When I crossed the finish line at 5:32:49, I was not sure how I felt. It could have been elation. It could have been an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. It could have been a flood of emotion. It wasn't. I was just glad it was over. I am pretty sure that if it was a multiple choice answer it would have been D. I just don't know if D would have been "All of the above", or "None of the above".
I was cold. No. I was freezing. And I was in pain. I was done.
I had signed up for the race for two reasons. I had been running regularly, and I wanted to set a long range goal so that I would keep on running. And Expedia had a killer deal on vacation packages to Orlando. Now, nine months later, I was kind of wishing Expedia had had a killer deal somewhere warm...
We were supposed to catch a redeye out of Phoenix on Thursday night, to land in Orlando on Friday morning. On the way to the airport we were listening to the news when they said that all the flights going through several southern states were cancelled do to lack of defrosting equipment. One of them was Georgia. We were going through Atlanta.
We have never actually been to Florida on vacation together. We have tried, and failed, more than once. 10 years ago were booked for a day at Disneyworld, and a week in the keys, when they declared a mandatory evacuation due to Hurricane Ivan. The next year we were booked on a charter sailboat for a week in the keys when our dog got sick. The vet bill came out to the same amount as the boat charter for the week. To the penny.
This was the third time Jane and I had tried to go to Florida on vacation. If this trip gets cancelled, I will never try again. Florida will be dead to me...
Flight left on time... No problems. Of course we got delayed leaving Atlanta due to the airport only having one plane de-icer...
We landed in Orlando about 10am. After picking up our luggage, we caught the shuttle to the rental car agency, and headed out to the Health and fitness Expo at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex. It was very cool. Packed with people. Wall to wall runners. It was great checking out all the shirts with the different sayings like "26.2 miles - what could go wrong?" I think most of the racers were just looking for warmer clothes...
When we picked up our race packets, I had to show them the results from the half marathon that I ran back in October. They moved me up to Coral C. In hindsight, all this accomplished was that there would be more people starting the race behind me that would pass me later on as the wheels fell off my race plans.
Friday night we went to Epcot Center and walked around the world. We had a spectacular dinner in Italy, and saw the sites in 30' weather. We had thought that we dressed appropriately, but froze our a$$es off. I guess the only time I have ever spent out in 30 degree weather before, I had been skiing. It is easier to stay warm skiing and wearing long underwear than it is standing in line for an hour waiting to go on a ride.
The next morning we got up and went to the Nike Store at the outlet mall, along with about 500 of our closest running friends. It had been both raining, sleet and snow, before we got up. It was crazy. It was like shopping on the Saturday before Christmas. Every person that was on vacation in the state of Florida that day was piled in to that store buying warm clothes. Including us. We knew that is was going to be cold, and thought we had packed for it. But after one night walking around in it, we both realized we did not bring enough.
My plan had been to be in bed by 8pm on Saturday night, so that 3 am would not come so early. We were supposed to be at the bus in front of the lobby no later than 4am. So when Jane made us get in line at the Test Track ride, I started to get concerned. Not only did the timer say that the approximate wait time was 30 minutes, but again, it was freezing frikken cold outside. Needless to say we got on the bus at about 8:30 to get back for our 8:00 bedtime...
I had picked this hotel because it was the closest one to the starting line. You needed to be on the bus no later than 4:00am to get to the staging area. You then had a 20 minute walk from there to the starting line. We were going to try to walk instead. I set the alarm for 4 am. An extra hour of sleep, and a shorter walk. It took us about 12 minutes from the door of our room to get to the starting line. Perfect...
There were some 16,000 runners that finished the marathon, so I am guessing there were more than 20,000 that started it. When we got to the starting line, it looked more like a million. I guess when you pack that many people onto a stretch of road under an overpass, it just seems like a lot. There were people wrapped in blankets, ski parkas, sleeping bags, and even some in shorts. I was wearing five layers of shirts, two layers of tights, a head band, a hat, gloves, and a scarf. And I was still cold.
Jane and I spent a while in line for the porta potties, and then we split up to go to our separate corrals. She was in H, and I was in C. It was getting close to race time, and I was starting to get nervous. I really wanted to make my goal time of four hours, and I did not know what or how much the temperature would affect it. It ended up taking its toll more than I had imagined possible.
When the race started with a burst of fireworks off of the top of the overpass, it scared the crap out of me. It was still pitch black out, and they looked awesome as they shot up into the sky.
It was go time.
The first bit of the race was like an obstacle course. I had to work my way around all of the items of clothing and blankets that people were tossing as they started to warm up. It was like being up near the stage at a rock concert. Wall to wall people. You could not pass anyone at this point even if you wanted to. I was being bumped from behind from the left, and from the right. And I did my best not to run up on the guy in front of me. It was about three lanes wide, and became even more congested as we reached the first corner, which was a one lane on-ramp. People were hopping over the curb and running in the grass along the side, while dodging street signs, power poles, and the like.
We circled around the big golf ball of Epcot, and then went into the park and ran around the world, along the lake. Since it was very early in the morning, the park was still closed. Disney tried to make up for this my having employees (cast members) line the course at intervals and cheer on the runners. They were awesome. They were in whatever their uniform was for their job. So some were in coat tails, some were in costume; some were just dressed for the cold weather. But everywhere we went, they cheered.
By the time we reached mile four we had maintained a 9:30 pace and I tossed the scarf and the head band off to the side. I was surprised that we had been able to go that fast, so I was happy with it. By the time we reached mile seven, I removed my top 3 layers, and threw two of them away, and put my top layer back on.
