I’ve done it once, I’ve done it twice, and now I can say I’ve done it three times. I am officially a 3 time finisher of the unofficial Dopey Challenge which pairs up the official Goofy Race and a Half Challenge (half marathon on Saturday and full marathon on Sunday) with the Friday 5k Fun Run at Walt Disney World. That’s a total of 42.4 miles in about 56 hours.
This year’s challenge wasn’t my best (my marathon PR is still my first Goofy in 2010 despite the frigid conditions), but it definitely could have been worse. Although I had no intention of pushing hard on Friday or Saturday so that I could make it thru Sunday’s 26.2 miles, I did have some times in my head that I wanted to beat.
I was shooting for a sub-50 minute 5k. I know that doesn’t sound too difficult, but that’s just over a 16 minute mile and the pace that I’d been struggling to maintain lately. I was very pleased with myself that I made it…with just a hair less than 5 seconds to spare. What was even better about the 5k was that my Mom was volunteering at the finish line, passing out the finisher medallions, so not only had I made the time I was shooting for, my biggest cheerleader handed me my medallion!
For the half marathon, I was shooting for 3:30 – again, that would put me at about a 16 min/mile and was the official cutoff for the race. Well, actually 3:30 from the time the last person crosses the starting line is the official cutoff and since I estimated that I was approximately 8 minutes ahead of the last person to cross, I knew I had some wiggle room. However, I really wanted to break the 3:30 barrier. Although I used to be able to be sub-3:30 routinely, that time has eluded me for months.
Race morning came and the weather was perfect. Not too cold (at least for a Michigander) and not too hot. Highs for the day were predicted to be warm (high 70’s), but since the race starts at 5:30 and it was “just” a half, we’d all be done before the temps were too bad. The race started out ok. I was planning on running the first 2 minutes and then do a 1:9 interval (run a minute, walk 9 minutes) plus run whenever it felt good to run. I love running hills, intersections, and thru the parks, so I knew my 1:9 rhythm wouldn’t stick, but at least it would force me to run during spots that I generally wouldn’t.
Things were going great until Mile 2 – way too early for things to go wrong! My right leg cramped up. I won’t go into the specifics, but it started at the top of my calf and wrapped along the side of my leg to my ankle….just like it did for the Lansing Capital City half in September (you can see that blog post for the agony of that race and details of the cramping issue). I hadn’t had a cramping problem since Lansing, so I wrote it off as a one time anomaly and forgot about it….until the morning of the WDW half marathon when it resurrected itself. In Lansing, the cramping went on for about 4 miles and the last thing I needed for this race was the cramping to last that long because I had slowed down to a 17-18 min/mile pace and I knew the sweepers would not be lenient. Fortunately, by the time I hit the 2nd mile marker, the cramping was almost completely gone (Thank God!) and I was able to resume a better pace.
My absolute favorite and absolute least favorite part of any half or full marathon course at WDW (except for Wine & Dine) is outside of the Contemporary hotel. Anyone that has done a race at Disney that’s gone by the Contemporary already knows exactly why it’s my least favorite….that @#$! Inverted hill!....and if you haven’t done a race that passes the Contemporary, the next time you take a shuttle bus to the Magic Kingdom, pay particular attention as you approach the park. In my opinion, that hill rivals the dreaded Bradley hills in the Crim 10 miler.
What may not be so obvious is why that’s also my favorite part of any course that includes it. There are a couple reasons: #1: I know that when it’s over, the worst part of the course is over. Yes, there are some dull spots leaving Magic Kingdom, but those are more of a mental challenge and usually by that point in a race, I’ve found someone to talk to so that it goes by faster. That brings me to reason #2: frequently it’s just before this hill that I find a person to talk to and keep pace with for the most of the rest of the race. If not someone to keep pace with, I find a bunch of rookies that I can obnoxiously encourage thru the hill with the promise that that’s the worst of it. The first year I did Goofy, I met a TNT woman during the full from Michigan who actually knew my cousin Chrissy who used to work from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The second year, during one of the races, I met a struggling asthmatic woman who played leap frog with me for the next few miles as we encourage each other. This year, during the half, as the course narrowed on the approach to the Contemporary, I did my typical obnoxious shout (to no one in particular) of “The worst of the course is just ahead of us, but don’t worry. As soon as you get thru this down and up, the worse will be over!” This time, Cindy, a second time half marathoner, first time WDW participant from Texas responded to my shout and we started chatting for the next several miles of the course. Turns out she was from the Dallas area – the same area where I had participated in the New Years Double the week before. Not only was she from the area, but her daughter, Cassie, had participated and helped work packet pick-up of the New Years Double races….and was doing her first ever marathon the next day. Cindy was eager for me to meet Cassie so that we could possibly keep pace with each other during the full like Cindy and I were doing during the half.
