03 February, 2015

A Tale of Two Races in Two Cities

Time must have gotten away from me.  I failed to do a proper recap of the Run Like a Diva Half Marathon in December, and then "marathon mania" took hold in my world.  Go figure!  Anyway, it turns out it's a good thing I waited because now I can do a comparison of two very different races in two very different cities.

Why compare the two?  Thank you for asking!

Divas is a series of races that take place in cities across the country, offering two distances (5k and half marathon), and is geared to women.  With gimmicks such as volunteers handing out tiaras and feather boas before the finish line, a rose and glass of champagne after the finish line, and shirtless "hotties" handing out sparkly pink medals, there are a lot of really fun things to get you to sign up for a race.

Hot Chocolate is also a series of races taking place in cities across the country, offering two distances (5k and 15k), and has more female participants than male.  Hot Chocolate offers a jacket instead of a standard race shirt, various treat stations on the course, and a massive hot chocolate mug at the end.  Plus it has awesome medals for the 15k.  Much like Divas, there's lots of incentive to register!

Divas Mini-Recap
I "ran like a diva" in St. Augustine the weekend after the Space Coast Half.   The race organizers required packet pickup at their expo in advance, which wasn't possible for me.  Luckily, Jackie was willing to drive up to St. Augustine and pick up my "swag bag" with hers.  She also invited me to spend the night at her place so we would just have the 45 minute drive up the morning of the race.  (in exchange, I drove up and back) 

Upon arriving at the race site (which required parking remotely and riding a school bus), I was immediately amused by just how girly one race could be.  They had pink port-a-potties for goodness sake!

Going into this, my goal was pretty much just to NOT SUCK like I did at Space Coast.  Physically and mentally I was in a much better place.  It was really cold, but I thought that would speed me up.  That's usually how I roll...  And for the first few miles, we were actually on somewhat of a PR (for me) pace.  Unfortunately, the sky got darker and the wind picked up, and instead of motivating me to go faster, I had ZERO desire to run into a ridiculous head wind.  We ended up walking most of the last 3-4 miles, though even then we kept a sub-16 pace each mile.  Our final time was 3:13:41, which was technically worse than my 3:09:11 time at Space Coast, but I still consider it a moral victory because I felt so much better during this race and actually enjoyed myself.  (seriously, after Space Coast I was worried I'd totally lost my race mojo)

Performance aside, Jackie and I were pretty underwhelmed by the race itself.  Though I didn't attend the expo, I heard that it was sparse and disappointing.  The course itself was not great.  There wasn't much fun stuff to look at, aside from some semi-deflated inflatables.  The sum total of on-course entertainment were a handful of DJs.  In fact the the most memorable moments during the race had nothing to do with the race organizers:
1. A man in a tutu loudly singing "if you're happy and you know it" at multiple points on the course.  I have no idea whether he was a volunteer, was out cheering for a family member or friend, or was just a wacky local, but the last time we saw him I took his picture and high-fived him.
2. A man with a box of Dunkin' Munchkins.  I said he was the sexiest thing I'd ever seen, and Jackie asked if he was single.
3. Three little girls in the driveway of a house, performing their own cheerleading routine.  They were adorable and so much fun to watch.

The course itself was mostly through nondescript roads and neighborhoods.  It certainly wasn't picturesque.  I was also furious at one intersection pretty early on when I realized that the cops were stopping runners to allow traffic through.  The race wasn't cheap, and part of the cost of a road race is road closures.  Not actually closing the roads?  Kind of an unforgivable sin.

That said, give this girl a feather boa and a tiara, and she just might jump for joy! (special thanks to Jackie for catching the amazeballs photo on the left)  From the finish line on, I was quite impressed.  Medal? Pink and shiny!  Champagne?  Bubbly! Rose? Red...and it lasted a week!  Food?  Plentiful!  Seriously - you walked through this pavilion, and there were cases upon cases of all sorts of individual snack packs of pretzels, dried fruit, cookies... And Jackie is a pro at stocking up on enough for both of us when I stop thinking clearly!  I know I've said it before, but this girl is a rock star, and my favorite person to spend 13.1 miles with!

So although I got some great photos at the end of Divas, and although 2015 race registration also includes a tutu, I doubt I'll run it again.  The lackluster race itself just doesn't live up to the fun gimmicks.

Hot Chocolate 15K Mini-Recap
Sarah and Carlie and I decided to take a whirlwind trip up to Atlanta to run the Hot Chocolate 15k, in part because one of my co-workers ran the one in Phoenix and said lots of great things about it.    This was definitely an "all about the bling" race for me.  A medal shaped like a chocolate bar? Yes please! 

Atlanta is about 6.5 hours from home, so we left bright and early and made it up to the expo in plenty of time to pick up our swag bags and take some ridiculous selfies.  We also had to walk the entire length of the convention center, surrounded by thousands of cheerleaders (and cheer moms) participating in "cheersport" championships.  Oh the curlers...and eye glitter... 

