Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shamrock Marathon Weekend - 2015

I started running marathons in 2012 with the 37th Marine Corp Marathon (MCM).  While I was not happy with my time, I used it as a jumping board into the world of marathons.  I wanted so badly to break 4 hours, I signed up for the Shamrock Marathon later that year.  Five months after completing the MCM, I ran the Shamrock.  It was cold, windy, and rainy, but I finished in under 4 hours, and I was hooked.

Traveling to Virginia Beach

Sallie and I traveled to Virginia Beach, Va in the Friday evening of marathon weekend.  Unlike previous years, Sallie would be running the half marathon versus the 8k, which is run on Saturday mornings, meaning that we could head to the Expo on Saturday, versus Friday.  After a long drive from Herndon, Va, we reached the hotel and checked in.  I have always had a hotel on the course, near the finish line, with this years hotel being the closest to the line then all previous years.  Through out the drive I ran through the race plan in my head.  My goal was 3 hours and 30 minutes, and I was going step by step through the course, working out each point and how to get past it.  By the time we got to the room and unpacked I was mentally exhausted.  Sleep was needed or I might drive myself crazy overthinking the race.  We picked a time to head to breakfast and then to the expo.  Then it was off to bed.

We woke up at around 7am, a bit earlier then I had wanted, but I couldn't sleep beyond that.  I grabbed my running clothes and headed out for a shakeout run.  At around this time, the 8k would be running outside of our hotel, so I did the 30 minutes parallel to their last 3-4 miles.  I was hoping that running with the racers would get my mind away from the continued stress of tomorrow's marathon, and it almost worked.  It distracted me throughout the run, as I cheered the runners on while heading back to the hotel.  Once I got back into the hotel, tomorrow's race came charging back into my head.  It was time to grab a shower and breakfast, with the hopes of distraction at the Expo.

Breakfast and the Shamrock Expo

We headed off to Pocahontas Pancakes, one of the best breakfast cafes in Virginia Beach, a little after 8am.  We knew there would be a line, so we called ahead of reservations, then headed off.  One of the benefits of eating here on the Saturday of the Marathon weekend is our ability to watch the kid mile fun runs as we ate.  Each age group ran in front of the restaurant and it was inspiring to watch the kids joyfully charge down the street, hoping to win, and not caring if they did.  Once we were done eating, we wandered to the Expo.

The Expo for Shamrock is reasonably large, close to the size of the one done for MCM when it is housed in the DC Armory.  The bib pickup was to the right once we entered the expo.  There was no line and we went straight to our respective booths and on to the race merchandise.
Entrance to the Expo, just before it started on Saturday

Entrance to the race store.  Got to love the leprechauns!
With the race centering around St.Patrick's Day, the theme tends to be beer related.  The shirts focused on Irish themes and drinking, and the accessories were the same.  We grabbed our shirts, some jackets and hats, a pint glass, and we headed into the main Expo area.  The expo had many local running stores, as well as several local races displaying their medals.  We wandered around a bit, grabbed a few things we thought were interesting and headed back out.  I was hoping to run into Jessica Myer Hofheimer and her husband, who would be running the next day, but we were never able to meet up.  Now it was time to eat again, rest, and relax.

Saturday and the Start of the Troubles

We headed back to the hotel and then decided to wander out for a bit.  Sallie needed a jacket, as it was still cold outside, so we hit up a local shop that did custom jackets.  She ended up with a light Redskins jacket and we found a new doughnut shop, called Dough Joes just a block away.  We both grabbed a doughnut and wandered to the beach for a short walk.  I still couldn't get tomorrow's race out of my head, even while we walked on the beach, so I suggested we head back for some lunch.  We hit up a bar a few blocks away and Sallie ate pasta, while I ate a burger.  Most of what they had was seafood, which I knew would not settle well for me.  Eating a burger was risky, but it was the only safe thing on the menu.  We spent some time at the bar, since service was slow and there were some games on, chatting about the race, our plans, and expectations.  Once we finally got the check, we wandered back to the hotel to relax and rest. 
For once, we had great weather to wander the beach
Our little snack while wandering the expo and beach
We spent the rest of the evening, before dinner, organizing our gear for the next morning and planning out breakfast and how things would work after we woke up.  Sallie's race would start 1.5 hours before mine, so she would be out of the room well before me.  I knew at some point we would pass each other on the course, so we talked about where that may be and how to get each others attention.  After a few hours of planning and setup, we headed down to the hotels restaurant for the buffet pasta meal.  There we met several runners from around the country, with a small group from Buffalo sitting right next to us.  We talked about how much the Redskins and Bills sucked and the complete implosion of the Sabres.  We took our time eating and when we were finished, we wished everyone good luck tomorrow, and headed back upstairs for final preparations and sleep.  At this point, tomorrow's race plan came screaming back into my head and the worrying came back with a vengeance.  I tried to put it all aside and head to sleep early.

