was a little different as runDisney had reduced the number of runners which made it easier getting to the corrals.

Heading to bag check.

Heading to bag check.

As I was walking to the corrals I started chatting with folks around me and bumped into Mark who was also running for Team Up. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet him the previous night so we chatted all the way to our corrals (we were both in corral F). Chatting away with someone is a very good way to relax before the start of a race. Mark and I grabbed space in the corral and sat down waiting for the start. Getting there early allowed us to have enough space to sit and get off our feet. Incidentally the speakers around our corral were not working so although we couldn’t hear all the excitement of the pre-show we were able to sit and have a nice chat.

Without the speakers working we suddenly noticed that the crowd had become quiet and we heard the start of the National Anthem so we got up knowing that our start was minutes away. runDisney had reduced the number of overall runners and increased the number of corrals this year. Last year I started in corral B and this year I was in corral F. When I first got my waiver I was a little shocked by the change in corrals but thanks to some great research by the blog ‘Run, Knit, Travel‘ it seems that by the numbers I was pretty much in the same place I would have been last year. We watched the first few corrals leave giving me a good opportunity to get some good firework views as we waited for our corral to be brought forward. Soon it was our turn…

Donald waiting to give us the word.

Donald waiting to give us the word.

So we were called to the start line…Donald counted us down…3…2…1…GO!!!!!!

Wait…what happened? Where were the fireworks? No fireworks? Really? That’s why I’m here? Can I get a refund? What?

So, no fireworks for our corral. A little disappointed I set off for the start of the race. Just past the start line on the left was Bart Yasso cheering on the runners who were part of the Runner’s World Challenge. Bart is a great guy and was friendly to all the runners passing by. Just as an aside, I ran the Philadelphia Marathon with the Runner’s World Challenge back in 2011 and would recommend the experience. Okay, back to the race.

Due to the timing between corrals a couple of minutes later I heard fireworks. Yup, corral G got them 😦 , nevertheless I was on my way and looking forward to the day. As I approached the first mile marker I bumped into Kimberly from ‘Mother Maker Marathon Runner‘. Kimberly and I have been Facebook friends for a while but we had yet to actually meet up despite some attempts during the previous two days. Some of you may know Kimberly already but for those of you who don’t she is truly an inspiration. She is a cancer survivor and has continued running through her chemotherapy treatments. Since undergoing surgery and her treatments she has run the Dumbo Double Dare in Disneyland, the Chicago Marathon, the New York Marathon and was running the Dopey Challenge…and also was scheduled to run the Tinkerbell Half Marathon the week after the Dopey. Amazing.

Meeting the amazing Kimberly Markey

Meeting the amazing Kimberly Markey

Meeting Kimberly was a great start to the day. We chatted while standing in line to have our photo with Captain Jack Sparrow. I said my ‘so long for now’ and wished her luck and headed off for the Magic Kingdom.

Aaaargh!!!

Aaaargh!!!

You approach the main entrance to the Magic Kingdom and make your way up to the Ticket and Transportation Center. That is a great place for supporters to gather and see their runners pass through. Today was no different and the crowds were out in full force. Also, the Ticket and Transportation Center has nice indoor bathrooms. Just at the right time having been in the corrals for so long 🙂

Heading through the main gates on our way to the Magic Kingdom

Heading through the main gates on our way to the Magic Kingdom. No charge for being on foot.

I took the opportunity today to make stops at as many characters as I could with the plan on taking it easy and so that I could bypass the same photo stops during the Marathon. This worked out well as sometimes depending upon the time you arrive at a character stop there are different although related characters, for example Peter Pan and Wendy might swap out with Captain Hook and Mr Smee. Today gave me the opportunity should there be someone different there tomorrow. As always I tried to get the pictures of the characters that my sons will most want to see.

With Jack and Sally. Both my boys love 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'.

With Jack and Sally. Both my boys love ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’.

As you pass through the Ticket and Transportation Center you start to approach the Magic Kingdom. First you pass ‘under’ ‘Bay Lake’ via a small underpass and them run alongside the ‘Contemporary Resort’, round the back of ‘Space Mountain’ and then enter ‘Main Street USA’ just past ‘Town Square’.

