Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cold Weather, Walkers, and Wheelchairs

Upon arriving at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL I was able to settle down at the Caribbean Beach Resort, chill for a little while, and take a bus, provided by Disney to all resort guests, to the Marathon Expo to pick up my race day packet and bib number. The marathon expo is located at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex the Spring Training home of the Atlanta Braves. Very exciting. My race day number was 21931. The pre-race registration was 24,000. That was for the Sunday marathon and did not include those who participated in the 5K or the half marathon on Friday and Saturday respectively.

Aside of all the anticipated race excitement and the nervous energy to run my second and "final" marathon, the cold weather, rain, wind, and sleet truly dampened the festivities for the weekend. I grew weary of the cold after spending Friday at the Magic Kingdom. I missed the kickoff pasta dinner and the team Team In Training meeting because of 2 reasons, 1) I was confused as to which tickets were functional and what or if I was supposed to wear a wrist band or not. 2) I didn't realize we were having a meeting because I, sometimes, don't listen well to instructions. I was quite the ditz that weekend. Nevertheless, spending time at the Magic Kingdom with my kids, and nephews was fun. Space Mountain has been upgraded: it has new cars, is much smoother, and faster than I remember as a teenager when I frequented the Magic Kingdom often while a Sr. in high school and in college.

Saturday morning started early for the half marathoners. I met the Team in Training crew at 3am at the CBR food court and wished them well as they departed for the race staging area outside Epcot. The air was cold. It had yet to turn. I returned to my room, slept for a few more hours and hopped a bus to the finish line around 8am. The rain was falling and transitioned to sleet. The sun slept and wouldn't open her gorgeous eyes until Sunday while running through the Animal Kingdom. It was so cold I abandoned the finish line and retreated to the Team In Training rendezvous tent and waited for my team mates to return . I can say this, once Rene and June arrived back at the TNT tent after crossing the finish, I, like most folks, headed for the bus and returned to the resorts. Participating the after race festivities was not going to happen; it wouldn't happen Sunday either. It was just too cold.

I rested the remainder of the day at the CBR. I needed to rest my knee which I injured a month earlier running the Philly Half, the Prospect Park Turkey Trot, and a 15 miler in B'ville in the same week. week or 2 later I completed a hilly 20 miler in Cortland that truly hobbled me. So, I took a couple of weeks off and rested on the eve of the marathon. The Jets surprisingly defeated the Bengals for the wild card and the Cowboys spanked the Eagles. I wrapped my IT Band with tape following directions off a You Tube Video and Harland, the Binghamton team coach. I felt comfortable and gained some confidence that I could finish. I have few friends who believes in me more than I believe in myself. They each said I would finish it regardless of the pain. One in particular believed the pain would melt away by the adrenaline rush of the marathon.

Race morning started with a 2:30am buzz from the bedside alarm. I dressed in a tight white tech shirt under a singlet, covered with a long sleeve tech shirt to keep warm. It wasn't enough. I was freezing as I walked to the food court. The trek to the bus and then form the bus to the staging area outside Epcott was brutal. Thank God for giving modern man plastic garbage bags. I slipped one over my head to break the wind while occasionally tucking my head inside the bag like a turtle hiding from an approaching lawn mower. I waited for the 20 minute "death march" with the team, but stuck with Nick, Sarah, and Andrew most of that time shivering and teeth chattering. Listening to my blackberry tunes on Pandora Radio was my only distraction. I shivered and swayed to the music in the cold while listening to the easy sounds of the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and the Clash. I guess it was about 4:30am or so. The Disney Marathon "death march" commenced near 5:30am. The corrals filled fast while many runners stepped into the woods to take care of business, the epitome of an opportunity missed and jumbled nerves.

Nick, Andrew, Harland, and I stood in our corral while the girls pushed forward toward their corral. As usual, the corrals were not policed well which allowed the "walker" to move closer to the starting line and to become obstacles along the miles. I can recall, within the first two miles of the marathon a series of three women walking, locked arm in arm across the road caused a log jam as runners darted left and right to get around. Runners banged, bumped, and jostled each other because these three ladies owned the highway. Unbelievable! My knee screamed each time I had to dodge walkers and squeeze into small openings to progress a few feet as a running back charges forward to break through a goal line defense. I reminisced about my days playing football in high school... well I couldn't find many holes back then. However, I did find many defenders bigger than me willing to crush my head into the turf.

