Race recap – Run Disney’s Star Wars (Dark Side) Half Marathon

Better late than never – for both childhood dreams of going to Disney and the writing of race recaps.

Darth Run DisneyI’d heard about RunDisney but didn’t pay much attention until the words “Star Wars” came up.  Running the inaugural Star Wars Dark Side races at Walt Disney World (the light side having been run in California at Disneyland) sounded too cool, and hey, it was Orlando – I love you! Orlando! Sea World and Disney and putt-putt golfing! But I digress. Jim and I joined 43,000 other registered runners for the 2016 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend—The Dark Side.

We also totally made a holiday out of it this past April, staying for a week at Disney’s Pop Century hotel.  Talk about havin’ a time!  From the pineapple beer at the race expo to crossing the finish line at the half marathon = all was amazing.

Organization
With 19,500 runners registered for the half marathon, it’s the largest race I’ve ever participated in. And it was STAR WARS.  How absolutely nerd-tastic was this??  I’m hands-down impressed by the sheer logistics of the races hosted by Walt Disney World in Florida.  Despite my coping issues with crowds, for some reason I didn’t really feel the sheer humanity present at the race. (Disney seems to have this skill down to an art form, races or parks in general).

To give you an idea of the people-moving skills required, it was suggested you be on the bus out to the race launching area by 0330 hrs at the latest.  So, I was up by 0230 hrs (having gone to bed by 2300 hrs) and on the bus leaving my Disney hotel by 0300 hrs.  After a dark 10-minute walk from the bus drop off to the  launch area, the parking lot had transformed into a massive party with John Williams’ finest pouring from the speakers, a big screen & stage with pre-race hosts and epic movie clips from all the Star Wars films, tents for last minute coffee, snacks and runner’s fuel and stacks and stacks of port-a-potties! (My fave mash-up tune was “shotz, shotz, shotz, shotz-shotz” in tune with blaster fire…)

Walking from the launch area to the starting corrals must have been another 20 minutes – I kid you not!  I was down in corral G – I believe it went all the way to J or K.  The start time was 0500 hrs.  The temperatures – even in the wee hours – were deliciously balmy.  For a Canadian accustomed to freezing pre-race and having to bring coats or throw-away tees, this was a pleasure.  Fireworks heralded the start of every corral’s gun.  It was all just so epic.

Course
RunDisney half marathon courseThe half marathon course snaked it’s way through three Disney parks – Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom – with the finish line at ESPN.  All pavement. Barely any grade to the course. LOTS of distractions!  Epcot sparkled in the dark night as we ran through the back lots and onto the main route around the lake and past all the pavilions.  There was only one super-tight walkway where faster runners were getting bottlenecked (and one rather mouthy guy pushing his way through with rude comments was booed – long live ‘merica), but otherwise it was easy going.

Every park had Star Wars music booming from the sound systems, and spacious boulevards connecting the parks were dotted with giant screens playing Star Wars movie clips; plus there were photo opps with R2 and Chewie (long lines for these!).  Hollywood Studios sported a whole selfie station with tons of beloved Star Wars dark side characters like Boba Fett, Storm Troopers, Imperial guards, etc. hanging out. As the sun rose (remember – I’m a slow runner) the road in and out of Animal Kingdom seemed the longest, but it also had movie screens, and a special aid station with tubs of serve-yourself pump-action BioFreeze (lifesaver!).  ESPN welcomed runners to the finish with loads of cheering and supporters, snack boxes, aid stations and the opportunity once again to take more photos with Darth Vader, Darth Maul and all their dark side buddies.

My run
Despite the staggering amount of people and production behind this event, I didn’t really have my usual run-freak-out.  Pretty relaxed, I went into this with a certain giddy merriment, and it seemed like everyone else was there to have a good time as well.  Tons of runners were using the Disney-endorsed Jeff Galloway walk/run methods, as confirmed by the endless interval beeping from watches, and runners throwing up their arms indicating they were about to walk (I’d never seen that done before).

Stocked with plentiful aid stations, the course kept runners hydrated with loads of water and I guzzled H2O and electrolytes at every opportunity. RunDisney material reminded runners that the heat and humidity impacts your bod and your time, and I’d been seriously worried that hydration was going to do me in. Instead, I ended up drinking enough that I even used the loo 4 times along the route (port-a-potties plus open washrooms in the parks: thank you, Disney).  As the sun climbed into the sky, it became more challenging for me due to the heat, but I just kept trotting along.  The Star Wars music was ridiculously inspiring.

When my knee hurt, I pushed through. When I was tired, I gave myself a minute walking break.  When I was hot, I thought about the finish line.  When I felt soooo middle aged wearing a sun-visor (hey! It’s Florida!), I pretended I was… in costume.  I’d kind of decided that I didn’t want to feel like crap at the end of the Dark Side half marathon – I wanted to feel good about the run.  I took off performance pressure (knowing full well that I am just soooo slow this year) and in the end, finished at 3:26:59.  I came in, like, 14,522nd place. Hahahahahaaa. SO MANY PEOPLE!  But it was FUN.

And, just FYI, I’d have to run another 31 half-marathons to lap the second Death Star.

Competitive me, of course,  must point out that this is my longest ever half marathon time. EVER.  I’m still struggling with weight and performance. I still hate that I’m not improving upon my best half marathon times from two years ago. But I know this is all a work in progress. And another “but” —> but I know this has to remain fun to some degree or why do it?  I’ll keep working on it.  Summer has barely started – plenty of time to train. RunDisney

RunDisney
Would I do it again?  YES!  RunDisney is a pretty slick operation and registration – while not cheap – sells out quickly.  It makes for a great holiday and a fun, fun, fun experience. I totally felt like a kid all over again from the costumed runners, collectible medals and snagging exclusive RunDisney/Star Wars stuff at the runners’ expo to the overall holiday experience where there were wild rides, mouse ears and ice cream. And bonus: it’s a great family thing – Jim and I also did the 5K together, which was cool.  Next time, I’ll have to make sure we time it so the boys will join us!

 

3 behaviours I don’t want to repeat from my first half marathon of 2016

Disclaimer and/or fair warning: this entire post is a big, fat WHINE about why I didn’t do better on my first half marathon of 2016.

I hadn’t planned to run the Hypothermic Half in February, but the distance fell in nicely with my training plan so I decided to sign up so that I could see how things were shaking down, performance-wise.

Day of the race, the weather was beautiful – a balmy 4 degrees Celsius with sunny skies – and I knew the course from volunteering two weeks prior.  The race had three start times, and I chose the SleepyHead start at 10:00 am.  Ready to run!

Well….

1. I went out too hypothermic half 2016fast. SUCH a rookie mistake. I got completely sucked in to keeping up with the Joneses.  Even the back-of-the-pack Joneses.  Fueled with adrenaline, the first 3 miles were a pleasure – wow – look at me! All that training has paid off! I can run faster than I thought!  The next 3 miles slowed down a bit – very realistic though, and still feeling strong. The following 3 miles were back to my normal, distance-training pace. The last 4 miles? Crash cart required. Wheels came off. Walking, walking, ridiculous amounts of walking.

2. I was obsessed with time. It’s my first half mara of the year and I’ve been training for the distance, not for time, so why I expected to beat my other half marathon road race times…I don’t know.  Mostly a lot of hubris, I suspect. Throw in that over the winter I packed on weight, and boom! I came in the slowest I’ve ever done a half. My chip time was 2:58:41. Yep. Time to get over it. It’s part of the training process. I must move forward trusting the process.

3. I dropped the motivation ball. In the latter half of the race, I got lazy and my brain totally talked me out of any ambition. Albeit, I was tired, too, but instead of sticking to my walk/run pace, I started to just walk…a lot. In the last 3 miles, I saw a very fit-looking couple just up ahead of me who were walking for ages, and figured if they could do it, I could do it. I would run when they would run – which was not much.  And why bother trying to pass them?  What a silly goose decision on my part. I needed to stick to my training methods and I didn’t.

Hypo run mapTrust, motivation, determination…time to dig deep!  I actually have nothing to whinge about. I completed 13.1 miles when the training schedule only called for 12 miles.  I lived.  I got a tan that day.  I burned a crapload of calories.  I drank a lot of free orange juice post-race.  My only sore bits were my left hip and right calf (related?).

However, since that race, I’ve only been out running twice. I’ve completely allowed the (perceived) poor race results and stresses of life to scuttle my training schedule, putting me two weeks behind now.  I think the pity party is over.

Back to it.

Just a volunteer – Hypothermic Half recap from the other side

Hypothermic Half volunteerI had THE BEST time today being a course marshal at the Hypothermic Half in Edmonton.

I’m almost willing to give up being a registered runner for being a registered volunteer at races.  Seriously.  You are thanked, you are treated so well, you are fed, and the best part?  You fill your own bucket with all that cheering, encouragement and loooove you’re showering on other people.

I truly adored seeing all those runners giving 110% in the three waves of half marathon starters this morning.  There were the stunningly fit rock stars who just bloody well lead the pack. There were the groups of buddies, and the solitary loners pushing through and the pairs of men and women soldiering on.  There were a couple of older men and ladies running who would undoubtedly kick my ass.  Some runners just stuck out due to their appearance: the guy in the Superman t-shirt, the ladies in the matching pink jackets, the woman who ran like a prancing pony.

We cheered and hollered and boosted morale as best we could.  The four of us at my station were in a lucky spot – we got to see all the runners four times each, as we were close to the turnaround point plus the finish line turn off.  The weather was nothing near “hypothermic” at all and we stood in the sun, virtually and literally.

It’s an interesting perspective to put on a pair of volunteer shoes in a place where you’re typically on the other side, and see where those sneakers take you.

 

Top three: outdoor winter cross training

It’s a beautiful day.

Blue sky, crazy warm temperatures, and here I am on a Saturday morning… in bed.  Still battling a cold.

I’ve been eating healthy food, drinking loads of fluids, sleeping like crazy, even took two days off work this week. The doctor claims my lungs are clear and I’m “fine” but it’s just that my body is fighting back hard, leaving me tired and sniffly. BOOOOOO on that!  I’m dying to get outside again.

Last weekend, I managed to squeeze in a whole whack of amazing winter activities.  Cross training at it’s finest.  Don’t let winter get you down – go outside and play!  This gives the bod the opportunity to use a few other muscles or parts you never knew you had.

Fat tire biking
It’s winter, only the crazies ride their bikes in the ice and snow, right? Well, I rented some fat tire bikes for me and Jim to try out, and boy –  felt like a kid all over again!  Those big fat tires make for a grippy but smooth ride whether on pavement or pathways. We hit the trails around Lac Beauvert in Jasper and had a blast zipping along the snowy pathways through the trees.  And bonus – you can burn up to 1,500 calories an hour on those suckers!  The only drawback – having not been on a bike in forever – was that my butt was totally busted after that ride due to the hard seat. Dude. Three days of aftermath for that one.

Snowshoeing
Since the purchase of my trekking/backcountry snowshoes about two years ago I’ve loved getting out both in the mountains and in Edmonton’s River Valley to explore and soak up some sunshine. This time, I tried out “fitness” snowshoes.  Streamlined, short and light, these snowshoes are ideal for walking and running.  I signed us up for a snowshoe race!  We trotted a couple of times but mostly just walked the 5K loop, stopping to snap photos and drink hot chocolate at the halfway point.  Depending on weight and terrain, you can burn up to 1,000 calories an hour snowshoeing (score!) and those hip flexors get quite the workout.

Cross country skiing
Cross country skiingDriving out to the Blackfoot Cooking Lake area for some late Sunday afternoon skiing, I should’ve known better.  I meant to just do a couple of loops on the lake near the staging area and then drive home, but the lure of the trails beckoned and soon enough I was gliding along through the trees. So fun!  Of course, being directionally challenged, by the time I checked the map I was waaaayyyy far away from the staging area, and the sun was beginning to set. While the average person burns about 500 calories an hour, I’m sure I was up at 700 just due to minor panic.  Sun setting. Coyotes howling. Wiping out on the icy trail hills where the track setting had long since been demolished by skiiers climbing up the other side.  I lived to tell the tale, and can’t wait to get back on my ratty old skis.

Which is why I have a cross country ski date this afternoon at 1:00 pm with Miz R.  And why I’m going to lounge in bed, resting some more, until that time.  Eeeeee!  Love winter!!

What’s your favourite winter cross training activity?  (And yes, cheese fondue is a correct answer…)

 

 

 

 

Smoke & mirrors

I have a routine.

I’m quite proud, because it has become a non-negotiable routine.

I’m following my training plan with the Tuesday and Thursday maintenance runs, and the weekend long runs, which I can do either Saturday or Sunday.  It’s slow, but I’m trusting the process, and am invested that the beginner training plan will get me across the finish line. And so, these workout days are what they are – they’re calendared in cement. Non-negotiable.

Tuesdays always seem slightly more busy than usual in the gym.  I managed to snag a treadmill at the very end of the row, and started my run. Today I planned to run intervals for the duration, upping the speed from my long-run pacing, and still maintaining a run/walk strategy.

The first few minutes were a bit of a drag. While exercising immediately after long hours in the office is a fab way of erasing your day and starting fresh, sometimes it’s a bit of a slog to get there.  I’ve had to make sure I eat an afternoon snack so that I don’t totally crash.  On the treadmill, I finally found my rhythm and felt great – light on my feet, strong, good breathing.

The treadmills overlook the glassed-in pool, and are flanked by one of the weights areas.  If a run is really hard, I’ll pick a spot in the pool and just focus on it to get through.  If a run is just so-so, I will watch the lane swimmers or the little kids having their swimming lessons.  In the reflection of the glass, I can also see people lifting weights or doing pull-ups behind me.  And today, being at the very end of the row there was also a set of mirrors I could see.

The mirrors allowed me to view more of the weights area. I watched people come and go: total gym rat dudes, lithe 25-year-old women muscling in on the weights, etc.  Then I caught a glimpse of the treadmills from behind.  There was the tall guy in blue who ran at a crazy fast pace; the Asian man who had the incline so steep that he hung on to the console for dear life; the teenagers texting on their phones while walking; the round middle-aged lady in a bright yellow t-shirt, hustling along.

Wait. Holy crap.

That’s me. That round, middle-aged woman.

I laughed out loud and almost fell off my treadmill. Simultaneously, my mind experienced a slight jolt. I looked down. I was 20 minutes in to my run, and suddenly I was really tired.  My hand moved to reduce the speed, and I had to forcibly pull it back.

What the effffff?

I looked back into that mirror.  I didn’t look anything how I felt on that treadmill.  My form was good, but it belonged on a skinny person. My oversize cotton Edmonton Eskimos t-shirt, of which I’m quite proud, was sweaty and clung to my body, revealing the curves of my stretchy pants waistline-meets-muffin-top and the bit of chunk at the back of my sports bra.  My shoulders, despite being pressed down, looked like they were up in my ears.  Oh dear.

Dude.  This was not me. Not how I perceive myself. My wonderful, going-to-run-a-gazillion miles me.

I’m all about measuring progress and taking stock, but tonight I made the conscious decision to stop looking in the mirror.  For now anyway.

 

Expired skis have more fun

I’m a beginner.

I’ve been on cross country skis on/off since I was a kid but didn’t really acquire much skill.  The routine never quite changes over the years: it’s all about digging an old pair out of the garage or borrowing from a friend and heading out on an adventure.

It started back in the 80s in northern BC, shuffling around the hilly fields below my subdivision, the ones near the railway tracks. Making fresh tracks, hanging out with friends; red cheeks and only a nip of frostbite.  Heading back long after the sun went down, too tired to even pop the skis while quickly clacking over the roads to get home in time for dinner.

Fast forward 15 years, following a knock on my residence room door in Lake Louise and a last-minute invitation, I begged a loaner pair and was clamping boards to my feet all over again.  Through the silent wintery night, glasses fogged beyond belief from the exertion of hauling myself and a pack over hill and dale, I shuffled again. Eleven sweaty kilometres later, through an unknown territory of glittering, moonlit snow and towering trees, the rosy glow of a log cabin appeared in a meadow. The door opened, a figure silhouetted.  “We thought you were never gonna make it!” (Neither did I)

And last week, once again, I’ve somehow found skis in my garage that pretty much fit my feet. They should be expired. (Can skis expire?) They look uncool. Not old enough to be retro, not hip in any possible way.  Sort of Roger Moore.  I paired them up with my old bamboo snowshoeing poles, and am set on hitting all the local track-set parks.  I’m going to believe I can still (mostly) remain vertical. I’m an eternal beginner on expired skis.  Bring on the fun.

After living in the mountains I still find it weird to have to get in a car to drive to a park to do outdoorsy things, summer or winter. No longer can I engage in self-propelled adventures right from my front door.  So, with a few weekend chores under my belt to subdue the guilt of running off to play, I grabbed the car keys and the old skis and … went to a park.

My first choice was Emily Murphy, one of my favourite Edmonton parks due to it being smack dab along the river valley trail system and being named after a delightful author and women’s rights activist.  I parked. I got out my skis and tossed them in the snow. I snapped them on. I started to slide. Not necessarily in the right direction…

I shuffled my way to the trailhead that would curve around the winding banks of the North Saskatchewan River from Emily Murphy into Hawrelak.  Spoiled by having a separate trail just for cross country skiing, once my skis were in the tracks, I’d like to think I looked vaguely like I knew what was going on. You know, to someone. In the distance. After about three minutes of working on my form (I Googled “how to cross country ski” on YouTube before leaving the house) I was tired. Man, this was hard work!

In about an hour and a half, I managed to get some momentum, find a rhythm, was duly passed by about seven 80-year-old Europeans wearing wool, sat on a park bench in the sun, made conversation with a few other skiiers, lapped a family of four twice (making me feel epic, but I won’t tell you that the children were about 3 and 5 years old…) and broke a sweat.  A lot of sweat, actually.

I skied ~6 km in total that first day out. I loved being in the trees along the frozen river. I almost forgot I was still in the city.  The path that skirts Hawrelak Park is pretty much flat, with barely gradual inclines.  Great for a beginner like me.  The only downside to this route is that even on a sunny day (which, in the winter, means the sun is always low in the sky) you have to come out of the trees to catch those precious rays.

If you want a little more excitement out of the Hawrelak tracks, ski a little further past the footbridge and then hit a multipurpose trail which has a few more thrills.  If I’d gone that direction, I would’ve been flying down hills and fighting to keep my skis together because these tracks are most always compromised by fat tyre bikers, runners and snowshoers. (I may just have been guilty of that in past winters…but now I’m a SKIIER and I get the whole religion surrounding track setting…).

Fab day out. Totally.

Having shuffled back to Emily Murphy, I went to take of my skis and…nope. They just wouldn’t pop off. UGH. I even asked some guy and his wife in the parking lot to help me, and come hell or high water, those skis were not coming off my feet.  Like the old days, I ended up clomping across asphalt, this time in search of my ride.  Balancing against the car, I untied the laces on the ski boot and just took off the whole apparatus – ski boot, ski, everything all still attached – and slid my cozy boots back on my feet.  I left a little trail of grey plastic flakes from the pleather ski boots…like I said, my gear is kinda old.

But again, so much fun.  And a nice little low-impact cross training for my running. (Yep – on WEEK 6 of training —> woot!)

 

 

I won the lottery. Sort of.

Merry ChristmasThree days back into the day job grind and I’m feeling it. The old familiar meh, the long haul after Christmas and into the deep parts of winter, and one’s own mind.

Working for a university, I’m very fortunate to get a mandatory paid holiday between Christmas and New Year’s as the school’s “winter closure” is in effect. And this year, I lived like a lottery winner. Seriously.

I slept in.
I played board games with the kids.
I baked.
I cooked.
I visited with my mom, dad and brother.
I worked out at the gym, and at home.
I cleaned and sorted stuff.
I browsed the shops, with coffee and husband.
I went to the movies (twice for Star Wars!).
I had drinks with my cousins.
I read books.
I played with the cats.
I visited friends.
I walked, snowshoed and cross-country skied.
I brunched (and lunched!) at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald.

All of it was pretty freaking perfect. I spent less time on social media and kept my Netflix binges to a minimum.

It was truly like winning the “sweeps,” as my Gran would call it.  MY version of winning the lottery anyway.  I could do this ALL THE TIME.  Throw in some hikes here and there, and it’s a good life.  I just need to be independently wealthy… it simply takes returning to work to remind you of just how awesome the holidays were. Yep, feeling grateful.

What part of the holidays do you miss?