Friday, May 10, 2013

Ironmom Goes Ultra-- or it seemed like a good idea at the time (or the Bear Mountain 50K race recap)

In my head, I'm an athlete.  In my head, I'm capable of just about anything.  Its just my body that sometimes doesn't want to comply. . . This was one of those occasions.

I've always wanted to do an ultramarathon.  In fact, in my head (note the theme here), I'd love to do a 100 miler somewhere-- knowing full well it would take me forever.  Figuring that there is no time like the present, last fall I signed up for the Northface Endurance Challenge at Bear Mountain.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.   I took a look at the elevation profile and saw that we were talking about 5000 feet of climbing over trails over the 50K. I thought, "meh, how bad can it be?  I've been running trails in San Francisco for years."

Fast forward about 5 months.  Add in a few months of serious snow. . season with a bar exam (I passed by the way). . . and then top off with a sub-par Boston Marathon recovery and a bit of associated mental anguish and you have me. . . arriving at the start line of the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K at Bear Mountain last weekend.

Race Morning was clear and cool.  It was supposed to warm up so I dressed in my Ironteam singlet and arm warmers, threw on some sweats and grabbed the hotel shuttle to the parking lot.  (This would later turn out to have been a mistake, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.) Switching to the start line shuttle at the parking lot, we headed up the hill.  I arrived just as the 50 mile runners headed out on their adventure and their fans were headed back down the mountain for some much needed sleep.  In 2 minutes I'd gotten my race number and settled in in front of one of the many fire pits that were heating up the area.

The awesome thing about the fire pits was it gave people a place to congregate.  As people trickled in, they came over to get warm.  Before I knew it, there were 8 of us gathered around our fire pit sharing concerns about the day.  None had done this race before, and all were amazed at how, "this year" it didn't sell out in 10 minutes like every other race. . . (hmmmm. . . sounds like IM St. George). . .  There were many experienced racers-- most trail racers--only 2 of us were in line for our first 50K trail race.  I'm a veteran of a million road races. . . and one woman. . . who hadn't run a race EVER. . .

Before we knew it-- it was time to head out.  Sweats dropped and waive 2 started out.

I Had A Game Plan. . . I know. . . as Jack Reacher says, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.  My plan was to go really slow.  Keep up with my nutrition.  Walk the uphills.  Take the DNF if you need to.  This plan was endorsed my all of my ultra friends and my old Iron Team Coach... what could go wrong?

At the first rise, I was heartened to see that EVERYONE started walking.  As in, walking up what I ordinarily would have considered a BUMP-- not even a hill (much less the mountain that comes later).  Traffic slowed to almost a halt as we walked up the hill like ants in a line.  At the top, the pace picked up a little bit and people started to sort themselves out.  I, made sure to say super far to the back, trying my hardest not to get ahead of myself. . .

This went on for a while-- the course was slightly rocky at this point but there were no major climbs.  The participants had sorted themselves out so that I was running with a couple of women who I would pass on the flats and who would pass me on the walks uphill.  By the time we got down to the mile 3.9 aid station, I was feeling fine, had passed these ladies, and was starting to lose the jitters and enjoy myself.  I pretty much ignored the first aid station, I had water in my backpack and enough UCAN to make it to the next aid station so I didn't stop.  I puttered on, passing a group of 3 guys who I would get to know well during the remainder of the race.

It was on the way to the second aid station, 4.7 miles away, that I began to wonder if this had been a good idea.  Already my fingers were starting to swell. . . a sign I usually associate with dehydration. I was running slightly ahead of the group of 3 guys on the flats and downs and would get passed by them on the uphills. . . We were all joking around as we went along. . . It was getting warm, so off came the arm warmers.  And out came the back flies.  LOTS of them. They were everywhere-- swarming around your head, flying into your eyes and nose. Especially on the uphill sections where I was moving pretty slowly.
The guys and I, at one point, clocked a 29 minute mile.  Yes, I'm serious.  I remember looking up at them and saying out loud, "Wow guys, that was a sad little mile we just put in there."  And sad it was.
I pulled into the second aid station.  Happy to add water and some electrolytes to my water supply (and hopefully cut down on all the finger swelling), mix up a second bottle of UCAN, and see if the medical staff had any bug spray.

I pulled out of the station ahead of the three guys and headed out for what turned out to be, by far, the most difficult section of the course.

