Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Well-overdue Summary

I meant to post about the marathon, say, last month after it actually took place, but it's taken until now for things to quiet down and for my foot to properly heal. :)

In short: The marathon was AMAZING. ...Well, the tendonitis I could have done without, but otherwise it was an phenomenal experience.

It began with a far-too-early 5am arrival at the airport, where I caught up with some other runners from the Maryland chapter of Team in Training. Good thing, too - I ended up spending a LOT of time with these guys and gals and now consider them good friends. (Shout out to Samiha, Emily, Muffie, Becky, Lauren, Jason, Kevin, Julie, Katy, Jason, Ray and Luke!)

We landed in Orlando, where we quickly discovered two things:
(1) Disney is a beast of a corporation and has inundated pretty much everything in the area. Seriously. The hotel clerk who checked me in drew the Disney mouse logo to indicate where I needed to initial on the resort form. It borders on creepy. Family-friendly creepy, of course.
(2) Orlando was experiencing an abnormal cold front that week. Temperature highs would cap at the high 30s (roughly 1.66C).

TnT booked rooms at the Coronado Springs, one of the Disney Resorts. It's a beautiful place with plush landscapes and an outdoor pool shaped like an Aztec temple. The only drawback would be that our bungalow was located as far as physically possible from the lobby, which made the trip to get to and from the buses/restaurant/meeting spots a tad inconvenient. We actually had the bell hop drop us off with our luggage. Kevin (our coach) pointed out that the ride wasn't exactly marathon runner training, to which I replied, "We're tapering."

From there it was off to the Expo at the Disney Wide World of Sports Pavilion. Expos are generally organized chaos at its finest, and with 50K+ runners in and out of the place to pick up numbers, bags, and merchandise, this was no exception. We picked up our bags and premium (a very nice long sleeved training shirt and some other swag) and browsed around the various booths and merchants. I picked up some KT tape for my knee and a Bondi Band for future wear. [*Side Note: Check out my girls Katy and Emily to purchase some Bondi Bands for your own runs and to help them raise money for TnT! I own #19 myself...

The next two days were a bit of a blur. The highlight had to be the TnT Inspiration Dinner, where the 1,500 TnT half and full marathon runners came together to celebrate and commemorate TnT and the friends and loved ones for whom we run. This occasion was extra-special as recent fund-raising efforts (over $5.4 million had been raised for the Disney event alone) had helped push TnT's overall fund raising history to over $1US BILLION. Hazah! It was great night. While eating our fill of various pasta dishes, we heard speeches from cancer survivors, race organizers, and John "the Penguin" Bingham, a runner's delight.

Because of the size of the events, the Half and Full marathons are held on different days. (You can actually opt to run both events - collectively known as the Goofy - and earn yourself a snazzy 3rd medal in addition to what I expect are some serious shin splints.) The Half took place on Saturday, while the Full was held on Sunday, so I had a full day to fret about the upcoming event. It's true what they say: Get your sleep two nights before your event - you're not going to get a lick of sleep the night before.

We met up to take the bus to the marathon together. The 5am airport meeting had nothing on the 3:30am meet up time at the lobby. Still, the adrenaline - combined with the 29degree (-1.66C) temperatures - kept me awake. Somehow Samiha and I got separated from the others. We checked in our bags after arriving at the event and then huddled for warmth inside the merchandise tent.

Before long it was time to head to our corral for the start of the race. But first - a bathroom break. Race organizers had explained that there would be close to 800 porta-toilets on race day, which seems like a lot...until you realize that some 800 toilets for 25,000 runners leads to some loooong lines for the bathroom. (In fact, I noticed a lot of people skipping the lines entirely and just heading for the grassy areas nearby.) As a result, Samiha and I were a tad behind schedule, which we figured out as we watched the fireworks signaling the start of the race as we made our way to the start.

Soon enough it was time for our corral to head into the race. Samiha, who runs like a gazelle with an endless energy supply, took off with my blessing. I kept up my pace, occasionally munching on energy beans and dodging the growing piles of shed layers and blankets that covered the course. I'd love to say that it got warmer as the sun rose, but that would be a lie. Between the wind and the low temps, the water and PowerAid at the hydration stops were partially frozen, and the areas around the tables were an obstacle course of black ice. For the first 20 miles I made pretty good time, but right about mile 21 I realized that I could no longer ignore the stabbing pain in my foot an walked most of the remainder of the race. Of course, I ran the last .2 miles - had to finish on a big note, you know?