Race Day

The alarm went off early and we both got out of bed to eat breakfast.  I try to eat 4 hours before the race, to make sure everything digests and makes it through the system.  I also start the poo process with a pre-poo (TMI, I know), as I don't drink coffee, so I need to prime the system before it can work completely.  Sallie got dressed for her race and I headed back to bed, after resetting the alarm.  I was not feeling all that excited about the race and I was hoping another hour of sleep would shake off the cobwebs and get me back in the game.  Sallie wished me luck and gleefully headed off to the half marathon, all decked out in her Shamrock outfit.

Sallie's Shamrock outfit
The sunrise seemed to be a good sign of a perfect race
With Sallie gone, I was now alone with my own mind.  It took me a bit to stop thinking about the pace I wanted and my concern about keeping it, eventually falling back asleep.  The alarm came quickly, and when I woke up, all I thought about was how I could just hang in bed, not go for the run, and wander back out in 4 hours.  Sallie wouldn't be any wiser at that point and I could sleep more and not have to run the race.  It would seem I stressed myself out so much I had burned myself up mentally.  I didn't want to run the race, even if I could make the 3:30 time.  It just wasn't going to be fun, and I wasn't in the mood.  I eventually talked myself into running the race, got up, and got ready for the run.

The Beginning of the Race: Miles 1-3

I got to the start line later then normal, with only 20 minutes before the race start.  I dropped off my bag at bag check and did a quick warm-up.  I would be in the second wave for this race, with some truly fast runners.  I always feel awkward this far up in the corrals, as I don't see myself even remotely close to their level.  I met up with the 3:30 pace group and chatted with a few of the runners.  We were all on the same page on pace; we wanted the pace but we were unsure if we could keep up.  The anthem was sung and the gun went off, with our wave going 2 minutes after the lead wave.  We all started off with the pacer, the first two miles being a straight shot down the main road heading south.  Just after mile 2 we make a turn and head over the only "hill," known as Rudee Bridge.  I had a few glances at my watch, and our pace was disturbing.  The pace seemed to be around 7:30MM versus 8:00MM, meaning that we had gone out far faster then I had planned.  At this point a comment Coach Adam Lesser made last year reared its head.  The faster pace group pacers at Shamrock tend to bank time on the first half of the race to make up for time lost in the winds on the second half.  By mile 3 I started to back off and curse myself for trusting the pacer to do the right thing.  I started to plan for how I would check my status over the next 10 miles, each time evaluating if I could keep holding the 8MM pace.  this didn't help my stress or care to keep running.  The mental fight had already started.


Mile 1: 7:39
Mile 2: 7:44
Mile 3: 8:02

Miles 4-6.75

For the next few miles we would be running south on the main road on the first out and back portion of the race.  It was quiet across a large amount of these miles, with the cross roads having the majority of the cheering support.  At about 4.5 miles into the race we hit the first "Radio Station".  These stations were actually DJs playing music and helping to keep the runners from thinking about what they were doing.  The water stations on this part of the course were well stocked and the volunteers were cheering everyone as they ran through.  At about mile 5 we started to see the elite runners coming back down the course. As they crossed, we cheered them on, especially when the first female ran by.  At this point I was feeling a bit better about my pace.  I was running with another runner who also backed off of the pacer, chatting about the race, previous races, and goals.  At 5.6 miles in we had to take a U-turn, and as we turned back down the course,we both started to vent about the pacer and his insane pace for those expecting not to burn out in the last part of the race.  We past the 6 mile mark agreeing to keep the 8MM pace and see where it would lead us.  I watched the crowd on the other side to see if I recognized anyone while trying to keep the pacing math out of my head.  It wasn't working.  We past the next water station and headed to the turn that would bring us onto one of two military bases the course ran through.


Mile 4: 7:57
Mile 5: 8:02

Miles 6:75-8

The turn off the main road lead us to Camp Pendleton, where we would run through the base for a little over a mile.  Normally there are a large faction of solders out to cheer us on, spurring a surge of adrenaline and thus a push in pace.  I new this could happen and focused on keeping the 8MM pace as we entered the base.  Unlike in years previous, the number of soldiers was low, to a point in which I asked someone if the base had closed.  This turned what would normally be an inspiring part of the course into a drag.  My spirits actually dropped, which wasn't what I was hoping for.  I was happy to get out of the base and back to the road.  Once we got out, I knew we would be heading back to the beach and the first chance of any real wind.  While my mind was still fighting the urge to want to keep running, the body was willing and happy to this point.


Mile 6: 8:00
Mile 7: 7:57
Mile 8: 8:01

Miles 8-13.1

Once we left the base, we joined back onto the street we initially came down on.  All of the marathoners had already passed by this point going in the other direction, so we had no oncoming traffic to worry about, or to occupy our thoughts.  We headed back over the bridge and took a quick turn to the right.  Mile 10 would be the last turn before we hit the boardwalk.  Last year I hit the bathrooms here, as the lines didn't exist.  Luckily I was good to go and just kept running.  We made the wide quarter of a mile counter clockwise turn and headed up the boardwalk.  The boardwalk is not made of asphalt and is harder them most people have run on, so I knew this would not be pleasant to the legs.