The expo was small, but incredibly well-organized.  Unlike every other race I've ever run, bib numbers weren't pre-assigned.  You walked up to any volunteer table, handed them your photo ID, and they printed out a sticker to attach to the next bib on their pile.  The computer linked the bib number to your name, and voila!  Somehow this one tiny thing made a huge impression on me, and I wondered why all of the other mega-races (I'm looking at you, Disney and Space Coast!) don't adopt a similar strategy.

There were also chocolate samples.  After being in the car for so long, that was a wonderful touch!  After the expo, we got to our hotel 20 minutes south of downtown, checked in, and walked over to IHOP for dinner.  I think we were all asleep by 9pm - I know I was!

Race day was cold - like hovering around 40 degrees cold - which meant wearing 2 pairs of pants and 3 shirts for this Florida girl!  I paid for a parking spot at Turner Field, which turned out to be my best investment of the race.  We got there super-early (the pre-race emails all said to be there by 6, though the first wave didn't start until after 7) and sat in the car 10 spots from a row of port-a-potties, enjoying the heater and listening to the entire Book of Mormon soundtrack.  We went down to the starting area, realized our corral wouldn't even be lining up until long after the first wave set off, and went back to the car to enjoy some more heat and sing along to more showtunes.

I could say this a dozen more times, but I think the race start would be the best place to mention it: the people who run this race have it down to a science.  Volunteers manned the entrance to each corral checking letters on the bibs.  Waves started on time.  We weren't tripping over other runners in the first mile (a major rarity in a race this big).  Aid stations were well-staffed - err, well-volunteered - and well-stocked, with the exception of the missing Tootsie Rolls.

Missing Tootsie Rolls aside, I got such a kick out of the treats handed out during the race.  We had chocolate drops, strawberry marshmallows, and then chocolate marshmallows around mile 8. 

Sarah took the lack of Tootsie Rolls pretty hard, so when we passed the last marshmallow volunteers and rounded a corner to see an unattended table piles with bags of the treats, she sprinted toward it.  I thought for sure she was going to grab a bag and stuff it down her jacket, but instead she tore it open and started handing them out to other runners until Carlie and I caught up.  That look on her face... Oh man, it was one of the highlights of my race!  Plus, I ended up having had a total of 4 chocolate marshmallows.  Who needs GU when you can have pure sugar??

The after party, though kind of deserted by the time we finished, was also really well-run.  Pick a line, wait in the line, hand them the ticket off of your bib, and get handed the most epic post-race food ever: a giant mug containing hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, a banana, and a bunch of other treats to dip in the chocolate.  We sat on the pavement enjoying the fruits of our labor, and then hobbled back to the car, drove to the hotel, showered, and left for the long drive back to Florida.

Umm... I seem to have forgotten to mention the actual race.  See?  Give me chocolate and everything else is immaterial!  Atlanta, as it turns out, is a helluva hilly city.  I became aware pretty quickly that the hills were going to be a challenge.  They didn't disappoint!  They didn't break my spirit, but I knew there wouldn't be a PR coming from this race.  The course went through some suburban neighborhoods, through part of downtown (past the CNN Center and we saw the aquarium from a distance), and there was plenty to look at.  Also, I have to give kudos to the Atlanta police doing traffic control.  They were at every single intersection, and were friendlier than most police you encounter during races.  In fact, Sarah asked one for a high-five and he said he gives hugs too.  So we both got a hug from a random cop...and I think I heard some people behind us getting in on that action too!

The only negative for me was the race photos.  They advertise free photos, but the only photographers were at or near the finish line.  Even that wouldn't have been so bad, but my photos were are partly obscured.  But, you know, I try to not complain about anything free...especially when the rest of the race swag (did I mention the jacket? it's awesome!) was so great.

I certainly wouldn't drive 13-14 hours in two days for another 15k.  That was a stupid amount of travel for a race.  I would, however, do this race again in a heartbeat - either in Atlanta or another city - if I could piggyback it into a short vacation.  You know, throw in a day at the aquarium in Atlanta, or family visit in Philly, or a full vacation somewhere I've never been like Phoenix or San Francisco...  It sure was an awful lot of fun, especially with friends!

15 January, 2015

Walt Disney World Marathon: A Marathon Post

Hello, my name is Jamie and I am a marathoner.  I thought perhaps a reintroduction was in order.  You know, since I am officially an elite endurance athlete.  OK, I admit that’s laughable, but only .5% of Americans (per this) have ever run a marathon.  So yeah – that puts me in a pretty small group.   I’d bet the percent of obese people is even smaller, but since they don’t take your BMI at the start line I’m sure there are no reliable statistics!

I guess I should’ve included a spoiler alert, huh?  


It’s taken me a few days to figure out how to approach this race recap, and finally I decided to not do my standard recap for the following reasons:

  1.  I work for a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, so it’s not entirely appropriate for me to provide commentary on Disney products and services. (although I have to say this was by far the most well-run race I have ever been in.  I saw literally ONE broken mile marker sign, and nothing more serious than that!)
  2. Although I had a goal pace (15 minute/mile), my ultimate goal was to finish and have fun along the way.  I never treated this as a “race,” but as a life experience.
  3. My brain has mostly categorized memories of the race into feelings (i.e. “things that made me cry”) rather than distances, which would make a traditional recap kind of strange.
  4. This race was more about me and the people I ran with than about the surroundings.

