September 9, 2010

2010 Disneyland Half Marathon Race Recap

Running this race is similar to running with an old friend for me. It was my first half marathon back in 2007 and I have run it every year since then. While each year has presented me with new challenges, moving through the course still brings back a flood of warm, familiar memories.  This year's challenge was coming down with a nasty flu the week before the race. There are some commonly agreed upon guidelines for running when you're sick and I was on the end of the stick that recommended zero running. Great.  I had run 5 x 1-mile repeats with 3 miles at race pace the previous Sunday, but little did I know that would be the last time I would run until race day. I struggled to keep up at work throughout the week and eventually had to take Thursday off completely as I could barely get out of bed. At that point, I was giving myself about a 25% chance of even showing up in my corral at the race, and a 0.5% chance of hitting the sub-2hr PR I had been training so incredibly hard for these past 2 months. Coughing, stuffed up and achy, I slept for almost an entire day. By Friday night, I was feeling much better.  Maybe I still have a shot at this PR.....

As with the race course itself, arriving at the Expo has a wonderful feeling of familiarity. We flew through race packet pick up – also getting our wrist bands needed for receiving the coveted Walt Disney Coast-to-Coast Challenge Medal at the Finish Line (in addition to the DLand Half medal). This special medal is earned by completing one running event at Disneyworld in Florida (they offer a full marathon and a few different half marathons throughout the year) and the Disneyland Half Marathon in the same calendar year.

Jeff Galloway is now the Official Training Consultant for runDisney
We met my sister, nephew and brother-in-law on the Expo floor who drove down from the San Francisco Bay Area for race-day support and a little fun at Disneyland with Auntie and Uncle John. Shortly before their arrival, John and I stopped by Jeff Galloway’s booth so I could formally introduce myself to him. I have been hired as the Ventura County Program Director for Galloway Training Programs (starting this December!) and wanted just a few minutes of his time to talk about the start-up. As a sidenote here, Jeff has an aura about him that draws you in. Maybe I feel this as a fellow runner, and as someone who is such an advocate of his training theories and programs. He has a way of making you feel like you are the only person in the room when he’s talking to you. I was so flattered that he not only knew my name (I was interviewed by a couple of his National Directors, not him personally), but that he told me he thought I was going to do very well with this program. He sure seems excited about getting a program going in Ventura. I guess it goes without saying that I’m on the same page with that!!

For what seems like the first time in my running career, I was not nervous and/or anxious trying to fall asleep on Saturday night. I think the diminished feelings of anxiety had a lot to do with the fact that I truly had no expectations of how this race was going to go. I have never run within a week of coming down with such a bad flu, and certainly had never raced while I was still recovering. What was most interesting (and exciting) to me beforehand was the question of how my body was going to react to what would be very high energy demands should I go for the sub-2hr PR. I knew that running at an approximate 9 min/mile would quickly boost my heart rate (HR) up to about 150bpm’s and would likely push 160 by the halfway point, probably higher in the last couple of miles. These heart rates translate to an intensity level of between 80-90% for me. Not exactly ideal for someone who was still slightly stuffed up with a mild chest cough. [I have a blog in the works regarding guidelines for running when you’re sick as a result of all the research I did before the race].

I was 75% sure on Friday night that for as good as I was feeling (especially relative to having to spend the whole day in bed on Thursday!), and with another 36 hours of recovery time ahead of me, I was up for trying the sub 2-hr goal. I did, however, make a deal with myself that if this meant I died in the middle and had to walk the rest of the way, at least I tried my best and will have learned even more about my body and gain some valuable lessons from the experience (in a good way!). I changed my race day strategy from what I usually follow for most races. Rather than rely on hitting negative splits every few miles, I decided I would go out at race pace and hold it for the length of the course. I was worried that if I started out slower, I might not have enough energy to make up the time in the last 4 miles or so. Using a 4:30 min run/0:30 walk intervals, my running segments would need to be run at about 8:40 min/mile as the 30-second walk breaks add about 10-15 sec/mile. I’d trained with enough tempo runs, 1-mile and 2-mile repeats, hill work and drills running at race pace to boost my mental confidence. It was the physical part that casted the biggest shadow of doubt – were my lungs going to be on fire? how long would my legs hold out when I’d been basically sendentary for a week? “Put faith in your training and the effect of tapering, Vera”. My Daily Mile friends were a great source of support with this – reminding me that the extra rest could be a great thing, and that I might even surprise myself. Thanks guys and gals!!

Thanks to Chris who was up early to see us off!
Wake up time was 3:45am as this race starts at 6am, with a recommended arrival time in the corrals by 5:15am. My brother-in-law Chris (also a distance runner and fellow sufferer of the 10-mile run in Georgia) met us outside our hotel at 4:45, hoping to catch us along the course and take pictures. Now that’s some family commitment right there! ;-) We only had a short walk ahead of us to the corrals which serves as our warm up every year. It was a beautiful morning, perfect for racing. Mid sixties (F) with a forecast of clouds for a good part of the morning. John had been somewhat frustrated last year (which was his first year running this race, and his first half marathon ever!) because he had been placed in one of the last corrals, behind 12,000 other runners and surrounded by those who were walking, slowing him down considerably for the first few miles, and feeling crowded at different points throughout the race. Not unusual when you don’t have a prior half marathon under your belt. We all start at the back at some point! This year, he made it into the 3rd corral and set a PR, shaving off a whopping 15 minutes!!  Way to go, baby!!