The boardwalk on a nice sunny day
This part of the course has decent crowd support.  Most of that support comes from the hotels, as people hang out on their balconies and play music or cheer.  This was a boost to my demeanor, and helped me get somewhat out of the mental hole I was in.  This was the first of two sections known for headwind.  Drafting was the name of the game while running up the boardwalk.  As we turned onto the boardwalk we got a taste of the wind.  The wind was a little strong here so I moved closer to a tall runner in front of me and hung behind him for a mile.  I then sped up to get in front of him to reciprocate.  Drafting without offing to shield at some point is bad form in races, and I did not want to steal someone else energy without returning the favor.  I was feeling good at this point, and with the focus on drafting back and forth, as well as the crowd support, I wasn't thinking about pace or time.  At mile 12, he jumped in front of me and we kept going until the turn off the boardwalk and back onto the main road.

It also occurred to me that the sun was now out in full force  Previous attempts at this course have always been run during an overcast or raining sky.  While the race started off overcast, the clouds and given way to the sun, causing me to sweat a great deal.  This may have contributed to the foot issues, as my shoes were drenched after the race and I did not put more then body glide on them.  Body glide, with the amount I sweat, needs to be applied every hour, and that wasn't going to happen for my feet.

We came up to mile 13, which ran us through the hotels and office buildings next to the beach.  I took a look at my watch to see my time and I was still on pace and mostly felt fine.  The only thing that felt off was my feet.  They felt a bit warm, almost as if they were being "burned" through friction.  I noted it and put it out of my head to move on.  I wanted to use the good feeling of the legs to drive me further, mentally and physically.  From here we would be heading up the second out and back part of the course and I knew we would see the back of the pack half marathoners heading to the finish line on the other side of the road.


Mile 9: 8:01
Mile 10: 8:02
Mile 11: 7:55
Mile 12: 8:04
Mile 13: 8:08
Mile 13.1: 1:44:30

Miles 13.1-16

At this point I started to look for Sallie.  I knew her pace would put her between the 11 and 12 mile marker of the half by the time I hit the halfway point of the marathon, if I had kept my pace.  I finally saw her at mile 14.  She was surrounded by other runners like a queen with her entourage.  I screamed her name many times, but she was in the zone, chatting it up with the other runners and never heard me.  Here is where she met her new friend Gabrielle Charbonneau.  Both were enjoying themselves, talking about Spartan races and plans for running together in the future.  While Sallie not noticing me should not have concerned me, it did become a downer.  I really wanted to have her hear that I was on pace.  I needed that pick me up, as the course support is limited, especially going into the second half, and I needed something to keep going.     

By 14.5 miles, the feet were getting worse.  I new this meant blistering, but I was hoping it would stay away for as long as possible, but it was slowing me down a bit.  At mile 15 we past the group that had green beers for the runners.  While it would be interesting to grab one, with more then 10 miles to go, that would just be disastrous.  From the half marker to mile 18 there would not be any music, just sparse cheering crowds, so my feet and the lack of personal support was starting to get to me.  At mile 16, we turned onto the highway and the loneliest part of the course.  The mental fight was turning into a war that I was losing.


Mile 14: 8:13
Mile 15: 8:09
Mile 16: 8:20

Miles 16-19

This part of the course runs alongside a swamp, with the majority of the road slanted to the right.  The majority of the runners try to stay on the lower shoulder, as it is level, but it is not flat.  This section is a beautiful section of the course, and should be a pick-me-up, especially because the road had a tree canopy to block out the sun.  I started to chat with a few people at this point, hoping to raise my spirits, as I was not much off my pace and I needed a distraction from my feet.  It was helping a little, as was the music from the two live bands and the DJ.  The first music we hit was at 17.6 miles, and it was a cover band rocking out some great tunes.  The DJ was at mile mile 18 and a local marching band was just a bit further down at mile 18.5.  

As we got to the turn at mile 19 we reached the Boyscouts cheering section.  Miles 19-22 are some of the hardest miles due to wind, no protection from the sun, and very little support, so the Scouts tried to pick everyone up as they made the turn.  At this point my feet were not in a good spot.  Blisters were yelling at me and there were many of them voicing their hate.  I had 7 more miles to go and I was slowing down, as each step started to feel unfriendly.  On to the turn and the wind!


Mile 17: 8:34
Mile 18: 9:07
Mile 19: 9:34

Miles 19-23

We made the right turn into Fort Story and passed the mile 19 marker.  Here would be wind as we ran towards the Cape Henry Lighthouse.  I was surprised to feel far less wind then I expected.  I pushed through the next mile, as the expected high winds were not so bad.  I knew I had limited time before my feet would stop me from running, so I wanted to press on until I couldn't.  My pace was now 1.5 minutes off of goal, but I was still moving, even with the pain.  As we round Cape Henry, the solitude, wind, and the fact that we have run 20+ miles finally gets to people.  this is the 14th street bridge at MCM or Queensboro bridge in NYC.  