Outside the park just behind Space Mountain

Outside the park just behind Space Mountain

My very favorite part about running at Walt Disney World comes when you enter the Magic Kingdom and you run up ‘Main Street USA’. This is truly one of the most unique opportunities in the most special of locations that I can think of. As a self-confessed ‘Disney Head’ I admit that I absolutely love this part of the race and it wouldn’t matter to me if it was mile 1, mile 6 or mile 20 (although it would be cool if it was mile 26.2!!!) This was the 4th time I had experienced this and it was still as ‘magical’. The crowds line the street left and right, the street is all lit up and Cinderella’s Castle is all aglow just in the distance. You cannot beat it for atmosphere. As you can see from my pictures, I’m in my element here.

Here I am on Main Street USA - Magic Kingdom

Here I am on Main Street USA – Magic Kingdom

You don’t spend too much time on Main Street but you run up and make a right turn into ‘Tomorrow Land’ where I encountered the real ‘Buzz Lightyear’ as compared to my fake Buzz from the 10K. This was the first of three character stops in a row where just as I ran up to have my photo taken the character went inside for a quick break (I assumed Buzz had to re-energize his fuel cells, Pooh Bear needed a quick shot of honey and Daisy Duck had to re-arrange her feathers). However, all was well despite this becoming a ’19 minute mile’ that included these character stops.

Buzz Lightyear

Buzz Lightyear

Pooh Bear

Pooh Bear

Viewing the Castle from Fnatasyland

Viewing the Castle from inside Fantasyland

Donald (minus Daisy)

Donald (minus Daisy)

Then comes another fun part of the race which is running through the Castle and the chance for a great photo opportunity in front.

Hey, look where I am!!

Hey, look where I am!!!

After running through the Castle we make our way out of the park through Liberty Square and Frontierland and then backstage out onto Floridian Way (a.k.a. ‘Cone Alley’). I took one more character stop to have a photograph with Woody on the way out of the park.

3,6

He’s got a friend in me

At this point in the race the sun had started to rise although it wasn’t what I would call sunny. I guess daylight is a better way of saying it. Thankfully there was cloud cover as it was already warm and very humid at this point however once we left the park a cool breeze was blowing which made the run a little more comfortable. It as at this stage that I always look forward to seeing Mary Poppins as she is usually located just outside of the Grand Floridian. However this year she was not there (on either day). I later learned that she was with Bert and the Penguins in the Race Retreat tent on both days. So I settled in and with the exception of a few character stops maintained an even pace from here on out until we started to approach the overpass that would lead us to EPCOT.

There is not too much to see on this part of the course as it is basically a retread of the route to EPCOT from the other side of the Magic Kingdom but it does give opportunities for some character stops. This year however those were few and far between on the way back. Generally I noticed less characters out on the course than in prior years. That may well have been part of runDisney’s plan to help get foot traffic flowing along with reducing the number of runners and the changes to the spacing of the corrals.

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Aloha

There are a series of rolling hills (this is Florida…don’t get the wrong idea…they are still pretty flat) as you make your way back to EPCOT. While running towards the overpass along World Drive I heard my name being called and turned to find Jonathan who started with me in the 10K the day before. We had a little chat during my walk break and then parted ways as I began to run again. He looked to be having as good a time as I was so that was great to see.

Having fun out there

Having fun out there

Once you have gone around the ramp up to the overpass you are only a couple of miles out and as you cross over the overpass you can see the sea of runners coming up behind you. It is a pretty cool sight to see so many of your fellow runners out there and is encouragement to know that you are within a couple of miles from the finish line. It was at this time that I ran alongside Sid Busch (who I actually had lunch plans with that day). Sid has run 19 of the 20 Disney Marathons and is ‘Perfectly Goofy’. He was out here running the Dopey. Sid is a retired naval officer and runs carrying the American Flag in support of our Armed Forces and runs in memory of fallen soldiers. He is kind of famous out here at the Walt Disney World Marathon (and other races too). He was looking good.

Great to see Sid out there on the course. Getting lots of crowd and runner support for all his good work.

Great to see Sid out there on the course. Getting lots of crowd and runner support for all his good work.

