This week, I competed in the 2014 Expedition Everest Challenge - my first RunDisney event and possibly not my last.First off, I must admit, we planned really well for this race. I'm pretty proud of that. Knowing this was my first race in Florida, away from the comforts of home, and neck deep in the humidity, it was a little tough to know what to expect - much less what to expect my body to do.
On race day, we stuck mostly to the hotel, opting not to go to the parks at all. We had spent the 2 days before stomping around Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and the Magic Kingdom. We had hard tickets to the Expedition Everest After Party in Disney’s Animal Kingdom park and I knew I needed to rest my feet. We’d already logged about 10 miles on our feet per day – if not more – for 2 days. The die-hard Disney fan in me was overruled by my inner coach/athlete. We hit up the hot tub at the hotel, napped, and spent most of the day relaxing. This was probably the smartest way to spend the day.
TheNurse and I did venture out to our lunch at one of my favorite places, Sanaa. It is an Indian and African inspired eatery that overlooks a savannah full of free roaming African animals at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Zebra, giraffe, and greater kudu paced by as we enjoyed our meal. We took our time about it, laughed and joked, and I wasn't feeling the least bit nervous. I steered clear of grains, but enjoyed a delicious glass of wine.
We ate well before the race. After we returned to the room, I snacked on some fruit and nuts we’d bought and stored in the room when I got peckish, giving my (sometimes temperamental per competition) stomach plenty of time to digest.
My stomach didn’t really bother me this time. In fact, for first time in, well, ever, I felt as prepared as I could possibly be for this race. Armed with a solid training background and prepared with all of my usual gear, I knew that I was at the "what will be, will be" stage, for the most part. All I had to do was try my best. In the gym lately, I'd been clocking fast miles, but I hadn't really run more than about a mile and half at a stretch. It had been pouring rain for 2 days but the race would only be cancelled or delayed on account of lightening. No matter the weather, I planned on showing up.
And show up we did!
Since we were driving our own car (and I’d heard horror stories of being caught in hellish traffic and barely making it to the starting line in time), we opted to show up around 7:30pm. The last thing I needed was to be rushing around, amongst the 5500 people trying to fit into my corral. The first wave didn’t leave for hours, but it was nice to get there before just about anyone else. I got my barings, locating the starting and finishing lines of the 5k portion and the start and finish of the scavenger hunt portion. We came up with a game plan and chit chatted for a few hours.
|I'd drawn on my old running shirt and grabbed some photos before I put my sweater back on to shield some of the rain and stay warm. Back reads: "No P.P.Q. Just P.R.s!"|
People showed up in costumes, which was fun to watch, but the serious runners weren’t dressed as characters. Most people were part of teams. Out of the 5500+ people there, only about 1200 were individual runners. About 690 of them were women running as individuals. That was my division.
I didn’t spot anyone I knew going into the corrals. I have to admit, I couldn’t be MORE grateful for The Nurse’s support. She was my living locker, carrying my gym bag with water bottles, snacks, my sweater, and my throw-over pants, my photographer, and my support crew. (In case you’ve never seen me in the gym, I’m a fan of keeping muscles and joints warm, so I usually have a pair of pants I throw over my workout pants. Hence the name, throw-over pants.) She stood with me out in the rain FOR HOURS without complaint until the race started. My friends are pretty darn awesome...
I moved into my corral as soon as I saw other people milling about. I knew I’d need to have a clear path in order to give myself the best shot of hitting my goal – to set a new PR (personal record) of under 30:31.
|Old PR from Zombie 5k in September, 2013|
As the DJ kept the crowd engaged, the co-hosts announced a trumpet player would be playing the national anthem. Just before the national anthem, the co-hosts asked for a moment of silence in recognition of the US military at home, abroad, and passed away. I bowed my head and the hush spread over the mass of humanity (well over 5000 people) within a matter of seconds. I smiled a little to myself, pleasantly surprised that a group this size was capable of such a feat.
About 10-15 seconds into the moment of silence, the hosts asked military members and their family members to raise their hands.
I raised my hand – the only person within at least a 300 foot radius identifying myself as a military family member. If there was any question what “Subwife” on my shirt meant, that probably laid it to rest. Suddenly I wasn’t just another bright shirt in the sea of wet, anxious faces…
This got to my heart more than a little more than I expected. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you probably realize by now that I haven’t heard My Sailor’s voice in some time. Days have turned into weeks. Weeks have turned into months... We had discussed this race before he deployed. Knowing it was likely he wouldn’t be able to participate with me, he told me he wanted me to fly across the country and do it. It seems that even when he’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, he still finds a way to enable my dreams…
|My Sailor and I at the Zombie 5k, September 2013|
Corral A left to a flurry of steam and fireworks. Then my corral moved into the chute. Walking anxiously to the start line, I found that I was no longer one row deep into my wave. I was in the front. The RunDisney tape was right in front of me. The pavement opened up in front of me, empty as Corral A runners faded around the corner across the parking lot. A few camera flashes went off, but surely they weren't taking photos of me, right?
|Property of Run Disney. All Rights Reserved.|
6 minutes after the first wave left, we were unleashed. I started the timer on my ipod at the exact moment I crossed the starting line. I worked hard not to keep up with those that were going too fast out of the gate. I knew they’d regret it soon enough.
