My First (official) Half-Marathon!

History: So, as long-time readers know, I signed up with DH for the Chip n Dale Marathon Relay back in April 2011, held at Walt Disney World for the first time on January 8, 2012. I love Chip and Dale, so I couldn’t pass up their first race. As even longer-time readers know, my very first 5K was the UP 5K at WDW in January 2010, which was also when DH did *his* very first half-marathon (the Donald). After that first 5K, I did perhaps one 5K a quarter up until I signed up for the relay. At that point, I began training in earnest, following Galloway’s run-walk-run system and half-marathon training plan. DH and I had signed up for the relay because he goes fast enough that it balanced out my relative slowness in a way that would allow me to do it without fear of being swept. (Disney’s races have relatively strict sweeping compared to many other distance races, because Disney needs to be able to open the parks fully.) Anyways, I’ve now “bookended” my set of races by going from 5K and 13.1 miles at WDW.

After 8 months of training, I completed my first official half-marathon on 1/8/2012 at WDW, as planned. šŸ™‚ This was the first marathon relay during marathon weekend that Disney had done, and I’d say that for an inaugural event, they managed it quite well. (I’ll summarize some areas for improvement for RunDisney and tips for future relayers a bit later on.) For now, I’m going to talk about my own experience.

I was incredibly nervous for the event. Even though I had done a half-marathon (unofficially) in December as part of my training, I had managed to catch a nasty cold in the last week of December and basically spent several days in bed resting and recovering. Even a week and a half later, I was still sniffly and not 100%. I’d managed to do my 3 mile final run, but I’d been skipping weekly runs in favor of resting. Plus, because my unofficial half had happened earlier than the training plan suggests, I’d modified the plan, and I wasn’t entirely sure how well it would work. My nervousness was compounded by all of the usual pre-event jitters about getting to the right place at the right time, being hydrated enough, wearing the right gear, etc. etc. And, then add to that that we were going to be touring the parks (admittedly, just DHS, which is a low-walking park) the day before, meaning I’d be putting in a few miles of walking instead of resting my legs and feet. To be safe, we cut off our DHS touring early, and admittedly, DH babied me a bit by picking me up at the expo entrance and such to help minimize my walking the day before.

The expo was a bit disappointing compared to previous years. Some of that may have been because we were there on Saturday (when 2/3 of the events were already done). I was also very disappointed in the lack of relay-themed merch. I loved the “We Did It!” shirt, but on Saturday, they were out of every size except XL and XXL, which meant there wasn’t one for DH. (There was one for me, thankfully!) There were no tech shirts with the Chip and Dale theme (there’s 2-3 variants for the Mickey, Donald, and Goofy races), nor were there pins, mugs, or other gear. Basically, as a relayer, your merch options were the “We Did It!” shirt or the generic Marathon Weekend gear that mostly features Mickey. I had come prepared to spend gobs of money, and they just didn’t let me. I hate it when companies don’t let me spend my money!

I love the shirt that came with the race entry, though. You’ll see it several times in the pictures from this WDW trip. It’s a really nice long sleeved tech shirt that was perfect for the weather during our trip, and it has Chip and Dale prominently featured. The other item that came with our race entry was an insulated pad. This was a great idea for a giveaway for the relayers, as it gave us something to sit on while waiting for the relay partner at the switch point. I know lots of relayers tweeted that they didn’t know what it was, but our person told us what it was for, and I, for one, was happy to have it while sitting on the cold concrete!

One of the things that contributed to my pre-race jitters was getting to the relay point. It is notoriously difficult to get around Disney during the mornings of marathon weekend, because several roads shut down entirely for the events. Disney bus transportation has alternate routes, but the traffic can be a nightmare. Getting around in a car is often easier if you know the alternate routes, but it can be stressful because of the traffic and closures. RunDisney’s instructions were for Relayer #2 (me) to go to the start of the marathon with Relayer #1 (DH) and then catch a bus from there to the relay point. But, that meant waking up at 3am-ish even though I wouldn’t be running until 7:20 at the earliest, and it would mean sitting out in the weather (whatever it would be) for 3-4 hours while waiting. DH and I decided we could find a better way than the recommendation, a way where I could “sleep in” until 5am or so and be in shelter.

Editor’s Note: You can view the Marathon Relay course map by clicking this link: 2012-WDWMarathonRelayMap. From here on out, I talk about the course and layout of WDW with the assumption that you are either familiar or are looking at this course map, so definitely reference it as needed.

