Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Race Reflections

I've had a little over a week to reflect on my first race and half marathon adventure.

Looking back from the moment we decided to sign up, to right now, this whole race experience was a great one. It was organized, friendly (for the most part) and a lot of fun.  I'd love to do many more runDisney events and definitely plan to in the future!

I told you all about the race day itself in my trip recap. But after all of the thinking I've done, I wanted to post a little bit more about it. I didn't get too much into my personal thoughts. I feel like I shared the experience, but not the entire backstory. After considering it, I've decided to share my thoughts.

My Reflections
I'll spare you guys the long story of the race all over again. (If you would like to read it, you can click the link above.) The short story is that I got behind pace when I made two stops. Then, I didn't realize the pacers had passed me. When I found out, I hauled major butt trying to catch up. But I couldn't do it before I started to seriously overheat.  
Not finishing the race was a disappointment. I'm not going to lie. But, I'm also not going to pretend that I definitely thought I would finish. There's definitely a "power of positive thinking" element, but I didn't train for this race half as much as I should have.  My head got the better of me, and I was afraid. My biggest fear was, and always will be, my knee. This requires a little bit of a backstory...  
I had knee surgery when I was a freshman in college. I tore my MCL my senior year in high school without realizing it. By the time I finished it off playing volleyball in college, there was only so much that could be done. I went through the MRI's, tests, doctors, and finally had knee surgery on it. The doctor couldn't repair it. Over 6 months of damage had shredded the tissue, so he took it out. I was left with 30% of my meniscus.
Getting back on my feet after knee surgery was a lot more difficult than any of us expected. It was supposed to be a routine procedure. I'd be walking within 2-3 days. When there was no way to repair it, I ended up unable to walk for about 6-8 weeks. I spent the first week or two in a wheelchair. Then, I relied on the crutches for weeks and eventually forced myself to wean off of them.
Of course, I had to go to a trainer for physical therapy. Since it happened during volleyball season, I could still go to my college's trainer. 5 days a week I went down to the gym during volleyball practice hours and sat in the other room doing strengthening exercises for my knee and icing it. Eventually, I had to do the exercises in my dorm room because he needed to focus on the winter athletes. I didn't do the exercises as often as I should have. (A mistake that I am still paying for 10 years later.)

So, my right knee is damaged goods. My doctor had told me that by the time I was 30, I could very well have full blown arthritis in my knee. Well, I'm currently 29 and this November marks the big 3-0. Not exactly what I wanted to count down for my 30th birthday. The good news, is that my knee isn't any worse off than it was 10 years ago. I can still feel when it's going to rain or snow. It still goes out from underneath me occasionally and I'll sometimes get a stabbing pain on the inside here and there. But that's the "new normal" for my knee.

The reason that I'm going on this tangent, is that running is the last thing I should be doing. My doctor didn't forbid it. He just cautioned me since I basically have no padding in my right knee. There's not much there to protect my bones from scraping each other. And I've always hated running. I only did cross country in middle school to get in shape for basketball. Other than that, running and I haven't been close.

You can imagine my initial thoughts when Eliot told me he wanted to run a half marathon. He's crazy. Then, he asked me if I'd like to do it with him. Ok, now I know you're crazy.

But, after a lot of thinking about it, I decided to at least consider it. After Eliot told me about the 16 minute pace, I was starting to feel a little better about trying it. He assured me that plenty of people run/walk the race. Jeff Galloway who worked with Disney even taught runners to train that way. It slowly started to seem more feasible. When we told my parents about it, they wanted to join us. Then we all convinced my brother to do it. And at that point, I was like, why not? I might as well try it!

So, I agreed to sign up for my first race. I had big ambitions to do the half marathon, but when I found out that there was going to be a 10K, I was sold. After all, I'd walked/jogged over 6 miles one random day at our old apartment complex. I wasn't training then at all. I just went to the gym one night and went over 6 miles while watching Once Upon a Time and Revenge. (And, even better, I wasn't sore the next day at all!) If I could do that, I probably could do the 10K at Disney.

