Monday, November 18, 2019

2019 Marine Corps Marathon

I had gotten into the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in 2017, but was unable to run after hurting my knee during the 2017 Baltimore Half marathon the day before.  Since the MCM is based on a lottery system, I totally forgot to register in 2018, so I made sure to put a reminder on my calendar so I wouldn't forget again in 2019.  Fortunately the reminder work, I signed up, and I was able to get registered for a spot.

My normal running cadence is about 40 miles a week (plus or minus 5 miles).  As I approach a marathon race I tend to ramp up the mileage to the 45 to 50 miles per week level, work on speed a little more, and then tamper in the last week leading up to the event.

Unfortunately that didn't work out.  I did the Tour de Frederick metric century ride (62+ miles) in August and frankly didn't train enough for that distance.  While the ride was enjoyable and seemed to go without much of an issue, I ended up giving myself bursitis.  I started going to my local chiropractor for relief and some physical therapy exercises that started to work pretty well.  At that point I headed off to Bangalore, India for work.  This was my third trip in 2019 and was going to be about a 8 days or so.

With about two days remaining I could tell I was getting sick.  I did run a few times while I was there knowing this race was coming up, but I could tell my breathing and lung capacity was off.  By the time I was heading to the airport for my flight I was coughing and had bad congestion.  Felt a lot like bronchitis to me.

Fast forward to today (mid November) and I still have a slight cough.  I feel a lot better, but as most of you probably know, the cough is the last thing to go away and can last for 8 to 12 weeks.  The MCM took place on October 27th.  Just a few days after my 52nd birthday actually.

I didn't feel normal, still had a pretty bad cough and still had congestion/mucus in my chest.  But I was excited for the run.  I had wanted to do this race for some time and was looking forward to running through DC again and parts of Northern VA.

The race expo is usually held at the National Harbor Gaylord National hotel. So, I book a room through the race site using their discount.  I tend to book just one night for racing events, but for this race I should have done two nights (more on that later).  I checked into the hotel around 3pm and went through the expo around 4pm just before it's 5pm closing time.

MCM Bib and some of my running gels and Nuun
This is actually a large expo with a lot of great merchandise and vendors so would recommend you to spend some time looking around at everything the expo has to offer.  I did purchase a short sleeve running shirt to compliment the long sleeve shirt that came with the entry.

I was also sure to get dinner reservations (McCormick and Schmicks) well in advance of the race.  Back in 2017 when I tried to run before, I didn't get reservations and we were not able to get dinner anywhere and ended up just getting what we could from the various cafe's in the hotel.  There is rarely only one event going on at the Gaylord and this was no exception.  There were several conferences happening at the same time and area restaurants were busy.  So, if you do this event, be sure to get reservations for dinner and perhaps lunch the next day in advance.

Pre-race dinner (swordfish and wilted spinich with mushrooms)
The weather was looking to be a little unpredictable on race day as the day approached, but race morning as I figured would happen it was raining pretty good and windy.  The temperature was in the mid to high 60s so it wasn't cold.  According to the data added to my Strava run, it was 67F with 93% humidity and 9mph winds.  What the application didn't add was that it was pouring when we started.  In fact it rained almost constantly in the hours leading up the starting time. Thankfully I found a small tent packed full of other runners trying to stay dry before the start.

Starting line photo through a Zip-Lock bag around my phone
I did have the foresight to pack a cheap poncho, so as I waited in line for the port-a-potty just before race time I stayed relatively dry (except for my shoes).  To make sure I could start Strava on m Apple Watch I kept my arms under the poncho as well, and just before crossing the started mat after starting the run, I tossed the poncho into a bin off the left side.

The number of runners for this event including the newly added 50K distance is in excess of 30,000 runners.  Staying at the Gaylord and using those free shuttle buses to the starting area worked really well.  I can't imagine trying to drive into one of the designated parking areas with that many participants.  The starting area is divided across two sides of Route 110 near the Arlington Cemetery.  As we started to merge back together a few tenths of a mile down the route, it dud cause some confusion for runners.

Strava MCM Map
As the map shows, you start near the Arlington Cemetery and head North/North West into Arlington. With the large number of participants it is fairly congested for the first 1 to 2 miles before runners spread out enough to be more comfortable.  For the first 2.5 miles or so it is largely up hill as you climb about 210 feet.  Frankly I think the large crowds help in that you can't go out to fast and you can just get into a steady cadence and work your through those first miles.  According to Strava overall elevation gain for the entire race is about 794 feet.

Strava MCM Elevation Chart

Once you get to the turn back towards the Potomac you start heading back down hill.  At this point the remainder of the run is mostly flat with just a few minor elevation changes until the end of the race where you climb the last few tenths of a mile.

The rain continued to start and stop throughout the race.  At times it would stop and you feel like you are starting to dry out and then all of a sudden it would pour and within second you could feel your socks squishing in your running shoes.  I could have done without the hard downpours, but what was amazing was the number of people in ponchos holding large golf umbrellas cheering the runners on.  And of course all the volunteers at the different aide stations standing in the rain making sure we all had what we needed.

After crossing the Francis Scott Key bridge you do an out and back up the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway.  It was still raining during most of this section, but it wasn't a downpour and the section of the run was actually very beautiful with the trees and greenery. 

At mile 11 you start to run past West Potomac Park, the Jefferson Memorial and then around Potomac Park.  The rain picked up heavy again during this section of the event and it unfortunately impacted the highly anticipated "blue mile".

After going around the Tidal Basin you make your way down Madison Drive heading East down the "Mall".  As we turned the corning around the Tidal Basin the rain picked up again, and became a string downpour.  The crowds cheering us on started screaming and cheering even louder as the rain continued to get stronger.  It was raining so hard that water was several inches deep at each cross street along the Mall area.

View of Capital through a Zip Lock bag
As we approached the Capital to head back West along the Mall area, I stepped to the side and took the photo above through the Zip Lock bag I had my phone in.  It was still raining at this point but not has hard has it was a few minutes earlier.