This was a point in which runners started to hit the wall and I passed runners that were in many states of that pain.  This included a runner bend over and not in a good way.  We sent over some aid workers and police when we reached them, and I hoped he would be safe and fine, even if it meant a DNF.  As I got past the 21st mile marker my feet decided to express themselves, using sharp pin-like spikes into the feet as a reminder that they were there.  The feeling started to become unbearable, so I took a short walk to see if that relieved the pain.  I feared that I may DNF, and passing each runner that had stopped, bent over, or quit did not help.  I was losing the mental game, and I wasn't gong to have it.  

I started to focus on what I had left to do and how I would change my pace to get me there.  While the walking did not allow the pain to go completely away, it subsided enough to run again.  I did this twice during this mile and things felt better, so I picked the pace back up for the next mile, returning back to a 9:30ish pace.  This was a bad idea, as that just pissed the feet off more.  Now it was like running on glass, each step shooting pain through the foot to a point that I wanted to cry.  The next 3 mile were going to be interesting and painful, but I was not going to lose this fight.  Not today.


Mile 20: 9:46
Mile 21: 11:15
Mile 22: 9:35
Mile 23: 11:05

Miles 23-25

From this point on it became a fight against pain.  I had to walk twice per mile to let the pain in the feet subside, but I wasn't going to stop.  I learned from my NYC race that stopping for too long dooms you to tightening muscles and even more pain, so I let myself only slow enough to reduce the pain.  Tylonel may have been a good idea, but I wasn't thinking about that when I passed the water station.  Instead I was looking forward to the crowd manned Whiskey station at mile 23.  The last 2 years they had Jameson and I needed the shot to ease the pain and push forward.  As you could probably predict, they decided to give out beer instead of Whiskey this year.  Another brick on the large stack that was loading me down.  I pushed on and caught up to another runner in a similar situation.  He was limping and kept trying to run, so I trying to cheer him on and push him forward.  If I could get him going, maybe I could use him as a rabbit and mentally drag me with him.  Sadly he was far worse then me and eventually fell back, so I focused on just finishing.  As we got to mile 25, I could see the buildings and hotels that made up the beaches skyline and I started to use that as distance markers to help get my hopes up that I was almost there.  The pain was hitting my internal threshold at this point, which is normally dangerously high.  One more mile and change to go and this was going to be a knock down, drag out fight.


Mile 24: 11:44
Mile 25: 10:44

Mile 26.2

From mile 25 to mile 26 the crowd support started to grow.  People were seeing me in pain and they were pushing me to start running again, not to stop.  I used this to help me move forward, both by mentally telling them to screw off, as well as using the positive support to push on.  I tried to pick the pace up during my running part and I took a minute a mile back off mile 25.  At this point I said screw it and just ran mile 26.  Just before mile 26, we reenter the main section of hotels and building, and then turn left onto the boardwalk.  The pain was almost crippling and I wanted to just stop and sit, but here was the crowd, here was the support.  I couldn't let them down, I couldn't just give up this close to the finish.  I turned the corner to the left and entered the boardwalk once again.

The boardwalk was now a straight shot to the finish line, just .4 miles left, and the crowd was 4 rows deep with people.  Finishers were on the course screaming to push you to the finish.  I saw the finish and started to scream at myself to run, pick the pace up, screw the pain, suck it up and go.  Some observers looked at me strangely as I screamed loudly at myself, using words most people considered immoral or bad, others screamed with me.  I charged the line, in pain and pissed off, 23 minutes late, with tears coming down my face.  I wish I could say it was emotions of finishing and not the final expression of my pain tolerance finally breaking down from the last 7 miles.  Several volunteers and medical staff asked if I was OK, to which I told them I was fine and hobbled to get my medal, towel, and hat.  I had finished, I was done, and I wanted to just sit and cry.  Instead, I headed off to the bag pickup to get my gear and change clothes.  While I switched out of the clothes on the boardwalk (the benefit of wearing a kilt for recovery), I called Sallie to inform her of the situation.  I wasn't sure I could walk to the beer tent, but I would try.  Once I finished changing, I started the long .2 miles to the tent.  The battle was won, but the victory was bitter sweet. 


Mile 26: 10:34
Mile 26.2: 3:53.29

After Party

The last two time I have run this race, I left within an hour of the race finish, due to weather or other obligations.  This year I made it a point to stay an extra day to experience what I am told is one of the best after parties of any marathon.  Now, I was in no mood to party, as my feet hurt a great deal, I had failed in my expectations for the race, and I was tired.  That being said, I was not going to let pain and anger disrupt a party, so I wandered over to the food and beer tent.  Fatigue finally hit me as I staggered to the party tent.  I felt far more fatigue then I was expecting, and I couldn't figure out why.  I took extra GU this time (once per 3 miles versus 4) and I drank how I would normally drink at each stop.  did it really get that warm?

 One of the things that they do outside of the tent is stand up a large sand structure next to the PR bell.  

