The Bucks County Marathon was the coldest marathon I’ve run so far, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable race! Not severe cold — low 30s to start and barely 40 to finish, and it didn’t start raining until after I drove away, thank goodness! It was a small field of a little more than 300 finishers — a far cry from the 30,000 I ran with three weeks ago at the Marine Corps Marathon, but I loved the low key vibe and the absolutely delightful Delaware Canal Towpath. I would definitely recommend the runBucks Series to fellow runners.
This wasn’t a milestone race for me — just a last-minute addition for fun since I felt pretty good after Marine Corps and realized that the Bucks County Marathon wasn’t the same day as the Philly Marathon like it has been in the past. I’m not running Philly, but I am volunteering with my club, Fast Tracks, at the Mile 10 water stop so I was surprised and delighted to discover that I could add Bucks for one more race this year — my 16th overall marathon/ultra on November 16, and my 5th this year.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to Washington Crossing Historical Park in Washington Crossing, PA, where the race began and finished. I grew up in Bucks County, but I was a lot younger when I was last there and on the towpath so this was almost like visiting for the first time. The park itself is quite small and unremarkable (especially compared to Valley Forge National Historical Park where I do a lot of training runs). The course begins and ends with about a mile loop around the perimeter of the park on an asphalt road.
At every race, I enjoy meeting new Marathon Maniac friends before the start. It was special to meet the youngest Marathon Maniac Nikolas Toocheck and his dad, Dan (second and third from the right in the photo above). At 11-years-old Nik is the youngest to complete all a marathon on all 7 continents and raising money and awareness for children living in poverty through his website, Running the World for Children.
I was a little surprised that they had nine waves to start the race given the small field size, but once I was on the towpath, it made a lot of sense. The initial loop in the park allowed the field to spread out a bit, and on many sections of the towpath there was only enough room for two abreast in either direction — often when passing under one of the 15 camelback bridges along the course.
The course itself is really pretty — even on a cold, gray day. In addition to the bridges, we had views of the Delaware Canal and River and many stretches of beautiful woods. Somewhere near mile 2 or 3 there was a magnificent white swan in the canal, and it was still in the same spot when I got back. Of course there were ducks and geese, and one very loud gaggle of geese flying north over the river as I was running back south. The course included a brief run through New Hope with one road crossing and a very brief flight of easy steps. Some of the homes along the canal and the river are also quite magnificent — especially along the stretch just north of New Hope.
I wasn’t sure what the conditions of the towpath would be, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it in excellent shape for running. It was mostly hard-pack dirt and/or very small gravel that wasn’t loose so footing was quite stable. I worry a bit about running on newly fallen leaves that might hid stones or twigs potentially twisting an ankle, but there were only a couple of spots with leaves — probably due to recent windy weather. In general the path was an excellent surface to run on. There were only 2 or 3 muddy spots that were quite easily avoided, and it was pretty easy to pass or be passed in spite of the relatively narrow towpath. The size of the field of runners was very good for the venue, and I believe it can easily accommodate its stated cap of 500.
The Runners’ Guide gave us a heads up about low clearances at some of the 15 camelback bridge underpasses along the course, and I wrote a quick parody of the Erie Canal lyrics for the occasion in my last blog post. Most of them had plenty of head room, but there were a couple that actually made me feel like ducking although I don’t think it was really necessary (for me). In some cases the underpass included a bit of a dip in the towpath and many of them were only wide enough for two abreast, but they provided a nice scenic element and a perfect perch to race spectators.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from myself since this was my first marathon that wasn’t entirely on asphalt, and I was primarily doing it for fun. Since Marine Corps I had eliminated walking intervals in my training runs of up to 15 miles long so I decided to start out without them as long as it felt comfortable, and I did that for the first 10 miles. At that point I was averaging about an 11:15 pace. I felt pretty good decided to switch to 1:45/40 intervals then to see if I could conserve something for the end of the race. For the next 5 miles I actually maintained close to that pace in spite of the intervals and I was still passing other runners, but I slowed to around 12-minute pacing for miles 15 and 16. I’m not sure why because I was back down in the mid-11 pacing for miles 17 and 18. Mile 19 was another slow one — 13:12 pace — but I picked it back up to close to 12-minute miles for the next 2 miles. I think that was the stretch that I had a companion runner. Once he ran ahead, I slowed to about a 13-minute pace for mile 22. By the end of the next mile, I switched my intervals to 1/1 since I was not even close to finishing around 5 hours. At that point, I figured I’d keep it comfortable to the end and even stopped to take the selfie photo above.