We stood in corral H waiting for the start. I switched my blackberry to U2 Radio and listened to that genre for the entire marathon. The fireworks blasted for each corral signaling the next wave of runners to begin. It was still cold. My left knee shouted for me to stop. I pressed on regardless of my mind telling me to quit. I shed the black plastic bag, my temporary turtle shell and wind breaker, somewhere before entering Epcott, maybe a half mile into the run. By mile 2 my knee seemed to disappear from my thoughts and a painless pace that steadily increased locked in. By mile 4 I felt warm enough to remove my outer layer tech shirt, Philadelphia Half Marathon shirt., and passed it to Maura who awaited us to run by. Yet, my hands were frozen. Opening GU and holding cups was difficult.

To keep my mind clear and focused from the cold air I thought about my race plan: GU every 6 miles, Powerade and Quench Gum when necessary, and food when hungry. I ended up only taking 4 Powerade cups throughout the marathon and a single banana as we approached Animal Kingdom. The plan seemed perfect. It was perfect I decided by the time I crossed the finish line.
However, before I crossed the finish line there were many miles to be tread. I decided to enjoy this marathon and take my mind off any possible pain and cold by actively participating with the spectators who lined the parks and streets. Whenever I saw a crowd of quiet spectators I would shout out, "Let me hear some noise!" The people always responded by cheering loud, clapping, and whistling. Many reached out their hands for five; I love it when the little kids hold out their tiny paws looking for a slap. That is very uplifting during a race, more than Powerade or GU. Cow bells could always be heard. "Let me hear more cow bell", I would shout and the cowbells increased in volume and number. The runners around me seemed to enjoy the enthusiasm I brought to the crowds because it lifted their spirits too. That is the secret and the joy of running a marathon, taking in the views, the sounds, and the people-- fellow runners and spectators. All are a vital part to a successful experience.

In the Magic Kingdom, I had the crowd hooting and hollering, whistling and belling, but then I added a celebration of the NY Jets victory from the afternoon before. "J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets." I hoped to get a good response but no one cared. Oh well. Trial and error. That was a big mistake. I would try it again later in the run; same result-- nothing.

The marathon was well organized. Yet there were two issues that drove me nuts, 1) narrow roads and 2) too many walkers. From the start to about mile 22 walkers got in the way. Walking obstacles became dangerous as some roads narrowed. Along the narrow course Disney organized many water and Powerade stations. Unfortunately, tossed cups and spilled liquid quickly became black ice. Runners were slipping, sliding, and falling as they darted to and fro to avoid the walkers. If the runners couldn't get around the walkers they had to slow down and disrupt their pace. For runners with knee pain or muscle aches, like me, this wrecked havoc on the body. Once I get moving, stopping/slowing makes it difficult to get moving consistently again. My team mate Andrew took a header when attempting to run through a water stop only to be knocked over by a walker who decided to cut in front of him to reach for water. Andrew pulled up and slipped. He landed on his fanny. He was lucky he could pop up and continue on. I Maybe it wasn't really that big a deal since he promotes the Zithromax of diabetes drugs-- Januvia; only kidding my friend.
From mile 5 to mile ten we ran up World Drive. This long flat road would take us into the Magic Kingdom. World Drive had many spectators lining both sides: cheerleaders and bands from local high schools were there, elementary school kids cheered and gave out five, and a hot air balloon greeted us as we stepped lively on our magical path to Wally World. We ran into the Magic Kingdom parking lot around the back side of Space Mountain and entered the park heading into Tomorrowland, Frontierland then through Cinderella's Castle and out the front of the park to Florida Way which took us behind the Polynesian Resort. From miles 11 through 15 we ran along Florida Way toward Animal Kingdom. Animal Kingdom definitely smelled like a zoo, but the wild atmosphere of the park made it feel as though you were running through small villages in Africa, India, and S.E. Asia. It was cool. It was here that the roads were the narrowest and contained winding paths with small rolling rises. Before entering Animal Kingdom, right at mile 15, my sister called. Since my blackberry is my "ipod" I took the call. Runners text during races but few if any take phone calls. The looks I got when i said, "Hello" were priceless. I felt fantastic. I wasn't tired, and I spoke to Coleen for a few minutes. Having the phone conversation made this part of the run seem like a Saturday morning run at the OLP, easy with good conversation.
Miles 17 through 21 were the most boring. It was all highway running between Animal Kingdom and Hollywood studios. This is also the hilly part of the marathon. My knee did't like it, not one bit. There was a brief 1 mile out and back between miles 20 and 21 before taking a right to mile 22. This is where I slowed dramatically and started the gimpy part of my run. Yet, I knew if I persevered and reached Hollywood Studios I could regain my stride on the flats for a short 5K to end the marathon well. But that was not to be. I gimped my way to mile 22 and entered the back lot of Hollywood Studios. I saw mile 23 grabbed some Hershey's Miniatures, mostly Mr. Goodbar, my favorite miniature. We ran into a dark tunnel in the costume area. I came out feeling good except for the knee. Then I made a misstep. I stepped into a "pothole" and caught my right foot on the edge and fell onto my hands and left knee. I was helped up by three runners and a TNT coach who was monitoring mile 23. I could't run. My run for final glory and a better time than San Diego was over.

