Thursday, January 26, 2012

Walt Disney World Marathon 2012

As with the half marathon on the day before, Day 2 of the Goofy Challenge comes early with a wake-up call just before 3 a.m. As yesterday, I quickly get dressed, grab my stuff and head down to the bus in front of the hotel for the trip to the starting area. After arriving I look for some friends near the bag check tent, although today I was unable to find any of them. Today I check in at the information tent and use a time from a previous race to get myself moved up to Corral B so I can better get out ahead of the crowds at the start of the race, using the logic that if I stay ahead of as many people as I can then the lines for photos will be shorter.

With a bit of fanfare the race begins early in the morning. I start trying to keep a moderate pace without pushing too hard, and I mix in 2 minutes of walking with every 10 minutes of running. Our first destination today is Epcot as the race runs through the front of the park and then out a side service exit near the World Showcase.

After that we are on the road towards the Magic Kingdom. For me this seemed like the longest distance between any two parks for the day. However, there were a number of entertainment choices in terms of characters, school bands and cheerleaders out to support the runners today. The weather was a slight bit cool, but very comfortable for running, especially for long distance running today.
Just before arriving at the Magic Kingdom we are running past the Disney World Speedway, where you can drive a racing car (for a price). All I got to do today was pose by the cars!

Given that the Magic Kingdom is later in the race it is light out when I come through on this day. I take the opportunity to slow down in this park to take several photos on my way through--and even see my friend Jeff on the way down Main Street.
After running through the park, and especially the castle, we make our way back out through the same service entrance as we did yesterday. However, unlike yesterday, we are heading all the way to the Animal Kingdom park. This route takes us along a long back service road which includes a backstage storage area for the Magic Kingdom, as well as several more photo opportunities to pass the time.

As I run into the Animal Kingdom I have two competing thoughts going through my head, the first is hoping that I will be able to ride the Expedition Everest roller coaster that I also left the course for 2 years earlier, the second thought is the realization that I am entering the park about 5 minutes before its projected opening time. This is a big surprise to me as I had never considered that I could have gotten to this point this early in the morning! As luck has it I am allowed into the entry gate as I approach Expedition Everest and join up with 3 other runners as we ride on the first ride of the day.

After finishing the coaster ride, I am off to run through the rest of the Animal Kingdom and then back out along the roads towards the other long portion of the race that is out of the theme parks, pausing for one photo just outside of the Animal Kingdom parking lot that I just had to have, although I do have to wonder just why my daughters think this was my best photo.... In any case I take this photo somewhere around the 18 mile mark and after I get back up to run I realize that I am feeling good and am still having a great time. In fact, I have never felt this good on a run of this length...ever. As I am running along up ahead I have a chance conversation with another runner, who was dressed as Tinker Bell. She noticed my Ironman Texas visor and told me she had done the race as well. It turns out that I had come all the way to Florida to run this race and randomly meet up with someone who lives almost down the road from me that I did not previously know. Here are Erin and I in front of a mile marker. We ran virtually all of the rest of the race together just chatting along with each other, as well as other runners, and just generally enjoying the race. Having joined up with Erin, and her friend Jerry that she was pacing through his first marathon, it made the next miles go by so much faster with the good company. Fortunately they shared my goals of having a fun time and we all stopped at all the photo opportunities along the way.

As we turn into the Hollywood Studios park we know we are getting into the last few miles of the race. In the Studios park the photo opportunities are fairly numerous and and can be easier to get as some of the other runners are just trying to get through the race. They are also, obviously, themed towards the movies.
Leaving the park means that we are entering the home stretch of the marathon. This is also the toughest part of the race for several reasons: it can be starting to get warm (though this day is not a bad day), you are pretty tired around 23 miles into the race (I'm still doing pretty good), and the crowd of many now walking runners clogs a narrow course path (OK, this one is still true). This part of the course runs along the path that connects Hollywood Studios to Epcot, by way of the Boardwalk and Beach Club Resorts. This area is full of supportive cheering crowds offering support to the tiring runners. As we make our way into Epcot and around the World Showcase, we all know are race is coming to a close soon. Around the 25 mile mark I run into my one problem on race day, which is some minor hamstring cramping. After a moment of walking and self massage, I resume running slowly and just try to enjoy the rest of the race. As we come towards the front of Epcot and pass the mile 26 marker we are ready to close out the race. I let Erin and Jerry go on to the finish as I pause for one last "must-have" photo of the Gospel Choir near the race finish.