Some complained about the loop inside, especially at the end when you have to pass alongside the finish chute as you begin that last loop, but that didn’t bother me at all. Once I actually see the finish line in a race it gives me a boost — no matter how far away it is — and you can see the finish all around that loop. My only complaint with the loop was the condition of the asphalt in spots — you had to be alert for an occasional pothole or worn section, especially at the end when your focus is not quite as sharp.
I actually finished with my best time for the year — 5:20:48 — so I was happy with that even though I think I should be closer to finishing in 5 hours. Still, it is a far cry from my worst time of 7:28 in January at Disney World on my plantar fasciitis-ravaged foot. Running the first 10 miles as fast as I did in this race without any walk intervals wasn’t a great strategic decision, but I still had a blast. It’s always fun to beat the beast no matter how you do it!
Race Director, Pat McCloskey, greeted the finishers — even those of us at the back of the pack — one of the nice advantages of running a small event like this. And the post race food was great! They had hot dogs, hamburgers, meatballs, chili, and beans for refueling along with more typical fare. I enjoyed some chili, but I didn’t eat too much since I was going to meet my family for dinner after I got cleaned up and changed. But you could certainly get your fill if you wanted or needed to.
If you are a runner and get a chance, consider doing one of the runBucks series. I will definitely consider doing this one again and other of the series in the future.
Now, it’s time for me to rest briefly before I begin training in earnest for the Dust Bowl Series in March, 2015. Doing 5 marathons in 5 consecutive days will be a major new challenge for me as well as making significant progress on my quest for all 50 states.
Relentless Forward Progress…
Next Sunday (November 16) I am running the Bucks County Marathon starting in Washington Crossing, PA, then following the Delaware Canal towpath up river 13 miles and back down the same way. The runners’ guide includes this information about the course:
“The towpath has several camelback bridge underpasses with low clearance. There are 15 bridge underpasses along the course, for a total of 30 under-passings. Taller people may feel the need to duck under a few of them.”
And so I have Bruce Springsteen’s recording of Erie Canal firmly stuck in my head…
Good thing I like the song!
I had a great training run this morning in the cold, and the long range forecast looks like similar temps next weekend. I am really looking forward to it!
“Low bridge, everybody down! Low bridge, we’re comin’ into town…”
(Sunday, November 9):
I took the liberty of writing alternate lyrics just for the occasion. Everybody sing along…Delaware Canal (to the tune of Erie Canal) I got a pair of Hokas and a running pal Thirteen miles on the Delaware Canal I’m not very fast but I run anyhow Thirteen miles on the Delaware Canal We trained for months and we’re feeling fine Can’t wait to toe that starting line And run all the way to the end of the line Then from Virginia Forest to the Finish Line Low bridge, everybody down Low bridge, we’re coming to a town And you’ll maybe chase your neighbor While you’re running with a pal When you run a race on the Delaware Canal instrumental line.. Pick up your cadence; don’t throw in the towel Thirteen miles on the Delaware Canal When you wear the medal everyone will say “Wow” Another thirteen miles on the Delaware Canal Pick up your pace — don’t worry ‘bout the clock We’ll pass New Hope long before 2 o’clock Huffin’ and puffin’ and we’re almost done One more circle and the race is won Low bridge, everybody down Low bridge, we’re coming to a town You’ll maybe pass a neighbor Or fall behind your pal When you run the races on the Delaware Canal Instrumental verse We’d better pack some gels if we go too far Thirteen miles on the Delaware Canal You can bet your life I’m gonna limp to my car After 26-point-2 on the Delaware Canal A real fast runner can win the race Or take her age group & come in first place But even if you’re slow and running for a lark You’ll still wind up back here in the park Low bridge, everybody down Low bridge, ‘cause we’re coming to a town You’ll maybe beat your neighbor Or come in behind a pal When you run the race on the Delaware Canal Low bridge, everybody down Low bridge, ‘we’re coming to a town You’ll maybe beat your neighbor Or come in behind a pal When you run the race on the Delaware Canal
The 2014 Marine Corps Marathon was a great experience for me. I loved the course and the crowd support and the energy of a well-executed large event. I definitely recommend MCM as a destination race if you don’t mind big crowds. My results were what I expected though not what I hoped or thought possible — a 5:33:24 finish instead of a sub-5 — but I’m satisfied and feel pretty good physically.
This was my 50th race overall (all distances), my 15th marathon, and my 10th state to complete a marathon in. I’m not sure what multiple of 5 mean in numerology, but it was a good day for me!
We made this race a mini-vacation to include a little sight-seeing so my wife Marie traveled with me along with my training partner Ashley who also ran the marathon. We arrived Friday late morning in surprisingly light traffic and no long lines at the Expo. Ashley has run MCM before and always attended the Expo on Saturday with huge crowds and long lines, but we sailed through the packet pickup and the expo without any problems.
