Disney Marathon 2014

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So I did the unthinkable, I ran another marathon after running one 2 months prior. And I’m glad I did. But this wasn’t any ordinary street race, it was 26.2 miles throughout Disney World. Just take a look at the course route. But one doesn’t simply travel to Orlando to just run a marathon. You have to plan a vacation around the race. I suppose it was wise to run the marathon on the last day of the trip since Disney World requires 5K-10K of walking per day; something not so easy after running a marathon.

From the Polar Vortex to 70F Degree Disney World 

The extreme cold cancelled our flight from NY to Orlando (never happened to me before) and I somehow managed to find a late flight. Marathon weekend is one of the best times to go to Disney World since there are fewer crowds. With 20,000 marathon runners around who tend to wear some previous race shirt, we all recognized who the awesome ones were.

Disney World is made up of 4 main parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Since the Magic Kingdom is mostly for the kids and Hollywood Studios is the smaller of the 4, we decided to just do both parks on Day 1. Even as an adult, you can still appreciate the Magic Kingdom with all its Disney character parades and shows. I recommend the Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor, a 10 minute comedy show that is never the same since it has real comics who interact with the audience. And as for thrill rides (nothing like 6 Flags), I recommend Big Thunder and Space Mountain, although it’s too dark in Space Mountain to see anything. Overall, if you are freaked out by animatronics, just avoid most of Magic Kingdom.

As for Hollywood Studios, I recommend the Tower of Terror, the Aerosmith coaster, and my new favorite, Toy Story Midway Mania which was like a big video game shooter. The Toy Story ride may have been the most demanded ride overall (in all 4 parks) based on the 40 minute wait times at 9AM and 90+ minute wait times throughout the day. Not even a “Fast Pass” could help you for this one. And of course, you have to watch the Fantasmic show at night.

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Day 2 was dedicated to the Animal Kingdom. Its one big zoo and perhaps the only place that I know of where you can go on an African Safari without having to travel to Africa. And finally, tigers and gorillas that aren’t sleeping. I would recommend doing most of the things in this park; however, you can possibly bypass Dinoland. I personally enjoyed Rafiki’s Planet Watch and the Expedition Everest coaster. Yak and Yeti is a great place to eat.

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Day 3 and 4 was left for Epcot and for any extras. Epcot is unique as it is the place that has the good restaurants, the World showcase (13 replicas of countries), plenty of attractions, and of course the big Epcot ball. What a great place for a finish line. I recommend the entire World showcase, the Soarin ride, Test Track, the classic Spaceship Earth (had an upgrade), China acrobat show, the coral reef restaurant, the 9PM Illumination show, and “sit-down” restaurants in any of the 13 countries. If you can, hunt down Mickey and friends for some rare shots. We were lucky to find a whole bunch surrounded by parents/kids and trapped in a small area. With all of the pasta spots booked for the pre-marathon, I dined Japanese hibachi style, 4 cups of rice please!

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Marathon day was approaching and I had to wake up at 3:30AM but was trapped somewhere in Germany at 9PM while the clouds dumped oceans of rain. With less than 5 hours of sleep that night and a slight cold, I equipped myself with my running armor (race bib, sun cap) and weapons (sneakers, phone, garmin, spi-belt, ipod, 4 GU gels, salt) for the journey to the start line in the dark.

Marathon Day

So much distance between the bus drop-off and the actual start line, like a 5K. After passing security (they check pouches and belts now, wow), and walking with the herd of runners for 30 minutes or so, we arrived at the start line where Mickey himself was launching 1000 runner waves every minute with fireworks, pretty cool. It feels like the moment when you rise on a roller coaster right before the first big drop. After 4 waves leave, my wave is next, BOOM, it’s run time!

The first hour was in the dark with hardly anyone around to cheer. It was a few miles until we reached a very lit up Magic Kingdom. But throughout the dark roads, we encountered Disney characters which had 1 minute or so waiting lines for photo ops. I decided to not care about my finish time and get in on these photos for fun. Somehow, I still managed to PR by 7 minutes even with all the photo stops throughout the race. Running through the Magic Kingdom at 6:30AM without any crowds was quite awesome.