Training in Washington gave me a bit of an advantage here. The constant drizzle and bit of a chill was nothing new to me – I’ve run over hills in my neighborhood in worse. I was as used to that as I was to the voice in my head telling me how I was nuts, that I was going to trip over an obstacle, that I shouldn’t be too disappointed if I don’t PR; after all, lots of things have been happening lately…stressful things… and here I was, out of my element, competing on my own…
Yeah – that voice is usually pretty talkative during the first 1/2 mile. Fairly sure I could outrun it, I sped up just a little bit.
The first mile was through the parking lot... at night... in the rain...
There is nothing especially magical about this part of the run. Disney had lit up an overturned canoe and a gator with it’s mouth open. Speakers piped in growls from the creature to keep things lively, but running through a dark parking lot in the rain is still…running through a dark parking lot in the rain…
The first obstacle was about 2/3rds of the way into the first mile.
It was hay bale hurtles. I could already tell that someone had taken a dive into one of the hay bales. It was destroyed. The ground was muddy and sandy. For a moment, I was afraid I’d twist an ankle attempting it, but I went for it anyway.
Glad I did. They were all doable, though a little too unevenly spaced to get a good solid hurtle pace going. (Didn't know I used to love hurtles in high school, did ya? Never did them competitively though -it was just a fun thing in PE class.)
Getting through them without breaking my face, twisting an ankle, or being slowed down more than a 15 seconds(ish) gave me courage to keep going. So I sped up just a little bit and decided to run to the front gate…
Then I got to the front gate. Next goal? The Tree of Life. It's in the center of the park and up a small hill. Thanks to hill training in my neighborhood in Washington, my legs knew exactly what to do. I didn’t waste much time enjoying the view of the lit up Tree of Life. I just kept on running.
There were characters along the way to spot and get photos taken with. I wasn't stopping, but it was a fun thing to watch and wave. Disney Cast Members stood along the trail, cheering everyone on enthusiastically. That was a huge help to this solo flyer. Spectators were only allowed at the start and finish point.
The one challenge I ran into was foot pain. While not intense or intolerable, my feet were feeling the ache of being on them non-stop for the better part of the week. I did allow myself 10 steps of walking breaks here and there. I kept moving quickly and found that, with the small 10 step break, I was ready to break into a quicker run than if I'd tried to 'tough it out'. With no real blisters after this race, I'm going with it being the right call.
The second obstacle was tire stepping. I actually expected to have problems with this one. Again, it had been raining, so I could easily see catching a foot and taking a face plant, or twisting an ankle if I landed on a slippery surface.
Pushing those back, I decided to pick up my feet and bounce through them. I knew I could always walk through them if it was proving too dangerous.
Lucky for me, training kicked in yet again.
While I was in California going for my 'recovery run' through a local park, I decided to run on the ledge of a retaining wall. The wall was made of uneven stone and about a foot or two wide. Falling off the wall would have meant a 6 foot drop in some places, so there was LOTS of incentive to step quickly, lightly, and keep my balance. Not to mention, it was rattle snake season, so I knew that leaping out of the way of one might have been a hazard to contend with. (But I was having too much fun to care...)
So what were a few tires? I didn’t fall then. I took the first two or three tires tentatively, but I picked up my pace and passed several people, using the balancing skills I honed on that wall 2 weeks before. Instead of going side to side to pick my way through the tires, I opted for the straightest path possible and I was through them in no time. In fact, I passed several people...
Fast feet? Me? Who knew?
The course curved through the park and back stage. I ran into Robyn again where it doubled back on itself. It couldn’t have been better timed. I was entering mile 3 and getting tired. She waved and encouraged me to "Go get that PR!" Seeing a familiar face made me smile and put a spring in my step. I dashed ahead, singing along (as best as one can while running) to the Pandora jam playing in my ears. I got a lot of strange looks, but it got me through. I'm fairly certain mile 3 was the fastest of all of them, until the obstacle -
The final obstacle was a cargo net crawl. I debated running by this one, but opted to try it anyway. I'd finished all the others. Why skip one?!
I dove under.
Perhaps I should have skipped this one....
My hat kept getting caught on the net, halting my progress. I considered leaving it behind completely at one point, but then my pony tail caught on the netting. Had I not wasted valuable seconds fixing it, I would have likely had my hair even more entangled in the thin netting, so I pulled the hat back on and plowed through, shoving it back on my head and getting lower under the net. (You can see the girl behind me struggling to get up - her pony tail was stuck....)
I let it all out and sprinted, mashing down on my phone to stop the timer just as I crossed the finish line. I clicked "stop" on the stopwatch - half expecting not to meet my goal.
This was later ‘officially’ confirmed as well by my timing chip. (Exact same time).
I looked at the clock and slowed to a walk, looking around for The Nurse to announce that I accomplished my mission. In 7 months, without specially training to increase my speed, I increased my speed enough to shave off an even 2 minutes.
Then it was off to the Scavenger hunt portion... but that's the next blog...
When all was said and done, I placed 58th out of 686 finishing individual women, and 104th out of 1071 finishing individuals (regardless of gender).
I'm more than happy with those results. Stay tuned for the clue portion later this week.