Thursday, February 28, 2013

Healthy and happier feature!

Today I'm so excited to be featured on Ashley's healthy living blog, Healthy Happier Bear! She does a series called Marathons + Moderation, and this week I'm telling my story.
Be sure to head over to read a different take on my marathon journey. It's one I've not addressed here on my blog. The marathon really is a true beast.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

RunDisney Princess Half Marathon Recap

After heading to bed at an early 10:00 PM the day before, the 2:45 AM cell phone alarm medley was still jarring to hear. We all got up, got dressed, snapped pictures, and made our way out to the shuttles in grand princess fashion by 3:30. Again, the lines were long, but the frequent busses were well timed and made for a quick delivery to Epcot, where the Princess Half Marathon began.

When we got there, we found more lines. It was the theme of the weekend. The crowds expanded as far as you could see, but we didn't have a choice but to wait. 
Then, we snapped a group shot of all of us in our costumes: Ursula, Rapunzel, Belle, Minnie, and Snow White!
Then I saw Marcia and Jill, and we were able to say hi in person and take a group picture. We all chat on twitter about races and events, so it was great to finally meet the people behind the online profiles.
Then, our group made the long march out to the starting line. Disney puts the starting line at the same place as the marathon, and it starts on a service road behind Epcot. It's a legitimate 20 minute walk out there, so when Disney recommends getting there with time to spare, they're not exaggerating. 

We had all put down 2:15 finish times, even though all of our PRs are different from that, so they put us all together in corral B. 
But before we headed to the corral I got the chance to meet another blog friend, Amy! Amy ran her first marathon in Houston on the same day that I ran the Disney marathon, so we're debut marathon sisters!
After Amy and I said bye so she could head to her corral, we all headed to corral B. Since we weren't racing, we didn't push towards the front at all. We just started in the back of B. This was my first mistake of the day. I'll explain why later. We snapped individual pictures...
...and soon it was go time! There had been talk ahead of time between the five of us of paces, pictures, and no goal times. All I cared about was taking every possible picture. I literally did not care what the time on the clock read when I finished the race.

And through the starting line we went, right on time, a few minutes after the Corral A 5:35 start.
From the very beginning we could tell that it was going to be a warm and humid day, but like I mentioned before the weekend, the weather is less important on days you're working to have fun. I just felt badly for all the people running their first halves or trying to PR the race. Soon after we crossed the first mile marker, we saw the first photo opportunity: Pirates of the Carribean! We hopped in line, stopped our watches, and waited. And waited. And at that moment, I realized that it was going to be a long race! That line in and of itself took us at least 10 minutes to go through. I didn't care at the time, though.
We pushed on, saw A Bug's Life across the street, ran over, and again waited. This time the line was a little shorter.
And then, right after A Bug's Life, it was time for the princes! I wished Snow White's prince had been there, but the ones that were made it a fun photo! I ran with a poison apple for effect. 
While standing in line for the princes (another ten minute line), the lead runner passed us heading back towards the finish. We had only run a little over 2.5 miles! It was at this moment that I realized that starting in the back of Corral B was a bad choice. Slowly people from corrals C and D were catching up and passing us as we ran.

Inbetween the pictures we maintained about a 10:30 pace. Me, Caitlyn, and Genna had decided to stop for photos, so we wanted to run from picture to picture together, and a 10:30 pace worked for us all for the time being.