There is a sharp right turn at mile 11.5 and that leads you straight towards EPCOT. Once you have made the turn you can see the park and you know you are close to the finish. From there on in you run through Future World and out towards the finish line. As you can see from the photos I was enjoying myself alot. Actually I felt much better than at this point the year before where I almost had injured myself ‘racing’ to the finish line. I took it nice and easy this year. Experience shows.

The home strectch

The home stretch

Made it!

Made it!

I made it through the finish line with a chip time of 2:43:54. Not fast by any means but considering my goal of taking it easy and all the character stops (including the ‘disappearing’ characters in the Magic Kingdom) I wasn’t too disappointed with my time. I had said to myself at the start that anything around 2:30 would be fine. WIth 26.2 miles to run the next day I was feeling good and that was what counted.

I got my medal and headed over to the to the self-treatment area to ice down my legs. As I was travelling solo this year I had actually taken a studio apartment rather than a one bedroom like usual which meant that there was a shower but no bath tub where I would have soaked in cool iced water. I took extra time at the self-treatment area to ice down my quads, hamstrings, knees and calf muscles. I looked a sight for sore eyes. I have to thank the folks from the medical team for volunteering and for wrapping me up in ice and clear wrap.

It may not look good but it did the trick.

It may not look good but it did the trick.

I then made my way out to the bag check and headed back home to shower up for my lunch reservation in the Magic Kingdom.

Medal number 3 for the weekend

Medal number 3 for the weekend

The 'Donald' medal

The ‘Donald’ medal

Again, the wrist band process was much better today as it had been at the 10K even with the added runners who were participating in the Goofy Challenge.

Three races, three wrist bands

Three races, three wrist bands

So now I was adding to both my bracelet and medal haul. Not bad for three days.

Bling Bling Bling

Bling Bling Bling

So after a quick shower I headed back to the Magic Kingdom for lunch (at ‘The Crystal Palace’) with Sid and new friends Rob and MaryJane where we chatted for almost 2 hours and refueled before the Marathon on Sunday. After we said our goodbyes I spent the rest of the day in the Magic Kingdom. I had a checklist of rides and attractions that I wanted to hit that I had planned would be a little restful (i.e. off my feet) before watching the ‘Main Street Electrical Parade’ and heading off home for another relatively early night.

Obligatory post Half Marathon celebration

Obligatory post Half Marathon celebration

Dole Whip - this is magical fuel...

Dole Whip – this is magical fuel…

I was getting a bit tired around 6pm and headed to my last attraction (the ‘Carousel of Progress’) and had actually decided to skip the Electrical Parade and head home early. It’s not like I haven’t seen it a few times 🙂 Well, what a good choice that was. As soon as I was back at the Transport and Ticket Center the heavens opened up. Rain was steadily coming down and I was driving home through a lightning storm that lasted a decent amount of time. Getting home early gave me the chance to also FaceTime with my family. I got to show them some of the gifts I had bought for them and also read books to them in bed. It was great. The boys seemed very pleased with my purchases. I think they even missed me while I was gone.

The boys seemed very pleased with my purchases. I think they even missed me while I was gone.

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I got my gear ready for the next morning and headed off to bed. My Fitbit stats for the day? Well, considering I had run a Half Marathon (13.1 miles) I racked up a total of 21.27 miles. Again, how that would play out the next day was anyones guess. With that I turn out the lights and tried to get some sleep knowing that in a few hours the main event was going to be here.

2013 Philadelphia Marathon – race recap

2013 Philadelphia Marathon

2013 Philadelphia Marathon

This weekend my wife Shari and I ran the Philadelphia Marathon. This is a very special event for me as it was my very first marathon back in 2011, it was also where in 2012 I broke 4 hours in a marathon for the first time as well is being my ‘local’ race (I live in the suburbs just north of Philadelphia in Bucks County, PA). So this was going to be my 3rd consecutive Philadelphia Marathon. It was also the 20th year of the current marathon event so it was sure to be special.

2011 Philadelphia Marathon My First Marathon

2011 Philadelphia Marathon
My First Marathon

2012 Philadelphia Marathon My First Sub 4 Hour Marathon

2012 Philadelphia Marathon
My First Sub 4 Hour Marathon

My wife ran the Half Marathon in 2012 and felt that the atmosphere for the event and the crowds she saw might encourage her to run the Full in the future. After completing her first Full marathon in Walt Disney World in January of this year I convinced her (not that she needed much convincing) to run Philadelphia and I signed us up when registration opened on April 1st.