Difficult really isn't the right word for this section of the course.  The proper, X-rated, terms are "Fucking Ridiculous."  (or, "FR" for short).  What was FR?  Pretty much everything.  The terrain was FR:  a constant diet of rocks for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Not friendly little rocks that you can step on; and not huge boulders that require you to go ahead and climb them with hands and feet, but pesky medium sized rocks that are loose on the ground. Just big enough that you can get your foot on them, but not big enough that you can balance on them when they start to tip over.  Just small enough that you can clear them, but not small enough that you can avoid hitting your already tender from last month's marathon on them.

The elevation change is FR.  At one point, the trail approached what appeared to be a gigantic ledge/boulder.  It was not something you could go around.  As you got closer you saw the course marker. . . An Arrow. . . pointing straight up into the air.

Which pretty much added insult to injury right there.

On hands and knees and feet you pulled yourself up this huge incline. . . pulling yourself up to the top. . . where you were faced with a few hundred yards of rocks followed by, you guessed it, another straight up arrow.  FR.

The view from the top was well worth the climb, but by that point, all I wanted to do was get down that thing.  I sort of regret not pulling out my camera, but already I was concerned about the wasted time/effort that pulling it out of my backpack would take.

Also FR?  The descent from that lofty perch.  Backwards downwards like I was going down a ladder.  Legs wobbly from the uphill climb. .It felt good to be on terra firma.

After the third aid station, we had a good long flat-ish section. Or mostly flat section.  I was able to finally get some momentum going, while still cursing not only the rocks and the bugs but also this time the between knee to ankle high grass that was pulling at my legs constantly.   It wasn't really flat-- there were some nice ascents and some seriously crazy descents, but overall this section wasn't so bad-- or it wouldn't have been if it had come first. . . or maybe even second.

Garmin was registering about 22 miles as I pulled in to the 4th water stop.   The problem with this?  The aid station was slated for 20.9 miles.  Well, maybe Garmin was right and the water stop was wrong.  It was also right about here that the course split between the marathoners and the 50K'rs.  I would be lying if I didn't admit that I spent serious time thinking about switching to the marathon course.  When I signed up for this thing, I thought "how much further can another 5 miles feel?"  By 20.9 (or 22) miles?  Those extra miles sounded like an eternity.   I actually stood there for a minute. . . filling my water pouch. . . and contemplated heading out with the marathoners.   Sighing, I decided to go on with the 50K course.

And about 20 minutes into it, I realized what a mistake this might have been.  I was dizzy.  And weak.  And Tired.  Not just tired.  REALLY TIRED.   I actually sat down for a few minutes and realized that I probably needed to eat something.  (Thank you Sedonia and Ironman training for reminding me that the negative mental energy can be cured by carbohydrates).  I ate a bar. . . got up and started moving forward.  I was slow and I was having trouble on the uphills but I was moving.

It was then that I realized how alone out there I really was.  Dizzy, stumbling a little bit, and all alone on the course I started to imagine how long it would take for someone to find me should something bad happen.  I imagined heart attacks, hyponatremia, and other crazy ailments.  Panic probably didn't help my heart rate elevate. . which fueled my panic. . . which raised my heart rate-- you know. . . it seemed like a good idea at the time.  These are the games that your starved mind plays with you on your 6th hour of running.

Luckily for me, I was still moving forward.  I came upon a women whose leg was bothering her.  It was enough to remind me that there were other people out there on the course and that someone would likely find me if I started to die.  I stayed pretty close to her for a while, or at least until my panic started to subside, and then started to pull away.  That was the good part.  The less good part-- she'd done the course before and was telling me all these things about how IMPOSSIBLE the course was from the 25.5 mile aid station to the finish. . . "Harder than the FR section",  I asked.  "WAY HARDER", her response.

It was also around this time that I had to go down this absolutely FR downhill section.  It was dirt. . . with a few rocks thrown in for good measure but it was nearly vertical.  As I was trying to get down this thing, my legs trembling, the first of the 50M racers came by me.  They were about 20 miles ahead of me. . . and bounding down this thing like it was a flat 5K.  ASTOUNDING.   I managed to make it down without falling on my head and at that point decided I was dizzy, I was tired, my legs wouldn't stop trembling, and I was DONE.  When I got to the next aid station.  I was stopping.  I was taking the DNF and would live to fight again.

In saying that, I've got to tell you.  I've had one DNF in my life.  It was at Boston in 2013.  To agree to take on a second one so soon. . . it should tell you how great I was feeling.

