Sunday, January 9, 2011

Race Report - 2011 Goofy's Race And A Half Challenge


Pre-Race
How would you start describing a race like this? Was this even a race report? I guess it was as much a gigantic event as it was a challenge, but I don't think "race" would be the best or even proper term to describe this past weekend in sunny Lake Buena Vista, Florida. It was definitely the biggest sporting event I ever got to participate in. My better half decided about six months ago that she was ready to train for and participate in her first half marathon, but she wanted it to be special. Since I had never been to Disney World and I had also promised my son long ago that I would take him there, it was an easy decision. My mother flew in from Germany and we made it a full blown family vacation by booking an 8 day stay at the Pop Century Resort at Disney World starting the week before race weekend. I decided that I would pace my fiancee to her first half marathon finish.

Interestingly, my running buddies had mentioned what's called the "Goofy Challenge" months earlier. In this challenge runners complete the Walt Disney World Half Marathon on Saturday and come back Sunday to run the full marathon. Runners completing this challenge successfully within the required time limit would be rewarded with a "Goofy" finishers' medal in addition to the Donald Duck medal (half marathon) and the Mickey Mouse medal (marathon). What else could a newbie ultrarunner preparing for his second 100 mile attempt do but register for this back to back long run  challenge and take it as a training opportunity. My Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile Race in Huntsville, Texas would be a month after the Goofy Challenge, so my challenge would be not to get hurt. The picture below shows the race swag runners would receive for registering for and completing the Goofy Challenge, including three long sleeve tech shirts and the aforementioned medals. Be careful not to get blinded by all the shiny bling;-)


The Expo
After driving down to Lake Buena Vista in Central Florida from North Alabama on Monday in about 10 hours, we spent Tuesday and Wednesday taking in the sights, sounds and rides at Epcot and Magic Kingdom before heading to the Health & Fitness Expo at ESPN Wide World Of Sports on Thursday to pick up our registration packets. I realized very quickly that this was the biggest event I ever ran in and it was impossible to miss the fact that the giant Disney machine was in charge. Their knowledge of logistics and crowd management has got to be second to none. I guess almost 40 years of managing crowds at their parks have taught them a lesson or two...or perhaps even three? When we walked underneath the big banner (see first picture above) at the entrance of the sports complex, we could already see about 200-300 other runners, who had the same brilliant idea as us, which was to show up 30 minutes before the first day of the Expo even started to beat the later crowds. There were already 20 or so Disney volunteers actively directing people into cues, fielding questions and entertaining the waiting runners. And it got only more impressive from here.

Once we entered the registration building (HP Field House) there were separate race packet pickup desks for each running event and each area had about 20-40 volunteers ready to assist runners. Once we got our race chips and bibs, we were directed to the Jostens Building were the Expo was located to pick up our race bags with tech shirts, coupons, etc. Again, large numbers of volunteers were ready to assist. Afterwards, we browsed through the large selection of vendors and booths that offered anything the running gear junkie could desire. Being the junkie that I am, I already owned half of the stuff available there, so we got out of there pretty quickly. However, I did make a point to take the time to stop by the Garmin booth to personally express my appreciation for their excellent customer service and tech support I received over the past two years. It is not too often that you get good customer service and great service is even more unusual, so it should be recognized.

The Half
Saturday would be the biggest day for us, since Anya would attempt her first half marathon and I would pace a runner (her) for the first time. She had had some ankle issues lately and became more and more worried as race day approached. I decided to use KT tape for the first time to wrap up her ankle. This was mainly to try to ease her mind as I wasn't too confident in my ability to wrap her ankle in a way that would prevent soreness or pain during the race. It would be my responsibility to keep her mind of her ankle problems and to keep her from starting out too fast.

My alarm went off at 3AM, since we had to head to the bus shuttle stop at 3:30AM and I needed my obligatory pre-race coffee. Runners had to be in their assigned corrals by 5AM with the first corral starting the race at 5:35AM immediately following the wheelchair division starters and I also needed to drop off my bag containing our extra layer of clothing prior to 4:30AM. Again, things went extremely well. When we arrive at the shuttle pick-up, there was a bus waiting already to take us to the starting area in the Epcot parking lot. From there we walked to the staging area, waiting to be led down Woodpecker Lane for a 20 minute walk to the starting area with its 8 corrals.

Unfortunately, we had to leave our extra layer of clothes at 4:30AM, leaving us freezing in low 50 degree weather for almost an hour and a half. One of these days I will learn to bring some old clothes from home or the Salvation Army, so I can drop them at the starting line or during the early stages of the race once my muscles warm up. However, I have to admit that the atmosphere was electric and that kept my mind of the cold air. Almost 25000 or so runners were making their way to the starting area and we were right in the middle of it, music blasting out of gigantic speakers spread throughout the area. While I had been assigned to corral A, the first to start, I was able stay in corral D with Anya, which meant we would start around 5:50AM. After a brief introduction and speeches by sponsors and other dignitaries (including most of the TODAY show staff, which were also participating in the actual race) each corral was sent off with a nice fireworks display.

The race start went off without a hitch and I immediately focused on making sure Anya would not go out too fast. For the first mile that was not a problem. Not having been able to go to the bathroom for almost an hour while waiting in our corral area for the start, she went for the first Port-A-Potties half a mile after the start, clearly the result of proper hydration prior to the race;-) After that I continued to try to keep her pace slower than she really wanted to go. As a result, she continued to stay energized, feeling ready to go faster. Her goal was to finish the race within the cutoff and I wanted to make sure she did it comfortably and within a reasonable time without hurting herself or aggravating her ankle. Anya continued to push and I continued to pull her back, almost literally.