Cindy and I also started chatting for several miles with a lady from marathon (who’s name I never got) who was also doing Goofy. She was on a mission because she’d been swept in the marathon the year previous. Cindy was on a mission to PR and I was on a mission to break 3:30, so we continued to encourage each other until about Mile 9. At that point, Cindy peeled off to get some Tylenol from the med station. A little later, I slowed up and the lady from Maryland continued on. We didn’t finish together, but the 3 of us got each other thru the dull part of the course which was a huge help.
This year, they had DJs at the big turn before you cross the last overpass to get into EPCOT. They were letting the runners yell out their hometowns into the microphone as they passed. As we approached, it really made me chuckle because hearing all the cities and states announced, reminded me of the beginning of a Miss America pageant when the contestants quickly introduce themselves and it typical obnoxious form, I announced that to those around me my observation. Without missing a beat, a girl right in front of me glanced back and said “…and all I want is world peace.” Everyone around laughed which helped to ease the struggling for a split second. Despite how silly the cities and states sounded to me, I proudly announced “Kalamazoo” into the microphone as I passed as well.
As we exited EPCOT for the final quarter mile or so of the race, my all time favorite cheer section of any WDW race was right there waiting for us…the gospel choir and as I always do, I clapped as I ran past them, yelling “I’ve been looking forward to you guys for 13 miles!” After the choir, it’s nothing but pure adrenaline for the last stretch. I didn’t make my goal, I finished with a 3:32, but it was a great race. Even though I didn’t make my time, it was one of the better times I’d had recently and drastically better than I had done in either of my halfs the weekend before. Although I wasn’t convinced I’d finish the full the next day, finishing that close to the cutoff gave me a boost of confidence that I could finish do it.
I met up with Mom at the Finish Line, got my food, water, etc. and then we headed towards the bus. I was telling Mom about Cindy and her daughter doing the full the next day when I looked up and said “…and there she is!” Cindy had finished a couple minutes behind me, so she missed her PR, but the important thing is that we both finished. We were so happy that we gave each other a big hug and then she introduced me to Cassie and we made plans for meeting up the next morning in the corrals.
For the full marathon, I was shooting for 7:00. I knew it was going to be a struggle, but that was my goal. Again, just like the half, 7:00 is equivalent to a 16 min/mile pace. In order to attain that, I was basically going to have to PR since my current PR was 6:59:15. After the cramping issue the day before, I was a little more nervous, but since it happened in Lansing and not again until WDW, I was hoping that I would luck out and skip it for the full.
The morning was similar to the day before and the weather was the same. The only difference was, with the longer race, I knew the end was going to be hot. Like always, I planted myself at the gate to the corrals and as soon as they opened the gate, I headed to my corral to get to the front. Cassie found me there shortly after I got there. I warned her that I was going to be slow and that I had the cramping issue the day before. I told her that since it was her first marathon, the most important thing was that she finished, so if I was slowing her down, she shouldn’t feel bad about going on ahead. She didn’t seem worried about me being slow and assured me that she’d get me thru the first 20 if I’d get her thru the last 6.2.
The race started out great, but unfortunately, luck was not on my side. The cramping came back right around the same spot as it had the day before. Even though we had a relatively good time on Mile 1, we slowed way down on Mile 2 because of it. I told Cassie to go on ahead of me, but she reminded me that she was going to get me thru the first 20 and I’d get her thru the last 6.2. Fortunately, the cramping was short lived, like the day before, so we were able to speed up again for the next miles.
