Now that you have had a chance to flashback with me to my first half marathon in 2009, let’s talk about taking this race back and owning it!
First, a quick side-by-side that I posted shortly before the race started. My Instagram post proclaimed:
Some races are about setting records. In 2009 I ran the #SJRnR half and finished the last three miles with ice Saran-wrapped to my back. Today isn’t about a PR (although that would be a nice bonus) — it’s about taking on a journey I started in 2009 and finishing it strong!
Let’s be honest, I still wanted that PR! The San Jose Rock and Roll Half Marathon course is know as one of the flattest and fastest courses out there. And it was my hometown which meant I could fuel the way I needed and sleep in my own bed. In other words, it should be perfect conditions.
What I didn’t anticipate was how hot it would get on race day. It was predicted to be unseasonably warm which meant extra hydration and the possibility of needing to slow down.
When I originally signed up for the race I predicted my time to be 2:45. In September I had already proven I could run a sub-2:30, so when I went to the expo I requested a corral change. And on race morning, after spending some time with coworkers and some of my students, I went to my new corral.
Now at the expo they had a booth for the PacWest pacers who would be pacing the course. They had pacers for 2:30, but I knew I could do that on my own. The next pacing group would be 2:15 which would mean shaving over 11 minutes off my Disneyland PR. I thanked the runner working the pacing table and said “maybe next year.”
However, when I got in my corral, I apparently entered the one in front of my new corral by mistake. And I ended up directly behind the 2:15 pacers. I did some quick mental math. I had run a 10k at a pace that was almost a minute faster than the time I would need to hold for a 2:15 finish. Could I really keep the necessary pace to finish in 2:15? I knew I had issues holding a steady pace, going out too fast for many of my races this year. So maybe I would just *try* to stay with these pacers, no shame if I ended up falling behind. It would just be fun to see what it was like to run with a pace group for awhile!
The two women pacing the 2:15 group were super nice. A number of people talked to them during the first couple miles but I held back, right behind them, not wanting to commit to getting to know them since I didn’t know how long I would be with them. However, as we passed the four mile mark, I began to realize I could stay with them. And after the 10k mark, I was embarrassed at the thought of falling behind.
By mile 8, I really wanted to slow down. It was getting hot and I knew I could still PR even if I added a couple minutes to each remaining mile. But then I did a mental and physical check. It was all mental. Physically I was doing fine. And I took a moment to reframe — did I want to see what I could really accomplish? Or did I just want to shave a few seconds off my time.
I began to reflect on my journey to get here. From 2009 when I initially attempted this race. To the 130 pounds I have shed over the past year. I have become so much stronger physically and mentally. I pushed through and when we hit mile 10, I knew I had more energy in the tank.
So I pushed ahead of the lovely pacers who had prevented me from going out too fast and who served as a motivation not to slow down when I wanted to back off.
I began to pick up my pace, not wanting to burn out but knowing I could go faster. Miles eleven and twelve were two of my fastest miles during the race! But it was getting hotter and I was feeling the burn. Mile 13 was hard. The quicker pace got my lungs a little cranky and mentally I was struggling as I remembered how much pain I was in during this mile in 2009.
Then my trainer showed up alongside me! She was there running the 10k and stayed to run me (and her husband) in for the half finish. She started yelling motivational chants and telling me to kick it. I pushed so hard for that last tenth of a mile and finished smiling!
Apologies on the delay! The race was fabulous and then it was back home to teach all week followed by another weekend of races. But more on those later.
First the spoiler… I FINISHED THE RACE! And I finished in under two hours and twenty-seven minutes!
That’s the short version. Below is a much longer accounting of my experience of the 2014 Disneyland Half Marathon weekend.
I spent a lot of time anticipating this race. I signed up for it in January, before I could even run a mile. And then spent seven long months learning to love running.
For those of you who may not know, I attempted this whole “running” thing in 2009. I made it a goal to finish a half-marathon. I worked a little but never really committed to training. I did intervals, which was necessary for my body at the time. I was about 60 pounds heavier than I was for this race when I set my personal best in December of 2009. My time to beat would become 3:19:50 and it would stay that way until August 2014. Shortly after the half in 2009, I injured myself. And spent most of 2010 recovering from multiple injuries which spiraled into never really getting into running again.