I was very angry because I wasn't tired. I never hit a wall in this marathon. Like I said earlier, my plan was perfect. After falling and getting back up to run, and realizing that I couldn't brought me back to a Seinfeld episode wheen Elaine tried to get her boyfriend to LaGuardia by beating the traffic on the Van Wyk. She failed due to "a five car pile up on Queens Blvd..." Just as I failed due to an unfortunate mishap. So, I walked for a half mile until I could achieve a slow, limping jog by mile 24. The crowds who saw me fall and saw me limping my way to the finish were very supportive. They called out my name and encouraged me on to Epcott and the finish.
The last 2 miles around the Epcott Pavillion was torturous. I ran slow. I ran with pain. I reached the ball. Almost there. I turned to the left, mile 26 and a gospel choir. I saw the finish. 2/10ths to go. I took off to look strong at the finish and to remain under 5 hours; now my new goal. I shouted to the finish line crowds to make noise. They did. It was a great feeling. I remember seeing one person clearly, she shouted my name multiple times and cheered me on, It was June; she had run the half on Saturday in horrible conditions and here she was in the cold cheering me and others on to the end. All I can say is "Thank you."

I crossed the finish line. It was over. My phone rang. It was Bernie. I said, "I can't talk right now. I crossed the finish line at the Disney Marathon, can I call you later." He wanted to tell me about his date and possibly complain about the Mets horrendous off season acquisitions. I received my medal and foil wrap to keep warm. I finished the race, I felt good, unlike San Diego I could walk and didn't need the medical tent... so I thought.

The Disney Race Personnel approached me because of my severe limp and cut knee and forced me into the medical tent. They also forced me into a wheelchair. Can you believe it? I was wheeled into the medical tent. They layed me down, gave me a Powerade, and checked out my knee. I even received massage treatment for my IT Band. They took some info, I chugged the Powerade and insisted I was ok and could leave.

After Thoughts: Somewhere between miles 6 and seven I caught up to our team's coach, Kim, and Sarah. while running with the coach form PA, Jason. Kim asked me if I was going to stay with them for a while. I responded, "Sure, I'll stick with you until I get bored." And I immediately took off. Later that night Kim told me she and Sarah thought I was rude and didn't think it was funny. Oops another mistake in judgement.

On the flight home, I discovered that Harland had waited for Kim and Sarah in Epcott. He stood in the England Pavillion sucking down a glass of Guinness; Harland stopped running, got in line and purchased a glass of beer. He even had one waiting for Sarah. I missed out again because I didn't stick with the girls. Serves me right. Yet, if I would have known where to get a Guiness as I gimped along the Pavillion my leg would have been miraculously healed by the dark elixir of suds.

All in all, it was a nice marathon. Unfortunately the weather conditions made it challenging at times and ruined any post race festivities, including the Victory Dinner that evening at Hollywood Studios. It was so cold Paul and I ate and hopped a bus back to the CBR while Karen, Brandon, and Anna hit the rides.

A final note: The Disney Marathon is a nice run, but don't expect to blow it out since the walkers and tight roads slow it down significantly. You don't run in the parks as much as you would like. I would say that 6 or 7 miles may be spent inside the actual tourist portions of the parks while the rest is all behind the scenes service roads and highways. There are hills. Not big but long slight grades which can cause pain if you have knee or hamstring injuries going in. I recommend taking 800 Motrin and loading up on Biofreeze. This combination works well for me. However, it is not recommended to take Motrin when running long distances since kidney damage can occur, but Tylenol just doesn't cut it.

So, I resolve not to run anymore marathons. I shall stick to halves because they are much easier to run for pleasure and without injury while still getting the full marathon effect for fan support and festivities. Where will the next destination be? Seattle, NYC, San Francisco... I don't know yet. Let me know if you have any good ideas.

See you on the road.