Because DH and I had been at WDW for marathon weekend before, we knew which resorts would have transportation access despite the road closures. DH and I also consulted the course map before booking. We decided we should be at the Poly, Contemporary, or Wilderness Lodge to have easy access to the relay point. The Poly’s prices made us cringe, and Contemporary was booked up, so we grabbed the Wilderness Lodge. I had been wanting to stay there anyways, as I love the National Park theming and woodsy interiors. It ended up being even more perfect than we thought. We knew it was one of the few resorts that has unimpeded road access to the Magic Kingdom parking lots on marathon day. What we didn’t know is that RunDisney would have a bus shuttle going from there directly to the relay point! We didn’t know because no one seemed to know. We had asked about options at the expo and had only come up with the recommended plan. But, sure enough, when I walked out of the resort at 6am (I had allowed lots of time in case it took awhile to hail a taxi), a vested person (RunDisney or Disney, I don’t know) told me that the bus waiting right there would take me to the relay point. If I had known that the night before, I would have been far less worried! It ended up being easy peasy. I boarded the bus and sat in warm (and complimentary) comfort for around 15 minutes. A few more folks (spectators) boarded, and then, we were off! At the relay point, the bus was guided in, and I was dropped off literally at the entrance to the runner area. I stopped by Chip and Dale to take a picture first thing:
Phone Photo: Chip and Dale at the relay point
Then, I settled in for an hour’s wait. After about a half hour, I used the port-a-potty and stripped down to race gear, checking the rest under DH’s bib number at bag check. The first few relayer #1’s were coming in. The very first one was a guy dressed as a Chippendale! He had on black running shorts and a bow tie with collar. His relay partner was dressed identically. I also met up with a guy while waiting that was dressed as Stitch; his partner was dressed as Lilo. šŸ™‚

Shortly thereafter, I made my way to the relay chute and started watching for DH in earnest. I spotted his signature floppy head (he tends to rock his head back and forth when he runs, especially when he’s tired at the end of a race) coming down the track and scooted my way up to the front of the chute to greet him. He had set a new personal record! Yay DH! He quickly told me he had seen Mike Scopa and wished me luck as I headed out.

And I was off! It was around 3/4 of a mile of swap area before I officially was on the course. (The time in the swap area counted toward our total time, but not toward our individual times.) This means that relayer #2 actually does a bit more distance than relayer #1, especially if #1 is in an early corral. Just sayin’. šŸ™‚ The first part of my course was relatively boring. One nice thing is that, since relayer #2 is doing the second half of the marathon course, the water/powerade stops are frequent. As always, RunDisney did a great job keeping the water stations stocked and staffed, too. The sun was just coming out as I started, and it was around 55 degrees. (By the time I finished, it was 78 degrees and full sunlight.) I had decided to maintain a brisk walk until I got through Animal Kingdom (notoriously hard on knees) and then see how I was feeling and whether I was up to doing run intervals. (On my practice half, I started doing run intervals at mile 3 and kept it up through mile 7-8.) I wanted to play things safe given the heat and given that I was still a little rundown from my cold. RunDisney, of course, had fun character-themed stops along the course. I saw the Disney villains early on and lots of others along the way.

I encountered what must be the stinkiest section of WDW, near the intersection of Western Way with our course. It must be the sewage treatment plant and compost for the whole park. It smelled like poo and death for about a half mile. Ugh. But, not long after that, I was going through the castmember entrance into Animal Kingdom! And, right past that entrance, they had brought out some animals to greet us! There were owls and hawks as well as some adorable pigs on leashes, particularly this guy:
WDW AK - Rafiki's Planet Watch
A llama was also out on a leash. All the animals seemed super-excited, which made me happy and joy-filled as I continued on the path and into the park. Animal Kingdom wasn’t open for business yet, so we had it to ourselves with the castmembers. Unfortunately, shortly after coming into Animal Kingdom, I slipped on a discarded granola bar (still in wrapper) while on a downhill section. I didn’t fall; I caught myself with my left knee. But, it twisted my knee nastily. Fortunately, the body handles this sort of thing marvelously well. I didn’t even realize the severity of the sprain until after the race. I knew something was not good, especially when on the many banked roads that came after that point, but it was a bearable ache that didn’t seem to warrant special attention. I did some running, but the knee just wasn’t up for it, and given that I still had 9 miles to go, I didn’t want to push it.

