Monday, April 24, 2017

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend - The Race

(Trip report begins here)

Just because I got into bed at 8:30 PM doesn't mean I fell asleep then ... or at all! Well, I do think I got some sleep, maybe about 20 minutes around 1:30 AM. By 2:30 I was already considering getting up and starting to get ready. By 2:45 there was no reason to wait for the wake up call or my phone alarm, so I got out of bed, cancelled the wake up call, and turned off my phone alarm. First step is a shower ... partially to wake me up and partially ... well, for the usual reason.

After the shower (and the usual morning routine) it's time for a 3:15 AM snack - otherwise known as breakfast. My stomach is confused and wants to know what's happening, but grudgingly accepts the nutrition. I grab a Powerade to take with me to get the bus to the starting line in the EPCOT parking lot. Transportation begins at 4:00 and a bus is waiting there when I arrive at the pick-up location. There is already a significant line waiting to get on. I get on line and start chatting with the folks in front of me. One thing that I have noticed is the sense of community among those participating, and this morning is no exception. Just before 4 AM we board the bus and at the stroke of 4 the bus pulls out ... we are on our way.

I should take a moment here to mention that Wednesday night at Disney Springs, another RADPer, Kim Fajerski, contacted me to tell me that she had a colleague/friend who was also running her first 5K and wanted to know if I had any advice for her. I passed along the advice that I had received and told Kim that her friend, Tara, could text me directly, and perhaps we could meet and support each other. After texting for a while the previous night, we made up to meet before getting into Corral F. Once on the bus I heard from Tara that she was on the way herself.

The bus arrived in the EPCOT parking lot and I walked to the area where the characters were available for photos and quickly found Tara on line to have a picture taken with Darth Vader. We introduced ourselves and then had our pictures taken. This would be the only character picture I would take this morning as the lines grew large rapidly.

Looking around we saw the crowd grow and watched/listen to the DJ and MC keep us entertained as we waited until it was time to move into the corrals - somewhere after 5 AM. Tara and I head for Corral F along with our fellow first time 5Kers and the not so fleet afoot. Now it's time to do last minute stretching, meditating, visualization and/or other techniques that the people around us are using to calm themselves and ready themselves for their moment to cross the starting line.

At 6:00 AM, the first waves of Corral A start crossing the start line at 2 minute intervals. It will still be about 45 minutes until Coral F makes our way to the chute. I watch the runners in Corral A take off on their run, remembering Jenny's advice not to be intimidated by them. I knew what I would be seeing and knew I wouldn't be doing anything like it, so it wasn't too intimidating. I know my current limitations.

We stand there and watch Corrals A, B, C, D and E all head out onto the course, and then Coral F starts to move. We were towards the front, so possibly the third or fourth wave to be allowed to get started. I did remember to start my Garmin activity tracker watch so I could make sure I knew my pace and didn't start out too fast as I had been doing recently. While I would have liked to be able to do the race faster, I knew if I didn't control myself I wouldn't have the strength to stay at even a reasonable pace through the race. (And when I say reasonable, that still is slower than I had hoped to be by now. I could blame the month-long layoff but it wouldn't make a difference.) Shortly after we got started, I looked at my watch and saw that I was moving faster than I had ever clocked myself in training. I liked the look of it, but I knew it wasn't a good thing at this point.

The first mile or mile and a quarter was through the parking lot and through rather unremarkable backstage areas. Under normal circumstances this would be as boring as the route that I condition on at home, but this being the actual race, it all seemed like the most interesting run I had been on. This is where we pass the 1 mile marker ... still close to a quarter mile until we get into World Showcase. Finally we approach a nondescript building from behind. When we get to the side it starts to show a familiar pattern which instantly identifies it as the Mexico pyramid. We enter World Showcase between Mexico and Norway, take a left and come upon a water station. I grab my cup and continue past Norway towards China. Cast members from each country are outside and cheering us all on.

On familiar ground now, we continue on past each country in its turn. So far the course has been virtually flat, but now as we pass France on our way to the International Gateway, we go up over the bridge. This is the first time I feel a strain on my legs and my breathing ... but I know that this will be the only challenge of this sort this morning and I put it out of my mind and get to the top, after which I know there will be an equal downhill section during which I can catch my breath a bit. After the race I discover that the change in elevation here is exactly the same as the stretch of road I use back at home. The difference is that there it happens over the space of a mile - not a few yards.

We are out of the park once again, at least for a little while, while we go around the International Gateway where we pass the 2 mile marker. This excursion out of the park is brief and we are shortly back in World Showcase and quickly on the path into Future World. Past Club Cool and at the fountain we encounter Storm Troopers. Spaceship Earth is almost within reach when the route takes a typical Disney move. At the breezeway we take a left turn towards The Land and follow along towards Imagination, then back past the land towards The Seas with Nemo and Friends before taking the turn back towards the breezeway and back past Spaceship Earth towards the park exit. Shortly after exiting the park itself we come across the mile 3 marker. The finish line is so close now and you can feel the emotion of the other runners change knowing that. 0.1 miles left to go ... then we make a turn into the parking lot and off in the distance ... there it is ... the finish line!

Suddenly the adrenaline kicks in again as it did at the beginning of the race ... the legs don't feel as heavy, the breathing is easier and all I can think of is running across that finish line. I had always hoped to have enough left in the tank to have one more run left in me - most of the race had been a walk with the occasional run mixed in - and now that it was here, I found that I did indeed have that final sprint left in me. I crossed the line and wasn't nearly as tired as I was at the end of 3.1 miles at home. Still not as fast as I wanted - will have a lot of work still ahead of me for future races, but for now I accomplished something that only 6 months ago I would have told you was impossible for me to do. And while it wasn't nearly as fast as the goal I had set for myself, it was still the fastest 3.1 miles I had ever covered, according to my Garmin when I checked it later. For now I was happy ... I finished the course and was still on my feet. Good thing too as there was still a lot of walking to be done.

After crossing the finish line I got my medal and continued on to pick up my water and snacks. Then off to get my post race picture taken.

Later, the GPS tracker function of my activity tracker showed me this map of the route I had just covered.

After getting my post race photo taken, I touch base with Tara who is getting some more character pix taken and then head to the bus to go back to the hotel. I am meeting my daughter and granddaughter around noon (it's now just around 8 AM) and hope to get a bit of a nap before they show up. As it turns out, sleep doesn't come this morning any more than it did when I tried last night.

I spent the next few days in the Magic Kingdom and then Animal Kingdom with them and then it was time to make the drive home.

So, now with the 5K in my rear view mirror, what are my thoughts? I enjoyed the experience to the fullest. I didn't accomplish all I wanted to, but I have another 5K already scheduled for the November Wine and Dine race weekend. And true to her word, Jenny will be running it with me. I hope to accomplish the increase in speed that I had hoped to reach this weekend, and will also be conditioning towards running a 10K during the January Marathon Weekend. So still a lot of work to do.

On a personal fitness level, I haven't felt this good in many years. I have lost close to 40 pounds since I started back in October, and I hope that I will continue to lose as I continue to condition for the next races. 

All in all I had an amazing experience over the last 6 months, and look to enjoy the continuing journey. I want to thank Jenny from the bottom of my heart for starting me on this path as well as all of her support - and kicking me in the butt when necessary - along the way. Even today she was still cracking the whip keeping me on track for a 10K. Thank you Jenny!

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