Entering Magic Kingdom!
I was so excited that Lightning McQueen was there!! They had him and 'mater parked on the Speedway during the marathon, but I had been too focused to stop for pictures, even though I had really wanted one with him. I'm glad I got another opportunity! He smiled big for the camera!
Though many pictures don't turn out that I take while running, this one made me laugh. The fact that I got my Snow White costume, it isn't blurry, and Genna is in the background makes me smile. It's too fun not to share!
Before entering the actual park, we saw the villains! Going into the race this was the picture that I continued repeating that I had to have! The fact that they were on the course made me so happy! I asked the Snow Queen to hand me the apple, and though she obliged, she did not break character! These people were great! They acted the parts so well! That line was also really long, and before we knew it corral E was upon us...
We made it up a hill and found Aladdin and the mile 20 spectacular puppets from the marathon. We all ran the marathon and agreed that they weren't that exciting at the marathon, and it was funny to see them reusing them so soon after that race!
And then we entered the park. We had all kept the 10:30 pace during the runs, but we all agreed that the running then stopping and waiting was hurting our legs a bit. We were all ready to actually spend more than a mile or two at a time running. But, we were having a blast and getting great pictures!
Gaston wouldn't flex, so Caitlyn did for him!
Genna was so excited to see Belle and tell her that she dressed like her and loved her that she talked through the whole picture taking session. Every picture captured has Genna with a talking face instead of a smile and pose. 
This ranks among my favorite pictures of the day, and it was also one of the longest lines to wait in. Another ten or so minutes passed, and another corral passed us by. This is also when the castle started jamming and people had to inch through the opening. Minnie loved my apple! She gestured that she wanted to hold it and give it to me. It was so much fun. I felt like a kid again with how much excitement I got from interacting with the Minnie Mouse! 
We got another stranger to take our castle pic, and she missed the castle...oh well!
We ran by Splash Mountain, which has always been one of my favorite rides. I remember going on this ride one night on a family trip when I was barely tall enough to ride it. My mom was definitely a trooper and would always go on the thriller rides with us. Just a little trip down memory lane.
And then we stood in what was without a doubt the longest line of the day. It was a line to see Cinderella! Note below that this is not Cinderella. After we'd been in line for 10 or so minutes, they took her away and replaced her with Princess Aurora. We had already been in line for so long that we weren't about to leave that line. 

And it was during this line that a few things happened and we had some realizations. First of all, Tori and Meghan finished, and we got their text updates. That meant we had been on the course for 2 hours and 16 minutes and we hadn't even crossed the 10k mark (when we got our 10k update it suggested that our finish should we keep that pace would be 4:52!!). It was also when people from the last corral started making their way past us. We looked at each other, and hungrily agreed: we were ready to be done. Yikes!

We also agreed that we loved all of our picture taking fun, but this is something that is meant to happen only once. I may stand in line for a picture or two in the future, but I'll never wait in line for all of the characters after starting in the back of the second corral.
From that point on we were with the walkers. I admire anyone who runs or walks a half marathon, but it was very difficult to run at a pace that was comfortable because of the congestion and pace being held by the masses. We ran on the dirt alongside the road for a while. Eventually, we separated because we were going stir crazy trying to stay together and weave around people while keeping our pace.

I pushed on because I wanted to get at least five to six good miles of running in, and I continued to do that on the side of the road in the dirt. There were a few occasions where I had to slow and weave through the crowds, but for the most part the side of the road worked just fine. I just wanted to finish this race so that I could get off my feet and get something to eat. I was running alongside two other girls who were keeping up some speed, and one of them said to her sister that she just needed to run. I asked her if she had taken a bunch of pictures too, and she said that he had just started in the last corral with her mom and sister and had kept a much slower and more uncomfortable pace.

This may not make sense, or it may, but we all run at different paces. One person's fast pace is another person's easy pace, and the difference in paces also can change a person's stride or gait. It hurts me to run at a certain speed much slower than an "easy" speed for me, because I end up landing harder and putting more impact on my hips. I know it isn't just me, as I've heard others say it before, but I don't know if it's a common concern. Is there a pace that you can't really run slower than without it hurting more?

It appeared that this girl felt the same way. I was so thankful for her at that moment because I needed a mental break from running alone in the dirt and knowing that I still had a ways to go. We were able to pull our pace down into the high 8 to low 9 range for about a mile and a half. We talked about running, where we live, and other topics that come up when you're trying to power through and be finished with a race. We ended up separating with two or so miles to go.

