Sunday, February 15, 2015

In a Hole in the Ground There Lived a Hobbit

I know it's been awhile since my last blog update, but I haven't been feeling all that chatty. My thoughts have been all over the place lately and I've been trying to get traction in one direction or another. The running certainly has not stopped and I'm on day 269 of the streak. I've averaged 5.46 miles per day this year. If you extrapolate that over the course of the year it would be 1992.5 miles which leaves me slightly short of 2015, but keep in mind we are no where near peak summer running yet.

Most of my running this year has been indoors on the dreaded treadmill. Other than while down in Florida, I have completed just 3 outdoor runs in Chicago. The first was at the inaugural Mikkeller Running Club event put on by Xaarlin. Next was the Cupid Dash at Fleet Feet where I got a green safety light to signal my singleness. Finally I hit the lakefront today in spite of a windchill of 2 and fresh snow. I wore my trail shoes, bundled up, and had a bit of fun with it. I brought my GoPro and snapped a few pictures before it got too dark to get decent pictures.


As for the wandering thoughts that need a little traction? I'm debating moving. My neighbors are frat brah wannabes who party and smoke weed all the time and it's interfering with my sleep. I also face a busy street. While I love my neighborhood and how close I am to everything, I'm beginning to turn into the crotchety old man yelling at everyone to get off his lawn. I've also bounced around the idea of buying somewhere, but don't know where I'd want to settle down. There is also the problem of down payment. While I'm very successful now, I had a rough patch a few years back to wipe out my savings. The neighbors are supposedly moving at the end of the month. If not, my lease is up May 1st.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Losing the Fear

Running your first race of any distance is a scary proposition. Doubts will creep into your head as the big day approaches. You'll wonder if you trained enough. Did you get enough miles in? Did you run at proper pacing? Did I get enough sleep? Did I eat properly?

Toeing the line those thoughts can be louder than the starter pistol. Some may be answered before you even get to that point. Maybe you didn't even get to the line because of an injury. Maybe you were still using the facilities with an upset stomach. Each race is a lesson and a chance to learn for the next one. There will be another opportunity after to correct the mistakes made and be better for the race.

Race day jitters still occur from time to time for me.Despite running 67 races in my lifetime I'll still occasionally panic a bit on my way to the start. I am most fearful during the actual race though. I'm afraid I'm not running hard enough and to the best of my abilities. I'm afraid I'm running too hard and will bonk before I reach the finish line. I'm afraid that something will happen and I'll have to drop out of the race. I'm afraid of quitting.

The only way to overcome the fear is to trust in yourself and trust in your training. You know yourself better than anyone and hopefully did enough in training to let you know what you are capable of. It also helps to know that humans are amazing creatures and can endure much more than we realize. We can go through a lot of discomfort and trauma before our bodies will shut down and you're likely not pushing that hard in a race.

Each time I try to tackle a new and longer distance there are new fears that pop up. I feigned confidence before my first half marathon. I missed my goal, but did really well considering the weather was much warmer than ideal. I grew from the experience and dropped my time by a lot the next race. I continued to learn and improve at the half marathon distance and then decided to run a marathon. I had a new distance to fear and similar experience to my first half marathon. I came back the next year and trained harder and smarter. In the process the half marathon distance seemed insignificant. I ran difficult half courses on back to back days without much trouble. The fear of the half was finally gone and I was comfortable letting loose with my next half marathon and once again made huge improvements in my time.

This past fall I wound up running 3 marathons in a 5 week stretch and 4 in 3 months. I learned a lot during those races about what I could endure and what I was capable of. I became better at pacing. I ran the 4th of those marathons on trashed legs that most people would considering running on and if they did they would go for a light jog. It was the slowest of the 4 marathons by me, but only by 30 seconds. I know now that I have new limits. I know I can pace better. I know I can run longer than a marathon so I can push myself harder during the race.

