Spartan Race

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Dreadmill Chronicle...

To give a bit of background information, I used to be a treadmill guy. I used to espouse the benefit of being able to watch TV for an entire run, the utility of never being more than 25 feet from a bathroom, the beauty of knowing exactly how many miles per hour you are running and wisdom of knowing exactly how fast you were going at all times (as an aside, I've figured out that easiest way to tell an outside runner from a treadmill runner is how they report their speed - mph = treadmill, X minute miles = outside). My wife always scoffed at this, and I have to say she was right. I only hit the treadmill now when I have no other alternative. Lately, the treadmill has been fighting back.
I have to work this weekend, so my usual running schedule is thrown a bit off. I can either run very early or very late. I awoke around 4 AM this morning to the sound of driving rain pelting my bedroom windows, and knowing that the temperature was in the mid-thirties, I resolved to sleep for a while and then run in the afternoon. I subsequently tossed and turned for a few hours, and finally decided to get up and go hop on the treadmill for a quick three mile run.
This would seem like a reasonable plan, except for the fact that apparently a poltergeist now inhabits the dreadmill lurking in my garage. It hates me. Perhaps it loathes me. It is the Moriarty to my Holmes, the Luke Skywalker to my Darth Vader, the Newman to my Seinfeld, the Dr. Doofenschmirtz to my Perry the Platypus. It hasn't always been this way, we've spent long hours together, me plodding along, watching a movie on the minuscule flat screen dvd player/tv combo (bought from a pawn shop that happens to sell things on ebay), it humming just loud enough to drown out the players pathetic auditory system, integrated fans pointed at my face and just barely moving enough air for me know they were on... We were happy. It's still that way for my wife. She turns on the treadmill, and it does what she asks. She can run as fast as she wants for as long as she wants. Me, not so much.
Somehow, over the last few months, any attempt I make to run on the treadmill results in a blown circuit breaker. The first time it happened (just before Christmas), it took me quite some time and many trips to the breaker box to figure out what happened. It seems that not only is the circuit attached to the box, but also to a ground fault indicator outlet on the far side of the garage. This would appear to be the culprit. I do not know what my treadmill is suddenly drawing enough power to blow a fuse, but regardless of why, it drove me into a rage at 5:50AM. As I walked back in to my pre-dawn house, I vowed that the dreadmill would not win the day. I would run before sundown.
So I did. I pulled on my stocking cap and my Sugoi Zap jacket and my Newtons and I took off outside. It's 27 degrees today, and precipitating. And it felt great. I've gotten enough used to my Newton Gravitas that they are no longer a novelty, but I'm still running faster than I was in other shoes. I feel like a running light bulb has come on when I wear them. My Sugoi Zap jacket never ceases to amaze me. I was impervious to the worst old man winter could throw at me. Freezing rain and snow bounced off it like ping pong balls. Wind gusts hard enough to make me duck my head failed to penetrate it at all. Despite it's light weight, I actually had to unzip it a little ways, because I got a bit warm. In short, I ran through the sleet and snow and enjoyed it tremendously (as an aside, when running or driving through snow, I always feel like I'm getting ready to go into hyperspace, it makes me feel fast). Feeling like I could win a land war in Asia as I crossed over the threshold into my garage, I glared at the treadmill and silently thanked it for giving me the opportunity to run in the weather. I think it blinked. Mu.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Goofy, Part 2

It is appropriate to start this second part of my Goofy blog with a quote from the classic Bill Murray film Groundhog Day - "When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter." Why do I choose this quote? Because to some extent, I felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. I woke up at 2:50 AM. I ate the same stuff as the day before (though I was too sick of food court peanut butter to eat my midnight peanut butter sandwich). I put on remarkably similar clothes to the day before, down to the throw away flannel shirt, pants, and tyvek painters' coveralls. And then we went out into the cold.

But that's where it ended. Brand new day. It was actually colder for the marathon than the half marathon, somewhere around 25 degrees according to several major news services. It was also, however, not precipitating in any way, shape, or form as we stood in line for the bus. {OK, the bus ride was remarkably similar, and the same Disney volunteer welcomed us to "Disney Alaska", but that was the last Groundhog Day thing - it also provided an easy way to tell the Punxsutawneyish marathon folk (amused by it) from the Chekhovian Goofy folk (less than amused)}. Baggage check was much faster that day, and people seemed to be in very good mood overall. Rather than focusing on the cattle-shoot aspect of the walk to the start, I took a bodily inventory of how I felt after the half, and was remarkably pleased to find that I had no aches or pains anywhere. My leg muscles felt the least bit "not fresh", for lack of a better way to describe it, but not really fatigued.