When we entered Epcot at mile 12, I decided I would take any pictures that didn't have a line longer than 5 or 6 people. I ended up happy to see Mrs. Incredible, Pinocchio, and Goofy and Donald all before crossing the finish. Another cast member offered to take my picture with the ball when she saw me taking picture of it. The cast members are so great!
And then it was (finally) time to finish. My official time was somewhere around 3:30. Being out there for an hour and a half longer than normal for a half marathon was mentally trying. Though there was so much standing and waiting, it almost made the running parts hurt more, because we never really ran long enough without interruption in the first 6 miles to really warm up. As soon as we would have been warm, we'd stop and wait again. We stopped our watches during the waiting or the super super slow walking, and I ended up running 13 miles in 2:17 and change. I couldn't figure out how exactly to view it in terms of training, but Mary had told me that it was okay to have fun, stop, and enjoy this race, so I didn't worry too, too much about it. I enjoyed myself thoroughly!

But, like I said, though I was so so happy to be done and off the course, I was so glad that we had made the decision to stop for all of the pictures. Through my three other RunDisney races, I'd never stopped for a character picture, and I had always wanted to! Caitlyn had stopped at the marathon, but Genna had never stopped before either. It was fun to be able to all stand together in the lines and have those pictures together. It made the waiting and the pictures so much more fun!
When we were all finished we took our finisher picture! We had made it to the finish with smiles on our faces and our costumes intact! That is a feat in and of itself. And the bling was totally worth it. This is a beautiful medal!
Here's my advice for you on getting character pictures at RunDisney races:
-If you are willing to not worry about the clock at all, throw caution to the wind and do what we did. But if you're going to get frustrated if you get behind people who are moving at much slower paces than you, I wouldn't try for every picture possible.

-Pick a few pictures that you really really want before you head out. Make up in your mind who you must stop for, no matter how long the line, and who you'd like to stop for, depending on how long the line looks. This will allow you to still have an enjoyable race and get in a solid run while taking a few pictures along the way.

-If possible, start in the front of your corral. Obviously, if you get to the characters before other people in your corral do, the lines won't be that long! You'll still be able to take a few pictures while wasting less time in line.

-Keep your eye on the pace overall. If you're going all in on the pictures, remember the pace you have to keep not to be picked up by the sag wagon. If you're going to come close to being picked up, skip a picture or two to make up the time actually running. 

I know not everyone cares about character pictures, but I had wanted to take them since running my first RunDisney race. Because I'm so competitive with myself I had never let myself stop, so this weekend I had promised that I would stop for any picture that we were at all interested in taking. This race for me was like reward for all of the times I hadn't allowed myself to stop. And what fun it was!

A few things to note about the Princess Half:
-There were 26,000 runners; it was crowded. Plan ahead for that.
-It is a girly and fun and pink race. There are more people there looking to have fun than there are people looking for a PR. It's a great race to head to for a good time; if you're looking for a PR race or a competitive environment, I'd look elsewhere.
-Dress up! You'll be glad you did! There were more people wearing tutus and costumes and Sparkle Skirts than not. It just added to the fun!

After the race we headed back to shower, eat lunch, and head home. A great girls' weekend was in the books, and I'm already looking forward to the next one!

What are your thoughts on RunDisney races?
Do you ever run races for fun and not with a certain time goal in mind?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

RunDisney Fit for a Princess Expo + Pop Century Resort

I'm never shy to admit that I'm a lover of expos, but it's not much of a difficult admission to make. In the world of runners, expos would rank pretty high up there in favorite parts of race weekends for many of us. But to the non-running world, or the non-racing world, the word expo sounds remotely unappealing and much like an RV or boat show for your great uncle who didn't make the effort to get out of his sweat pants when he left the house last Sunday. 

In reality, they're far from the boat shows or home expos that you may think of when the word expo comes up. They are open to the public, but one of the reasons all runners in a race attend the expo (if the race is bigger and/or is offering an expo), is because it's usually mandatory and the place where we pick up race bibs, swag, timing chips, and anything necessary for the actual race day. Not all races have them, and some are better than others, but the one that I went to this weekend was my second all time favorite (falling behind Gasparilla, which will have a hard time losing its top ranking).

This weekend, I ran the RunDisney Princess Half Marathon with four girlfriends from Tampa, and we headed over to Disney the day before to attend the expo. Genna had made reservations for us all at Disney's Pop Century Resort, and though the room definitely was crammed with five people, we loved the decorations and themes. Disney does everything big!
All of the buildings were assigned to the different decades, and we were assigned to the 1980's one. They must have known we are all children of the 80's. The rubix cube out front didn't help us remember which building was ours, though, because there were at least a few of them with the same rubix cube. We did a little tour of the resort on one of our outings to find our way from the main building to ours.

