Some races are automatically an adventure and I'd say the Disney Marathon weekend races definitely fall into that category. Let's face it, you have to travel to Disney to do them, and you don't simply go to Disney to race, then go home.
And that's not it. The races start at about 0530 AM, and my 1/2 had 22K+ finishers (who knows how many started).
So I got up at 0310, which is the earliest I've been up in a very long time and two hours earlier than what I am used to.
I couldn't get a banana at the cafe in the resort the night before so I went with an orange, because the three things I eat every morning are, in order, a banana, 1/2 to all of a grapefruit, and then an orange. Now I had never raced after eating an orange, but then again, I have never raced after getting up that early.
You have to get up so early because although you're probably only about 2.5 miles from the start, it's very difficult to get to the start on foot. You have to take a resort bus to the race, and they come only every 5 or 10 minutes. It was cold in the morning, under 50 degrees at the time I went out to the bus stop, around 0330. I'd decided no throw away shirt, no gloves, just the EH kit, arm warmers, my IM Florida finisher's cap and my Tifosi sunglasses with the red lenses.
They have transportation coordinators at each stop. This helped us not get a bus in a timely fashion. The first bus that stopped was empty and was supposed to be going to the race, however, someone from a previous stop had gotten off the bus and left a bag. Rather than taking the bag off the bus and letting us get on, one of the two coordinator sent the bus, empty, back to the previous stop to deliver the bag. We were all waiting at the designated event stop, which is purposely separate from the little cabana bus depots where you wait for buses to other parts of the resort. Some people who arrived at the back of the line we were in decided they didn't want to be at the back of the line and went on to the depots and when the next bus came, half full, the coordinator waved it past us and to the depot, rewarding us for staining by the Run Disney sign with more waiting.
The next bus was empty, but the driver he wasn't sure if was supposed to be going to the starting line, so the coordinator waved him on. The people in front of me said something to one of the coordinators, who responded with a law enforcement style 'Excuse me, what did you say to me ?' that conversation did not go well, and included the coordinator telling the people that a bus was guaranteed to come every 5 minutes even though we'd now been waiting twice as long. We all walked sullenly to the depot.
I was sitting cross-legged at the depot, eating my orange, willing myself not to be cold. Two buses came. One was full. The next one fit up to the four people in front of me. Finally I got on the bus after waiting half an hour.
It took the next 50 minutes to drive two and a half mile. Yeah. I spent the entire time from 0330 listing to Evanescence's latest album. As the bus pulled into the parking lot I slipped into the bathroom to, well, TMI. you know. I wasn't in there long but as I opened the door the bus jerked and the lights went out. It was the hydraulics being bled out. I went right to the front of the bus and sure enough the door was locked.
Long story short I think I was the last guy off a bus at this year's Disney half-marathon. The buses park a good mile from the start so I started running, and I passed about 5K people just too get to the A corral.
They started the wheelchair people, allowed the elite athletes to get right on the line, then let the A corral get right behind them. So I was within a second or two of the start line when the fireworks and the flames shot up from the starting arch. I went out hard. I had an ambition goal, to finish 3rd or better in my AG in a race with 22K people.
I worked my way up through the other A corral people and locked on to one of the elite women. I was soon well out in the front, maybe 40-50 people total plus the wheelchair athletes. The wheelchairs were kind of in the mix and at one point to hold my line with this woman, one of the two who would ultimately beat me, i had to execute a somewhat dicey shaving pass around 5 of them that had me about six inches from the wheels and accelerating hard.
I was right at 6:00 for the 1st mile...
Of course, no of my other miles would be anywhere near that. By two miles I was at 12:05 and that progression would continue for the entire race. My 5K, 10K and 15K splits are part of the result so even if I want dot exaggerate about what I accomplished, I couldn't.
The course starts out pretty straight forward. You're running on an highway and you run for quite a while. The miles are marked with nice big signs that make your life easy. I was back and forth with people a bit but I was trying not to lock in an compete with anyone because as my coach says 'Your job is to do your job.' I let the elite woman go. I let a few other people go as well. Because I went out fast, every once in a while someone would pass me. At five miles I was still under 31:00 minutes and I really felt like I was running fairly well. I took a cliff shot and actually drank some water from the aid station rather than just dumping it over my head.
I was running farther outside my comfort zone than usual but this was good because I was planning on that.
I kind of got into a little bit of a back and forth with one guy but in general I was running alone, in fact, in a race with twenty-two thousand people I was running in a large gap (50 meters in each direction) for at least three full miles, which more than anything tells me that I was truly running my own race. At some point we wound our way into what I think was the Magic Kingdom and the thought came into my head that I had no idea where in the Kingdom I was- and I didn't give a frak. All I cared about was the back of the guy in front of me and running my ass off.
I do remember running through the Magic Kingdom. The truth is the in theme park areas were the most treacherous. Because they don't turn off the sprinklers, the pavement is wet in a lot of spots in the parks and that where all the twists and turns are.
Back out on the highway, I just ran, hard and steady. I took more gel at 10 miles and really, there's not a lot to tell. I was chasing other people's back, being passed by someone every two miles or so. I had my sunglasses on and the Evanescence was keeping me in such a groove, such a steady sort of raw emotional frenzy, that I was able to just keep running with no real stress. Yes, it hurt, and yes, I was berthing hard, but I wasn't in any distress. There'd been a point where about half a mile in I was struggling to stay calm, one moment where I thought about the thousands of runners behind me, but then I reminded myself this wasn't a swim.
Somewhere around 11 miles a spectator yelled 'You can do it' to me and I have to admit I wanted to stop and scream at her. I can do it ? I was trying to run in the 1:20s. Doing it wasn't a question. Crushing it was the question. The idea that I would see a half-marathon as some kind of challenge that I might or might not conquer, or that I would need positive affirmations just to achieve, was as laughable as it was infuriating. I reminded myself that person was trying to help and maybe didn't relate to my motivation.
We hit an off ramp and then we were headed toward Epcot. I got passed by two guys and I knew instinctively that I was not going to hold with them. I hit 12 miles at 1:14:52 or thereabouts and knew my chance of breaking 1:21 was slim. I was chasing these two guys, one of whom I was afraid was in my age group, and we were winding our way back through Epcot's parking lot to the finish.
I caught the time in the arch and it was high 1:20, way too high so I started running my ass off, like you can see it in the pictures, in my face that I was giving everything I had, and I cherish that because in that moment I cared, so much, about how I was running, well, you cannot beat that. I crossed the mat at exactly 1:21:00 chip time, a big fat 1 second disappointment but hey, I busted my ass for 13.1 miles.
I was 52. I was beaten by 49 men and 2 women. I placed 3rd in my age group out of 1215 men, and how can I complain about that.
I want to go back next year, and if I do, I'll be second in my age group and in the top 30.