Approaching the start, we took the obligatory trip to the porta-potties, where, incidentally, I learned that one could shove an entire space blanket down one pants leg of tyvek coveralls and the top half of suit down the other in order to keep them off the floor of said porta-potty. My wife did not think of this, and we ended up ripping the sodden arms off her coveralls, leaving her looking a bit like Ralph Macchio in the Karate Kid.

Getting into the corral required some effort, as we had to show our numbers to the volunteer. Mine was pinned to my shorts - under the coveralls and flannel shirt and pants - so required yoga and contorting. In case you are wondering, before a race, clear and colder is better than sleeting and marginally warmer, but we still waited a bit too long to shed our outer accouterments, and so ended up in the far back of the corral after everyone had pressed up to the starting line.

Before long the fireworks lept skyward, and we were off. It ended up taking us about four and half minutes to actually cross the line, but hey, this race is a marathon, not a sprint (which I cleverly worked into the blog as a non-euphemism). The first couple of miles were spent in a huge crowd of humanity. Around mile one, there was an oddly-placed water stop that everybody cruised through, but otherwise the stretch was mostly devoid of ornamentation. Which is not to say there was nothing to look at.

I don't think there was a person at the race who didn't have either a space blanket or a trash bag wrapped around their person at the start. Most discarded them before they started running, but a freezing few held on to them for the first couple of miles only to discard them along the rout. I have no idea whether people dropped them in the middle of the race course or if they threw them to the side only to have the fairly brisk wind catch them and blow them back on to the course, but a forest of mylar and plastic jellyfish soon formed across the road way. They blew about like tumbleweeds a ghost town, wrapping themselves around unwary runners feet. I was sure somebody would trip and fall, but if they did, I didn't see it. What I did observe was the a phenomenon similar to walking out of a bathroom trailing toilet paper stuck to one's shoe. Various runners trailed myler strips for what seemed like half a mile or more, making a distinctive step-crackle sound as they ran, and hoping in vane that the mylar would auto-disentangle (it didn't).
Mile three or so saw us entering and leaving the back side of the World Showcase in Epcot. The coolest thing about this was a broadcast on the globe used in the Illuminations show that closes Epcot each day. No fireworks, but a lot of flashing colors. Soon after, we cruised out of Epcot and joined the folks who had started on the other side of the road - the course would be the same from here on out. It was Deja vu all over again as we jogged effectively back through the starting gate at mile four, and the a little bit later that early water stop made sense as we jogged past it around mile four and a half. It was here that we got our first taste of an unexpected race phenomenon for me - that of the powerade slush. It was actually cold enough that the water and sports drinks at the water stops were partially freezing in their cups, making basically an icee.
Between mile 5 and mile 9, not much usually goes on in this race, with the exception of the mild novelty of passing by the Disney World Speedway. Today, I learned two things: 1. Powerade, when spilled on asphalt in sub-freezing temperatures, does not seem to freeze, and 2.Water, when spilled on asphalt in sub-freezing temperature turns into a slick patch of black ice almost immediately. As runners dropped their partially full cups of H2O, the fan-shaped spillage quickly turned into so many banana peels that the water stops suddenly became one large frictionless bearing. Not exactly fun, but it was entertaining and made the miles go faster.

Miles ten to eleven incorporate the Magic Kingdom on a path identical to that of the half marathon. We stopped to take a few pictures along the way and just generally enjoyed the ambiance. After winding our way through the Fantasyland into Frontierland, we rounded corner to find one of Magic Kingdom's steam locomotives facing us, headlight shining straight at us in the dim morning sun, in a classic incoming train pose. I prefer to think of this as an homage to the late Mr Toad's Wild Ride attraction.