As I passed both the mound and bell, each ring of the bell cause me to be happy and pissed off at the same time.  I gingerly stumbled into the tent and went straight for the free stew.  As a reward for running the race, each runner is allowed a bowl (or three) of tasty stew from a Murphy's Irish pub, as well as two Yuengling beers.  I grabbed a bowl of stew and a beer and went to find Sallie.  I knew she was outside sitting in the sand, so I left the tent and searched for her, finding her just outside to right most entrance.  We sat out in the sun, on the beach towels they gave out at the finish line, drinking beer and chewing down stew.  I finally took my shoes off and looked at my feet.  It was not a pretty site, as both sides of each foot was full of blisters.  

Blisters in the Sun

That is salt, not sand, covering my arm

I finally had a look at my arms and face.  It would see there was a salt lick all over me.  I must have dumped out more then normal amounts of salt, which would explain the extra fatigue.  It would also explain to over abundance of water (sweat) in my shoes.  This would have to be looked at later in the week, becuase it needed to be solved for later races.  Not now, though.  I was done with thinking about running.  Sallie and I sat on the beach for a while, talking about our races, her new found friend, and the best way to get more free beer once you past your two beer limit.  Sallie had been here for over an hour before I got here, and it showed.  I eventually got up and headed in for more stew and beer.

One of the fun games they play in the tent is how high people can stack their beer cups once they are empty.  The theory is if you knock it over, you buy the next round.  

I was too tired to play, but I did play the cup flipping game while listening to the nice Irish cover band playing loud and cheerfully.  My spirits were slowly returning, partly due to the alcohol and partially because my brain finally reset to seeing the race as a problem to solve and not a failure.  We hit up the finishers store on the way out of the tent, where Sallie got the Neptune tights, which had an interesting placement for his stare.

The rest of the day was filled with pasta and doughnuts, then sleep.  I had a lot to think about, with the Cherry Blossom race two week from now.  I needed to understand what went wrong on this race, how to stave off the salt issue, and keep the feet from blistering.  I also needed to get fully out of this funk.  This wasn't a failure but a lesson that I need to learn from.  If I don't see it any other way, I will burn out mentally.  Doing that would not be a good direction.  Maybe a break was in order, though I had two races in the next three weeks.  Let us see what lessons I can apply to those races.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Inaugrual Star Wars Weekend - Half Marathon

It was the morning of the 6th race in 11 days.  Some would say I am a little off, pushing the back to back races a little bit too much, but I love these races, and I love running, so off we go.  The night before I had already set out my clothes for the race.  While the 10k was focused on Luke and Yoda, today would be Boba Fett.  Since Disney dislikes full masks, I went for a Fett hat, and a Boba Fett tech shirt. 

Like the 10k, Coach Shannon would be running this race, and my wife Sallie would be cheering us on. For this race, Coach Shannon was dressed as R2D2, though her beep/boop needed some work.

The Short Walk to the Start

We met Coach Shannon in the lobby of our hotel and started to walk to the corrals.  We were a little over a mile away from the start of the race, so we took the walk slow and chatted with other runners as we entered the Disneyland property.  The corrals are on the main road between Downtown Disney and the main park, so we never needed to enter the park to get to the corrals. The corrals were the same as the previous days 10k, with 6 corrals, all a bit larger then the normal corral sizes for Disneyland races.  Coach Shannon and I would be starting in corral A, but I could not convince Coach Shannon to head to the front of the corral.

As we got to the corral, Coach Shannon headed to the entrance at the back of the corral, while I went to warm up near the front.  As one would expect with a Disney race, as well as one themed for Star Wars, there were a great deal of costumes.  We had joked on the way to the race that it would be awesome, and insane, if someone ran in a full Chewy suit.  As crazy as that sounded, as I was stretching on a fence, up walks Chewy, heading into Corral A.

The Start, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

The start of the Half Marathon was as extravagant as the 10k, with a huge screen on the Start Line arch showing clips for the original movies.  Of to the side stood the announcers, who would drop into skits every 5-10 minutes or so that included major characters from the movies.  This time around the skits were more mature, and went without a hitch.  I knew Sean Astin was running this race, so I hunted a bit for him, but never found him in the corral, or on the course.
As the start time became eminent, I started to go over the course in my head.  Unlike the Avengers Half Marathon, this course will utilize a bit more of the parks, and will head south versus south east.  We would also avoid Angels Stadium and the dust bowl that is the canals leading up to it.

The course looked interesting, and I was looking forward to trying it out.  With a few minutes to go before the start of the race, I headed to the front of the corral and readied myself for a fun race.  My plan would be to run at a moderately hard pace, as I knew I was not recovered from the last 10 days.  Holding back will be a challenge, but it was one I needed to meet or I would have serious issues by the middle of the race.

And We are Off...

