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!

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend - Before the Race

(Trip report starts here)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017 came with a mixture of excitement and quite a few nerves - this was the day that I check in to All Star Sports which will be my home throughout race weekend. It meant that all of the preparation was just about done and for better or worse, race day was almost here. Was I fully where I wanted to be? No. Did I feel that I was prepared for finishing my first ever 5K? Yes.

Ordinarily, packing and leaving for a few days at Disney World, especially from my house in Florida, is a quick process, and if I forget something, it's no big deal, but this time I had so many things that were not on my usual list of things to bring. My printed waivers (yes, I know they can be printed there), my race clothes, my running shoes, food for breakfast the day of the race, and the list goes on and on. When it came time to leave I kept going over what I needed in my head again and again. It was almost as if I didn't really want to leave the house since that would mean it was time to do this thing.

Finally, the car gets packed and we make the hour long drive to WDW. Along the way I get a text from my daughter with our room number, so we can go directly to the room since we already have magic bands. However, not fully unexpectedly, my magic band does not open the door but my wife's does. (I say not fully unexpectedly since this is almost always the case.) Once I get the car unloaded I walk over to the front desk to get the situation fixed. 

Next we head to Disney Springs where I have made a reservation at The Boathouse for an early dinner so I can get to bed early, with the hopes that it might help me when I try to go to sleep even earlier on  the evening before having to get up at stupid o'clock on race day.

We walk around Disney Springs for a while before it is time to have dinner. I have eaten here before and this meal did not disappoint. I will admit that I splurged a bit with the lobster bisque followed by the crab stuffed lobster, but I was completely vindicated as it was one of the best meals I have had in a very long time. Everything was done perfectly!

Next I continued to walk around the marketplace to walk off that dinner. When we came to the shop where you can make custom tee shirts, I decided, since I always wanted to try it, to make a shirt for my granddaughter. Since we are taking a cruise on the Disney Fantasy at the end of June, I made her a shirt with her favorite Disney TV character, Doc McStuffins, that said ... Ready to sail/Brooke/Disney Fantasy/June 2017. A half hour later and it was ready. I have to say that it was really cute and will most likely be the shirt she wears on the day of the cruise for the embarkation photo.

After a bit more walking around it was time to get the bus back to the hotel. Being that we are staying at the All Star resort, even the walk to our bus location is a walk in itself. We get back to the hotel and while I am just chilling out a bit and trying to wind down ... not to mention dealing with an increasing series of nerves ... I get a phone call from Jenny. Her days are very hectic at the moment so she called now as she might not have had a chance before the race itself. We talked about if I felt I was ready (as ready as I was likely to get) and some things about race day itself. She gave me some advice about going to the health and fitness expo the next day - where I would pick up my race bib and probably spend more money than I should on "stuff" - and of course just general advice about race morning. Before we ended the call, she requested a I take a particular photo when I was at the expo the next day. (Here it is!) When we ended the phone call, most of the nerves had (at least temporarily) been replaced with a sense of calm. I would be able to do this!

I got to sleep earlier than usual, and managed to get to sleep right away. 

Thursday, April 20, 2107

Today is the day that I have to pick up my race bib ... another solid reminder that I am actually doing this. I have been to the last two health and fitness expos during the last two race weekends as a volunteer. This will be the first time I am on the other side of the counter. Having been told by Jenny not to be there at opening - a piece of advice that I found out was right on the money - I got on the bus about an hour after it was scheduled to open. The bus was filled by the time we left the All Stars and arrived at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. I headed to the field house as I had done before, but instead of signing in as a volunteer, I went to the booth which listed the range of bib numbers that included mine. There was only one person in front of me and before I knew it I had in my hand that piece of coated paper that was my entrance into the race. While it wasn't necessary - since I knew I would be placed in Corral F ... the last corral - since I had never run a race before, I did check to see the "F" on the bib. 

