As Douglas put it, I felt confident in my ability to complete one half marathon on Sunday. The problem was that I was about to do two.
The alarm once again went off at 2:40am on Sunday morning and we were out the door at 3:20am for the now familiar pre dawn trip to Epcot. The half marathon had 21,965 finishers and the full was just over half the size with 13,529 finishers. You would never have known it from the crowd in the staging area though since everything seemed nearly equally busy. I thought it was a nice touch that the marathon runners had red bibs while the Goofy runners (all 4,621 of us) had blue ones because it made it easy to give knowing head nods to our fellow crazies. It was definitely cooler on marathon morning so I wore a pair of cheap boy’s XL wind pants I’d picked up for six dollars at Target. I dropped them in a clothing donation bin just before the start of the race. This time around Douglas and I had been assigned to corral B. We waited with trepidation for the race to begin. Once we started shuffling forwards I said good-bye to Douglas and moved as far back in the corral as I could before crossing the starting line. I thought that in a best-case scenario I could maybe pull off a 4:30 finish time.
We started with a loop in and around Epcot and then headed out towards the Magic Kingdom. Because the course was marked in miles I decided to set my Garmin back to miles and forsake the metric system for a weekend. It was a throwback to my Seattle running days. I hit mile five in 0:52:08 (pace 10:25, predicted finish 4:33:22) but I already knew a 4:30 finish was not going to happen so while I kept hitting the lap button of my Garmin at each mile I stopped monitoring my pace.
There were three medical tents between miles five and 10 and I think I visited all of them. I had felt a hot spot forming on the arch of my right foot within the first 5 km of the race so I stopped once to adjust my sock and shoe and then a second time to cut off my arch tape (I usually tape my arches to prevent blisters but today it was the cause of the blister) and rub some Vaseline on the blister. I also stopped at one point to put some Biofreeze (topical pain reliever) on my right ITB. I don’t know if it worked or if the effect was psychosomatic but it didn’t really matter to me at the time. Interestingly the medical tent volunteers (who were wonderfully helpful) were recording the bib number of each runner who stopped at the tent and what they needed (Biofreeze, Tylenol, Vaseline, etc). I’d love to know what they’re going to do with this data.
I hit mile ten just outside of the Magic Kingdom in 1:45:35 (pace 10:33, predicted finish 4:36:49). At this point I was maintaining a decent pace but my legs did not feel great. The 1.5 or so miles run through the Magic Kingdom were the same course as during the previous day’s half marathon. It was sort of like I got these miles for free because the crowd support up Main Street and the excitement of running through the park carried me. When I hit the water station just outside the park reality really sunk in. I was now facing a long five mile stretch of road towards Animal Kingdom. I took a gel and a long walk through the water station, put more Biofreeze on my right leg and then started to focus on running from water station to water station. It was clear that I absolutely could not afford to bonk during the race so taking in sufficient calories and liquids gave me something to focus on.
At the half marathon mark my time was 2:19:00 (pace 10:36, predicted finish 4:38:00). I would have been quite happy to stop there and call it a weekend (two back to back half marathons has to be enough of an accomplishment right?) but of course I kept plodding along. Somewhere around here my left knee started bothering me. I have never had issues with my left leg before so this came as a very unpleasant surprise. I finally reached the Animal Kingdom and got to enjoy running about two miles through the park. The park wasn’t quite open yet but there was some nice crowd support along the parking lot as we exited.
After Animal Kingdom came the longest four miles of my life: highway and service roads on the way to Hollywood Studios. By this time my left knee was in bad shape. Every time I would stop to walk through a water station it would seize and I’d really have to fight to start running again. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that if I ran I’d finish sooner than if I walked. I took several longer three or four minute walk breaks but continued to make forward progress. Mile 20 came in 3:38:47 (pace 10:56, predicted finish 4:46:48). As the miles slowly ticked off I became increasingly frustrated with myself for putting myself in this position. My legs hurt and honestly it was a level of pain that I am uncomfortable having subjected myself to.
I think somewhere around the entrance to Hollywood Studios there was a candy stop where they were handing out mini chocolate bars. More races should hand out chocolate. Once again running through the park was a nice distraction. At this point the park was mostly open so there were more crowds around which helped. I did feel a little bad for guests who were just there to see the parks and had to wait to get across the course though. After Hollywood Studios we ran along a pathway and boardwalk to Epcot. This section had the most crowd support and all the encouraging words actually made me quite emotional. The second half of the marathon had really become a mental battle for me and every time I would let myself think about getting close to the end I’d feel like I was about to cry and hyperventilate. Then I’d do some deep breathing and refocus on just making it to the next landmark 100-200m down the road.
The last 2.2 miles of the course ran through Epcot. I moved past being emotional to almost numb to finishing the race. I knew I was going to finish and I think the stupidity of what I had just done was starting to sink in. My marathon chip time was 4:50:55 (pace 11:50) but I really did not care. I have never been so happy to just be done with a race. I got my marathon medal and then headed to the medical tent to start icing both my ITBs. I was not the only one walking around with ice strapped to both knees. From there I picked up my Goofy medal and headed to the food tent. I immediately drank 500mL of water and then picked up another bottle of water, a bottle of Powerade a banana and some small Clif bars.
I found Douglas after the race and we agreed that this was probably one of the dumbest things we’d ever done. We hobbled to the bus and eventually back to our cabin where Laura was waiting. I declared Laura to be the “brains of the operation” for the afternoon because, although I can’t speak for Douglas, I was physically, mentally and emotionally shot. Of course this didn’t stop us from spending the rest of the afternoon and evening in the Magic Kingdom. I eventually went to bed just before midnight on Sunday after having being awake for 21 hours straight.
On Monday morning I awoke with a headache and what I, in retrospect, suspect was sun stroke. It’s not that it was hot on Sunday but I think a combination of exhaustion, dehydration, and exposure to the sun for most of the morning and afternoon made me ill. I was nauseous, feverish and I had the chills. In short I felt awful. It took me over half an hour to eat a banana. I could have stayed at the cabin in bed for the day but that would have meant admitting defeat which isn’t really my style. Instead I went to the Magic Kingdom with my friends although I did bow out of roller coasters for the day. At about 3pm we took a ride on the People Mover in Tomorrowland and somehow that ride healed me. By the end of the afternoon I was feeling like my usual self with the exception of my legs.
Now that more than a week has passed and I can once again walk around pain free most of my frustrations with myself have subsided. I am in fact glad that I completed the race because I can only imagine the regret I might be feeling had I not toed the line on Sunday morning. Plus is gave me a little insight into just how far I can push myself. I still think that doing the race on minimal training was not very smart. I have no plans to ever attempt the Goofy again but I will be wearing my shirt with pride in the future.