Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Walt Disney World Half Marathon Race Report

As I mentioned in my previous post, I ran the Walt Disney World Half Marathon on Saturday. Definitely an interesting experience!

Before The Race
Warning: this is perhaps the longest "before the race" section I have ever written in a blog. I'll do it timeline style.

3:00am-3:45am: Wake Up, Eat Breakfast, Get Dressed
Greg and I woke up at 3:00am and it wasn't pretty. I hadn't slept well because I typically don't sleep well the first night in a hotel room. I'm not sure why, I guess I'm just not used to my surroundings. We quickly had our bagels with peanut butter, drank plenty of fluids and got dressed for the race. I had bought a new skirt at the expo the day before (the same brand I always wear) that helped me feel more Disney-like.

3:45am-4:20am: Drive To The Race, Park, Drop Off Bag
There was no traffic on the way to the race, which we were very thankful for. However the directions in the race information said "follow signs to Epcot" and the road we needed to take did not say "Epcot". This resulted in us missing our exit. We eventually turned around and followed other cars to get there. The instructions told us not to use GPS because roads would be closed off and there was only one way to drive there.

Parking was easy, and it wasn't a far walk to the baggage drop. We actually didn't want or need to check a bag, but the rental car key chain was huge, and neither Greg and I wanted to run with the two keys plus a huge key chain. There was no way to separate out just one key, so we checked a whole bag just for that.

4:20am-4:55am: Porta Potty Line
We waited in line for over half an hour to use the porta potty. And I had to go really, really badly. My stomach was really upset (normal pre-race butterflies) and it was very painful just waiting there with nothing I could do to make the line go faster. I suspected that there were probably porta-potties that were less crowded closer to the start, but we didn't want to risk there not being any and losing a spot in line. I think my entire line knew how much pain I was in. Finally, Greg and I got to use the porta potties. We were very quick about it and were off to walk to the race start.

4:55am-5:20am: Walk To The Corral
The was by far the worst part of the morning. Even worse than waiting in the porta-potty line because I was worried we would miss the opportunity to get in our corral and be stuck behind thousands of slower runners. The walk to the corral was through just one walkway and there were thousands of runners all headed the same way on a road that wasn't large enough. We walked at a snail's pace and sometimes even had to stop dead in our tracks. I tried getting around people but it was no use.

According to the race information, you had to be in the corral by 5:00am. Well, this wasn't happening for all the runners around us. I wasn't too worried about them not letting us into the corral, but I was worried that I would never reach it in time. It was a far walk and we had to walk soooo slowly. Finally we saw a sign for corrals A-E to go one way and the rest of the corrals to go another way. This helped with the crowd a little, but not entirely. We still had to walk past corral E, D, C, etc. to get to our corral A, and these were very large corrals. There were over 20,000 runners.

5:20am-5:30am: Get In Corral, Find A Good Spot In Corral, Tie Shoes
We got to the corral at about 5:20 and the National Anthem was starting. I hadn't even tied my shoes to be "race ready" yet. I did that and then Greg and I moved up in the corral. We got about 2/3 of the way up, and there were still many runners in front of us. I didn't think this was close enough but it was too crowded to get any closer. There was no time to review my race strategy or prepare mentally. The fireworks were going off and the race was starting.

Miles 1-3
The race started and it was very crowded. My plan was to take the first three miles easy, and I didn't want to waste energy weaving through people. Greg, who was planning on running the race faster than me, tried to get up ahead of me but then caught up to me halfway through the first mile. "Honey, I was trying to get ahead of you!" he said. I looked at my Garmin. It read an 8:25 pace. We were definitely both feeling the effects of not getting up close enough. At that point I think I told him again good luck and we separated for good.

I heard two guys around me talking about the B&A marathon. I thought this was really coincidental because B&A is such a small race in Maryland. What are the chances of them having run it? I told them I was planning on running it in March and they warned me about the wind during miles 9-18. I was chatting with them about the course for awhile and then realized I needed to be focused on the race I was currently running! I ran ahead and passed the first mile marker. 8:14. Slower than I wanted, but there wasn't much I could do at that point. I wasn't going to deviate from my strategy because the first mile was slow. I decided to still take the first 5K easy, at around an 8:00 pace.

