Monday, January 12, 2009

Goofy Challenge 2009: Completed!

I finished the Goofy Challenge! This is a half-marathon on Saturday, and a full marathon the next day. My plan was to run the first half of each race (using a 12-minute pace) and then slow to a walk (20-minute pace) for the second half, resulting in a perfect 16 minute pace (which just happens to be Disney’s pacing requirements, sustained over the race). You could, for instance, jog two minutes and then walk two minutes, and continue ad infinitum until you reached the finish line (the “Galloway method” does something similar, but with fewer “walk breaks.” I’ve actually jogged alongside Jeff Galloway at one of these Disney marathons once). Or you could jog the first half of the course and then walk the second half, content in the knowledge that you’ll get there on time.

My plan was to do the latter. It made things seem more manageable, somehow. A 13.1 mile course really meant only 6.5 miles of jogging needed. And, since there’s usually a bit of running at the end of the course (“finish strong!” goes the mantra), you could probably get away with jogging just the first six miles. That’s entirely within reach. I’ve done five mile runs on my treadmill before breakfast without feeling like it was anything unusual, so six miles was nothing. I was sure the half-marathon was within my grasp. On my treadmill, I run at 5 MPH, which is exactly a 12-minute pace. Do that for six miles, slow to a walk for six more miles, and I’m home free in time for the 3 hour, 30-minute cutoff. That was the theory.

In practice on that half marathon, I was surprised to see that I was able to run at my desired pace—12 minute miles—from mile marker to mile marker. The crowds and occasional slow-downs didn’t do much to impact my pace. In fact, I gained a steady 10 seconds on my twelve minute pace at each mile. I was able to hit the six mile mark pretty easily; more easily, in fact, that I had expected or even hoped for. I could have kept running at that pace until Mile 10, I reasoned, but wanted to back off and just walk. I had to conserve energy for the next day’s longer race, and of course I was very worried about injuries.

To be sure, you do pick up and trot every so often. The stretch between Splash Mountain backstage and the TTC goes past the Grand Floridian and Polynesian resorts, and this is usually a spot where the road funnels and lots of spectators gather. For some reason, this stretch annoys me. I like the spectators at the TTC and at Epcot Center Drive, but these guys at the resorts are just closer, more in your face, and somehow judgmental. It happens to me every year that someone will urge me on in a way that implies I’m not giving it my all at the moment (never mind the fact that I may have a race strategy which calls for restraint at the time).

I finished in a leisurely three hours (give or take a minute), which is exactly where I assumed I would be. Not in any danger of getting swept by the pacing requirements, and not exerting myself so as to tempt fate for the next day. I was sore in a few places (especially the outsides of my knees, and particularly when needing to lift my legs, such as when ascending staircases) that afternoon, but took it easy. I indulged in a salt bath (Epsom salt; don’t ask me, but somehow it’s supposed to soothe muscles) and ate voraciously.

On marathon day, I was less sore than I’d expected after the night’s sleep (a good sign), but I didn’t feel as energetic as I had the day before. That’s to be expected, I reasoned, and hoped that the light trotting of Mile 1 (when it’s very crowded on the road) would loosen me up. There were some 17,000 participants at the full marathon, and despite having two start lines and parallel courses for the first three miles, it was still crowded.

I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I made it past the merge and all the way to Mile 6 (the turning point to the Magic Kingdom) without any difficulty whatsoever. I was expecting knee problems most of all, or perhaps “Charley Horse” knotted muscles in my thighs like I’d seen at Mile 20 in the marathon one year without doing a half marathon the day before, but none of that materials. I felt pretty good, but was still girding myself. The plan, remember, was to jog 13.1 miles at my usual 12-minute pace, and then I could walk the rest. I was almost halfway there by Mile 6. I figured I could make it to Mile 10 without too much difficulty, and Mile 10 to 11 was inside the Magic Kingdom, so the spectators there would add extra incentive to just keep running. Mile 11 to 13 would be hard, but I had extra energy bars and gels with me in a runner’s pack just for those miles.

I fought an ongoing mental battle with myself until Mile 10, knowing that it was going to be hard, and I’ll be honest that it was. But having those energy bars helped, and long story short, I made it as planned to the halfway point, with my time almost to the second averaging 12-minute miles. To all intents and purposes, I had made it. I could walk now, and I would receive my Goofy medal.

In the middle of the race, of course, you worry about things. What if my walking pace was actually too slow? What I needed was a little insurance. So after a mere thirty seconds or so of walking, I started jogging again. It was a bit less rushed than before, but it was more than a trot. By Mile 14, I looked at the time and did some mental calisthenics to decide I had just “banked” six minutes from my presumed 20-minute pace.

