Last May, after spending a week at Disney World and racing the Expedition Everest 5K/Scavenger Hunt, Matt and I decided to make the WDW Half Marathon in January a goal race for coming back from a year of injury. Since it was still within the first pricing period, we were able to register for the half marathon using our Disney Vacation Club membership discount code. And just like that, my first race of 2014 was on the calendar!
If you’ve been reading Running on Waffles for a while now, you’ll know I sustained an incredibly painful knee injury last year while training for this race. I had (not so intelligently) planned to race the Goofy Challenge just 8 weeks after my A race of 2012 (the Philadelphia Marathon). In the middle of my last 20 mile run, my knee began throbbing so badly I couldn’t make it more than 15 miles. What ultimately resulted in months and months of physical therapy and a completely derailed 2013 racing schedule left me disappointed in my experience racing Goofy (which, yes, I did complete with the blessing of my physical therapist).
So going into the 2014 WDW Half Marathon, I saw this race as redemption. Yes, I made a statement with my comeback at the Berkeley 10K, pulling off a massive PR and an 8:16 average pace. But this race? It meant so much more. This was the race I’d been dreaming about since 2011, when I decided I wanted to break 2 hours in the half marathon. The was the first half I would really be racing since the very first Wine and Dine Half Marathon in 2010! If I’m totally honest, the magnitude of what this race represented to me was overwhelming…and I was getting to the point where I just wanted it to be over so I would know how it was all going to end.
On Friday morning, Matt and I headed out to the expo at the Wide World of Sports to pick up our race packets. We were able to easily pick up our bibs (being in corral B, I was in the first line of bib numbers, which felt amazing). After getting our bibs, we walked over to the Josten’s Center for shirt pick up. For the first time in what has to be runDisney history, the race shirts actually came in a women’s cut! I was worried mine would be too small at first, since I had intentionally ordered an XS after always having the S be so big I would just give it to Matt. Fortunately it still fit perfectly. And I LOVE the redesign they did!
We picked up a few items at the expo: a new foam roller, a tube of Nuun (love the strawberry lemonade!), and some PowerBar Energy Blasts for the morning. Wanting to take it easy, it was back to the Boardwalk, where we watched a movie, I painted my nails, and we spent some time at the pool. After a carb-filled dinner, we laid out our race outfits and crawled into bed.
WDW Half Marathon
Previous experience had told us to be on a bus around 3:15 am in order to avoid massive traffic congestion and any unnecessary race-morning stress. That meant a 2 am alarm. When I woke up and told Matt, “It’s still yesterday at home,” I partly laughed but mostly just wanted to cry. (I spent the rest of the trip with my body totally screwed up from the time change.)
We were on a bus a little after 3:15 and had no problems getting to the start area. Bag check was easy, and before we knew it we were waiting for the gates to the corrals to open at 4:15.
Having spent days working on our race costumes, I was really pleased with how they turned out! And it became a game throughout the morning to count the number of comments we received and photos people asked to take…something that became a necessary distraction during the race itself. What do you guys think? Do we make a good Kevin and Russell?
Around 4:15, the gates to the corral were opened, and we made our way down the mile walk to the start line. For some reason I was assigned to corral B while Matt was put in corral C, even though his qualifying time was faster than mine. And while we were in corral C, trying to break 1:55, the 2 hour pacer was lined up in corral B. While I absolutely love that runDisney vastly increased the number of corrals this year (made for much less crowding on the course), I think the placement of the pacers wasn’t worked out well with the corrals people were actually placed into.
Before I knew it, we were getting ready to start. I was barely awake enough to process the fact that my goal race was almost underway, which was probably a good thing or I might have been more nervous. Just over 4 minutes after the race started, we crossed the start line at the front of corral C…and were off!
The First 10K
I usually like to think of a half marathon as two 5 milers and a 5K, but within the first two miles of this race I was in struggle city and knew that wasn’t going to work. Following the Polar Vortex, Orlando was hit with a couple of really warm days (up in the 80s), and the lingering humidity from that change meant the race was starting in the 60s with 100% humidity. My poor body had no clue how to handle that level of humidity, and while I was able to handle the first mile, I was completely drenched with sweat before we hit mile 2. I think that’s when I knew that 1:55 was out of reach.
Each water station we passed resulted in me chugging Gatorade and dousing myself with cups of water. By mile 4, our 8:XX miles were feeling like torture, and I just felt completely drained. I hadn’t had the ideal week leading into my goal race for several reasons, and the mental and physical exhaustion of all of that combined with the intense humidity forced me to fight for every step of the race. I was so relieved to reach mile 5, where I told myself I could have a short walk break, but as we made our way into the Magic Kingdom, I knew I couldn’t handle the thought of walking just yet – not when there was massive crowd support to lean on. While the race photos show me literally looking like death while I ran down Main Street USA, I just listened to the crowd as people shouting out about how amazing our costumes were. That was the energy I needed to make it through the castle and out the back lot behind Frontierland.
6.2 to Mile 10
It was at the 10K mark that I gave myself permission to walk. There was a water stop combined with my need to get nutrition in that made it the perfect place for a quick recovery. My breathing was so labored while I was running that I couldn’t eat, and I knew I would be in a massive world of hurt if I didn’t get anything down at that point. So I choked down 1 sleeve of my Gatorade chews before taking off again.