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The second hour started off with the Speedway Race Track, a mile circumference, and you could truly see the snake of thousands of runners. The sun then began to rise and that 80F degree heat started rolling in. I played it safe by drinking 2 cups of water at each water station during the entire race. I think there was a long stretch of road that went on for 2-3 miles without water stations or people in general, ugh. Anyway, we finally entered the Animal Kingdom. I started to feel some fatigue but hey it’s the halfway point.

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The third hour was just tough. It took place out in the open roads and the ESPN zone. Maybe it was the heat, but at around mile 17, my legs were feeling it and my neck was sore too. I may have crossed the fun-torture line. I started doing my 30 second walk break routine every half mile. Water stations became the oasis in the desert. But unlike the NYC marathon, I had no doubts about finishing this race. This one thought was all I needed.

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The fourth hour was painful, but a bit more hopeful. I still had the strength to smile for cameras, lol. Every muscle in my body was sore by this point. At mile 22, the biggest hill of the race approached. I decided to take a 2 minute walk stroll and give my wife a call for encouragement. Ok Jon, time to finish this. Hollywood Studios is coming up. Wow, people now started to come into the parks. But they had limited access since we runners hogged up the main lanes. The crowds finally started to look like the NYC marathon crowds for once.

The final 2 miles went in slow motion. I was counting seconds, footsteps, anything that could help me calculate how long until the finish. But once I entered Epcot and ran through the World showcase, it all didn’t matter. People were everywhere and cheering for us like we were all superstars. The Epcot ball never looked so epic. No pain, no worries, no walk breaks, just one thought… “I’m about to finish the Disney Marathon”! Words can’t express the joy of crossing that finish line and knowing that you can finally stop running.

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My final time was 4:27:29 and I was satisfied with that. I was 3726/19198, within the top 20%. I’m pretty sure it was because thousands of runners were doing the Goofy or Dopey challenge which required that they run a Half marathon on the previous day. Crazy! The final day was spent at Downtown Disney for some good food (Fulton’s Crab House and Raglan Road) and celebration with all the runners rocking their medals.

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So many marathons to run, which one next?

Life after the marathon

Happy 2014! It’s been 2 months since my last post; 2 months since I crossed the NYC marathon finish line and became a marathoner. I’ll never be able to run it for the first time again. The feeling of doing it for the first time is behind me and that newbie thrill is gone. Does this mean that I’m done running? Not at all. Dr Seuss said it best – “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”.

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I may have completed a marathon but I didn’t conquer it nor was I pleased with my performance. I intend to have a rematch with the NYC marathon in 2014. Also, the training never stopped; the Disney World marathon is on for next week! The numerous winter storms didn’t make it easy to train outside during these last 2 months, especially for the 20 milers. The Disney World marathon is pancake flat so I would at least expect to perform a little better than in NYC with its bridges and such. Although it’s an easier course, a marathon is a marathon and the final 6 miles is no joke. After the NYC marathon, I learned a few things and decided to switch up my approach slightly:

1. Cross training every other day (after a 10K run if possible) by lifting weights, doing push-ups, squats, sit-ups, etc.
2. Hill routes are not enough, a constant hill is the way to go. It’s all about the vertical! One 5K treadmill session per week with 3.5 degree incline is a 1,000 ft ascent.
3. No speed during long runs. To feel like you can run more at mile 20 is more precious than anything. Running too fast in the beginning will ruin everything. Slow and steady wins the race, I suppose.

On the weekends, I’ve been hiking upstate. Hiking is one of the best cross training methods for marathons and mountain summits (Mt. Rainier). Here are some highlights of 3 hiking trips:

Hike 3: Raccoon Brook

This hiking trail was at Harriman State park, about an hour north from NYC. I decided to put extra weight in my backpack for a challenge. I’m starting out with 5 pounds but should be at 40 pounds in 6 months. Although most of the fall foliage was gone, a trip in the great outdoors is always scenic on a clear day. And there’s always interesting people who travel the journey with you. A fellow marathoner was in the group, can you guess what we chatted about for an hour?