Unfortunately, my dreams of doing the 10K were dashed as soon as runDisney opened their 2014 marathon weekend registration. Mom and Dad were on hold forever and when they got off the phone, it had already sold out. I didn't even the chance to try to register for it. So, after a few weeks of re-thinking our plan, we set out to do the half.
Throughout the summer, Eliot and I "trained" on and off. He definitely put in more work than I did. He often ran during his lunch break at work. Eliot and I walked on the local trail a lot. And I even went out a few times by myself to attempt some interval training. When it got too cold to train outside, we got gym memberships to Planet Fitness. Looking back now, neither of us went as much as we should have. Eliot usually went about 2-3 times a week. I only went a few times in the months leading up to the race.
The closer we got to the race, the more I started to panic about my knee giving out. I started to question why the heck I was even doing this to begin with.  Ironically, it never was my knee that bothered me after working out. I got the usual shin splints, but it was the pain going through my lower back, hip, butt and leg that really bothered me.  
I came to the conclusion that something was wrong with my right side. I'd hurt it back in January of last year when we were moving from Massachusetts to Maine. At the time, I just thought that I'd over done it and that was causing the muscle spasms. But when we went to the gym, I'd occasionally get a tight muscular spasm in my butt and thigh.
It eventually got to the point where I was afraid of doing more damage at the gym. So in the weeks leading up to the race, I stopped going. Was this the wisest decision? No. Will I make the same decision while preparing for another race? Hell no!
I didn't feel completely unprepared going into the race. When I had been working out regularly, I could easily walk an 18 minute mile without even trying to jog. And I knew that we walk an average of 6-7 miles a day while we're at Disney parks. I was hoping that if I could keep a steady walking pace and add some light jogging in, that I'd make it. It also wouldn't over-do it as much on my knee.
And my plan actually worked for the most part. I went 5 miles into the race alternating between walking and jogging. Would I have made it the entire 13.1 miles? Probably not. But I wasn't really expecting to either. Before the race, I reminded myself that I originally wanted to do the 10K. Even if I only made it 6.2 miles into the half marathon, I'd have accomplished what I originally intended to. Plus, the 6.2 miles would have at least gotten me to Cinderella Castle, which is what I was hoping to achieve.
2014 WDW Half Marathon Map Photo Credit: RunDisney
In the end, I made it to mile 5 before I was forced to end my race. I fell behind pace after making two pit stops.  (I spent 10 minutes waiting for the restroom. Then, I spent another 5-7 minutes getting Vaseline for my chaffed arm and then washing it off because it was all over me.) If I got back the 16 minutes I lost, I'd have gained another mile. You live and you learn. Next time I'll bring some medical tape, tissues and Vaseline with me. And if I have to pee, I'll wait for some restrooms where there isn't a mile long line!
I know deep down that if I hadn't lost all of that time, I would have made it to Cinderella Castle. I was hell bent on making it that far. And I would have. After that, I guess I would have seen where I was at. I'm pretty sure that with the heat and humidity, I wouldn't have made it the full 13 miles. But who knows!
In the end, I'm really happy it wasn't my feet, knee, hips, legs, butt or back that caused me to drop out. I had a lot of things working against me, but none of them flared up during the race. I pictured a million other scenarios: mostly nightmares about my knee giving out and having to have another surgery. Maybe my knee is actually in better shape than I thought. This experience certainly made me feel more confident in body and it's abilities.

The other thing that I'm incredibly proud of is my mental determination and strength. I spent the entire first mile thinking: what the hell am I doing? Why did I sign up to do this? I'll never make it to the first mile marker with these shin splints. What possessed me to sign up to do a half marathon! I'm not a runner! I hate running! What made me think that I could do this?

Then, I went 5 miles. And I could have gone more.

Somehow, I shifted my mental thoughts to positive ones. I concentrated on the race, on the people around me, on the landmarks ahead of me and on all of the things I'd already passed. I'm here doing a race at Disney! Ooh, look at that cute outfit. I can't wait to come up with new outfits for my future Disney races. Maybe I can convince Eliot to dress up with me? There's another mile marker! Another one down! There's the Magic Kingdom parking entrance! Only a little bit farther and I'll be near the race track!

What amazes me is how quickly I went from the worst thoughts possible, to being incredibly optimistic. I didn't even listen to my iPod since I didn't want to stop long enough to take it out of my bag.  I had been counting on the upbeat music to keep me focused on moving ahead. Instead, I was left alone with my own thoughts and determination. I'm really proud of myself.  
Now that I've had time to soak it all in, I'm even more proud that I signed up for this darn thing to begin with! I remember hating running during warm ups in high school volleyball. (And we didn't go anywhere near running a mile!) And now, here I am, voluntarily signing myself up to do a half marathon! And I didn't back out of it either; I tried to do it!
I'm still not a huge fan of running. I don't hate it like I did before. However, I wouldn't say that I love it either. I'm somewhere in between. I think I'm going to grow to like it more as I do more training, get in better shape, and do more runDisney events. I do know one thing: doing a race at Disney is the only thing that would have ever gotten me to try it.
I'm not a runner! I hate running! What made me think that I could do this? And maybe I need to re-evaluate my thinking. No, I'm not a professional runner. I never will be. I'm not as good as some of my Facebook friends. I'm not as good as Eliot is right now, or my brother- who didn't train at all and still finished with the same time as Eliot. But, I am trying. That's better than the alternative of being a couch potato and not trying at all right?  