Disney is fantastic about providing shuttles between the events during their running weekends, so we opted to utilize those shuttles to get to and from the expo on Saturday as well as the race on Sunday. Though there were always lines, there was never a wait longer than 15-20 minutes. We were perfectly content to stand around and wait for that period of time for someone else to shuttle us where we wanted to go.
Tori had mentioned that this expo was different than the others, and she was absolutely correct. It was more pink and glittery, and I loved every minute of it. It was the special girly touches that added to the reasons that I loved it so much. From super cute race tshirts to different vendors to the special touches that I'll share more of below, I had a blast. Though there were crowds, they didn't touch the expo on marathon weekend. One difference was that this one was held at Coronado Springs (for the first time) instead of Wide World of Sports because of an event they had going on at WWOS.
Meghan, me, Tori, and Genna came ahead to the expo and met up with Caitlyn a little bit after we arrived. She had run the 15k and 5k at Gasparilla that morning, so she needed a bit of time to shower and make her way over later.
We picked up our bibs and were reminded of who we had noted as our favorite Disney princesses. When we signed up a month or two ago I didn't yet know that I was going to be Snow White for the race, so I put down Belle as my favorite. I guess I don't really have a favorite...I like them all!
Next up, we all wanted to look at the official merchandise, and we even had to wait in line to get into that area for 10-15 minutes! There was no shortage of lines this weekend at all. The merchandise was really cute, and I came away with the pink "I did it!" shirt and the mini Princess medal that goes on my runDisney vinylmation. 

Then we made our way through the food samples. My personal favorites were the new luna fiber bar and the Cabot cheeses. We got as many squares as we wanted, and I was in heaven. I love cheese, but I was also really hungry and would have been pleased with anything that was being offered at the time.
Before we knew it, Caitlyn had arrived and we snapped our first whole group picture of the weekend!
The next special touch that I really loved was that New Balance had setup a gif booth where you dressed up and danced around for fun for 15 seconds and it emailed a gif to you of all of your pictures. I loved the outcome! It was so cute. Here's a snapshot of our hat and sign choices!
After we had all sufficiently perused the booths, it was time to head out to lunch and then a meetup for the ZOOMA race series.
ZOOMA is a series of races for women that take place around the country. It's a new racing group started by two friends, and their races have really started to gain a following. I wanted to do the ZOOMA Florida at the Ritz Carlton, but it was the weekend after the Disney Marathon, and I didn't want to risk anything.

When we arrived, we liked what we saw! There was wine, water, swag, and friends all in one place! We enjoyed ourselves there quite a bit, chatted with some other attendees as well as Kat and Rachel, who were also running the half the following morning.
Rachel had done the 5k with her sister that morning, and I loved their medals and shirts. Though the medals are plastic and made of the flexible material, they're still fun. Maybe one day I'll throw one of those into the race weekend as a shakeout run or as a way to get Tim to join in on the RunDisney fun!
After a packed and fun afternoon, we headed back to our room, grabbed a bite at the cafeteria-style restaurant at our hotel, and got busy chit-chatting, giggling, finishing our costumes, and getting ready for a great morning to follow. I laid out all my swag for my customary photo, and in it you can see the dark purple official tshirt (which I of course love) and the pink "I did it!" shirt that I purchased at the expo.
Since Disney races that are in the morning start at 5:35 am, we couldn't make it too late of a night. We were able to balance it well between having a great time talking about silly girly things and important personal things and also getting in bed early enough to be able to enjoy the race, regardless of the early wakeup call. Being in close quarters with five women can be unimaginably tough I'm sure, but that was definitely not true of this group. I think the five of us worked so well together respecting each others' needs and timelines. We all agreed that we'll definitely have to make this a repeat experience! And we hadn't even done the fun part yet!

What's the best free swag that you have gotten from a race during packet pickup or instead of a medal?
Did you do the Princess Half? What did you think of the expo?