A rocky road to 26.2:
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that Chicago was a disaster for me. I finished, but in agony, and took myself to a PT and signed up with a running coach. I had the Disney Marathon in three months and I wanted redemption. Initially at the PT we were treating it as an IT Band injury, and it was going well- I had run the Wine and Dine half relatively strong and finished a local Turkey Trot in a much faster time than I had anticipated. I was pretty excited as we were approaching one month to go, until my knee started really acting up again during my two peak weeks.
My PT re-evaluated my knee and threw out a word no runner wants to hear: meniscus. Of course my mind started whirling. He wasn’t saying that was it necessarily, but some of the tests he did were indicating a tear and he wanted me to go get an MRI. He kept saying I’d still be able to run, but I was anxious as I was in a fair amount of pain from even short runs. How was I going to run 26.2?
Then I went to an orthopedic, who spoke of legs exploding due to stress fractures or needing surgery because my meniscus would be so far gone. I left there frazzled, scared, and unsure of whether I was going to be able to run. Thank god for a PT/running buddy that helped keep me somewhat grounded during this whole ordeal! She put up with a lot of anxiety and panic over the course of about ten days.
I went to get my MRI done, but then couldn’t get back in to see the ortho before I was supposed to leave for the race, so we also sent the results to my PT. The MRI was clear of any signs of a meniscus tear or stress fracture, which was a relief. I was still in pain, but at least I didn’t have to have the image of my leg shattering haunting each running step.
Then, on January 1st, less than a week to the race, I woke up with a 101 fever and feeling like I was hit by a ton of bricks. I was really frustrated. We had just ruled out some major concerns for running the marathon, and now I was going to be sick. Last time it went into a full blown case of bronchitis which had lingered for a long time, so I went to immediate care and they gave me antibiotics. I’m not sure they did much, but at least they were something else to help battle whatever was making me feel like garbage.
WDW Marathon Expo
My husband went to Disney early than I did and went to the expo on day one. It was insane. Lines everywhere, and he went later in the day, so it wasn’t just the mad rush of the opening. They did seem to have plenty of merchandise out, but none of the marathon stuff was overly appealing this year. The Dopey and Half stuff were much better, which was disappointing since this was the first year I was only doing the full. He bought me a couple of things he thought I’d like and we went back on Friday morning.
Friday wasn’t a big deal. There weren’t really any lines, and we got there shortly after opening. We went to the merchandise area first, which was still pretty well-stocked. It was relaxing and not very stressful, so if you are not in a rush for any particular merchandise, I definitely recommend waiting to go.
I was excited when I found the race weekend Alex and Ani bracelets and bought one of those. It was super cute and a nice new addition to the merchandise. The race merchandise was separate from everything else again, which I still think is a great idea. It has a much larger space now, which allows for easier browsing, and it clears up space in the main expo building.
After hitting up the race merchandise and getting my bib and shirt, we wandered the expo for awhile. I wanted to get a black long sleeve to have as an option for the race and Raw Threads had one on sale, which made me happy. I really love their stuff, it’s really comfortable to run in, so I was glad to pick up a new shirt for a decent price. I also grabbed three pairs of ProCompression socks from their booth. They were having a big sale, buy three for $60, and they had some styles that they haven’t had in stock online in awhile. My husband also picked up some race fuel because he had forgotten to bring his.
I was really anxious going into the race. During my shake out run on Saturday I had felt a lot of pain in my knee, and I found this to be very concerning. I spent a lot of time with my leg propped up, icing or using my TENS unit. The only time I really was on my feet was when we went to Disney Springs to get lunch/early dinner.
We woke up at 2 AM and I meticulously applied my kinesiology tape. I was worried it would fall off while I was running, which has happened on a few long runs, so I was very careful when I applied it. After getting ready, we wandered to the bus stop. We stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter, so there was only one bus stop at our resort, but then we went to every stop at Riverside, so it took forever to get to the staging area of the race. I found this annoying at the time, but it helped lessen the time we had to stand out in the cold, so I guess it was a good thing in the end. We didn’t get in line for any prerace pictures because the lines were already really long, so we just hit up the bathrooms a few times (I am such a nervous pee-er, lol) and then checked our stuff.
We were in corral B, so luckily we didn’t have to wait too long. I huddled in a ball under a thermal blanket for awhile, and was not happy when I stood up to start warming up and realized I had to pee again. There were not any portapotties near the corral so I realized I would have to stop on the course- my first time ever having to stop in a marathon, but there was no way I was going to make it through the race.
Disney sent us off in its usual extravagant fashion, and we went off on a rather slow start. I was right at the front of one of the waves, but I had to do a lot of dodging in the first mile of the course, which I’m not used to. It was actually pretty frustrating. I did get lucky when we got to the first bank of portapotties since I found an open one right away, which meant I didn’t lose much time, and then I set out on my way, running up the shoulder of the road a bit to be able to get back into my pace.
The Actual Race
After stopping for the bathroom, I really felt like I was able to get into a rhythm. I wanted to stay around 9:00 miles for the first thirteen miles. If I did that, I could drop to as low as 10:00 for the last half, keeping in mind that my knee tended to get worse later in the run, and still get my second fastest marathon time. My PR was a 4:04, and I wasn’t sure that I would have that in my legs, but I wanted to beat a 4:18 so I could at least have my second fastest time and take over a half an hour off of my Chicago time.
