If there is anything I have learned from doing the Walt Disney World Half Marathon several times is that there really is no separation between the Friday before the race and race day itself. Friday sort of folds into Saturday.
This year was no different.
On Friday night before the race I recall glancing at the clock before hitting the pillow…it read 9:30.
I tried to get a good night’s sleep…oh I really tried…no luck.
The best I could do was manage about four or five catnaps that lasted anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.
Sometime around 12:45 A.M. my cell phone beeped. A text message. I ignored it. Every minute or so however my phone beeped….reminding me of the message waiting for me.
I got up and read the message. I replied and then jumped back into bed. As soon as I closed my eyes the phone beeped again. The person to whom I replied to had replied. I jumped out of bed, read the message, and then tried to go back to sleep.
I couldn’t turn the phone off because it was one of my three safety valves for wakening me up at 2:00 A.M.
I tried to get back to sleep….nothing.
I tossed and turned and then decided to get up. It was 1:30 A.M.
Race Day had arrived.
I showered and made sure the hot water pounded my sore knee…I needed the knee to get me as far as possible. I was pretty sure I’d be walking a portion of the course…just wasn’t sure exactly what portion and how far.
I read the runner’s guide to make sure I was aware of any rules.
I had to use the clear bag to check stuff at baggage claim.
I stuffed the bag with a towel, a few gels, a hat to ward off possible raindrops from raining upon my head, and my car keys….oh yes…and took about 100 feet of toilet paper and some anti-inflammatory pills.
I arrived at EPCOT at 3:00 A.M. and called Lou and Deanna Mongello. They were there too…and were parked only six cars to my left….I thought I was early…they were earlier.
While talking with them who comes by but Bryan Ripper, co-host of the All About the Mouse Podcast.
We were all excited and made our way over to the waiting area.
While we were there we met up with Jennifer Stennett and Mary Lurk. Both Jennifer and Mary had been reading this blog and preparing for their first half-marathon…heck…<strong>first race ever.
Spending time chatting in a group before this race is a Godsend because it helps to pass the time away and ward off any pre-race jitters.
We chatted for a while before checking in our bags and going to the other side of the tent. The lines for the portable toilets were long…35 minutes long…but runners don’t want to carry “excess baggage” when they run so a visit was necessary.
It was kind of funny to see several people holding rolls of toilet paper while in line and occasionally asking strangers, “Do you need any?”
We all got some bio-freeze before the race, I gulped down a couple of anti-inflammatory pills to help me deal with the knee and we were off to the Start.
The corrals were overflowing like you wouldn’t believe.
My corral had over 250 people waiting outside of the corral…overflow that is. I could not get into my corral until the elite runners had begun the race.
The sound system decided not to work this morning.
My corral/wave got off at about 6:30 A.M. which was some five hours from the time I had gotten out of bed. Those five hours had flown by.
I had no clue as to how I would do. I had not run since October, I was dealing with the remnants of my Mousefest cold, and my left knee kept hinting that somewhere on the course it was going to scream at me.
I decided to run as far as I could but to run slowly because my conditioning was next to nil. I had trained all year up to October before the knee let me know there would be an issue. That training was not all for naught because I still had that base and it would help me this day. My pace is usually somewhere between 11:20 and 12:20 per mile but for today my plan was to just run 14-15 minute miles.
My thinking was that if I ran slowly my knee would last longer, not to mention me lasting longer too.
If this was my first half marathon I would not have attempted this but knowing the course and understanding what I needed to do brought me to the Start…the question was would I finish.
As always it was crowded at the Start. I just concentrated on a steady pace and plodded along. I actually felt better than I expected.
Although I had not trained in almost three months my body seemed to remember what to do.
I planned to take advantage of each water stop and that I did. I knew it was important to alternate PowerAde with water and I religiously held to that rule.
The first mile was a bit slower than I wanted…well over 15 minutes….so I quickened my pace and for the next several miles I was doing low 14’s and doing okay…breathing was fine…knee was fine…I was having a good time.
For a moment or two my competitive spirit would pop up on one shoulder and say, “Y’know Mike, I’ll bet you could pull off at least one 12 minute mile so why not give it a shot?”
Luckily the voice of reason appeared on my other shoulder and said, “Remember when you did that in October after the Tower of Terror 13K race? I rest my case.”
I stuck with low 14’s.
The first challenge came near the Contemporary. I think we’re talking mile four. There is this overpass that we run under and it dips and then we have our first hill. I managed to continue running up this hill…just kept my head down.
I actually passed people on the way up. I train on hills in New Hampshire and that training offered me a dividend.
As I approached the Magic Kingdom I saw the part of the course where two years ago I had broken my ankle. I navigated this area very carefully and headed for the backstage area and Main Street USA.
When we got to Main Street and started running up it a woman who had been running next to me for virtually the whole time in silence turned to me and said, “Oh this is so cool!”
It is! Running up Main Street USA and through Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Frontierland is one of the main reasons why runners love this race.
As I ran up Main Street USA I caught a glimpse of several fans including Deb and Linda Mac.
We turned into Tomorrowland and that’s when I heard and saw both Deanna and Lou Mongello run right past me. There was no doubt that those two would be crossing the finish line with a smile on their faces.
That made my day. Both were dealing with some respiratory issues during training and I had concerns for them. There were motoring along just fine.
