I just got back from Orlando where I ran the Dopey Challenge last weekend. Before I went, I spent a lot of time researching questions I had and decided that once I got back, I would write a blog post so that future runners would have an easier time than I did.
1. Sleep becomes a luxury.
I’ve done runDisney races before, and knew the 3 AM wakeup calls are rough—but when you’re doing Dopey, you get so nervous about getting up on time, whether or not you can do it, and fighting sensory overload from the parks that it’s hard to get the sleep you’re used to having at home. Plus, if you’re not on Eastern Time, you’ve got to adjust to a time change on top of all of that.
If you’re coming from the West Coast, come early. We did a stint in Virginia before heading to Orlando, and not only did it ensure that I had warm clothes with me (see #5), but it also allowed me to be adjusted to an East Coast bedtime before Dopey started. For during the challenge, plan on naps—and prioritize them over meals and time in the parks.
2. Train for the miles you put on your feet in the parks, too.
This was almost my downfall. I was trained for the races (for the first time!) but neglected to plan for the effect that going to theme parks every day would have on my legs. The first day, I didn’t wear my orthotics, and even after fixing that problem, I could feel the tightness in my calves from standing in lines. From Wednesday to Saturday, I had over 50 miles on my legs—before toeing the start line of the marathon. By mile 20 of the full, my legs were toast, and I developed shin splints for the first time in my life.
Walk for at least three miles after each run during your Dopey simulation. It will help your body be ready for the extra stress. It’s also not the worst idea to walk two miles before any of your Dopey simulation runs—on half and full marathon days, I had 5000 steps before I even got to my corral.
3. Disney quick service food can, and will probably, make you sick.
Runners typically eat a pretty clean diet with little processed food—I eat a pretty salad-based diet, myself. However, Disney makes it hard to eat like that while on property, and you may struggle to get the nutrition you need while you’re there. I was so sick by the end of the day Friday that we took a Lyft to the outlets so that we could find food that I could keep in my body. Believe it or not, McDonald’s set better in my stomach than Disney quick service food.
If you’re going to eat on property, stick to traditional restaurants and avoid quick service like the plague. If you have to do quick service, stick to things that would have the minimal amount of preservatives. (Think simple sandwiches, pizza, and vegetarian items.) If that’s not palatable, there are several Panera locations close to Disney property.
4. Bring running clothes for all weather.
Every year that there’s been a Dopey Challenge, there’s been at least one day that’s been cold or rainy. In this year’s case, expo day was raining/sleeting and Thursday and Friday below freezing. When planning your costumes and packing, make sure you have options for if the temperature drops. Otherwise, you’ll be joining the horde shopping at Wal-Mart or the outlets in search of warm layers.
5. You can be swept until you’re on the Boardwalk.
If you’ve runDisney before, you know about the balloon ladies. If not, the balloon ladies are super nice volunteers who help keep the official 16 minute/mile pace for Disney. They start at the very back of the last corral, and you just need to stay ahead of them to be allowed to finish. Disney can pull you off the course at any point if you are behind pace or are struggling, but most runners consider the last major sweep to be when you’re “safe.” For the WDW Marathon, that point is when you cross onto the Boardwalk in front of the Swan and Dolphin. Some people in my training groups got swept at mile 24—so make sure you’re training with keeping pace in mind.
6. Have a spectator.
This was my first race with a true spectator. My husband met me along the course three times before the finish to take my non-throwaway layers, to give me something to look forward to during the run, and to cheer me on. Outside of marathon day, he was instrumental in curbing some bad panic attacks, keeping me positive, and most importantly, guiding my 3 AM stretch sessions every morning. If you’re doing Dopey—or even just the Marathon—for the first time, I can’t begin to express to you how important it is that you bring a spectator with you.
7. Race retreat is totally worth it.
On the morning of the half marathon, I was questioning if it was worth it—I was able to get into the expo early, but by no means was that worth the extra money I paid. Being able to sit on a chair, have my shin splints iced, and enjoy some chocolate milk in air conditioning after the full marathon was totally worth it. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I got a private pep talk from Doctor Strange before the Marathon either. If I were to do all of this again (which I probably won’t!), I would only buy race retreat for the full marathon.
8. Don’t over plan.
I had grand dreams of character breakfasts and adventures around the parks that were traded in for extra naps and the shows like Country Bears Jamboree by Thursday afternoon. Each time you cancel a sit-down restaurant reservation, you get charged $10/person, so overplanning comes with a price tag. We were lucky and had a cast member waive one of our feeds when I got sick, but we still had to pay for our Tusker House cancellation on the morning of the 10K. And it doesn’t just include breakfasts—we canceled two of our four dinner reservations in favor of going to bed earlier and eating offsite.
As soon as I heard about the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon a few years ago, I new I wanted to run it, so I put it on my running bucket list.
By a stroke of luck, I was at my computer AND had funds available to register for Napa to Sonoma when registration launched on December 1 last year. (December 1 also happens to be Hunter's birthday, and let me tell you... he was NOT excited about being told he was running a 5K as a birthday present.)
