***Let me just start off by thanking you readers for sticking with me since I started this thing all these months ago. I'll make it worth your while with a very comprehensive recap post, since I've been slacking in the last few months.***
All of this time built towards running a marathon can finally be put into some perspective, because on January 8th, 2012, I can officially call myself a Marathoner. No more wondering about what happens on Mile 22. No more anticipating what happens if I cramp up. And no more trying to figure out if I even have it in me to go out and run for 26.2 miles. I can put away the questions, the worries, the bad thoughts (and the good thoughts) and have a little bit of reflection, and maybe let you in on what my experience is like, so that when you go out and run your first marathon, maybe you'll know what to expect.
As I touched upon last time, I had been battling some difficult training conditions, mostly brought on by a couple of different factors. First, I became a little too confident in my abilities and decided to stop doing what was working for me. Since I started up this running bit, I've been a devout follower of the training plans put together by Hal Higdon, famed runner and coach. Well, I got it in my head that I could move on past Hal's Novice Marathon training and move into something a little more advanced, notably running with Runner's World's Best First Marathon guide, or something to that effect. It was slightly more intricate, but definitely more volumed in mileage than Hal's. To my complete surprise, I wasn't able to handle the increase in mileage, and I got pretty dinged up right around Thanksgiving. The outside of my right knee tightened up almost instantly when I would run, and the lower portion of my left ankle seemed to be very strained. Ankle's and knee's aren't exactly the things you want to be worrying about when you have a long distance to cover, so I took two weeks off to allow things to heal up. It only slightly worked, and eventually I just told myself to stop thinking about it and just run through it. While it was pretty terrible, I did figure out that it wasn't going to get any worse, so it was just a matter of blocking it out. ***Side Note: If I had played any real sports throughout my life, I have no doubt I would be that player that was always injured, and if I wasn't injured, I might make a difference on a team, but I could never stay healthy.***
As December rolled on, things fell into place, but I wasn't feeling any confidence whatsoever. Up until Thanksgiving, I had not missed a workout, and had been doing a really good job of nailing some goal times and distances, and staying healthy. I even entered that half marathon and set a time to hit that would put me on a goal time of 4:00:00 for the Marathon, and I hit it with a minute to spare (1:53:00). So I was doing well and feeling good, and then I had to hit the sidelines and mentally, I just never felt like I got that swagger back. Physically, I knew that I had put in plenty of miles and it wasn't going to go away in a matter of days. But mentally, the hurdle was there. After New Year's Day, I had accepted that I was just going to go have fun at Disney World, run a Marathon, and just enjoy the hell out of it. What else was there to do? I was glad the whole thing was winding down, because it was time to just stop thinking and go run.
Destination races are very big in this country, and I can now see why. The thought of flying somewhere to run seemed pretty bizarre to me, but I wanted to do it so that I could at least say that I went somewhere where the race was a really big deal. Disney's Marathon Weekend turned out to be a pretty big deal. 22000 finishers of the Half Marathon on Saturday, followed by 13500 finishers of the Marathon on Sunday, as well as thousands of people (I would guess) that actually signed up to do both races for the Goofy Challenge. Crazy if you ask me, but if you've got the desire, you might as well go for it. As much fun as the experience was, the travelling aspect of it is yet another variable to figure into your approach. As you know, I work overnight, so working through Friday morning and catching a plane 5 hours later was going to be tiring, but I expected to sleep on the plane. That didn't happen. At least I'd be able to catch a nap when we got to hotel...except that K-State was playing in the Cotton Bowl on Friday Night, and we had a date with ESPN Zone in Epcot. I was stuck with the decision of picking up my packet on Friday Night and skipping my much needed nap, or attempting to nap and picking up my packet on Saturday before heading to Epcot for a touristy Saturday. To save effort, it was packet pickup time. Thankfully that all went smoothly, and it was game time. I'll spare the details, but we were unable to find our way to the ESPN Zone, as it proved to be more difficult to access than I had anticipated. We were unable to watch it until the second half, which it appears ended up being a good thing, save for about 5 minutes of the game. I ended up sleeping a much needed 10 hours that night, but I knew that I would probably feel in on Sunday. What an inopportune time to stay up for 30+ straight hours! Oh well. On top of missing sleep, it amazes me how hard it is to stay hydrated when you travel. All the adrenaline that kept me awake drained me of water, and I had a hard time quenching my travel thirst. Don't take for granted how easily it is to drink water. You miss it when it is tougher to come by.