Both Shari and I trainined using Hal Higdon’s training plans, Novice 2 for Shari and Intermediate 2 for myself. This was the 3rd time I have used this plan and I’m comfortable with the training level right now. I said to Shari as we approached the race that I had no goal other than to run with her and enjoy the race. I had nothing to prove here and just wanted to savor the time. I was probably the most relaxed before a marathon I had ever been (okay, I haven’t done that many!).

As race weekend approached, we, along with everyone else, watched the upcoming weather forecast which seemed to change daily. Even the day before the weather forecast was different than on the actual day. This was Fall in the North East and we had the week before experienced temperatures in the high 20s/low 30s so although it looked warmer they were predicted a little fog and rain. As it turned out it was a glorious day but more on that later.

Our first stop was on Saturday at the expo. As with the previous year it was held at the Philadelphia Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia. We headed down with our two boys with the plan that we would grab our bibs and take turns sitting with the boys in the Kids Zone while each of us took a look around the expo. The Kids Zone has been a life saver in the past and we only wish there had been one at the Walt Disney World Marathon expo back in January (that was not a fun time at the expo…)

The expo itself was a little odd. As we walked in there was the usual Philadelphia Marathon banner and we took our regular photos by the banner (actually our 6 year old took the photos so we look really tall). As we got through the banner there was a ‘hand written’ sign pointing us towards packet pickup. That was kind of strange. A little amateur looking considering the size of the race.

Welcome

Welcome

It looked a bit last minute

It looked a bit last minute more as an afterthought for such a high profile part of race weekend.

No backing out now

No backing out now

The other thing we noticed about this years expo was the setup seemed different. Usually we grabbed our bibs, went through the merchandise section and then out into the main expo. This year it was a little more like rats in a maze. I don’t know how else to describe it. The packet pickup was easy in itself but getting to there had a couple of turns and you were partly going through the expo at the same time. It was crowded and not easy to manouver with a stroller as some people were in line, some people were passing through and some people were looking at booths. Of all the races I have taken part in this year this was the first race where nobody asked to see my ID to confirm who I was when picking up my race packet. Given all the extra messaging around the increased need for security at the event no-one checked our bags going into the expo either. Strange. That would however change on Sunday.

As has become the norm for races since Boston, the race organizers provided clear bags that would be the only ones allowed at the bag check. They were at least a decent size and they actually looked quite cool, mesh on one side and clear plastic on the other printed with the name of the race. The shirts this year were a light blue and I liked it. It had the words of ’20 YEARS FOR THE LOVE OF RUNNING’ written on the front with the course map on the back (as in prior years).

The expo seemed a little smaller than in previous years too. Looking at the map of the expo it appeared that the booths were all perfectly in line but in reality it wasn’t as if you could walk in a straight line through the expo and I got turned around a couple of times not knowing which direction I had just come from. My wife thought the same. It wasn’t the worst expo but it wasn’t the best and we kind of had expectations for his race being the 20th anniversary event.

Great idea. Every expo should have one

Great idea. Every expo should have one

The scene at the Bib and Packet pickup area.

The scene at the Bib and Packet pickup area.

I did stop by the Hoka booth as this was the first time I had seen the Hoka shoes close up. I tried on a pair of the Bondi model shoes but I really need to have the opportunity to try them on a run to see if they live up to the good things I’ve heard. They sure look different though.

Hoka One One - not the sure for your minimalist friends

Hoka One One – not the shoe for your minimalist friends

Once we were done at the expo we headed home for an early dinner with the boys and to get ready for race day. As usual we laid out our gear the night before. As we were running as a couple we tried to coordinate colors…because you have to! Also, we looked over the race guide that was in our packets I was pleasantly surprized/shocked to see a picture of me in the program. We are not new to this free publicity as my wife made the program of the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend program and we are on the banner of the Atlantic City April Fool’s Half Marathon but the picture of me was from last year’s marathon. As you may know from reading my blog I use Jeff Galloway’s run/walk/run method to good effect. The picture in the program was a picture of me walking…the only person walking in a picture of everyone else running…oh no!!! Still, I broke 4 hours in the marathon last year so whatever you think from the picture, the result was what I wanted and I can live with the embarassment 😉 My wife didn’t even notice it was me and she specifically looked for us in the program (thanks Honey).

