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Running and Perfectionism

Hi! My name’s Amanda and I’m a recovering perfectionist….
I have been a life-long perfectionist. Growing up I was a good student and a hard-core gymnast. I started competing at age 7 and stopped after my freshman year of college. Few sports breed perfectionism as much as gymnastics (ice skating and diving come to mind as well as certain positions – like pitchers and goalies – in team sports). Every competition you are judged on how perfect your performance is. And every week we were judged by how much we weighed. Perfectionist in training.
I was a high-achieving high school kid who participated in too many activities while still getting near-perfect grades. I played varsity sports during the year and raced sailboats all summer (I won girls’ champs of Long Island Sound at age 16). I followed that with acceptance into a high-achieving Ivy League University. Our sailing team qualified for nationals my junior year of college. From there I went to a high-achieving medical school where I was once again a perfectionist. When it came time to choose a field of medicine, I chose one of the most competitive with one of the longest residencies. And then I had to further sub-specialize and do 2 additional years of training. During that time I had the first 2 of my 3 children and I lived alone with 2 children in Baltimore while I finished my medical training.

I think it’s pretty clear that I have a chronic case of perfectionism.

As a perfectionist I tend to shy away from things that are new for me (not in terms of travel but more in terms of trying new sports or activities). I like to know that I’m going to be good at something before I try. I guess I’ve always been very outcome oriented. As long as the final grade is good, the process didn’t matter so much. (Maybe that’s why I pulled so many last minute all-nighters in college, huh?) So when I signed up for my first half marathon – when I could barely run a mile at the time – it was definitely a change for me.

My running resume at this point is certainly respectable. I’ve run 4 full marathons and 10 half marathons. I’ve completed one Goofy Challenge. I have 2 more full marathons and 3 half marathons on my race calendar, which includes the Dopey Challenge in January. I haven’t finished every race pretty but I have finished every race. For Disney races my times tend to be average while for local races I tend to be in the bottom 1/4 of runners. I’ve improved over time – I’ve taken 20+ minutes off my half marathon time and about 25 minutes off my full marathon time. While I’ve slowly gotten faster, I’m certainly not a fast runner. And it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be considered a fast runner.

I’m friends with some fast runners. My work partner can easily finish a half marathon in the 1:45 range (my PR in just under 2:25). She recently placed 2nd in her age group at a 4 mile race. Her pace per mile average is faster than my fastest mile. I’m friends with someone who has qualified for Boston and placed/won his age group several times. Who could run the entire Goofy Challenge in less time than it would take me to finish a marathon. And even though I respect their ability and work ethic, I’m not sure they get more benefit from running than I do.

Let me explain.

Running has helped me re-think my perfectionist tendencies. I’m never going to win a race. I’m unlikely to ever place in my age group (unless I just outlive everyone). So what makes me get up at 4am in 30F weather to complete a 5 hour training run? And that’s the funny thing about running. So much of the benefit comes from the process. There is a sense of pride and satisfaction that comes from getting your badass self up in the pre-dawn hours to run for longer than most people could fathom. Something peaceful about watching dawn break as you reach the 10 mile mark and there isn’t a soul to be seen. A stillness and calm that washes over me in the early mornings. I know that I don’t *have* to be there. Nobody is making me do it. But even if I never crossed another finish line,  knowing that I can get my body to run 20 miles even when all logic tells me to stop creates a sense of strength, of invincibility.  And even without the elusive runner’s high, the sense of accomplishment lasts forever.

I learn something about myself on every single training run I do. Some days I just learn how to clear my head of the daily noise. Some days I learn that my body won’t always be able to do exactly what I want it to do. Other days I learn that I can sometimes exceed my expectations. I learn how my body works. Or how my body doesn’t work. But mostly I’ve learned that I have more mental strength than I ever imagined. I’ve learned that through sheer stubbornness and will-power I can achieve the unimaginable.

And then there’s the feeling of race day. There are so many factors that can’t be controlled. How you feel that day. What the weather is like. And not every race goes the way that I hope. In June I was well-trained for my 10k but the heat and humidity took a toll and I finished slower than I hoped. Was that a failure? Absolutely not. I put in the time and effort to train and did the best of my ability that day. And while I hope to PR my next marathon, I also know that there will be factors that I can’t control. Regardless of how I finish I know that I can be proud of the process. I have prepared for the race and followed my plan.

The most amazing thing about my running experience is how it has carried into my every day life. Jeff Galloway has been quoted as saying,  “The marathon is one of those experiences that people tell me allows them the confidence to be able to do a lot of other things in their life that they thought they could never do.” This is so true for me. I have projects going on at work that I never believed I could do. I’m making changes in my life that require strength that I didn’t know I had. I have new-found faith in myself. Belief that YES I CAN. Because someone who can’t do things also wouldn’t be able to get up at 5am and run for 6 hours (which is tomorrow’s plan).