We had a little extra time on Friday so we visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The last time Marie and I visited, there was just a little temporary sign indicating the future site of the memorial. It was very impressive and included some of his more poignant quotes.
That night we had a carb-loading dinner including my traditional pre-race car bomb. I’d already had one earlier in the week, but it just seemed right to have a local one just before the race.
Saturday was an open day so we tried out our Metro cards and headed to the National Mall.
We headed to the Holocaust Museum – another place we hadn’t visited before . It is a very sobering and intense experience — almost overwhelming. It is hard to comprehend how inhumanity and intolerance can be inflicted on such a scale in a relatively short period of time, although the prejudices and hatred were built up over many generations. It is sad to realize how much hatred and intolerance still prevails in the world today. Lots of work left to do.
After the museum we had an early dinner and headed back to our hotels to prep for the race and get some rest. With 30,000 runners to assemble, it’s a very early call for race day.
I left my hotel near the Washington Convention Center shortly after 5:00 AM. The 3-block walk to the Metro station was eerily quiet — I saw no other runners and very few cars on the street. Once I got in the Metro station, however, I saw more runners. By the time our train got to the Pentagon station, it was full of runners — some chatty, some deep in thought, and some still groggy (my group).
We had a bit of a hike from the station to the runners’ assembly area which served to wake me up. I struck up a conversation with someone with an immobilization boot on her lower leg and using a scooter. She was originally registered to run MCM, but because of a stress fracture she switched to volunteering at the start area instead. Initially they had her scheduled to work one of the remote water stops but changed her to the starting area instead because it would be too difficult for her to get to the water stop area. She had a great attitude and our conversation was a nice start to the day.
I arrived early enough that it didn’t take too long to get through the security check. But they did have everyone go through metal detectors and Marines with hand wands did follow up checks as needed. I forgot my little flashlight in my pocket and had to go through remedial wanding. Fortunately, I passed the second screening and entered runners’ village.
It was still quite dark but not too cold — mid to upper 50s at that point — and the anticipated wind had not kicked up yet so it was fairly pleasant to walk around. I found the scheduled spot for the pre-race Marathon Maniac photo so I hung out nearby while waiting for more Maniacs to gather. Another good reason to be early is having clean portapots and no lines to wait in!
Soon more Maniacs began gathering. According to the Maniac website, there were about 230 of us scheduled to run MCM. Of course, the photo didn’t include everyone. Some intent on a fast finish no doubt skipped the photo to claim a spot in the first corral. Others came running just as the photo was about to be taken, and more were surely stuck in the crowds still pouring into the runners’ village area or waiting their turns in the portapot lines. It was great to catch up with Maniacs I had met before at various marathons as well as getting to meet other Maniacs for the first time. Just a few days after MCM, our international club topped 10,000 members! I doubt I’ll ever run a marathon where I’m the only Maniac in the field.
After the photo, we all made our way to the starting corrals. I was somewhat surprised how well the corral system worked. There were simply large sign banners with anticipated finish times listed and runners were allowed to pick their own starting position. On reflection, however, it made sense. The start line is also the 25.5 mile section of the course. Everything had to be broken down after the start and cleared away before runners came through on the way to the finish line — and it was. And the corrals move fairly quickly through the start in spite of the number of runners. By contrast, there were fewer runners at the Disney World Marathon last January, but it took well over an hour or more for all runners to get across the start line. Then, again, there were fireworks and a separate start for each corral at Disney.
The MCM start was impressive in its own right. First there were 11 parachutists including Medal Of Honor recipient and retired US Marine Cpl. William Carpenter who also ran the marathon after landing. He and the other parachutists also delivered at least 4 huge American flags to the start line. Here’s a video sampling of that part of the starting ceremonies:
After that two Osprey tilt rotor aircraft flew over the corrals from the back to the front with rotors up, then flew across the field of runners with rotors down. Very soon after that the howitzer fired — right at the scheduled 7:55 start time — and the field advanced. Ashley and I made it to the start line about 14 minutes later.
I like to think about the marathon distance in chunks so that’s how I’ll describe the course and my experience. The first chuck was the climb into Rosslyn and the descent to the bridge over to Georgetown. The first 2 miles or so was noticeably uphill. I was definitely glad I trained weekly on the Valley Forge Park outer loop, and it was good that the only extended climb occurred at the beginning of the race when legs are fresh and adrenaline is pumping with the excitement of the start. We held a pace just under 12:30 through the first 3 miles, then picked up some speed on the downhill of mile 4 before crossing the Key Bridge into Georgetown and resuming our 12+ pace.
