Packing for this race was no simple matter because the race days temps were predicted to be quite cold for Florida. Pack, unpack, repack. Stare at my running wardrobe wondering what to bring. Should I wear those jeans with the holes in them as my throw away pants? Stare at the bathroom searching for any vital race day supplies. Body glide? Would I need make up for a celebration dinner? My eyes wandered across my Live Strong bracelet. Holly and Sherri immediately came to mind. I quickly donned the bracelet in honor of them and to remind me to Live Strong on race day.
For each race I have 3 goals:
1) Finish, preferably without injury regardless of time (satisfied if disappointed)
2) Goal time, in this case, 2:45 for 13.1 miles (pretty darn happy)
3) The pie in the sky time. 2:35 (beyond belief)
The race plan was simple: start out slow, build to a fast pace. You can see the details here but the key to my plan was to keep the pace slower than 12:00 per mile until mile 9.
Friday was a busy day. Drive to the expo. Get our packet. Check into the ultra cheap off property hotel. My friend, Molly, and I had a great dinner with Nancy, Jeanne, and a few other penguin runners that night at the Polynesian. It's nice to relax with a small group similarly minded athletes before a big race. I kept planning to mentally walk through the race at some point. Apparently fate thought that would be a bad idea. Our door would not open when we returned to the hotel. The electronic locking mechanism would not open the door. A very nervous 30 minutes passed as the assistant manager convinced the owner that we HAD to get into our room that very night because we were racing early in the morning and ALL our race clothes, numbers, and shoes were in that room. By the time they opened the door, we just wanted to go to bed.
We needed to be on Disney property by 3:30am to avoid road closures. 2AM is very early. Again, fate kept me from obsessing about the race. Our door, which would not open last night, was now permanently UNLOCKED. The door would close but not lock. The night employee did not know how to lock the door. Sigh. It's 3:15AM. We have to go. Hopefully no one will steal our clothes before the manager arrives.
While waking up at 2AM sucked, driving to the start means you can sit in your very warm car until the last minute. During this time, I decided not to race Disney again. Maybe ever again. I love spectating but waking up at 2AM for a 6AM start is too much. Maybe I'm getting old. We stayed warm until 4:15AM at which point we shivered across the parking lot to the staging area. Disney moved us to the corrals around 4:45AM.
Molly found some chemical heat packs which we put in our gloves to keep our hands warm. I had chosen to pull my jeans over my race clothes. My legs never felt cold. These little touches made the wait bearable. I kept trying to think about the race but the thought of losing all my belongings at the hotel distracted me. Around t-minus 10 minutes, I decided to throw away those old jeans. The jeans that went on over the running shoes did not come off as easily. I sat down in an effort to pull them off. Another girl sitting on the ground laughed, offering to help.
My rescuer and the girl next to her had both worked at Disney during college. We passed the final minutes talking about the changes since their time here. The second girl was from Ohio. She was walking the race and thought is was cold. My rescuer, Gail, was doing the Goofy challenge. It turns out she is also triathlete. She normally runs 2:20 for a half but she wanted to slow down to 2:45-2:30 to make Sunday's marathon easier on her. I laughed, saying that her slow day would be a new personal record for me. She smiled as she said "Good, we can run together then, I hate running more than 6 miles alone."
Uh. Run together? Now what. What was I going to do, run away from her? I was a little nervous because I had a race plan. Maybe I hadn't obsessed about it much since Friday but it didn't involve a running partner who would probably run me into the ground. But in the back of my mind I remembered Nancy saying how great it would be for me to have a pacer. Could this be fate intervening once again?
We only knew the race had started because Disney sets off fireworks at the start. Like most big races, we shuffled the long slow walk/stop/walk to the starting line. Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy were immediately in front of the timing mats. Many runners cut across to get a photo before the clock started. Talk about traffic jams.