The Man with the Orange Hair. Really.  He had Orange Hair.  It wasn't my exhausted and malnourished self.  There was a woman with Blue Hair.  And someone with Green Hair.  They'd dressed up as jelly beans.  The man with the Orange Hair greeted me as I pulled in to the 25.5 mile aid station.

"Can I fill up your water bottle?"  NOPE.  I'M QUITTING.
"No, you're not quitting-- you've only got 5 miles to go, are you a wimp."  NO. BUT I'M QUITTING.  I'M DIZZY.
"You're dizzy.  Everyone is dizzy. Have a potato.  Dip it in this plate of salt.  Sit down.  Then we will talk about quitting." OK.  I'LL SIT AND HAVE A POTATO.  BUT I"M STILL QUITTING.
"The next aid station is only 2.5 miles away, you can quit there.  You can't quit here."

Two salted potatoes (my absolute new favorite food) and two glasses of Coke later.  I filled up my backpack and headed back out into the woods.  I'm not sure how long I sat there.  But it was probably worth it.  The potatoes, salt, and sugar made a difference.  I found my way up the "Horrible" section. . . and it wasn't nearly as bad as the FR section that I'd already done.  From that point on it was all downhill.  THANK GOD.  There are no words for how ready I was to go down hill.

Except for the rocks.  It was all downhill, but it was all mini boulder rocks again too.  They moved, they wiggled, they twisted.  I made it!  I made it to the final aid station, grabbed another potato, a coke and a handful of M&M's (Yes, Coach Dave, I know that this is NOT a good nutrition plan) and made it to the finish line.

Actually, I was 10 minutes over the cut off time.  But they counted me as a finisher anyway-- I'm not sure why.  They even counted about 10 people who finished after I did.

I hadn't properly trained myself. . . Clearly, despite my nutrition plan, something went wrong and I wasn't getting enough calories.  I was sore.  I was tired.  And I'd missed the cut off.  But I had the medal. And I had done it.

If you'd asked me that day if I'd ever do this course again I would have said "NO WAY"  twice.  But with a few days under my skin, I've started to wonder what would have happened if I'd trained properly.  If I'd had a better nutrition plan (or executed my nutrition plan better).  Would I do another 50K.  Yep.  Will I do it at Bear Mountain?  . . . we shall see.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Marathon Recap

I'm going to start at the Beginning.  For those of you who want to skip right ahead to the end, you can feel free to do so.  There will be subheadings to make it easy for you.  But I don't think I can explain the end without properly setting up the beginning.

For me, its always been sort of a love hate thing with the Boston Marathon,  or probably more of just a dislike thing.  As a slow runner, I've got to admit the snobbish "qualifying times"  (that were made more difficult recently) that keep the vast majority of runners out of the race have always rubbed me wrong.  To me, there is nothing more amazing than the 6 hour marathoner who sweats and tries for 6 hours to do what some can do in 3:15:00 and to keep them out is discouraging.

And then there is the fact that whenever you tell people that you've run a lot marathons, they inevitably respond, "Have you run Boston?" not really knowing that their question is going to invoke your lingering sense of slowness and incompetence when you have to explain that there is NO WAY you are ever going to shave the hour and forty five minutes off your time in order to make the qualifying standards.

I grew up in the Boston area, and have recently moved back there, so I was anticipating getting significant "Boston" pressure this year (which was much more easily ignored in Atlanta or San Francisco) until my husband just happened to be sitting next to a guy at a dinner.  The guy just happened to be related to one of the race's organizers and my husband just happened to be complaining that I was headed out to do the Disney Marathon the next morning (he says he was just talking about it). . . Surprise.  I had a time exempt entry into the marathon!

I took it.  Even though part of me felt like I was "giving in"  I couldn't resist the chance to get the Boston Monkey off my back.  At least when people asked, I could simply say "yes, I've run Boston" and leave it at that.

It'd been a long cold snowy winter here in central Massachusetts. Admittedly, my training hadn't been optimal-- 108 inches of snow between February 1 and March 20 does not do wonders for a training regime.  Add in studying for the bar exam (my 3rd state) and lets just say, I'd gone into races feeling a bit more confident physically.  Mentally, as the race grew closer, I got more and more nervous as I started to focus on not being one of the qualifiers.

I made it to packet pick up (in the same room as the bar exam no less) and was discouraged to realize that not only was I in the last wave start (I'd expected that); I was in the last corral in the last wave (this was probably my own fault; I was given an opportunity on my time waived card to put down a time.  I was afraid to enter one for fear that they'd change their mind and not let me in).  I started having very realistic feelings that I was going to be the last one out on the course and that there was not going to be any spectators left.

