Sunday, August 31, 2008

Disneyland Half Marathon

Walking around both Disney parks and the Anaheim Resorts until 9pm yesterday could have worked against me, but the always pleasant diversion combined with significant energy expenditure probably improved the quality of my slumber (no pre-race jitters!). In other words, I have no problem waking up with the alarm at 4am.

I arrive at the pre-race staging area at 5am and, shortly thereafter, meet up with two coworkers also participating in the race (one of them being the crazy ultra trail-runner I train with once a week). We have been assigned different adjacent starting corrals (I'm in B) and, since officials are indeed checking bibs, we cannot sneak into one together. We will definitely not be seeing each other again until after the race.

Nearly all of today's conditions appear to be perfect. My legs feel good, my new pair of Kayano 13s are sufficiently broken in. I have adequetly carbo-loaded over the past two days. I am already feeling my morning dose of caffeine (hotel room coffee made more palatable thanks to the light snack included in the goody bag I picked up with my race packet). I remember to bring enough gels for consumption at 45 and 15 minutes before the gun and one for 45 minutes into the race...and I have brought a disposable water bottle so I can keep myself thoroughly hydrated until the moment the race starts. I do not even feel the need a last minute restroom break. The pre-dawn air does seem humid and perhaps a bit too pleasant this early, but the marine layer should prevent the temperature from rising too high.

After some purely Disney theatrics (the announcer proposes to his girlfriend...Mickey and Minnie's friends arrive via monorail stopping directly in view through the starting gate), it is finally time to run. The race begins at 6am as scheduled. It takes me over a minute to cross the line and start running (I can only imagine how long it will take corral G to get here). I start my watch and music...and, just a few moments later, I realize I have made one major mistake.

In the process of deleting slower songs from my Walkman phone before the race, I have forgotten to place the MP3 player back into shuffled track mode. It must be in album mode because I can't change tracks (I only ripped one song from the selected album). I can't change playback modes without stopping to take the phone out of my armband. A-ha's The Living Daylights is holding my pace back, so I decide to race without music.

Fortunately, there is plenty of entertainment along the course, from classic Disney characters and parade performers found throughout Disney's California Adventure and Disneyland to dozens of drill teams, cheerleaders, marching bands (not to mention a Mariachi band and Polynesian dancers) lining the streets of Anaheim. I give high fives to a number of boy and girl scouts along the way, thanking them for their support. And, since first names are printed on the bib, complete strangers are cheering "You can do it, Eric!"

It's nice going into a race with a definite plan...and then being able to stick to it. From my training, I am confident I can hold an 8 minute per mile pace. I do not let my pace drop much during slight inclines (and actually use these as opportunities to pick other runners off). I do let my pace increase on the slight declines (for the most part, this is a really flat course). I am using my watch to monitor my overall average pace and am encouraged each time it updates another second faster than 8...even splits are great, negative even better! I consume fluids at every station, I stick to my own schedule for consuming a Cliff Shot rather than wait for the freebie at mile 9.

When I pass ten miles having held my fastest eight mile training pace with absolutely no issues, I grow even more confident I can finish this race in 1:45. I am actually smiling as I attack the slight incline after mile 11 (look for runner 2001 in photo to the left)...and it ends up being my second fastest mile of the race.

My mood changes with a mile-and-a-half to go. I see my pace momentarily slow and I must struggle to get my legs to turn over any faster. I am not winded...just feeling my burning muscles and a general sense of fatigue. We cross back through California Adventure and twist our way through the Downtown Disney. Where's the finish line? My watch says I've already run 13.2 miles!

One final turn near the Disneyland Hotel and I push hard through to the finish line. The clock reads 1:46:55 when I cross the line, my watch 1:45:47...and my chip time is officially 1:45:46. I really feel like I had done a 1:45 flat, so that extra 46 seconds bother the heck out of me! My GPS data suggests the course length is just a couple tenths of a mile longer than it should have been. It's not just my watch either. Both of my coworkers recorded a course length longer than 13.34 miles (of course, we all have the same exact GPS watch). My official 5K split sounds a minute too slow. I am pretty certain that my 10K split was faster than the logged 50:40 (just a couple of weeks ago I ran a 10K that felt much slower in 50:38...and my watch disputed the length of that course as well).

After meeting up with my coworkers and consuming post race snacks, it starts to sink in that, regardless of whether or not I hit 1:45 flat, I still beat my personal record by eight minutes. I have finished 75th out of 749 men in my age division, 418th of 4442 men overall, and 515th of all 10,849 participants who completed the course within the four hour time limit. My coworkers, both also within my age division, both set personal records today as well.

Disney calls this event the "Happiest Race On Earth." I should be happy. I am happy that I can walk back to my hotel. I am thrilled that I do not have to drive home (my best bud not only provided transportation but also got me into both parks yesterday). And Monday is a holiday...I should be enjoying a total high.

That said, I know I will not be able to hold this pace for a full 26.2 miles. Am I a bit worried that my first full marathon is just two weeks away? Absolutely!


Justin Monast said...

No need to worry, you ran a solid race with more to give. If you go out easy for the first half of the Maui Marathon and attack the latter downhill side, you'll get the time you want. Plus enjoy Maui, you're on vacation right;)


NevermoreLenore said...

Hey there..What kind of training do you have to do to prepare for this particular marathon? I am planning on going for it ...the 2013 Disneyland 1/2 Marathon... any advice?? btw I am a female so I dont know if there are precautions... for moi..

akira3d said...

Will this be your first half marathon? This is a nearly flat course on pavement and real surprises other than prepare for potential heat on race day (I got lucky the year I ran it).