After you get passed the museums heading West you cross over the George Mason Memorial Bridge.  It was at this point, around Mile 21, that the clouds broke and the sun came out.  As I mentioned earlier it wasn't a cold morning, and after all the rain, the sun breaking out caused temperatures to climb into the mid 70s quickly and the humidity levels were nuts.

I was trying to keep hydrated during the entire race even though with the rain it didn't feel warm or that I was loosing that much water.  I grabbed water at each water stop, and Gatorade at some of them.  I was also carrying Nuun Hydration with me to take along the way.  The overall conditions of the race were difficult, but after the sun came out I saw several runners being treated with IVs and a few runners being taken off on stretchers and via ambulance.  You never know what happens after you run by something like this, so hopefully everything worked out okay for everyone.

The Sun is out now!
After crossing the bridge and short out and back through Addison Heights, runners start to head towards the finish line at the Pentagon.  I started to struggle back at mile 21 and with the added heat I was fading fast, so knowing I was getting into the last few miles of the event I was trying to keep pushing.  With my lack of training and the fact I still didn't feel well, my overall time was horrible and I was starting to walk more frequently.

While I wasn't happy with my running performance, I was happy I was able to complete the event and run through DC again.  Once you finish the run, you are presented your medal by a Marine.  You then work your way out the chute where you can get your snack box, water and Gatorade.  You also get a light weight recyclable jacket.

2019 MCM Finishers Medal
With this many runners, the number of participants finishing every minute is fairly high.  I should have anticipated large crowds trying to exit the area, but I didn't expect it to be as bad as it was.  I have done large running events in the past (such as Disney) and perhaps it is just the constrained area where we finished, but with runners trying to exit, and allowing friends/family to merge into the same exit area it took me 45 minutes to an hour to just get out of the chute.

Once you get out of the chute, you have to make your way to the Rosslyn Metro station (Blue Line) so you can work your way to the Eisenhower station (Yellow Line) to catch the bus back to the Gaylord Hotel.  So, make sure you have a Metro card with you to make this process easier as you return.

In all, it took me about an hour and 45 minutes once I finished to get back to the hotel.  That delay, coupled with the fact that it took me 5 hours to run the race (my worst time ever), meant I didn't get back in time to take a shower since checkout was 2pm.

So, I changed cloths in the lobby and cleaned up the best I could and then we headed to lunch at Grace's Mandarin restaurant.  The food was excellent.  I wish I had booked another night at the hotel so that we could have enjoyed a few cocktails, I could have showered and we could take in the sites before heading home.

Post run lunch (chicken and shrimp fried rice) and Bok Choy
When I first finished the race and returned to the hotel, I was thinking I would never do this event again. The logistics of getting back from the race and the crowds just wasn't worth it to me.  But I know that a lot of this was tainted with the weather as well.  So, I might do this again, and in fact, maybe I will try the new 50K distance,  Most runs that long are on trails, which I don't love, so this may be one I can target and train for in 2020.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

2019 Delaware Marathon

I had planned on running the Delaware Half Marathon in 2018, but I had to defer due to an injury.  Once I heard that in 2019 they were changing the Full Marathon course from two half marathon loops (which we all know is kind of boring)  to a new route that included a newly constructed paved trail area through a wildlife rescue I switched to the full marathon.

The new trail is called the Jack A. Markell Trail and is a combination of board walk style areas as well as paved trail.  This part of the race doesn't start until past the half way point, so while the runners had already spread out, the trail itself is very spacious and getting around runners was not an issue at all.

We stayed at the Double Tree hotel in Wilmington since that was also the official race hotel and included packet pickup and the race expo.  I booked the hotel really early to make sure I had a room and in fact didn't even use (or think to go back and use) the group rate sponsored by the event.  So I know I paid more than most runners, but I don't know exactly how much more.  In general the room rates were reasonable around $130/night and runners were allowed a late checkout of 2pm which was awesome.  Plenty of time to get back shower, pack up and head out.

The area right around the hotel was nice enough, but to be honest it felt slightly unsafe with a few homeless around asking for money as you walked by.  We had reservations at a local restaurant, but after viewing their menu one final time we decided to eat in the hotel.  The food in the hotel was actually really good and they had several dishes that worked well for me the night before a race.  In this case salmon, asparagus and roasted potatoes.

The main dining area was doing a pasta buffet clearly targeted to all the runners staying at the hotel, but I have never been one to carb load with pasta before a race.  So we had to eat in the bar area which only had a few tables (about 8 or so).  They would not allow ordering off the menu in the main dining area, that was buffet only.

Starting Area Advertisements
We learned the next morning that this actually did cause a backup in the bar area as many guests didn't want the buffet and those that did found it to be sub par.  Not sure why they wouldn't serve the menu in that room given you could get it in the bar area.  Hopefully they will change this for 2020.

Christina River near starting line; you pass by here at mile 2.3

The race start/end was located at the Tubman Garret Riverfront Park which was about a half mile walk from the hotel.  A perfect location which allowed me to really arrive just before the start of the race.  Given that proximity I was able to sleep in a little longer before getting up and getting ready for the event.

SIS, Huma and Nuun

After I showered to help wake up and loosen up the muscles I made some "in room" coffee and started to get my clothes Nuun and SIS gels together.  It was at this point that I realized I FORGOT TO BRING RUNNING SHORTS!  I had my shirt, a sweatshirt to discard since it was going to be chilly and old pajama pants to discard as well.  I was at a total loss of what to do and yet didn't want to just pack up and do the 3 hour drive home without actually running.

I made the decision to have my wife go downstairs with the pajama pants, ask for a pair of scissors and cut them off into shorts.  I knew I was going to look totally ridiculous but at least I would run.  I gathered my gels (thankfully the pajamas had pockets), got my bib in place and headed to the starting area.

The starting area was organized really well.  The full marathon and the half marathon started at the same time (7am) and the 5k was going to start 30 minutes later.  Overall the race is fairly small with only 5,000 runners total across all three events.  In fact, only 324 runners completed the marathon out of the 327 that started.