In the dark, the fireworks went off and the race started.  The first half mile matched that of the 10k, with a single hill that we needed to climb before we headed into the the park.  The next 4 and a half miles would be through the two parks, with some back lot roads before we hit Anaheim and the meat of the course.  The first two miles wandered through the Magic Kingdom and some of the parks back lot.  many a Disneyland employees were out cheering us on, and as we rounded a corner heading past the fourth mile, we ran into our first, set of Star Wars characters.  First up was a set of Jedis, which I skipped in favor of the Storm Troopers.  A quick photo with them and I was off.  Due to being near the front of the race start, there wasn't much of a line for the characters.
Once we left this area, we headed further into California Adventure.  At one point, near the end of the park, I saw a line forming to my left.  Swinging over to see what was there, I saw the great Chewy taking photos with runners.  unlike all of the other characters, Chewy had a serious line.  It took about 3-4 minutes to get through the line, but it was worth it.
Now that the parks were over, it was time to head off into Anaheim.

Miles 5-7

We left the park and entered onto Harbor Blvd, the main road in front of the parks.  The crowds were slowly growing, as it was still dark out, with the sun creeping over the horizon.  At the 5 mile mark, a cosplayer was dressed up as Chewy with a large sign "Free Hugs!".  While I didn't partake in the hugs, many runners took the time out to get a hug from Chewy.  From here is was a straight and open road full of runners and cheering vacationers and locals.  I was running with a pack of runners all looking for a sub 2 hour pace, chatting with them about the differences between this course and the Avengers course.  As we got to mile 6, we heard a roster crow as the sun rose past the horizon.  Even though Anaheim is a city, there are many places that have small sets of livestock.  This course allowed us to see some of this area, giving us a feel for the diversity of people and cultures of L.A. and Anaheim.

The cheering and crowd reduced the further south we went.  At this point, we weaved through a few streets and turned right onto Garden Blvd and to the 7 mile marker.  The crowd was gone, and all we had for a cheering section were cars going by.

Miles 7-11

This part of the course wandered through an urban housing area and shopping strip in the south of Anaheim.  I had lost the pack I was running with, and they seemed to slow down a bit and thus fell back.  I was keeping a 1:50ish pace, and things felt good, almost easy, so I kept moving with the same effort, knowing that I was more then halfway done.  The path ended up being a square-like path that first went past the Garden Grove Argonauts field, a local field for the Garden Grove High School.  Here we found the cheering squad back, as the local high school came out to cheer, as did the local cosplay group.

This race they were out in their Star Wars garb, which included several members of the 501st.

(Photos courtesy of Shannon Scalan)

This brought a surge of energy to my body and legs, and I suspect I sped up a bit running through the line of Star Wars icons, high-fiving as many as I could.  The course headed on to Euclid St, where we could see the other runners as they running past the field.  I strained to find Coach Shannon, Sean Astin, or some of my friends from last weeks Dopey Challenge, but I failed to catch site of any of them.  This part of the course was a bit dreary, as it went through a strip mall with some homeless and some buildings in disrepair.  We left the are and on to Chapman, as we turned right and headed back to Harbor Blvd.  The crowd had started to grow at this point, as we came up to mile 10.  Local residences had some interesting items they were giving out for runners, from candy, to water, to beer.  It was a little early for beer, so I skipped that table and headed towards mile 11 and Harbor Blvd.

Miles 11-13.1

As we get back to Harbor Blvd, I realize that there were still runners on the other side of the course, passing miles 5 and 6 and just hitting the halfway mark.  Turning onto Harbor, I wandered toward the center of the road, which would give me the best chance to high-five runners coming in the other direction.  This was something I enjoyed doing, and it kicked up my spirits even more.  While I was doing the high-fives, a female runner came up to me and asked what pace I was running.  I told her around 1:50, which made her smile, as she was looking to beat 1:55.  She was struggling a bit, so I agreed to pace for her, and we headed down Harbor and a nice brisk pace.  We chatted a bit on her goals, running, and random other things, mainly to keep her mind off of the pain she was in while keeping the pace.  Chewy was still out on the road, getting hugs and high-fives.

At mile 12, we turned left off of Harbor Blvd and headed down the last real road before heading into the the park and the finish line.  She was still keeping up with me, but she started to fade a bit.  I tried to keep her spirits up, with another runner joining us at that pace to help push everyone to the finish line.  We turned right onto the main road we started on and I told the female runner she had this, and would break 1:55 easily.  The other runner with me wanted to kick the rest of the race, so I gave her my best wishes and we started to kick the speed up with .5 miles left.

We turned left into the parking lot, with a roar of cheers from the massive crowds that had now gathered.  This pushed the adrenaline even higher, and by the time we hit the street leading to the finish line, the fellow runner had backed off.  He started to cheer me on and push me with some choice words and I went for an all out sprint for the last 400 meters.  The crowds were loud and as I charged through the finish line I could hear my wife Sallie screaming my name and cheering me on.

Later I would find out what she was actually saying was that I blew by Darth Goofy, and to go back and high-five him.  Instead I met her on the path to get the medals, where she handed me a bag of medals from the week before.  I wanted to have my photos with all 10 medals, to show the fun we have had over the last 11 days.