My fear of the marathon is now gone and I'm excited to see where that will take me this year. I have a lot of marathons on the schedule this year so they won't all be for time, but I can pick 1 or 2 of them and see what new limits I can reach without holding back. I do have a new fear though. I will be running a 50 miler on the Des Plaines River Trail in October. I've never run an ultra and have my work cut out for me. I plan on tackling this like I have other distances and hopefully come October I will no longer fear 50 mile runs. If not I'll do another while correcting my mistakes.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Dopey Challenge Final Thoughts

I've already been writing individual race recaps which you can find here:

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4

I wanted to take some time to give my thoughts on the experience looking back at things a couple of weeks later. The Dopey Challenge was a Beast of a challenge and took some time to recover from and properly reflect on.

RunDisney: The organization is world class. The races are not cheap by any means. The challenge cost over $500 to do, but you get what you pay for. The challenge comes with 6 shirts and you get 6 pieces of bling for finishing. Everything is well designed and of the highest quality. The races are so well organized between the logistics and entertainment. Everything was like clockwork. There were plentiful and well stocked aid stations full of energetic volunteers. The best was crossing the finish and having free reign to grab whatever water or powerade you wanted as well as having prepared snack boxes available for ALL the races. The boxes and tortilla chips, protein bars, sport drink mix, goldfish, and several other treats. There was music to pump you up everywhere including a lot of music from the movies I grew up on which I spent the week after humming to myself. Having photo opportunities with the characters was great even though I didn't take advantage. They even did a good job of varying the courses despite having basically the same start and finish for all 4 races.

GoPro: I bought a GoPro Hero 3+ during a Black Friday sale. I knew I had more ambitious running plans and wanted to become better about documenting it. I knew I'd definitely want photos or more from the Disney experience. I went in with barely testing out the camera. I did enough to learn how to use the camera and get my head strap and chest mounts to fit properly. I had not recorded more than a minute of video and that was done on the treadmill. I was just winging it when I got there. I learned some things and got enough footage to feel good about it. The camera takes much better video and photos than I could have ever imagined. I now need to teach myself how to edit the videos.


Taking a "Runcation": Taking a full vacation along with the running made everything that much more difficult. We were getting up at 3AM for the races and then still hitting the parks afterwards. We hit all the things we wanted to see and do and ate way more junk than we had any business eating. It was brutal. We were in Florida for a week and probably logged a good 60-70 miles walking on top of the 48.6 miles of running. To say I was spent by the time I got home was an understatement. I'm glad I took an extra day off work just to collect myself. It took a good week to get back to a normal schedule.

Disney: We decided early on that we would stay on resort to simplify things. It may have cost a little more but made everything much simpler later on. It was so nice just being able to go on the Disneyworld Website and having everything at your fingertips. I was able to get a package with the room, park tickets, and even a meal plan all baked into 1 price that I had until 60 days before arrival to pay off. The other perk of staying onsite was having the Disney Express do pick up and drop off for the airport. If we had arrived earlier in the day they would of even collected our luggage at the airport and brought it to our room for us. Leaving we dropped off our bags with the service guys and didn't have to worry about it until we collected out luggage at Midway. Disney offers several meal plans, but we went with the regular one which included 1 sit down restaurant, 1 cafeteria style meal, and 1 snack per day. Snacks could be coffee, fruit, bottle of water, cupcake, Mickey ice cream bar, etc. All the lunches and dinners came with dessert. If fully utilized it can be a great value. We found that it was just too much food for us. We wound up not using a few of the cafeteria style meals. It also didn't help that Vijay couldn't comprehend how meals worked and instead grabbed stuff that counted as snacks at meal time. We were almost never hungry for snacks so we didn't miss them, but you can get bags of candy or other treats to bring home with you on the last day for unused snacks. You can't take home unused meals. We'd probably skip the meal plan next time, but it gave us the change to try a lot of places and dishes and not worry about price.

My Birthday: So my birthday happened during the trip. I was a little distracted by having to do the whole marathon thing, but still managed to have a good time. Once we got to the park I got a button announcing to the world that it was my birthday. I heard congratulations and happy birthday everywhere all day long. We had our best meals on this day as well. For lunch I had snagged fast passes for the hottest restaurant at the Magic Kingdom - Be Our Guest. The restaurant was modeled to look like the interior of the castle from Beauty and the Beast. You walk in and order from touchscreens made to look like scrolls and then find seats. Servers roll around carts and bring the food to you using the RFID tag in the MagicBand to find you. I had a croque monsieur which was basically a grilled ham and cheese, but this one tasted spectacular. For dessert I had a chocolate sponge cupcake with "grey stuff" frosting. I didn't need to ask the dishes, it was delicious. Dinner was over at the Polynesian where we ate at 'Ohana. It was Hawaiian inspired food served family style. There was so much and it was so good. I need to figure out how to make the big skewers of meat like they do because they were amazing. I also got lei'd for my birthday. I would eat at this place again in a heartbeat. It would probably be better if I wasn't so exhausted.

