My accidental half-marathon: a.k.a. "How not to train for a Disney Endurance Race"
by, 11-02-2009 at 09:22 PM (5000 Views)
In keeping with the old saying "If you can't be a role model, you can at least act as a hideous warning," here is my trip report of sorts from the 2009 Disneyland Half Marathon.
Disclaimer: Don't do what I did. It was stupid, potentially dangerous, and not really all that bright. If you're actually planning to run/walk/waddle a Disney Endurance Series event, I highly recommend first consulting a medical professional (physical and/or psychological, whichever applies) and then choosing and sticking with a training program. Don't just show up the morning of the race and hope for the best.
Several years ago, encouraged by the example of other MousePlanet staff members, I registered and trained for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. It didn't end well, and that experience soured me on the whole concept. But when my dear friend AdrienneK started talking about the Disneyland Half Marathon this year, I said "I'll do it if you do." After some months of taunting, she signed up, I signed up (not necessarily in that order), and then... well, at some point we were supposed to start training, but life got in the way.
Over the summer, AdrienneK found a training buddy in MousePad member swanie. She had a training plan, new shoes, new socks, cliff bars, sports beans and a running skirt - what did she need me for? In the interim, I was in the process of writing and planning our first ever MouseAdventure event in Walt Disney World, organizing MousePlanet's D23 presence, buying, renovating and then moving into our first house, and running my retail business. I didn't have time to sleep, much less train for (or even remember I'd signed up for) a race. When I finally did remember (and realized I had done absolutely no training), I decided to skip it for the year and try again in 2010. But, since I promised AdrienneK I'd be there to support her, I figured I'd at least go register and pick up my race bib so I could join her at the start of the race, and then "sweep" myself so I could be at the finish line to get more photos of her.
That was the plan. I even talked to some of the race officials to ask them how best to get myself swept - what were the most convenient spots? They suggested that I try to get to mile 10, because that way I could at least "run" through Angel Stadium before getting swept. Right - that wasn't going to happen. Looking at a map of the course, I decided I'd get to the first designated sweep spot at mile 4 (which looked like it was just after the course exited Disney property), and then just walk over to the finish line.
The morning of the race I dug out my standard exercise clothing of leggings and a t-shirt, laced up my walking shoes, and then spent a moment trying to decide what purse to carry. True, half-marathoners don't usually CARRY purses, but I wasn't really walking the race, and I knew I'd need my camera and cell phone, and car keys and wallet and water bottle and the sports beans I'd gotten at the Expo the day before... In the end, I grabbed my smallest purse, one that can be adjusted to act as a small waist bag, and set out. Before I left home, I put a brace on my ankle that has a tendency to sprain at the least convenient moments, and decided to put another sock over it to prevent chaffing. HUGE MISTAKE, as I was to discover later.
After parking and finding AdrienneK, her coach and a group of other MousePlanet readers, we headed to our corrals. AdrienneK and her husband plus MousePlanet Community Leader Cathy were all in the same corral, so we waited together for the race to begin. I might have stretched a little, but again - I wasn't planning to walk more than a few miles, so I didn't feel the need to warm up. And then... we were off!
AdrienneK, Kevin and I got separated from Cathy almost at once. The last few corrals are usually filled with people who are planning to walk the race, but this year it seemed that an unusual number of runners got put in the back corrals too - probably people who hadn't submitted their proof of time. These runners were pretty aggressive in forcing their way through the crowd, and I often found myself jogging to catch up when a group of runners managed to edge me away from my friends. By Mile 1, my calves were starting to question my decision not to warm up, but the threatened Charlie Horse never materialized.
I don't remember the entire theme park portion of the course, except that it was too narrow in too many spots, and that the first water station we came to just outside DCA was in the worst possible spot. Kevin got separated from us about there, and didn't catch back up until about the time we entered Disneyland. We looped through Tomorrowland, and AdrienneK said "you want to try running a little?" I said "sure," and off she went. Of course we immediately hit another bottleneck and were forced back to walking pace. She decided to run again as we entered Fantasyland, and so ironically one of the only "official" race photos of me actually shows me RUNNING. I took Adrienne's picture as we ran through the Castle, thus completing my "job" as moral support and photographer. As we made our way to the point where we'd leave Disney property, I started to think about how and where to get swept. Oddly enough, I was feeling really strong, and had about decided to go for mile 10 when Adrienne and Kevin started running again... without me. I tried to catch up but got cut off by another group of runners as we turned the final corner out onto Ball Road, and lost sight of them entirely.
After my horrid Walt Disney World race experience, the LAST thing I wanted was someone else to get swept with me because they'd kept pace with me, and I'd told AdrienneK upfront that she needed to run her own race and not worry about me. I wasn't upset that she'd decided to go ahead, but I didn't know why she'd taken off without saying anything, especially since I'd just made the decision to try to make it to Angel Stadium with her. Now what to do? From the map, it looked like the Mile 4 sweep point was *just* off property, so I figured I'd just go turn myself in there, but it turns out it was actually quite a bit further away. AND it turns out that there were no sweep buses in place. I know this sounds odd (and you'll hear it again), but Disney did NOT make it easy for someone to drop out of the race.
So now I'm at Mile 4, I'm feeling (physically) fine, and I decide just to aim for the Mile 10 sweep point. Heck, I was almost halfway there, and who knew if we'd have the chance to run the bases in 2010? The stretch between Mile 4 and 7 was... well, another runner called it the "armpit of Anaheim," and I can't say I disagree. It was here that I found myself dealing with the mental part of the race. I had no companions, no interesting scenery to enjoy and no iPod to distract me - just me and my thoughts. And a toe that started feeling as if perhaps it might be developing a blister...