A Purple Princess outfit

A Purple Princess outfit

Just a little hint of orange

Just a little hint of orange

Always check there is a camera near before you walk :-)

Always check there is a camera near before you take a walk break 🙂

Since the Boston Marathon bombing this year many races have increased the security around their events and this event was no different. Prior to race weekend there were updates on the website and in our race emails advising us of the increased security measures. The race organizers were setting up a security perimeter around the start line and check-in areas (the Benjamin Franklin Parkway). They advised everyone to get down early to get through security checks. My wife and I headed downtown at 4:45am for the 7am start time. We parked about 4 blocks away from the start line and headed toward the area. As we approached the Parkway we saw actually barriers into the starting area. We were funneled into chutes with my bag being checked at the start and end of the chute. At the start my bag was ok, but at the end of the chute just a few yards further away I was stopped because my bag contained a bottle of Powerade Zero which at 32 ounces was not permitted into the area. Only 12 ounces bottles were apparently acceptable…my wife made it through security with her 16 ounce bottle…grrrrr 😦

Military guards at a checkpoint to the Parkway

Guards at a checkpoint to the Parkway

Still annoyed about my loss of my Powerade Zero I was pretty annoyed when I saw plenty of people with Camelbak hydration packs and Gatorade bottles (I was beginning to believe it was an anti Coke product bias at this stage) we made a quick pit stop and then stretched out. We had brought our space blankets from last weeks Trenton Half Marathon to keep us warm at the start area as the temperatures were predicted to be in the 50s by start time. We walked a little further up towards the corrals and bag check and decided for one last pit stop before checking in our gear and heading to the corral. Wow. All I can say is wow. So, they increased registration this year to almost 30,000 runners and it seemed they had less port-a-potties than in prior years. We were in lines that zig-zagged up and back across the field. After being in line for over 30 minutes we had a minor mutiny on our hands and when we circle a tree to what seemed like the end of a line only to find it continue around again, so a few people in line just formed another line and monopolised two potties. Ugh. I didn’t want to start all that again so we joined the mutiny (although one lady in a parallel line gave us such a dirty look!!!) Not fun. We checked our bags and made it to the corrals just as the National Anthem was being sung. Start time was minutes away.

Waiting in our Corral

Waiting in our Corral

Ready, set....

Ready, set….

Our Corral was finally brought forward and given the word to ‘Go’. At the start line (and finish line) the Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, is there to high five runners as they pass by. I’m sure not many big city Mayors come out to support the runners but it’s great that he does. Last year I got high fives at the start and finish. This year Bill ‘Boston Billy’ Rodgers was also at the start line giving high fives out. We tried for that but failed miserably as I didn’t spot him amongst the crowds. Oh well…I got a high five (and a good luck kiss) from my Wife which is way better.

The one thing that I will always say about this race is that it has great crowd support. From the start line to the finish line (with only a few exceptions in the second half of the race) the crowds a many people deep and very vocal. Awesome stuff. The race is very scenic taking in many sites and neighborhoods. The first half is a different course than the Rock and Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon which shares the same start and finish line area. Here is the course.

2013 Philadelphia Marathon Course Map

2013 Philadelphia Marathon Course Map

The course at the start and for the first few miles was pretty tight as we were running with the Half Marathoners as well as the streets in Center City Philadelphia being fairly narrow. There were a lot of straights to run in the first few miles and crowd support was there alongside us. One of my favorite areas is to run up South Street and Chestnut Street. There was a DJ out on South Street last year but none this year but that was okay, we came to run and were having our own little party anyway. Running up Chestnut Street is awesome. Imagine a long narrow tunnel of just people and then send a crowd running through them. A great atmostphere.