Running has helped this perfectionist see that it’s not about the outcome, it’s not the destination that matters. What matters most in life is the journey. And I plan to enjoy every moment of my journey to the next finish line.

New Haven 20K and Update

So it’s been nearly 5 months since I’ve written a blog post. Life has a funny way of getting in the way of blogging. And sometimes life gets in the way of running, too. May was a rough month. A work conference in Orlando in May with late nights and early mornings led to some time off to recover from a sinus infections. I PR’ed the Oakley Women’s 10k in June but struggled with the humidity a bit. Luckily it was a nice summer for training and my plan was only a bit derailed by some more travel-related illness in August.
On Labor Day (Monday, September 1st) I ran the New Haven 20k race. My training schedule called for a 26 mile training run that weekend. I ran on Saturday and made it to 16 miles before stopping. I just wasn’t feeling great and I knew I had 12.4 miles ahead of me on Monday.
Labor Day weather reports called for a hot and humid race. Unfortunately some unexpected changes in my on-call schedule meant that I was taking emergency phone calls the night before the race until nearly midnight.
The drive to New Haven was easy and the parking garage was only a few blocks from the race. The starting area had tons of port-a-potties. The day started with children’s races, the 20k, and a 5k. There were no official corrals but some signs with suggested race paces. I was planning a slow run/walk so started all the way in the back of the pack.
After the National Anthem was sung, we were off! Using 30/30 run/walk intervals I quickly found myself at the very back of the pack. While this was somewhat discouraging, I figured with the heat and humidity I wouldn’t be all the way in the back for long. One thing that was immediately apparent and surprising to me was how many locals were sitting outside to cheer for us. There were also several bands playing starting by mile 2. These were clearly local bands but they were very inspiring and enjoyable.
There were many water stops along the course with local groups and families handed out beverages. I tried to take water from the smallest child I could find at each stop. There were locals with sprinklers set up to cool us off because the weather was brutal. The starting temperature was 71F with 90% humidity. Yuck!
I can’t emphasize enough the cheer and support we got from the residents. It was really fun to see people hanging out on their lawns and offering support to the runners. I will say that around mile 6 I wasn’t feeling great. The heat and humidity were getting to me. I’m definitely NOT a hot weather runner. But the atmosphere was so positive that I powered through.
Around mile 9-10 was a lovely, shaded downhill that lasted quite a long while. That really lifted my spirits and helped carry me to the finish. I saw some people really struggling towards the end but I was able to power through. While my finish time of 2:31:08 (12:19 pace) isn’t going to win any awards, it was a rewarding experience. The long-sleeved tech shirt is great and the medal was lovely.
After the finish there was plenty of food, even for the back of the packers. The entry fee included 2 free beers at the finish but the kegs were starting to kick by the time the later finishers got there. The after party was definitely a nice event and probably worth the entry fee alone.
This race is definitely a good event. Unfortunately Labor Day weather in Connecticut is usually quite warm so I’m not sure I would do this race again.
Next up on my race calendar is the Hartford Marathon in October….

Anyone who reads my blog – or reads anything about my training – knows that I’ve been a dedicated devotee of the Jeff Galloway run/walk/run method. As someone who started running relatively late in life (around age 38), I found that run/walk has helped me finish endurance events with minimal injury. While some beginning running programs like the Couch to 5K use run/walk as a bridge to running continuously, Jeff Galloway firmly believes that the run/walk method can benefit almost anyone who wants to continue running until age 100. He also believes, in most cases, that taking walk breaks from the beginning of a run will actually speed the runner up rather than causing a slower overall pace. His belief is based on many years of coaching runners to the finish line and seeing an improvement in finish times when run/walk is used versus running continuously.

So what’s the catch?

Despite the popularity of run/walk within the runDisney community, there are many runners who see run/walk as “cheating” or as a bridge from the couch to running continuously. As I’ve started experimenting with heart rate based training, I’ve had 2 different coaches tell me that I have to stop using run/walk now that I’m a marathoner. My strength coach (who I generally love and is a marathoner herself) told me to just go out a run 10 miles continuously for my next long run (please note that I usually use run 30 sec/walk 30 sec or run 40 sec/walk 20 sec intervals for my long runs). Another heart rate based coach told me that there is NO way he will allow me to take walk breaks during my upcoming 10K. Interestingly neither person asked me how I feel about run/walk or what my goals were. The assumption is that if I want to get faster, I need to stop taking walk breaks.

During a recent submission to The Extra Mile Podcast (which is produced by my amazing friend Kevin who is one of the kindest people I know), I spoke of my training angst caused by these recent attacks on run/walk. Adding fuel to the fire are a few friends who are quite openly anti-run/walk (it’s predictable that at least one of them will post that I should just run my upcoming 10K continuously regardless of my training or how I actually feel about it) and a family member who has confessed that he finds run/walk to be a little bit like cheating and something that he can’t imagine actually using himself (I’m withholding names to spare the not-so-innocent but I will say this person ran track 50 years ago but has never done endurance events). I know my Extra Mile friend Kevin is very intrigued by this question about run/walk and plans to explore it further.

