Racing – Mickey Style

Two weeks ago, I ran my second race. My running partner, the one who is responsible for all this running business, is both a racing fanatic and a Disney fanatic. Her primary goal for us is a marathon relay in January, with each of us running one half. But the wise woman that she is, she thought it might be helpful for me to have a trial run (pun intended). So she signed us up for a half marathon relay at Disney in September, of which I’d run the first 4.8 miles.

Leading up to the race, I wasn’t concerned about the distance, having already survived a 10-mile training run. This race was less about the mileage and more about gaining the experience of a Run Disney event.

And what a spectacle it was.

The race didn’t start until 10 p.m. While I was thankful for the cooler evening temps, it meant I spent that whole day looking at my watch, trying to decide when to get dressed, trying not too eat too much, drink too much, eat too little, drink too little – it was a long day.

Finally, it was time for a dinner of a pretzel – nothing more, nothing less – and then a ride on a Disney bus to the staging area. Here we are goofing off in our matching skirts just before leaving our resort.

Relay RacersAt 7:30 p.m., my race partner and I joined the throngs of people filing into to the field at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. The huge expanse of grass was encircled by what appeared to be all the porta-potties ever made in the world. On one side of the field a stage had been erected and a DJ was doing his best to pump up the crowd. Line dancing ensued. Nearby, a long queue of people waited for their turn to be photographed with Mickey and Minnie.

Soon, my running partner boarded another bus to take her to the relay exchange point and there I was. Alone in a giant crowd of people. Some were jogging to warm up. Some were in costume. Some were dancing. Then finally, the 30-minute warning sounded, and all those people were simultaneously in line for a porta potty. Twelve thousand people, and they all needed to pee.

After my turn with a porta potty, I packed into Corral B, positioned myself in the center of the crowd and waited for the fireworks.

Literally. There were fireworks as each wave of racers started. That’s Disney for you!

With color and light exploding overhead, Corral B crossed the start line. I had my iPhone strapped to my arm, my Runkeeper app fired up and ready to help me time my intervals. My training runs have all been at a 2:1 interval – 2 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking. I knew it was important to take the walk breaks in the beginning, even when I didn’t feel tired, so I’d still have plenty of gas in the tank at the end of the race.

Two minutes passed, and I realized there was no way I was about to walk. The crowd of racers had not begun to spread out, and because I had positioned myself in the center of pack, if I’d stopped to walk I’d have been trampled.

And thus began a series of learning moments. I learned:

-bring headphones. I thought I’d want to absorb the excitement of the race and wouldn’t need music, but I was wrong. The first three miles of the race were along the streets between Disney properties and were, frankly, boring. Disney had a few characters positioned along the route, but mostly I had the sound of my feet and my breathing for company and they only made me nervous.

-run on the edge of the road. There were plenty of other walk/run racers taking their walk breaks, but they had enough sense to start out on the edge of the pack. It took me a long time to work my way over there.

-I cannot control my racing environment. I always run alone; therefore I go slow when I want to, faster when I want to, and take my walk breaks when I want to. But in this race, with so many people, it wasn’t up to me. Sometimes I wanted to walk but couldn’t because of the crowd surging behind me. There were points in the race I’d planned to go faster, but those also happened to be points where the route narrowed and the crowd slowed.

And perhaps the hardest lesson to learn of them all: race day adrenaline does not make the race easy. I’d been laboring under the illusion that once I got to the starting line, I’d ride the wave of energy and excitement all the way to the finish line, crushing my usual pace and without the fatigue. I was wrong. My pace was a little faster than my training runs, but not by much. And there were still times when I felt tired.

But there were high points too. There is clearly an electricity at the starting line of a big race like this, with 12,000 people poised and ready to run, that is not something I’ve experienced outside of racing. And while the first three miles along the roads were boring, last 1.8 were a big improvement because I got to run through Animal Kingdom. The park provided plenty of visual distractions and it finally felt like Disney, not just another blacktop. And crossing the finish line is a pretty great feeling.

And now I have this nice new bit of bling, which I plan to turn in to a Christmas ornament.

BlingI have just under two weeks left until my first half-marathon – the Rock N Roll race here in Savannah. I am so thankful I had a chance to run the Disney race and work out some of these racing kinks without the added challenge of 13.1 miles.

13.1 miles. With 23,000 of my closest running buddies. Piece of cake, right?

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