A Whirlwind Week of runDisney

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In a matter of approximately a week, I traveled to Florida to run the Walt Disney World Marathon and back to California to run in the Star Wars - Light Side Half Marathon weekend. I wasn't one of the "crazies" that ran Dopey (all 4 races for WDW Marathon weekend) and also all 3 Disneyland Star Wars Races. Nonetheless, 3 races with 3 very different efforts surely made me tired, more than I thought it would. I blame getting old(er). Haha!   

A little back story, about a year ago I was suppose to run a race on the east coast but unfortunately never got there due to the frustrations that go with flying aka delayed flights, missing connections and so forth. Luckily, my sister and I were registered for the WDW marathon so although a long wait, I'd have another go at a racecation MINUS kids. Wait, what?  Yup, 5 days (2 of them traveling) without kids!  Traveling wasn't without some stress as I almost missed my connection yet again due to my first flight leaving an hour late, but I made it. Whew!  

It's odd once you become a parent to travel minus any children. You feel a strong urge to do all the things that you can't do when you have them in tow or at least do the things they complain endlessly about when with you. Things like go shopping and try on all the things or have a few drinks or even sleep in because we all know children have no idea what sleeping past 6am means. Yet, I did none of that.  It's a runDisney weekend, sleep doesn't happen because of those ungodly wake up times!  I did manage to have fun with my sister Marie and Anette.  

 Mouthwatering. I couldn't even finish more than half, but delicious! 

Mouthwatering. I couldn't even finish more than half, but delicious! 

We could only do one park so Epcot it was. This is easily my favorite park. I just love walking around the many countries in World Showcase.  I'm not much of a ride person so Epcot is perfect to get a Disney feel without having to jump on a ride. The weather was perfect and so were the treats!  Note, my sister took my to eat breakfast at Kona and I had the pancakes - Pineapple Macadamia Nut Pancakes. Oh. Em. Gee. So so good. I did order a side of fruit to "balance" out the meal a bit.  

Heading into the weekend, the weather took a drastic change. Severity of rain increases plus lightening and thunder were possibilities  I clearly remember Friday night hearing the rain coming down. It sounds as if buckets were just being emptied outside our window. Needless to say, the WDW half marathon was cancelled then next day to much disappointment but clearly for the safety of runners, volunteers and spectators. Yet, that wasn't going to prevent runDisney runners from getting in their 13.1!  The next morning runners, spectators and cast members alike got out along resort running paths and in the rain and wind ran the miles needed. 

 1.2 miles around made for many many loops

1.2 miles around made for many many loops

It was a wonderful thing to participate in because it wasn't about corrals and pace. It wasn't about winning and medals. It was about completing a goal, encouraging others, making new running friends.  

 So cold! 

So cold! 

So Saturday was the rain, thunder and lightening. Sunday was freezing temperatures with winds dropping it to the teens. Ummmm I didn't prepare for that in any way!  Hello, I was wearing a tank, arm sleeves and a sparkle athletic skirt!  We rushed, as did everyone else who did not prepare for such cold temps, to Disney Springs and rushed from store to store trying to find anything. We only managed to get gloves, everything else was sold out in our size or just sold out. I enjoy running in cold temps due to performance. Although I hate being uncomfortable, I tend to "race" better in temps in the 30s and low 40s. Yet, I was worried about the teens. Northern California gets cold but where I live high 20s and low 30s is ever how cold it gets. Race morning came, we were freezing. We were in corral O so we waited as long as possible around the space heaters before braving the cold. Once in the corral we joked around and made friends with those around us. We waited an hour to start, but once we crossed that start line I joked with my sister and her friend that "positive Paula" was in her element. I was peppy and ready to conquer 26.2.  

The race plan for the day was run 2 minute and walk 1 minute, trying to keep a sub 12 minute average. After talking with my sister, I adjusted jay plan to try to keep under 13 minutes per mile yet didn't tell her. I knew she would want to keep the original plan, but having run a marathon previously I knew it is hard to go out at your best pace and try to get better. A huge thank you to Ivie (@ivieanne) who gave me great tips on the run/Walk method. I set my watch up for the intervals since I was the unofficial pacer for them and prepared to raise my hand when I walked and move to the right. Side note: not all people follow that rule. Many many people just stop and walk in the middle of the path. Frustrating slightly.  

 Almost there!!!  Half mile left!   

Almost there!!!  Half mile left!   