Delaware Marathon Starting Line

I didn't have any real set expectation for this event since I had never run it and I also knew the overall course was new so I really couldn't get a lot of details from fellow runners except for the first half.  I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the course really was.  When you start in a city like Wilmington you tend to expect to stay within a very urban area.  This is certainly true with the Baltimore events.  While there is nice scenery around a few parks and the inner harbor area, for the most part you are in the city.

As you can see from the overall Strava map, this course meanders outside the city to the North in the first half along nice water ways and park like trails.  You start to work your way back to the starting area going through some amazing houses that clearly shows that Wilmington was founded by residents that definitely had money.

Strava Map of Delaware Marathon
Overall elevation gain for a race of this distance wasn't bad at all.  According to Strava the overall gain was 715ft.

Strava Elevation Map of Delaware Marathon

As you can see from the Strava elevation map, most of the gain is in the first half of the race as you travel North and then around the Brandywine Zoo and Brandywine Creek.  This part of the race was beautiful with lots of water views, ornate bridges and given the timing the trees and grass were a really bright and lush green.

Running uphill along South Park Drive
After climbing the South Park Drive hill you work your way around Wawaset Park which was full of amazing homes and large trees.  The race photographers captured me a few times in this area sporting my PJ running shorts with pockets full of gels.

Somewhere near Wawaset Park
After running around the Wawaset Park area, you get back down to Brandywine Creek, run along the water and turn right on North King Street heading back to the starting area.  You run right past the Double Tree hotel at this point taking the path you did to walk to the starting line,

As you pass under the railroad tracks, the half marathon runners make a left to finish and the marathon runners make a right and head towards the Wilmington Riverwalk area along the Christina River.

Overall I think signage and directional arrows were pretty good, but there were a few places that had no signs and frankly unless you could see other runners, you weren't really sure if you were still on course.  As I ran along the riverwalk area, which we had run the other direction after first starting, I wasn't sure that I hadn't messed up.  After working my way around one of the shopping center areas I finally saw a water stop and knew I was still okay.

The runners handbook that was mailed out before the start of the race (which was very informative) had indicated that at this point in the race we would be entering an area approximately 3.5 miles long without support.  Instead of a standard water stop they were handing out bottles of water so you could either take one with you or fill up your own hydration system.

As I made my way into the Russell Peterson Wildlife Refuge, I was astonished by the new trail system.  It was absolutely stunning.  The bridges, the lookout areas, the birds you could see and the marsh areas were spectacular.  There was a nice little breeze here and it started to rain a little.  Just enough to cool you down but not get in your face.  I managed to fish my camera out of my running belt again and take a few photos as I ran along the boardwalk style trail.

Russell Peterson Wildlife Refuge

Russell Peterson Wildlife Refuge
As you can see the runners are fairly spread out at this point, but the boardwalk is about 10 or so feet wide, so plenty of room to maneuver if necessary.

Right before you get back to full race support you run past the Baylor Women's Correctional Institute facility.  I didn't know that is what it was when I went by, but it was clear it was a prison of some sort.  I wasn't surprised that no one was outside on break given the amount of traffic that was about to go by.  Seemed like a prudent decision.

As we approached the turn around point at the New Castle Elementary School it was starting to rain pretty hard.  I wasn't wearing a hat so the rain was starting to get annoying, but since the humidity and temperature were steadily rising, I knew the rain was helping more than it was hurting.  Was starting to get concerned about the boardwalk section being slick, but by the time I got back to that part of the trail the rain had stopped and the boards were mostly dry.

Of course the race photography got me again as I was still a little wet in my stylish custom pajama running shorts.

Coming out of the wildlife refuge; about 2 miles left
I was starting to feel the strain of the marathon with about 2 to 3 miles remaining.  My quads were screaming to stop and I was really hungry.  My hydration was really good as I had water at each of the water stops and was carrying Nuun with me.

Getting tired; a mile to go

I think the photo above shows how tired I was.  My form is all over the place.  Thankfully the fabric my pajamas were made out of didn't bother me. I was a little concerned that it would rub or chaff my legs.  Especially when it started to get wet, but it tried fairly quickly and ended up being more comfortable than I thought.

Crossing the finish line
Seeing the finish line is always a welcome sight.  There was a lot of great support on the course from volunteers and actually a lot of spectators cheering us on through the course.  The 6 miles out on the trail to New Castle Elementary School was quiet for sure except for race support, but otherwise lots of folks were out on the street and in front of their homes cheering us on.

I grabbed a water at the finish line after getting my medal and quickly dropped in a Nuun Rest tablet I had been carrying around with me.  I grabbed a bag of Utz chips, found my wife, and back up to the hotel we went; stopping at Starbucks along the way of course.

Delaware Marathon Finishers Medal
The finishers medal is actually really nice and can double as a bottle opener. It even has a magnetic strip on the back so you can place it on your refrigerator for easy access.

Overall I would highly recommend this event.  It is smaller in size which makes it really nice.  The course was really pretty and had a lot of great scenery to keep you energized.  The Expo was pretty weak, only about 5 tables, but based on the post race emails, they took feedback and will work on attracting more sponsors for next year.

If you aren't local, staying at the host hotel worked really well.  The staff was reasonably nice, but the employee that checked me in was fairly rude.  A quick look online shows that this seems to be a theme at this particular hotel, but the rooms were nice and the beds were comfortable.  As I mentioned the dinner in the bar was really good and worked great as a pre-race meal.  Just don't forget your running shorts.

Friday, March 22, 2019

2019 Planned Runs

This article outlines the runs that I am planning to run for the 2019 Runner year.  As each run completes I will post a retrospective on the race so others can decide if it is something may be interested in trying and I can document for myself if I enjoyed it so I can remember to sign up again, or not, the following year.  Feel free to comment on what runs you will be doing this year!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

2018 Steamtown Marathon

I love Autumn races, especially marathons, because of the great temperatures and the amazing scenery they bring.  The downside to Autumn races is you are training through the Summer which can be difficult.  2018 was no different than most years for me.  Lots of heat and humidity his past Summer, coupled with more than normal work travel, made it hard to get my training runs completed.