Race Morning dawned clear and chilly.  I drove into Boston to catch one of the runner transport buses back to Hopkinton.  Not knowing the city very well, I did what I always did. Parked at Prudential Center and started wandering until I found someone to show me how to get to the bus location.  The lines were long, but friendly, and eventually we were on a bus to the start.  
I was surprised by how long it took to get there-- we were on the bus for over an hour. . . and we chatted about the race as we drove.  I expressed my fear that I would be last to a few of my seatmates. . . their response, an encouraging "No, you qulified to be here, it won't be bad?"  Ugh--no, actually I didn't.

I was surprised by the small size of the the "athletes village" at the beginning of the race.  27K athletes didn't really fit in there all that well, and the lines for the port-a-loos were huge. . . (as an aside, the gentlemen using the woods as port-a-loos were given a choice by the local police-- go to jail on a public nudity charge or get disqualified from the race and turn in their number-- HARSH choice Town of Hopkinton). . . but eventually everyone cleared out of the village and headed to the start.

I was in wave 3; corral 6.  I started to feel better when I realized there were 9 corrals and at least there might be a few stragglers behind me when I got to the finish.  .  .  I walked down with a gentleman who was wearing his M80+ age group on his back.  .  . I am consistently amazed at these guys. . . Awesome. . . and then I saw Tedy.  As in Tedy Bruschi-- my all time favorite Patriot (his story is pretty well known) giving out hugs to the members of his team as they entered the race.  I grabbed a picture and kept moving.

Finally it was time to start.  Time to see what all the hubbub was about.  So many people had told me that Boston was such a special race. . . so different from all the other marathons. .. it was time to find out (and being the skeptic that I am, I wasn't expecting much).

The race itself was just that. . . a marathon, except that it wasn't.  The course was unremarkable, and amazing at the same time.  The first few miles, as they always are, were tough for me.  I pulled out a trick from my Team in Training Days, and started to assign miles.  Mile 2:  Aunt Virginia, suffering from cancer, that was for you.  Mile 3:  Mark Zafra, that one was yours.  Mile 4: A friend who'd recently had surgery.  Mile 5:  Laura Owens, that was yours.  Mile 6:  I celebrated all the healthy people I knew. . . and then the fans kicked in. . . and (holding you Laura Warren for Heartbreak Hill) I didn't need to dedicate miles any more.

THE FANS WERE AMAZING!  I was shocked.  Wearing my erstwhile Worcester Academy tank top, I was shocked at the number of people who set up WORCESTER chants. Dad's in Assumption, Holy Cross, and WPI sweatshirts running into the road to give me a high five.  Little kids (and some adults) mispronouncing Worcester--leading me to wonder what they teach people East of 495 about the second largest city in New England.  Thank you Natick for truly showing some love to the Woo.

This was before I got to Wellesley.  OH MY GOODNESS.  I'd always heard about the girls of Wellesley College, but frankly figured by the time my slow butt got there they would be all gone.  NO.  NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST.  The road narrows and you are running downhill; this is right about the 12 mile mark, so you are closing in on the half way point-- a marker in any race that can be both encouraging (I'm half way done) and discouraging, (13 miles left) at the same time.  Women lined the street-- screaming, cheering, hands out for high fives-- even from this old fat lady-- signs declaring:  "Kiss Me-- I'm French", "Kiss Me-- I'm a chemist", "Kiss me-- I'm an opera singer", "Kiss me-- I'm out and proud" lined the race course.  The noise was unbelievable.  So too was the amount of energy that I picked up from those girls.   At the same time, I was running near a blind US Army Green Beret and his two guides.  . . I lost them as they headed over to talk to one of the girls "Kiss me-- I'm ROTC" but not without thanking them for their service and inspiration. All in all-- what an amazing amount of emotional energy taken and given in that one single mile. . .

Then it was on to the hills.    Gotta say, Heartbreak Hill-- not quite as bad as advertised.  Partially because I've been living in San Francisco for a while-- and partially I envisioned Laura Warren sitting there on the side of the road just like she always is for that huge hill at Vineman. . . making me cry and telling me to stop crying and start working . . But what a thrill to know I was up and over it and at mile 21-- or pretty much all downhill into Boston from here.