Just before the turn into Mile 7, the bags of Sports Beans I'd eaten instead of breakfast caught up with me, and I needed a port-a-pottie - badly. All along the race course there were banks and rows of these things, but when I really needed one, there were only two available... with a long line of people waiting for them. I thought briefly of pushing through, but I didn't know how long it would be until I found another one, and I didn't think it was a good idea to risk it. So I waited. And waited. And waited. There were seven people ahead of me, but a spectator decided to use one of them to change her baby, tying up one of them for what seemed like an eternity. By my watch, I lost 12 minutes in that line. Of course, as soon as I got back onto the race course and turned the corner, I saw that there was a huge bank of potties about a quarter mile ahead. THAT'S when my mental game started to break down. After standing for so long, my legs were starting to tighten up, and the blister I could feel on my toe was starting to throb. Everything hurt, and I had three miles to go. What the hell was I doing out there? I hadn't trained! I hadn't even planned to go that far when I started the race! And now I was stuck between sweep points!
This is when the cell phone came in handy. I called my husband and said "I just need you to distract me." He talked to me for a few minutes, and by the time I was at Mile 8, I was in a better mental place. I could SEE the Angel Stadium marquis, had the goal in my sights, and just kept chanting to myself "just get to 10, just get to 10, just get to 10."
Mile 8 was also the first time I encountered a pace official, who warned that were were *right* on pace, and needed to keep up or be swept. The pace official passed me as I headed to Mile 9, and was at the next marker to warn us again that we were in danger of being swept. Mile 9 was the "refreshment" stop, and I was quite disappointed to find out that they had run out of bananas and Sports Shots by this point, and could only offer us more water.
And then we were entering Angel Stadium. For me, this WAS my finish line, and I got a burst of energy as I walked into that tunnel. I admit I teared up when I noticed the small memorial for Nick Adenhart, the Angels' rookie pitcher who was killed in a car accident last year. Walking out into the sunlight, I was hit by a wall of sound from the scouts and community groups who filled the lower levels of the stands to cheer on the runners and walkers. A troop of Girl Scouts saw that I had a camera, and immediately offered to take a picture of me, an offer that was to be repeated a dozen times as I circled the track. I saw myself on the stadium's jumbo screen, and was so elated to have made it that far! As I exited the stadium, a guard said "just a few more miles!" I probably confused him when I replied "this is my finish line," and I started looking for the Mile 10 marker and the buses that would take me back to the finish line.
Did I mention that Disney did NOT make it easy for someone to drop out of the race? Unlike every other mile marker, Mile 10 was staffed by one lone Anaheim police officer, directing traffic away from the course. No race officials. No community performing group. No medical tent. No pace officials, and, most importantly, NO BUS!!!! I said to the police officer, "aren't' we supposed to be swept here?" and he replied "You're ahead of the pace - you can do it!"
I'm sorry sir, I don't think you understand. I don't WANT to do it! Where's my bus? What do you MEAN I have to walk 3 more miles?
By now there was a group of about 10 of us walking in a loose pack, occasionally offering words of encouragement to the others. I kept walking, thinking that surely they'd sweep us at Mile 11. Nope. There were cheerleaders aplenty, staffed water stations, but no sweep bus. By this time, I could SEE Space Mountain, and that's about the time I called AdrienneK to tell her that there had been a slight change in plans. I don't remember the message I left on her phone, but I'm sure it was along the lines of "you better get your butt back to the finish line."
And then we were back on Disney property. A CM who greeted us said that we would NOT be swept now, and I walked what had to be the longest mile of my LIFE. Everything hurt, I feared what I'd discover once I removed my shoes, but I was going to cross that finish line darn it! I called my husband as I neared the finish line, and was so happy to see AdrienneK and her kiddlets cheering for me... from the nearly empty bleachers. (It turns out there were only about 40 people behind me). The race volunteer who "caught" me at the finish line saw my limp and asked if I needed to go to medical, but darn it, I wanted that medal first! After collecting my bright shiny prize, I went to medical to have my feet examined. It turns out that the double layer of socks on my braced foot actually caused more blister damage than it prevented, and the toes on my right foot each sported a giant blister. My left foot was better, but the medic suggested that I wait to get home to treat the blisters - she pointed out that Disney's parking lot was hardly a sterile environment for treating open wounds. I gingerly replaced my shoes, and lurched off to the massage tents for a well deserved rubdown with cooling menthol gel. Ahhhhh...
After I felt I was stable enough to walk, I made it to my car and slowly drove home. Once home, it was right into an ice bath for me, and then I had to deal with my blisters. I'm including this only for cautionary purposes, so you don't do what I did. Remember where I said this was stupid, and potentially dangerous? My blisters were so bad that my nails separated from their beds. I lost one toenail almost immediately, and, nearly two months later, I'm still waiting for two more to fall off. And in case you were wondering, nail salons DON'T give you a discount on pedicures for having fewer toenails than normal.
To recap, here's how NOT to prepare for a half marathon:
Don't fuel properly.
Don't test sock/shoe combination
Don't take steps to prevent blisters.
If you're interested in the RIGHT way to train, I highly recommend joining our Team MousePlanet discussions, and chat with people who know what they're doing.
It sounds like we have a lot of readers participating in the Princess Half Marathon next year!