Monday, January 17, 2011

A Magical Marathon

High fives at the finish!

Fair warning, this is a long post.

I planned on a winter marathon, and by golly I worked my plan and planned my work and ran that baby.  If you've not completed or competed in an endurance event before, it's hard to understand why one would put oneself through the arduous training, the black toenails, the mysterious aches and pains, the conscious eating... and the fear of doing something wrong along the way to foil the plan. 

Talking in the gym about the marathon training with a runner friend of mine, someone piped in, "Oh, I hear that marathon running is very bad for your heart and your knees."  Well, each of us has a different body and mine tolerates long distance running fairly well.  It's not for everyone.  I've read the research about the impact of marathoning on the body.  Proper long term training, proper nutrition, and adequate rest are essential to minimizing heart damage, orthopaedic damage, any injury.  As usual, safe progressions and good biomechanics are the keys to proper training.  It also helps if running feeds your soul, as it does mine.

Every minute of every day is a risk.  We wrap ourselves in a blanket of some kind of security and then, as my friend Ellie likes to say, we tip our horns down like a bull and just go.  The reward at the end, the sense of being able to do something you were not entirely convinced you could, is a great feeling.  To top that off, Disney World Marathon is a huge fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and it certainly feels good to make that contribution.

Once upon a time I was convinced I could never run a marathon.  Then again, I was at one time certain I would never run more than five miles.  Then I went to New York City to witness my friend Ellie (the aforementioned bull) run the marathon to mark her 40th birthday.  I was completely enthralled and ultimately the idea took root in my noggin that I could marathon, too.  Ellie is also a client (with asthma) who went from walking to running to marathoning in about 5 years of training -- you get the idea, she's a driven sort.

Disney World Marathon, January 9, 2011.  Orlando is not supposed to experience 40 degree temps, but it did.  I once swore never to run a marathon with more than 10,000 entrants, but I did.  My running buddies from New York and I were slated to run together, but we didn't (though we did fuel up together the night before :-).  I trained to be able to finish the marathon in 3 hours 50 minutes, but I didn't.  All of this made it an exceptional day... and it was a terrific experience in spite of all those shifted expectations!

Race day is a good day to let go of expectations.  Stay positive but go with your gut.  Sixteen weeks of plenty-difficult combinations of speed, tempo, and distance running workouts through Georgia heat and Georgia rain and Georgia snow (!) leaves you marathon-distance ready.  But every day is a new day, every race a new logistical experience.  Seventeen thousand runners need to be delivered to one start line a full hour and a half before the race begins so the roads on the course are not clogged with vehicles.  Disney did its level best to distract us all from how little fun there is to be had in that part.

An hour and a half of standing and shuffling in 40 degree temps and you can't feel your feet for the first four miles.  At least, that's what happened to me.  No feeling in feet = no keeping race pace.  Just one of those things.  When I saw how slow my time was for the first 5 miles compared to my race goal, I decided it to leave it be.  I was afraid of turning an ankle on those numb feet, and cranky about training all those weeks alone and then racing alone even while surrounded by 16,999 friends I hadn't met yet.  I couldn't make up that time and stay on pace the rest of the run and have any fun.

In letting it go, believe me, there was a lot of fun to be had!  It's Disney World, for crying out loud!  There was actually a young spectator on the course, around mile 11, announcing over and over, "this is the Magic Kingdom, the happiest place on earth, why aren't you all smiling?"  LOL!

Some people run with iPods and MP3 players.  Maybe because I'm a musician, I have songs in my head, and some very specific songs that help me keep my race pace. So I don't partake of the iPod.  But Disney has live musicians and musical accompaniment to Disney costumed characters and recordings blasting nearly every single mile along the way.  The volume control in my head can't compete with that.  And then there's the theme parks...enchanting, engaging, all those words Disney loves to use in its marketing messages.  Was I tickled pink when I ran through Cinderella's Castle?  You betcha.  Did I get a kick out of Lucille Ball's commentary on the street in Disney Hollywood?  Abso-tively-Posi-lutely.  The green Army guy from Toy Story was a raging riot -- who wants to race by and miss anything!??

For the first time in my marathoning history, which began in 1999, I didn't hit the wall.   I had the energy to sing along and "arm-dance" while I was running to "Whip It" at mile 9 and "Sweet Caroline" at mile 21.  Felt so good at the finish I started disco dancing, right after the high-five with Donald Duck.  Even with the frozen start, I was well fueled and well hydrated and thrilled to feel like I coasted through the 26.2, compared to previous marathons.  Though I shared hugs and thrills with pals Diane and Jerry among the roadside spectators at mile 21, I still couldn't find my friends in the throngs at the finish.  But my family found me dancing around at the finish line and it was amazing to share with them.  My dad was particularly overcome, because he always wanted to try to run a marathon and never did.  He's to blame, his are the legs I inherited.  Running with him when I was a kid allowed me to put off the chores at home with mom, but the thinking time and physical outlet for stress made me an addict.

Ever goal oriented am I, and I have the Savannah Rock and Roll Marathon in November to look forward to.  When you find a training scheme that works, you can't help but to do it again!  But for now I'm happy to rest and heal a little, get back on my bicycle without fear of screwing up some running schedule, and forgive myself for not making my goal of 3:50.  Color me Coral -- the nail polish shade that's covering my black toenails!

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