Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Goofy Challenge 2016, Race Recap Part I

So. Goofy. (Or, as it’s officially known, the Walt Disney World Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge.)

First, let me say up front that if it weren’t for R___, I’d never, ever have done this event. Up until now, I ran races for the following reasons: 1) Trying to PR; 2) As part of training for a PR; 3) To support a teammate; 4) To earn points for Gotham City Runners. Running a race—never mind a marathon—simply for “the experience,” simply hasn’t been on my agenda.

However, one morning back in April 2015, R___ texted me the following:

R: Hey, so I think I’m going to sign up for the Goofy Challenge.
Me: …???
R: Yeah people are talking about it at work. I think I’m going to do it.
Me: You know that’s a half AND a full marathon.
R: Yeah. Registration opens at noon.
Me: When is the race?
R: January. And then we can go to Disney and stuff.
Me: Well . . . ok. I guess if I’m going, I’ll do it too.

And that was that. Four hundred dollars later, I was signed up to run 39.3 miles the weekend before my 30th birthday.

From the outset, I knew I wasn’t going to race both the half and the full back-to-back. Therefore, when it came time to start thinking about training, I needed to decide: did I want to focus on racing the half marathon or the full?

The half was scheduled first (Saturday) and the marathon second (Sunday), so ultimately I decided that I’d give Saturday my all and then just hope to finish the full without falling apart. Knowing how sore I typically feel the day after racing a half marathon, I was a tad worried; I just hoped that since my coach has previously trained the charity team for the Dopey Challenge (which consists of a 5k, 10k, and then the Goofy Challenge) and has run the races several times, he’d know how to train me.

I should not have worried.

Here’s how the morning of the half marathon went:
2am wakeup. Get dressed and grab pre-packed breakfast, gear bag, and fiancé; out the door by 2:30.

3am arrival at Epcot parking lot. Set alarm, lay back driver’s seat, and sleep until 3:45am.

Blink through eye drops to revive super-dry contacts. Gather gear and head to the “athlete village.” Stop along the way so R___ can buy a $2.75 paper cup of coffee. Debate about wearing my throwaway shirt to the starting line or packing it in my gear bag for tomorrow. Take shirt off. Put shirt on. Pose for cameraman but then realize that my bib number isn’t showing. Take shirt off. Watch cameraman walk away to take pictures of runners dressed as the seven dwarves. Put shirt back on. Check gear bag and meet back up with R___ to discuss post-race meeting spot.

Start mile-long walk to starting corrals. Try not to feel frustrated that I can’t use this distance to warm up; there are just too many people wearing too many costumes to do anything resembling running.

Bid fiancé farewell so he can head off to corral J. Turn in the other direction and head to corral A.

Start warming up. Use porta potties. Continue warming up. Stand in growing porta potty lines a second time, just for good measure. Then stretch and check watch about a hundred times.

Squeeze awkwardly into the front corral, wondering yet again whether I belong here.

Watch Micky, Goofy, and Donald count down to the start of the race. Fireworks go off. Race begins.

Since I do my best to "tell it like it is," here is the complete and utter truth: the first two miles of this race were extremely mentally tough. The weather was foggy and warm and sticky and humid, and I was already sweating by the time I began running. I knew I needed to focus on one race at a time—that today’s race was today, and if I was going to have any chance at all to do well, I absolutely must forget about the marathon tomorrow—but in those two miles, I couldn’t stop wondering what I was doing, trying to race this thing and then go run a full marathon the very next day.

I went out around 6:20 for those first miles, and it didn’t feel easy. My coach had told me that, if possible, I should try to bank time on the highways, because the parks were full of quick turns and slippery painted pavement. The first miles of the race were out on a long, straight highway, yet here I was, running slower than the average I would need to maintain to PR. At the same time, I didn’t want to go out too fast and dehydrate and die . . . but how was I going to do this if it already felt so hard?

Somewhere between miles two and three, I came upon a woman in a Lululemon outfit. (That’s really all I remember about her, because I was so wrapped up in my own brain.)

“How’s it going?” she asked as I pulled up alongside her.

“I don’t know,” I told her honestly.

“Well, you look good,” she responded, “and we’re pretty close to the front. I think there are only four or five women ahead of us.”

“Really.” Four or five??!! How was that even possible? We hadn't even gone out very fast!

She told me she was “just doing this as a training run” and to go on ahead, so ultimately, that’s what I did.