After the photos, I met Sallie at the bleachers and we cheered on all of the runners while waiting for Coach Shannon to cross the finish line.  This is one of the fun parts of a race, something I look forward to.  I know how much the cheers mean to runners, so I always make it a point to stand on the course and cheer all of the runners.

Coach Shannon, in her usually awesome style, charges through the finish line with a huge smile.  I catch up with Sallie and we both head back to the runners area to meet up with Shannon.  As expected, she was all smiles.


We headed back to the hotel to relax and shower.  Shannon had to leave latter that day, so we said goodbye, and headed to our rooms.  Sallie and I cleaned up and wandered back into the parks for the rest of the days.  It always helps recovery to keep on your feet after a race, so that the acids can be worked out of the muscles and the soreness is reduced for the next two days.

Overall, it was a fun race, and the course was different enough to make it worth trying again, versus duplicating the Avengers Half course.  I am looking forwar dto trying this again and being a Dopey Rebel for a second year in a row.  This time, though, Sallie may have a chance to run it, as she will not be doing her first marathon the week before.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Inaugrual Star Wars Weekend - Pre-race and 10k

Disney has been expanding their race weekends with the addition of Avengers and now Star Wars.  Unlike Avengers, Star Wars was setup to support a challenge, called the Rebel Challenge.  Like normal challenges by Disney (Glass Slipper, etc), this was a combination of the 10k and half marathon.  Unlike the other challenges, this race weekend was a week after Disney's biggest event, their WDW Marathon weekend.  This is significant because many of the racers will have run at least one of the four races in Disney World before flying out to the west coast and running these.  That would include me, as I participated in the Dopey Challenge for the second year in a row.

Since Sallie had just finished her first marathon, she would not be racing in Disneyland, so she headed home early Wednesday after her race.  I stayed a bit long, eventually leaving late Wednesday night and arriving in Los Angeles in the evening.  After arriving in Anaheim, I headed to my hotel, unpacked, and went to bed.  I knew I needed to be up early Thursday to make sure I got to the Expo for any inaugural exclusives, which would not last past the first few hours.

Star Wars Weekend Expo

I woke up at 5am, with the intent of reaching the Expo by 6:30am.  The Expo wouldn't open until 9:30, but I knew there would already be a line.  I got dressed and drove over to the Expo.  While it was within walking distance, I felt lazy and drove anyways.  Once there, we were directed up a flight of stairs to a holding room.  Here we would wait in line until the Expo opened.  To all of the Expo guests surprise, Disney decided to show the original series to the waiting crowd.  By the time I got in line, they had already started Empire Strikes Back.

As we got close to 9am, they asked us to stand up and get ready to head down to the Expo, giving us what we thought would be an early entrance to the Expo itself.  Instead, they were actually moving us to the second queue line, down in the expo.

From here we waited, as they let in about 20 people every 5 minutes.  Unlike the first holding area, we where not treated to the movies.  Instead, they just projected a marketing slide for the race weekend, which was a little disappointing.

I finally got into the Expo and the Official Race Shop.  Here there was a mass of Star Wars race gear, which I grabbed a great deal of.  Once I headed out of the Official Merchandise area, I wandered to the packet pickup to retrieve my bibs for the next two races, as well as Sallie's Cheer Squad passes and accessories.  Each ramp to and from the packet pickup area had rugs designed specifically for the race.


From start to finish of the Expo, Disney kept you in the mindset of Star Wars and I was getting excited for two races I expected to be horrible at, after last weeks four race weekend.  Now it was off to lunch, then to meet up with Coach Shannon at the Wookie Welcome Party later that night!

Wookie Welcome Party

After the park closed Thursday night, they allowed us into the park to hang out with the Disney Star Wars character over at Tomorrow Land.

The party hosted a large amount of runners, with deserts and drink throughout the park.

They also allowed us to ride any of the Tomorrow Land rides, which Shannon and I took advantage of.  We both rode the Star Wars Tour ride at least four times, and I jumped on the Space Mountain ride once.

In the center of the festivities they had a stage were Jedi Chip and Jedi Dale were dancing it up to the music being mixed by the park DJs.

Every hour they would have some of the Star Wars characters come up to the stage for a skit, from the movies to the animated shows like Star Wars: Rebels.  All in All it was a great night of deserts, rides and Star Wars fanfare!

Friday Pre-Race Wandering

Friday was a relaxing day for me.  With the Expo out of the way, and all of the races in the challenge starting Saturday, I had the day free to wander Anaheim.  I went out for a short run to stretch out the legs and get a feel for how they had recovered from last weekend.  They were a bit sluggish, but that was to be expected.  I then headed out to a local Boardgaming store to see what Southern California offered their gaming community.  After a bit of lunch and some preparation for the next two days of racing,I headed off to LAX to pick up Sallie and head back to the hotel.

Saturday Storm Trooper 10k

The morning came early, though not as early as last weekend.  Since most of the hotels in Disneyland are within walking distance of the race start, I didn't need to get up a 3am for a race at 5:30.  Instead, I got up at 4:30am, grabbed a quick snack, and wandered down to the lobby to meet Shannon and Sallie.  The course for this 10k was different then previous 10k courses, as it started on the streets and over the hills for the first 2 miles, then head back into the park, where it would stay for the rest of the race.