I guess it is worth noting that I was running a great race.  I was surprising myself with my time and although my quads were burning-- the real difficult part of heartbreak hill is the quad busting downhill--I felt OK.  I had a little over an hour and 5 minutes to get those last 5 miles in in order to get my first post kids sub five hour finish. . . so I was pretty psyched.  More importantly, I'd gotten the "I'm going to be last" chip off my shoulder and was not feeling nearly as inadequate as I'd been at the start.

And then there was BC:  the proclaimed "Golden Mile"  WOW.  Downhill. . screaming, completely wasted co-eds lined both sides of the street. They screamed, they demanded high fives, they mispronounced Worcester, they hollered, they spilled alcohol on/near you. . . it was like Bay to Breakers without the sober people!

Just when I was worried that I'd expended all of my emotional energy. . . I passed the Hoyts.  I'm going to say that again.  I passed the Hoyts. . . I'd seen the Hoyts run so many Falmouth Road Races, I'd cheered for them; shed tears for them, and now I was passing them.  I pulled my phone out from my pocket and took a quick video as I went past.  Now I had tears streaming down my face as I pulled up to mile 23.

I was awed, I was thrilled (still rocking the PR pace), and I was almost home!!! Going to get the Boston medal!

Suddenly I heard sirens and police were darting onto the course and pushing the runners down into a single file line. . . I said a quick prayer for, what I assumed, was the person in the ambulance that, I assumed, was about to come screaming past me. . . I didn't count the number of marked and unmarked and motorcycle police that screamed by. . . but it was a lot.  Admittedly I thought it was odd that there was no ambulance following in the wake of the police cars, but I thought, "Boston is a big city, something must have happened somewhere".  After the police cars went by, the runners fanned out again and headed for home.

The crowds on the sidelines kept cheering. . . there may have been a drop of in the numbers of people, but it would be hard to tell from where I stood-- it was late in the marathon-- the elites having finished hours ago and a substantial number of people lined the streets urging us slowpokes on.

I crossed the 40K timing mat and got a little further down the road before I started wondering if I'd made a wrong turn somewhere.  I couldn't really see the runners in front of me any more.  There were so many spectators coming down the center of the road towards me. Some were running, most were walking.  I turned to a police man on the side of the road and said, "Did I miss a turn?  Am I going the right way?"  His response:

"The marathon's been cancelled.  The finish line is gone."

The marathon's been cancelled.  The finish line is gone.  I ran a few more steps.  What?  I stopped running and started to walk.  What? I stopped walking.  WHAT?  I stopped my watch.  WHAT?  I asked a volunteer what had happened.  There'd been an explosion. Was it bad?  No one knew details.  Runners were still running towards the "finish line".  As they stopped, a huge group of us: runners and spectators alike gathered in the center of Commonwealth Ave.   Asking questions of every police officer; asking questions of race staff.  Getting no answers.

The most common question?  What were we supposed to do?  It was about at that point I remembered I was running with my phone and pulled it out to call my husband and my parents.  Or text, since cell service was difficult. . . letting them know I was OK.  I saw the overwhelming number of people worried about me on Facebook and did a quick status update that I was safe.  I told my husband, and a few others, that my car was probably "gone"-- like the finish line.

My family wanted to know what I was doing. . . The thing is, I didn't know.  The police had no information as to what we runners should do.  The race officials had even less.  We stood there shivering in the late afternoon breeze and waiting for some one to tell us what to do.  People came out of their homes bringing us trash bags to wrap around ourselves to try to keep warm.  People brought water-- in any containers they had.  I was sipping water out of Tupperware jar. I was shivering and loaning my cell phone out left and right.  Most found their loved ones.  One man, whose family was waiting for him at the finish, couldn't get his family to pick up the phone. . .

By now, I'd learned that the finish line was not "gone" but what had really happened.  It was bad, but not as bad as I'd thought.

After about 45 minutes, word started to circulate that we were to head towards Boston Common and the baggage buses at least would be there.  I sent the information to my family and started walking in that direction.  I found my baggage pretty quickly. . . and was reunited with a friend from the start line-- Boston was her 50th marathon. . . she'd had her whole family waiting at the finish to celebrate the accomplishment. . . but they all were safe.  She was a conflicting mess of emotions:  relief that everyone was safe, anger at the bad guys, frustration at not being able to finish the marathon or her quest for 50, confusion, and guilt.  I needed a port-a-loo, but they were all locked shut for safety.