Fully aware that I sounded like Forrest Gump even in my own head, I did a quick check of my body and muscles, decided everything felt good, and just kept going. I’d slow to a walk for 10 seconds at each water station, but otherwise, I was jogging. The pressure was off, since my pacing plan meant I could be walking instead if I so chose, and this made the experience more pleasurable and less like work. The miles, frankly, melted away. Before I knew it, we were at DAK. My plan by this point was to keep up the jogging until mile 18 and then really slow down. For some reason, I missed Mile 17’s marker and timeclock (or was it missing because the DAK walkways and backstage areas are tight?) so I didn’t get to check my progress until Mile 18. To my surprise, I was basically still keeping up with the jogging progress (though a touch slower than 12-minute miles). I had only two miles to go until Mile 20. Wouldn’t it be something if I could actually run 20 miles? I had never done that before, and just like that, a new quest was born in my head, right around Mile 18. I would make it to Mile 20, running all the way, and keep my pace. And so I did, crossing the Mile 20 marker at 4:13 (chip time), meaning I had run with a sustained average of 12.7-minutes per mile. Not quite a bucket-list moment, but close.

I walked, then, not willing to risk catastrophic injury that would force me to miss my medal. I admit that at some point in each mile, I did trot, especially if a downhill slope presented itself (you always want to make gravity work for you). As Mile 24 approached, I did quick calculations and realized I would be *this close* to a sub-six-hour marathon if I kept up my walking pace. I figured I might as well try to squeeze in yet one more quest into this day, and so I upped how often I was trotting in those last miles. I crossed the finish line at 6:02 race-time, which was 5:53 chip time for me. Another not-quite bucket list item, but satisfying nonetheless.

I failed in my attempt at the Goofy last year (read about it here: so I’ve tried to think about what’s different this time. One big change is that I never really stopped at the food stations before, and skipped at least half the water/Powerade stations. This time around, I ate everything I could, gobbled and drank every calorie held out to me, and I brought along my own food too. Plus, I had finally decided to wake up early enough to eat a real breakfast rather than just a power bar before the start line. I was calorie-ready!

I also used the biofreeze stuff at every other medical tent. This soothed muscles, relieved pain, relaxed cramps, and just enabled me to run. I have no idea why I ever failed to use this stuff before. Some misplaced macho reason, perhaps?

I used Tylenol to blunt pain before the full marathon, and popped it twice more during the race too. Again, not something I’d done before, but I can’t help thinking it made a difference.

I brought along PLENTY of warm clothing for the pre-race sit time. It was cold on Saturday morning in particular, but I was toasty in my sweat pants and winter jacket. These were old clothes, but extremely warm, and I think that helped my muscles be ready for the run. The Sunday was less cold, and I made do with brand-new $5 sweats from Target and a $3 pancho. Money well spent, IMHO.

I’ve been injured before—twice!—by twisting my ankle on the road edge at the start of the Disney marathons. It’s crowded out there. So I was extremely careful to not step in the wrong place this weekend, and didn’t have any injuries. I was more concerned about knee problems, which plagued me in past years. I have a bad tendon on the outside of my right ankle, the result of a massive sprain in 2002 while playing tennis. I swear, the purple sphere of swelling was somewhere between the size of a golfball and a tennis ball. As a result, that foot doesn’t tread right, and the tendons on my right knee overcompensate as a result, and they get tired and sore quickly. This is how I over-trained in Spring 2008, and why I don’t much train for marathons now. But due to Providence or some other force, my ankle-knee problem never arose this weekend.

There were the hip tendon pains, and later shin splints, but I kept going. I was in THE ZONE, as athletes call it. Pain is minimized and eventually forgotten. Perhaps it was the music distracting me away, or perhaps I did my own version of self-hypnosis (there’s a trend out there now called ChiRunning, which is a mixture of Tai Chi and jogging, to spiritualize the physicality of the activity).

I’d even remembered to apply Vaseline to all the sensitive areas, save one that was irritated the afternoon following the half-marathon, but better by the next morning.

In short, all the tricks learned by running previous marathons came to bear here, and I don’t think I would have made it had I leapt into the Goofy Challenge as my first real run.

I sit here now, tired but happy, sore but contented, not even sure it’s really true. I don’t think I’ll run the Goofy again. Once was enough, thank you, and I’m just really glad to get this done before I hit 40 years old, since it would probably be harder each year I waited.

Now about that bucket list…