My next stop would be to pick up the official shirt and gEAR bag. This was the strangest part of this morning since this was the location I had been as a volunteer. This time I was the "runner" on the other side. With bib and shirt now in the bag, I headed to the J Center (I guess Josten dropped their sponsorship and Disney simply kept the "J") to see what was going to suck in my money. I stopped and checked out a few booths, and then spotted Jeff Galloway, the Olympic marathoner who literally wrote the book on running (one of which Jenny gave me for my birthday) and is runDisney's official training guru. I stopped to have a picture taken with him and to have him sign my bib. Would it be good luck? I could use all I could get!

Continuing along, I was (mostly) pretty good in keeping my credit card in my pocket. As I passed the section for the official Disney Dark Side race items, the line was so long that I decided to pass it by. I did - but who was I kidding? I came back and stood in line. Happily the line was moving rather quickly and soon I was able to get into the area and look around. 5K shirts ... of course I had to have ... two of them as it turned out. A 5K hat ... of course! A generic runDisney shirt ... have to have one of those as well. (Though at this point I still felt like an imposter here who would soon be discovered! Buying a shirt which said "I Did It!" seemed like the ultimate sacrilege. What if I <gulp> didn't?) The final item was a pin which was a mini version of the 5K finisher medal. (Did you hear that ... FINISHER!!) Then on another long line for the privilege of paying for all of this! One of the things that Jenny did inform me of that I might have passed over on my own, was that at this location (and this location only) I would get a passholder discount as well as being able to charge it on my magic band. The discount did take a bit of the sting out of checking out but ... the discount was more than I usually spend on souvenirs in the parks! (Okay, I don't often buy souvenirs any more but I needed a good simile ... got it?)

Before I finished my stroll through the expo, I got a chance to see the finisher medal in person for the first time. Yes - it IS about the bling! 

Finally, making it through with my bank account somewhat intact, I headed back to the bus back to my room.

Since I would be waking up at 3:00 Friday morning, I had made an early dinner reservation at Trattoria al Forno at The Boardwalk. I had eaten there twice before (and it was where Jenny had given me the Jeff Galloway book) and I wanted a good meal the night before the race. They did not disappoint. I left the restaurant with a definite need to walk the lake once to help my food digest - and get the last bit of walking in before it became real!

Back at the room, I got all my stuff ready for the morning, though you should have seen how pathetic I looked pinning the bib to my shirt - trying to center it, get it straight. (I guess all that stems from my first career in the fashion industry!) I left a wake up call for 3:00 AM and set my watch for the same. My body must have thought I was crazy when it realized what time it was that I crawled into bed and tried to go to sleep!

(to be continued!)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend - Prologue

It all started on a dark and stormy night ... 

Wait, wrong story ...

It actually started during the RADP XX (a longtime usenet group get together ... rec.arts.disney.parks) weekend. On a Sunday evening - December 6, 2015 to be precise. Fellow RADPer Jenny Drake and I were at Disney's Hollywood Studios watching the Osborne Lights for the last time when she mentioned that she would walk a 5K with me if I could train and accomplish it. Of course, my mind came up with all sorts of excuses that night - and for months to come. Plantar Fasciitis in my feet (true), asthma and reduced lung capacity (true), a heart issue (true, but not a problem issue), diabetes (true) all were among my excuses. Not that I didn't want to do it ... I definitely did. But 9 years previously my daughter and I decided we would try a 5K. I started conditioning and tried to do too much too soon and got discouraged and gave up. I still had that experience in my head.

Jump ahead to October, 2016 and I find myself back in Florida and maybe I was bored or something, and I decided to see what I could do. I knew one thing ... I was way out of shape! I couldn't walk very far without needing to rest - nor could I walk in anything but a speed that could only be described as S-L-O-W! Yes, I had been known to walk a lot in WDW, but there had been many many rest stops, and way too often over the past number of years I was in an ECV! I went out walking at a comfortable pace over the next few days and found that each day it got easier and soon I had actually walked a full half mile from my house - which meant I had to walk the same distance back ... a full mile!! Could I really do this? Had the seed that Jenny planted actually taken root?