After mile 5 we hit the out-and-back section through Rock Creek Park. It was very pretty and an opportunity to see the other runners ahead of us as they came back while we were going out. Lots of high fives with other Maniacs along this section which was nice because there were not as many spectators in this section. As we finished mile 10 past the Kennedy Center, I bid adieu to Ashley and headed on ahead — still hoping to possibly reel in a sub-5 hour finish.
The next section of the course took us behind the Lincoln Memorial and near the FDR Memorial on the way to the Blue Mile and Hains Point. As I headed into mile 11 I noticed the wind gusting for the first time. Fortunately it was not a head wind and it wasn’t blowing constantly hard so I didn’t feel that it was a factor for me. The Blue Mile is at mile 12, organized by the wear blue: run to remember organization that honors the service and sacrifice of the American Military. The mile is lined with photos of the fallen and organization members holding flags. The normal runner chatter and spectator shouts are replaced by the relative silence of runners footfalls during this reflective and somber mile.
The mood shifts, however, at the next food station and water stop and the return trip from Hains Point along the channel to the Tidal Basin is lined with lots of funny signs. Here’s one — I had to stop to take a photo when I saw it:
As we finished this section, we passed the Jefferson Memorial and the MLK Memorial. Most of my splits were under 12:00 at this point, and I thought I still had a shot at truly negative splits — and maybe a sub-5 finish.
The next section, miles 16 through 20, brought us to the front of the Lincoln Memorial, behind the Korean War Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the DC War Memorial before running past two sides of the Washington Monument as we headed up 14th Street to the north side of the National Mall and headed toward the Capitol Building. We crossed in front of the Capitol about mile 18.5 and headed back along the other side of the Mall in front of the Smithsonian Castle. I started noticing the heat before getting to the Capitol Building, and I see that my sub-12 pace began to falter and everything after mile 16 was 12:00 or slower.
The crowd support, however, was fantastic — especially as we hit the section along the mall. I remember one spectator in particular because he was a very large man with a big jack-o-lantern shirt on. I had seen him first along Rock Creek Park, then at least twice on the mall, and again near the finish line. He really put out a lot of effort to get around the course!
By the time I “beat the bridge” I knew I wasn’t coming close to a sub-5 finish, but I was still feeling good in spite of slowing a bit from the heat. The course returns to Virginia from DC across the 14th Street Bridge. Runners have to cross the bridge by 1:15 or be swept from the course so the bridge can be re-opened. I had plenty of time to spare in beating the bridge, but I had hoped to drop my walking intervals by then. That just wasn’t in the cards, though.
The next section of the course was another out-and-back through Crystal City. Lots more crowd support along here and the opportunity to see runners ahead and behind. At the turn-around there was a huge water spray across the entire four lanes of the highway — no way to avoid getting wet but no one wanted to avoid the refreshing water. We were all hot and tired and welcomed the shower. On the way back toward the Pentagon, I could recognize many runners I had passed previously on the course. That was encouraging, but my pace was still slipping. I put in a 13;27 for mile 22 and a 14:03 mile 25. My tank was pretty empty as I passed the Pentagon and I still had over a mile to go. I held on with a 13:46 for mile 26, then I ran hard the last uphill climb to the finish at the Marine Corps War Memorial. I had taken the Iwo. Oorah!
Here’s video proof that I finished:
I was tired, thirsty, and somewhat sore, but didn’t really feel too bad. It was a long walk through the runners’ chute for water and food and to get to the finisher festival in Rosslyn. At that point I was looking forward to my free beer. That was a disappointment, however. By the time I found the beer tent, they had run out! Big fail! There were still an hours worth of finishers behind me and they already ran out of beer? Definitely not cool.
I soon found Marie at the intersection where they had painted a Mission Accomplished sign on the road. Here’s my RoadKill photo:
Marie and I found a place to sit and waited to catch up with Ashley who had checked a bag. I was surprised to find that my clothing was completely dry. I was barely sweaty when I finished the marathon — very unusual. The humidity was incredibly low — 59% at the start. I think the heat and wind along with the low humidity actually resulted in more dehydration than you might expect with low humidity. I was very glad I decided not to wear a long-sleeved base layer shirt and go with just a tee shirt. I only had a light sweatshirt on before the race that I tossed off before the start. As the we sat in the shadows after the race, though, I was glad to have the light finisher jacket they were handing out. But I was surprised that it was all the way near the end of the finisher festival in Rosslyn and they weren’t handing them out closer to the finish line.
Once we reconnected with Ashley we also met up with some other Maniacs, and as we walked to the Metro station, Ashley was interviewed by the race announcer who was still working the crowd in Rosslyn. He later interviewed me and another Maniac friend, Doug. Then the Race Director Rick Nealis came over. He’s originally from Philadelphia so he and I had to do some Mummer strutting — just what I wanted to do after running a marathon!