At the halfway mark, we checked her systems and everything was still a go. The ankle wasn't acting up and she was feeling good overall. I continued to let her pick up the pace mile by mile, without going crazy. Celebrity Alert, celebrity alert: At mile 7, we passed everyone's favorite weatherman Al Roker, who had started the race two corrals ahead of us. Not quite the same as running shoulder to shoulder with Anton Krupicka or Geoff Roes at mile 7 at an ultramarathon (which will obviously never ever happen;-), but still kinda cool. At mile ten, she was still feeling great and really wanted to keep pushing, so I finally gave in. We crossed the finish line after 2 hours and 30 minutes both feeling great and her being extremely excited to have finished her first half marathon. Most of the actual race course was pretty much a blurr to me as I was focused on keeping Anya on track, but it is kind of hard to miss all of the folks cheering you on along the entire length of the course or to miss the fact that you are running through Epcot or Magic Kingdom and its castle. I know it sounds corny, but it really was kinda magical. When I looked at our splits, Anya had run negative slits for almost every mile of the course. I was amazed and proud at the same time. She was able to not only run her first half, but to run it strong all the way and be positive throughout. I can't wait for to pace her to her first marathon finish;-) We both received our "Donald" medals after we crossed the finish line and couldn't have been happier (as I am sure you can tell by looking at the pic below).


The Full
Sunday had the second part to my Goofy Challenge on the menu. What could go wrong? I had taken all precautionary steps to be ready for the marathon after completing the half the day before. Well, actually I didn't. How can you stay at the hotel to rest if you are spending your time at the happiest place on earth? So instead, I took my family to Epcot and spent the day on some cool rides, walking a ton of miles through the World Showcase as well as the other parts of the park. I figured, if nothing else, all of that walking would keep my leg muscles loose.

Once again, my alarm went off at 3AM just as it did the previous day. No, it wasn't Deja vu, just the second leg to the Goofy. I arrived at the race staging area around 4AM, making small talk with various runners before doing it all over again...take off my extra layer of clothes, drop off my bag, wait in the staging area before being led down Woodpecker Lane towards the starting line, arrive at my corral. This time, I actually lined up in corral A, right near the actual starting line. This meant that I was in the first group to take off and less waiting in the cold. It was even colder than the day before, low 40s to start the race. Luckily, I was able to beg someone at the staging area for an extra space blanket they were no longer in need of. Thanks again, you made the first hour of my day much more enjoyable. I kept the blanket wrapped around me until a minute before the start fireworks went off. Today's pre-race formalities went by much quicker. This time, only 17000 or so runners joined me for a 26.2 mile morning stroll.

After a slow first mile, I settled into my target pace of 8 minutes per mile to see, if I can go for a new PR. Yeah, not really what you're supposed to do 4 weeks before your second 100 mile attempt, but I can't help it. Every time I toe a starting line, I want to race. My backup plan was to back up at the halfway mark, if I was starting to feel sluggish. I stayed between the 3:20 and 3:30 pace groups for most of the first half of the race. Once I reached the halfway point, I had tugged in behind the 3:30 pace group. I was dead on for a new PR when I crossed the half marathon timing mat. However, yesterday's half marathon coupled with a PR 50K race last weekend were taking their toll on my body. I decided it would be smarter to back off. I slowed down by 45 seconds per mile until mile 20. At that point, fatigue and the pounding of the roads required an even slower pace.

I took in a lot more fluids today than I had in my previous races. While I only took in a cup of Powerade every 30 minutes early on, I ended up drinking half a cup about every 2-3 miles later in the race. I had one Clifshot and half a banana for energy late in the race. Even with all the fluids I still felt a little sluggish when I crossed the finish line, but I did cross it and in less than 4 hours, which was my backup goal. Hey, at the end of the day I just wanted to be one of the successful Goofy challengers and I was. Once again, Disney and its race crew did a fantastic job from start to finish. Everything went as smooth as a Swiss clock. The entertainment along the course was phenomenal. The incredible number of Disney characters and high school marching bands providing entertainment was amazing. Most amazing were the runners taking the time to stand in line along the race course to have their pictures taken with Mickey Mouse, or Winnie the Pooh, or Goofy or (insert ANY Disney character here). It was only frustrating to see some of these guys take pictures, pass me, take more pictures, pass me again and finish ahead of me;-) The actual course itself was a lot of fun, too. Unlike the half marathon, this course not only ran through Epcot...


... and Magic Kingdom, ...


... it also went through Animal Kingdom ...


... and Hollywood Studios ...


along some of the coolest rides and sights Disney World has to offer. Now that I completed the Goofy Challenge, I only have to decide if I want to go for the "Coast to Coast" medal by running one of the races at Disneyland in California. While I still prefer the smaller ultra events and trail races I have been participating in, I certainly enjoy the celebratory vibe these large commercial events have to offer as well. And it certainly does not hurt that my fiancee is psyched about these races as well. Any race I can get her excited about and run with her is a great race in my book.

P.S.: Being from Germany, I obviously had to spend some extra time at Epcot's World Showcase and its Germany display in particular. While I was generally familiar with most of the items on display and/or for sale, I did make one major discovery that I had to share with all of you before passing it on to all of the news outlets in Germany. "Mickey Mouse is German!" Please see proof below;-)

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