I had been looking forward to the Steamtown Marathon after the first time I heard about the race.  I knew it was a net downhill course, and while it would challenge my quads I was hoping to have a great time and see how close I could come to my PR and determine how far away I might be from a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time to chase down in the future.

The other exciting part for me was seeing Scranton, PA which I had never visited and of course was the setting for the iconic TV show The Office.  The drive from my house was going to be about 3.5 hours, so very early on I had reserved a room at the Hilton in Scranton that was only blocks away from the finish line.  This also happened to be where the buses picked up runners to take them to the starting area; the Steamtown Marathon is a point to point race.  

When we arrived in Scranton the evening before the race we went straight to Scranton High School for packet pick up which was a breeze.  Very well organized with plenty of parking.  This is probably one of the largest and nicest high schools I have ever seen.  The expo was open on Saturday from 11am until 5:30pm.

Busing to the starting area is "free" and is simply part of the registration fee.  In fact, you don't have to show your bib to board the bus, but friends and family shouldn't join you as it would be a long walk back for them to meet you at the finish line.  Something you are reminded often during the frequent, very informative and hilarious emails leading up to the race.  Since you don't have to show your bib to board, they also have pickup race morning at the starting location, but for obvious reasons they request you pick up your bib the day before the event.  They also offer a bag drop at the starting line for pickup after you cross the finish.  As is normal these days, they provide a clear bag that must be used.

The Radisson Hotel in Scranton, PA

Since I never know what the size will be for an event like this, and I am not from the area, I also book dinner reservations well in advance to make sure the meal prior is something I know will help fuel me for the distance.  Scranton offered a lot of choices near the hotel, but I settled on Carmen's 2.0 inside the Radisson Hotel.  I normally stay in Hilton properties. but when I do this event again, and I will, I may consider staying at the Radisson.  It is a converted and renovated train station from the 1900s and is gorgeous.

Carmen's 2.0 within the converted train station

As you can see from the photos above the venue is absolutely amazing.  So much to look at and take in.  Timing wise there was a wedding reception going on within the lobby while we were there, so the noise was louder than I am sure is normal and it wasn't possible to really look around and take it all in.

The menu offered a wide variety of options and the food came out really well.  The bread was amazing as was their salted butter.  They also provided basil infused oil as an alternative to the butter.  I started with their French onion soup and had the salmon for the main course, as I often do prior to race day.

Salmon with polenta and wilted spinach

The salmon was perfectly cooked and I really enjoyed the polenta cake and wilted spinach that came with the dish.  I wasn't a fan of the pomegranate reduction, but it paired well with my wife's duck, so win-win.

As most runners understand, you can plan, you can train, you can play the event out in your head well in advance of your race,  and unfortunately, a lot of times things don't work out as you would hope, or expect.  This was one of those races for me.  I had been sick for several days leading up to the event and was concerned how well I would perform.  I knew I wasn't going to PR at this point, which was disappointing, but in some ways I would just be happy to finish.  Of course I was only able to get about 4 hours of sleep the night before for various reasons so that was weighing on me as I got up to get ready.

Staying locally only a few blocks away takes all the stress out of arriving on time, finding parking or fear of getting lost or being late.  It was a very short walk to the bus area and knew I would have plenty of time to stretch and prepare myself while I waited for the event to start.  It is about a 45 minute bus ride the starting area at Forest City High School.

There were numerous signs in the high school

We were welcomed to the starting area by loads of volunteers, high school kids and cheerleaders giving us their support.  Being allowed to wait in the school was wonderful so that weather didn't really play into it at all.  The school was decorated all over with signs of encouragement welcoming the runners.  I truly have never seen this level of support in any other race event I have attended.

Seniors in bright orange shirts making sure no one gets a head start

With about 15 minutes to spare before the starting canon, yes canon, I made my way to the starting area and lined up according to my planned pace.  They had high school seniors lined up at the starting line to ensure no one got an unfair head start.  Given the level of maturity I had been seeing in the event planning and communication leading up to the event, there was no doubt we would start on time, and of course that is what happened.

Strava Map of the point to point Steamtown Marathon

The course being a "net downhill" event is no joke.  If my math is right, there is probably only 110 feet or so of elevation gain in the entire 26 miles.  Granted some of that is near the end unfortunately, but you have to make sure you pace yourself coming out of the gate to save your quads for the first 10 miles or so of serious decent with some gas left to climb those hills at the end.  I have done other events that were advertised as net downhill such as Via Marathon, but those just don't compare.  The other added benefit of this event is the lack of trails.  The Via Marathon had long stretches of trail which changed your focus and posture significantly.  Long stretches of trail are usually also devoid of crowd support and water stations which I found frustrating for the Via Marathon event.

Strava Elevation chart of the Steamtown Marathon

With the Steamtown Marathon there was a total of about a half a mile of trail as you transition from a park back onto the road.  Since the majority of the event is on road there is significant crowd support along the way and plenty of police and volunteers closing roads and intersections in favor of the runners.  At no point did I ever feel as though I was in danger.  Additionally, there were plenty of water stops.  They were more infrequently at the beginning, probably averaging every 2 miles or so for the first 6 to 8 miles, but became more frequent as you continued.

The scenery on this course was breathtaking to say the least.  As you leave the starting area it is mostly wooded as you come down the "mountain" and the timing of the race is perfect to see the leaves changing colors for the start of Autumn.  One of the signs I saw along the way was a gentle reminder that Autumn is really our second Spring with leaves each being a flower.

Photo down the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail

After you find your way down the majority of the downhill you end up on the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail which is paved.  As you pass through various small times you end up leaving the trail for roads, returning the trail and so on a few times.  This was absolutely stunning.  So much so I had to stop and take a few photos of fellow runners in front of me in the Fall foliage and some of the many river crossings.

One of the many crossings over the Lackawanna River

One of the more silent features of the race are the numerous turns throughout.  Rarely were you running on a long straightaway that made you feel you were making no forward progress.  I overheard someone indicate that there were over 60 turns on this course.  I have no idea if that was accurate or not, but whatever the number was, I found it enjoyable.  And on top of that, as I indicated earlier, race support was outstanding.  So many people outside cheering the runners on through the entire course.