When I broke my ankle, I pushed hard through recovery to make sure I'd be back in good form for this race: I had already missed 3 races because of the stress fracture, and I wasn't about to lose this one, too. Every Pilates worked out I grimaced through and irritatingly scaled CrossFit workout from April through early June was done with one goal in mind: regaining my running fitness quickly and finishing Napa to Sonoma in good form, time be damned.
I ended up finishing with a decent time: 3:07, which I'm pretty proud of, all things considered. I finished pretty happy with minimal soreness and received tastings of cold rosé and white wine for my efforts.
Read on for the good, the bad and the ugly from the race.
With the record highs, I had to rethink my costume strategy. Since this was my first half marathon since the ankle injury, I wasn't about to wear boring clothes. Luckily, I have a Silhouette, Target had an extremely lightweight tank top and my friend Stephanie has been telling me to make a shirt with Tyrion's quote from Game of Thrones for months.
All-in-all, I think this getup was one of my favorite looks for a non-full body costume. A man came up to me before the race and told me it was his favorite shirt at the race, and for other Game of Thrones fans, it was a hit. (Plus, I can wear it to CrossFit and trivia back-to-back on Wednesday nights.)
I have two major complaints about how this race was managed. One is the bad, and one is the ugly.
The bad is that everyone had to be bused to the starting line, but they weren't running enough buses so the race started 10 minutes late. Since it was already nearing 70 degrees at the start, that 10 minutes was a difference between finishing in 86 degree temps and 84 degrees. It may not seem a lot, but after 13 shadeless miles, it was awful. My last three miles went from 13:30/mile to 15+/mile. It was hot and awful.
The shadelessness of the course was only exacerbated by the fact that the roads were in bad shape. You had to navigate around potholes the size of Delaware, try to take advantage of the shade you had, avoid getting hit by cars who ignored the road closed signs, and run towards the nice Sonoma residents with hoses. It was like half marathon dodgeball. (If you are thinking about this race don't try for a PR. If it happens, good, but the course isn't as flat as Destination Races advertises and the hoard doesn't thin out for four miles or so.)
Additionally, you had to straight up salmon through everyone already at the start line to get to the port-a-potties because the bus dropped you downhill from everything. It wasn't a big deal, but I really had to pee, and walking through ~2K people to get to the bathroom wasn't an experience I particularly enjoyed. At least it was a really pretty upstream walk to the bathroom.
It ended up being a good thing I threw all expectations other than finishing out--race morning ended up being close to a record high for Napa, and not one, but two water stops ran out of water during the race. Yes, you read that correctly: there was no available water for runners in the middle of the pack and back for 6 miles. Luckily, I always carry a small water bottle in my Sparkle Skirt pocket, but I noticed many of my fellow runners without water. I told some other runners that if there wasn't water at mile 8, I was calling 911--we had already been passed by 3 ambulances and I found it unacceptable that Destination Races hadn't prepared for enough water with the heat.
Luckily, that wasn't necessary, but I feel really strongly about sharing this with anyone considering doing a Destination Races event in the future: absolutely carry your own water to get you between stops, just in case.
Was I happy I did it? Yes.
Would I do it again? No.
Was the wine good at least? Meh. Paso Robles is closer and cheaper.
On the plus side, I got this sweet picture for $15.
I got to see Mama Lyn today! If you are a Disney runner and don't know Lyn, the world's most wonderful human being and proxy mama, you are missing out. I first met Lyn in the front of our corral at the Inaugural Dumbo when I had mono and didn't know it. All I knew was that I was scared I wouldn't finish and Lyn told me and another runner to find her at the front of the corral and she would drag us across the finish line if necessary. (True story: Lyn did once carry someone across the finish line at a Disney race). Dopey will be the 6th race weekend I've toed the start line with Lyn and I am so lucky to live in the same area of California as her.
I am beyond grateful that she let me know that the Goldens in the Park event was happening in SLO this morning. I'm not sure who was more happy this morning: me for getting to see Lyn for the first time in a year and a half (!!!) or Hunter for getting "adopted" by Aspen for a good fifteen minutes.
Since my last day of physical therapy is tomorrow, so I've been ramping up workouts this week, which has left me super sore. So far, I've done two CrossFit WODs, two 2-mile runs, a spin class, a yoga/Pilates class and have personal training tomorrow. Suffice to say, I'm tired.
Today, I went to a session on delegation away from work, and when I got back, the shuttle van that takes employees between the office and our offsite lot was on break. Luckily, I had a pair of running shoes in the trunk of my car and was able to change out of my heels and walk back to the office to get some extra steps--and help my sore legs loosen up.
After work, hubs and I went for a two mile run on the bike path near our apartment, my fourth run after getting the clearance from the physical therapist two weeks ago. I definitely can see and feel a difference in the way I run. One of my coworkers joked that I'm a rare physical therapy success story... I guess if you follow the therapists advice to the letter and work on flexibility in the mean time, you get better. Shocking.