We were entertained by some musicians in Tomorrowland and then we headed into Fantasyland and then through the castle and down to FrontierLand.
We then headed backstage and saw a pirate ship and Mr. Jack Sparrow and a few pirates. There was another water stop back here but no bananas as in years past.
This is just about the halfway point in the race or at least pretty close to the halfway point.
The first half of this race is entertaining but the second half is boring.
As I passed the 10K mark I was assessing my condition. First I was ecstatic that I had been able to run non-stop from the Start through the Magic Kingdom.
I honestly wasn’t sure if my conditioning would let me run that far but steady as she goes.
Fatigue was not a factor. In fact, I felt great. Perhaps going slowly was the key to getting me through this year.
My breathing was fine but as we headed down Floridian Way I received a message from my knee.
Basically it said, “Mike, taking the anti-inflammatory pills, rubbing the bio-freeze on me, and taking it slow has helped but I’m telling ya dude, the pills are wearing off and I need to let you know there may be trouble ahead.”
A slight discomfort in the knee accompanied that message.
It wasn’t too painful but just enough for me to notice. I realized that unless I could find some Tylenol or Advil over the next mile or so that I’d have to deal with this pain the rest of the way.
When runners get pains like a stitch or something like that very often the endorphins make it tolerable. I’d need a truckload of those guys to help me.
I continued to run. I had thought that maybe I should stop and walk but something inside of me just kept telling me I need to continue at my pace and run as far as I could.
I made it through Mile 7 and kept my 14 minute pace. The miles seem so much longer on the way back to EPCOT.
I soon saw the Mile 8 marker and with each stride the pain was increasing…where is the Tylenol from previous years?
As I hit the 8 Mile marker I decided to stop running and give the knee a rest.
I wasn’t worried about being swept.
“Okay” I thought, “Now I need to adjust!”
My plan was simple; I would walk several minutes and then run 10 minutes. This would allow me to cruise into EPCOT.
As I walked I could still feel the pain and I tried to convince myself that the pain would dull because I would not be running as much.
I had stopped pounding on the knee so that was a good thing.
After about five minutes of walking I decided to get back into my jog.
Nope. It was not going to happen.
The pain had elevated to a level that pretty much negated any thoughts about running.
I took just two strides and had to halt.
I can’t describe the pain except that it was pretty sharp and made me stop dead in my tracks.
Now I was questioning my decision to stop running.
Okay, I will walk another few minutes and see what happens.
Another few minutes.
Okay I’ll walk for a solid 10 minutes.
I tried again. I managed about four strides but that was it.
I was extremely disappointed.
It became clear to me that my running on this day was behind me and that I’d be walking the rest of the way.
Still, my thought was that certainly I’ll be able to run across the Finish line.
Mile 9 and Mile 10 went by ever so slowly and every so often I would try a slow jog, my knee would have none of that.
At Mile 10 we received some nutrition gels and water…a little further down the road was some bio-freeze.
I went for it and rubbed it on my knee thinking it would grant me some sanctuary from the pain and perhaps give me at least a five minute window in which I would be able to manage a slow jog.
I really could have used a Tylenol.
So the walking continued.
I was beginning to worry about my time…even getting embarrassed…I always finished under three hours but this year looked like I would go way over that threshold.
As I negotiated the ramp on mile 11 I hugged the curve trying to gain as much with each stride as I could.
I am quite stubborn; I actually ran on my broken ankle several years ago and sprinted across the Finish Line. That would not happen this year. I would have given anything to trade the pain in my knee for that broken ankle.
EPCOT soon came into sight as did another bio-freeze station.
Maybe if I rub a lot on it and deeply it will help.
Another pipe dream.
So I approached the hairpin like turn that takes all the runners over heartbreak hill…the overpass guests can use when leaving EPCOT.
I tried to walk as fast as I could and even take a few jogging steps.
Oh the pain.
I got into EPCOT and I figured the adrenalin rush would mask the pain.
Arrrghhh…wrong again. I was striking out every time.
I walked past Spaceship Earth, up to World Showcase Plaza, and turned for the last big chunk of this race.
I’m still thinking I’m going to run across the Finish Line.
As I passed the fountain and headed for backstage I tried to muster one more try but my knee said, “No Mike. We’re almost there. We need to walk.”
The one last bit of backstage on the course had a choir of singers which helps the runners in that last half mile.
In my case I was walking and after some 15 WDW races I had run in this one would be the first in which I would have to walk across the Finish Line.
But…I would FINISH!
I saw Deanna and Lou waiting for me at the Finish and hugged them both.
It was more important to me to know that they finished than for me to finish.
The first time experience for this race is amazing. It was their turn and I was proud of them.
Although not too happy with everything there was some solace in that despite my lack of preparedness for the race I was able to run a portion and complete it.
My knee was on fire but it didn’t matter because my heart was kind of jumping up and down.
I received my medal and had my picture taken, one with Lou and Deanna, and grabbed a bottle of water and a banana and for a brief minute had one of those special moments in everyone’s life when you think to yourself, “Good job! You're stubborn...but good job!”
What a day!
Next Time: Race Aftermath & Celebration
If you haven't already, read Mike's previous blogs about the Walt Disney World Half Marathon Experience:
Marathoning with Mike and Mickey: Friday, January 11th
Marathoning with Mike and Mickey: The Saga Begins