That said, if you’re considering the leap from half marathon to full marathon, this post might be helpful for you.  But know in advance that I’m not writing this post for anyone but me.  It’s going to be long (300+ words before any talk of the actual race? Yeah – that’s a sign of things to come!), but the race was long.  The training was long.  And darn it, I’m not going to short-change my memories for the sake of brevity!

I’m going to take just a second to introduce the main characters in my story:

Jamie (me): 35, first-time marathon runner with 13 halfs under my belt.  I’ve only managed to finish one of those in under three hours, and I currently do long run intervals of 25 seconds running/40 seconds walking.  (after this marathon though, I’m officially bumping that up to 30/40 for my next races)
Jackie: 40’s, has run the WDW Marathon multiple times.  She did the Dopey Challenge last year, proclaimed that she hates this marathon course and didn’t think she’d ever do it again.  Then I said I wanted to register, and she immediately signed up for this year’s Goofy Challenge so that I wouldn’t have to do my first marathon alone.  She and I met during the Orlando Half in 2013, when we were both weak-legged from Space Coast the week before.  By the end of that race, we were already Facebook friends. I think we ran about a half-dozen races together in 2014.
Sarah: 30, signed up for the Dopey Challenge having never done any distance races.  At the beginning, she said she hated running but Dopey and Goofy were her favorite characters so she might as well do all of the races at once to get it over with.  (she’s already signed up for three more race weekends with me before the end of February – I think she’s hooked)  We worked together in my last job, and compared notes during training.  She also did two of my longest training runs with me, even though I’m slower than she is.

Sarah and her sister ran the first 2.5 races of the Dopey Challenge together, but they split off around mile 9 of the half marathon and decided not to even attempt the full together.  This ended up benefiting me, because it meant Sarah would be starting with Jackie and me.  She said she’d probably stick with us for the first mile or two and then go on at her (much faster) pace.  As it turns out, she stuck with us past mile 14 and was there for lots of my “big moments.”  Jackie, as promised, stuck with me to the end.  

Sweet Emotions
I joked the days before the race that I was taking on the “Grumpy Challenge.” This was the perfect storm of combining race nerves associated with your first marathon with a week of major PMS.  I cried, I hated people, people hated me…  I’m sure I still owe a person or two an apology, though I tried my best to only yell on the inside.  By the Thursday before the race, my mental clouds had lifted and I was left with optimism and excitement (and the unfortunate knowledge that the “P” in PMS stands for “pre,” which is all I’ll say about that except that “super plus” is a real thing and it is amazing).

In the car on the way to the race, I started to get choked up thinking that this was the big day and how hard I’d trained, etc.  To stop myself from getting all emotional, I told Jackie we should keep track of the number of times I choked back tears during the day.  “ONE!”  I think I hit four before we even parked the car!  Other things that set me off: getting into our corral (where I promptly yelled, “I’M IN MY CORRAL,” which the people around me didn’t seem very impressed about!), seeing the fireworks going off for the corrals ahead of ours, our fireworks going off, passing the start line (where I yelled, “I’M RUNNING A MARATHON!”)… you get the picture!

The first tears escaped my eyes right after we exited Magic Kingdom and turned onto Floridian Way.  There were speakers set up playing “Best Day of My Life,” and they had a poster that said “You are running a marathon. This is the best day of your life.”  Before I knew it, I wailed “ohhh…this IS the best day of my life!” and hot tears streamed down my cheeks.  Sarah grabbed her camera and took pictures, and Jackie was nice enough to pose as well, pointing and laughing at my ‘ugly cry’ face.  I’ve never happy-sobbed before.  It’s an amazing feeling, but sobbing makes it hard to run.  Still, we managed to keep our intervals up!

My next big moment, though tear-free, was about two miles later at the point where the marathon course no longer follows the same route as the half marathon.  At the exact moment we left Floridian Way and turned into the TTC parking lot toward the WDW Speedway, “The Impossible Dream” cycled on.  It was a perfect moment! 

I almost cried inside the Sports Complex (mile 18 or 19) when “This is the Moment” started playing.  Seriously – look at the lyrics for that and YOU try to not cry while actively pursuing a check on the bucket list!

Just before entering the Studios (mile 22+), I looked at Jackie in amazement and pointed out that we were now officially off the public roadways and wouldn’t be swept.  We then rounded a corner and saw volunteers handing out Hershey’s Miniatures.  I took a Mr. Goodbar, popped it into my mouth, and burst into tears again.  Something about the combination of chocolate and major milestone was too much for me!

Finally, I officially lost it within sight of the finish line.  I always kind of figured I’d finish.  I had trained well, and things had gone really well during the day.  My confidence grew to “I think we’re really going to do it” when we passed the sweep point.  But something about seeing the finish line and knowing I could hop/crawl/roll to it and there were only a few hundred feet between me and my goal?  Oh my GOD!  I cried again, and Jackie got this picture.  Then we started running toward the finish line, threw our arms into the air, and DID IT!  After that, I pretty much sobbed on and off for the next two hours.  I was so happy… and so tired… and so many other emotions.  It was just too much to process!