I also learned how fun scrambling is. A scramble is when you have to use your hands to hold/grab trees and rocks to ascend steep hills. Nothing beats the feeling of being at the top of a mountain (in this case 1,150 ft).

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We passed by Pine Meadow lake but the water was too cold to swim in unfortunately. But overall, it was a good 8-9 mile scenic hike with good views and weather.

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Hike 4: Kaaterskill Falls

This hiking trail was in the Catskills; 2 hours north from the city, and 5 extra pounds in my backpack. The temperature was below freezing during the entire day which turned out to be a good thing. The views were even better with the white powder everywhere. I was immediately drawn to these icicles hanging off the rocks. I couldn’t help myself, I had to have one, the biggest one, the Ice Sword! I must’ve held the ice sword for an hour while going up the mountain. It was so cold that it never melted.

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After working our way to the top (1,110 ft ascent), we took some pictures and then worked our way down being careful not to slip on ice. I was lucky to come across a guy who summited monsters like Aconcagua and Denali which make marathons look like a 5K. Throughout our descent, I was able to ask all of my Mt. Rainier questions. From what I gather, it’s not as deadly as some perceive it to be. He actually considered it a “fun hike and a good workout”, ha.

Finally, we headed to Kaaterskill falls. The view was well worth the effort. Overall, this was my favorite hike. 8-9 miles of awesomeness.

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Hike 5: Schunemunk Mountain

It was below 15F for the entire day at the mountain and I totally regretted taking things to the next level by putting 10 pounds extra in my backpack. Most of the hiking group consisted of future Kilimanjaro trekkers and a few experienced hikers who I will refer to as the billy-goats. By the way, the Ibex is my favorite land animal.

Capra_ibex_ibex_–_04The gruesome hike began with a trek through the vast snow field.

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During the ascent portion of the hike, I had some conversations with the Kili group.It looks like they will have quite the New Year’s day summit party after a 5 day climb. After an hour, it turned out that the billy-goats were way ahead of the Kili group; I was somewhere in the middle but eventually caught up to the billy-goats at the mountain top and was amazed to find plant life here.

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Once the Kili group caught up,  we decided to split into 2 teams. For the next 2-3 hours, it seemed endless. The billy-goat pace was faster than a speed walk, and I had to actually jog in the snow and ice to keep them in my sight (yes I fell behind every now and then as usual). With ice under snow and rocks everywhere, things were getting serious. With or without hiking poles or boot spikes, we were slipping and falling all over the place. I was the winner with 10+ falls. There was no more picture-taking by this point.

The trail markers became confusing and we were off track by 2 miles. This 9 mile hike has now become 13 miles; a half marathon distance. We had to speed it up even more to meet up with the Kili team at the meet spot. There were areas in which the only way to proceed was to slide down rocks. My pants now have a huge rip in the backside. There were a few instances where a bad slip could lead to a 20-30 foot drop, and you had to hold on to branches with your life, kind of. The snow found its way through my flimsy gloves and my hands were wet. The sun began to set during the descent portion. This is where most of my falls occurred. I could then see it, the snow field from the beginning. By this point, I had nothing left, as if I ran a marathon or something. And guess what, we were the first group to arrive; however, we had to wait 45 minutes in the freezing cold for the other group to arrive. I don’t know what frostbite feels like, but my hands must have been close. Whew, what a workout. Ok, I’ll just take a hiking break until March.

Random Thoughts

These last 2 months went by quickly. I gained 3-5 pounds and became a Candy Crush addict. Aside from running and hiking on my free time, I spent a good portion of my Christmas break watching American Horror Story (3 seasons), Hardcore Pawn episodes (crazy customers), and playing Grand Theft Auto 5 (Game of the year for me). Let’s see what the winter brings.