I know my angst has led to discussions amongst my running friends and amongst listeners to the Extra Mile Podcast. Just today I was fortunate enough to listen to a super interesting podcast – The Seeker – which explored my question. I’m downloading at least one other running podcast that also addressed my run/walk angst (Just Norm is the podcast).  I am certain that there are other runners who struggle with run/walk as a concept and question whether or not it is right for them.

So where do I stand?

It’s still a fluid issue for me because I haven’t firmly settled on my running goals which makes it hard for me to take sides.

Part of me continues to feel frustrated that I’m not a faster runner. I grew up as a competitive athlete (not a runner). I was competing in gymnast from at least age 7. I graduated high school with 9 varsity letters. I raced sailboats, competed in diving over the summer, and was a passable tennis player. I’ve never really been a couch potato even when I was really actively participating in sports. So why can’t I run faster than back of the pack? In my heart I don’t believe it’s a run/walk problem. I conceptually like heart rate training but believe it could be combined with run/walk and still be effective. The Seeker podcaster James mentioned something in an email exchange today about how less than 1% of the U.S. population finishes a marathon in a given year so that makes me faster than 99.5% of the U.S. even if I don’t finish faster than a few other runners on the course. Good point but still not entirely satisfying. I think that losing a few pounds and added a few extra miles per week might help me speed up. And I’m continuing strength training and hoping to add more cross-trianing to further help things along.

The other problem for me is that I need running to be fun. This may be surprisingly to some but I lead an incredibly stressful life. I’m a surgeon. wife, and mother of 3 children. Work can be very stressful and parenting can be very stressful. Running is what I do for fun. I’m never going to earn a living as a runner. As long as running is a hobby, it needs to be fun. Focusing solely on speed takes some of the joy out of running. My solution has been to run a lot of races for fun and with friends and only focus on a few time goal races. If I’m taking over 6.5 hours to finish the Disney Marathon, then I’m obviously not worried about speed. On the other hand I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun runner. I finished the NYC Marathon well over an hour faster than Disney and yet I felt disappointed and let down after that race. Following Disney I had a runner’s high for weeks and weeks. Big difference. If time goal racing makes me stressed and sad and running races with friends makes me happy, maybe that’s my answer (I don’t think ALL time goal racing makes me stressed and sad and I really did enjoy the MORE half marathon recently.).

What’s my plan?
I signed up for another 6 months of ecoaching with Jeff Galloway. My fall race calendar is busy and I finish it off with the Dopey Challenge in January. From October 11th until mid January I am running two 5Ks, one 10K, 3 half marathons, and 2 full marathons. I need to be healthy and I did to enjoy running. All of those races will be run with friends and, with the possible exception of the Hartford Marathon at the beginning of that stretch, none will be time goal races. 

As for my June 10K? I still don’t know. Jeff Galloway has me doing speed work for a time goal and I will likely stick to whatever plan he suggests. Tomorrow will include 400M repeats (probably on a treadmill due to terrible weather) instead of heart rate training. We’ll see how the plan works. I’m still a believer to Jeff’s training for now and I’m going to commit myself to his plan.

Sometime between finishing the NYC Marathon in early November and running the Disney Marathon in January, I realized that it wasn’t reasonable to run 2 full marathons for time goals in a 9 week period. I made the decision to run the Disney Marathon for fun (which was a GREAT decision) and to put off speed work and time goals until my spring half marathon. I’ve long felt frustrated that I’m not a faster runner and was hoping that some speed training would help me improve in time for the More Magazine Women’s Half on April 13th.

The winter of 2014 will certainly be remembered as a bad one and there’s no doubt that this impacted my training. Instead of doing track work I had to rely on the treadmill as our local track was buried in snow for months. I wasn’t sure how my treadmill dependent-training would translate to the very hilly course in Central Park. And then, of course, the weather predictions for the race included a high temperature in the 70′s. 

Race day morning was sunny and just a touch chilly. I wore a running skirt with compression socks and then my Super Girl tech shirt with arm warmers. I had brought a mylar heat wrap for pre-race warmth but decided to leave it in the car. I found a parking spot on Broadway and 69th Street (which made me giggle like a 14 year old because, why not?) and then walked a few blocks over to the starting area. I had enough time to wait in a gigantic line for the only toilets with indoor plumbing in the area and luckily convinced my friend Kim to come wait with me. Another “virtual” friend (who is now a “real” friend), Christine,  stopped by to say good luck as she headed to the start area. We had a funny moment in the bathroom line when a woman asked to please be allowed to cut the line because she was singing the National Anthem and was needed on the stage immediately. (For the record I thought she did an amazing job singing!)