We ran into a TNT coach around Mile 6. He looked at Cassie and me and then, looking at me, he said “You’re doing great and you’re almost half way, but your friend there still has a while before she can say she’s almost halfway.” I was a bit confused by the comment and took a few seconds before it clicked. Cassie and I had different bibs – hers for the marathon and mine for the Goofy Challenge and the coach saw that. I was almost at half of the total 39.3 for the Goofy while Cassie was still only about a quarter of the way to the halfway point of the marathon. As soon as I realized that I was nearly halfway, was just the mental boost I needed.
Even with the motivation boost, the bicycle folks who shut down each mile marker for the sweepers were within sight early on in the race. At Mile 8, they warned us that we were 7 minutes ahead of the sweepers. I assured Cassie that if we could keep a 16 min pace, but if she needed to go ahead, she shouldn’t worry about me. Again she reminded me that she’d get me thru the first 20 and I’d get her thru the last 6.2, but agreed that we’d evaluate how we were doing at the halfway point and she’d decide then if she wanted to go ahead.
Previously, when we were running thru EPCOT at the beginning of the race, Cassie and I also joked that we should hide out in the bathrooms for a few hours and rejoin the race as the leaders ran back thru EPCOT for the finish. Even though we were never serious, it passed the time and distracted us from any pain as we plotted how we’d explain why we were missing some of our mat times. The discussion resurrected itself as we got closer to Magic Kingdom, around Mile 9 and we could see the runners that were already exiting Magic Kingdom. We joked around with the people around us that we should just skip over the median and save ourselves some miles. That brought up discussion of Rosie Perez for a while. Several of the people around us were doing the Goofy, so I shared the motivation I had received a few miles earlier from the TNT coach about being over halfway done and the others had the same reaction that I did – it was a real motivation boost.
It was also about that time that we based 3 or 4 highway patrol on their motorcycles that were monitoring the course. One of the runners shouted over to them “$20 for a ride to the finish!” Another runner yelled “I’ll give you $40!” Seeing that a bidding war was starting, a third runner contributed with “I’ll show you a boob!” You never know what you’ll hear on a race course. (btw-the patrolmen, didn’t bite on any of the offers)
The last mile marker that you pass before entering the Magic Kingdom is Mile 10. It was right before that point that the cramping came back. Ugh! I’ve never had it happen twice in the same race, why did it have to start now? As I passed the mile marker, my phone rang and I was able to answer it easily. It was Mom who was volunteering in EPCOT. She was calling to let me know that she was cheering runners on in Japan. I told her I was at Mile 10, estimated when I’d be in EPCOT, and told her things were going good except for the cramp. Dang it! I shouldn’t have told her that, now she’s going to worry about me (fortunately, he knew that I wouldn’t push things too far, so she wasn’t as worried about the cramp as I was afraid she would be).
The weirdest thing in the race happened just after the 10 Mile Marker. I’ve done enough races thru Magic Kingdom that I could go probably get into the park, run Main Street, and turn into Tomorrowland with my eyes closed. It’s another one of my favorite parts of the race. I always make sure that I run Main Street, slapping the hands of as many spectators as possible. It’s a part of the course that I know will pump me up, even if I’m struggling. Unfortunately, as we came into the backlot and thru the tunnel, instead of making the familiar left hand turn that brings us into the park, they directed us straight. At first I thought that I was remembering the course wrong, but when we arrived in Tomorrowland, I realized that we had missed Main Street. Not only had they diverted us, but no one was aware what was going on. Volunteers looked at us with questioning looks and I heard one say “Where are they coming from?” It was at that point that I realized that the detour had just started and there were still runners coming in off of Main Street as well as those of us that were sent around it. I was upset we missed Main Street, but I was more upset for Cassie because everyone should be able to run it. She asked me why I thought it happened and the only thing I could think of was that maybe a runner had gone down or something else had happened that made them want to clear the area. We were still well ahead of the sweepers and I have been slow in many a Disney race and had never seen this happen. As we were still trying to figure out what happen, I heard someone talking to me. It was the woman from Maryland from the day before. We chatted back and forth and she told us that she had just come in off of Main Street and there was no runner down or anything else to prevent the rest of us from running it. We found out later that (Cassie’s mom, Cindy asked a cast member) that they wanted to open the park to the public and wanted to clear off Main Street so that the public wasn’t confused by what was going on. Seems weird to me since there was only a few minutes worth of people left to run and there were already spectators in the park. My estimate is that the detour cut about a quarter of a mile of my course. I guess it just gives me motivation to make sure I’m faster next time.
