Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Disney Halfathon, I am now half a marathoner

In preparing to run the Disney Half Marathon, I read tons of blogs about the actual event and even more about training to run in such an event. My only real concern was whether or not I'd be able to find my way back to the busses and check out of my room before the required check out time of 11:00 AM. I know that seems pretty ridiculous, but truthfully, I was very well prepared for the actual running of the event, it was everything else that worried me.

Would I make it to the starting line on time? What if I have to pee? What if I'm not in the choral at 5:30 AM? Should I take a jacket? Should I check any clothing or a bag? Should I bring my phone? Should I listen to music? What if my e-tag isn't on my shoe right?

I came at the half marathon as a complete novice, only beginning to train starting in October. I half heartily decided to enter about two weeks later as a motivation for continuing to run, and although I had looked at lots of training regiments for the actual event, I didn't adhere to any particular one. I just made sure the each week I ran some more than the week previous. As the days ticked by and the event loomed closer, so did the holidays and being a father of three meant that as always, much would be demanded of my time. Furthermore, the whole idea of running in an event started with my wife's desire to join a group of friends who where doing the "Couch to 5K" program. So her and my oldest daughter were running their first 5K at Disney the day before.

So although my run started as an afterthought, as the day loomed closer I began to get nervous. My family was not going to join me at the finish line, a decision that although we regret a bit, we new was in keeping with the happiest family. We really didn't know what to expect and from what we had read getting to the finish line would be challenging. Also, we only booked rooms through Saturday and knew that we had to be checked out by 11:00 AM. Not that staying would be any big deal, but it was one more stressor.

My daughter had a migraine the night before my race and so I was up pretty late with my other two, keeping them out of the hotel room while nervously wanting to get back to get some much needed rest. I was finally all ready to go, all of my things neatly set next to the bed and I was preparing to sleep by 10:30 PM. I don't know if I really got any sleep at all. I was so nervous and excited for the race.

I awoke at 2:45 AM and was dressed to go and out the door by 3:05 AM, munching on pop tarts on my way to the bus. I figured the 400 calories from the pop tarts would be a good boost. I had a SPIbelt filled with some GU nuggets, my ID and a camera and I decided to bring a bag with a change of clothes, some food, and my battery back up charger for my phone.

Knowing now what I was about to enter, I never would have brought any food, there was tons to eat both before and after the race, but I wanted to be prepared for anything. I figured at best, I could be back at my hotel room showering early enough to get to a park, and at worst, my family would meet me at a park and I could change in the bathroom (smelly).

Once there I was dropped off in a dark parking lot with what looked like a sea of people all descending on the starting line. Thousands of people were marking across the parking lot to the tents. Once there, we were treated to music, meet-ups and a place to check in our bags. Not knowing how long everything was going to take, I believed the announcer when he said it was time to get to the starting line. It wasn't even 4:00 AM, but I believed him. So I checked my bag and walked through to the holding center. It was obvious that I was early, but even this area seemed full. Little did I know that it really hadn't begun to fill up. I decided to use the rest room and pound my Gatoraid Prime. I then waited, and waited and waited.

Finally they opened the gates for us to march to the corrals. I had no idea there would be so many people. I guess I really didn't understand what 28,000 people would look like. The walk was long and sometimes unlit, but people were mostly jovial and happy. It took nearly 30 minutes to get to the start, but once there, I realized that going to the bathroom would not be a problem. It was a portapotty paradise. There were staff members to guide us to our corrals and lots of music to keep us entertained.

One interesting note was a unexpected live start to the race that was coordinated to join a race planned in Afghanistan by Army personal. It was touching and amazing all at the same time.

I knew to expect that I wouldn't get to the starting line for a while after the actual start of the race, but with all the fireworks and excitement, once the race started it didn't feel like 25 minutes. Once I was past the starting line, the really was almost non stop entertainment. Although I planned on listening to music the whole time, It was only necessary in parts of the race. For the most part, there was tons of sights and sounds to take in.

I was really surprised by the mass ejection of clothing during the first three miles and was also immediately embarrassed at my own attempt to get a picture with Tinker Bell, only to be told I was on the wrong side of the course. But after I got over the shock of the start of the race and realized that everyone was just stripping down to their running cloths, I got pretty comfortable with my pacing.