Before long I was walking 2 miles a day! Still way too slow to attempt a 5K ... but now I thought that by November, 2017 - the Wine and Dine race weekend at WDW - it might be possible! Then one day it happened ... I saw an article that talked about the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend at WDW in April. Well, that was more than 6 months away and would give me an incentive to get serious. In a moment in which I lost all my senses and self-control ... I registered for the 5K on April 21, 2017! I was now committed - or perhaps I should have been!

I continued along the path - with encouragement and advice from Jenny and other runners I know - through being back in NY and then a return to Florida just before RADP XXI. I was staying at the Yacht Club, so who needed transportation to and from EPCOT or Disney's Hollywood Studios? I walked! Who was I becoming????

Things improved and the distance came within my abilities, but I still needed to up my pace which was pathetically slow for something like this. But - as February was close to an end, I noticed a steady improvement. 

Then it happened!!! Things started to fall apart. A persistent and sometimes severe pain in my hip lead me into physical therapy during which I found out that my pelvis was out of alignment. Some exercises, some stretching and some massage corrected that and I now knew what to do to prevent it from happening again - or what to do if it did. I thought I was out of the woods. Nope! Remember the plantar fasciitis I spoke of earlier? One evening before I got into bed, I started to feel a familiar sensation and I was not happy. The next morning, my worst fears were confirmed! The pain was so bad that the thought of going from my bed to the bathroom which is only about 3 or 4 steps away was so bad that I waited until hydraulic pressure gave me no option. It was a full blown case of PF as bad as I had ever had it. The last time it was this bad it took 6 months until I was able to walk without severe pain. Not conducive to what I had to do at all! I had a physical therapy session planned for 2 days hence, and found a local podiatrist and was able to make an appointment directly after that session. (I have a wonderful long time podiatrist who treats this for me ... IN NEW YORK!!) Sparing you all the details, I had to shut down any training I was doing for (as it turned out) almost a full month!!

When I was finally able to get back onto the pavement, there was just a bit more than 2 weeks left until the day of the actual 5K. The first two days back running/walking were just a disaster ... much of the work I had done was negated. (Happily, only a small portion of the nearly 40 pounds I had lost since October had reappeared, and they came back off quickly enough.) I knew I had to push, but could I push enough to pull it off to my satisfaction? Then, by the fourth day back, I started to notice speed increases coming day by day. In a few days I was doing the 3.1 miles each day at speeds faster than the previous day. (Just so you don't get the impression that I was going fast, I wasn't! I still had a long way to go to be at the goal I had set for myself. I never actually got there.)

But in the last 2 days of conditioning before I left for WDW, I did reach a point where I knew I could finish the 5K and hopefully not be the last one across the finish line.

On Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - I checked in to All Star Sports. Wanna talk about nerves?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Where in WDW? Challenge 88

Last time you were challenged to identify Where in WDW you would find this ...

This windsock - or one like it - can be found at any of the Friendship docks. This particular one was at the Canada location.

Didn't get it? Well, here is another one for you - Where in WDW? would you see this?

As usual, make your guess in the COMMENTS section below and then stop back next time to see if you were correct.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Where in WDW? Challenge 87

Last time you were challenged to identify Where in WDW you would find this ...

This door handle is on the door leading to the Coral Reef restaurant in EPCOT.

Didn't get it? Well, here is another one for you - Where in WDW? would you see this?

This week will be a bit unique as there are more than one location which will be acceptable.

As usual, make your guess in the COMMENTS section below and then stop back next time to see if you were correct.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Where in WDW? Challenge 86

Last time you were challenged to identify Where in WDW you would find this ...

This covered speaker can be found in EPCOT at the UK garden where British Revolution currently performs.

Didn't get it? Well, here is another one for you - Where in WDW? would you see this?

As usual, make your guess in the COMMENTS section below and then stop back next time to see if you were correct.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Where in WDW? Challenge 85

Last time you were challenged to identify Where in WDW you would find this ...

This life preserver can be seen as you exit the Jungle Cruise.

Didn't get it? Well, here is another one for you - Where in WDW? would you see this?

As usual, make your guess in the COMMENTS section below and then stop back next time to see if you were correct.