Having just about concluded the most fun race of my life, I officially make it to the finish with an easy run for the last couple hundred yards and claim my finisher medals for the marathon and the Goofy Challenge. I finish the race in 5:30:45, improving my marathon PR from 6:11:36 from November 2009. More importantly, I had a great race with tons of fun on a wonderful day. I certainly hope I am able to do the Goofy Challenge again some day.

I save my last bit of Goofy Challenge fun for when I arrive home by adding a new sticker to my car window to help me remember all of the fun.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

New Year, Next Ironman

Even though I am in the midst of several early season running events, I am also beginning training for my second go at Ironman Texas. With this changed perspective my early training is including a greater emphasis on running for several other events prior to IMTX. I really feel like I am entering into these early IMTX preparation sessions having a better overall fitness level than I did last year. In the last 3 weeks I have included long runs of 26.2 and 18.1 miles, my cycling is ahead of last year in terms of speed across a distance (today's ride averaged 19 mph over 48 miles) and my swim times and swim distances are also ahead of where I was last year at this time. Overall, I should be looking at solid improvement across my Ironman training and racing compared to last year.

One of the big question marks is how I respond to the Rocky Raccoon 50 mile event in 2 weeks--an event which I have wanted to do for a few years, but also an event which I can honestly say that is tough enough that there is no guarantee of success, especially considering I will be cautious enough to try to not ruin my IMTX race preparation with this event. Even so, I am looking forward to this effort to continue to broaden myself and see how far I can stretch my abilities.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Coming and Going (with photos) -Year 5

Part 5 of a continuing series...(I had posted this a short time ago, but am having to remove and repost due to a technical issue.)

Last July, while I was continuing through my physical and mental recovery following Ironman Texas, I began a series of posts where I reviewed my fitness progress and achievements throughout each year since I made an effort to return to an active lifestyle after a long period of relative inactivity and weight gain. These posts can be found here, though you will have to scroll down to the bottom of the page and work your way up to follow the chronological order of the posts.

January brought some big changes to my life and training. First, I got under 200 lbs for the first time in over 10 years and maintained my sub-200 lb weight for first time in nearly 20 years. In addition, January brought an uptick in my training schedule as I began ramping up for Ironman Texas. My training ranged from schedules of roughly 9.5 to 15.5 hours as I began the mental and physical preparation for the Ironman. As February came along it seemed that 16+ hour training weeks were becoming normal for me. By this point a recovery week had close to 13 hours of training--a volume of training I might never have even had prior to the start of my Ironman training program. Looking back from my current point of view I wonder just how I stood up to adjusting to that schedule, but it is something that I did manage to handle. I expect most of that was having the mental attitude of planning to complete the journey I was on.

March brought some big training firsts, such as a personal long 112 mile bike ride for the first time. I also used some time to take a bit of a "break" by participating with a team in the Texas Independence Relay. The TIR is a 203.2 mile relay race from Gonzales, TX to the San Jacinto Monument. The course covers 203.2 miles in remembrance of the Texas fight for independence from Mexico in 1836. I used the term "break" partly in jest as I ran over 20 miles in 5 or 6 run segments during the 31-ish hours our team was running. I can be seen in the back of this photo with a few of my teammates as we stand in front of the San Jacinto monument.

April brought me the peak of my Ironman training as I covered over 554 miles of combined training. Ironically, I probably would have had even more training if not for racing early in the month. One of the unique features of the Kemah Olympic Triathlon is jumping off of a boat and swimming back to shore. I really thought this race was worth doing for this experience alone!