I finally got my sweats from the baggage bus. . and seconds later a team of police came in and closed off the area:  "this is a new crime scene"  "get out of here."   I ran in the opposite direction.  I was one of the last to get my bags yesterday.

Knowing the car was parked in the area that was now an active crime scene,  I didn't think for a second about trying to get back to the car. I started trying to see how I was going to get out of the city.  People were milling about everywhere. No one knew where to go or what to do.  I arrived at Boston Common, and although that is where we'd been told to go-- there was no one telling us what to do when we got there.  I found 3 older gentlemen in BAA jackets and asked if they knew how to get on the T or a train West.  (thinking that once I got out of the city someone could pick me up).  They were headed to the T station, so we walked together.  They'd been near the finish line. . . they won't ever forget it.

We learned that this T stop was closed, but there was an MBTA guy there who told me if I could get to South Station I could catch a 5:35 train to Worcester.  It was 5:10.  South Station was about another mile and a half from where we were.  We busted ass across the city. . and got to the station at 5:30.  Stood in line to buy a ticket-- these three guys not wanting to abandon me. . . this was when I realized that I had no money (ran with my cell this time-- not with any money).  One of the men whipped out his wallet and at 5:33 I was hauling ass towards the train. Almost wish my Garmin was on because I know that was my fastest split time of the day.

I collapsed on the train.  And collapsed into a puddle of tears.
It was then I saw the out pouring of concern and support from my friends around the globe. I penned a quick facebook status

                  I am on a train out of the city and Headed for home. I am safe. I was at mile 25.67 when people came running back at me. People started to say marathon was cancelled. We stopped and waited for instructions. Eventually we learned what happened and started to walk. People came out and brought us trash bags to stay warm and water. 3 security guys from the race helped me find south station and bought me my ticket home. My car, drivers license and money is underneath Prudential Center. Not sure when I will get it back but it doesn't really matter. There are no words to express my emotions, especially as I sit here warm on the train and see the outpouring of concern from all of you. Thank you so much. Your love and affection is  warming my heart on a cold cold day.

Today is April 16, 2013 and much like September 12, 2001, we awoke a much different nation than we did the day before.  Our community of runners has been joined by people the world over, grieving for the dead and wounded and mourning the loss of our joy.

As for me, I'm a big ball of raw emotion.  A day that had been filled with so much emotion-- the fear of not being good enough, the manic energy of the Wellesley girls, the pure elation of the BC mile, the nervous anticipation of a PR, the joyful anticipation of the finish line, reached its limit when the officer said that the race was cancelled; the finish line was gone.

The confusion of those next hours will stay with me for a long time.  The loss and fear are just starting to set in.  I'm angry at the perpetrators for the loss of life and senseless destruction, but I'm also angry for being robbed of the ability to say I am a Boston finisher.  I will still always have to explain, "well, I've almost run Boston, but. . ."

I feel guilty that I selfishly wish I'd gotten my medal and my PR.  For the first time ever, I'm relieved that I wasn't 10 minutes faster.

Will I race again.  Of course I will.  Would I run Boston again?  In a heartbeat-- if I can manage to score a number.

As for now, I'm lacing up my running shoes.  Today, I will run for those who no longer can.

Thanks to everyone for your love and support.

Monday, January 14, 2013

8 Reasons to do the Walt Disney World Marathon's Goofy Challenge

This weekend I participated in the Walt Disney World Marathon "Goofy Challenge".  Like the Chowdah Challenge here in Massachusetts, this was a 2 day "race" where Saturday morning dawned with a 1/2 marathon (13.1 miles) and Sunday morning dawned with a full marathon.  The total challenge?  39.3 miles over 2 days.  In no particular order, I present to you 8 reasons to be Goofy.

1.  You are a morning person. 
I preface this by saying that I AM a morning person.  But this is ridiculous.  Disney starts the race early.  Really early.  The 5:30 am start time is one of the earliest race start times I've ever seen.  While the 5:30 start time is early, the wake up call to get there is worse.  This race has gotten so popular that you HAVE to get on the shuttle bus from your resort hotel to the start line at 3 am and not much later.  By way of example, on Saturday I got on the bus at 3:05-- I walked right on and grabbed a seat.   Sunday, feeling confident in my ability to get on a bus, I waited until 3:15 to get to the bus stop-- and had to wait for 4 buses before I found a seat.
Once you get to the start line, sweat check comes pretty early too. . . 4:30. . . and its time for the walk to the start line.  This wasn't a problem this year, but the first time I did the race, with temperatures in the 30's, an hour plus without sweats is a LONG time.