I found myself only 2 minutes behind my marathon PR pace around mile 12 or 13, but I was quickly fading.  I knew from some of the chatter around me and some of the volunteers that saving some juice for the climbs near the end was essential.  Sure enough I found out what everyone was referring too.  Around mile 23 you start to climb some, and at mile 24 there is a steep climb up what I believe was Sunset Street.  What was spectacular about this climb were the houses and the their owners.  They were out in the street in droves.  The houses were older,  yet gorgeous, very large, well decorated victorian and colonial styles.  The owners were out with lawn chairs, their kids, sprinklers to cool us off, candy, beverages, loud music and of course beer.

I have to admit that even though you are climbing what feels like forever, it was a welcome jolt of energy to have that support from the spectators at this point in the race.  I ran with my Apple Watch this time knowing I really didn't need my race watch given how I was feeling and it worked out great.  I was able to get some messages of encouragement from my wife along the course and keep her apprised of my progress so she could find a place to see me near the finish line.

Once I crossed the finish line I was presented with the finishers medal and overwhelming variety of food.  They had bananas, oranges, donuts, sandwiches, pasta and even more that I can't remember.  I wasn't ready to eat anything just then, so I simply had my Skratch Recovery drink.  We then ate at the hotel for lunch before the long drive back home.  I have to admit that once again I was disappointed by the hotel not paying attention to what was going on around them.

Steamtown Marathon finishers medal

There wasn't a "host hotel" for this event, but this is the events 23rd year.  The hospitality venues in the area should be expecting a lot of runners.  A lot of hungry runners at that.  Why on Earth wouldn't the hotel think to extend their normal Sunday breakfast buffet that ends at Noon to 2pm or so?  It would have been like printing money in my opinion.  Since the race starts at 8am that doesn't give a large number of runners enough time to get finished, showered and changed before food options start ending.  My wife discovered that the Radisson hotel did have a buffet until 2pm, but I wasn't up for the walk to be honest.  Perhaps another reason to try the Radisson the next time.

To top it off, I had to pay an extra $59 for a checkout time that was 3 hours later.  Normal checkout at this Hilton was Noon and I knew I would need until at least 1pm or 1:30pm to get out the door after a shower.  So, I reluctantly paid the $59 and of course only used just over an hour of the extra time.  At other races I haven't had this issue, they were more than happy to give me a few more hours.   I understand they need to turn the rooms, but it didn't seem like a lot of folks would be checking in on a Sunday.  And I would think they could give some latitude based on your standing with the hotel in terms of prior visits, or at least how many rooms have already asked to a late checkout.  Perhaps adjusting the price accordingly if they felt the need to charge.

Certainly not trying to end this summary on a negative note, but given that many runners will come from out of town, I thought it would be worth sharing some of those details and challenges to help folks plan.  If you have the time, perhaps just staying that Sunday night and enjoying the city would be worth it.  When you think about adding the $59 dollars anyway, it wouldn't have cost that much more to just stay another night.

This was a very enjoyable race from top to bottom (literally).  Overall I ended up with I believe to be my worst marathon time ever, but this will be one of my favorite runs regardless.  I am really looking forward to the opportunity to participate again.  I will be sure to train for the downhill portion to ensure my quads can take the pounding and save some in reserve for those two climbs at the end.  The races 25th anniversary will be in 2020, so I am thinking that might be my next visit to Scranton, PA.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

2018 Rick O'Donnell 5.22 Mile Trail

I really enjoy trail running, but it isn't something I do very often.  I find that looking down to ensure I don't face plant really messes with my posture and causes areas of my body to fatigue and hurt that don't usually bother me.

That being said, I was really excited to give the Rick O'Donnell trail run a try in September,  The event is held very close to my house and while I thought it might be somewhat hilly I knew going around the park lake would be beautiful.  The event lasts for 8 hours, so you have two options at sign up.  You can choose to simply go around once which is approximately 5.22 miles.  Or, you can elect to go around as many times as you can within the 8 hour time limit.

View of Lake from starting area

I had intended to try and go around as many times as possible when I signed up for the event, but over the course of time plans changed and I ended up only going around once.  Some work associates joined me for the event which made it a lot of fun and more than made up for the shortened distance.  The Maryland area has been getting a large amount of run this summer and the course was a bit muddy with a few higher than normal water crossings.

Now that I have seen how the event is setup and run, I do know that I will be back and certainly will attempt a much longer run.  While I didn't get any photos of the setup, it was extremely well supported.  Since it is a loop course, they had food/water support at the start line as the runners completed each loop.  For those only going around once, there was a separate area to allow the repeat runners easy access to water and food as they made their next loop.

Strava Map of the 5.22 mile loop

As the trail proceeds through the starting area there are numerous picnic tables and plenty of open space where runners had setup their own support areas with additional food and beverage options to help them meet their distance goals.  I hadn't thought about what I probably would have wanted to bring had I gone for a 50k distance or more, so seeing the amount of setup was certainly eye opening for me as a plan the adventure next year.

Having company on the course was also a lot of fun.  One thing that did surprise all of us was a few bee/hornet nests along the course.  Within the first mile or two, my two friends both got stung multiple times each.  Later on in the course around mile 4 or so we could hear other runners getting stung.  I didn't see anyone with a severe reaction, but if anyone with allergies decides to run this event, please do bring appropriate medication with you just in case.  Perhaps all the extra rain or other factors created the bee issue, but we certainly weren't expecting it, nor could we really see anything obvious to avoid.

The course had a wide variety of "technical" trail areas.  Everything from fairly fine gravel like dirt as you can see in the photo above, to larger rocks, roots and everything in between.  There were two creek crossings, but only one was really challenging given the extra rain the area received in the prior weeks.

The trail is clearly well used through the year given how visible and easy to follow it was.  Additionally, the course was very well marked by the event staff, so there was never an issue trying to figure out which way to go at various branch points along the trail.  There were also plenty of entertaining signs along the way as well.  I wonder if they would have changed some of them out over time to keep runners doing multiple loops entertained as they ran for 8 hours?