Overall, the event was extremely well organized, and I would absolutely recommend it as a destination race. Just be prepared for large crowds and lots of walking before and after.
One minor complaint: they tried to initiate a Stash the Trash program and encouraged runners to put all trash in trash receptacles. However, you can’t do that with 30,000 runners and one or two trash cans just 10 yards from the end of a water stop. One of my pet peeves is runners dropping used gel packs on the road. Those things are sticky and can be a hazard to land on. I always put my used packs back in a pocket in my pants until I can dump them in a trash can. But I had a tough time finding trash cans to use! You can’t stash the trash if they don’t stick out the can!
But that’s definitely a minor rant. This was a great race, and I really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed my post race meal:
As I wrote at the top, this was my 10th marathon state which qualifies me for the 50 States Marathon Club. My application and check are already in the mail, and I am anxiously waiting to get the welcome packet and add the 50 State emblem to my blog page. Look for that soon.
In the meantime, I realized soon after finishing that I really do enjoy the marathon race so I’ve decided to go ahead and register for a local marathon three weeks following MCM. I’ll now be running the Bucks County Marathon on November 16 as my 16th marathon. Got to love when the numbers work out that way! After that, I’ll be training through the winter for the Dust Bowl Series in the end of March — 5 marathons in 5 states (TX, OK, KS, CO, NM) in 5 consecutive days. It’s the Big Gulp method of collecting all 50 states. Oorah, indeed!
Another overdue race report! Getting to be a bad habit. I’ve actually been working on a draft for the past few weeks but just didn’t get around to finishing it. At least I haven’t yet had a DNF on a race report, and this won’t be the first!
I really had a great time at the Ventura Marathon. I finally finished in a more reasonable time of 5:22 — much better than my plantar-fasciitis-hobbled Disney World Marathon in January (7:26) and a big improvement on my out-of-gas Vermont finish (6:06). But there was a lot more to like about Ventura than my finish time.
We arrived in Ventura Tuesday before race weekend giving me an opportunity to explore the coast during my training runs. We did take a day to drive over to Universal Studios but otherwise relaxed on the coast. Here are some photos and videos:
That last video clip was taken on the trail connecting the Ventura Promenade with the Ventura River Trail. This was the first time I had a training run interrupted by a train crossing of the historic Coast Starlight!
Ventura was cooler than Anaheim by at least 10 degrees and the afternoon breezes off the ocean mitigated any humidity later in the day. It was really lovely there. Fortunately, the wind didn’t kick up in the morning during the marathon so it wasn’t a factor, but race morning turned out a bit more humid than ideal.
I opted for the early start because of the 6-hour time limit. I finished my last marathon in Vermont in 6:06 and didn’t want to take a chance. The early start — scheduled for 5:30 — was delayed at least 20 minutes until the police gave the go-ahead. Still, I appreciated the opportunity to shift about 30 minutes to the earlier, cooler hour.
One of the other runners assembling for the early start said that he read online that early starters who finished in less than 5 hours would be disqualified. According to him that was just a last-minute addition to the website. I didn’t see that even afterward, but it may have simply been that early start finishers would not qualify for any overall or age group awards. I’ve seen that before, and it makes sense so maybe that was the issue. I did see four finishers with times over 7 hours — I’m assuming those were early starters, but I’m glad they were allowed to finish even though they exceeded the stated time limit.
One of the great benefits of being a Marathon Maniac is going just about anywhere to race and finding other Maniacs — some I have met before and others I meet for the first time (although may already know about online). As we waited for the early start, I caught up with Maniac David who I previously met at Steamtown (Scranton, PA) last year.
I also got to introduce myself to Yolanda Holder, Maniac and Guiness record-holder for most marathons in a year for a female. Yolanda is an amazing power walker who first held the record of 106 marathons in a year only to break her own record with 120 in 2012. She dedicates much of her marathoning to helping fight diabetes.
After a mile or two, fellow runners Shelley and Julie joined me in the run/walk intervals I was doing. It turns out Shelley is a Maniac and knows Joe Taricani, host of The Marathon Show podcast. You may remember that I have been on Joe’s show a couple times in the past (here and here). Julie stayed with us through mile 13, but Shelley stayed with me most of the way until the last couple of miles when she fell back a bit. Fortunately, her husband had ridden a bicycle and met up with us so she had his company as she finished behind me. I really appreciated getting to know these two runners and having the company to pass the time and miles.
I also met Maniac Diana for the first time in person — first as we crossed paths on the course and, later, at the finish line. Diana and I were both part of one of Joe Taricani’s podcast in February of 2013 but I never had the opportunity to meet her before since she lives in California. It’s great to have the Maniac family all over the country wherever I run!