Until I signed up for this race.
The race was at 5:30am on the Sunday morning of Labor Day Weekend. I had been preparing for the early start by going to bed earlier and waking up earlier all week. I even continued the trend by waking up early on Saturday and cheering on the 10k runners as they ran past my hotel!
We spent the Saturday in the park. I had read you should try to stay off your feet the day before a long race but I wanted to enjoy all the weekend had to offer. Which included riding Cars for the first time and doing multiple trips on California Screamin!
As the sun rose overhead and things started to get extra hot in the park, we headed back to our hotel where I enjoyed some HMR Chicken Pasta Parm and bananas. I ate a LOT of bananas over the weekend and not just the free ones in the concierge lounge! Then I took a nap. Which ended up happening until about 8pm when I woke up, laid out everything for race morning, and went back to sleep!
It’s a good thing I went to bed early because I was awake before my 2am alarm even sounded! I got dressed in my finery and ate my HMR oatmeal and drank 8 ounces of Via coffee at room temp because, well, the water in my water bottle was room temp?
After nervously dancing quietly around the room and making sure I had everything I needed, I woke up my husband to drive over to the Disneyland Hotel where we would park the car and head to the start. It was 3:15am and parking opened at 3:30 and I am never one to be late! My husband had not gone to bed early so he was probably a bit cranky but I don’t think I even noticed!
We got to the hotel, hit up the lobby bathrooms, and then wandered around near the finish line. I met up with some Team #runDisney folks for a group photo and at about 4:40am, headed to my starting corral (with a quick portapotty stop on the way!).
Once I got to corral H, I knew I was in for a wait. We had about 30 minutes at that point until the sent the first corral off, but my corral wouldn’t start until 33 minutes later. I was a bit cranky with my corral placement going into the race because all of the earlier corrals had finishing times no greater than 15 minutes apart. Corral H had finishing times from 2:30 to 3:15 and of course my 10k in late May had me finishing right at 2:31. The secret I learned is that everyone pushes to the front of the corral, especially if you are anticipating being slower, so you can stop for photos without being swept. I had no desire to stop for photos (they have professionals!) and I could do character stops at some of my later Disney races — my goal was to stay strong and give the race my best, and I was worried I would spend forever dodging folks (I would later make peace with the dodging as I started at the front of corral H only to catch up to and dodge folks from earlier corrals).
While waiting in the corral, I got my last bit of pre-race fuel in! That’s right. I stayed in the Healthy Solutions box all weekend, including my race fuel!
The start was less thrilling than I imagined. I had read so much about Disney races where they set fireworks off for each corral. But that didn’t happen at Disneyland. And there was so much chatter from the hosts, I didn’t have time to get excited. Instead I just wanted the host to stop talking and let me run already!
Finally my corral started and I was off! I kept repeating “go out slow, you have a long way to go. start strong but slow.” and while I was slower than my 10k pace is now, I was still faster than my planned pace by over a minute! I was one of the leaders coming out of our corral and quickly caught up with corral G within the first mile. Oh and speaking of that first mile, there were TONS of spectators. It was super cool to see so many people supporting the runners. Except for maybe the guy who yelled “you’re almost there!” in mile one. I didn’t like him so much ;o)
The course itself ran outside the perimeter of California Adventure before turning into the back driveway of the park. It was there I saw the mile 12 sign. I joked out loud that we only had one more mile. Yeah that went over really well. I blame the “almost there” guy hehe.
There were bands all along the course, including in the back lots of California Adventure. I love the live music – never needed my headphones (which stayed tucked away for the whole race) between the attractions, spectators, and live music!
From the back road we entered the park. I expected it to be crowded through the whole race and I was not let down by that expectation. I have no photos from California Adventure because runners without manners were running crazy diagonals and hopping in front of all of the cameras. Literally jumping. Like stopping suddenly and jumping in the air. Next time I am just running into them. I saw someone else run into people stopping suddenly to pose for cameras. It’s not safe! I am all about walkers and I am all about people having fun. I get it. But it’s absolutely inconsiderate and UNSAFE to stop suddenly without looking around or to dart in front of people just to mug for the camera.