Kim and I headed to the “poo brown” starting corral. The last corral in these larger NYRR races is always brown and another running friend, Beth, always calls it “poo brown.” I’ve adopted it. Kim and I weren’t there particularly early so we started mid to late in the brown corral. I think in the future I would make more of an effort to get to the corral earlier because I spent the first 2 miles weaving around walkers (I do run/walk so I honestly don’t mean that in a judgmental way). NYRR has the opposite problem as runDisney. Disney used to lump anyone with a sub-2 hour half marathon into Corral A which was frustrating for the 1:30 half marathoners who are quite a bit faster than the 1:59 half marathoners. NYRR lumps all of the 11+ min/mile people together. This race had a 4 hour time limit which meant that I finished more than 1:30 faster than many of my corral-mates. 

My arm sleeves came off by mile 1. The crowding at the start definitely impacted my race as my 1st two miles were my slowest two and they weren’t particularly hilly. After mile 2 the crowds opened up a bit but then you have the Harlem Hills to counteract that.  With the except of the BIG hill, my pace per mile pretty much got faster as the race went on. Mile 13th was the fastest mile of the race with a 10:30 min/mile pace. And I definitely felt like I put everything I had into the last few miles. One of the fun things about doing 2+ loops around the park is that the elite runners lap you during the race. It was amazing to see Deena Kastor – a 41 year old mother – with an impressive lead as she set a course record. What an amazing athlete! I also ran into (figuratively, not literally!) several other runDisney friends on the race course which was so much fun.

My previous half marathon PR had been at the 2013 More Magazine Half Marathon one year ago. I finished in 2:25:31. As I was approaching the finish line I knew that my time was pretty close to last year’s but I wasn’t sure in which direction. For some reason as I approached the finish line I had convinced myself that last year’s PR was 2:24:41 ( I have no idea where that came from – runner’s math?) and that I was going to finish within seconds of that time. Perhaps prophetically that was my exact finish time and also a new PR. I still haven’t achieved a half marathon pace per mile below 11 min/mile which was my A goal. A new PR is still a new PR and I have shiny new medal to add to the collection.

I was able to watch my friend Kim finish the race is an amazing new PR for her. Super excited and proud of her! It was great fun to hang out with her and Christine for a while after the race. This is one of the many reasons that I pay to run 2+ loops of Central Park every year. Good friends. Good vibes. Fun race. It’s definitely more expensive than some other local half marathons but I love what it has to offer.

Pre-Race MORE Half, 2014

There is a Henry Ford quote that has been popping up on social media, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” I worry that perhaps this quote will become prophetic regarding tomorrow’s race.

When I first started running – about 5 years ago – I had no concept of speed. I was training for my first half marathon, mostly on a treadmill in my basement. My B goal was to cross the finish line (preferably within the 3:30 time limit of the race) and my A goal was to finish under 3 hours. I had no race experience to help me predict my likely finish time and had only done a small number of runs outdoors. I set a pace on the treadmill based on nothing better than a random guess and used that pace for training purposes. I finished that race somewhere in the 2:45 range (I think around 2:46 but I don’t remember exactly) and was thrilled to shatter my sub-3 hour goal.

The downside to having finished a race is that I now had a target to beat. I quickly realized a few things: I needed a decent training plan, I was setting the treadmill at too-slow a pace, and I needed to run more outdoors in “real life” conditions. Over the next 3 years I managed to take about 21 minutes off my half marathon time. The last half marathon I actually ran for time was exactly one year ago at the MORE Magazine Half Marathon where I set my current PR (Personal Best).

My first race represents a sort of Eden-esque time. I was thrilled to be racing. Even more thrilled to be racing at Disney. And very pleased with my finish time which was significantly better than I realized I could run. Unfortunately my naive state of satisfaction with my performance was quickly destroyed when I ran the MORE Magazine Half as my second race. I beat my time at Disney but quickly learned that Disney races produce slow finish times and a mid-pack finish at Disney put me firmly in the back in a New York Road Runners’ race. With this realization came the desire to get faster.

I haven’t actually raced a half marathon since one year ago. The only half marathon I ran between then and now was in October in the heart of my NYC Marathon training. I ran the race at training pace in order to PR at the NYC Marathon. Following that I ran the Disney Marathon for fun before re-starting more serious training. I decided after the NYC Marathon (which despite a solid PR was not a great race for me), that I would focus my attention on a faster half marathon this spring.

Starting in December I added speed work to my running schedule and then in early March adding strength training and heart rate training. Unfortunately some of my efforts were derailed by the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad winter we had. I found it impossible to convince myself to run outdoors at 4:30 in the morning when it was pitch-black, 10 degrees, windy, and icy/snowy. I didn’t miss any training runs but I found myself, once again, training primarily on the treadmill. I’ve had a few outdoor runs, including a 15 miler and an impressive track session of 14 x 800m repeats, but the majority of this training cycle has involved a treadmill. My one attempted tempo run took place on a Sunday afternoon about 24 hours after a challenging strength training session and following a day of running around from one child’s activity to the next. It was a confidence-blowing disaster.