Again, I'm a morning person, but this drill 2 days in a row is hard.  That 2 am wake up call comes WAY too early on Sunday morning and its pretty tough. In fact, it may be the hardest part of the Goofy Challenge. 

The upside, of course, is you can be home before most of your family wakes up on Saturday and have a couple of good long days to sit by the pool or tour the parks. 

2.  You think you are Walter Payton.
There are a LOT of people in this race.  Admittedly, the last time I'd run Disney was in 2001-- and there may have been 10,000 people in the half and full combined-- but I was NOT prepared for the sheer volume of people on the course.  The hardest day was 1/2 marathon day.  From the outset it was evident that I was going to do some dodging and weaving around the multitudes of people that had started ahead of me.  This was when we were running down a 2 lane road.  When the road narrowed to one lane. . . there became a pretty major traffic jam.  When the road narrowed to a path-- as it did in the section of the course through the Magic Kingdom, especially in the exit from Cinderella's Castle,  there were some pretty serious areas of congestion. 
Marathon day was better, although those sections of the Magic Kingdom were still pretty tough.

The other issue here is the volume of people running who either:
a) don't know
b) don't care about or
c) forget
runner etiquette.

The race program speaks a lot about runner etiquette, and I was a bit confused about why.  Until I got on the course.  Walkers in the left lane.  Run/Walkers stopping without any notice.   People running across 2 lanes to get in line for a character picture.  Walkers getting in to Corral A and then walking the race.  People TURNING AROUND and running up stream to go back for missed photo opportunities.  I'm all for new runners.  I'm all for walkers. I am a run/walker at least some of the time. I'm always a slow runner.  BUT at least pretend to try to follow the rules people!

3. You really want to finish a 39.3 race. 
 The race program states that you need to maintain a 16 minute per mile pace to successfully complete the Goofy Challenge.  I will admit, after putting my Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis on to get a PR during Saturday's 1/2 marathon, I was SERIOUSLY tempted to grab a sparkly skirt (see number 4) and just take pictures all day Sunday during the marathon. It was supposed to be HOT; I'd expended a bunch of energy going lateral on Saturday (Garmin said I'd run 13.9 miles instead of 13.1) and I knew mentally abandoning the marathon PR that I'm so actively seeking these days was probably a good idea. 
That idea was reinforced when I got to mile 16 of the marathon in the blazing heat (80-- but it is January and I've been training in 30 degree Massachusetts) and made a decision to back off to a slower marathon pace.  After adding about 10 minutes to my usual marathon time and finishing in 5:17 (5:45 gun time due to corral placement), I got my medals, food and drink.  Headed to the TNT tent and checked in; grabbed my bag from the bag check; waited in line for the shuttle to the hotel and boarded the bus.  As we crossed over the road that contained mile 16, I was AMAZED at how far the line of runners stretched.  As far back as the eye could see they were still coming.  It was incredible.  Walkers, runners of all abilities out there UNBELIEVABLE!!  But the time cut offs are so liberal that you could walk slowly the whole race.  If you want to finish a 39.3-- here is the place to do it.  You have all the time in the world to finish that marathon.   

Let's be honest.  You are either a huge Mickey Mouse person or you aren't.  For those of you that are Mickey Mouse people ("MMp's") THIS RACE IS EVERYTHING YOU LOVE ABOUT DISNEY WORLD.  You run through the parks.  Characters line the side of the road and people line up to get their pictures taken by Disney photographers.  Runners wear costumes. Serious costumes.  Obscure costumes.  People run groups with a theme.  You run through the parks. Its like Bay to Breakers set out over 2 days without the nudity.  You even get to tour behind the scenes running through the costuming outfit, the reclamation plant and a few other Disney secrets on Marathon day.  One of the best parts was running on the outfield at the Brave's training stadium (this is for all of you fellow Atlantan's who've secretly always wanted to do this at Turner Field-- or maybe I'm the only one). If you are a MMp, the time in the parks (and the extras like character pictures) may be enough to sustain you during the really long stretches of course between the parks.