Finally we made it across the starting line. The course was CROWDED. More crowded than years past. We ran when we could, walked when it was crowded. The first mile split came a little more than 13:00 past the start. A little slow for me but there was not much to be done. Mile 2, 12:40. Things started to clear out around mile 3 (12:08). The road to the Magic Kingdom (miles 4 and 5) is rather boring. You're running on an interstate highway with trees. In the dark. That's it. We were pushing the pace a little with 11:23 and 11:41 for splits. Much faster than my plan but the crowded early course put me behind schedule. I might pay for it later but I couldn't stand to fall behind so early. Just past mile 6 (11:35) my lower intestines announced that they were ready to empty the trash. Fortunately, we were inside the Magic Kingdom (real bathrooms!!!!) but I hated to lose the time. Nothing could be done. Sure enough, mile 7 ended up around 14:00.
A volunteer called out the 6.5 mile mark My watch read 1:21. Too bad. In my head I thought "oh well, 2:42 is the best I can do". With all the pace pushing, I didn't expect a negative split.
Mile 8 was 10:42. It hurt. I told Gail we were running about as fast as I could go. She felt good but respected that her easy day was my maximum effort. Again I thought "How long can I hang on. If this breaks me, how slow will I finish?". But I pushed those thoughts aside. The pace had been good with Gail. Here I was at mile 9. I was hanging in there. Remembering that it was only going to hurt up to a point, then it would not get any worse, I pushed on, walking only the water stops because I snarf water if I run and drink. There was no pain from any particular area, just the burn of pushing harder and harder.
Each mile, I wondered if I would regret this. It's like I had my own personal booing section. Each split I told them to shut up. Gail and I talked about triathlon training for almost the entire race. There were a few comments about husbands and a some talk about her time at Disney but we talked training. She had done the Disney Triathlon with TNT. It was/is her longest race. She asked about the half IM distance and my experiences. I asked about life as a TNT athlete. People around us stared as we shared our worst swim experiences. I can only imagine what they were thinking.
As long as I could chat with Gail, the internal booing section was smothered. Talking to Gail made it easy to run hard. The other GREAT thing about Gail: she is almost exactly my height. When the going got tough, I would look at her legs and match my leg turnover to hers. She was great at keeping the conversation going and keeping the pace up.
Miles 9-11 would have been unbearable at that pace without someone to talk to. More mindless interstate running. Chat, chat, chat...Belle Isle Triathlon has a swim in a crystal clear spring fed lake...Mad Beach Tri is really cool...that guy has a hat shaped like Pumba from the Lion King on his head...did you see the girls dressed as fairies...10:42, 10:47, 10:47...
Someone in the race office thought it would be cute to put a series of overpasses in miles 11 and 12. Yeah, real freaking cute. Our pace slowed a little but we kept it brisk with a pair of 11:17 miles. As mile 13 began, I told to Gail that I could definitely run this last 1.1 in 15 minutes. A random guy next to us stared incredulously. He said "At this pace? You'll be done in less than 12 minutes". I told him my half marathon PR was 2:56. He said "well, you better get ready to PR in a big way". Then he suddenly dropped back as if to find someone. His words light a fire in my buring legs. Gail picked up the pace. She must feel it too. I desperately tried to match her turnover. It was the longest 10 minutes I've spent in Epcot. I kept thinking "I don't know if I can keep this up, I'm keeping it up, I don't know if I can keep this up, well you're doing it so just run". Random guy returned, flying past me with a quick "You're my hero". See, I told the booing section, even he believes.
Then Gail saw the finish line. She said something like "let's pick it up". Pick it up? Doesn't she see this is picking is up for me? But she was the bunny. Her sudden acceleration made it abundantly clear how much she had been holding back. She could have toasted me but instead ran about 10 feet ahead of me, glancing back with that "come on, come on" look. Go legs, faster, push it, go, catch her!!!! Gail slowed enough for us to cross together. Arms held high, I smiled big for the cameras as I crossed the line. Safely across the line, I stopped my HRM. 2:32:51. Could it be?
In the end, my net time was 2:32:35. This makes me
5778th of 11761 participants
2902nd of 7269 women
498th of 1102 women 30-34
The numbers don't lie. I've officially graduated from the back to the middle of the pack. It's a big day. An important day. I'm smiling as the Donald Duck medal hangs over the Florida Challenge Half Ironman award.
Time to look for the next Final Frontier.