Flat Tires and Other Shoe-Related Crises
I had my first crisis-that-wasn’t-really-a-crisis as we were running the tunnel under the water bridge between Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon (around mile 4.5).  The guy running behind me stepped on the back of my shoe and it left my foot completely.  “Shit!  My Shoe!”  He picked it up and handed it to me, but we were on a bottleneck part of the course, without a shoulder (we were actually against the cones separating us from traffic), so I started to walk with one shoe, figuring I’d have to wait until we got to the top of the tunnel to put it back on.  Sarah’s logical engineer brain kicked in, and she told me to just stand between two of the cones and put the damn shoe back on.  That worked, and I was able to get my shoe back on (I’m not sure, but there may have been some “where’s Prince Charming?” jokes flying) without causing a major back-up of runners passing us.

A few miles later, while inside the Speedway, I realized I had a pebble in my shoe.  This time, I went to an infield wall, kicked my foot up above hip-height (seriously, how I managed to not pull a hamstring during this race is beyond me!), and shook out the pebble.  That was the point when I realized I was being quite rational about this whole marathon thing.  Eight miles into a half, I probably would’ve shaken the pebble to the toe of my shoe and kept going.  But I figured doing so with 18 miles to go was a recipe for disaster. 

I had another pebble in the Sports Complex, and stopped at a picnic table to shake that one loose.  There was a runner laying on the bench attached to the next table, waiting for a medic.  I think he was overheated or something.  I saw a bunch of people who wouldn’t finish during the day, and was so thankful every time that my training/luck/karma/spirit/body was stronger than theirs.

Our Support Crew
Part of my “Grumpy Challenge” was knowing that I didn’t have a Jamie out on the course for me this year.  Last year, I solicited requests from my running friends, and was camped out at a corner they passed around miles 16.5 and 20.5.  I had drinks and snacks, and made a poster and cheered on all the other runners.  Although some people said they would be out cheering, none would commit in advance to a spot and I finally realized I was going to have to be my own Jamie.  So I made “runner love kits” with special things for me (Combos and orange soda), Jackie (oranges and Sprite), and Sarah (diet Pepsi).  Plus I added Swedish Fish and Skittles.  We ended up having two separate mobile cheer/pit stops with kits that I made up.  Daryl was at the Grand Floridian, Studios, and finish area; and Jodie and Kevin were at Animal Kingdom and Studios.  Although I didn’t know where they would be when we started, we were able to get good locations from them by texting back and forth and caught them every time.  We enjoyed a soda/walk break just past the halfway point, and grabbed goodies from them every time we saw them. 

I was so grateful to have them out there, because they all spent a huge chunk of time traveling and waiting just to see us for a minute or two at a time.  Once I realized that, my pity party stopped.  As it turns out, I didn’t even mind making up my own survival kits.  I’m pretty type A, and this way I got exactly what I wanted!  It was also nice having a random snack bag of leftover Swedish Fish to snack on Sunday night. 

Signs of Awesomeness
Right around mile 11, we passed a sign I hadn’t been expecting, which was made by my boss and hung up by one of the workers on that stretch of road.  I was on the right side of the road when I noticed it hanging on the fence over on the left.  I screamed (it was more like a squeal) “I HAVE A SIGN!!!” and took off running straight across the road.  I had tunnel vision…hopefully I didn’t run over anyone or trip anyone up!  I took a selfie, and Sarah took a picture from a respectable distance, and then we took off running again.

Side note: I heard later from someone working that day that there must have been a bunch of other Jamie’s, because he saw at least a dozen people stop and take pictures with my sign.  I love that! 

There were lots of folks out with posters, both funny and motivational, but I only remember the ones that I took pictures of – “Do it for the Dole Whips” and “Someday you will fail. Today is not that day.” (yep, got choked up by that one!)  The last poster to choke me up was right before mile 26, at the turn to enter the backstage area:

That’s Carlie, who had run her first half marathon the day before, plus Mark and Reid.  After I took this picture, I took a selfie with her and warned her not to touch me because I was so sweaty.  She said she didn’t care and gave me a big hug. *tear* (almost)  I didn’t expect to see her out there at all, and only found out about 10 minutes before that she was there.  It was a great way to finish running through my fourth theme park!

Seeing “My People” Who Were Working
One fun thing for me about running Disney races is that I see a lot of old friends and co-workers out on the course.  I saw a bunch of Security folks I know, and even a few familiar law enforcement faces.  I saw Roy from security, and circled back to hug him (early, before I was really sweaty).  He asked “what are you doing?” and I replied “I’M RUNNING A MARATHON,” right in his ear.  I still owe him an apology for the temporary deafness I caused!

