I Guess Disney Really Is Magical!!

As a child and like all children, I wanted to go to Disney World, when I was younger…I would see the cartoons, see the movies, knew the characters, yet, for one reason or other, I would never get my chance to go to Disney…

Now, fast foreward 30+ years later and, I finally would get my chance, but not in your normal family vacation kind of way.

Several months back, my training partner and friend, Renee High, started throwing around the idea of doing a marathon together. We had been doing a good amount of our runs together and I was doing a lot of pace work for her on her harder workouts, so we figured it would only be appropriate to actually run one of the races together. Originally, we had discussed me running with her for her October marathon in Colombus, OH…but, with such close proximity to the MCM, that didn’t happen….then, we got to discussing Disney. She had won the 2012 Disney marathon and was invited back to run it again. The race had already sold out, but she said she would talk to her sponsors and the race director to see if I could get in..Well, I DID!

It wasn’t official until sometime in December that I would be running Disney, but I was training for it either way, so I would be ready regardless. My soul intention for this race was to pace Renee for as long as I possibly could, hoping like hell I could at least get her to mile 20 and then just try to hold on and hope that she wouldn’t have to battle with any other female competitors.

Going into Disney, I was going to be running in uncharted territory. I knew I could hang with Renee and pace her for anything of 18 miles or less..beyond that, I didn’t know if I could hold her pace for 26.2. Disney made my 9th marathon, but it was only my 3rd solo (not pushing for Team Hoyt) and my first solo since November 2011. So, needless to say, I was a tad bit nervous. But, all the training was on point for a quality marathon, if I could just hold it all together on race day, my body was otherwise ready.

I decided to go with a non-traditional taper and continued training as usual (for the most part)..I continued to run all of my same runs throughout the week prior and the week of, I only changed up one run to accommodate for the race.

I flew down to Disney on Saturday morning and would be staying with Renee and Andy for the night, then racing the next morning. Upon arrival in Disney, I was amazed..the place is HUGE and is overflowing with smiles, fun and a hint of magic!

After my arrival, I met up with Renee and Andy and we had lunch, chit chatted for awhile and then I went to the expo to pick up my bib. While at the expo, I listened to a bit of Q&A from some of the past and current running legends. Desiree Davilla, Frank Shorter, Joan Samuelson, Greg Meyer, Bill Rodgers, among others were in house sharing stories and taking questions. The only thing that gets me as excited as running, is listening to the legends talking about their running…After listening to them speak for a couple hours, I was more than motivated…I WAS READY TO GO!!

Though Renee and I kinda had a race plan/strategy worked out in our heads prior to our arrival, she called her coach, Ryan Warrenburg, for some final instructions. After speaking with him, the plan was “Go conservative for the first couple miles, then gradually pick it up over the next few miles, then maintain to steady pace to the finish. Sounds easy, right??

Since the race start was at 5:30 am, we would have to be up by 3 am in order to get in our nutrition, get ourselves together and catch the bus over to the start line. So, Saturday evening, we ate dinner early and was in bed by 8:30, in preparation for our early wake up.  I will say, Renee uses the bathroom more than any person should during one single night!!! LOL!

No sooner did we doze off, the alarms all went off simultaneously (we had three set, just to be safe). I got my nutrition in me and prepared my nutrition for during the race, while Renee and Andy jammed out to “Dub Step”…whatever the hell that shit is!!

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By 4am, we were on the bus, getting ready for the ride to the starting line (I got to ride the VIP/ELITE bus since I was with Renee..pretty cool). As the bus is about to leave, guess who gets on and sits down right in front of us?? Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter!! Talk about being in runner geek heaven!!

Prior to the race, neither Renee nor her coach knew whether or not there would be any other competitive females who could contest Renee for her attempt at a repeat of her title….BUT, as we are about to get on our way, Leah Thorvilson stepped on the bus, adorned in her Tinkerbell costume. For those who don’t know who Leah is, well, she ran a 2:37 earlier in 2012 and was the 2011 Disney winner.

At this point, I don’t know exactly what was going through Renee’s head, but, I knew what was going through mine ( I knew those original race strategy plans were probably out the window now). A few minutes after the bus pulled away, I decided to let Renee know, “Umm, I forgot my Garmin, Renee!!” She offered up hers, which is exactly what I had hoped for!! In actuality, I had purposely forgotten my Garmin, hoping I could get her’s, thus, eliminating the one thing that would cause her to “think”. I wanted her to just run and not think about anything…as tough as it was going to be, it was my job to maintain pace and take in all the thinking part of the running.

We arrive at the starting line with about an hour to spare before the start….Renee was restless and got off immediately, I stayed onboard for awhile, waiting for the bathroom (a routine is a routine!!!). While we are waiting, I talk a bit to some of the other runner’s, particularly Leah! I wanted to know how she was feeling, what her plan were, etc…she gave up a bit of info, but not too much (just as I had anticipated). Based on what she told me, I decided that we would chase her, provided she wasn’t dropping sub 5:50 pace in those first few miles.

As we are approaching the start of the race, several of the legends come on the big screen jumbo tron to give a little pre-race tips. We listened a bit to Frank Shorter, Bill Roders and finally Joey Fatone (yep, the NSYNC member who had run his first half marathon the day before!! LOL!).