I also caught up with fellow Dopey and Coast to Coast Challenge runner, Robert, after I finished. That’s the only way I could possibly catch up with someone that qualifies for Boston! Good luck next year, Robert!
Managing my pace
My 2/1 intervals served me very well — running 2 minutes, then walking 1 minute. I could still stand to go at least 30 seconds per mile slower at the beginning of the race — at least the first 6 miles or so. I think this would allow me to do negative splits through to the end. And, in the last 6 miles, I may be able to cut down the length of the walk interval and/or drop it altogether. I do believe I could finish the Marine Corps Marathon (my next) in under 5 hours if the conditions are right.
I liked the Ventura course in spite of the 6 miles on Harbor Road with little visual distraction and almost no view of the ocean (miles 3 to 9 and 17 to 23), but it was helpful to drive the course the day before so I was prepared for that stretch. This is a very flat course with an elevation range of less than 30 feet — mostly due to the bridge over the channel in Oxnard. The only other course I’ve run this flat was the NJ Marathon, but my experience at Ventura was definitely much better even though my time was slower! The prettiest parts of the course were the marinas filled with boats, the tree-lined Ventura Avenue, and the views of the ocean. The most welcome sight was seeing the Crowne Plaza hotel and knowing there was less than a mile to go.
Although the weather was better than we had the week before in Disneyland the humidity was still relatively high. Fortunately there were some high clouds that helped filter the sun on the return run, but I was glad to have been able to get Endurolyte capsules at the Inside Track running store in Ventura ahead of time — having forgotten to bring mine from home. I really needed them.
The water stops were ample, well-stocked, and had great volunteers. And I really appreciated the icy cold and wet towel handed out at one of the later water stops. It felt good to wipe away the accumulated sweat and put the wet towel under my hat for the rest of the race. This is an excellent touch that more race directors should adopt.
I give bonus points to the organizers for having watermelon and pineapple at the finish! What a treat! And the beer garden was a definite plus although it would have been nice for finishers to get a free beer. The Beach Party added to the celebratory atmosphere after the finish.
But the best part? Free race photos! Really. All of the race photos. Free! See my finish line video below:
Stats for the race:
5:22:15 finish; 12:13 pace
9th marathon state completed
14th marathon completed
49th race completed
Next Up: Marine Corps Marathon on October 26, 2014
Running Disney is all about having fun, and the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend was no exception.
Fortunately, I am healthy now unlike running the Disney World Dopey Challenge last January with plantar fasciitis. Even though I am running well, I intentionally ran the Dumbo Double Dare Challenge easy since I’m also doing the Ventura Marathon next Sunday. I also decided not to add this past weekend’s 5K so I only had to wake up at 3:00 AM two days in a row. I wanted these two races to be all about having fun and staying ready for the full marathon in Ventura.
Since we arrived on Wednesday, I was able to attend the Expo the first day — Thursday — with no time constraints. Earlier in the morning I did a 3-mile shake out run through the area of the Expo so I knew where to go. I had heard there were lots of long lines last year and some problems navigating, however, runDisney folks apparently made some necessary adjustments and the lines moved pretty quickly in spite of the crowds that first day. And waiting in line is a great time to meet other runners and share experiences and information. I picked up my bib and commemorative pin, got my race shirts, then spent a little time with the Hoka reps at the Fit2Run booth before getting in line for the official runDisney merchandise. They control the number of shoppers at a time in the official merchandise store to make the shopping experience less crowded and chaotic. I picked up a few additional tech shirts. I liked the short-sleeve cotton Dumbo commemorative shirt, but not enough to cough up over $40 — way over-priced!
We spend the rest of Friday in Disneyland Park and, of course, I had to ride Dumbo and pose with his statue. We capped it off with a carb-loading dinner at La Brea Bakery Express, then back to the hotel to retire as early as possible.
I started the 10K in Corral B so I had a great view of the start when the first runners set off and my start was only about 7 minutes later. Once again, runDisney race announcer, Rudy Novotny, gave me a personal shout out as I approached. That never gets old, and he did it again the next day for the Half.
The 10K course was mostly in the parks after a mile and a half circling around the Anaheim Convention Center. I was surprised, though, how much time we did spend on service roads behind the scenes. There were some floats with music but no one on them. Mostly there were service cast members here and there encouraging us, but overall lots less characters and entertainment then there was at Disney World in January. Still, it was fun getting a feel for the parks by running through them. At that point, I had only been in Downtown Disney so it was all new to me in the parks.