The rest of the course went by with relatively few incidents. Cassie finally started going ahead around the halfway point and I’m glad she did. I feel bad for holding her back, even though she continues to tell me that making her go slow early is what helped her finish the entire race. I saw her again during the out and back portion around Mile 22. She was probably about a half mile ahead of me at that point and must have continued to gain because she finished about a half hour ahead of me.
With each mile marker, the bicycle people were announcing shorter and shorter times that we were ahead of the sweepers. At Mile 22, I was only 30 seconds ahead of them. Mile 22 has special meaning for me because the year before, that mile marker gave me a new nickname “Bad Information Janice”. The year before, I saw someone struggling around Mile 20 and her friend was zig zagging back and forth as she was trying to encourage her. I didn’t know their names until months later, but they’re now my friends Jennifer and Elizabeth. As a way to further encourage Jennifer, I assured them that if they could get to Mile 22, the last mile marker before Hollywood Studios, they couldn’t be picked up. From that point on, that’s what they focused on. Once they got into Hollywood Studios, Elizabeth took breaks to get pictures with characters and Jennifer slowed down her pace. They had been told by me that they were safe. Unfortunately, I was wrong. As each of them exited Hollywood Studios, they saw the sweeper busses sitting in the parking lot waiting to pick people up. Fortunately, they had not lost enough time to be in danger of being picked up, but from that point on, they remembered me as the person who gave them the bad information and many months later when we ran into each other again and learned each others’ names, the nickname “Bad Information Janice” was born.
I went off on the above tangent for a reason. As we passed Mile 22 this year, the TNT coaches announced to us that we were all safe. I ran up to one and questioned her about it and told her how that’s what I thought last year, but that there were sweeper busses waiting in the parking lot of Hollywood Studios as you exited and before you hit the sidewalk leading to the Boardwalk. She assured me that the TNT coaches get a list of the hard pick ups and that Mile 22 was the last one, but she sent another TNT coach up to the bicycle people to find out for sure. The report that came back was a cryptic answer of “you must keep pace”. No affirmation or denial of the existence of busses in the parking lot, but the TNT coaches assured us that the sweepers would not pick up anyone that was in front of the coaches. So, we plugged along.
Hollywood Studios was the last time that I ran into the lady from Maryland before she pulled ahead of me. I was excited for her that she was finally able to complete the Goofy – I was especially excited for her because she told me that when they picked her up the previous year, they gave her a marathon medal on the bus even though she didn’t finish. As she exited the bus, she found the first garbage can she could find and threw it out because she didn’t earn it. The fact she did that made me respect her and made it even greater that she was finally able to earn that bling at the finish line!
As we exited Hollywood Studios, I saw the busses in the parking lot, but I’m still not sure if they were truly sweepers or if they were there to pick up people that just give up. All I knew was they weren’t picking me up and in about a minute when I hit that sidewalk along the river, I was safe! Even though I was tired and the heat of the day was really beginning to take its toll on me, I shouted my typical obnoxious “All right guys – see that sidewalk? As soon as we’re there, they can’t get us! We’ve got this one! Let’s do it!” A woman quickly responded “Did you do the Wine & Dine race?” When I told her that I did, she laughed and said “I remember you! You said the same thing then and you’re what got me thru the end of that race!” Her friend chimed in, saying “She told me about you – we’ve been waiting for this spot!” Despite the fact that I am proudly obnoxious on these courses with my encouragement, I was embarrassed that I’ve got some notoriety – I prefer my anonymity, but if my obnoxious cheering actually did give someone that last push to finish, I guess I’ll take the notoriety.