6 hours and 50 minutes later I finally crossed the finish line. It was a longer time than I was hoping for but at the end of the day - f*ck it! I finished! I picked up my Mickey medal and space-age-looking blanket and found Tony and his parents (who flew down from Pittsburgh to see me run. How sweet is that??) Here's a few highlights from the trail:

*Character Spotting: Several Disney characters were on the course and available for photos including, Princess Tiana, Prince Naveen, Louis the Alligator, the Stepmother and Step Sisters from Cinderella, Rafiki (the baboon from The Lion King), Cinderella, Jack Sparrow, and several Mickeys, Minnies, Goofies and Donalds. There were also some non-specific human character actors on the course, like the tourist couple who insisted we were running in the wrong direction. I initially refused to stop in order to keep my time, but I did make one exception: I stopped for a photo with Doug, the dog from Up.

*Musical Accompaniment: Along the highway portions of the course, local area high school bands played for the runners as they flew by. While running through the back lot of Disney's Animal Kingdom, the Florida Accordion Players Association provided the tunes.

*Random Factoids: Sharpie was one of the event sponsors, so along a portion of the course runners passed Sharpie written signs that contained random facts about the event, Disney, and other miscellaneous topics. For some reason the only ones I can remember now are that Tommy Lee Jones and Al Gore were college roommates (which I already knew - don't ask why) and that Kevin Spacey's brother is a professional Rod Stewart impersonator.

*Goats: Not sure why they were there, but it was appreciated.

*The Magic Kingdom: I was 8 years old the last time I was at Disney (several of the parks we ran through didn't even exist then). So it was a bit of a nostalgia trip to see some of the rides I had enjoyed when I was a kid: Dumbo, the Tea Cups, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. As an added bonus, Disney had trumpeters placed on top of Cinderella's Castle. They played every few seconds as runners came through.

*TnT Supporters: It cheesy, but man is it an ego boost and motivator to hear people cheering your name when you're running. It helped that I had my name written on my jersey, but it still counts. It was also great to have TnT coaches from around the country stopping by to check on my progress and general well being during the run.
Towards the end, I really needed it. (Florida TnT Coach: How are you feeling? Me: Pretty beat up. FTC: Well, you know why, don't ya? Me: Well, I'm not a doctor or anything, but I think it has something to do with the 24 miles I just ran. FTC: Thata girl! Remember to hug the corners on your turns.)

*Partner in Crime: I ran into Lauren (a fellow MD-chapter member, running in memory of her grandmother) around mile 23, when we were walking though the costume department at Hollywood Disney. We were both hobbled at that point and decided to walk/run the remainder of the course. Again, it's true what they say: Those last 6.2 miles are all mental. Having Lauren there to joke with and lean on is honestly what helped me finish the damn thing. We ran in the last .2 miles of the race, listened to the race commentators announce our names as we finished, and gave each other a big bear hug after crossing the finish line.

So that was the race in a nut shell! I picked up my Mickey Medal and TnT pin, caught up with Tony, and went back to our room, where I promptly took an ice bath and then a nap. We had a celebration dinner that night. The thought of walking the 1/2 mile to the lobby to pick up the bus to the event brought tears to my eyes, so Tony gave me a piggyback ride part way. Best. Husband. Ever. Unfortunately, due to some faulty event planning, the celebration was held outdoors in 28 degree (-2.22C) cold without heat lamps. No thank you! We quickly scarfed down some food, caught up with Tony's parents and Samiha and then headed back to the resort, where we toasted our accomplishment with some inexpensive champagne and beer.

We all flew back the next day. It was good to be home. I'm still riding high from the experience and while I can't say for sure that I'd do another full marathon any time soon, I'm hoping to do at least one more half marathon before the summer is out.

So what have I learned from all of this? I've learned that the Stick is a runner's best friend. I've learned that the most impossible challenges are often the most rewarding. I've learned that there are lessons (both good and bad) to be drawn from pain. And, I've learned that few things in this life are truly insurmountable, and often the things that seem difficult or painful are a cakewalk compared to the more legitimate battles taken on by the fighters and survivors for whom we ran.

In short: It's all good.

I didn't post any photos from the event or weekend, but you can check them out at my online album here. And remember to check out Katy and Emily's Bondi Band sale to raise funds for their TnT campaigns! It's both fashionable AND charitable.

Thanks again to everyone who lent their support (emotionally as well as financially) to me as I prepared for the marathon. I couldn't have done it without each of you!!!

Lots of Runner's Love,

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