I had a close call by turning my ankle on a lane marker in the street during the first section outside the park. There are raised circular white markers between lanes in critical areas on the roads. If you drive over them, there is a loud thumping which helps to alert drivers to stay in their lane. However, they are raised at least an inch above the asphalt — something that would never survive snow plows in the northeast winters, and if you land on one the wrong way, you can easily turn your ankle or, even, fall. I know of at least two runners who did fall because of them. I don’t remember any alert in the race materials about these “road hazards,” but I think it would be a good idea for runDisney to give runners a heads up and warn them to take extra care, especially in the dark since the races start at 5:30 AM. I was lucky. Although it hurt initially, I didn’t fall and I had no lasting problems as a result.
My plan for the 10K was to run easy but not take walk breaks. That turned out to be a good decision since I had to take an unexpected, extended bathroom break when we first entered the park — almost 5 minutes lost. Fortunately, I was in an early corral to start the 10K and I was never in any danger of getting swept. The race felt comfortable and, in spite of the pit stop, I ran an 11:44 overall pace, but in terms of actual running time I was going faster than I planned.
Waking up the second day at 3:00 AM for the half marathon convinced me I made the right decision NOT to also do the 5K on Friday for the purpose of doing a faux west coast Dopey Challenge (the three races in Disneyland plus the Ventura Marathon). But the second day in a row with an 0′dark-thirty wake up was more than enough for me. The hardest part of the Dopey Challenge last January was getting up so early 4 mornings in a row!
Although runDisney generally does a great job with race logistics, the corral situation was a little chaotic. I got in corral G early to get a spot near the front, but runners were still queuing up for the corrals after the start of the race. There was one entry point across the road between corrals G and F, but it was clear there were too many runners to get to their appropriate corrals in time. Ultimately, those that came the latest got to go before those of us that got in the corrals early. I don’t know if there were too many runners for the space in the corrals that were set aside or if they didn’t move runners out of the staging area in time, but, either way, it didn’t work well. Regardless, once we got moving toward the start line it didn’t really matter any more.
And once again, I got a shout out from Rudy as I came up to the start line. This time we ran down Disneyland Drive to Katella and a short way up Harbor to get back into the park. It seemed like there were more characters out for the Half, but we were soon out of the parks after 4 miles.
The next 4 miles we ran through the streets of Anaheim. There were high school bands and drill teams and cheer squads periodically along with residents and spectators keeping us distracted and entertained. It was a bit more humid than on Saturday, but I was feeling pretty good with my 2/1 run/walk split, and I found I was doing a much better job of power walking at a pretty good clip.
Near the 8-mile point, as we approached the Honda Center, there were classic cars, custom hot rods, antiques, and muscle cars lining the course with their owners cheering us along. I think they must have covered about a mile of the course. It was pretty amazing how many there were.
After leaving the Honda Center we got onto the Santa Ana River Trail which was pretty depressing — not because the trail was a problem in any way, but because the Santa Ana River no longer exists. There is just a bone-dry river bed with absolutely no water. It actually looked like loose dirt and dust — very desolate. Fortunately, we weren’t on the trail too long before getting to Angel Stadium where we ran the warning track from right field around home plate to left field where we exited the stadium. The stadium was filled with scout troops and leaders and parents cheering us, and video cameras caught us running around the infield and displayed on the big screen video board above the outfield.
Just two miles brought us back to Disneyland, but we didn’t run through a park this time — just kept to the access roads behind the scenes of California Adventure, then around the Paradise Pier Hotel to the finish line just past the Disneyland Hotel. My time was 2:35:17 and my pace was 11:42 — just slightly faster than my 10K pace even though I used run/walk intervals. It wasn’t a great time, but I was really pleased because I felt terrific and it was a great rehearsal for using the 2/1 intervals for the Ventura Marathon.
Overall, I really enjoyed the two races. It wasn’t the same as the Disney World race week, but it was still a lot of fun and well-run except for the corral issue on Sunday. It was great to finish the Coast to Coast Challenge as well as the Dumbo Double Dare Challenge. I wasn’t very impressed with the 10K medal, or, for that matter, with the race mascot Stitch, but the other three medals for the Half, the Dumbo Challenge, and the Coast to Coast Challenge were definitely pretty cool. I bought a 10-hook display rack at the Expo for my Disney bling — just the right number.
I don’t have any plans to do other Disney races at this point even though I definitely recommend runners experience them if they can. runDisney does a great job of organizing and implementing races and Disney destination races are a ton of fun. Races often have runners in costume — especially larger, big city races — but nothing compared to the number of costumes and the detail some runners put into them at Disney races – there are always interesting costumes around you. And runDisney provides lots of entertainment along the way to distract you from the miles — in addition to characters and floats there are bands and choirs and other performances in addition to having cast members cheering you inside the parks along with other spectators.