Scott waited backstage at Animal Kingdom – near stinky port-a-potties no less – to say hello.  I saw Matthew working a medical tent around mile 15.  Dan was at a post right where we entered Studios.  I think the last person working that I saw was Sharmain, right at the exit of Studios.  I know that none of these folks were out there for me but it’s so nice to have an extra person cheering, or smiling for a picture, or telling me I’m doing great (or in Matthew’s case, telling me to speed it up so I don’t get swept).

One-Liners and LOL Moments
Oh man, I wish I could remember more of these.  There were so many times I laughed so hard I could barely run.  If I get more from Sarah or Jackie, I’ll be sure to add them.

Scenario: Jamie chokes on a sip of water at the mile 6 water stop, proceeds to spit the contents of her mouth back in the cup and have a coughing fit.  Sarah says “are you choking? Do you need a throat punch?”  Jackie almost dies laughing, Jamie recovers enough to drink the remainder of her backwash cocktail.

Scenario: Jackie chokes on a Skittle, Sarah again offers a throat punch.

Scenario: Jamie looks around the interior of the WDW Speedway and says “it’s bigger in here than I thought it would be.  Heh…that’s what she said.”  Jamie and Sarah both at the same time correct the statement to “no, that’s what HE said.”  The man running right in front of us turned around and must’ve made a face.  I said sorry, and Sarah said “no we’re not!” 

While I was shaking the first pebble out of my shoe, a guy dressed like Goofy asked to take a picture with Sarah, who was also dressed like Goofy.  Later on, Jackie and I saw the Goofy guy in line for a character photo and she yelled “hey Goofy!” and tried to high-five him.  She was totally ignored, so I high-fived her.

Scenario: Sarah attempts to hitch-hike headed towards the Contemporary from the TTC.

Scenario: Ten miles later, Jackie and Sarah try the same thing on Osceola Parkway.  Jackie at least got a bus driver to honk at her, which I rewarded by mooning him.  It’s ok – the sparkle skirt is sheer anyway and I had pants underneath it!

Early on in my race planning, I decided that I wanted to be one of those people who stops mid-race to ride Expedition Everest.  Jackie had never done it before, and I figured that this might be my one chance EVER to ride a roller coaster during a race so I should take advantage of it.  We ended up waiting about ten minutes just to ride, but I’m so glad we did it.  Not only was it a fun break from the running, but it was a photo op, and a chance to scream and yell for a minute.  I rode next to a man dressed like Winnie the Pooh, and his Piglet was in the seat right ahead of him.  They were nice, and we had a great time.  Amazingly enough, I was able to get in and out of the car with no trouble, and wasn’t dizzy at all when we started running again.

For really fit people, climbing the real Everest might be on their bucket lists.  For me, finishing a marathon was on my bucket list.  It was fitting to add a little Everest to my big day!

While running just past the Mexico pavilion in Epcot, at mile 25.5ish, I saw a Disney tour guide walking with a man and woman.  Although I intended to nudge Jackie and point them out, instead I yelled “HI JOHN STAMOS!”  He turned so fast in my direction he might’ve gotten whiplash, but recovered quickly and smiled.  He yelled back (not nearly as loudly), “hi everyone! You’re doing great!”  Thank God he did, because if he had ignored me I would’ve assumed that he was the most random hallucination ever!  As it was, Jackie and I were both sort of head-scratching and asking if it had really just happened.  Mr. Stamos, by the way, is much better looking in person than I would’ve expected.  Wow, what a smile!

Best Day of My Life
I have to say that 35 has been quite the milestone year for me.  What started out as “halfway to 70” became the age I finally got my bachelor’s, started my master’s, got a new job, ran my 8th-13th half marathons, and completed my first full marathon. 

If you had told me that I’d laugh so much, or that I’d cry actual happy tears, during the marathon I wouldn’t have believed you.  If you had told me that I’d feel overwhelmingly loved by my friends that day, I wouldn’t have believed you.  If you had told me that I’d be genuinely smiling in photos all day long, I wouldn’t have believed you.  But I did.  And right now, if you tell me that I will ever have a day better than January 11, 2015, I won’t believe you.

The day wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows.  I got really tired on the path from Studios to Epcot, and couldn’t keep up with Jackie.  She was only 5 feet ahead of me, but I felt completely abandoned… for all of a minute or two.  After that, when I started to fall behind, she would reach back and grab my hand and pull me back up to her side.  I thought I was having a major blister crisis when we were going through the World Showcase, and stopped running almost completely because I thought it was way worse than it ended up being.  I was hot, and tired, and deliriously exhausted by the time it was over.  And although I might have resented playing “mommy” for all of us in advance of the race, I’m glad I did because Jackie totally took over that role for me at the end.  She crossed the finish line right at my side, waited to get her own medal until after she took a picture of me getting mine, and collected enough water, bananas, etc. for both of us.  She selflessly let the day be all about me, even though she took just as many steps as I did after running the half marathon the day before!  I can’t imagine ever doing that for someone else, but I’m going to have to find a way to pay it forward someday. 