We then walked over to the starting line, where both of us would start in Corral A.  Shannon and I were al set in costumed for this race.  Shannon had an awesome Ewok costume, while I was dressed as Luke on Dagoba, with Yoda on my back.

As we entered Corral A, we could see the starting line, where they had a huge screen that kept showing clips of the original movies as we waited.

Eventually, the announcers came onto a stage near the starting line to do a few skits and then release us.  This would be the beginning of my attempt at pacing.  I knew I wanted to stop at as many characters as possible, so I needed to make sure my pace was controllable and comfortable.  Corral A had a ranch of elite to middle of the pack paces, and I set myself up near the front of the corral.  It was still quite dark as the race start loomed.

Miles 1-2

With the race started, I setup a pace of 8 minute miles.  This would allow me to get a good feel for my capabilities, without worrying too much about burning out for tomorrows race.  If I felt good after the first two miles, I would speed up a bit.  These two miles were on roads in Anaheim and they started at the entrance on the road next to the Expo.  We then headed out to Ball Rd and turned right onto Harbor Avenue.  This part crossed over two bridges, which were considered the hills for the race.  Once we were on Harbor Avenue, it was straight and flat until we got to the entrance of Disneyland.  My legs started off feeling tired and a bit weak, but the overpasses quickly woke them up.  I had some good discussions with fellow racers and we came to the entrance and headed through the turnstiles to the Magic Kingdom.  At this point I felt good enough to start pushing the pace a bit.  We actually entered the attractions a 1.75 miles into the race.

Miles 2-3

Once we entered Magic Kingdom, we headed to Frountierland.  We would run through the main paths there, past Tom Sawyers Island and on to Fantasyland.  The course was flat, with only minor quick bumps for hills, but there was a lot of turns that were tight.  As we reached Tomorrowland, I was averaging a 7:30 minute mile and felt good.  I was chatting with a few racers about the lighting of the different sections of the park until we came to Toontown.  From here we would enter the back lot of Disneyland.

Miles 3-5

The back lots are always an interesting place to run.  You have the opportunity to see the behind the scenes activities of the park, repairing attractions, creating new art, and just interesting random artifacts.  This also meant that we could not take photos, which was odd, as one of the cooler things Disney did for this part of the race was to project different symbols and art onto the walls.  Things like the Imperial seal, Rebel emblems, Droid silhouettes, and other fun things. My pace was still averaging 7:30 minute miles as we reentered the parks at California Adventures.  After the longer, straighter parts of the back lot, we were headed back into curves and sharp turns.

Now halfway through California Adventures, we headed to Paradise Island.  I knew this would be a bit straighter and flat, so I was expecting a kick up in pace, as we only had two miles left.  I pushed my pace to 7:14 minute miles as I came to the 4.5 mile mark, Paradise Pier.  There at the entrance of the bridge stood Boba Fett himself.  This was the first real character we had run into, and he had a line, but I had to stop!

 It took about a minute to wait and then get the photo, and I was off.  I had been running with another runner from our area who had dropped a bit in pace through California Adventure.  My delay allowed him to catch up and we agreed we would kick the pace to 7:16 from here and finish strong.

Miles 5-6.2

From here we took off, weaving a bit through races as we pushed to the end.  There was a bit more weaving until we got to the back lot of California Adventures, where it straightened out, eventually dumping us into the parking area for the park.  From here we would circle around to Disney Wat, with is a parking lot road for Disney Cast.  This would be the last bit of road on the course, before we came back to some parking lots and to the finish line near the Expo and Disney Downtown.  We kept the pace at a 7:15 minute mile until we got to the last stretch, which was the entrance to Downtown from the parking lot.  I bid my buddy good luck and kicked up my pace to the end.  I averaged a 6:45 minute mile pace until the 6 mile mark, where a sprinted at a 4:44 minute a mile pace to the end.  Sallie was waiting for me on the other side of the finish line, where she pointed out that Darth Goofy was at the finish line giving high fives and I had just blown right by him.  It was still dark as I crossed the line at 46:40.

Cheering and After the Race

Once I got through the gauntlet of medals, snacks, and racing retreat areas, I headed back to the finish line to cheer on Coach Shannon.  Other racers were out there as well, including Sean Astin, many with amazing costumes.

Courtesy of Karen Chu
As Coach Shannon came into view, we screamed and cheered and watched as she triumphantly crossed the finish line.  Now it was time to meet up near the Runners area stage.  With it finally becoming light out, it was time for breakfast and some park walking.

 Knowing that we had another race tomorrow, we decided to load up on some carbs and protein, heading to Black Bear Diner for a large and tasty breakfast.

After we finished gouging ourselves, Coach Shannon headed off to meet some friends and family, while Sallie and I walked California Adventures.  After a day of running, parks, and food, we hit the sack for a big day tomorrow.