*Warning – this is a long one!*
While I was stuck in Kelowna on my unplanned “snow day” I spent a big chunk of the afternoon working on my marathon race plan. I had a loose goal in my head of a 4:30 marathon, mostly because the McMillan Running Calculator said it should be doable based off of my Last Chance Half marathon time. I knew the conditions were going to have to be pretty optimal to try and hit that goal, so while it was in the back of my mind, I wasn’t basing my success in the race off of whether I’d be able to hit it or not. In terms of strategy to reach said goal? I didn’t want to start off too fast and then risk blowing up later, but I also didn’t want to start off too slow and have a tough time catching up. So the plan was to:
- Run the first 10 miles at a 10:20/mi pace, heart rate sub-160.
- Hold the pace over the next 10 miles, or if possible speed up to a 10:10/mi pace. Heart rate can build to 165.
- Over the final 6.2 miles hold 10:10/mi, or speed up if at all possible. Heart rate can inch over 165.
Before the Race
I was in bed and asleep at 9:00 on Saturday night, and awake right at 2:30 am on Sunday. I felt pretty well rested and ready to go. I showered, got my breakfast ready and headed out the door. My mom was participating in the marathon as well and my dad was our chauffeur/cheerleader/race photographer. He drove us to the start and I chowed down on my oatmeal in the car. Once we pulled in to the Epcot parking lot I said my goodbyes and good lucks to my mom and headed off towards the tents. If you haven’t run Disney before, you congregate in the Epcot parking lot for porta-potties, entertainment and bag check, but then walk a fair ways to the actual start line from there. As I was walking through the parking lot I noticed a familiar head of hair emerging from one of the cars. – Maddy! Not bad considering I wasn’t wearing my glasses! I hung out with Maddy and her friends at the start for a bit (and got to meet Marathon Chris) and then it seemed like it was time to head towards the start line.
Except Claire and Cranky weren’t there yet. I had promised to wait for them at the start so I wished everyone well, then found a quiet spot to sit down. I still had a pretty good amount of time before the race was supposed to start and the porta-potty lines were insane, so I figured if I waited for them (and until things thinned out a bit) I might be in better luck. As I sat there I turned on my iPod (the only time I ever had an intention of wearing it) and just tried to get my head in the right space for the race. I was feeling nervous, but having the quiet time on my own really helped a lot. Finally Angry, Claire, Cranky and I all congregated, grabbed a quick picture, then made our way towards the start.
We were all in different corrals and by the time I made it down to my corral the race was about ready to go. Since it had been cool out I wore my NKOTB sweatshirt and felt a bit sad as I donated it to one of the clothing bins. I wanted to hit the porta-potties again but didn’t think I’d have time. A few people were rushing and trying to jump the fencing to get into the corral and I saw one fellow who didn’t jump very well and got a bit stuck half way over. Not a good way to start the race I’m sure…
The Race – The First 10 Miles
The marathon has two different starts just to help with congestion on the course. I was at the back of the blue start since my predicted finishing time was 4:30 or less. Everyone over that was over on the red start and the courses would converge just after 3 miles in. They sang the national anthem and I started to get a bit teary eyed. I know, it wasn’t my national anthem, but it still made me feel pretty emotional! Fireworks went off right overhead at the start of the race. Pretty spectacular stuff!
I decided to wear a Canada shirt for the race because last year I had noticed that a bunch of folks got huge “Go Canada!” cheers with their patriotic shirts. I figured it would be a lot easier for people to shout “Go Canada!” at me rather than trying to read my name on my bib and shout it out and I figured I could use the enthusiasm. I saw tons of other people with the same idea and if at all possible I tried to run with them a bit to ask where they were from.
The race started off on the highway and we headed towards Epcot. My dad was on the side of the highway and even though he let me know exactly where he was I couldn’t spot him. I tried to be mindful of my pace right off the bat, but as soon as I started running the humidity smacked me in the face. I was definitely not used to that. I aimed to keep a 10:30/mi pace if possible since 10:20 seemed a bit optimistic.