I also can’t say enough about the half of the race that Sarah spent with us.  The three of us had so much fun in those 3+ hours.  We laughed, I cried, we took pictures…

I know that I could’ve finished the race if I had been out there by myself.  I probably would’ve done it way faster, because I wouldn’t have “wasted” all that energy laughing and carrying on.  But, although we never talked about any sort of strategy in advance, we decided to make the day be more about the journey than the destination.  It was an experience more wonderful than I ever thought in my wildest dreams would be possible.

Jackie and I crossed the finish line about 30 seconds before the “balloon ladies,” which was a little bit embarrassing for me.  I didn’t realize we had done that badly.  But when you consider we probably lost a total of 15 minutes for Everest, and I stopped and talked to every person I know, we definitely could have finished in under 7 hours.  I actually think 6:45 wouldn’t have been unrealistic if we had taken it more seriously.  In the end though, I wouldn’t change anything about the way we handled the day.  When I run my next marathon (yep, “when,” not “if”), I’ll be able to knock a huge chunk of time off and have a massive PR.  That seems reasonable, right?  So here are my official results, posted only as a frame of reference for next time, because as far as I’m concerned “FINISHED” is the only result that matters!

Clock Time: 8:06:29
Chip Time: 7:16:17
Pace: 16:38 min/mile
Overall Place: 19164/19970
Gender Place: 9739/10285

So thank you, Disney, for giving me the opportunity to run through all four theme parks in one day.  Thank you friends who cheered for me on the course.  Thank you Facebook friends who didn’t mute me during my “marathon mania” posting period, and for liking and commenting on so many of my posts and photos.  Thank you Sarah for training with me and for sticking with us for as long as you did on race day.   And thank you Jackie for literally holding my hand when I needed it most, staying with me for the whole damn 7 hours, and putting yourself aside to focus on me.

By the way, the tally of “times Jamie got choked up” ended at 21.  After that I kind of lost count, and I consider everything after the finish line one big cry.  I’ve gotten choked up a few times since, triggered by a song on the radio or driving by part of the marathon course and having flashbacks, and I figure I might have a few more of those still to come.  I did cry some big fat tears again typing these last few paragraphs (which I bet no one but my mother and I will ever read this far), and I think after this I’m probably done with the tears related to this race.  It was an amazing journey, but it’s time to start looking forward to the next set of challenges and experiences.  

After all, I turn 36 in a few weeks – I have to figure out how I’m going to make that awesome too!

31 December, 2014

Putting 2014 to Bed

Time for the year in non sequitor!  The following is a hodgepodge made of the first sentence from each month's first blog post:

Ever since I started training for my first race, I have been humbled by the support I continue to receive from friends, family, and even strangers.  Y'all know I have trouble accepting compliments, right?  After Princess was relatively unstressful for my body, I finally came to the conclusion that it was time to change my run-walk intervals. It's been two months since my last check-in (and four since the first).

I just uploaded my research paper -- the final assignment of my undergrad career.

It's been six months since I posted the first of my "during" photos. The official RunDisney training program for the WDW Marathon started at the beginning of this month. Well, it's been two months since my last check-in, and what a crazy two months it's been. I don’t think I can say enough positive things about this race. Happy October!  This past Saturday, Sarah and I went out to Ft. Wilderness to do our 17-mile marathon training run. I have to warn any non-regular readers right now that this isn't going to be a standard race recap.
So, you know, I guess I did some running.  Have you heard?  At the end of 2013, I posted the following about my hopes for 2014:

I wish for less drama and more fun in 2014.  I will graduate from college a mere 14 years behind schedule.  I think I can (at least) double the number of half marathons I ran this year.  I hope to get a new job, though the idea of leaving the one I have now makes my heart ache a little.  I need to handle my personal business (including the D-word and some financial stuff) and not hope that everything will straighten out if I ignore it long enough.  And I'm going to nurture my new and old friendships.  After all, no Jamie is an island.

Well, I did graduate.  I did (more than) double the number of half marathons, from 3 to 10.  I did get a new job, and it did break my heart to leave the old one.  We did file for divorce.  And I think I did nurture my friendships better.  At the very least, I got to see Bill for the first time in a decade (that can't POSSIBLY be right...can it??), and had the most wonderful two weeks with Jackie's family in NJ.  And I have a few new friends!  I love them all.  YOU all. 

Truthfully, the year was overwhelmingly positive, and truly surprising.  A year ago, I didn't know that I'd even be accepted to grad school, let alone have wrapped up my second semester with a 4.0.  I didn't know I'd take myself on a three-week solo road trip as far north as NY and west as State College.  I didn't know anything about the job I have now.  I hadn't seriously considered signing up for a marathon.

I also couldn't have predicted that 2014 would be the year of the cousins.  My northeast road trip helped that -- I spent time in NYC with Jenn and her family plus a bonus day with Alex and Megumi.  I also got to see Dawn.  I saw Suzanne for the first time in forever, and we talked the day away like a pair of old friends.  Joanne came up twice, and I had a blast with her and her crazy friends.