Strava Elevation

The elevation was more than I had expected.  As you can see in the photo above from Strava there is some significant change over some fairly short distances.  I am sure this would catch up with you on each successive loop.  Probably about 450 feet of gain each time around the course if my math is correct.

Overall this was a very enjoyable event.  I will certainly plan to run this again in the future and will take advantage of the ability to do as much as possible within the 8 hour time limit.  Seeing the course, the setup and how other runners prepared for their support was certainly an educational experience.  Very different preparation than for my usual half and full marathon road races.  I am glad I decided to do a single loop for my first experience.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

2018 Charles Street 12 Miler

I was suppose to run the Charles Street 12 Miler race last year and ended up passing based in large part on laziness if I remember correctly.  So, this year I was motivated to get out there and try out this point to point event in Baltimore, MD.  While on 12 miles long, it winds through or by 6 universities in the Baltimore area.  Two of these schools are my alma maters so I knew I was going to enjoy the race from a nostalgia point of view.  The schools include: Goucher, Towson, Notre Dame, Loyola, Johns Hopkins and University of Baltimore.

Most of the race takes place on historic Charles Street which has some beautiful architecture including estate homes, cathedrals and churches.  As with most race events it is really hard to sometimes take in the scenery and at the same time shoot for that PR if that is your goal.  In this case I was somewhere in between.  I haven't been running as fast the last two years, so I managed to take in some of the beauty and still come across the finish line in a reasonable time, if not a great time.

I knew the race was net downhill, but to be honest it seemed to have more ascents than I had expected  But according to Strava on a mile by mile split, there was a total downhill change of 497 feet and only about 141 feet of elevation gain.

Strava Elevation Map of Charles Street 12 Miler

Along with Charm City Run, the races primary sponsor is Under Armour, and in fact the race ends at their headquarters in Tide Point on Baltimore Harbor.  As a point to point race, your entry fee includes $5 for bus transportation from Tide Point to the starting area at the Shops at Kenilworth just north of Towson.

Another great benefit of this race is race day packet pick-up.  Living outside Frederick, MD, none of the packet pick-up locations in the days prior to the race worked for me.  They are all located at Charm City Run stores which puts on the event, but the Frederick store location isn't one of them.  Since I work in Reston, VA my only option is race day.

The "shops" area was also open to race participants so we were able to sit, stretch and relax indoors prior to the race start which was really nice.  Of course the only store that was opened was a coffee shop out in the parking lot area.  As you would expect many racers were taking advantage of a snack and some caffeine.

Strava Map of the Charles Street 12 Miler Run

The route is very straight forward and well marked.  The emergency personal, volunteers and race staff did a great job and stopping traffic and directing runners.  For such a busy area, it never felt dangerous along the route.

After starting out on Kenilworth Ave, you make right turn onto Bosley Ave.  After approaching Towson University, my first alma mater, you turn right onto West Towsontown Blvd.  It was interesting to see that my old dorm building has been totally renovated; it looked great.

Race photo at Washington Monument on Charles Street in Mount Vernon area

The next turn was a left onto Osler Drive which take you through the center of Towson University between the Student Union and the Football Stadium.  At this point you also start up what is arguable the longest ascent in the entire race.  Most of Osler Drive is uphill, followed by a slightly steeper climb after turning right onto Stevenson Lane.  By the time you reach the crest you have been climbing for about 1.2 miles and are 2.8 miles into the race.

Under Armour Headquarters Building

At mile 3.6 you make a left turn onto historic Charles Street and will start to make your way by some really beautiful homes, churches and several additional universities.  Your time on Charles street is pretty much all downhill with a few short climbs from time to time to keep it interesting and give your quads a break.  Your time on Charles Street doesn't end until you reach mile 10.3 and turn left onto Lee Street followed by a quick right onto Key Highway.

Domino Sugar on Key Highway

For the last 1.6 miles or so you remain on Key Highway passing some really great retail shops, coffee shops, apartments, condos and even the Domino Sugar factory before approaching the Under Armour headquarters and cross the finish line.

Finish line under the Under Armour HQ pedestrian bridge

After crossing the finish line you are greeted by volunteers with cooling towels soaked in ice water, bottled water, your finishers medal and snacks.  Your bib contains a pull off tag for a free beer from any one of the several vendors that were participating,  They had a large variety of beers and ciders to choose from.  There were also cold sodas available to participants that didn't want to indulge.  The other tear off ticket on the bib was for BBQ provided by Mission BBQ.  They had both pulled Pork and pulled Chicken along with corn bread, coleslaw, baked beans and mac and cheese.

Charles Street 12 Miler Finishers Medal

Overall this was a really enjoyable event and I would certainly do it again as well as encourage others to also give it a try.  One lesson learned centered on parking.  I have to admit that the pre-race communications were really well done and were very informative.  And the fact that I parked in the "wrong" lot was really my fault.  That being said I want to make sure others understand that parking off Key Highway north of Under Armour will cause you to be stuck until the last runner passes by around 11am.   If you want to be able to head home after completing the event and having a snack you should park in the triangle lots off Hull Street.

Buses start leaving Under Armour at 5:30am with the last bus departing at 6:45am.  This is plenty of time for you to arrive, park and get to the starting area before the 7:30am start.  If you are doing race day packet pick-up, volunteers are equipment with registrant names so they know to allow you on the bus.  After getting your bib and your other race premiums you can take them over to bag drop and then pick everything up again at the finish area.  Again, very will organized.

Another thing to keep in mind if you enjoy race series events is that the Charles Street 12 Miler is part of the Baltimore B3 Race Series.  You can find more information on their website.  The finishers medals are designed to go together which may be why the shape of this single medal may seem odd to folks. I believe this year the medals create the shape of a shoe with this event completing the heel.