We entered Epcot for the first time around mile 2. This is one of the highlights of the race since it is dark and the park is empty save for your fellow runners and the wonderful cast members who are out and cheering you on. As you run around World Showcase the lights are flashing and music is pumping. As I ran past Morocco I decided to take advantage of the bathrooms since I had missed the porta-potties at the start line. My heart rate was at 164 already by mile 2. Definitely higher than I expected it to be, but I thought it might be nerves and might adjust. So I just went with it…
Once the two courses converged things got a bit congested. There were so many people running around the same pace as me and we hadn’t had enough time to quite spread out yet. Once we exited Epcot it felt like things were so crowded until we hit the main parking entrance for the Magic Kingdom. We’d be running on a single lane on-ramp or off-ramp and it felt like it would take too much energy to try and get past everyone. My pace crept up over those first 6 miles and once things opened up after that I knew I’d need to speed up a bit if I was going to try to keep a 10:30 pace. I must have weaved around a fair bit because each mile marker started to get further and further off… Before I knew it we were at the Transportation and Ticket Centre which is a huge spot for people to cheer you on at. You get so much energy running through here that it starts to get you excited for Magic Kingdom around the corner. I even managed to catch my friend Anne here and she gave me a huge cheer. Once I left TTC I tried to give my dad a call to let him know I was almost at the Magic Kingdom, but no luck, he couldn’t hear his phone ring.
I ran up to a lady that was wearing a Vancouver Half Marathon shirt to find out where she was from. She was not overly chatty, it looked like she was hurting pretty badly already. Yikes.
I crossed the 10 mile timing mat at 1:46:42 (10:40/mi), although Garmin clicked off 10 miles at 1:44:43 (10:28/mi). By this point in time my heart rate had climbed to 175. It would stay in the 170s (or higher) for the rest of the race.
Miles 10 Through 20
As soon as you run into Magic Kingdom it hits you – the crowds cheering you on are huge, music is pumping and your adrenalin is just flowing. Even though my dad couldn’t hear my phone call he had a good idea of when I should be arriving and we managed to spot each other on Main Street. From there you run into Tomorrowland and the characters are out in case you want to stop for pictures with them. Last year I stopped for a picture with almost every single character. This year I just wanted to run, so even though I had my camera with me I didn’t stop for a single picture throughout the race. I just hoped that the race photographers would be able to catch a few good shots of me instead!We wound through Fantasyland and through Cinderella’s Castle. It can get a bit hairy here as people elbow you and cut in front of you to try and get the perfect picture of themselves running through the castle. This year you could run down the ramp out of the castle, then go stand in line at the bottom of the castle to have your picture captured by a photographer waiting down there. You can see a few folks behind the yellow cones in the picture below heading off to do just that.
From here you run through Frontierland, through the backstage, and then you are out on the road for several miles from here on out. There was a water stop just before leaving the Magic Kingdom and I walked and pulled a gu out from my waist pack. I somehow must have hit my Garmin when I did this and it took me a good 8 minutes to realize what I’d done. At the time I didn’t know how off my Garmin was, especially since I had done enough weaving on the course to have accrued and extra quarter of a mile at least by this point in time. I also didn’t know when I’d crossed the start line so I felt a bit in the dark about where I was at time-wise from here on out. Oops.
Once I left MK I gave Angry a call since he planned to be waiting for me to run past the Polynesian resort. We spotted each other and he asked how I was feeling. I gave him a big smile and told him I felt great. And really, I felt just about as fresh as a daisy at this point in time. There is something about this marathon course that causes a bit of unraveling once you cross the half way point though. Last year in the Goofy this was where I knew I would pretty well be walking the rest of the way if I wanted to finish. This year that was about when the sun came out and started to heat things up. Well, at least they heated up for this girl from up north. With no real reprieve from the sun things got a bit tougher. You exit MK at mile 11 and don’t hit another park – Animal Kingdom – until after mile 16 so it feels like you are running on boring roads for a long time. Everyone gets significantly quieter through this stretch. I also got a bit nervous as I approached Animal Kingdom since this was around the distance when things started to go wrong for me at Quebec. Despite the heat and the slight amount of slowing down that I was doing, things were feeling pretty good still.
