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!”
During my 34 weeks on the HMR Decision Free diet, I have traveled more than the average American. And while some of it has been for fun, the majority has been work related and thus relatively regimented. So when I decided to visit my sister for a week in Florida and we decided to spend three of those days in the land of Disney, I got a little anxious about staying in the box.
First, a spoiler, I survived! However I thought it would be helpful to write about my experience for others and also as a reminder to myself for future trips.
According to the WDW Web site:
“Guests with food allergies or intolerances are allowed to bring food into Walt Disney World theme parks and dining locations. When entering a park, simply inform the Security at bag check that someone in the party has a food allergy or intolerance.
Refrigerating and Heating Personal Food Items
Guests staying at a Disney Resort hotel who have items that need to be refrigerated should ask the Front Desk to have a refrigerator placed in the room, subject to availability. An additional charge may apply.
Please note that Cast Members are prohibited from storing, preparing, cooking or reheating any food brought into our Resorts or theme parks by Guests.”
I had no issues with Security and didn’t even need to inform them about the food I was bringing in, they must see a lot of things come through.
Before we left, I baked both savory and sweet HMR mini muffins using the oatmeals, soups and 70 shakes. You can find some of my recipes here. I portioned them out into individual servings that were equivalent of a half a shake for me and a full shake for my Healthy Solutions at Home sister.
I also packed a shaker bottle with two 800 shakes, a 70 shake, and a Benefit Bar. As pictured here:
We also each packed an entree that could be enjoyed cold (Five Bean casserole!), several types of sugar free gum, and a sandwich baggie full of various water flavor squeeze-ins like Crystal Light Liquid (mmmm Sangria and Strawberry Lemonade!) and Dasani Drops (Cherry Pomegranate FTW). The gum and water flavorings allowed us to change up flavors we were experiencing without increasing our caloric intake.
Next, we each packed an empty water bottle to refill throughout the park. We quickly learned you could walk up to vendors who had fountain drink machines and request cups of ice water for free! We would fill up our water bottles with refreshing cold water and play with flavorings. We also purchased various diet sodas and unsweetened iced teas when we wanted a special treat.
The secrets for me were front-loading and keeping myself occupied. I ate an entree before we left in the morning and drank a giant bottle of water. Then I made sure to always have a low calorie beverage in my hand (yay iced water!) so that I could drink whenever I was tempted with food. And I won’t lie… I was tempted! I never craved a turkey leg before (I have never had one) and it was all I could think about for an hour or so after walking past a booth selling them. But we moved away from that part of the park, I enjoyed a couple of flavored waters and bites of a benefit bar, and I stayed in the box.
I think it is easy to give up your diet when you are on vacation. Your schedule is switched up and you are relaxing. You can justify things because you “deserve” them or it’s a special treat. But what I asked myself was if I were never going to return to Disney World, could I live without ever trying X or Y? And the answer I figured out was that I would be fine.
And I am planning my return. My sister and I are all signed up for the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February! So if that turkey leg still sounds good after running 13.1 miles, I may let myself have a bite. But I will be in control of the food rather than allowing it to control me. I will plan for the food. I will also be in a place by then where I have not only transitioned into Phase Two but I will have lived in Phase Two for several months.
I am proud of my success of staying in the box but I also realize my vacation wasn’t ruined by not eating Gap foods. I didn’t need a turkey leg or margarita or mouse-shaped pretzel to complete my experience. This realization has helped me further separate food from my day to day life. Food is fuel and it can be a delicious experience but it is not the whole experience.
Now to remember this all as I head into two weeks of travel into major “foodie” cities like New Orleans!