Running along Chestnut Street

Running along Chestnut Street

photo 4 (4)

Running along Chestnut Street

The run along Chestnut Street is almost 2.5 miles straight up. You pass by 30th Street Station and up past Drexel University to what is the first (and probably longest) hill of the race. Once you reach the top you run past lots of Frat and Sororety houses and around past the Philadelphia Zoo. Luckily the wind was blowing in the right direction and you couldn’t ‘smell’ the Zoo as I had in prior years 🙂 The students living in the houses were out in support (and I’m sure a little beer was on offer).

It was around this part of the race that Shari began feeling a little uncomfortable with her knee. She has a little IT band issue from time to time and this had set her back a bit missing a couple of long runs half way through her training. She pulled a small tube of icy/hot out of her SpiBelt and massaged some of it into her knee and onto her IT band (believe me, that SpiBelt is like Mary Poppins carpet bag…you wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff she was carrying in there). After a couple of stretches were were on our way. Shari was doing okay keeping together with me. She was following the run/walk interval that I had trained with even though she herself doesn’t train this way. We were using a 4:00/0:40 run/walk ratio and that broke things up well. We were averaging just a little more than 10 minute miles at this point and were feeling okay.

After the Zoo we had the second toughest hill (shorter and more intense) up to the Please Touch Museum (Memorial Hall) in Fairmount Park. Once you get past this hill the rest of the course is not anyway near as demanding (although you still have another 17 miles to go at this point). Shari mentioned to me that it was at this point in the Half Marathon last year that she felt it was a little tough but she was much better this year and was happy with how things were going. This was also the location of the first Clif Shot station. I had only packed 4 gels for the marathon (my strategy was to take a gel at miles 5, 10, 15 & 20) so I decided to grab an extra which I never usually do. We did go a little slower down the hill onto West River Drive but then held a steady pace up to the halfway point where we left the Half Marathoners at the finish line exit and looped around the front of the Philadelphia Art Museum just past the statue of Rocky Balboa (from the movie Rocky III).

Heading up West River Drive to the halfway point

Heading up West River Drive to the halfway point

Rocky

Rocky

The second half of the course is an out and back to Manyunk with a slight detour across the river and back to pick up a couple of miles in distance. It was at this stage that I feel like the race was on as we start seeing runners on their way back up to the finish line. We just missed the lead runner for the men’s race but saw the some of the elites running in as we were just starting mile 14. We also saw the first female runner on her way back in. It is always impressive to see how these folks leave it all on the course and their focus and determination in their eyes. I should also mention that we also saw Elvis…yes, you heard me right.

The King

The King

Interestingly enough there were two water stations very close together at this point in the course at miles 13 & 14 but then what seemed like a long gap before the next water stop at mile 17 at the second Clif Shot station. I could have done with a drink of water or Gatorade at this stage as the last water stop prior was around mile 11. Shari was begining to feel a little sore and she started stretching during some of the walk breaks but kept soldiering on. The little turnaround at mile 17 across the Falls Bridge and back is usually the point in the race where I dread. It’s downhill and uphill in a short space but this year it seemed to go much easier for me than in 2011 and 2012 and Shari didn’t seem to mind it at all and it gave me one my of my best views all day (see below):

My Little Princess

My Little Princess

Once we cleared the bridge we started to head up into Manyunk proper. Shari started to feel a little uncomfortable again and stopped to put on some more icy/hot cream. These were our 2 slowest miles of the marathon as we did these at a 12 minute mile pace. We were close to Manyunk itself which I had promised her was going to be a high point of the second half of the race as I had remembered the lift from the crowds from my previous experiences.

The run up and back through Manyunk is slight uphill/downhill but was not overly difficult although when you are running miles 19 to 21 it may seem to some like Mount Everest. We found it fine for us although we could see that a few were hurting and hitting the wall at this stage. However, for those with depleted carbohydrate stores Manyunk is the place to be.

We spot the sign for Manyunk

We spot the sign for Manyunk

As we ran into the town we were immediately offered refreshments at a beer station. Plenty partook but we decided to pass and head for the Gatorade and water a little further up the street. People were handing out orange segments to runners which I somehow managed to miss and was so distracted at this stage that I took my last energy gel at mile 19 instead of 20. Oops.. Luckily I had picked up a couple more gels at the last Clif Shot station and may actually have ended up with as many gels that I started with. Oh well, I am fully stocked for my Dopey training.