Which leads me to my dilemma. I, honestly, don’t know what I’m capable of running tomorrow. Will this be my 2:20 half marathon that I’ve been hoping to achieve? Or, similar to my recent tempo run, an unequivocal disaster of low energy and slow pace? Will the 14 x 800m repeats be predictive of a fast (for me) race? Or will the hills of Harlem kick my butt since I haven’t done as much hill work as I had intended? I wish I could go into tomorrow’s race with a sense of confidence that I know what I can do but I honestly have no idea.

So what’s the game plan? I’m going to pretend like I have to the training to leave it out on the course. With a generous 4 hour time limit, I can walk the last half of the race and still finish. I’m hoping for 11:30 min/mile until I pass the first big hill and then increase the pace a bit until the second hill before trying to turn it up another notch or two. This might be a recipe for disaster but I guess I won’t know until I try!

Metabolic Testing

For about a year I’ve wanted to have metabolic testing done. This is where you wear a tight mask over your mouth and nose that measures the contents of your exhaled breath and gives an idea of what type of fuel you burn under various conditions. Since I’ve had trouble maintaining/losing weight, I was curious to get a better understanding of my metabolism. We recently joined the brand-new LifeTime Fitness in our area. As Founding Members we were entitled to a free health assessment and discounts on various services, including metabolic testing. I chose to have both resting and active metabolic testing done.

On my assign day I was required to fast – no food or water before the test. I arrived at the gym and was brought into a small cubicle. I was fitted with a mask and told to lay quietly in a recliner. No sleeping allowed! Image

Super attractive, right? I had to stay that way for about 30 minutes. For someone who is addicted to technology, it was pretty boring.

After we collected the resting data, I was brought over to the treadmill. They do the test on the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike. I was doing the test to improve my running so the treadmill was an obvious choice for me. I was asked to pick a treadmill setting where I knew I could comfortably run for 30 minutes. Since I do run/walk intervals there wasn’t an obvious answer so I guess. The tester started me at a walk and every 2 minutes increased the speed on the treadmill. I wore the same mask as above.  After an 8 minute warm-up I needed to do a 5 minute rest. Then we started the actual test. Every 2 minute she increased the speed while monitoring my heart rate and the content of my exhaled breath. Even when I felt I couldn’t go further, I never truly maxed out my heart rate.

So what information did I get?

The resting metabolism information included my resting metabolism. This is 1174 kcal. Meaning that any day that I lay in bed all day without doing anything, I will burn 1174 calories. In the resting state I am burning 70% carbs and 30% fat. Unfortunately this is not ideal. I should be burning 90% fat and 10% carbs. Hopefully making some changes to my diet will improve this ratio.

The active metabolism helped to establish my heart rate training zones. Zones 1 and 2 are better for fat burning. The line between Zone 3 and 4 establishes the anabolic threshold or the point at which your body stops using oxygen to burn fuel and relies on the body’s glycogen stores. Most training should be done in Zones 1-2. 

Based on this data I was given a heart rate-based training plan. I will continue my long run each weekend (which should be done in Zone 2 and, as it turns out, the pace that Galloway has assigned me for long runs appears to be in my Zone 2 heart rate range). During the week I will do one “threshold” run where I do intervals that bring my heart rate into Zone 4. The other run is a base building run done in Zones 1-2.

Interestingly the Threshold run seems to correlate well with my Galloway-assigned speed work and the other run works out to be at long run pace for me. I have my next half marathon in about 3 weeks and we’ll see how well this new training works out on race day. I find heart rate training to be interesting. I’m someone who likes specific purposes for each run so this type of plan works well with my personality. In a few weeks I will re-do my metabolic testing and see if I’ve made positive changes.

After crossing the 20 mile not-so-spectacular, we were in the final stretch to the finish line. We left ESPN Wide World of Sports and started the journey to Hollywood Studios. This is another stretch of road that is made far more fun by running with friends. Image

This guy ran the entire Marathon with a Mickey-themed tuba. He actually played the tuba. I heard that he ran the entire Dopey with the tuba but I only saw him during the marathon.

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My Merida outfit seems pretty tame in comparison….

I was surprised by how good I still felt at this point in the race. Mile 20 is usually a wall for most people. I had trained past 20 miles anyway and we were taking time to enjoy the race but we definitely put some extra distance in. There was a lot of sprint ahead and then walk.

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Another hilarious incident occurred when Michael bummed a (unlit) cigarette off a construction worker on the side of the road. There were several funny pictures taken of various people with the cigarette. All in good fun. Definitely makes the miles go faster!

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Almost to Hollywood Studios!

There were some Citizens of Hollywood as we entered the backstage area followed by the all important chocolate stop.

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Mile 23 and then a character stop.

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Some lovely cast members were handing out cups of ice as we ran by the ABC Commissary. Although the temperatures never got crazy warm, it was still greatly appreciated!

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Going by the hat.

As we exited Hollywood Studios, Michael decided to sing along with the course entertainment…

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With a Mickey bar, of course…

I love the stretch from Hollywood Studios over to the Boardwalk. It’s a route I’ve done many times in training when I’m on property.