Saturday at Epcot was great, but I had a feeling that the extended periods of walking would catch up to me on Sunday. After making it back to the hotel by 10 PM, I was ready to hit the sack in a major way, but I knew that I was only going to be getting about 4.5 hours of sleep, because I would have to be up to catch the bus to the starting lines at 3 AM. Yikes. I had trouble sleeping anyways, because I have been so used to staying up through the night for the better part of eight months. When it was finally go time, I hit the bus with a few other earlier risers, and we made our way through the darkness to descend upon the start. Nothing like seeing a fleet of buses unloading eager passengers in the dead of the night, all willing to forgo their normalcy, strap on shoes, and run for hours on end. It really is pretty cool. Since I was making this a memorable (and easy) trip on myself, I signed up for the Race Retreat package that Disney offered, which turned out to be well worth it. Easy bag check, comfortable stretching, private bathrooms, tunes, breakfast, drinks, Woody and Bullseye from Toy Story...the whole thing was enough to really get you stoked about the race. And I really was. I just kept telling myself that I could not believe I was actually about to set out and run this race. It felt like ages ago since I signed up, and even longer than that since I decided I needed to do this distance, just to see if I could. I was just ready to have fun, chat with strangers, and run through the parks.
After the seemingly endless pre-walk to the corrals (they say it takes at least 20 minutes, and it probably took longer), it was already race time. When I filled out my entry form, I estimated it would take me 4:20:00 to finish, which seemed reasonable on paper. By this estimation, I would be in Corral C, which meant that I had to fight through the crowd from the walkway to get up there. Right when I made it there, the race had started! Mickey, Donald, and Goofy gave the command, and the first corral was off! This left me about 8 minutes to kind of get my bearings, tie my shoes again, and just remind myself to go have some fun, since all the hardest work was done. At least now I would be running with people, and not by myself in the freezing cold around the lake.
I got off to a nice and easy start, as I was good to remind myself that I had a lot of time, and where or how I finished was not important, only that I finished. Nothing else really mattered. If I needed to walk, I would stop and walk. I'd grab drinks at the stations, and I'd grab food to keep me going when it was available. One thing I had read about was how cool it was to have thousands of people cheering you on as you were going through the parks, and it absolutely was as cool as advertised. Heading through the Magic Kingdom as the sun was just beginning to peak up from the horizon, while large crowds clapped and yelled your name (it was on the race bib) as you passed, it perked you up. Probably a little too much, as my miles drifted closer to 9:20/mile, when I was hoping to be closer to 9:50/mile. My legs were getting tired at about the halfway point, but I knew that if I stopped to walk, it would get progressively more difficulte to pick up those tired legs and continue to run. I ended up making it through 15 miles before I finally had felt the pain enough to stop and walk for a couple of minutes. My feet were starting to ache, and I still had 11 miles left to go. Not a problem, though. I'd run two more miles and take another walk break, I thought. So I may have been short on the two miles, but not to worry. My legs had grown heavy, and my miles were starting to drag, but I was still feeling decent. As we hit the Animal Kingdom, I could tell I was tiring quickly. The sleep thing didn't help, no doubt, and now the sun was up and the temperature was rising. The heat was not severe or anything, but after spending more than a month running in three layers of clothes, a rising temperature was not something I was ready for.