The first few miles ticked by, and I was happy that I was maintaining a decent pace without much effort. Besides the first mile being about 10:00 with the stop, I had an 8:44, an 8:37, and an 8:50 for the next few. You hit the Magic Kingdom area around mile three, though it takes a few more miles before you actually hit the park. I slowed down once actually in the park, stopping for a picture at the castle, and enjoyed the sites and cheering crowds. That’s always such an exciting part of the run, with everything lit up and so many people there to support the runners.
After leaving Magic Kingdom, where my splits were at or just over 9:00, I returned to sub 9:00 pace, stopping for a few more pics on the outskirts of the park. However, I was noticing knee pain starting during mile five, and it became more apparent as I left the distractions of the park. I kept telling myself to push through, that it wasn’t that bad yet and I could slow down at mile 10 if I really needed to, but to try to keep to the plan because I was doing so well thus far.
I continued on. Animal Kingdom was slower with the hills, sharp turns, and sites, but I was still below pace and was noticing less pain in my knee, so on I went. I hit the halfway point still going strong, only walking for a few seconds at water stops to make sure I was adequately hydrating. I have a tendency to choke on my water if I drink while running, ruining my breathing and rhythm. It’s really classy when I start coughing and dying, so I figured I’d avoid that at all costs, especially since I was still feeling the effects of being sick all week.
The stretch after Animal Kingdom is quite boring, and I made it to ESPN still going relatively hard, but I could feel myself struggling a bit. I stopped for a pic with Minnie at ESPN, and with Joy and Sadness, and felt my gait shifting because my right upper IT Band was getting annoyed. I noticed my pace was dropping, but I was near mile 20, so well beyond mile 13, where I had initially told myself I could slow, so at this point I started doing the ma th in my head, figuring out what pace I needed to finish at certain times. There are a few overpasses after you leave ESPN, and I cursed one of them out loud, leading someone nearby to encourage me up it. I smiled at her and was thankful for some moral support. It helped pass the time as I approached my favorite portion of the course- the stretch in Hollywood to Boardwalk/Beach Club, and into Epcot.
By this point I had definitely slowed down, and took a slightly longer water stop walk break at the hill going into Hollywood than the others, but I kept plodding on, doing math and enjoying the scenery, stopping for a picture with Oswald. I love the cheering crowds in this section and knowing your so close to the end. There’s always lots of people as you run by Beach Club, and I recognized some signs that I had seen earlier on the course now gathered there. Upon going back towards Epcot, they shuffle you backstage, where the final water stop is, before you enter near the UK in the worlds.
I had one mental break down in mile 25, where I allowed myself to walk without being at a water station. My leg hurt, I was mentally exhausted, and I was getting discouraged as my mind was starting to tell me I wasn’t going to get my goals. Then I did the math one more time and realized if I hauled butt, I could actually go under four hours. I hadn’t really thought that would be possible, not with the injuries going in, and being sick that week on top of it. But the math didn’t lie, I just needed to keep running.
I urged my legs to move and continued around the world in Epcot. As I passed Spaceship Earth, I looked at my watch again. The pace I was holding wasn’t going to be enough. My legs, dead as they were, needed to move faster if I was going to go under 4:00. It took everything I had to move faster. My watch beeped for 26 miles, but I knew my mileage was off at this point. I continued on, feeling inspired by the choir that I knew stood near the finish line. We turned the final corner and could see the finish line and I gave my watch one more look, realizing I had less than a minute to get there. I laugh, because the last split after my watch hit 26 averaged 8:27 pace, but man did I feel like I was doing a 100 meter sprint. I moved my legs as fast as I could, watching the clock above the finish line, which didn’t match my start time, but I used it to pull me forward. When I realized I was going to do it, I almost started crying. I high fived Chip or Dale (I was freaking out mentally too much- no idea which character), and stopped my watch, frantically checking my time.
I covered my mouth with my hand and could feel myself wanting to cry, and also wanting to pass out, so I moved to the side and bent over for a minute as my mind raced with my time and my body was growing accustomed to not moving. A medic came over and hung with me for a minute, and I assured her I just needed a minute to collect myself, and then I moved on. I got my medal from a girl near the end of the line, and collected the rest of the stuff Disney gives runners. I was really excited to get special Mickey ears for running the 25th anniversary race and I was beaming in my I did it picture. I was euphoric. After everything that I had been through prior to this race, the ups and many downs of my training cycle, I couldn’t believe that I had gotten a PR, way beyond my goals.
I had some time to get character pictures at the finish line while I waited for my husband to finish, and my phone/Facebook/Instagram were blowing up from people who were either tracking me, or saw my ecstatic post when I finished. I really appreciated all of that support at the end. It was nice to have people to share my accomplishment with.
After the crappy running year I had in 2017, I can’t believe that 2018 has started off so amazing already. This race, even with all of the curveballs that I had to endure, beat my expectations and gave me a new PR when I haven’t PRed in any race distance in years. I really have to thank my coach, Melina from Next Level Running, for creating a training plan for me that helped me get there, and for my PT, Scott, for putting up with me and helping me become strong enough to make it through the race.
Now I’m not sure what my goals for 2018 will be, I have so many things I want to do and need to prioritize. It’d also be nice if my knee could heal up, but I am just so happy to have finally experienced some success at running and am looking forward to what this year might bring. 🙂