Main Street Manyunk

Main Street Manyunk

The crowds in Manyunk are awesome. Essentially you run up and down Main Street and the side walks are lined with supporters and people sitting outside cafe’s and restaurants watching. People were handing out brownies (seriously? you are going to eat a brownie from a random stranger mid race?) and Gummy Bears which Shari gladly took (hopefully she didn’t use the icy/hot hand as those would be some interesting tasting Gummy Bears). At the turnaround point you start to run downhill and it is the last big change of direction you make in the race as essentially you have 6 more straight miles to go from here.

A well timed and much appreciated sugar rush

A well timed and much appreciated sugar rush

Now it was heads down to the finish. Not much more to see on the course as we were retracing our steps back to the Art Museum and the finish line. Shari was concentrating on her form so she could run comfortably. She didn’t stop to stretch but just ran focused. She was pretty quiet at this stage and I was my usual chatty (somewhat annoying at this stage probably) self. I was having a ball. I was very relaxed, although I could feel my left ankle a bit it wasn’t hurting and I was just enjoying the sunshine, the run and the pace. We were almost home.

As we approached mile 25 I sensed Shari started to pick up the pace a little and we decided we would skip the last walk break if we felt okay. I don’t think either of us was planning on a sprint to the finish, at this stage the goal was to cross that line. Just as we reached mile 26 we did pick up the pace a little more but it wasn’t a sprint. Shari told me after the race that just as she reached that point her leg buckled a bit and she had a quick “oh no, not now” moment but held on to the end. As we approached the finish line we both went towards the Mayor and got our high fives (we had earned them) and crossed the finish line hand in hand in a time of 4:45 (a 45 minute PR for Shari).

Shari broke down in tears as we crossed the finish line and later told me that although this was her second marathon, at her first at Disney back in January we had plenty of stops for pictures, we had walked a little (as it was way too hot) and pretty much taken it easy, but that this was to her more of a challenge and was a real race feeling as we powered through the whole distance. And yes, before you ask, we were still speaking after 26.2 miles 🙂

My Bride getting her well earned medal

My Bride getting her well earned medal

My Bride and Joy

My Bride and Joy

We did it!

We did it!

A special gold medal for the 20th year

A special gold medal for the 20th year

After getting our space blankets and medals we were shuffled along by a volunteer to one side of the post race refreshment tables. It was pretty quick and easy compared to last year where I had to wait in line for quite a while to get some food. They handed us a small Macy’s bag with some bananas, pretzels, fruits snacks and granola bars. They also had oranges and chicken soup available. What I was surpized was that there were no soft pretzels at the finish line. Come on! This is Philly! No soft pretzels??? What is that all about? 🙂

After clearing the food line we went to try and get our finisher photo noticing that it was on the other side of the food tables. As we tried to approach for our picture a volunteer blocked our path and said that noone was allowed back up into the finish line area. We told him we were directed by another volunteer to the other side to grab refreshments and that we only wanted to get our photos taken but he refused to let us go back for security reasons. Yes, it must have been the banana and water I was holding that seemed threatening. What was that all about? We were still inside the security perimeter. Had it been our first marathon and we really wanted our photo taken we would have been really disappointed.

One of the goals we had for the weekend was to take our picture at Love Park just beyond the finish line area. We noticed as we excited the security perimeter that there were guards blocking people outside. Last year when I ran the Full and Shari ran the Half she had a couple of hours to wait and had walked a couple of blocks to Starbucks to grab a coffee. Had she done that this year she would not have been able to get back to meet me at the finish line. What a difference a year makes.

The walk was a good opportunity to cool down and stay loose before we actually had to sit down and drive home. We have always found it beneficial after a race to just keep moving. We walked (albeit slowly) the few blocks to Love Park and Shari said to me that now she has a baseline for a marathon (4:45 vs her Disney 5:30). Does this mean there may be a third? Who knows…

And we finally made it to Love Park.

Proudly showing our medals

Proudly showing our medals

Celebrating a special moment

Celebrating a special moment

Finally, I just want to say how very proud I am of Shari for completing her Marathon. She was awesome. She is always my biggest cheerleader and today I got to be hers. I look forward to many more 🙂

Thank you for reading (what was a real marathon of a recap).