At this point, I started thinking more about the paces I wanted to run. I felt like I had a lot working against me in this race. I hadn't slept well the night before, or two nights before. I had a lot of anxiety during the hour before the race, which I am sure caused a spike in my heart rate. The weather was humid and around 63, and I wasn't at all acclimated. I decided to just play it safe. No PRs for me-- I just wanted to run smart and not crash. (In hindsight, I wish I was a little more bold, but it's really hard to know what will happen at mile 10 when you are at mile 2).

In terms of a time goal, at the very least, I wanted to go sub-1:46. I plan to run the Chicago marathon in the fall and I need a 1:45:59 or faster half marathon to qualify for Corral C, where I know Greg will be. I knew I was in shape to go sub 1:46, even in the humid weather. I didn't really know how much under, nor did I want to speculate. I was going to try and keep average race pace under 8:00, and see how I felt.

Mile 1: 8:14
Mile 2: 7:55
Mile 3: 8:00

Miles 3-6
The arrow is pointing at Cinderella's Castle
It was still pitch dark, but there was plenty of lights on the course. There were photo opps along the way with Disney characters and with Disney scenery. I noticed people stopping to have their picture taken. I thought it would be cool to come back here and do a "fun run" where I stopped for all the photos. At around mile 5, I finally started to feel like I was getting into my groove. The pre-race anxiety had passed, there wasn't any more crowding, the course was nice and flat, and I had a rhythm going. I had taken my first Honey Stinger Gel at mile 4, so I was feeling good.

Then we entered the Magic Kingdom. I saw the castle in the distance all lit up and it was so beautiful. But once we got into the park, I was not loving life. It was twists and turns and curves and I had to focus really hard on running the tangents and even staying on the proper race course. It seemed like lots of people around me were going off course to get their photo taken or to say hi to their spectators. At least twice, someone who I was running directly behind went off course, and it threw me. Since it was dark, you had to really pay attention to where the cones were. As exciting as it was to be running in such a "magical" area, it was mentally draining to have to focus so hard on where I was going and having to make so many curves.

The photo to the right is a perfect example of me scoping out a tangent while the other runners are looking straight ahead.

Mile 4: 7:56
Mile 5: 7:46
Mile 6: 7:50 (through Magic Kingdom)

Miles 7-10
Most runners would probably say this was their least favorite part of the course. Not a lot of crowd support, nothing really exciting going on, just running from the Magic Kingdom back to Epcot. I, however, really enjoyed the fact that it wasn't as curvy and that there wasn't as much hoopla. I know, I know, I shouldn't be running the Disney Half Marathon if I don't like a lot of hoopla and excitement. But if I'm putting out a lot of effort, all of that stuff is just mentally jarring and exhausting. I appreciate running by a nice lake or ocean with maybe a few spectators cheering for me. But the loud marching bands, the massive crowds of spectators-- I really could do without all of that.

I had my other Honey Stinger at mile 8.5, drank the rest of my G2 and then tossed the bottle. I always love that point in the race where I can toss my bottle. I feel more "free" and I know the end is near. It was starting to get tough here, but not nearly as tough as it was in Richmond. I don't think I put out the effort in this race that I did in Richmond. Overall, I'm fine with that, but part of me wonders why I felt the need to play it safe. I had over a month of 50+ mile weeks under my belt and some really fantastic speed workouts. I think I let the weather get to my head. Yes it was warm and humid and not as nice as the 35-degree weather I train in. But it wasn't disastrous. I guess I am still learning how my body reacts in different weather conditions and learning when it's okay to push a little hard and I truly do need to be conservative.

Anyway, I enjoyed the peacefulness of these miles. I was working hard, but I felt good. I was enjoying being out there.

Mile 7: 7:46
Mile 8: 7:50
Mile 9: 7:50
Mile 10: 7:51    

Miles 11-Finish
Unlike my last 10K and my recent track workouts, I did use the Garmin during this race. I wanted to make sure I kept that pace under 8:00 so as to be sure to qualify for Corral C in Chicago. At this point in the race, the Garmin was showing 7:55, which made me feel confident I would get my sub-1:46, but you never know how "long" the course will be because you didn't run the tangents perfectly. Especially in a race like this where there were so many curves. And the curves weren't just in the Magic Kingdom, they seemed to be all over the course.