Conclusion: Would I run the Dopey Challenge again? I think I would. It's not something I would do every year, but it was a great experience. I got to push myself to new levels running and see what I was really made of. I also got to be a big kid and have all sorts of fun. Who didn't grow up watching Disney movies? I kind of want to earn their coast to coast challenge now which is running at least a half marathon at both Disneyworld and Disneyland. It's not in the picture for this year, but next year I'd love to run the Star Wars Rebel Challenge in January at Disneyland and then hit the Wine and Dine Half Marathon at Disneyworld in November. There's even a marathon in Anaheim the weekend before Star Wars so that if I got in the weekend before I could knock California off the marathon list. It's unfortunate that after the one and only Disneyland Marathon they signed a non-compete agreement with the LA Marathon. The property there isn't quite as big as in Florida so the logistics are harder as well. M-I_C - see you real soon, K-E-Y - Why? Because we like you - M-O-U-S-E

Monday, January 19, 2015

RunDisney Dopey Challenge Part 4: The Marathon

Following the filling of our bellies at brunch we headed back to the hotel to get some rest. That didn't last too long as Jennifer and I decided to head to Downtown Disney to get some shopping in. She filled shopping bags and I walked way more than I probably should have the day before a marathon. After a less than great dinner we headed back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

Sunday morning was another early wake up call. After the close call at the half marathon we got on the bus to head to the race slightly earlier. I still headed straight to gear check and to my corral. This time the lines at the bathrooms near the corrals were a lot longer. I didn't have time to wait and so followed some other runners into the woods behind the bathrooms to take care of business. I once again managed to get into the corral just as the national anthem was starting.


After some brief technical difficulties with the start we were sent off to the largest firework display yet. Considering each corral up to P got the same fireworks they might have launched more than Chicago saw on the 4th of July. It was a little unsettling the first time to be off and running and hearing all the booming behind you as the next corral starts. The race followed familiar territory as we wound down the same roads and towards the magic kingdom. I'm not going to sugar coat things, the first mile was uncomfortable. The 2nd mile was a little bit better and I slowly loosened up from there I settled into a steady pace slightly slower than I ran for the half.



After the Magic Kingdom we were sent into and around the motor speedway. A local car club had brought out their cars for a display around the track turning it into a moving car show. There was even a stock car revving its engine for the runners. I soon realized I has quite the groove going on and if I kept it up I would come close to running my best marathon yet. This wouldn't last long as I faded a bit between mile 10 and the halfway point while also stopping to use the bathroom. I was still only 30 seconds off pace at the half.



The course next took us through a segment of the Animal Kingdom which brought it some new scenery. We ran right past Expedition Everest which I heard that many runners will stop and ride, but I was going through before the park opened and before the ride was open for the day. I wouldn't ride anyways since me and roller coasters don't get along.



The next stop after the Animal Kingdom was the ESPN Sports complex full of all sorts of athletic fields that we wound our way through. Sometime shortly after the halfway point I found myself with the 3:45 pace group. This proved fortunate as I was able to re-establish a rhythm and settle back into pace. Mind you 3:45 is faster than my marathon PR so I'm not sure what I was thinking. I hung with them and ran 8:3x pace for the next 4.5 miles which including winding around a track and the baseball diamond that the Atlanta Braves use for their spring training games. With about 10K to go I could no longer keep up with the pace group.



I really wanted to grit things out but didn't have anything left. The temperature had risen to around 60 and with 90% humidity which was sweltering compared to the low 40s of the prior 3 days. I had hit the 20 mile mark in 2:55:32 which meant I could practically coast the rest of the way and still hit a respectable sub 4:00 time. The next stop was Hollywood Studios. There were volunteers handing out chocolate which was a welcome boost of energy. It wasn't enough though as I started taking extended walking breaks through the water stations and any incline.