But I won’t be running Disney again soon for two reasons. It is expensive to do Disney races. Registration alone for the Dumbo Double Dare Challenge was $320 and the Dopey Challenge in January was nearly $500. On top of that there are the regular costs of a Disney vacation including travel, lodging, and park fees. And there are unique merchandise items at the race expo that are hard to resist. Don’t get me wrong, the experience is worth it, but unless you have a large vacation budget or are a Disney Vacation Club member and already heading to Disney more than once a year, it is a big financial hit.
The second reason I’m not planning another Disney race is that my next major running goal is to work on 50 states — as in running a marathon in each of the 50 states. And at age 65 I will be racing a biological clock in that effort. And that goal also involves a lot of travel expense as well as time. I’ve already picked up my Florida marathon at Disney World, and I don’t know of any plans for Disney to open another theme park in another state any time soon (or ever, for that matter).
So here ends my Disney running adventures for now. But I invite you to visit some other blogs of Disney runners — especially race reports from this past weekend in Disneyland — by going to Brianne Smith’s recap of the race: http://willrunforamedal.blogspot.com/2014/09/disneyland-dumbo-double-dare-and-coast.html. She has a great set of race photos and at the end of her post is a list of other blogs that have posted about the weekend (including this one — Thanks, Brianne!).
Next up: Sunday’s Ventura Marathon — State #9
I see a pattern emerging. As I taper after peak marathon training, I speed up in my shorter runs. It’s not intentional since I usually start my short runs at a comfortable pace and don’t check my Garmin for pace until I’ve run a mile or so. But I definitely speed up as I shorten my long runs and cut back on total mileage.
Last weekend I was at the 53rd Annual Philadelphia Folk Festival (my 43rd festival), so I ran on Saturday on the Perkiomen Trail which borders the festival grounds near Schwenksville. Weather was ideal — for the festival and for running — and the upper Perkiomen Trail is well-shaded and relatively flat with one exception. I first ran north to Salford Station Road, then turned back south to run along the festival grounds. The trail is always crowded during the festival with attendees enjoying the trail and its access to a refreshing dip in the Perkiomen Creek as well as local residents using the trail for walking, running, biking, and horse-back riding. Some access the festival from nearby and even sit along the trail behind the Camp Stage to listen to the music without needing a ticket.
I passed the grounds heading south, crossed Haim Road and over the Perkiomen, and reached the park where the trail crosses back over the creek on Main Street/Sprint Mt. Road. A short distance from the chair lift for Spring Mount Ski Resort, the trail makes that exception to following the creek bed with a short but intense 12% grade climb to the top of Spring Mount. I hadn’t intended to run up that hill, but I felt pretty good and just kept going. I was pleasantly surprised to find the hill had been paved since the last time I’d run it a few years ago — much easier and safer to run and bike that kind of incline than fighting to maintain traction on loose gravel. I topped the hill and ran on to Schwenksville Road before turning back to retrace my path.
To my surprise, after logging 6 miles that day, I still managed an average pace of 10:42, and not too long ago my normal short, easy run pace has been well over 11 minutes per mile.
Since then most of my short runs have been around 10:30 or faster, and on my last short run Friday my last two mile splits were 9:59 and 9:14. And I wasn’t really trying to run hard or fast, it just felt right. Today, I ran the Valley Forge Park outer loop plus a little extra on the Schuylkill River Trail at Betzwood for 10 miles at an 11:38 overall pace even though I was using a 2/1 run/walk ratio throughout.
So I’m going to have to really keep myself from starting too fast at the Ventura Marathon in two weeks. I’m not worried about the Disney Dumbo Double Dare Challenge races this coming weekend (10K & Half Marathon) since they are chock full of distractions like characters and costumes and a huge number of runners. But I’ll have to carefully control my start at the Ventura Marathon so I don’t run out of steam by going too fast in the first half like I did in Vermont.
My plan is to do the first few miles at an easy 13:00 pace, then very gradually let myself speed up if it feels right. I’m taking the early start just in case I do run into trouble and exceed the 6-hour time limit. The early start takes off at 5:30 AM — an hour before the regular start — giving me 7 hours if I need it, but I’m hoping I’m properly prepared and control the start so I finish somewhere between 5:00 and 5:30. That’s the plan…
This race report is long overdue! The Media 5 Miler is one of my favorite races because of the crowd support, so many friends running it, our traditional party at Sligo’s afterward, and because it’s the shortest distance I like to run for a race. Even so, there is not much time to settle in to a comfortable pace, and the hills in Media — especially the second time around the 2.5 mile course — can be rather punishing. Although I was satisfied with my finish time — just over 48 minutes, and a pace of 9:37 — I was huffing and puffing all the way, and I was no where near my 5-mile PR on that course of 43:54. Still, I enjoyed the run in my kilt and had a great time!