At the start of mile 11 was a rather long uphill that I wasn't expecting. It wasn't horrible, but it was getting late in the race and I didn't realize there was going to be a hill. One of the volunteers was telling runners "just get to the top of the hill and then it's all downhill to the finish". I believed him, but he was wrong. There were still a few more hills to come. Usually I try to just maintain my effort up a hill as opposed to my pace, but since it was so late in the game, I decided to go for it and work the hills at a harder effort.

The last mile was through Epcot Center. I hated this as a last mile. I felt like I had energy left in the tank to expend, which would have been perfect for a straight away, but there were tons of twists and turns which kept ruining my momentum. We ran around the big fountain which I later named "the fountain of death" because who wants to run around a fountain during the last mile of their half marathon? I kept waiting for that long straightaway where the finish line would be far in the distance and I could just kick it hard, but I was just twisting and turning through Epcot until I saw the mile 13 marker. It was a pretty strong last mile, but I just didn't feel like I was able to really finish off my tank.

Soaked in sweat
Finally I saw the finish line and gunned it. And the race was over!

Mile 11: 8:02
Mile 12: 7:42
Mile 13: 7:47
Last 0.19:  (6:48 pace)

After The Race
I glanced down at the Garmin and saw an average 7:52 pace which I was happy with because I steadily watched that average pace come down over the course of the race. Hot weather blow-up successfully avoided!

My official time was 1:43:48.
I placed 23rd out of 2,090 women ages 30-34
I placed 128 out of 13,128 women

I'm definitely happy with these rankings!  After I got my medal, I found Greg and we went directly to baggage check for our car keys. He set a PR at 1:36:48, which is about 2 minutes faster than his time at the Philly Rock 'N Roll Half in September.

We drove back to our resort, showered and relaxed and spent the rest of the day at the Magic Kingdom. Sunday was Animal Kingdom and Monday was Epcot. I'll do another blog to recap all the fun we had at the parks!

Final Thoughts
As I try to be less of a perfectionist and go easier on myself, I find two sides of myself at battle. On the one hand, I'm pleased as can be because I ran a strong race with negative splits in conditions that were far from ideal. I ran the time that I planned to run and qualified for my Chicago corral. Plus, this was my second-fastest half marathon ever.This is all great stuff.

I've been trying hard to focus on everything above, but perfectionist in me wishes I had been less conservative and less afraid of the weather. And she's a bit frustrated that she hasn't set a PR since April of 2012. Not like I expected Disney to be a half marathon PR, I guess I am just getting impatient.

When I think back on this race I want to remember that I ran it smart, that it is my fastest "warm weather" half marathon and that it was just the beginning to a very fun vacation with my wonderful husband. My 2013 racing has just begun and I plan to do some amazing things this year.


  1. Great recap, Elizabeth! You did a great job out there on the course. I hope you do go back for a "fun run" - it is a blast stopping to take pictures with the characters. I usually try to catch them on their own, between runners. Did you have to run the killer hill (up and down) going into the Magic Kingdom, right before the Contemporary Hotel? I hate that hill! Can't wait to read about your Disney World visit!!

  2. Woot! Congratulations! It sounds like a hoot.

  3. Congrats Elizabeth!

    Glad to hear you decided on the Chicago Marathon for the fall. Hopefully I'll see you.

  4. :D

    You write "I wish I had been less conservative and less afraid of the weather." meaning, I think, that you wish you had gone out faster.

    Honestly, there's no way to know. And I really do believe that in a longer race, you can always make up the time. I wouldn't kick yourself here.

  5. Excellent, excellent job! Your pacing was great, and your plan got you under your goal!

    I hope you can mark this race report and re-read it before your next marathon. It shows how a sensible pacing strategy and calm attitude can help you reach your goals.

    Great job, girl!

  6. I agree with Cris, it's sounds like you ran a smart, great race! {2nd fastest half, after having mono?}

    I LOVE the skirt with the CAR top!

    Having run Disney twice, I agree about the porta-johns at the staging area and starting area, and the long (long) walk to the start.

  7. 2nd fastest?! For a crowded race with hoopla & curves?! That's really great! Congrats! Be proud of that! Tell that perfectionist in you to SHUSH!!

  8. YAY! Congrats on getting into corral C!

    Who knows - if you'd gone out faster, you may not have gone sub 1:46. Or you may have been the 15th person in your age group. One never knows, but what a great way to start off the year!

  9. Loved hearing about your race! And the skirt is super cute! :)