Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Run Lola Run

Someone asked me recently if I had written an account of our trip to Orlando and the Disney Marathon that I ran a few yrs ago with my aunt. I had. Written one, I mean. And I immediately thought “Hey, effort-free blog post.” Hopefully I haven’t posted it before or something...

The night before the race, I had to pick up relatives at the airport, so I was late getting to bed – that coupled by the fact that you have to be there by 4am for a 6am start, mean there wasn’t much sleep. I did get about 2 and a half hours, then got up and started getting my race stuff on. Aunt Susie and I have arranged to meet at 3:45am at the staging area. I make my way to the shuttle by 3:30, where the driver is sleeping on a pillow over the steering wheel. There is only one other runner on the entire bus. I wonder what in the world I'm doing.

Back in March, this had seemed like a good idea, but my training has been spotty to say the least - I was sick, H/kids were sick, had travel/job emergencies, etc. etc. - all the standard excuses. Did a few long Saturday runs, up to 17.5 mi three wks before the race. Frantically trying to get all my business taken care of by the time we leave Seattle for Orlando, I've been working crazy hours and my pre-race taper looks more like falling off a cliff. I wanted to be at 195 lbs, but have exercised virtually no self-discipline whatsoever at the dinner table, and am at about 210 on race day. Not sure if I can really do 26.2 miles at all.

At least I'm drinking non-stop and cramming carbohydrates like crazy during the week before the race. If there's one thing I'm good at, it's putting down carbs. Might as well concentrate on my core competencies, right?

I meet Aunt Susie w/o much trouble because there's an announcer staging an impromptu contest to see who's come from the farthest away spot in the US. There's someone there from my town, and Aunt Susie thinks it might be me, so we both meet at that person, whom I don't know.

I'm wearing spandex running pants, and I have a thick sweatshirt over my running T, but I'm absolutely freezing my buns off. We spend two hours eating power bars, drinking Gatorade, and peeing.

I've forgotten to bring tape, so I get bandaids from the first aid tent for my nipples (which are like little stone volcanoes, BTW - I don't remember ever being so cold). (For the non-runners, lots of people have to tape their nipples or they'll be raw and bleeding by the end of a long race.)

Eventually they let us stumble through the dark to the starting corrals, where everyone (18,000 of us) mills around and moos. There are two starting areas, red and blue, because there are so many runners - the color of your race number tells you where to go. At about 6:10am, Mickey appears in a suit of lights on top of a big crane thing, fireworks go off, and the race starts. I'm just so happy to be moving I hardly notice. And I really, really have to pee again.

Aunt Susie introduces me to the run/walk thing developed by Jeff Galloway. It has become very popular, and allows thousands of people to complete a marathon who otherwise maybe couldn't. She does a mile in about 10 minutes, then walks 1 minute. It's hard to make myself walk, but she is 48 yrs old and this is her third marathon (plus a half-marathon) in 3 months - there must be something to it.

We run under the ball at Epcot, and through a big arch of lights - it's still dark out, so it looks pretty neat. As we leave Epcot (monument to celebration of other cultures), we meet up with the people with the blue numbers - someone yells "They're red! They're different! Let's kill them!"

The first 4 miles my kidneys are aching, but we finally get a chance to stop at the honey-buckets. I feel so good just from emptying my bladder, it's like starting over. I'm finally warmed up and enjoying the run.

Aunt Susie has a minor muscle pull getting her warm-up pants off. Since it’s so cold, people wear old clothes or plastic bags over their running clothes. They dispose of the extra stuff along the route – there are some fairly nice jackets and things at the side of the road.

At about mile 11 or 12, we run through Magic Kingdom, which is fantastic. The characters, the cheering spectators (why are these people out here so early? I paid 70 bucks, so I have to do this, but they could be back in their hotel rooms sleeping right now). And a brass band, which really gets my adrenaline going -- with that band alongside, I feel like I could run 50 miles. Everyone hoots and yells as we run under Cinderella's castle.

There are people all along the route, cheering, and little themed vignettes of characters, with appropriate music playing. One section is nothing but Disney villains. The course goes through all the Disney parks: Epcot, Magic Kingdom, MGM studios, Animal Kingdom, and back to Epcot. For me, there's nothing but good for the rest of the race. The characters, the mile markers (every mile marked, and with the time displayed!). At some places, they have canned cheering, which is sort of cheesy, but it actually helps.

By the halfway point, my legs and feet hurt, but not as badly as they had on my last long training run. Here the half-marathoners split off and collect their Donald Duck medals. At 18 miles, I'm now running farther (albeit slower) than I've ever run before, and I feel great. There are no hills, except for onramps, which don't count. My regular run in Bellevue has real hills, plus stairs, so I don't even notice these. First time I've been able to see the benefit of all that gut-sucking hill running I've done over the last year.

The weather is now perfect, and I start to think I might really be able to finish this thing. The volunteers are fantastic, and the Disney employees really seem sincere as they cheer us all on. At about mile 23, there's a woman with a sign that says "Toenails are for wimps!", which makes me laugh; it even gets a grin from Susie, who's hurting pretty bad by now, but gutting it out. There's a guy who's already got his Mickey medal walking back along the route, holding it up telling everybody that they're almost there, and that they're doing great. He's a real low race number, so he must be among the elite group that finished a couple of hours ago. I thought coming back to cheer on the slowpokes was a very classy thing to do.

A little while after that, Samantha and David see me run by, but Hannah is talking to someone and misses me. She has put up with a lot of "Daddy has to go run now" over the last few months; it's too bad she doesn't get to see what she was supporting. I didn't expect them to see me at all, so I am totally unaware that they're even there.
By this time, I know I can finish - I could crawl 3.2 miles if I had to.

At mile 24, I realize that if we turn in the last 2.2 at 8:50 or so, we can come in under 5 hrs. Aunt Susie says she can't do it, but insists that I go ahead, so I start my little kick. I start to unwind it a little, waiting for my body to rebel, but it doesn't. I guess all those carbs, powerade, water, bananas, oranges, chocolate powergel, and sprees are going to do the trick. I pass hundreds of people in the last 2.2; I salute the sweaty backs of the two or three who pass me. I pass one young woman who's really laboring - "You go, girl," I whisper, and she gives me a tired smile and a thumbs up.

The last .2 seems longer than 385 yards, but then there's the finish. I haven't broken 5 hours, but I don't care. As I sprint over the sensor mats I pump my fist like I've just scored the winning goal in double-OT, and then unexpectedly break into tears. What's that all about? Later Susie tells me that she cries every time, and I find out lots of people do.

A smiling volunteer puts my Mickey medal around my neck, and I go over and lean on a trashcan to stretch my calves. Immediately there's a Disney staffer there to make sure I'm all right. "Fantastic," I assure her. Aunt Susie comes across the line and I give her a bear hug. I can tell she's hurting, but she's grinning too.

The next day, we go to the parks, and I feel absolutely wonderful. Squatting to tie my shoes, my quads creak, but by the third day I'm not even sore. I have tons of energy, and there were no blisters, no cramps, no wall. I have finished 26.2 miles. Jeff Galloway is a genius, and Aunt Susie is a wonderful lady. Wish I could be back next year.


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