Finally, Corral A is called to the start, and the gun goes off. As we begin, each corral is started with their own fireworks display, which was quite amazing!

From the gun, another girl and Leah take off in front of us…we catch up to Leah fairly quickly and run with her for several miles…the first few miles were quite a bit faster than the original plan, but, we couldn’t afford to let her get away from us..if Renee was going to have any real competition, it was likely to be Leah. It was somewhere around mile 4, after doing some continuous “surging” that Leah finally dropped away from our sides and was now running a bit behind us (this was a good sign). Up ahead, there was still another girl who we had yet to catch. I decided that although she was running a bit faster pace than what was the original plan, it wasn’t so fast that it would be a “make or break” decision. So, I decided to reel her in as soon as we could and at least run with her.

At mile 5, we caught the girl, ran with her for about a mile, then gradually pulled away..Renee was now first place female and from here on out, we just had to hold this position.

The first half of the race is in the dark because of the early 5:30 start, so we just chugged along, not talking, but sharing the same understanding of what the goal was. I was willing to kill myself to get Renee her win, whether it meant me having to do a “death march” for the last 6-8 miles. At Disney, the first several miles is a lot of access roads (aside from Cinderella’s Castle..which was actually way more cool than I would have thought…all lit up in purple!!), so it not necessarily exciting for the first bit of the race.

Around mile 11, we head onto a race track (picture NASCAR)..this was probably one of the coolest parts of the race for me…as a kid, for some reason, I always wanted to run a flat out mile on a race car track…thank you Disney, for granting me that wish!

The halfway point came inside the Animal Kingdom park…we went through the 13.1 at 1:21:05 (new PR for me!). We were rolling and on our way to a very nice marathon.

I guess it was somewhere around mile 16-17 that we start entering the string of parks. We went through ESPN wide world of sports complex, where we ran around an actual rubber running track and, a baseball field (the grandstands were filled with fans screaming and cheering…that was really cool). At this point of the race, the course has a ton of turns, so pace starts to drop…it’s here in the race that the body gets tired, but the mind must prevail…tight turns and corning does not help with that..LOL!

From time to time, I would glance behind me to see if there were any other females close to Renee (I never saw one)..I had figured we had dropped them at this point, but with a 2:37 marathoner in the field, you can never be to cautious. I was also quite amazed at how I was holding up..I figured I would be struggling at this point, but I wasn’t.

At mile 22, we start to enter the section of “non-stop turns”…this is where the park is really tight and constricting. As we pass the clock at 22 miles, I realize that, all I have to do from here on out is maintain 7:30 pace and I will break 2:50!! Even though I was getting excited for both myself and Renee, I knew that 4 miles is still far enough away that tragedy can strike and shit can go terribly wrong really quickly.

As the park threw more and more turns and tight manuevering our way, the more I realized it was time to go conservative a bit. A lot of the pathway on the course was wet at this point and with extremely tired legs, I knew there was a chance I could go down and possibly blow the whole thing…so, I decided to just maintain a steady pace and not push…just maintaining pace would produce a PR and would also get Renee a win.

At mile 25, when I was just ready for the race to be done, I come around the corner and WOW!! I see Desiree Davilla (2012 Olympian), Joan Benoit Samuelson (1984 Gold medalist in the Olympic marathon) and Janet Bawcom (2012 10k Olympic team) all running their easy run for the day….as I pass, they all say “Almost there, 1 more mile”…talk about motivation!!

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A few minutes later, I round the turn at Epcot and see the finish….We had done it!! We had just finished the Disney…a new PR for me and a win for Renee (her 2nd at Disney). As the race directors and new media pull Renee aside for her interviews, I stood there crying…..why was I crying? I was elated….after several hard training cycles, that ended in injury, I had finally overcome…the monkey was off my back..my goal had been to break 3 hours and I had finally done it..I had PR’d by 21 minutes..but most importantly, I had done it side by side with a good friend and I was able to help her reach her goal.

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So, despite the fact that I had put in tough training to prepare for this race, perhaps a little Disney magic could be a part of the reason for our success…It was an amazing race, an amazing course and one that I will certainly do again.

I would like to thank Renee for getting me into the race and I would like to thank Renee and Andy for letting me stay with them in their hotel room…Renee and I shared many hard miles together and many laughs in the buildup to this race…..all of which, was not only fun, but also fundamental in our success.

I would also like to thank all my training partners, HRR and my wife….I know this shouldn’t sound like a Hall of Fame induction speech..but, without all these people, none of this would be possible…..there are many who wanted to see us succeed, many of whom put in lots of miles to help us succeed…to you who did that, THANK YOU!

So far, as of this post, Disney has been the PERFECT race for me…the pace, the nutrition, the conditioning…it all came together in this race…I was tired at the end, but never close to “the wall”….nothing hurt and never was I in fear of falling apart..I felt the strongest I have ever felt for any of my marathons.

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Also, to those of you who get caught up in the high mileage training Hooplah…I ran my best race ever off of 30 miles per week average…so, it’s just all about proper training, the right timing of training and proper nutrition…if you want something, put in the time and effort and you can make it happen.

Live, Laugh, Run and Happy Training!!

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