In the end, I had a good day at Kemah, even though I was a bit disappointed with my swim and bike times, each of which was more likely due to the windy conditions than due to any shortcoming on my part. I came away with my first PR of the year--over 12 minutes since last doing this distance the previous September. By the time I was done with the Kemah race, Ironman Texas was looming even larger on the schedule. Before the month ended I was hitting my longest week, with around 18.5 hours of training and doing my longest sessions of each discipline. I was also hitting the wall and beginning to burn out on training just as I was getting to the 3 week taper point before the race.

May brought with it the prime event of my year--Ironman Texas. I had a good start on the day of IMTX but that gave way to some problems late in the bike and on the run portions of the event that hampered my performance on that day. Even so, I persevered and made it to the finish. Even with those problems that I had on that day, it was still a great event for me and I was glad that I had done it. One of the most surprising things that happened to me during Ironman training was the loss of about 17-18 lbs, from the start of the year until race day.

My post IMTX rest continued into June, but by the end of the month I felt ready to get going again. Although I was not quite fully recovered I returned to triathlon by entering a relay with my friend, Karen, as she got her first taste of triathlon. We participated in the Mixed Relay Division of the Y Freedom Tri in Pearland, Texas. We each had a good day and scored a first place finish on our division. This was my first and only athletic award in my 5 years of being active, and while that felt good it felt better to share the experience with a good friend.

It was during these summer months where my training had wound down from the Ironman training levels that I experienced the mental growth that followed my physical loss. By that I mean that I still mentally envisioned myself as the much heavier version of myself from several years earlier. To be truthful, this was a hard thing to reconcile as I had been in the 250-270 lb range or more for a number of years before taking on an active lifestyle, and I suppose I had long been used to the idea of how I once looked and likely I mentally assumed that I would always look that way. To some degree, I am still surprised by my current image in photos and reflections as being "me". I guess I am still getting used to that image of myself, and am maybe not entirely convinced it will be permanent. As a matter of comparison let me share two photos taken almost 4 years apart on separate vacations to Disneyworld. One is from the early morning hours of January 1, 2008, where my daughters and I stayed until the park's 4 a.m. closing and the other is one of my photos from the Disneyworld marathon just a few days ago. The difference in weight in these two photos is probably about 85 lbs (I almost can't believe I am actually posting the older photo online! However, if my posting helps convince just one person that they can go from looking like I did to being able to reclaim a healthy and active lifestyle, then posting this is worth it.).

In August I was back at triathlon fully as I did the Bridgeland Sprint Tri for the second straight year. I think it may have actually somehow been hotter than the previous year but I was much better prepared this time around. My final time for this race was 1:27:00, beating out last year's time of 1:34:14 by over 7 minutes, even with the run lengthened by 0.15 miles. It may have been the first time that I ran every step of the run part of any triathlon and it definitely was the first time that I finished in the upper half of my age group in any running or triathlon event, something that I am happy to say that I continued for the remainder of the year.
In September I ran the Houston Olympic Distance Triathlon. This time I was on a specific mission for my first sub-3 hour finish at this distance. Even though the day was warmer than expected, I set out to beat my goal time. I followed my plan and though I had some issues (worse than expected swim, better than expected bike) I came through in a time of 2:58:12 to meet my goal.

As October rolled through I was well into preparation for my early November half iron distance triathlon at Oilman, but I took a break for a fun sprint tri with a few friends to do the first year Oktoberfest Tri in Fulshear, Texas. I went there to have fun, and ended up having a great race. I finished 9th in my age group and 22nd overall while doing this fun, local event with several friends from my tri group, OutRival Racing. To finish up my racing in October, I did a local 10 miler called the Ten for Texas. This is a generally well run event (though I had my issues with it this year) that I seem to manage to only be able to run every other year for various reasons. I was looking to run under 1:40 this year, which would have dropped over 15 minutes off my PR off this distance. Since running a time of 1:40 would equate to a 10 minute per mile average pace, I set out to start at a pace of 9 minutes per mile and expected to have some extra time in reserve as I slowed down. As it turned out I stayed close to the 9 minute average pace and with a fast 10th mile I finished in 1:29:50, well faster than my own expectations on this day.