Hopefully this entry will inspire others to give this event a try.  This is a great race, mostly down hill, and a great training event for those working on a new half marathon PR.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

2018 Walt Disney Dopey and Castaway Cay Challenge

The 25th anniversary of the Walt Disney World Marathon was held from January 3rd through 7th 2018.  This also included the 5th anniversary of the Dopey Challenge which was the event I chose to pursue for the second time.  You can read about my first running in 2016 here.  In addition, the family decided to take a Disney Cruise the Monday after the event, so I signed up for the Castaway Cay Challenge.

Expo and Packet Pickup -- Wednesday, January 3rd
When you pursue the Dopey Challenge you need to attend packet-pickup on the first day of the Expo, Wednesday.  Since you are running all four events starting on Thursday you need your bibs.  For the Dopey Challenge you get two bibs. One bib is for the 5k and 10k event, and the second bib for the half marathon and full marathon.  Each bib will have a corral letter corresponding to your starting corral for each of the events.  Your slotted into your corral based on your specific qualifying time.  Your corral placement may not be the same on each bib. For me, I was in corral A for the 5k and 10k and corral B for the half and full marathon.

The expo opens on Wednesday at Noon and you can expect it to be very crowded early.  While the only "required" runners that need to attend are 5k and Dopey Challenge runners, what you will most likely find are thousands of runners and non-runners looking for unique runDisney merchandise.  While the quality and design of the items are fine, they aren't over the top in my opinion.  But for Disney fans around the world, they are highly coveted items.  In fact, it isn't unusual to see shoppers taking multiples of each item they like.  Either for personal use, gifts or even perhaps eBay sale.

Now, here is an interesting tip if your doing either the half marathon, marathon or even one of the two challenge events; the VIP Race Retreat.  Not only is the Race Retreat great before the half or full marathon, it also gets you into the Expo 2 hours early.  So instead of waiting until Noon on Wednesday with the masses you can get in at 10am.  So, if you are interested in runDisney merchandise, expo vendors or simply want to get your race packet early, this is a great and easily missed bonus of Race Retreat (more on Race Retreat later).

The Expo takes place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.  This is a huge complex of buildings and sport fields.  Much larger than you would probably expect if you haven't been there before.  Disney hosts many events here throughout the year and over the past few years it has grown tremendously.  There was heavy construction around the entrance during the event clearly indicating some improvements to ingress and egress for the larger events.  If you decide to run the full marathon event then you'll have the opportunity to do about 4 miles within the confines of this venue.

The expo is split up across three different buildings, and with the events I have participated in over the years, they do change the setup.  For this particular event the challenge events had their packet pickup in the HP Field House which also housed the runDisney merchandise.  The main event packet pickup (for 5k, 10k, half and full marathons) along with Castaway Cay pickup was in the Visa Athletic Center.  This also housed the various vendors participating in the event.  Champion Stadium held other various pickup locations for the kids run and for the chEar Squad.  If you purchase a VIP Race Retreat for either the half or full marathon (or both) you picked up your wrist band in the round Welcome Center building.

I did walk through both the runDisney and main vendor expo areas and thankfully refrained from purchasing too much.  I did get a new Dopey Challenge car magnet since my previous one was all faded.  I also splurged and got another shadow box for the Dopey Medals from Lasting Commemoratives.   While I have completed back to back half and full marathons at least four times so far, the Dopey Challenge is unique in a few different ways, so I felt it was nice to do something special again for this event.

The weather the entire race event week was very cold, windy and rainy, but it was a complete downpour attending the Expo.  Since we were arriving as part of the early VIP crowd, we had to go to the Welcome Center first to pick up our wrist bands so we could get into the Expo area.  This is a small building so the line was outside in the rain.  By the time I got into the expo building I was completely soaked.  My shoes squishing with every step.  I spent the first hour after returning to the hotel in the Laundromat drying my clothes and winter coat.

Walt Disney World 5K -- Thursday, January 4th
Now that you have your bib, and all that runDisney merchandise its time for the first of four events.  As I indicated in my last blog the hardest part of the Dopey Challenge is really getting up early four mornings in a row.  Given this is the first one, it wasn't too difficult to get moving when the alarm went of at 2:45am.  Yes, you read that right, 2:45am.

This gives me enough time to get dressed, get the bib on, grab a banana and yogurt that I bought the night before and head out to the bus area.  The first buses departed the hotel around 3:30am if I remember correctly.  Then its just a short ride to the Epcot parking lot where the festivities are held and the waiting begins.

There is a live DJ, a few character opportunities and photographers milling around if you want your photo taken.  As I mentioned it was cold.  On this particular morning it was one of the colder mornings with temperatures hovering around the low 30s and some wind.  Realizing it was going to be cold for runners, the runDisney staff had several portable propane headers sitting around the parking area to huddle under.  Since I arrived relatively early I was able to stand right up front as the crowds began to fill in around us all.

You can see the temperature differential with the heated resort pool

As always I found the runners polite, friendly and all too eager to share their running stories, favorite shoes and dislike of the cold.  I waited there until about 5:10am when I headed off to my corral.  At 5am they open up the corral areas, but I knew there wouldn't be any heaters there so I waited about as long as I thought I could before making my way to the corral.  By the time I got there they had already released the corral to the starting line, so at least I didn't have to stand around in the corral long.

As always they let the wheelchair participants go a few minutes early, and then we were off promptly at 5:30am (the starting time for all the races).  What was a little different for me at a runDisney event was that instead of letting all of corral A go at once and then waiting about 15 minutes to release corral B, they broke corral A up into about 3 or four waves separated by 3 minutes.  I ended up being in the third wave since I took my time getting up to the starting area.  I have to admit that I do like this change.  It really helped the spacing of runners (and walkers) such that I didn't have to zig zag too much between people for the first mile.

The 5K event is a fairly simple course as you can see from the Strava map that takes you around the back side of Epcot so that you enter into the World Showcase area near Mexico, work your way around the countries clockwise, do a quick out and back around The Land the The Sea, out past Spaceship Earth and then to the finish line back into the Epcot parking lot.

There are a few photographers on the course as well as a few character stops around the course. Since the run is so early in the morning many of the photographers on the course have bright LED lights that can blind you, so you should always be careful not to look at the lights.  Hard to know who or what you night run into.