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Apparently I didn’t pose the correct way. Lesson learned. I’ll do it better next year!

As we came around to the Yacht Club there were lots of friends of friends. As the newbie in this group of runners, I didn’t know all of the same people. But it was still awesome to see the amazing support!

As we entered the backstage area near the International Gateway, I was super excited because I knew my husband would be waiting in England for me. I was really hoping he’d have a beer but the alcohol didn’t go on sale until 11am and the line was long. We still got an awesome picture!

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I love running around World Showcase but we saw SO many people and kept stopping. I was starting to just get tired of the whole race. I just wanted to finish.

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But then something miraculous happened.  A few members of our group ran ahead to Mexico. And returned with some frozen yumminess!

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(Excuse the bad picture. It was mile 25.)

And then as we turned the corner to head towards Future World, my husband miraculously re-appeared with a BEER!

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This may be my single favorite picture from the race. Mile 25+ and I’m smiling and celebrating. This picture is what my friend Fast Eddie means when he says that Disney races are meant to have fun with friends. If you can run over 25 miles and enjoy it this much, you are doing something right!

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Heading to the homestretch!

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I love when you head backstage and the Gospel Choir is singing for you!

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And we finished together…

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The way it should be…

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So what was my finish time? I have NO idea. It was under 7 hours. Although it wouldn’t have matter, I wanted to finish within the official time limit of the race. And I know we did.

The was my slowest marathon ever. And the most fun I’ve ever had running in my life. It changed my life in ways that I can’t even explain. Several of the people who I was lucky enough to join for the race, I met for the first time on race morning. And yet I now consider them friends for life. This group has joined my fantastic running family with bonds that can’t be explained with words. I am so incredibly lucky that I was invited to be a part of this experience. 

I feel that I have to add that we were all well-trained for this race. I will never be a fast runner. I hope to be a faster runner but I don’t think I’ll ever be considered fast. But I know that I can always be a well-trained runner. It was because I prepared to go this distance that I was able to take extra time for fun. I hope to repeat this experience next year but that doesn’t mean I’ll slack off on my training. If anything I want to train even harder so I can keep up with the group!

As we entered Animal Kingdom our group had one goal – ride Expedition Everest! But before we got to the roller coaster, I needed to get the black stuff off my hands that I acquired while posing dramatically on the train tracks. I have fond memories of indoor plumbing in the bathrooms at Animal Kingdom.  When I ran my first marathon (2 years ago), I overheated and splashing cold water on my face in the bathroom at Animal Kingdom went a long way to helping me get to the finish line. So when the opportunity arose to use running water to wash the tar off my hands, I took it.

The group met up at the Fast Pass Entrance to Expedition Everest.  The Cast Members let us use the Fast Pass line and we were soon boarding the roller coaster.

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We had one interesting moment when the ride stopped for a while. I was a little worried that we were going to get stuck on the ride and be unable to finish the race! Fortunately it was only a brief pause and we were back on course again.

In my opinion one of the best parts of the newer marathon course is having Animal Kingdom earlier in the race.  Animal Kingdom can be hotter than Hades on a good day and running there in full sun can be brutal, especially during heat wave years.

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Halfway done!!!

At the far side of Animal Kingdom we met up with the wife of one of my co-runners who had all sorts of goodies for us. I was happy to have a cool wet towel which I kept for the rest of the race.  Even though it never got super hot, the wet towel was greatly appreciated.

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Heading to the next Cone Alley on the way to Wide World of Sports.

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For those at a “dead” run, the grave-diggers were willing to help.

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Because it’s always better to be buried in a mass grave….

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My 5 year old wants to marry Ariel. I’m always happy to pose with my future daughter-in-law!

I do remember last year that this was a spot where some people decided to cut the course.  There were cones separated those of us running into ESPN Wide World of Sports from those leaving it. Some people decided to skip the whole Sports Complex and cut the marathon a few miles short. There was a timing mat at mile 20 to try to prevent this but I’m sure it happened again this year. Not to get on my soapbox but I really can’t understand cheating in this way. Unless you’re an elite runner, nobody cares about your finish time except you. If you run fewer than 26.2 miles, you haven’t finished a marathon. Period. Why cheat yourself?

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I had made it to ESPN without taking a single bathroom break but at this point in the race I was starting to have to go. We saw “real” bathrooms with indoor plumbing in the Sports Complex. The line for the women’s bathroom was quite long but there was no line for the men’s room. Guess which bathroom we used? I don’t think it helped that I announced that I was a urologist when we walked by the urinals…

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It was shortly after this point that another runner starting talking to one of the guys in our little group. It only took a minute or so for me to realize that she and I follow each other on Twitter. We spent the next several miles catching up and getting to know each other. Since Mary Jo is a pharmacist and I’m a doctor, we have a lot in common. Plus we both love running and Disney! It was so fun to randomly meet up with a virtual friend and it really made some of the tougher miles much, much easier.