Miles 11 through about 15 are usually fairly dull, only adorned by the Disney water treatment plant, but this year there were a number of witticisms and statistics mounted on the side of the road for our viewing pleasure (the only one I remember was the one that stated "One third of New York City public school teachers send their kids to private school) Not too much later, we hit the very enthusiastic, and very appreciated, accordion club of central Florida, who were cranking out oompah hits with zeal and gusto despite the early hour and the cold. We also had our picture taken with a random reindeer placed strategically on the course.
In the It's a small world category, around this time, in a supposedly over 20,000 person race, we ran in to a friend of my wife's from home. She was running about the same pace that we were and we were glad to have her join us for the remainder of the race.
One enters the rear of Animal Kingdom about mile 15. Just prior to this, we ran into an Air Force Cadet carrying a thirty pound ruck sack on his back and running the marathon. I thanked him for his service, and I hope he did well over the last 11 miles. The course through Animal Kingdom takes you in the back side, around the Tree of Life, skirts Expedition Everest, and out through Dinoland into the AK parking lot.
Enter the least interesting part of the race. The next five mile give you very little to see, and even incorporate a small version of that most dreaded of marathon routes, the out-and-back. Around mile twenty, at the start of said out and back, my joints were starting to bother me a little bit, so I ran ahead of my wife and her friend to a med tent to apply some biofreeze to my knees. I stopped and waited for them to catch up. And waited. And waited. Finally, I saw them coming back towards me on the opposite side of the out-and-back. I had to double time it to catch up with them, which, admittedly, took a fair amount out of me 33 miles into this event. To make matters worse, next up was another one of the overpass/slanted hills climbs - not as bad as the one on the half, but still painful. I didn't really care though, because I knew that Disney's Hollywood Studio was just around the corner.
I have found that at this point in the race, the Tower of Terror actually serves as a beacon, pulling you towards it. When I see it, I know that there is only about a 5k left. A cadre of volunteers pelted us with Hershey's Miniatures as we entered the Hollywood Studios (most of Hershey's Dark Chocolate was thrown back). By this time, crowds were in the park, and a throng of people cheered us through the Streets of America, around the Sorcerer's Hat, and down Hollywood Boulevard. From here, it's a short run behind Disney's Boardwalk to the back of Epcot.

The World Showcase is a great distraction for the last mile or so of the Disney Marathon, and photo-ops abound. Marathoner's lined up to take pictures with Snow White, Aladdin and Jasmine, Winnie the Pooh, etc. We just wanted to be finished, though, so we ran straight through, jet setting from France to Morocco to Japan to America to Europe to China to Norway and finally back to Mexico in a mater of minutes before veering out the side gate, and past the same, much dryer, much less cold, gospel choir that is always placed right before the finish.
I usually cross the finish line thinking about my race time, and I'm fairly critical of the race I've run. This time, I really felt like I had accomplished something as a volunteer girded me with my medal and shunted me towards the Goofy tent. Granted I'm no athlete, but the little old lady who placed the (friggin heavy, by the way) Goofy Medal around my neck capped my physical fitness career to this point. I'm actually more proud of finishing this race and a half than any of my PRs. I started this blog with a Chekhov allusion, and I'm going to end it with an Anton Chekhov quote, "One usually dislikes a play while writing it, but afterward it grows on one." I think the Goofy is the same, you hate training for it, it's hard to run, but afterward, it's quite a tale. Mu.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Goofy, Part 1

You know, I have to hand it to the Disney Imagineers. They are impressive. They made the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge that my wife and I completed last weekend quite memorable. Having had people complain about how warm it was on Disney Marathon Weekend for the last couple of years, they apparently decided to turn the Southern US into a tundra just for the races. I had no idea the power they could exert over even mother nature, but now I'm a little scared of them.

For those of you not familiar with the Goofy Challenge, it’s a reasonably unique race in that one runs a half marathon on Saturday, and then turns around and runs a marathon on Sunday for a total of 39.3 miles over not quite so many hours. It presents a fairly unique challenge in that you have time to go home and get sore before you run the marathon the next day. Given that it’s basically 2 races, I’m going to write about it in two stages rather than one long blog.
Back to the Disney Imagineering. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, the fine folks at Disney managed to turn central Florida into a fairly good approximation of a taiga. The week before the Half Marathon, I monitored the weather incessantly, and unfortunately kept seeing temperatures dropping lower and lower to the point where per several national weather services, it was supposed to be in the high 20s at race time. Oh, and by the way, there also might be what is apparently known as a “wintry mix” at the start of the race. Anticipating this difficulty, we purchased tyvek coveralls from the local hardware store and space blankets from Walmart in an effort to keep warm. I also planned on donning some old corduroy pants and a flannel shirt as throw away insulation. I've been caught unprepared at cold races before, and it ain't fun.
On the morning of the race, we rose at 2:50AM, got dressed and were on the bus from our hotel to the starting line by 4AM. We arrived at Epcot about 4:30 for the 5:40AM race start. Hopping off the bus, one was greeted first by the bracing cold, and then by a volunteer cheerfully shouting "welcome to Disney Alaska!", which we all found mildly amusing at the time. While waiting in line at the bag check, my wife pointed out that one could see snow flurries in the lights around the parking lot. At this point, it was novel, pretty, and not sticking to anything. Just the way that the Disney Imagineers planned it when they somehow figured out how to control the weather. After the bag check, we took an obligatory trip to the porta-potties and this is when the real fun began. I began to hear something akin to rain hitting the modern day out-house, and upon exiting, I realized that it was, in fact, sleeting in central Florida. I think the imagineers made this happen just to show that they could do it. We had been carrying our coveralls and space blankets up to this point, and now decided to gird ourselves with our full foul weather gear. We then joined the line of racers heading to the starting line looking like some sort of hazmat-lumberjacks.