If the medals on my wall are to be believed, I raced 148.3 miles (131 miles of half marathons + 47.3 miles in other shorter distance races) in 2014, and I think I trained almost twice as many miles.  So you know, that was a significant amount of my time, energy, and focus this year.  It kicked ass.  You should feel my quads.  I HAVE QUADS!  I didn't lose much (any?) weight, but that's mostly because I seem to have developed an insatiable lust for Taco Bell, Chick Fil A's breakfast burritos, and other amazing deep-fried drive-through delicacies.  Somewhere along the line, I realized I was running for the love of running, and not for any related goal.  I like it better this way.

And just for the record, I'm actually doing some of my living off the record.  I'm still learning a lot about me, and one thing I've learned is that not every misstep needs to be documented for posterity and/or the judgment of others.  I like being able to sit down with friends and be able to answer "what's new?" with something other than "it's all on Facebook!"  I like having untold stories.  And I like having a little mystery.

So 2015?  Oh my GOD...I can't even imagine what's to come!  In January alone, I'm running a marathon, I'm doing a fun new thing at work (spending a weekend as a company rep during a conference), Scott and I have a court date, and I'm taking a weekend girls' trip to Atlanta for a 15K.  I'm taking spring semester off from school, and using that extra time to take an 8 week "dance & tone" class after work with my boss.  I'm also determined to clean the house and make it presentable.

It feels somehow selfish and ungrateful to ask for my 2015 to be better than 2014. This year has truly been an embarrassment of riches.  I feel guilty even asking for more of the same.  I think it's possible that I'll look back on 2014 as the biggest, boldest, craziest, busiest, newest, most eventful year of my life.  I hope that I continue to grow in 2015.  I hope I stay as happy as I am right now.  And more than anything, I hope that my friends and loved ones will be as happy as I am right now. 

Happy New Year!  I wish you nothing but the best in 2015.  May all your dreams come true!

07 December, 2014

Ten in 2014

You may not know this, because I don't talk about it too much, but I ran a few races this year.

I'll wait while you stop laughing.

OK.  Anyway, yes this blog has turned into all-run-all-the-time.  I kind of like it that way too, so don't expect it to change anytime soon!  I did the Diva's Half Marathon today, and will likely do my recap tomorrow (spoiler alery: key words will include "windy" and "walk").  Today though, I just wanted to throw this photo out there for posterity.

My Ten 2014 Half Marathon Post-Race Photos
These weren't my only races.  I did a 15K, a few 10Ks, and a bunch of 5Ks as well.  But these were the "big guys" that I trained and planned and even traveled for.  Each was its own battle.  I fought weather, food poisoning, bridges, back-to-back races, hills, small shoes, wind, and my own mental wall.  And I finished every single time.

Besides the struggles and the whining (oh, the whining...), 2014 was the year I ran with friends!  Until I met Jackie at the Orlando Half last December (this weekend is our run-a-versary), I don't think I'd spoken more than a sentence to a random stranger during a race.  But then I did WDW with Cat, Celebration, Marine Corps, Space Coast, and Divas with Jackie, Lake Nona with Scott, and part of Space Coast with June... plus shorter races with Sarah, Carlie, Mark, Daryl, and some other people I'm probably forgetting right now.  And I've met some pretty interesting folks as well.  NEVER did I think running would turn into a social activity for me, and that's certainly been an unexpected blessing.

I thought my goal for 2015 would be 12 half marathons, but then I realized that I have none in January ("only" a marathon and a 15k), and I think only 4 in February/March and that's pretty much the end of spring race season. That would put a lot of pressure on me next fall.  Instead, I'm going to try to find a race every-other weekend while the weather isn't inhumanly hot, and maybe some additional 5Ks as well.  I'm actually very excited that I'm only planning on repeating two of my 2014 races above -- Lake Nona and Space Coast -- next year.  Everything else will be new and interesting.  That's one of the wonderful things about running: you can do it almost anywhere!

03 December, 2014

Space Coast Half Marathon Recap Redux

I have to warn any non-regular readers right now that this isn't going to be a standard race recap.  If you're wondering what Space Coast is like, you should probably head to last year's recap

This race was not my finest 3 hours.  I wasn't in it mentally.  My body didn't cooperate physically.  And really?  I was just going through the motions.  At the end of the day though, no matter how hard you push yourself, you get the same medal.  Sometimes just finishing is the goal, and that's where I was on Sunday.

So here's the deal:  Last week I was dealing with an annoying illness and was hoping it would go away without medical intervention.  And then I ended up at the doctor on Thanksgiving afternoon.  When I left the doctor, I had an antibiotic and a painkiller and was (for about the zillionth time that day) choking back tears.  I didn't ask the doctor whether I should run on Sunday, because there was NO WAY I'd be skipping the race and I prefer to do stupid things without my actions actually being against the doctor's orders.

I was actually starting to feel moderately better by Saturday when I left for Cocoa.  They moved the expo this year to the Radisson, and while I missed all the cool Kennedy Space Center photo ops I was much happier with the layout and the crowds.  Plus, they DID have fun photo backdrops set up in a hallway. 

Out-of-this-world photo opportunities!
I met Jackie and her friend Rebecca for dinner that evening, and thanks to a stop at Target (phone chargers: don't forget them!!) and a problem with the lock on my hotel room I didn't get to sleep until after 10.