You don’t have quite the same amount of buzz or get the boost from running through Animal Kingdom that you do running through MK. The only way to get to the park is by car so it isn’t quite a popular option for spectators. As I was running through the park it hadn’t opened yet. In some ways it was kind of neat to be running through the fairly empty park. The shot below is from mile 17, and I’m pretty happy that it looks like I’m running properly and not doing the marathon shuffle just yet!
At mile 18 I exited Animal Kingdom and it was straight highway until sometime after mile 22. I was still feeling the heat and was just sweating buckets. After my hydration disaster at Quebec City I decided to carry my own fluids with me. In Quebec my strategy was to drink one cup of water and once cup of Gatorade at every aid station. The cups of water were so much bigger that I definitely got way too much water and was lacking electrolytes. I wanted to be more in control on this race, so I loaded my Camelbak up with about 1 L of nuun. This way I avoided the water and drank when I wanted to. The 1 L wasn’t enough to last me the whole race, but I think this strategy worked out really well.
I crossed the 20 mile marker at 3:33:18 (10:40/mi). Hey, those are pretty even splits!
Miles 20 through 26.2
I did make an attempt to speed up a bit after crossing 20 miles, but it didn’t last for very long. Ultimately I was happy if I could keep the same pace or not slow down too much. In comparison I felt infinitely better than I did at this point in my last two marathons. I never hit a mental or a physical wall, I was just slowly tiring. You enter Hollywood Studios just after mile 22 and from here on out you are off the highways. We passed through a chocolate stop just before mile 23 and I grabbed a small Hershey’s bar to save for later. Except it kind of melted and turned a bit gross. Oops. We ran out of Hollywood Studios and down on to the Boardwalk towards Epcot. Even though I was tired I was passing people all over the place. That was a huge boost!
Then just as I entered Epcot there were a couple of guys from the Canadian pavilion cheering us on. When they saw my Canada shirt I got huge cheers from them, which was awesome. Then it was around World Showcase for one last time, past Spaceship Earth and on to the finish line. I even had a little kick left in me for the run to this finish line. I was pretty sure I was going to have some ugly finish line shots as I was really gutting it out, but I guess the camera guy snapped at the right moment…!
When I finished I really had no idea how I did. I just had a general window that I knew I fit between – somewhere between 4:36 and 4:50. I was hoping I had made it in under 4:45, but ultimately I was just really happy with how I ran the race since it was such a drastic improvement over the last two. After all, I really ran this one, which was my goal all along. When I got back to the hotel my results were up though (and have since been adjusted by a second):
- 4:44:51 (10:52/mi)
- Overall Place: 5501/14953
- Gender Place: 1909/7144
- Division Place: 329/1167
I estimate that I probably ran nearly an extra mile just with weaving around the course. After all, even though my Garmin was stopped for a full 8 minutes I still measured 25.83 miles, which would mean my average pace was closer to 10:30/mi. I could analyze my pace graph until the cows come home – should I have walked more in the beginning and would that have saved me from slowing down in the end? Or did I take advantage of the cooler temperatures and would slowing down have been inevitable once the sun came out?
Post Race Thoughts
The bigger question for me is, is my heart rate accurate during this race? Was I really red lining it for 2-1/2 hours? Or was my reading just messed up? When I did my VO2 max test back in September I conked out at 181 bpm. It is hard to believe that these numbers are accurate, but…who knows?
Anyhow, at the end of the day I’m really proud of the race I ran. I had a good time out on the course and I believe I ran a good race for the day. After walking most of the marathon last year I really wanted to come back and properly run this course. Mission accomplished, and a big PR achieved in the mean time!