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Part of the journey through ESPN Wide World of Sports involves running around the warning track of the baseball stadium. The field was off-limits.

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Unless you climbed under the rope…. Did I mention that I’m usually an extreme rule follower???

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No Mile 20 Spectacular (which was less than spectacular last year) but at least Mile 20 was Frozen. And then we were leaving ESPN Wide World of Sports and heading into the final 10k….

After passing mile 5, we reached the most iconic portion of the marathon at Disney World.  Magic Kingdom.  I have a deep love for the Magic Kingdom. Perhaps this is because I was born the same month and year that the Magic Kingdom opened.  Or maybe it’s all the happy memories I have of the time I’ve spent there.  Regardless, this is a special part of the race.

After leaving the Contemporary Resort behind, you enter a backstage area which puts you in the Magic Kingdom near the hat shop.  You soon turn right and find yourself running down Main Street, U.S.A with a glorious view of Cinderella’s Castle.  There are tons of spectators along Main Street, including my dear friends Deanna and her new husband Neil who gave me a big hug and some encouragement.

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About as iconic as a Disney World picture can get!

We turned right and headed towards Tomorrowland and then headed back towards Fantasyland.  And then the BIG run through Cinderella’s Castle!

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A slightly blurry picture of Mickey and Minnie greeting guests before the runners headed through the Castle.

I didn’t see the usual troubadours announcing us as we ran through the Castle but otherwise this was the same amazing experience I remembered.

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This might not be a flattering picture but at least I look really, really happy!

On the far side of the Castle we waited for a group photo.  This was delayed due to a bathroom stop.  Which seemed to take a long time.  Which lead to some inappropriate comments about knowing a good urologist.  It went downhill from there. One plus side to waiting around is that I ran into someone I knew and was able to take her picture in front of the Castle for her.

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Without the bathroom goers….

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With the whole group.  Now everyone will know who needs a urologist…. ;-)

We re-entered the race and headed towards Liberty Square and then Frontierland.

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“You’ve Got a Friend in Me!”

As we headed past Splash Mountain and towards the backstage area, I missed an opportunity to lay across the train tracks but we got this picture instead.

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We briefly ran past Rapunzel and Flynn Rider (I suppressed an overwhelming urge to wait in a long line for a picture) and headed towards the infamous Cone Alley. For those who are unfamiliar with “cone alley,” this is a special part of the Disney marathon (and many of the half marathons) where you run past the Grand Floridian and Polynesian.  The road is one lane in each direction and the runners are separated from on-coming traffic by a line of orange cones.  The running path is one lane wide (which is to say that it’s super narrow) and there may be traffic on the other side of the cones.  It’s a frustrating spot because it’s difficult to pass people and it’s especially challenging for those doing run/walk intervals.

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You can see the crowd of runners to my left.

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Donald was playing golf while we ran by.

This was also a bittersweet portion of the course for me because two years ago, when I ran my first full marathon, my family – including my mom – was watching me in the area.  We had stayed at the Grand Floridian and my family cheered right here.

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Last year, for the 20th anniversary of the marathon, Disney changed the course to include a portion in the Speedway.  The entrance to the Speedway involves an insanely steep ramp but the rest of the Speedway was fun.

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The sun was coming up but it never got uncomfortably warm this year.

After exiting the Speedway, we headed along the stretch of backstage roads to Animal Kingdom.  In previous years this was my least favorite part of the race but this year I had fun people to entertain me.  Makes ALL the difference!

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Eddie tried to get a decent Villians picture for me but it wasn’t mean to be.

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Posing with Merida.  Who inspired my outfit. One of my running mates had dressed as Merida at the Princess Half Marathon compete with red wig.  He definitely put my outfit to shame!

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Here are 3 Disney dogs and the music? Who Let the Dogs Out! (Groan…)

It was along this stretch of road that several funny things happened.

1. This is the stretch of road where you go past the sewage treatment facility.  The scent is quite…aromatic.  So we took a picture with us holding our noses.

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2. Since most of my running-mates were part of Team All Ears and I’ve been a member of Team Studios Central, I was asked about my Disney running team.  I was explaining how nice and small the team is and how supportive.  I was also saying that I’m one of the older members of the team and often feel a bit like the Team Mom (or one of the team moms).  I explained that since I’m “only” 42 years old, it’s funny to me that I’m one of the old people on the team.  My dear friend Rich looked at me at said, “You’re only 42? You B****!” Intentionally or not this was said loud enough for many people to overhear. Which led to many funny retorts.  Hilarity ensued.

3. I finally managed to get a picture laying across the train tracks in dramatic fashion.

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And we also ran past miles 11 and 12 before entering Animal Kingdom…

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Next up? Animal Kingdom and the best roller coaster ride of my life!