I ended up maintaining a brisk walk throughout the race. Most of it isn’t that notable. I mean, it was awesome…but it’s nothing I need to write a ton about. The race organization was excellent. The runners were polite. I got LOTS of pats on the back and thumbs up from other runners (almost all of whom were much faster than me, since I entered the course in groups at DH’s pace) as well as shout-outs from spectators. When I left DHS, I was getting a bit overheated. I started dumping water on myself at water stops to cool off. At that point, the sun was out full force. It wasn’t terribly warm to most people, but to a Northern-trained person exerting themselves as I was, it felt pervasively hot. I started drinking a bit more water at each stop, too, which helped. Still, most of the time from the mile 24 marker through around 25 and a quarter was a blur. I know I got through it, but I don’t remember it very well. I remember forcing myself to slow down in pace, and I remember seeing Lou Mongello but accidentally calling him Scopa. (D’oh!) Then, I got to a point in EPCOT where I knew that Duffy would be soon, and I pulled out my phone to prep it for a picture with my favorite Disney greeting character.
Phone Photo:  Duffy during half-marathonPhone Photo:  Duffy during half-marathon
After meeting up with Duffy, I knew I was home free! And, sure enough, the Reflections of Earth theme from Illuminations was playing in my earbuds. The swelling climax came in the music as I was going by Test Track, and I started bawling. Now, keep in mind that my entire body was salty from sweat. Seriously, deer could have lived off of my skin. They would have loved me. So, when I started crying, I had no good way to wipe my eyes without making them sting! Fortunately, I had tucked some tissues in a baggie in my sportsbra, figuring I might bawl at the finish line, so I retrieved those (which slowed me down further…I can actually spot where this happened on my Garmin tracking because I slow down considerably while fishing them out). I’m sure the folks loved seeing me digging in my sportsbra as I trotted by. šŸ™‚ Anyways, I got myself cleaned up just as I came to the gospel choir at the 26 mile mark (.2 miles to go!). Yay! I started walking briskly again, and the tough part was that I knew DH and his parents would be at the finish line, but I didn’t know where…and lots of people’s names sound like my name when shouted, so I kept thinking I was hearing them when I wasn’t. I eventually gave up on spotting them in the crowds and focused on finishing strong. At .1 to go, I broke into a sprint and made it past the near-last timing bumper while sprinting (about 15 feet from the actual finish line). I raised my arms triumphantly at the finish line, but I smacked some other guy accidentally while doing so, and so my finish line photo is actually kind of crappy. šŸ™‚ Fortunately, DH and his parents were in the stands and got lots of good photos of me finishing. Here’s one of my favorites, showing my ZOOMY determination:
WDW Chip n Dale Relay - My big finish!
After that, I cried a bit more (not much, as I was out of tears from the first bawling session!) and grabbed water and powerade and started chugging it as I walked down the chute to the photo stop. My knee was screaming at this point, so after the photo, I tried to spot the post-race care tent, but I somehow managed to miss it and ended up in the bag check/exit instead. DH had checked a bag for me with sandals in it (I always like to change out of my shoes first thing after a race), and I was so hot and tired that all I wanted to do was get somewhere that I could sit down and rest for a bit. So, just outside of the exit, I plopped down in some shade and powered up my phone to call DH. He and his parents were nearby so he brought them over to me. DH’s Dad fetched me some ice for my knee while DH’s Mom took pictures of me and us.
WDW Chip n Dale Relay - Team Hare & Tortoise!
After I’d had some time to collect myself and change into my sandals, I started texting and tweeting and calling and whatnot. I also ate an orange, which was the most delicious orange I’d ever eaten. (It was so delicious that I’ve been craving oranges ever since and now have a few pounds of clementines here at the house that I’m eating!) My in-laws were super-supportive and awesomely patient as I gathered myself. As soon as I tried standing on my knee, I realized I had hurt it worse than I realized, as I could barely put weight on it. I eventually managed to hobble along with my icebag and stuff. They had parked very close to where I was, which was awesome, and as we were in my in-laws’ car, they just dropped us off at the door of Wilderness Lodge.

After heading to the room, DH and I promptly switched into swimsuits and headed for the pool. I showered off at the pool shower before going in, as I was still gritty with sweat-salt. Then, we went in the lovely cool pool and paddled around while sharing our adventures of the day. We finished with a good long soak in the hot tub, where we chatted with other marathon folks that had the same idea!