The walk from the baggage check area to the start is long in Disney races, and very crowded. It reminds me of the cattle round up scenes in old westerns, complete with cowboy/volunteers herding we, the cows, into the corrals. Though it was cold and sleeting, everyone was still in a good mood. It honestly didn't feel all that bad with as many layers on as I had. We subsequently found our way to corral B, and had just enough time to get our coveralls (which, by the way, were a superb investment for $7) and throw-away clothes off before the wheelchair race started. At this point, I was stripped down to a short sleeve Sugoi Ready T, a Long sleeve Sugoi Ready T, Sugoi Merlin Shorts, and my Sugoi Zap Jacket, but was fairly comfortable.

As would be expected, the Disney folks know how to start a race. Fireworks, blaring music ,the whole shebang. I wasn't paying a lot of attention to it though, mainly because I was discovering that when one runs in driving sleet, it hurts one's eyes. I decided to go full Corey Hart and wear my sunglasses at night (or really 5:40 on a cloud covered morning) simply so I wouldn't have small pieces of ice cutting up my cornea.

The first few miles of the race are flat and fast, or at least they would be if it weren't for the throng of humanity pressed around you. Normally, I hate this part of the race, and spend it weaving in and out of people who are going slower than I am. I exert a lot of energy moving from side to side rather than forward. This time, since I was taking it easy knowing I had to run a full marathon the next day, I just jogged along chatting with my wife; dodging the occasional walker; glancing over at Epcots' signature geodesic sphere, the Spaceship Earth; and thinking about how I was going to be able to brag about this morning to people grousing about subsequent Disney marathons (you think that was bad? I ran in 2010 when it was snowing and sleeting, uphill both ways, and we liked it). Miles 1 and 2 passed easily and were, for the most part, just a time for the crowd to thin out. A few intrepid high school bands and a balloonist, desperately trying to fill his hot air balloon replica of Spaceship Earth with enough miasma to make it stand up straight, provided some distraction between mile 2 and 4. Soon after, you skirt the Disney World Speed Way and Disney Ticket and Transportation center. The later has great, and pretty much indiscriminate, crowd support.

At this point, I feel the need to give a lot of credit to my Sugoi Zap jacket. I'm from South Carolina. I don't run in the cold real often and I certainly avoid running in sleet and snow. This thin, light weight jacket kept me warm, and more importantly, dry for the whole race. I don't think I own any other race wear that could have done that. I would have been utterly miserable without it.

Miles 4 through 7 are probably my favorite part of the race. The stretch starts with occasional glimpses of the taller attractions in Magic Kingdom - Cinderella's Castle, Space Mountain, etc. As you near the contemporary resort, around mile 4.5, you pass under the Seven Seas Lagoon, in what I suppose could be though of as a short under-lake tunnel, but I have always considered to be under an overhead, water-filled overpass connecting two of the larger man-made Disney lakes. The only downside to it, besides the mild claustrophobic feeling that one has millions of gallons of water overhead , is that one of the few hills on this whole course greats you on the other side.

Around mile five, you wind your way through a back gate of the Magic Kingdom onto Mainstreet USA. The crowd support here was phenomenal, despite the weather and early hour. We stopped to have our pictures taken with the Mayor of Mainstreet and the in front of Cinderella's Castle (and, in retrospect learned an interesting fact: Scotchlite is great for keeping cars from running over you in the dark, but in a camera flash drowns out everything but itself, see picture below: what you would see, sans Scotchlite, is my wife and I flanking a Johnny Depp imitator)

The course through Magic Kingdom is fun. You run up Mainstreet, through Tomorrowland, bisect Fantasy Land, run through the backside of the castle into Liberty Square, and then out of the park through Frontierland. We stopped several more times to take pictures with characters, figuring we needed to save our legs for the next day anyway. You exit Magic Kingdom through a part of the park not usually accessible to guests, and see the back side of Big Thunder Mountain and some storage areas, which I always find pretty cool. I almost stopped to take a picture with a moth-balled, animatronic hippopotamus, but it was starting to get cold again, so kept going. The Imagineers had grown bored with making it sleet by this time (or at least I didn't notice it anymore), but had made the temperature paradoxically drop despite rising sun.