My back had started to tighten up before the race, and I had to keep adjusting my posture trying to find a position that seemed to cause less distress. By mile three my hips started to ache. It was not something I had dealt with before, and it freaked me out a little. By mile seven, I actually started to think about the possibility that I might not finish this race.
Mile SEVEN, and I am already worried about not finishing. WTF!
We ran through a lot of service roads in the areas between the parks. They were very dark, lit by only generator light stands. It was a little scary running in the dark knowing that if you tripped and went down, you were going to get trampled by the 500/5000 people behind you.
We reached the happiest place on earth in the 10th mile. Running through The Magic Kingdom was amazing. Main street was all lit up and glowing with excitement. At this point my hips were in so much pain I was ready to quit, but running through here made me forget all about it. For a little while...
During my nine months of training runs, I had never had a pulled muscle, cramp, or even a pain that was more than an annoyance. By the time I ran through Sleeping Beauty’s castle, I had reached the point where I knew that if I did not walk for a while, I was not going to see mile 26.
I don't remember when I stopped. It was somewhere between mile 10 and mile 12. I walked for about five minutes. I walked through the water station. I pretty much walked through most of the water stations for the rest of the race. The ground was like a hockey rink from spilled water and PowerAde that had frozen on the ground. It was like skating, it was so slippery. But as ice covered as they were, I did not see a single person go down the entire race. That was pretty amazing, considering how much ice there was.
About mile 13 I got a cramp in my right groin muscle. Now let me explain. Prior to mile 13 I didn't even know there was any such thing as a groin muscle. But when it cramped into a knot, there was know guessing. I had to pull over to the side of the road out of people’s way. Since I had never had anything like this happen before, I wasn't even sure what stretch to do to help stretch it out. I did side lunges and it helped almost immediately. I stretched for a couple of minutes and then got back into the race. I made it maybe 300 yards before it cramped again.
The pain was the sort that made me stop almost immediately. I went over to the side of the road and stretched again. I would run until the cramps were too much, and then I would pull over and stretch. By mile 16 I was cramping in both legs. It went on like this for about 10 miles.
It is odd how the power of people cheering makes the pain a little less noticeable. When we would reach a spot where there were fans cheering, I found myself running faster and smiling more.
At some point around mile 23, we came around a corner to see a full choir of about 40 people all dressed up in there robes and singing their hearts out. It was a seriously cool surprise. The fact that they were out there freezing there a$$es of and singing for us made me want to run harder, to pay them back for their efforts.
I did the first half in 2:18:34. I was actually happy with the time considering how poorly it felt like it was going. Between the half way point and mile 20, I averaged about 15 minute miles. I guess that is what happens when you run about 300 yards at a time. From mile 20 to the end of the race, I think it lasted 3 days 7 hours, and 28 minutes. At least that is what it felt like...
When we started to circle the lake at Epcot, letting us know that we were nearing the end, I had nothing left. The cramps had subsided for the last couple miles, and I realized that I had hit the wall at some point, but because I had been stopping due to the cramps, I did not realize it until I kept on running. As we got to the last corner on the lake and I was looking over at the big golf ball we had circled at the beginning of the race, all I wanted was to get off my feet and out of the cold and wind.
When I crossed the finish line at 5:32:49, I was positive how I felt. I was ecstatic. I was elated that I was done. My friend asked me later at what point in the race I said to myself "I will never do this again". I told him never. All I could think of was redemption. Even during the worst of the cramps, all I was thinking was that I hoped the next one isn't like this. My time is going to absolutely suck. I obviously need to run another marathon to redeem myself. A five hour marathon is not how I'm gonna go down...
They handed me a Mylar blanket immediately after I crossed the finish line. I just carried it for a minute, thinking what the hell is this thing going to do for me in this cold. I was still holding it in my hand when the girl put the medal over my head. Wow. This is the medal I have been working towards for nine months. It felt heavy around my neck. It felt good.
When I got to the spot where they took pictures, I was still carrying the thin silver blanket. I thought I was still grimacing from the pain and the cold when they took my picture, holding my medal. (Later, when I received the e-mail of the picture, I had actually been smiling ear to ear... go figure). After the picture taking, there was a woman volunteer who was doing nothing but helping people put the blankets around themselves. The wind was blowing so hard that you couldn't have done it by yourself, especially since my fingers were not working because of the cold.
I checked my phone to find out where Jane was. I assumed she was back at the hotel already. She also had started the marathon, but since she had an injury in September, she had not trained, or run for that matter, in over 3 months and I assumed she did not get very far. Her last text showed that she was at mile 18. I was in shock. She was still running. She had not run in over 3 months and she was going on 5 1/2 hours. My phone rang and it was her. She was at mile 23. She was actually going to finish. And I was going to stand out here and wait for her. Shi+! I mean... Good for her!
By the time Jane crossed the finish line, I had been done for about an hour. I was ready to die. All I had on been the running clothes that had not able to keep me warm while I had been running, let alone, now that I was stopped. But I wanted to be there for her, and I wanted us to get our picture taken together, holding our medals. She crossed at 6:16:40.
Her goal had been to run/walk as far as she could, and just enjoy Disney and the experience. Jane’s first marathon was a spectacular success. Mine was a humbling experience. By the end of this week, I will have signed up for my next marathon. I would love to say that I am going to reach my 4 hour goal, but at this point I will settle for running a race from start to finish, without melting down. Without walking.
This paragraph is for all of you people that are thinking about doing something hard. Or thinking about quitting something, because it is hard. Or even worse, because you are embarrassed about your performance, and don't want to feel stupid. Right now I am telling the whole world that my first marathon was a complete and utter blankety blank. The key word in that sentence was "first". Get back on the horse. Don't give up. It's still January. The year is still young...