It was on the sidewalk along the river that the balloon people (the last people before the sweepers start sweeping) passed me, but I didn’t care. I was safe and despite the fact that a few miles earlier I actually thought I might be able to pull a PR out with a little pushing, I started to slow down. At Mile 24, the bicycle people announced that I was 30 seconds behind the balloon people. Who cares? You can’t touch me anymore ran thru my mind.
Soon I had reached the Boardwalk and tried to run as much as I could, but I was hot and my feet were killing me. I ran the bridge in Boardwalk and the hill in EPCOT’s France, but not with the gusto that I should have. As I passed Mile 25, the bicycle people were waiting there and my thought “Really? What’s the point?” As I got within earshot of them, I was surprised. Instead of hearing numbers, they were shouting encouragement. “Come on! You look great! Just a mile to go! You’ve got this!” As I got closer to them, I shouted back “You mean you’re not going to shout out numbers at me anymore?” The one laughed and just responded with “You’ve got this – you’re doing great! One more mile!”
I had two more important “landmarks” before the finish line. The first came in Japan. My eyes were peeled and there she was…my Mom. In my best imitation of my Dad’s typical calling of my Mom’s name I shouted “Gerrrr!” She looked up and came running and gave me a hug. I apologized for the fact that I was soaked (both from sweat and dumping water over my head at the last several water stops), told her that I’d see her back at the hotel, and continued on my way.
As we approached our exit to the backlot and then parking lot, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and it was a South African guy that had been keeping pace with me for the last few miles. “We’ve got this!” he said. “Yes we do!” I responded and I started to run. I thought that he was going to run with me, but that was the last time I saw him. Funny how you get the boosts of motivation on a race course exactly when you need them. As I ran, I could hear a ton of cheering behind me. I wasn’t sure what people were cheering for, but in my head, I tried to tell myself it was my own personal cheer section.
The second “landmark” came in the exact same spot it was the day before, but it was a different gospel choir this time. As I passed them, I again clapped and shouted “I’ve been looking forward to you guys for 26 miles!” and then took off toward the 26 Mile Marker. As I exited the backlot and saw the die hard spectators that had waited around for us slow pokes, I again heard a huge rise in the cheering, again not sure why, but it pushed me across the finish line – especially since I knew Mom wasn’t there to cheer me on.
As I finished, I turned to hopefully see my South African friend, but he was nowhere to be found. Instead, there were at least 30 TNT coaches coming in behind – I then realized they were the cause of the cheering. I stuck around for a few minutes, hoping I’d see the South African behind them, but I didn’t and I was in desperate need to sit down somewhere, so I gave up waiting and headed toward the food and the busses (I did check the results and found him there, so I know that he did finish, I’m just sorry I didn’t congratulate him and thank him for that last push of encouragement he gave me).
The first year I did Goofy, I was over 3:30 on the half, but under 7:00 on the full. The second year, I was under 3:30 on the half, but over 7:00 on the full. My goal was to be under the time for both this year and if I did that, I was going to contemplate retiring from Goofy, however I was over on both races this year, so that only means one thing….I’m definitely in it for Goofy 2013. If I make my goal in 2013, I may retire, but it’s so much fun to do that I don’t know if I’ll be able to pull myself away from it.
RACE RATING - WDW Marathon Weekend (Walt Disney World)
Course: 7 – relatively flat with some big hills/overpasses and some minor inclines in the parks (especially Animal Kingdom), a bit dull at times when in between the parks, but great course entertainment. The marathon course is one of the best I’ve done because of the fact that the second half is better than the first half – in many marathons, the second half gets neglected because if there is an associated half marathon, the first half gets most of the entertainment and scenery. Not the case with WDW.
Bling: 10 – special 15th anniversary Donald medal for the half, Mickey medal for the full, and Goofy for the combo
Race Organizers: 9 – Disney’s got it pretty much down to a science, but the fact that they are giving medals out to people they sweep is annoying.
Recommendation: For people who like a challenge, it’s a must do.