Cue the 3am wake-up alarm!

The morning was pretty uneventful.  I got the early shuttle from the hotel and saw Kelli from work before meeting up with Jackie and Rebecca for even more cheesey photo ops.  I had trouble eating the full 2 packets of oatmeal that I generally eat pre-race due to some weird heartburn-nausea thing, but ate what I could and listened to my body.  Pretty much as soon as the race started, I realized that going more than a week without lacing up my shoes was a mistake.  Of all the random twinges I've ever had, this is definitely the first time my calves were tight at the start of a race.  I was really worried this was going to turn into bad muscle cramps at some point, but eventually the tightness went away.

June passed me around mile 3 or 4, and she was pretty nearby at least until mile 10.  She was cheering on other runners, which caused Jackie to make fun of her, but I think we were all considering it in good fun.  I was excited to be able to snap a selfie with her, since this was the first run we actually saw each other.  I'm pretty sure we both did Princess this year, but don't quote me on that. 

Something crazy and awesome also happened at this race that never happened to me before.  I had my own pace group for about 3 miles!  When we run together, Jackie follows my intervals.  When the beeps happen in my ear, I say "...and walk" or "...and run."  Somehow this actually works for us.  Well, this time a group of 4 other girls decided that rather than leap-frogging us they would just stick with our intervals.  I tried to take a group photo, but my phone froze and didn't actually take the picture.  But trust me, it really did happen!  Sadly, I couldn't keep up with my group and I sent them on ahead.

The reason I couldn't keep up?  Aside from my lack of stamina, which I'm used to soldiering through for the last 5k of a race, I had a problem I've never had before:  I had to poop.  Truth be told, I realized about mile 2 that there was a chance I would need to stop and break my own "no port-a-potty on the course" rule.  I saw a pair of potties just past the turnaround before mile 7 with only one person in line, but just didn't want to stop.  And so, those last two miles, every time I ran, I was acutely aware of the contents of my entire digestive system bouncing along.  It wasn't an emergency, but had I seen another place to stop, I probably would have.

After the finish, I got my medal and towel, had some pizza, coke, orange juice, and then bid farewell to my friends.  I broke my other port-a-potty rule - don't use them after a race - and then headed over to wait for the shuttle back to my hotel.  In my haste, I totally failed to get good post-race pictures.  The one to the right was taken outside my hotel room an hour later.

It turns out the race organizers really need a lesson in logistics from Disney.  They were running shuttles to four different zones, which makes a lot of sense, but each bus was pre-determined for a specific zone.  I was in zone B, which seemed to be in the Bermuda Triangle.  I'm not sure how long I waited before I finally got onto a bus, but I'm guessing it was about an hour.  During that time, I saw at least 6 A buses and a handful of C buses, plus maybe 1 or 2 D buses.  Ours were trapped in terrible traffic on the causeway, and the one B bus that appeared while I was waiting was swarmed by people who hadn't been waiting half as long as I had.  (you know that scene in Father of the Bride where the dinner line forms and Steve Martin says, "I'd never seen a line form so quickly"?  yeah, it was like that.)  By the time I got on a bus, there were at least a whole bus full of people still waiting in line behind me.  We couldn't understand why they couldn't re-route an A bus, and were growing more and more frustrated. For the last contact I had with the race, sucking diesel fumes in the late morning sun wasn't really what I'd hoped.

Still, I really do like this race.  It's my most expensive non-Disney race, but the medal this year was even sparklier than last year's and I love that it's a star.  The shirt is also better this year -- it's black and not sheer like last year's, and has weird inset panels in the sides with space shuttles on them. My other disappointment last year, the overcast skies, also cleared this year.  We had a beautiful sunrise over the water that quickly made me wish I hadn't forgotten my visor at home! 

So how'd I do?  Despite my assorted issues, I still beat last year's time (but only by about a minute). 

Chip Time: 3:09:06
Pace: 14:27
Overall Place: 2464/3296
Division Place: 255/362

Mile Splits (per RunKeeper):
mile 1: 13:17 min/mi
mile 2: 13:39 min/mi
mile 3: 13:12 min/mi
mile 4: 13:23 min/mi
mile 5: 13:59 min/mi
mile 6: 13:51 min/mi
mile 7: 13:58 min/mi
mile 8: 14:04 min/mi
mile 9: 14:31 min/mi
mile 10: 13:51 min/mi
mile 11: 13:50 min/mi
mile 12: 14:14 min/mi
mile 13: 15:57 min/mi

...and for those of you following along at home wondering what's up with my toe-crushing shoes, they are now officially reserved for runs 10K and shorter.  Womp womp!  I was able to find a pair of my original "blue man shoes" on ebay -- floor samples from a running store -- and won them for $46 including shipping.  They're not scheduled to get here until next Monday, which means I'm most likely going to have to wear an old pair for the Divas Half on Sunday. That means blisters and shin splints, but my feet are still angry with me about last weekend so I definitely won't be wearing those again.