The next few miles (about 7 to 10) take you past the Grand Floridian Hotel and the Polynesian Resort as well as by some of Disney's world renowned Golf Courses. Crowd support is really quite excellent in this area, and the run is fairly easy. All that changes around mile 10, however, when you reach, in my opinion, the only hard part of this otherwise flat and fast course. A little after the tenth mile marker, the course follows one ear of a cloverleaf up onto an overpass that takes you down the home stretch to Epcot. The gain in elevation is minimal, but the way the cloverleaf is banked from right to left always kills my joints. I've figured out that that by drifting to the high side of the road and running on the grass, one can get to flat ground. Totally worth the minimal extra distance.

A little after mile eleven, one can see parts of Epcot, and you enter the park, again through a back entrance, soon after. Despite the lure of the finish line just a fraction of a mile away, we stopped to have our pictures taken with Disney Channel icons Phineas and Ferb , favorites in the running doc household (apparently, my face was too numb for me to smile at this point), before running through Futureworld to the fringe of the World Showcase, and then back to the front of the park.

At mile 13, just outside of Epcot, a superb gospel choir (who has appropriately been in the same place every time I have run this race) stood, belting out their craft, their gold robes soaking wet and frosty from the weather. I always appreciate this touch. Turning the corner and trotting to the finish line, I realized that my finishing time was 30 minutes slower than my time the previous year, but this was completely intentional. Last year, I just ran the half and left it all on the course. This year, I had to have a lot left over for the marathon the next day.

As I mentioned earlier, the Disney Imagineers had programmed this ride to get colder as it went along. If memory serves, the temperature dropped about 6 degrees over the course of the race, and we were wet with perspiration by this time. I felt great as long as I was running, but the second I stopped, I literally froze, and my wife was just as bad as I was. My fingers were so cold that I couldn't open my complimentary poweraide. We usually mill about a lot at the finish line, eat, drink, stretch, etc, but this time we collected our medals and made a bee line straight for the buses back to the hotel. It only took us a few minutes on Disney transportation, but from what I understand, traffic was backed up for a few hours for those in personal vehicles.

Overall, this is a great, albeit expensive, half marathon. The course is fast, and I did have my PR on it last year (though I didn't even try to run that type of race this year). The crowd support couldn't be better, and the swag is pretty good. Usually, the weather is mild, but I have to say, all joking aside about Disney inducing this freak weather system, the volunteers and staff were amazing, and proved that they can handle literally just about anything that can be thrown at them and still be cheerful and organized. I have obvious Disneyphilic tendencies, but I think this one will always be my favorite half. In particular, it's a great half marathon for first timers because there is a lot to see along the way.

So what does one do the afternoon after running a half marathon if one has to run a marathon the next day? Why go to Epcot and eat Italian food of course! What better than to prepare you for the other two-thirds of the Goofy. Part 2, coming soon. Mu.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I'm forgetting something.

So much to my chagrin, it appears that Orlando will be mired in the midst of a cold wave for the Goofy. The low for the half is bouncing around in the high 20s and the low for the full isn't much higher. It hasn't been this cold for a Disney race that I have run ever, but it does remind me a lot of the first one my wife ran about 10 years ago. She was a newbie, and I was just a spectator. I remember we ended up buying a sweatshirt just so she could wear the plastic bag to the start. That year, it was so cold that runners were hanging out in the exhaust from the generators powering the parking lot lights. We made the decision that a little warmth wasn't worth carbon monoxide poisoning.
I think we're a little bit wiser at this point, we're taking throw away clothes, space blankets and disposable tyvek coveralls to the start both days. We'll look odd at the start, but we won't be horribly cold. I'm actually going to check a bag with some warmer clothes in it for the first time ever, but its still going to be cold. At least I won't have to worry about an ice bath afterward. I'll be fine in a long sleeve shirt and shorts after we get going.
Packing is presenting an issue, though. I'm sure I'm forgetting something that I'll be kicking myself for on race morning. I just can't figure out what it is.