In November I started with my second most important event of the year for me, the Oilman Half Iron Distance race. I came into this race trained, rested and ready to go. I was looking to put as much distance as I could between this year's finishing time and last year's finishing time of 7:07:43. I improved in each area from last year, including both transition times. I had some cramping issues late in the run and had to walk much more than I planned in the final loop of the 3 loop run, however, this year's time was still 6:21:22.5, 46:20.7 ahead of last year's finishing time of 7:07:43.2.

Finally, to close out my racing year, I ran the Run The Woodlands 5K on Thanksgiving weekend. I ran this race last year on Thanksgiving weekend and set a new PR of 27:05. Given all the training I've done this year I figured a new PR was close to a sure thing today.

My goal was to get under 25 minutes and possibly even under 24 minutes with my finishing time. I ran hard and steady, trying to run as hard as I could maintain without faltering over the distance.I found my time to be quite a surprise as I would not have anticipated that I would have been able to run a 22:43 5K, but I did it. This is a time that takes me back to my 20's in terms of speed, though I have far more endurance training now than I ever did then.

In the end I can only say that this was a fabulous year for me. I successfully completed new events, most notably the Ironman, and reached a lot of self-improvement milestones along the way. In addition, I redefined my sense of who I was and I got to know a lot of great friends along the way. I also managed to maintain my early year weight loss and build on it so that I finished the year just under 180 lbs (even with some weight gain during Thanksgiving and Christmas) for a weight loss of almost 24 lbs on the year. Also notable for the year was that I gained a new PR in every event I did this past year. My only regret for 2011 was that it had to end, since it seemed that I hopped from one success to the next.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Walt Disney World Half Marathon 2012

The Walt Disney World Half Marathon is the first half of the Goofy Challenge, with the second half being the Walt Disney World Marathon on the following day.

The day of the half marathon starts with an alarm just before 3:00 a.m. I quickly get dressed, grab my stuff and head down to the bus in front of the hotel for the trip to the starting area. The advantage of staying at a Disney hotel is that they will bus you from the hotel to the starting area. After arriving I look for some friends near the bag check tent. Although I am unable to find any of them, my friend Corinna sees me and we head to the starting corrals together, where we come across a couple other friends. From the left, that's Debra, Diane and Corinna in the photo with me. I position myself at the front of my starting corral as we get close to the race start so as not to get caught up with all the other runners. The race starts with a bit of fireworks and celebratory fanfare with the race mascot, Donald Duck, and then we are off.
The weather was cool this early morning, but good for running. Given the early 5:30 a.m. start of the first wave it was going to be dark for a good part of this race. After several miles we approached the vehicle entry going towards the Magic Kingdom. Coming up to the Magic Kingdom brought us to the best part of the race--running through the parks! We were able to run down a dark, but crowded Main Street with lots of cheering spectators urging the runners along. After clearing Main Street, we were able to run through much of the park, including Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Adventureland. During these areas there were numerous other photo opportunities as well. Finally, we exited the Magic Kingdom through a rear service exit and took a company road to head back towards Epcot. Along this road we traveled through some back areas and then alongside some of the resort hotels before making it back to the regular roadway system. Along that route we came across several other photo chances including these here.
As we head along the road back to towards Epcot I can see daylight arriving in the distance. During this run along the roads back towards Epcot there were a variety of entertainment options including characters, scenery and music. Here I am posing with the not often scene character Scrooge McDuck. Finally, we're getting back to Epcot for the last part of the race, which includes a short out and back through the park with an eventual exit through a side service exit and the finish line just after that. During this last bit I manage to get one last stop for a character photo before I make my final run towards the finish. At this point I probably have a bit more than a half mile left and realize that a PR is still possible for me and I stretch my legs out for a good finish. As it turned out my math was off a bit and that was a bit unnecessary as I finished with a time of 2:24:01, a PR of 2:44 from the Run Wild Half in February 2010.

Later that afternoon I met some friends for Dole Whips at the Magic Kingdom
and then later on I meet some more for ice cream at Beaches and Cream at the Yacht and Beach Club Resort before meeting up with my family for some time in the theme parks before heading back to the hotel room to prepare for the marathon the next day.