Both of these women did amazing, they kicked ass! For 18-19 miles, through self doubt and slight sass (towards me. Lol) they maintained around a 12:30 pace.  I was amazed at their consistency. I kept telling them how well they were doing. Heck my sister did her long runs 18-20 miles on a treadmill. I do not have the mental strength and would have given up. Haha!  Mile 19, Wide World of Sports complex mentally wore them down. I admitted to them that this "park" can be challenging. You are not sure where you are going, how long you will be in the complex and so forth. It's not like one of the parks where you can see an attraction and characters and be distracted. I tried my best to keep them motivated but I knew I was losing them. With 10k left, I had to dig deep and pull out the cheerleader.   They were hurting.  They were tired and hungry. They were feeling mentally wore down.  I didn't tell them that I was exhausted and having doubts too. I didn't tell them that I was worried about the pain they were feeling and for the last 10k I adjusted the 2 minutes/1 minute to 1:30 minutes/2:30 minutes sometimes 3 minutes. I kept assessing in my mind is the pain they are feeling serious enough to call in the towel. These thoughts rushed through my head from mile 20 until 24.5. Yet they finished. They finished with a smile and upright. It was a moment that I am so grateful to have been a witness. I was able to be there when two strong women pushed past what they thought they might not be able to do and become marathoners, even more they finished in under 6 hours!  

 Brand new MARATHONERS! 

Brand new MARATHONERS! 

I have to take this moment to talk about the "back of the pack" (we were placed in the second to last corral due to deferring the race and missing proof of time). I strongly encourage anyone who has never been one of these runners to do so and to do so with a fellow runner. It is a wonderful experience.  It is a humbling experience. There were many runners once they hit around mile 15-16 remarked they were tired. They were struggling. Others around were quick to encourage. So many runners offering to run alongside, offer fuel, offer encouraging words. It was such an example of kindness and caring, but even more it was examples of strength, perseverance, determination, just plain old grit. I'm a middle of the pack runner for the most part and I often get to see lots of people cheering, most people around me are racing by and quickly offering encouragement but it is a different type of experience. This isn't my first time being a little further back at the start of race, but to do so for 26.2 is something I am glad I was able to do. It had me digging deeper to encourage myself and others, tapping into my own physical and mental strength. 

Once the race was over, I had that day to rest and then back on the plane to head home and prepare for Star Wars Half Marathon weekend.  

 Bibs in hand. Hello another weekend of early mornings and little sleep

Bibs in hand. Hello another weekend of early mornings and little sleep

To say that I was mentally prepared for Star Wars half marathon would be a lie. To be honest, I only wanted to run the 5k. Bucket list item was to run all runDisney races before 40. Well, they added races and the cost of the races could feed my children for a couple months..I joke, kinda. They are pricey. So I changed my goal to run all the west coast runDisney races before 40. I only had Star Wars 5k and Super Heroes 10k left. Dave being the eager with his clicking surprised me with the half marathon race too. I'm grateful but I like to get as much sleep as 4 kids will allow me these days.  

  A little farther back than I'd like to be 

 A little farther back than I'd like to be 

5k race day my goal was to use it as a shake out run. I've never really raced a 5k at Disneyland, mostly just run for fun with the boys or as a shake out. I got to the corral a little late, just under 15 minutes to the start of the race so I ended up towards the back. No concerns because I wasn't racing it for time. After crossing the start line I realized hardly anyone was racing the 5k. I was stuck behind a wall of very happy walkers. That's ok, I get that not everyone wants to zoom through the race, but even though I wasn't trying to be fast I was hopeful to get done, get coffee and hope I could catch another hour of sleep before the kids woke up. Needless to say I ended up walking/jogging about .4 of the first mile. Once I found open spots I started to sprint around crowds. I don't know if it was my nervousness or anxiousness to find a clearing to get into my groove but in the dark I kept pushing the lap button on my watch I may or may not have cursed to myself. Clearly I know where the light button is, but I was all thumbs for the first 1.5 miles. I didn't stop for pictures, coffee was calling my name. I passed a handful of women around mile 2 and then slowly started passing a couple more here and there. Closer to the finish I passed two more women and one woman passed me. As she did, I heard the announcer state "we have the second and third female finishers coming in". Right after passing the cameras, I looked around saying 3rd?!?!  I was amusing to the volunteers giving medals because I was still saying it. I've never had that happen in a large race. A nice confidence booster heading into the weekend mentally preparing for the half marathon on Sunday.  

 5k photo op at the finish. The line is too long in the morning, but no one when I finished  

5k photo op at the finish. The line is too long in the morning, but no one when I finished  

I have to share that I haven't raced or run a half marathon since May 2016. I'm not sure why exactly, but one reason is I PR'd in May and in the race I felt completely comfortable and strong. There was fear that another half wouldn't garner the same results or feelings. Of course I know not all races are rainbows and sunshine, great paces and negative splits. However, I know my fellow runners can relate to the countless number of races you run where not everything aligns leading up to that one race where everything aligns: pace, fuel, temperature, hydration, etc. everything seems to be perfectly matched. For me, I've had many great races but there might have been 1 or 2 things amiss, in May everything just felt right. 