Fair warning:  you aren't a MMp, you may find some of this annoying (I toyed with writing "THIS RACE IS EVERYTHING YOU DON'T LIKE ABOUT DISNEY WORLD").  I appreciate the characters on the side of the road but REALLY don't understand stopping in the middle of the race-- or worse, STANDING IN LINE IN THE MIDDLE OF A RACE-- to get my picture taken with Captain Jack Sparrow (unless of course, the real Johnny Depp is there--and even then, he needs a shower (but then so did I at that point so I guess the pot shouldn't call the kettle black)).  The costumes are cute-- but frankly, a slightly overweight Mrs. Incredible probably should think twice about whether she wears that skin tight costume to run 26.2 (or 13.1)

Serious swag. 
3 long sleeve tech-T's.  THREE- One for the Marathon.  One for the 1/2.  One for the Goofy.  That is a lot of T's. 
3 Medals.  And not just any medals BIG HUGE MEDALS with Disney Characters on them.  These medals are seriously SO heavy that when they put the final two on you at the end of the marathon-- you seriously notice the weight hanging from your neck.  Update:  I just weighed the 3 of them on my home scale:  one pound 2 ounces. 
Not to mention the amazing amount of pictures the Disney photographers will snap AND the amount of pictures you can take with your own camera. 
Firework shows each morning and with every corral start. 
SWAG.  Tons of it. . . and its pretty cool.
6. You want a high finish
Any one who has read this blog before knows that I AM SLOW.  I make no bones about it-- it doesn't bother me-- I'm not ashamed of it.  I often finish in the bottom 3rd of all participants in the race (or lower).  I'm out there, I'm having fun.  Let my slowness go. 

So, when I say this, please know where I'm coming from:  My 2:21 minute 1/2 marathon put me in the top 1/3 of all 1/2 marathon participants.  My 5:17 marathon (that did include a character stop) puts me in the top 1/3 of all marathoners.  I'm guessing my combined Goofy time puts me somewhere close to that number as well.  This is not the norm for me AT ALL.  SO, if you are slow and you still want to get a high finish-- this is a great place to do it.

Along those lines, I just wanted to mention that I kicked Joey Fatone's (of N'Sync) butt-- finishing an hour ahead of him in the half and an hour ahead of him in the marathon.  Not that it matters. . .

7. You like to wear your bling. 
I preface this by saying I'm not.  As usual, I'd stuffed my medals in my backpack for the trip home.  Apparently, they were viewable, because as I was standing waiting to get on my plane, a girl came over to me and said, "I just want to let you know that you are a complete bad ass and good job this weekend"  Huh? Is it my wicked awesome "We the Patriots" T-shirt?
Well, she explained that contrary to everyone else in the Orlando Airport on Sunday night, she'd noticed that my medals were "casually stuffed in my backpack" instead of hanging around my neck and that that was totally cool.

Nothing wrong with being proud of yourself and wearing your bling.  If you want to do it. . . you will be in good company since many of the 65,000 people who participated in the race are staying the resort (and using the airport) and many, many of them will be wearing their bling LONG after they've showered.  I even saw a few half marathoners cheering on the marathoners on Sunday proudly displaying their Donald Ducks.

8. You want to run a well organized race with lots of spectators and amazing course support.
No matter whether you are an MMp or not, you have to admit that Disney knows its business and its brand.  If you've ever been to Disney, you know that they pretty much go out of their way to make sure things work (I will never forget the time my 2 year old dropped his chicken fingers through no fault of Disney's and a Disney employee who saw the incident brought us new fingers free of charge).
The marathon is no different.  The park is clean.  Employees or volunteer or both man water stations.  There are plentiful water stations that are well stocked and well organized.  Banana's and Cliff products are abundant.  Bathrooms?  Can't say I've ever seen a course with more opportunities to use the restroom.

Spectators are plentiful in the parks (not sure if they need a ticket to get in to cheer or not) and completely absent on the stretches between the parks.  To compensate for this, Disney has put its characters and DJ's to make sure you don't get bored.  In the marathon, the inspiration quotes from Walt Disney himself that are posted along the course are amazing. Even non-MMp's will appreciate the vision he had (and wonder at the amount of money that place pulls in every day).  Even the finish area is well organized with a clear family meet up area and easy access to the buses back to your hotel (that come about every 5 minutes so there is no long wait for a bus)

Should you need medical support it was everywhere.  And I'm not talking "dire"  medical needs, I'm talking "I need a band aid"; Does anyone need bio freeze? Vaseline, Tylenol, Ice, you name it -- it is readily available on the course and at the finish line at both a "medical staff" tent and a "self-help" tent. 

You really can't beat the course support on this course.  Between that and the bling, the cost of entry ($320 dollars paid about a year in advance) may well be worth it.