The road to the starting line of the Disney World Marathon wasn’t as straight as I’d expected. After the horror of the Boston Marathon Bombing, I decided that I had to run the NYC Marathon in November, 2013.  NYC became my “goal” marathon and it didn’t take long to realize that I couldn’t have 2 goal marathons 10 weeks apart.  Although I finished the NYC Marathon without any injuries – other than some minor wounded pride – I felt spent.  It took a few weeks for me to get myself motivated to run again.  I was inconsistent with my training for the first month.  This was made worse by a wonderful trip to Hawaii (jet leg much?) and then a short pre-Christmas trip to Disney World.  I did manage a 20 mile run in Hawaii and a 27 mile run about 4 weeks before race day.  During my taper period I started doing speed work to prepare for my April Half Marathon and aggravated my old left foot injury (stupid, stupid me!). I was well-prepared to finish 26.2 miles but not necessarily ready to have the race of my life.  At least not from a speed perspective.

After finishing the 10k on Friday, I was on a mission to hydrate and recover.  Unfortunately I made some poor food choices and ended up with gastroenteritis starting at dinner on Friday and continuing all night and into Saturday.  Luckily I was able to drink fluids and managed to stay on top of my hydration.  I made the decision to test my stomach with a few roller coaster rides on Saturday morning and seemed ok.  By Saturday night I felt confident that I wouldn’t be dehydrated for the marathon and hoped to avoid excess pit stops on the course. The weather reports were looking promising and I was optimistic that I could have a decent race.  I was even thinking I might pull off one of those unexpected PRs that happen when the stars align.

Sunday morning started at 2:30am with my alarm.  I quickly got myself ready to head out the door.

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Another great selfie!

I wore an OR gown over my running clothes for some pre-race warmth and hopped on the monorail.  Once at Epcot I took advantage of my last indoor plumbing stop for many hours and then wandered over to the bag check area.  Again the security was tighter than in previous years.  I made it through the security stop and dropped my bag off before heading to meet up with Team Studios Central.  Fortuitously our meeting spot was near several other popular Disney running teams and I saw many friends.

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For several weeks I few of my runDisney friends had been inviting me to run the marathon with them.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  Part of me was worried that they would use long run/walk intervals and I wouldn’t be able to keep up.  Part of me was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy running the race for fun instead of trying to do my best.  And, of course, part of me was worried that they’d find me annoying by mile 10 and then feel like they were stuck with me for 16.2 very long miles! We had spent some time talking at a Mickey Miles Podcast meet on Friday night and I felt pretty convinced.  Luckily for me I saw them early on Sunday and they wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I was running with them and I would like it.  Whether I wanted to or not! Agreeing to join the group turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life!

I ended up joining a group of about 11 people.  We added some and lost some over the course of the race but the core group of 11 was pretty much together for all 26.2 miles.  (Or 27+ miles when you add the extra miles for our antics).  Some in the group are super fast and accomplished runners who have qualified for Boston.  Others (like me) are back of the packers who can manage the distance as long as we aren’t expected to go to fast.  I was definitely one of the slowest in the group but I had a slight advantage in that I was one of the few non-Dopey runners so I was better rested than most.  (The Dopey Challenge is a 5k on Thursday, 10k on Friday, 1/2 marathon on Saturday, and full marathon on Sunday.)

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The gang in the starting corral.

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Mickey Mouse and Rudy Novotny calling the start of our corral.

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I’m ready to run 26.2 miles! I was wearing a pace band prior to this picture and realized that it wouldn’t be necessary since I was giving up any time goals for fun.

And off we went! Our friend was working at the 1st water stop just before Mile 1 but I didn’t get a picture with her.

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One advantage of running with fast friends is that I could send one of them ahead to get the pictures I wanted.  Here’s Fast Eddie with Mile Marker 1.  I was on the other side of the road waiting for other friends to use the ports-potty.

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While a few friends were waiting in line for the bathroom, we waited for a picture with the Johnny Depp look-alike.  Arrrrgh!

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Mile 2. This was definitely a “No runner left behind” type of group.  Which is great when your one of the slower ones! We used a 30/30 ratio.  Except when waiting for someone to catch up after a potty break.  Then we used a lot of walking.

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It’s hard to get great pictures when it’s still so darn dark out! Still one of my favorite signs to see during the race. Magic Kingdom!

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And then it became clear that I needed to pose with each mile marker.

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We had recently watched the Nightmare Before Christmas for a movie night with my kids.  I *needed* this picture!

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Mile Marker 4 was in a bad spot for a picture and I realized as I ran on by that I wasn’t going to get.  My thoughtful friends offered to try to go back for it but it was a narrow spot in the course and it really wouldn’t be fair to other runners.  So here’s #5.  At the 5 mile mark I got a text message with my split.  What was the number? I have no idea! I remember saying that we were enough ahead of the 16 min/mile pace requirement but that’s all I know.  I did announce that I wanted to finish within the 7 hours time limit for the sake of my pride.  The overwhelming response of the group was that I would learn that pride and hanging out with this group wouldn’t really go hand-in-hand and I should just get over it!.

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