Hubby set a PR by15 minutes!
As my corral moved up towards the Start line, I was calm but excited to test myself. In many ways, this race was a first.  The first time I was running when I logically knew this might not be such a great idea, the first time I was going to hold a fast and steady pace, the first time I was truly putting my training and tapering to the test and the first time I was targeting a sub 2-hr finish. All you can do is the best you can do. Let’s hit it!

The first few miles take us through California Adventure and Disneyland Park. Running under the Castle is always a highlight. I was really pleased that the running paths had been widened compared to previous years. The water stops were placed better and there was an obvious difference in how open the course was as we ran through the parks.

Click here for a larger view of the course map
I actually ran into Jeff Galloway and his wife near the Matterhorn. I was too caught up in myself to say hi, but I don’t think it was just a coincidence that I saw him! More inspiration and motivation to hit this goal! Awesome!

The next 7 miles went by so fast that I hardly remember anything. After several years of using the run/walk/run method, I’m no longer self-conscious about walking, even during the first couple of miles so I wasn’t distracted by what others’ might have been thinking, plus, at the speed I was managing to hold onto, I was definitely in my own world for a good portion of the race. I was holding my pace great, and although it was challenging, it wasn’t feeling any more challenging than I would have expected had I been 100% healthy. Fearful of becoming dehydrated (I had been taking cold medication for several days, but had stopped 48 hours prior to the race), I took a swig of water at each water stop, carried Accelerade with me and was drinking about 2 ounces of that every mile or so after about 5 miles. In addition, I consumed about half of a sports jelly bean pack after about an hour (between miles 6 & 7). My strategy and extra precautions seemed to be paying off.

Just before mile 10, we enter Angel’s Stadium, running onto the right field sideline, up the first base line towards homeplate, and then out the tunnel past the left field sideline. As usual, the Jumbo Tron is on. For the first time, a photographer finally snapped a pic of me on the field.

Mile marker 10 goes by and I am still feeling pretty strong. My pace has not waivered by more than a few seconds per mile. Only 3.1 left to go. Around 11.5 miles, the course runs under some overpasses and through a tunnel and we are almost back to California Adventure. I had been keeping a pretty close watch on my Garmin – much more so than usual. So when I looked down at my watch and saw a 10:15 min/mile pace, a jolt of anxiety hit. Energetically, I still felt like I was holding that 8:40 pace. Momentary thoughts of failure cross my mind. “Oh no. This is it. I’m less than 20 minutes from finishing right on target and I’m going to die right here”. I won’t let this happen. I dig in, determined not let this moment slow me down. I can feel myself speeding up, but my breathing has become really rapid within less than a minute and my legs are getting heavy. I come out from under the overpasses after a few hundred feet, look down at my Garmin to see how I’m doing, and my pace is reading 6:30 min/mile! OMG. This is the 4th time I’ve run this race and I know damn well that there is no solid satellite signal in that area. I suddenly realize it was a Garmin GPS issue, not a Vera issue! Whew! I slow my pace back down, and I can feel my body relaxing and dropping back down to it’s steady pace. Relax, power, glide. Relax, power, glide.

The final dash to the Finish
I honestly do not remember seeing Mile Marker 12 or 13. All I’m looking at is my Garmin distance and time. The end of the course was not different from last year, so I had a good idea of where I was anyway. I’m in the last mile now and I know that if I just hold on for another 8 minutes, I’m going to come in with a couple minutes to spare. We come around the backside of Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, and I get my first glimpse of the finishing chute. This is it. I’m going to make it in under 2 hours. I’m getting choked up but fear it will somehow affect my breathing or my power output. I’m pushing as hard as I possibly can now. I’m leaving everything I’ve got left on this last straightaway. My inner thighs are cramping, my quads are burning and my right hamstring is screaming for a stretch. Nothing can stop me. I’m doing it, I’m doing it.  I hit the Finish line and I’m instantly sobbing with joy and excitement as I head for a gate where there aren’t that many people around. Within 15 seconds, a Disney race official is standing right next to me to see if I’m okay. I can barely tell her I just broke 2 hours for the first time, and I’m overwhelmed with emotion. She gives me a big smile and says Congratulations!

My official time was 1:57:44. Between the challenge of running my first marathon at Disneyworld in subfreezing temperatures with intermittent bouts of intense IT band pain and managing to hit my sub 2-hr half marathon time goal at Disneyland, I think these 2 medals are the ones I’m most proud of so far. 

Click here for Garmin data
After a shower and a little down-time, we’re off with the family to spend the day at the parks. Although my husband and I have annual passes and spend several days a year there, this day was particularly sweet. Two PRs and a great day with the family. What more to life is there than this?

At a Bug's Land in CA Adventure with nephew, Jon.
Slogan on my shirt reads: I know I run like a girl. Try to keep up.
We were honorary bugs for It's a Bug's Life 4-D movie (lil' sis Jill and Chris)
Until next year my fellow Disneyland runners!


mizuno running shoes said...

Wow! This is great been running this race since 2008...It's very self fulfilling.

Johann said...

Well done to both of you! That is super! Not running the week before often results in a great run, but you had the flu and still did it. Lovely photos of you! You should be very proud of those two medals.

oakley sunglasses said...

Awesome! You are an inspiration to your fellow runners especially for newbies like me! God Bless and more power to you!

Alicia at Poise in Parma said...

I'm toying with the idea of heading out to Cali for the 2011 Disneyland half after running my first 1/2 at Walt Disney World on the 8th. I want that Coast to Coast medal!! I really appreciate this recap - especially you inclusion of the map and all the great detail you gave. Thanks for the post.