At the 19th or 20th mile (all blended together), it really got tough. I hit that proverbial wall, and I knew it was going to be a damn fight the whole rest of the way, which was merely another 10K. At this point, I was walking in intervals of 2-3 minutes at a time, stopping to stretch my legs and give my poor feet a rest. ***Side Note: As part of overconfidence, I switched off of Nike shoes in December and into Brooks shoes, a more running specific company. Much like changing from Hal, I never really adapted, and I think it played a part in why my feet were in so much pain. Lesson learned: Keep things the same*** By the time mile 23 rolled around, I was questioning if I could actually jog anymore, or if I was going to finish the whole thing exclusively walking. I was coercing myself into running for 8 or 10 minutes at a time, telling myself that I would walk for 3 more minutes if I could just make it for a 10 minute running stretch. My feet were shot, and my legs were very much at the Jello phase. By the final mile, I was alternating 5 minutes of running with 2 minutes of walking. As we ran along the shoes in Epcot through the different countries, I made sure to hit a point where I could just run and finish, and made sure not to stop. I had come this far, I didn't want to be walking to the finish line. Once the finish line was in sight, I had a calm feeling knowing that it was over, I had not vomited or passed out, and I would be able to stay upright once I crossed the line. I crossed the finish line at 4:45:01. A time that at the time I had no idea was either good, bad, indifferent, average, or any other qualifying adjective you can come up with. All I knew at that point was that I needed water badly, I needed to rest my feet, and I needed to ice my knee. The cotton mouth that I experienced through Hollywood Studios and the Boardwalk (miles 24-25) was unlike any other. It sucked. I collected my finisher medal, smiling from ear to ear, and took my finisher photo. I had done it. Fighting self-doubt and the Florida sunshine, I had earned that finisher medal.
I immediately told myself that I would never run another marathon, which I'm guessing is not an uncommon refrain. Why would you want to do that again? Have that feeling like at any moment your feet could bust open, or that you could be chaffing your nipples right off of your chest (tape em down, ladies)? ***Side note: Very glad that they had medical tents set up all over the back half of the race. Two Tylenol and a large dab of Vaseline for the aforementioned chaffed nipple were just what the doctor would have ordered.*** I liked everything about the Disney set up, from the friendly volunteers, to the ease in which the event took place, and the great atmosphere amongst the competitors. My unhappy thoughts regarding the marathon had everything to do with the distance, and nothing to do with the race presenters. I would absolutely do another Disney event. As for my declaration of marathon disdain...I'm easing up on it. As I've been prone to do, I can be competitive in running. I've got one time out there, and I think I at least owe it to myself to try to top it, or maybe at the very least use my newfound experience to maybe make things a little more even throughout the entire run. I have accepted that I will not qualify for Boston, as I just don't think I can hold up physically and dedicate myself in a way that needs to be done to qualify at that sort of pace, and I'm ok with that. I'll probably try to run with the local running club more so that I don't have to endure so many runs by myself.
So there you have it. In the span of 27 months, I went from laughing at a drunken football tailgate about why shouldn't I just go run a marathon just to do it, to running 3-5 times a week and losing 45 pounds and completely changing my body and well-being, to running a Half Marathon in under 1:43:00, and then completing a 26.2 mile Marathon with 13500 other people. Believe me when I say that if you have ever considered running a marathon, you can. If I can, you can. Trust me. I hated running, until I didn't. It is not easy to explain, but now I can't imagine not running. I mean, I thought the only people that could pull off a marathon were those 6'3" slender gazelles that could pop off a 10 mile jog like it was walking out to the driveway. But what I found is that there are lots of people that like the idea of being able to say they finished one. The goal of a marathon, simply, is to finish. The only ones competing are the advanced, semi-elite athletes that have spent a majority of their lives running. It would be like me challenging those people to a drinking contest. I've been drinking a lot for so long, that it comes naturally to me, much like their running acumen comes easily to them. Just setting the goal for yourself and having the gumption to finish it should be as satisfying as it gets, so give it a try. There are marathons all over the country, and more than 1 million people per year complete one. Go have fun, thank you so much for reading through this manifesto, and until next time...later.