A few miles later, I was a little bit more “on pace.” Part of me felt excited, because if that woman was right, I was somewhere around third or fourth woman, but at the same time, I was feeling no better, physically, about the race. We went through the Magic Kingdom, and it wasn’t as slippery as I had feared, but I also hadn’t banked much time on the highways, and my legs weren’t feeling very peppy, so it was going to be a close call to PR. Then, I came upon a girl in a crop top. I crept up gradually, and the closer I got, the more fit I could see she was. Tan, muscular, very well controlled form. When I pulled up beside her, I could see that she clearly had her race face on.

So now I had this physically fit, intense girl running right beside me, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I say anything? Encourage her? Keep running beside her? Drop back a little so it wouldn’t mess with me mentally? Try to forge ahead and risk blowing up?

We ran side-by-side in silence for a little while, and then she solved the issue by speaking up.

“Hey, do you know Randi Mastrioni?”

I almost tripped and fell over myself. Yes! I do!

“I recognized Gotham City Runners on your top, and she runs for them. I went to high school with her.”

This ice breaker was all we needed. We chatted a bit more, albeit sporadically because we were both breathing pretty heavily, and then we settled in side-by-side and ran together.

I cannot stress how different it feels to run with someone than to run against them. In both cases, you are running beside (or just in front of, or just behind) the person, but the mental space is just so incredibly different.

When I’m running against someone, my self-talk goes like this: I’m right here, bitch. You’ve got this. You can do this. You can hang with her. Oh god but it feels so awful. She isn’t even breathing hard. Listen to that! She’s probably not even trying yet. What if she’s just doing a tempo or something? If this isn’t even a race for her? What if she pulls away, and you can’t keep up? What is she thinking? Does she even notice you’re here?

It’s like a seesaw. And you can fall off a seesaw. Easily.

Whereas when I’m running with someone, my self-talk goes more like this:              .

That is, my brain gets much, much quieter. Words are inadequate, but it’s like my mind steps out and starts running right beside me, rather than gripping my brain and twisting it, and squeezing it.

It’s all perception, of course. But at least for this race, it made a world of difference.

We cruised through the middle miles of the race, settling in with various men at different points, and running down at least one other woman. Then, around mile 10, right past a water stop, I suddenly realized that the girl was no longer beside me. I didn’t dare look back, but I couldn’t hear her breathing, either, which was strange. Did I just drop her? And if so, was I in third place???

Mentally, I now felt more confident. I could hold this pace for a while longer, and then all I had to do was focus on the final mile. After another mile of highway, I saw a woman in the distance. Number two! Could I catch her?

I chipped away through mile 11, and by mile 12, I reasoned that as long as she didn’t have a significantly faster gear stored away for the final mile, I could catch her. It took me about a quarter mile more, but I caught up, on a slightly inclined ramp, no less (one of the few “hills” in the race). As I ran by, I briefly worried that I was kicking too early, but I could also tell that I wasn’t yet at absolute max effort, so if she passed me back, I’d still have a chance when we reached Epcot.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead, I had another first-time experience. As soon as we entered Epcot, a woman wearing an orange vest and neon yellow reflectors appeared out of nowhere on a bicycle and started riding just in front of me. For a split second I thought, Gosh, this can’t be the lead runner cyclist, can it? But then I realized that there were literally no other runners in sight. Except for this woman, I was entirely alone on the course. Thank goodness she was there, because with the number of twists and turns through the park, I’d almost certainly have gotten lost or, at the very least, become uncertain and slowed down enough to make sure I didn’t get lost. Instead, I just homed in on her and battled my body as it began to shoot me major distress signals.

Stop! cried my lunges as I tried in vain to suck more oxygen out of the damp air. Slow down! protested my aching, burning legs. If you don’t ease up, my digestive system informed me, you are going to be very, very sorry. And that is no exaggeration; I spent the entire final 800 meters worried that I was going to spontaneously pee, poop, throw up, or some combination of the three, before I made it to the finish line. (Spoiler alert: I made it without incident.)

When I crossed the finish line and realized that not only had I come in second place, but I had also PRed by almost 30 seconds, what I felt was more shock than anything else. I had just run a solid half marathon PR in November, and expecting another one so soon had seemed greedy. Plus, I was going to run double this distance again tomorrow! But I guess tomorrow would bring whatever it would bring.

In the meantime, I was escorted to the VIP tent, where I kept warm(ish), noshed on free food, and ogled Paula Radcliff from a few meters away. Then I reveled in the glory of accepting a giant, twenty-five-pound Donald Duck trophy, found my fiancé, and returned to our hotel to recover for Sunday's adventure. (Recap coming soon.)

Walt Disney World Half Marathon 2016 race results:

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
13.1 mi
27 / 21,504
2 / 12,311
2 / 1,765

No comments: