I ran four laps around the park last night, amounting to roughly five klicks, which turned out feeling pretty good. #recovery
Ok, so I didn’t break the 25 minute mark, but my first run of the year came close.
The annual gathering of resolution runners on the first day of the year was warmer than usual. It was my seventh year running the five klick, kick-of-the-year-in-the-right-way run. The temps were hovering right around zero Celsius, and the roads were only a little slick, but otherwise quite good for a mid-morning run.
I got to the start at the front of the pack, with only a few dozen people in front of me. A common complaint of this particular race is that the self-seeded starting corral tends to bottleneck a little bit thanks to a narrow exit and an abundance of casual runners, and getting a good start relies on being in the first hundred or so through the big red archway.
We launched, and I kicked it into gear.
For the first five hundred meters or so I dodged through the crowds and weaved past some of the slower (already walking?) folks, opening up as we entered into the neighbourhood streets. Then I loosed it, and for a good klick and a half I was running at a sub-5 (min/km) pace.
I wasn’t taking my usual 10:1 (run:walk) intervals that I hold to for most training, so by the time the first beep of the watch teased me with that, I ignored it but was holding a good pace and passing the 2 klick mark.
I couldn’t hold it though. By three and a half I was huffing hard, and I dropped to about a 5:15, fighting the urge to slow up even more. I rounded the last stretch bend just barely passed twenty-five minutes, and entered the icy home stretch with my eye on the clock creeping towards twenty-six.
But, bam, past the line, a stop of the watch and to my surprise: 25 and change. A personal best and a great start to 2015.
On Saturday night, wallowing in a thin powdery layer of iridescent cornstarch and radiating in the pale phosphorescence of a dozen glow sticks, I set a new personal record: my worst five kilometer race time. Ever.
To be fair, though the race was advertised as a five klick family fun run, the distance measured by my watch was actually closer to six and a half. But what’s an extra thirty percent between friends? Well, I’m sure it would have been barely a footnote if not for the flabbergasting fail of an event and unprecedented danger that preceded our mediocre finish.
We were excited to join the throngs of our fellow runners for the inaugural –though perhaps, it will be the last as well– edition of the Edmonton Neon Run. I won’t delve into the lawyer-esque nitpicking of comparing what we were promised versus what was delivered. In the end we ran, it was dark, we got a little dirty with paint and glow powder, and there were parts of it that were genuinely fun. I ran with three of my fellow running crew, we stopped for numerous selfies, evoked a darkly humorous commentary (as best as we could) on the situation, and made the best of a failed event by tossing our share of paint on each other. It was a runner’s rave, and in the dark of an Edmonton late-summer evening, toed the line of awesomeness — but then tripped and landed flat on it’s face.
I’m sure a quick Google of the topic, a stroll through Facebook, or by pinging the right Twitter hash one could quickly uncover pages of angry rants on the outcome of this race. By all accounts, there were numerous shortcomings, not the least of which seemed to be hasty planning. And as I write these words, those planners haven’t dared show their faces nor even attempted to partially own the failure, only ramping up the rage and creating a grass-roots drive to dig out some glowing pitchforks for a rally of angry redemption at the Calgary event next weekend.
And some oh-so-basic planning could have averted so much of the pain. Up until the three-klick mark, the worst anyone could have complained about was a few potholes (a issue much bigger than the race, of course) and that they may have erred on the little-too-dark side for the route. We ran about half a klick in the pitch black of the river valley, narry a glowstick to mark the edge of the asphalt from the protruding branches of a thousand trees. But it was a night race, and in the end if you were neither a five year old nor afraid of the dark, it was –admittedly– what you’d signed up to do: run in the dark, by the glow of the crowd.
But then things got stupid.
We emerged from the dark into a paint station: clouds of coloured cornstarch being tossed into the air gave the milling crowds an eerie aura under the single spotlight. Milling crowds? In a race, you say? Why, yes… because route planning while not hard, cannot necessarily be done (at least not well) by consulting only a digital map. What looks like a trail on Google may, for example, actually be a barely-passable, dirt scramble ill advised to be traversed by anyone, even in daylight. At night, with the crush of three thousand neon-wired runners angling for a speedy finish to get back to the party and out of the quickly dropping temperatures? Let’s just say those organizers are oh-so-more-lucky than they deserve this morning. They are lucky because (as far as I know) no one got seriously hurt or died, no one suffered a heart attack, no one fell off the cliff that was mere inches away from an unlit yet-marked-by-pylons route up the steep hill. Oh, how lucky.
But perhaps not for the rest of us. In the long and uncertain forty five minutes it took my little party of four to walk-climb-shuffle-bustle out of the valley and into the neighbourhood streets above, most (perhaps even all?) of the volunteers had abandoned their posts, any race marshals had disappeared, and the steadfast police who’d stayed behind to clean up the mess were the (only) evidence of professionalism and impromptu encouragement in the wake of cleaning up a very bad situation. (Three cheers for the Edmonton Police, by the way!)
My worst-ever five kilometre time ended up being (actually) six and a half klicks in not quite ninety minutes, three times longer than I’d anticipated when I’d laced up my neon-orange shoes earlier that evening. I don’t care about the late start or the long finish time because after all I run to spend time with some awesome people — but in every other way the race was a fail. I won’t be running it again. And if you are in one the cities who will be hosting it in the near (or far future) you may want to reconsider for yourselves… or at the very least, leave the kids with a babysitter and bring an extra headlamp.
Get up at 5:15. Drink a coffee. Run 5k before you start the rest of your day. Nothing wrong with that right?
For those just arriving at this post from a search engine — in other words, those who have not actually been following along for the last year as I trained for the 2014 Dopey Challenge in Disney World in Florida — I ran it. I ran it all. I completed it. I crossed each and every start — and finish — line, and took the photos, earned the medals, revelled in the personal glory and all wallowed in every bit that goes with it all. And… I walked away to talk about it.
And talk about it I have. Everyone — from people at work to family and friends and of course the folks I run with — are curious, have questions, and want to know: “how was it?” But then why not?
After all, it was a bit of a crazy thing to do… four races in four days. What was I thinking, eh?
So, instead of just letting all those experiences wash away in the mists of fading memory, I thought I would take the time to write some of it down. It shouldn’t be a surprise to my regular readers (blogging nut that I am) and in fact many of you have probably been wondering why I haven’t done it already. Here I am: two weeks post-race and with a little perspective on things and… a summary. How I got there, how I trained, what I did right or wrong or plain just lucked out on. If you are reading this in a couple months or a couple years because you’ve signed up — or are thinking of signing up — for the 2015… 2016… or maybe the in 2034 for twentieth anniversary edition of the challenge — then maybe my little bit of insight will help. Or, at least it will be of some mild interest and good for a chuckle.
So, who am I?
someone who has been running for about 6 years
First, I’m just a guy. I have a desk job. I’m a father of a six-year-old girl. I was 37 years old when I ran the race, and in average physical condition, at least for someone who has been running for about 6 years (with dedication) or longer if you count the years before joining a club and focusing. I ran my first marathon in the summer of 2013, about four months prior to running Dopey, but about five months after signing up for it. Yeah, that’s right: I had never before run a marathon when I signed up for the Challenge.
My times: they’re nothing to write songs about, I admit, but I’ve earned them fair and square. I have a wall at home covered with race bibs and medals, and my drawer is stuffed with technical shirts bearing the logos of runs-gone-by. As of the race I had some solidly-average PRs (though the marathon time listed was my ONLY marathon time… counting Dopey I’ve now run just two of those.) You can judge the times for yourself, but I include them because (chances are) if you are contemplating a Dopey run yourself one of your biggest questions is probably “how do I stack up against others who’ve done it?” So this is me, and you can compare for yourself.
|RACE||My Past PR||My DOPEY Time|
|Half||2h 03m||2h 31m|
|Full||4h 40m||5h 13m|
I live and I train in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: a city of about a million people that has amazing river valley trails spun like ribbons of smooth asphalt through peaceful forests and connecting huge areas of suburban sprawl, but also a city that is blanketed in snow for five months of the year and whose winter temperatures drop occasionally to -40 Celsius not counting the wind chill factor. We have a fairly high elevation, are land-locked with low humidity, and mosquitoes that will carry you away if you don’t anchor yourself to something strong.
I run with the Running Room run club here. I show up for various nights of random distances training runs, I’ve participated many times as a student (and a few times as an instructor) with their assorted clinics, and we have an awesome social group there who probably now meets just as much for the post-run coffee hangouts as we do for the actual running. They’ve turned me into a runner and I’ve done what I can over the years to give back to the group in return.
Deciding to Run a Dopey?
It was love-at-first-sight: I honestly didn’t think about it much. We’d recently discovered running vacations. I’d done Vegas. We were in a routine of weekend-getaways based around out-of-city races. And, we had pretty much already decided we were going to Florida, and had pretty much already decided I was doing a race there. It was just a matter of choosing between a Disney Half (a distance of which I’d run many times before) or a Disney Full (which would mean a summer of hard-core training.) So when Karin, my wife, messaged me one morning nearly a year ago to ask if I heard about the Dopey Challenge I think it was probably only a split second of hesitation in my mind and I’m pretty sure I decided right there. I wrote about it, yeah, and pondered it as if I was in doubt, but some of that was for dramatic effect and because I didn’t want to seem like was jumping off a metaphorical cliff without any forethought. Weird, huh? I hadn’t even really considered doing the Goofy Challenge prior to that, but something about the Dopey was just so over-the-top nutty that I knew I wanted in.
So there I was: registered, with nearly a year of planning ahead of me.
I’m going to consider everything that led up to running my first marathon in August of 2013 as the “far-out” training, the training that led into what I would consider training “officially” for Dopey. In actuality, I was training from the minute I signed up, and thought about running that way. But even though that ten-or-so months of training before the Challenge was all part of it, there were some distinct phases along the way.
I’ll keep those points simple and salient:
Just Keep Swimming… er, Running
Just Keep Swimming… er, Running – When you sign up, you’ve started. I didn’t take any prolonged breaks. I didn’t say “uh, well, I’m gonna start training in September” or plan to start sometime in the future. You’re signed up, your training now. No… really: right NOW. Lace up and get out there. Every day is an opportunity for a run — or a rest — as your plan dictates.
A Year’s Worth of Plans – I planned every training run from the day I signed up until the taper week leading into Dopey. Did I make every run? No, there were mild injuries, illnesses, unforeseen family obligations, or bad weather days. But I had a plan shortly after signing up and I stuck with it as best I could.
Illness, Injury, and Other Stuff – I was sick twice, I rolled my ankle really badly once and could barely walk on it (let alone run) and I can’t tell you how many times the weather threw me for a loop (even in the summer). Don’t mess around. Take the punch, fix what needs to be fixed, rest injuries and look after yourself… and then get back to training.
Instructing-ish – I had an awesome time instructing a clinic over the summer, and I think that while everyone wouldn’t have that opportunity, there is something about a big goal and a big group of people to train with that will keep you honest. For that first marathon, stretching my limits every week, having a group that was relying on me for their own training kept me coming out and got me across the start line.
I’m glad I’d done at least one marathon prior to Dopey. Very glad.
run a marathon before you run Dopey
As much as I’d read, researched, talked, learned, and training for that first marathon, there is literally NOTHING that compares to running it. And I’m not just talking about the actual experience. A marathon is as much a mental sport as it is a physical one. I think that is why it appeals to so many people. While a half-marathon is tough, it’s not until you hit that point about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through a full marathon that… well, a philosopher might call it dualism: your body and mind begin to operate towards differing goals, they seem to separate from each other and you pick a side — mind or body — becoming a mere observer in the events that are transpiring with that side you didn’t pick. Your energy is depleted and every decision you make — and making rational decisions three hours into a run is not as simple as it sounds as you sit at your computer reading this — affects every step you take from thereon in. I could write an essay on my anecdotal perception of that race, but the takeaway message would be simple: I did a lot wrong in my first marathon, mistakes that almost didn’t let me finish and left me in the medical tent at the end, BUT… but I was able to recover, learn, and adapt to better run and finish Dopey.
My one word of advice for potential Dopeys… run a marathon before you run Dopey. I’m not certain, but I’m sure there were murmurs of participants in my coral who were doing their first marathon that morning in January. That’s not smart, in my humble opinion.
So.. my first marathon was in the bag, and there was I was in about Septmber-ish with jsut a few months to go. What were the key points of that span of training?
Keeping Up With Yourself: Solo Runs – If you find a training partner for Dopey, awesome. The problem with travel runs, especially around big trips like for us to go all the way to Florida, is that it’s tough to find someone who is willing to race with you. See my next note about the season, but races are pretty few and far between in winter around here and training for an epic marathon-plus run in January meant that no one else was really doing the distances I was doing. I expected a lot of solo runs and for the most part I got them as November and December arrived.
Seasonal Shifts – Summer running turned into autumn running which very abruptly turned into winter running. I capped much of my training off in the local recreation center (rather than out on the trails where I prefer) running long, boring laps around the indoor track because the sidewalks were icy, the snow was fresh and too deep, or simply because the cold was a little on the dangerous side (yes, a minus 45 windchill is dangerous) for outdoor training.
Holiday Temptations – As much fun as it was to hit Disney World AFTER the holiday rush, having the races in January did mean that the crux of the race training was going on at the same time I was expected to be hanging out at Christmas parties and eating big meals and doing family things. Squeezing in a twenty-five klick run before yet-another family party was not easy. Stick with your plan.
Between registration and the minute you step across the finish line you will experience every single emotional state you can imagine, and probably some you cannot.
Anxiety. Fear. Regret. Inadequacy. Frustration. Elation.
Everyone deals with emotions in their own way, and even me –as open and sharing as I tend to be on this blog– can only really admit to a few strategies for getting your head in the game: music, solitude, routines, friends, and focus.
I guess the only real advice I would have here is that you need –NEED– to understand that running this kind of distance, participating in this kind of event is as much a mental game as it is a physcial one. So…
Set reasonable expectations.
Understand how you will deal with the unexpected.
Have a plan and stick with it.
You know the drill…
The Week Before
We arrived in Florida three days before the first race. I wrote a whole article on that t-minus-one-week preparation for Dopey, and I don’t really want to repeat that now. In retrospect I guess the things that really mattered to me most were:
a) planning my meal choices ahead of the game: eating almost every major meal out at a restaurant in Disney World is not exactly the best pre-race strategy. But if you’re wrapping this race in a vacation you’re kind hooped in that regard. My “club sandwhich and iced tea” strategy –as loony as it sounded– didn’t do me wrong.
b) removing the jet-lag factor: by the time we left Edmonton for Florida, I was already on Florida time. It was only a two-hour difference, but not having to deal with jet-lag AND early wake ups for the race was just one less stressor to have on the mind.
c) using a grocery service and our kitchenette: no-brainer, maybe, but not winging the whole “What am I going to eat before the races?” question by ensuring I had not only brought along a jar of my favourite peanut butter, but had a fresh sack of bagels waiting at the hotel… that was smart. Also, coffee-addict that I am, I avoided brewing fresh each morning by brewing a pot the night before, storing it in a clean bottle in our fridge, and re-heating in time to down a quick cup before dashing for the bus. It wasn’t exactly high class, but it beat caffeine withdrawl during the races.
And yeah, we did spend a couple days at the parks prior to running. But I relaxed, gave myself the freedom to enjoy myself, but didn’t burn myself out on park-hopping, thrill-ride exhaustion in those first couple days at Disney World’s enticing sirens of entertainment..
About ten thousand people queued up in five corrals in the Epcot parking lot: that was our first impression of the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend. Stepping off a bus with my family into the dark January morning of a Florida amusement park parking lot was the first step of many that encompassed that race.
I wrote about the 5K experience that night in another post.
The Expected: Crowds, butterflies (of the stomach variety), dark, music, costumes, friendly strangers, ample port-o-potties, security, wave-start, photo-ops, more music, cheering crowds.
The Unexpected: Waiting, waiting, and more waiting, so few character photo-ops on the course, the blur and abrupt end at the finish line.
The evening before we went to Epcot for the Pasta in the Park party: very good (though they ran out of pasta for a bit right when we got there.) It meant a bit of walking, but turned out to be a great place for the character photos we’d missed on the run.
That night I was in bed a little later than I’d wanted, but still pretty early.
The second race started 45 minutes earlier than the first, but used the same coral system: 5 groups of about 2,000 people per. This time I was still feeling pretty good, but I was stepping into the fray alone.
I wrote about the 10K experience that night in another post.
The Expected: Lots of hype for the (mostly) Dopey-runner crowds, more characters, the music.
The Unexpected: The humidity, the first half of the route through a dark and lonely stretch of Disney World highway, and did I mention the HUMIDITY!
The day of the ten klick run I’d gone to Hollywood Studios for the better part of the day. I took it easy, sat through a lot of quiet shows in cool theatres, stayed out of the sun, and didn’t walk around too much. Also, it gave me the chance to wear my medal around for the day.
I volunteered to take all the kids back to the hotel while most everyone else stayed for more rides. We all got to sleep pretty early that night.
The half-marathon had a lot more people. I’d heard the number 26 thousand tossed around, and it seems like a reasonable guess if nothing else.
I wrote about the half-marathon experience that night in another post.
The Expected: Lots of stops, walks, and assorted breaks for photos, character photos, selfies, the sights, well organized and frequenty water breaks.
The Unexpected: The looooooong walk from the drop off through security through multiple checkpoints around to the corals (no really, it was like a 4km walk), the speakers by our coral only worked sporadically, the ants, the chill in the air despite the humidity, the massive crowds (no really, there were thousands of people cheering), hundreds of guys peeing in the bushes duing the first 5 k of the race, the school bands (awesome), the runners who took the race waaaaaay to seriously (I mean, it’s Disney, guys!) the humidity (again), the chafing (in part thanks to the humidity.)
I slept after the half. I had long since decided it was going to be a hang-out-at-the-hotel kinda day, and so everyone went off to Epcot without me while I watched lame TV at the resort. At one point I knew I needed some food and couldn’t stomach the thought of multiple club sandwhiches in one day, so I took the boat to Downtown Disney and ate a rice bowl.
My biggest problem — and it caused me a great deal of stress — was that despite my preparation I managed to chafe a bit of the skin on my inner thigh, a bit below the seam line of my shorts. It was raw, and painful to walk. I ended up spending a big chunk of the day nursing that (fortunately we had some cream which helped) and it turned out to be only a minor factor in the full the next day.
By the time I lumbered off the bus on that fourth morning there were not many surprises left. I had my peanut butter bagel and water in hand, and I was ready.
We coralled, and I think I was in a bit of a cloud. I’d convinced myself (and I think I was right) that the hardest race was the half: y’know, because it was the race where I had to hold back and moderate else risk ruining myself for the run the next day… plus it was pretty humid that third day.
But then the fireworks went… and we were off.
I wrote about the marathon experience that night in another post.
The Expected: Being very, very tired even as the race started… and everything else I’d seen up to that point repeated.
The Unexpected: The drop in humidity, the number of fellow Canadians (I was wearing a shirt with “Canada” on it), and the numb feeling hitting me for a few hours after it all ended.
It was a hard run. There are parts of it that are vivid in my brain. There are parts that are a complete blur and of which I have no memory. I suppose any marathon will do that to you.
I carried a camera with me for all four races (definitely recommended!) and I took a whole bunch of video, none of which I’ve watched as of this writing… I may even post some of it some day… but part of me was very happy when I crossed that line, and part of me was very sad that it was all over. I’m saving the video for when that realization really starts to sink in. I mean, all the preparation and planning, all the fun… and it was done.
Afterwards and Beyond
I slept that afternoon, and we went for dinner, I with a bunch of medals around my neck.
I posted a picture of my feet (and a pair of newly-retired shoes) from somewhere in the Magic Kingdom the next morning. We went the park, and I wrote: “I promised my shoes that if they treated me well for one last race, they could retire and I’d take them somewhere special.” So, we went to Disney World.
Thousands of fellow runners with medals around their necks. Hundreds of “congratulations” passed between strangers. Dozens of conversations spun up between people who might never have said so much as hello in the vastness of the chaotic theme park bustle.
A few days of vacation.
A pair of slowly recovering feet.
A long plane ride home.
And then… it was just another couple of race bibs tacked to my wall.
Would I recommend it? Would I do it again? Yes. Yes. So much yes. All the training, all the cost, all the self-doubt… worth it in the end: it was an awesome experience, and anyone who has the chance to run such a crazy, insane… dopey… race, should sieze it.
And me… I’ll shut up about it now.
This, like every post about Dopey, has been tagged with the keyword “dopey” so you can click through and read more. Or, you can just click on the running topic and dig around for even more training-story goodness.
January 9… trotted along something like this:
Four am came pretty early for everyone.
I’d been tossing and turning all night, waking up periodically for various reasons, nervous energy not the least of those. I guess one of the big stresses of this run has not been my own training, but the fact I dragged my family along for the adventure. Nearly everyone — seven of us — were running the five kilometer fun run, and only two of those had ever run a five klick run previously (and that’s counting me, too.)
But we made it to the bus, made it to corral D, and made it across the start line. And we ran, and we walked and we sprinted and then we stopped for photos and ran some more.
In the end, we crossed the line at about 50 minutes (according to my watch, not the race clock) which was not entirely terrible for having the pace set by a six year old.
And it didn’t burn me out, so that’s another plus.
It did result in an all-round quiet day back at the hotel. Because of the early morning for nearly all of us, we opted to take a day off from the parks and just hung out at the resort.
There was a lot of napping going on, and then everyone kinda went their separate ways after lunch: the kids to the pool, the golfers out to the local course, and me for a nap in a pool-side lounge chair.
And then the rain started. Hours of rain. Down-pour rain.
The Highlights of the Day include:
1) Claire crossing the finish line, of course. Hey, if anyone has been following along with my running journey you’ll know that I started this whole thing because I had a little girl who needed a better role model for a dad. Crossing the line with her on her first 5k run… hey… do I need to even explain that feeling?
3) Sleeping by the pool. I don’t know if it was the run or the sun or the early wake ups or just the fact I was laying beside a pool, but I had a great little nap.
After our little siesta, we bussed it over to Epcot for the Pasta in the Park party. It was a great big meal and event for the runners, where we got some awesome treats and special seats for the Illuminations light show. It made for a late night before the 10k tomorrow, but hey… we’re here for a little fun, right?
I do think there is value in everyone and anyone setting specific life goals. And just like I think every adult should have a list of things to do before they die — a bucket list, some might call it — so too every child should have a parental-supported list of things to do before they leave the age of innocence and become a teenager. I decided to write that list down, and from my daughter’s fifth birthday until the day she turns thirteen we’re going to try and do them all.
Her dad is a runner, so is it really any wonder that at some point in her life my daughter would find herself entered in a foot race?
The problem with tracking all the items on this epic list is that some of those items are simple moments, events, ideas and things that are merely done, while others are projects and elaborate efforts that span months or years.
training, preparation, fortitude, practice
A race fits vaguely into the middle those two categories.
On one hand a race, particularly the five kilometer race we’ve chosen, is a short span of time in our lives. The gun will fire, the crowd will roar across the start line, and inside of forty, maybe fifty minutes of a sauntering, six-year-old-compatible jog, we’ll be posing for pictures with our medals and eating our post-race snacks.
On the other hand a race –any race and any effort of such physical endurance –is an effort that requires training, preparation, fortitude, practice, gear, explanation understanding and –in this case– travel.
Claire, currently five years old, was presented with the following question after watching her dad cross countless finish lines in her short life: “would you like to run with dad?”
We took her out into the park, let her dash around on the snow-covered trails a little bit, explained in a manner that I’m fairly certain was beyond her comprehension (despite our best efforts) what the approximate distance would be if she were to sign up, and — proud dad that I quickly became — never once wavered from her determination to stand on that start line with her dad (and mom, grandparents, uncle and cousin, too, it should be noted.)
A week later, my five year old daughter was amongst the registered, dues paid, and souvenir t-shirt on order.
So, there’s the rub: I’ll mark this article as the precise recording, the moment in which we “entered a race” as per the list requirements, and over the next nine months until we travel to Florida, make our way to DisneyWorld, wake up at five in the morning and catch the shuttle to the start line of the Disney Family Fun Run 5K race through Epcot Center… until that time, I’m sure there will be many more notes on how a now-five, then-to-be-six year old handles the rigours of building enough endurance to dash through a Disney theme park (more than likely running circles around the rest of her family, truth be told) as she completes her first race and is decorated with a shiny finisher medal.
We’ll reflect on these things over the coming nine months. We’ll put in some klicks as we jog around the park this summer and get a feel for time and distance and pace. And then we’ll enter a race.
I just hope that all means I won’t be carrying her across the finish line.
The running adventures are sure to continue so watch for training updates on this blog. I’ll attempt to link to any other posts or note I make about it. Questions or suggestions? Leave a comment.