After Hollywood Studios it wasn't long before we returned to the Boardwalk and back into Epcot. This time we ran the World Showcase in reverse. They had high energy music blaring from the loudspeakers. I pulled myself together to try and finish strong. The home stretch was both familiar and alien as this was my first time running through the park in daylight. I finally reach the end and did indeed cross in under 4 hours. My time was only about 30 seconds slower than my NYC Marathon time which is saying a lot given how beat up I was from 3 previous days of racing and non-stop walking.


The Dopey Challenge was finally done. I did better than I could have ever imagined. I finished the 48.6 miles in just over 7 hours and 15 minutes and a pace of 8:58 min/mile. I had gone in fantasizing that I could run a 4:00 marathon pace which is 9:09 min/mile and wound up shattering that. After cleaning up it was back to the parks. I had gotten lunch reservations for us at Be Our Guest which has been all the rage since it opened and I did not want to miss it. It was our best counter service meal of the trip by far. Even better than some of the sit down meals. Eventually we dragged our tired bodies over to the Polynesian for a late (for us) dinner at 7PM. The place was 'Ohana and was like a Hawaiian version of a Brazilian steakhouse. We were brought family style lettuce wraps, pork potstickers, honey coriander chicken wings, stir fry noodles, and some sort of noodles. These were all pretty good, but then came the skewers. The pork was first and the best of the bunch. The marinade used was absolutely fantastic. The steak was next and good, but not quite up to par with the pork. Finally we passed on the shrimp. I did get a second helping of pork though. I didn't have much room for dessert but did have a few bites of ice cream. Vijay somehow had room for the bread pudding. We crashed hard once we got home.

Did I mention that this all happened on my birthday? I guess you could say I went all out celebrating.

Final Bling

Sunday, January 18, 2015

RunDisney Dopey Challenge Part 3: Half Marathon

After getting cleaned up after the 10K we made our way to Disney Hollywood Studios for the day. I figured since it was a smaller park we would be able to save our legs a bit. We did wind up racing a couple times to just barely catch shows as they were starting. That was the downside to being there during the slow season was the limited shows. We managed to squeeze everything in and got out of the park early. It was early to bed for us.

Clearly thrilled Xmas trees are up on Jan 10th.


We had made the decision to not arrive quite as early for the half marathon and that may have been a mistake. The crowds were much larger and it took the bus awhile to make it to the drop off. Luckily gear check was efficient, but with the crowds I couldn't find Jennifer or Vijay so headed towards the start corrals. The port-o-potties were lined up like no other in the start village. I remembered in my research that there were more to use by the start corrals so I join the stream of people and headed that way. It was a long walk to get to the corrals. There was a cheer station about halfway there if that tells you how long it was. I finally spot the port-o-potties and find a short line to jump in and do my business. I wind up making it to my start corral just as the national anthem was starting.

I was alone on this day. I was still in Corral C, but that was based on my submitted time. Jennifer and Vijay were "in a corral far far away" according to Vijay's race shirt. After determining that I couldn't tolerate the GoPro head mount for anything longer than the 10K I decided to give the chest mount a whirl. This did not work out as the video wound up being much to shaky. I apparently move my body a lot when I run. Anyways, after a much shorter time between corrals we were soon off.

It was a tight crowd to start the race so I just hung with things until it opened up. My first mile was by far the slowest of the day. I had some doubts about whether I would really pull off the marathon the next day. Soon I fell into a comfortable pace. We were running on the highways between parks and it would be desolate for awhile. I soon spotted someone who was wearing a picture perfect costume of Forrest Gump. He was discussing with someone how he wasn't running for time. I came up beside him and said let me guess, you just felt like running? Not long after I spotted 1972 Olympian and RunDisney consultant Jeff Galloway. He was pacing someone along, but before I could unhook my GoPro to try and take a picture his watch beeped and he started walking. Yes, he actually practices what he preaches. I was in a zone and didn't want to start walking so it was an photo opportunity lost.

