Spartan Race

Monday, October 4, 2010

From Mountains to Epcot...

In the last two weeks, I've had the pleasure of running two very different, but equally challenging half marathons. One of them was all hills, the other was flat as a pancake. One of them was a very pleasant experience, the other one nearly killed me. Which one was which may be surprising.

The first of the two was the Ashville Citizen-Times Half Marathon in Asheville, NC. This one got off to a somewhat inauspicious start as they had somehow managed to run out of every size tech shirt but extra-large and 2X by the time Mrs. RQ and I picked up our packets. Normally, I see this kind of error as being indicative of an overall shoddy race. I'm pleased to say in this instance, it was not. We arrived in downtown Asheville the next morning to find a small, but enthusiastic, crowd of volunteers, adequate portapotties and other accouterments, and somewhat fewer than 1000 runners. Knowing that we had another race in two weeks, Mrs. RQ and I decided to take this one easy and use it as a training run. We figured it would give us some nice hill work, and we were right.

This race was very, very seldom flat. It was, for nearly the entire course, however, beautiful. We ran through pretty neighborhoods, past golf courses, by the fabled Grove Park Inn, past a very foggy Beaver Lake (you could barely make out rushes and the water through the early morning mist) and finally back to downtown Asheville (interestingly enough, running right past Zelda Fitzgerald's place of death - she apparently died in a hospital fire). The course was great, and was meant to be experienced rather than just run. At the end of the race, we recieved very unique green glass medals - I'm guessing they were made of recycled material, though I can't swear to it. I also ran into a friend whom I literally have known almost since birth, but haven't seen in about ten years. There was plenty of good beer from a local microbrewery and also Duncan Donuts. Overall, a thoroughly successful race.

The second of the two races was by contrast very large, very flat, and very much the worst race I've had since the Myrtle Beach Half in 2009 (in that race my calves cramped up so bad that I couldn't run more than a few feet without cramping painfully). I thought it might give me a great opportunity to PR. Boy was I wrong.

Disney has had fall races for a few years now. For a while they had a 10k called the Race for the Taste, and they also had a fairly unique, night race they called the Tower of Terror 13k - sort of a Halloween theme. Mrs. RQ ran the former, and enjoyed it. We both had a great time running the 2008 Tower of Terror 13k (and had dinner the next night at Victoria and Albert's, which is unbelievably good!) This year, Disney decided to combine elements of both into the Wine and Dine Half marathon. A night time half marathon that ends in the Food and Wine Festival? Sign me up!

I was on call Thursday night, so Mrs. RQ and I left mid-day Friday for Disney, arriving about 6 pm. We had a quick dinner and hit the sack fairly early. We made a conscious decision to not really do much Saturday, and other than a quick trip to Epcot for lunch, mostly spent the day in our room at All-Star Music watching TV (in case you are wondering, Soap Net runs a Beverly Hills 90210 marathon on Saturday afternoon, and we saw two or three episodes back to back and waxed nostalgic). We ate dinner in the food court, and then boarded the bus for the Wide World of Sports. Like all Disney Races, one had to be there ridiculously early. We got to the starting gate about 7pm for a 10pm race, and spent the next couple of hours standing around. The weather was great, though, and nobody seemed to mind. We met up with my medical partner, and a friend of Mrs. RQ's, and sat around talking for a while. About 30 minutes prior to the start, everyone made their way to their respective corrals - a short walk by Disney Race standards.

Before long, we were off. I actually felt quite good at first, and hit my goal pace quite easily. I was in Corral A, and runners settled in to their respective speeds within the first mile - I barely had to dodge and weave at all. The beginning miles took one out of the Wide World of Sports and towards Animal Kingdom. Along the way, there was the trademark Disney entertainment, but most of the folks around me seemed more enamored with maintaining their pace then taking their picture with Goofy, which was my mindset as well. I did notice a guy playing a didgeridoo right outside the parking lot for Animal Kingdom, which I thought was very cool. About mile 3.5 one entered AK. The course wove around the Tree of Life, through Africa and Asia, by Expedition Everest, and back through Dinoland USA somewhere around mile 5. At this point, I was easily maintaining my pace, and felt great.

The 5 miles or so were over Disney road way, and looked very much like miles 18 to 23 of the Disney Marathon, including the nasty little out and back that everyone loves to hate. I was still feeling good until about mile 9. At that point, in a very sudden occurrence, everything I had eaten for the last 2 days suddenly became a brick in my stomach. By the time I got to Hollywood Studios, I had slowed majorly. Not because I was tired, not because I was winded, but because my GI tract felt like it was on fire. I willed myself to keep going, I ran by bathrooms near the Tower of Terror, ditto on Hollywood and Vine, about the time I hit the Back Stage Tour, and knew I was going to have to stop, all my chances to find a restroom disappeared. I slowed to a walk out of necessity. Then, shining out of the darkness like Mount Olympus, I saw them. A bank of Porta Potties placed there for wayward souls just like me! I sprinted toward them, and leaving out the details, lets just say I felt much relieved afterward. My stomach was still upset as I ran out of Hollywood Studios, around to the Yacht Club, and finally to the finish line, but I managed to run the whole way. I was a good 9 minutes off my PR, and my stomach was still killing me.

Ordinarily, this would be basically the end of my race commentary. For this one, it isn't. I finished the race fairly quickly, but be the time I got to EPCOT, it was already packed. I don't really understand this - I'm sure I beat the vast majority of the runners there (I'll explain how I know this later). There seemed to be a 3 or 4 to one ratio of supporters to racers. I claimed my checked bag and pushed my way through the throng of people waiting around Great Britain for their racer to finish. Correctly surmising that the further I got away from the finish line, the easier a time I would have finding a bathroom, I made my way over to Morocco's bathrooms and changed into my dry clothes. At that point, despite feeling like I might have ischemic bowel, I decided to make use of the food and beverage vouchers we had been given and got a Tiger beer and a shrimp cake from the Singapore kiosk. I then wandered around for a while waiting for Mrs. RQ and our friends to finish the race.

I'll spare you the details, but the bottom line was that, with the exception of Mrs. RQ, who ran probably 45 minutes off her normal race time to keep her friend company, all of us felt awful after this race. We were all having some sort of gastrointestinal distress - my partner and my wife's friend felt worse than I did, and didn't even use their food vouchers, so it can't be blamed on exotic food or wine. On top of that, I usually have a beer after a race with no ill effects. We didn't seem to be alone either - I've never seen so many people vomiting after a race. I felt really bad for the crews cleaning the restrooms at EPCOT before the crowds showed up the next morning.

I think something weird must have gone on that night. My wife wondered if there might have been some bad poweraide (which I doubt), my brother-in-law suggested that the ozone level might have been high, I wondered if it was just hotter than we all thought it was, and we didn't realize it given the fact that it was dark. Regardless of the cause, Mrs. RQ and I both still feel awful, 2 days after this race. Our muscles and joints feel fine, but we feel terrible. Adding credence to the idea that there was some weird environmental issue going on is this fact: when I run a half well, and get what I consider a good time, I'm usually in the top 25% of finishers. I got, by my standards, a very poor time, yet I finished in the top 10% of finishers. Huh? Granted, it could be a statistical anomaly, but strange.

It's well organized, and the concept is awesome, but unlike any other Disney race I've run before, I have no desire to do this one again. I was ready to sign up for the Goofy again practically right after I finished it, this one, not so much. But it has a cool medal. And I'll probably feel different about it by Thursday. Mu.