That evening, we headed to a family dinner in the suburbs, me hobbling along on my bum knee. On the way back to the hotel, we got an ace bandage for me to wrap it with, and we made plans to rent an ECV to tour EPCOT the next day. So yeah, I was that person wearing a marathon medal toodling around in an ECV! That’s fine, though…that had been part of the “plan B” for the weekend. I deserved spoiling! Oh, and the ECV was quite nice. I mean, I could have walked on my knee, but I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have been able to walk as well in the days after if I had, especially since EPCOT is one of the larger parks for walking. (A lap around world showcase is just over a mile, for reference.) DH’s Dad joined us in EPCOT, too, but he ended up not feeling well and leaving early.

So…that was my experience. šŸ™‚ I’ll do a separate post with photos and other notes about the trip in general, but that’s the part about the race. Yay! My next goal is to improve my 5K time considerably. I’m doing the Expedition Everest 5K at Disney in May, and I’m using that as my target for improvement.

Edited to add: Here’s a scan of my completed training chart. Awww… šŸ™‚
My Zoomy Training Plan (part 2)

Ways RunDisney could improve the Chip and Dale Marathon Relay in 2013+:

  • Have more merch for the relayers! I’m willing to place orders onsite and have it shipped to me, if you’re worried about over-printing. I’m also willing to buy in advance, but I want the merch!
  • Provide options to relayer #2 beyond going to the start point with relayer #1. It turned out that you (RunDisney) had a bus/shuttle going to the relay point from Wilderness Lodge, but you didn’t tell anyone about it! I’m sure other relayers would have used it had they known. I was lucky to stumble on it.
  • Have a big screen that uses the runner tracking to show a list of runner numbers that are about to come into the relay point. Queueing up to meet the relayer was a bit of a mess, as you had to find somewhere you could see them come in, watch for them, and then squeeze your way through people in the chutes. Also, the number ranges on the chutes seemed pointless. Just let people pick the emptiest chute to go into. It ended up okay this year, but if you have more people, the current system will not be workable.
  • This might not be feasible, but it’d be really cool if we had some official thingie to hand-off to each other (like a giant plastic acorn or nut!) for a photo op at the relay point. It could be optional so that the competitive folks could skip it, but the non-competitive folks could do a quick photo of handing off something between the partners. Just a thought. šŸ™‚
  • Have some snacks/breakfasts on sale at the relay point. I was shocked that I couldn’t buy or get water or a banana while waiting.
  • Have a planned way for the relayers to meet up at the finish line and do a picture together with a relay background. We really wanted a picture of both of us with our medals that looked official, and there didn’t seem to be a prescribed way to do that (though we figured out later that we could have managed it).

Tips for Runners Doing the Relay in 2013+*:

  • Stay at the Polynesian or at Wilderness Lodge. If you can’t do either of those, stay at one of the monorail resorts. From the Poly, relayer #2 can easily walk to the relay point. From Wilderness Lodge, there’s a bus to the relay point (or it’s around 1mi to walk). From any monorail resort, you can ride to the TTC and walk from there to the relay point (but keep in mind that monorails are less reliable on race day because of the spectator traffic, so allow extra time). Basically, from any other resort, you’re going to have to go to the start point with relayer #1, which means waking up at the same time they do, and then catch a bus from there to the relay point, which means sitting outside for however many hours it takes for relayer #1 to get there. We had good weather this year, but it can be sub-freezing at that time in the morning. Believe me, you’d rather be in one of the hotels until you absolutely need to get to the relay point…and that means Wilderness Lodge or Poly.
  • Plan for your runner #1 to come into the finish line area and meet up with you there post-race, if possible. Then, you can do a picture together with your medals. Runner #1 can get into the blocked off area by going back in through bag check, but they don’t make it really clear that they can.
  • Bring snacks, water, and entertainment for waiting at the relay point. Bring a blanket to wrap up in. There’s a bag check there where you can check it all in either runner’s name (ideally put it under runner #2 and have him/her return it to you later). You can also just hand off items to runner #1, but keep in mind that they’ll be sweaty and tired and potentially in no mood to grab your stuff from you. šŸ™‚

* These tips assume that RunDisney doesn’t change much from how it was set up in 2012.

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