Unfortunately I was not prepared for the combination of choke points and zig zaggers. People are zipping in and out of the crowd as the course itself is getting wider and narrower. There were several times I had to walk just because there was no real way around the crowds. Once I became accustomed to this, I was fine, but it was real frustrating at the beginning.

Running is running, no matter where you are. There are times when I wanted to walk, times I felt great and sped up, and times when I couldn't remember what mile I had run. I never once believed I wouldn't finish, but I certainly couldn't wait to be there. Running through the parks was thrilling. I do feel that the time in parking lots and over-passes far outweighed the times in theme parks-especially EPCOT which could have been much longer. Even with all the people around me, I felt very isolated and alone. I had been encouraged to talk to people around me, but I found myself very shy and reserved.

There were many very memorable times during the race, but the most inspirational and motivating moments was just past mile marker 11 when we came upon a stage and Off Kilter was playing for us. I love Off Kilter and hearing them play was great.

I didn't really have any expectation on my course time, but I wanted to finish in under 2.5 hours. The entire point of running was to be able to say I did it. But now that I'm done (2:14 was my official time), I am somewhat uneasy. I'm going to turn 40 this year, and this moment marked a turning point in my life, a mile marker so to speak. I had focused all of my training on finishing this race, and now it is done. I remember coming off the last over pass and seeing EPCOT unfolding in front of me and tears were coming off my face. I didn't fully realize that I was crying, as I just thought I was winded from the uphill side of the road.

Just the same, for fifteen to twenty minutes, I was more isolated than before and I began to go through all of the things I had begun in my life that I hadn't finished. Blogs, businesses, new ideas, writing projects, grant proposals, etc. many started through the years and many failed, some spectacularly. Or worse still, all the great amazing ideas conjured up late at night with friends and coffee that slowly piddled out and faded only to be picked up successfully by someone else. As I came to realize I was going to finish this race, I more and more began to see how quite old I was. The blogosphere is filled with inspirational stories of middle aged and older people finding themselves as runners and embracing their new lifestyle. Many of these stories begin with them discussing the poor or declining health and wishing for a way to increase their quality and length of life. For them, the finish was just the beginning of a new lifestyle with running the central focus. For me, I began to see this race with seminal focus as perhaps the one thing in last few years that I will have completed successfully.

As I came closer and closer to both the start and the finish of the race, I began to dwell on the future. Would this be the motivation I needed to complete the incomplete tasks of my life? Does this chapter close the past and suggest a new beginning of things I should try? Is it time for me to realize that at 40 my opportunities to have been more active would have payed far more dividend had they been started at 30 or 20? Does the end of this race represent the beginning of a life long love running, or the closing of something else I have tried and finished.

I refused to spend any money on running right up until the race. I bought a pair of shoes only when my knees complained loud enough to need them, and a new shirt when it was too cold to run in what I had. At the race I got caught up in the excitement and bought a shirt to run in so that I could have something to remember the race. I didn't want to invest in clothes, and tech, and running things just to stair at them as I sat around my house as I have with other things I have jumped into. So now what?

Well, two weeks after the Disney Halfathon I've run my second half marathon, the Clearwater Halfathon and shaved 30 seconds off each mile. I intend to keep running, but I don't know when I will let myself believe that I am an athlete. I want my kids to see what a healthy lifestyle looks like and I have registered us for the Gasparilla 5K and myself for the Gasparilla Half Marathon. I want to run the Disneyland Half Marathon, but it is not in the cards financially. Therefore, my Coast to Coast medal will have to wait until next year. In March when the 2011 Disney Marathon opens for registration, I have every intention of moving from the Half to the Full Marathon. I want that feeling next year of saying to myself, "I did it!"

If you've read this rambling passage this far, I hope you are inspired to finish whatever it is you have started. My birthday is in three months. I'm not at the weight I was hoping for, but I'm still trying. I've added 100 push ups to the list of things I want to be able to do as well as 200 sit ups. (Got the apps too baby!). My family encourages me and I hope they see my successes as theirs too.

I want to be better tomorrow than I am today.

- Eric