We ran through most of California Adventure which was super cool since I had been there with my husband the day before. My arms were starting to get warm as the sun rose and I knew my husband would be cheering along Main Street USA, so I took of my arm sleeves which were dripping wet at that point.
The area between the two parks was a super narrow path and both sides were slammed with spectators. It was crazy! I remembered reading the pacer guide which warned runners to not speed up from the thrill of the experience in those first miles and so I kept reminding myself to SLOW DOWN, enjoy the experience, run negative splits later when the course opened up more.
Seeing my husband along the course gave me a whole new shot of energy. I ran over, gave him a kiss, and handed off my dripping arm sleeves to a confused yet amused husband who would wander around after I passed and pick up a couple thousand steps during the race.
Disneyland itself was a neat experience. Although I had run through it for the 5k in 2009, it was still a fun experience. This is the part most people enjoy the most. However there weren’t many spectators outside of the employees (who were very very sweet) and I didn’t feel the same energy I feel running the city streets or along nature trails. It was a little weird but not in a bad way. I also think I still had a bad taste in my mouth from the negative experiences running in California Adventure which I tried to shake off for the next couple of miles.
Once we hit the streets of Anaheim, I felt myself getting my groove back. The streets opened up and there were still so many people along the course. It was super cool to see locals and tourists turn out with signs both for specific people but also for runners-at-large!
One of the highlights for me was running through the stadium where the Anaheim Angels play. I had been there for a game with my husband a few years ago, so I was somewhat familiar with the park. But it was a whole new experience to get to run the field and even cooler that the stands were filled with cheering spectators!
I purchase videos from MarathonFoto which included one of my running past the first base dugout. However I wish it included the audio when I was exiting. The announcer was saying that when we exited the stadium we only had… and then the entire audience in the stadium yelled “THREE MORE MILES!!!!!” I WAS PUMPED!
The last three miles were probably the hardest. I had stuck to my pacing and fueling plans and was on target to beat my practice half time which was slightly over 2:28. I hadn’t gone into this race with the intention of beating the practice time because I knew the course would be crowded and I just wanted to enjoy the race. But with three miles left and open streets ahead, I knew I no longer had an excuse. But those last few miles is where the crowds thinned and my energy wained. I took my third banana-squash Gerber (fourth for the day if you count the one in the corral) and allowed myself to walk the water stations a little longer than before.
That last mile seemed to go on forever. Part of it was a repeat of the back lot of California Adventure and then through Downtown Disney. The crowds picked up again and my energy picked up as well.
When I could finally see the finish line, I picked up my pace. I lengthen my stride and really pushed that finishing kick. I knew I could beat my goal and now there was an incentive to get that time as low as I could. The crowds were cheering and apparently I still had fuel in the tank!
Remember how I mentioned people should look behind them? Well I crossed that finish line pushing my legs as hard and as fast as I could. Except now I needed room to slow down… so I shot for the opening I saw along the finish.
Except the two people in red shirts did not need time to slow down. The young boy walked in front of me and I had a choice of hitting the boy, the photographer taking this picture or applying the brakes as I went the opposite way. Where the woman in the red shirt would slow immediately to a walk. So I tripped over her and apologized. She didn’t seem happy with me touching her but I had no choice. I stumbled between them and managed to regain control without falling on the pavement. I laugh about it now but one of us could have gotten really hurt. But it’s funny in hindsight. And since I bought the videos…
In the end, I finished. I finished faster and stronger than I ever dreamed. I am a runner. I am strong. I am healthy. And I have never been more grateful in my life of all of those who have supported me through this journey.
On November 13, 2013, I started the HMR Diet. Walking quickly left me out of breath and running was out of the question.
On January 28th, 2014, I logged on to Facebook during my lunch break and saw on Facebook that the Disneyland Half Marathon was 90% full after only opening a couple of hours earlier.
I signed up.
I had not yet run a full mile.
On February 20th, 2014, I sent the following email to my health coach:
“I arrived early for a class and thought… Wonder if I could run a mile before class?
I did it! It was “only” at 4.0mph but I don’t care. I didn’t walk at all!!!!I am stupid excited and just had to share. Thank you for the motivation!”