Disney did try and make things interesting along the highway. There was a marching band out there and a pirate ship set up and they were blaring the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. It wasn't long before we hit the parking gates announcing the Magic Kingdom was up ahead. This was a little misleading since it was still a couple more miles before we would be in the park.

After a couple of miles with growing crowd support around the resorts as well as a big underpass that was fun to go down, but not so much on the way back up, we wound our way from a backstage area into the Magic Kingdom. We headed towards the Town Square before turning up Main Street towards Cinderella's Castle. Disney let supporters into the park to cheer on the runners and the crowds and noise were massive. Everything was completely lit up and almost blinding at spots. We took a right at the castle into Tomorrowland, around into Fantasyland, through the bottom of the castle, into Frontierland, and back out of the park. It was one of the most exciting mile or so part of a race I've done. I'm glad I have at least the shaking video since it all happened in a blur.





Leaving the Magic Kingdom we were about halfway done with the race. Something crazy had happened along the way. I found my legs. I was now hitting splits in the low 8s. I was still trying to keep a handle on things since I had the marathon the following day, but felt good. I also knew I was still running much slower that my PR time. I soon figured that If I ran well enough I might hit my 2nd fastest half time which isn't saying much since there is just over an 8 minute gap between my top 2 half marathon times. I've only run the 1 race since I really got myself into top endurance form.

Mile 9 wound up being sub 8 and I felt like I was getting a little ahead of myself. I got myself back into low 8s for the time being. We then hit a stretch of 3 overpasses in a row. These "hills" took a bit of the wind out of my sails. I partially walked the uphill thinking it best to save the legs. Epcot came into site and knew we were hitting the final stretch. I was close enough in time to give things  a go. I sped through the park and this being the 3rd day of having the finish line being in the same spot I knew where I wanted to kick things into gear. The final mile was my fastest of the day. The last quarter mile was at a 6:32 min/mile pace. I was no where near spent yet and that kick felt great. I still wound up finishing 26 seconds slower than my 2nd fastest half marathon time, but I was happy with a run that left me with energy in the tank for the next day.





I got changed and waited for Jennifer and Vijay to finish. Luckily they had handicap port-o-potty stalls since that gave me enough room to change without any problems. I wish all races had those. I chilled for awhile and set up shop near the DJ on lawn chairs they had out. I got to see the award ceremony before Jennifer finished. The top 2 women were teammates from the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project in Michigan and 3rd place was Jeff Galloway's daughter-in-law. Jennifer apparently had an emotional finish and I knew she was going to have trouble with the overpasses. Vijay came in a bit later and off we went to get brunch.

Brunch was a treat. We had reservations at Chef Mickey's and took the monorail over to the Contemporary. It was a little bit before we were seated, but it was worth it. It was a buffet of all sorts of delicious breakfast items. I pigged out on Mickey waffles, bacon, and country potatoes. I had 2nds and contemplated 3rds. The other bonus of brunch there is that the Fab Five come around for photos. My only clear shot is one with Donald. Stupid lighting didn't help.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

RunDisney Dopey Challenge Part 2: 10K

After the 5K we all got cleaned up and headed to the Animal Kingdom for the day. The park is huge, but with fewer prime attractions. We definitely did more walking that we had planned on. We did manage to leave the park around 4PM and headed back to the hotel to recover. I met up with my aunt and uncle who live near Orlando to have dinner. Soon after it was off to bed for another early alarm.

We got to the race far earlier than needed and waited in the cold while a DJ spun music and looked around at all the various costumes. After awhile me and Jennifer headed to the corrals in hopes of finding warmth huddled in the masses of people waiting to run. Alas that wasn't the case as people didn't pack as tightly as the day before. Once again we soon found ourselves off and running.

Each wave got fireworks

Shortly after starting the race Vijay spotted us and yelled out. Jennifer had a sweater she wanted to give to him to hold onto that wound up in the face of an old lady as she ran past him and then made a poor throw back. Yes, I caught this all on video.



I soon parted ways to run my own race. We once again turned down the highway, this time for an extended turn before returning to Epcot. At one point they had Anna and Else from Frozen on an overpass cheering on the runners. They were even blowing around fake snow.