And maybe I am a runner. I'm never going to be the fastest or the best. But if this experience has taught me anything, it's to never doubt myself. I had a lot of doubts about this- before, during and after the race. In the end, I tried it. I went 5 miles. And I actually liked it. I actually liked running. Maybe I really am a runner.

Looking back, this whole experience was a great one, even if I didn't finish the race. I put myself out there and tried something I never thought I would do. I overcame both physical and mental obstacles. I tried my best. So even though I didn't finish the race, I know I earned my medal. I don't feel like a farce wearing it anymore. I'm really proud of what I did accomplish.

This won't be my last runDisney event. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the community feeling. I hope to do a lot of the RunDisney races. And if you're waffling back and forth about doing a runDisney event, I highly recommend them! They're a lot of fun!!! Take it from the girl who "hated" running!
Looking Ahead

Eliot and I had a great time at the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and we plan to do many more runDisney events in the future. There are so many options to choose from: 5K, 10K, Half, Full, the challenges and even kids races! We've even talked about going someday when we have kids so they can participate in the kids races. They really are a great experience for runners at all experience levels. Disney keeps adding more events and more options. They seem to be gaining popularity as each race fills up faster than the last!

If I do another half marathon in the future, I think I'm going to focus on be the Tinker Bell and the Princess races.  Someday, I'd like to earn a Coast to Coast medal, so I'll have to do a half marathon at Disney World and Disneyland during the same year to achieve that. And obviously I'm drawn to the Princess, Tink and Pink Coast to Coast medals. (Shiny and glittery and girly, oh my!) I love my Donald medal and had a great experience, but I think I'd prefer the princess or Tinker Bell races. I also like how the races are geared more towards women. And hello awesome running costume opportunities! These two races really sound like my cup of tea.

Originally, Eliot and I were hoping to attend WDW Marathon Weekend, the Tinker Bell Half Marathon and the Princess Half Marathon in 2015. Those were plans that we made a while ago, before I spent all of 2013 not working. I'm not complaining; I had a great year. But if we're going to try to attend a few race weekends, we'll have to make sure we work extra hard this year! (Challenge accepted!)

My Mom has decided she wants to do the Minnie 10K next year. (That's the race that she, Dad, Jeremy and I were all trying to sign up for this year. We only pushed ahead with the half marathon because the 10K sold out so fast!) I think the Minnie 10K would be the perfect opportunity. It's a good distance, but not quite as intense as the half marathon. Dad and Jeremy both finished the half marathon, but they haven't decided what they'll do for next year's races if they choose to participate. We're really hoping that we'll be able to attend WDW marathon weekend next year. So if we can pull it off, I'll do the Minnie 10K with my Mom in 2015. (Time to revive my Minnie costume!!!)

I'm still hopeful that we'll be able to pull off the Princess weekend too.  But it's a little bit of a long-shot. Ok, it's a big long-shot, but a girl can dream right? There's the 10K and half marathon that weekend. If you do both of those, you get a Glass Slipper Challenge medal. (It's 19.3 miles in 2 days.) I'm so envious of the medals this year, especially after seeing them at the runDisney Expo on our trip!  I'm determined to earn them all someday! Obviously, I'll really have to bust my butt to train for it! But I know that it's possible as long as I actually follow my training plan the next time around!

Eliot's already hoping to do either the 10K and half marathon or the Goofy Challenge (which is the half and full or 39.3 miles in 2 days) for 2015! Someday, his ultimate goal is to do the Dopey which had it's inaugural year this year. It's a 5K, 10K, half and Full in 4 days... or 48.6 miles!!! Whoa! I don't think that he cares as much about the princess medals. But I know he really likes his Donald medal. (Donald and Eliot actually share a birthday so that means more to him.)

We're also hoping to have more friends and family join us in the future!  Eliot's trying to convince his Dad to do a race with him.  And I'm really working on trying to get his sister, who loves Tinker Bell, to do the Tinker Bell 10K with me someday.

All in all, the whole race experience was a lot of fun. I'm really looking forward to many more runDisney events and experiences. This is definitely only the beginning!  °o°


  1. You really should be proud..I would be!

    1. Thank you so much! I am very proud and I can't wait to do another race! Now I'm even more motivated!!! :-)