 A little Flashback to the May race where I reached my previous half marathon PR 

A little Flashback to the May race where I reached my previous half marathon PR 

Heading into this race I just wasn't sure what to expect. In May, I ran around a 1:45. I wasn't aiming for that. I did know that I wanted to PR my half marathon this year, this was not the race. I had a couple things I wanted to keep in mind - I wanted to run happy.  I was using this race to test my endurance.  I wanted to enjoy my time on the course with a goal of 2:00 or less. Now before you roll your eyes, I admit I could have been more ambiguous and say "I just want to finish". Now that I'd say please give a huge eye roll. I knew I would finish. The thought process was find the 2:00 pacer and stick with he/she for 3-4 miles. If I felt good, pick up the pace to chase down the 1:55 pacer. I knew I probably would find that pacer but I kept it in my head to make sure my running wasn't all over the pace.  IF I found the 1:55 pacer, stick with them for 2ish miles and if I felt good, increase speed and aim for 1:50-1:55 finish. Well, PSA there is no 2:00 or even 1:55 pacer in corral A. Duh!  So I ended up placing myself a couple of rows behind the 1:45 pacer.   I am so grateful to Erin (@erinamg) who had texted me the night before and at 5am that morning. She offered a great advice and basically helped calm my nerves. I was anxious as 5:30 approached, my heart racing for sure. 

 Closer to the start line this time!  Woohoo! 

Closer to the start line this time!  Woohoo! 

Back to the 1:45 pacer, I decided that I wanted to keep this pacer in sight. Last minute decision about 5 minutes before the race started. I told myself to not care if I could clearly read the 1:45 sign or it was a speck in the distance, just make sure I could see it. The race started and we were off. 1:45 pacer a few seconds faster as we entered DCA. At the transition between DCA and DL, I had caught up to the 1:45 pacer and felt good. Strong and comfortable with the pace. Now you remember how I keep hitting the lap button on 5k day?  So I waited for lit areas in the dark to catch a glimpse at my watch. When I di look at it while we were leaving the parks I saw the pacer was racing too fast, around a 7:45 pace. I pulled back and told myself to ease up, calm down and relax. When I say told myself, literally I spoke those words out loud. Runners around me looked at me, one gentleman gave me a thumbs up. Yet once on Harbor, I saw the open road and I just ran by feel, passing the 1:45 pacer with his voice eventually fading. I had studied the course and knew it was basically 2, 2, 2, 2 until I would turn and see the mile 12 sign. No more than 2 miles in each direction. I tried to take the race by those breakdowns. My 5k split was 7:51, 10k split was 7:48 and 15k was 7:35. Everything was feeling pretty good. I was high-5ing cheerleaders, cosplay spectators, people along side the road. I was thanking police officers. It was great. I was having fun!  By mile 8 I felt a little fatigue but not tremendously. I told myself to be aware of this tiredness because by mile 10-11, I would need to push hard since I sped up too fast. Well, when I turned the corner a little after mile 9 I hit some slight headwind. Now, the actually headwind might have not been too great. Yet I was getting a little tired, I picked up too early and the sun was coming out at this point. I tried in vain to keep pace but slowed by 15+ seconds. I then told myself to just run by effort until mile 11 when I would turn left and the wind would be at my side. My 10 was a 7:55 pace. I was slipping. 

 Seeing the finish line and the clock at 1:42 was an awesome moment! 

Seeing the finish line and the clock at 1:42 was an awesome moment! 

Thank goodness for friends like Ivie (@ivieanne), Jen (@pinkcupcakegirl) and AJ (@a2thej44). Around mile 11.5, they shouted my name. It was a point where I was bargaining with myself. I was telling myself I had "banked" time. Never ever count on banking time. No no. I was slowly giving up. Hearing them cheer, gave me an added boost. At mile 12, Dave ran to cheer me on and snap a pick as I ran by. Another added boost. The last mile had to be all me. I was hurting slightly at this point. My left hamstring was tight and right quad was sore. I wasn't sure what my time would be or if I'd be able to finish strong. I had stopped looking at my watch around mile 11. It was messing with my mind and I was feeling defeated. As I approached mile 13 I saw the time read 1:41:36 and I felt the urge to start sprinting. Haha!  I clearly cannot finish .1 in less than 24 seconds but I was going to try. I crossed the finish line less than a minute later for a new PR of 1:42 and I couldn't be prouder. I was slightly emotional to say the least. It's funny, in the past I would have kept my emotions bottled up. Happy or sad, but 6 months ago I decided it's ok to show my feelings when I've accomplished something I didn't know I was capable of doing.  

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I have another race in less than 2 weeks. A half marathon in San Francisco. No I'm not trying to PR or even come close to my current PR.  I'm not going to have a goal to "just finish" or even try for 2:00s. Specific goals, not entirely sure but as I said before Disneyland was a confidence booster and endurance assessment. SF I'm searching for strength and consistency. I want to try to lock into a pace that is comfortably challenging and see if I can maintain it. I have an entire year to try to run faster than 1:42. Goals take patience and hard work. I may not run a 1:42 again this year and that's ok, yet I plan on making it my goal to work towards beating that time. So far 2017 racing has been pretty damn awesome!