The run brought us through a backstage area and back through the World Showcase for another night tour. The difference for the 10K is we took a detour and did a lap around the Boardwalk Resort which featured an actual boardwalk modeled after 1920s New Jersey. It was well lit and allowed for guests and families of runners to be on the actual course cheering on runners. Not that this is a problem in other sections as there are so many volunteers cheering as well as characters and lights to keep the runner occupied and moving.




Mike and Sebastian

I cruised through the run just trying to find an easy comfort level. After the race was done I would only be 19% of the way through my weekend mileage. The finish was much like the 5K, but this time I had to wait a bit for Jennifer to finish. Once she was done it was back to the bus and hotel to warm up.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

RunDisney Dopey Challenge Part 1: Expo and 5K

On a cold and blustery day I flew down to Orlando with 2 friends. We were lucky enough to fly on a day that fell in between various snowstorms. Our flight was still slightly delayed, but it wasn't bad. Our room was booked at a Disney resort and therefore we were able to take advantage of all that had to offer starting with taking the Magical Express from the airport to our resort. About an hour later we were checked in and settling into our room at our home for the week, Port Orleans Riverside. I had secured the room during a Disney sale and wound up with a Princess room which while had a childish flair, did put us in a building closer to the main building and bus stop.

 The next morning I woke up and did a quick run on the paths around the resort before getting ready and grabbing breakfast. We soon caught the provided bus to the expo. The expo was held at the ESPN Sports complex which also doubles as the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves and one high school competition after another. We were initially concerned with have to fetch packets and shirts from multiple buildings, but it turned out to be a breeze. The efficiency puts the NYC Marathon to shame. For the Dopey Challenge I went to one desk to grab 2 bibs which would be used for 2 races each, and then headed downstairs to grab a bag that contained all 6 of my shirts. Jennifer, who was running 3 races, went to 2 stalls upstairs before heading downstairs for her 3rd bib. The shirts for non-Dopey and Goofy challenge people were located in the 2nd building along with most of the expo sales stalls. Both locations sold official race merchandise where people were going nuts for everything from the House of Mouse.

 



After getting our fill of merchandise we made our way back to our hotel room and then off to the Magic Kingdom. I behaved and only bought a 48.6 magnet, Dopey collectible Disney Trader pen and a commemorative vinyl figure. I figured with the 6 race shirts I collected that I had enough clothes. I also wasn't fanatical enough to sign up for the virtual queue to just be able to try on the special edition Disney New Balance shoes. My friend did pick up a humorous Star Wars shirt that said "In a Corral Far Far Away" which was fitting since he started in the last corral of the half marathon. After perhaps too long of a day at the park that saw running all around and on our feet all day we finally went to bed.

Wake up came at 4:00AM the next day to catch a bus to the start line. It was a far chillier morning than expected with a windchill pushing the feels like temps into the mid 30s. The moisture of the Florida air helped give that air enough mass to help chill you to the bone faster. I wound up running in a jacket I didn't intend to use. We waited in the reunion area where a DJ was playing music and people were gathered around trying to stay warm, many in costume. We eventually made our way to the start corrals when asked. I had a bib for Corral A, but dropped back to C to run with Jennifer so I wouldn't have to shiver alone. We were surrounded by runners from southern states who were in various stages of panic about the weather. We just joked that this was spring-like for us. Soon our corral was led towards the start and off we went to our own set of fireworks.

I had an unshared goal for the event where I wanted to do the whole 48.6 miles in a sub 4:00 hour marathon pace or 9:09 min/per mile pace. I knew this goal was a bit aggressive given all the nature of doing 4 races in a row on top of spending all day at the parks. I ran the 5K with Jennifer knowing the pace would be far slower than my goal pace, but would serve as a good warm up and make sure I didn't injure myself in the cold. Little did I know that Jennifer had to pee the whole time and ran even slower than normal.

The course started out on a highway before heading backstage of Epcot and turning into the park for a run around the World Showcase. Since it was still dark out everything was lit up and amazing to run through. Disney still had up most of its Christmas decorations. We eventually were led out a side area and back to the Epcot parking lot for the finish line.  There was a bit of a wait for the bus, but after getting back and warming up with some showers we were off to the next park for the day. I used my GoPro camera for the first time during the race and am still working on editing the video. In the meantime settle for some screenshots from the video.