At this point, we were running behind the Grand Floridian and Polynesian resorts, in areas that in past years have been insanely crowded. I don’t know if this was a result of being at the front of the pack or if the increased number of corrals made a huge difference, but I actually had space to run without weaving or tripping on the one lane road. Given that that has been a major frustration for me in the past, I was really happy to have such a different experience this year!
The walk break made a huge difference for me, and I was feeling stronger for a while. Unfortunately, because it was still so dark when we started, we weren’t able to see the Garmin as we hit each mile, so we had no clue what our splits were looking like. (I later realized that we started out way too fast with 8:2X miles, and were slowing down throughout the race, but I had nothing but feel to go on at that point.) I focused on getting to the next timing mat: the 15K mark. I had begun to struggle again shortly before that, and was mentally fighting to reach that point. As soon as I crossed it, I told myself I could take one last walk break at 10 miles to get in the last of my food. I also knew I needed salt tablets, which I hadn’t had the energy to dig out of my SpiBelt while I was running, so the race became a battle to make it to 10 miles.
The Final 5K
I was elated when we reached 10 miles to see that I had hit that point under my current 10 miler PR. And I was even happier when I realized that in doing so, I could run 12 minute miles to the finish line and still PR. I knew I would accomplish my C goal for the day. However, I had just caught back up to the 2 hour pacer for the second time when I stopped to walk, and was beginning to worry about my B goal.
I ate my chews quickly and downed both salt tablets before getting back into the run. At this point in the course, I knew I had the hill I was currently running, plus two more overpasses on the freeway, before I hit Epcot. Never in my life have such little hills felt so difficult during a race, and I gave myself permission to back off on the effort while climbing them. I knew I needed to leave a little something in the tank with just under 3 miles to go, and didn’t want to burn up what strength I had left too early.
At this point in the morning, the sun was coming up, and it was bringing a decent wind with it. While I loved having the wind to cool me down, I was struggling with it on the bridges more than I would have liked. I was praying for a down pour instead, but unfortunately I only ever felt a few sprinkles of rain here and there. (I was so wet from dumping water on myself already, it might as well have been raining.)
I continued to fight forward, willing myself to hold on to the pace as long as I could. Once we hit mile 12, I knew I just needed to hold the pace just a little longer to insure a sub-2 hour half. I dug deep and continued repeating “Earned, Never Given,” over and over in my mind. I kept visualizing a 1:5X:XX on the race clock as I crossed the finish line, and told myself to fight. Finally making my way into Epcot, I felt a surge of relief; I knew the finish line was close. And I would now have crowd support to feed off of, as well. This was the one point on the course that was crowded for me, and I struggled to fight my way around groups of slower runners with my quickly draining energy.
Just before leaving the park, I slipped past the 2 hour pacer. And I knew. I knew that after 3 years of dreaming, I was FINALLY going to break 2 hours. I knew I was going to have redemption for 2013. I knew that I had fought through some of the most intense pain to come back as a stronger runner. And as I made my way past the gospel singers just before mile 13, I pushed with every ounce of energy I had to make it to the finish line.
I have often heard people talk about being so exhausted at the end of a race that they end up peeing themselves. (This was something I actually almost did during the race because I did have to pee, but it never got that bad.) I never appreciated what that actually felt like until Saturday morning. The second I crossed the finish line and slowed to a walk, the complete and utter exhaustion that overwhelmed my body after knowing I had given everything to the race almost left me peeing myself in front of Mickey. Seriously. (That may have been a better story than peeing on the side of the freeway before the race started – yes, again Mom, sorry!)
Fortunately I was able to prevent any finish line embarrassment, as Matt then turned to show me the Garmin: a finish time of 1:56:55! While I was of course disappointed that I couldn’t pull out a sub-1:55 finish, demolishing 2 hours felt (and still feels) amazing. This was a huge goal for me, and one that I have dreamt of for years. There is no way I’m going to let myself be disappointed because I didn’t accomplish a goal that I knew was really only possible under the best of conditions. And Saturday morning, for me, was far from that!
But the race also ended up being a major lesson in mental strength. I had to fight for that finish time, and I earned it. I feel proud. I feel like I’ve redeemed myself from 2013. And I feel strong – mentally and physically. But most importantly, I feel excited. Excited that on a training cycle that only included 2 double digit mileage runs, I kicked ass. Excited that over the coming months, I’m going to continue to become a stronger and stronger runner. Excited that 1:56:55 is my starting point for 2014. Because I have big goals and big dreams for what this year will bring. And as I told my coach after there ace, if this is what I’m starting from, I can’t wait to see what I can do in a few months.
So here are the final stats:
AG finish: 53 out of 1,588
Female finish: 308 out of 11,203
Overall finish: 1,368 out of 20,245
Yeah, I think I’m ok with placing in the top 3.3% of my AG. Not too shabby for someone who hasn’t raced a half marathon in over 3 years!
Your Turn: Did you race at WDW this weekend? Do you have any big goals you’re working towards right now?