In fact, a few of us had an interesting thing in common on the bus during the return trip to the resort.  After coming around The Seas area there was a photographer right before you turned left to go under the covered area between buildings towards the fountain.  Also right at that corner is a large palm tree that a few of us almost face planted directly into.  Curious if the three of us who just happened to be sitting near each other experienced this phenomenon how many others did as well, and did anyone actually run into the tree.

Strava map of the Walt Disney 5K

After crossing the finish line your are greeted with a very large number of very helpful and happy volunteers.  You are given your medal (and since 2017 the 5K is a real medal and no longer a rubber medallion), a mylar blanket, various drink choices, a snack box and a banana.  After that you make your way back to the main parking lot and waiting area to meet up with any family member or fellow runners before heading back to your bus to return to your resort.

2018 Walt Disney World 5K Medal

Since the 5K is such a short event, the last time I did this race I found myself waiting for a relatively long period of time to return to the resort as the corrals were still being released.  The buses actually share part of the course with the runners so they can't start moving again until the last runner goes by.  Again, thankfully, runDisney was very in tune with the cold temperatures and allowed us to wait on the buses for departure versus standing in a line outside as with my previous run.

I think I was back at the resort a little before 7am, grabbed a shower, changed, then had breakfast and the rest of the day to enjoy Disney World.

Walt Disney World 10K -- Friday, January 5th
As with the 5K, the 10K event starts at 5:30am, so once again the alarm goes off around 2:30am or 2:45am.  Time to get ready, have something quick to eat and then off to the bus for the ride to Epcot.  The morning air was chilly again, but was about 2 degrees warmer.  The big difference in weather was the wind. It was extremely windy on this morning compared to the 5K.  In fact, it was so windy they couldn't light the portable propane heaters.

While I was skeptical that they really couldn't be lit, it didn't take long for the tops of the heaters to become UFOs and fly across the parking lot.  It was a very good thing that no one was really standing under them trying to get warm.

A few of us ended up standing behind the coffee truck and while we had to deal with diesel fumes but we didn't have to deal with as much wind.  I stayed there until about 5am when the corral waiting area opened and then worked my way to corral A.

Once again I was on the third "sub wave" to be released and really appreciated the new way runners were being released.  While I love the fact that Disney races are great for runners of all abilities, I do find it frustrating that for 5K and 10K runs that people in corral A will walk right out of the gate.  And worse yet, they don't move over to the right, or even worse stop in front of you and get annoyed if you run into the back of them.  Not much anyone can do about this behavior, but you have to understand it will happen, get through it and enjoy the run.

Strava map of the Walt Disney World 10K

As you can see from the Strava map of the course, to get the extra length in, you work your way out of the park and then back around Epcot Center Drive.  I accidentally started my watch as a bike ride instead of a run, so after a couple tenths of a mile when I realized it I stopped the activity, deleted it and restarted which is why this doesn't show the same starting point as the 5K.  You do indeed start in the same location for the 5K and the 10K.

The other big change in the course for the 10K is the loop around the boardwalk area.  This is actually one of my favorite places to run, and one I do often when we stay at the Beach Club Resort.  Early in the morning the lights are really great to see around the water and there are a lot of spectators from the various resorts and DVC areas outside cheering you on.

You enter back into the world showcase the same way you do for the 5K, the only difference within the Epcot park is you don't do the loop past The Land and The Sea.  After you leave World Showcase you simply run past the fountain, down past Spaceship Earth and out towards the parking lot area to the finish line.

2018 Walt Disney World 10K Medal

As with the 5K, after crossing the finish line area you are greeted by a volunteer that will present you with your medal, followed by a mylar blanket, beverage area, snack box and banana.  At this point you are back out where you can get your checked bag if you had one, meet up with friends and family and then work your way to the buses to take you back to your resort.  Since the distance is longer, the corrals will most likely be all released by the time you finish, so there is no waiting on the bus.

Just as with the 5K there are plenty of water stops for this event, more than normal and an abundance of photo opportunities with or without characters around the course.  I had heard a rumor of Colonial Mickey being at the America pavilion in Epcot, but unfortunately I didn't see him during any of the runs that passed through that area.  That is one I would have probably stopped for.

Walt Disney World Half Marathon -- Saturday, January 6th
Day three of the Dopey Challenge is about to be under way.  Since this is a much larger event, buses do start to run a little earlier to the starting area at Epcot.  I set my alarm for 2:30am and headed out to the bus pickup area a little before 3am and boarded.  We left just a hair before 3am for Epcot.

One of the reasons I was willing to leave so early from the resort, probably earlier than I had too, was because I had opted to pay for the VIP Race Retreat for both the Half Marathon and the Marathon.  I knew I would get something to eat, drink and get mentally ready in the Race Retreat facility.  And as a bonus, I wasn't waiting outside in the cold. Over the 3 years or so I have really been running, I have learned that I waste a lot of energy pre-race shivering in the cold. I also have a tendency to tense up, especially around the shoulders and neck.  Neither of which is conducive to a good run.

VIP Race Retreat Tent

As you can see this is a rigid tent with plenty of room to sit, relax, grab food and hydrate. There is even a DJ and photo available.  The food in the morning prior to the Half Marathon is comprised of a Continental Breakfast including Bagels with Peanut Butter, Cream Cheese, Butter and Jellies along with whole bananas and oranges.  There is also tea, coffee, hot water, bottled water, sodas and sports drinks available.

In the back of the tent through separate doors are "private" port-a-potties for both men and women along with changing rooms.  In the back on the right is the private bag drop area.  When you enter the tent you can get a sticker to put your bib number on which you apply to the clear bag you get at the expo.  When you're done with your things, you just drop the bag off and it will be waiting for you after the run.

They start to move the runners out of the tent at 4:45am to be ready for the 5:30am start.  Obviously depending on your corral you may or may not need to be at the starting area so early.   Since I was in corral B I knew I had some time to make my way there, so I stayed in the tent to just before 5am.  I made it to my corral area with about 10 min before the race started.  Corral A was released in about 3 waves and I was released in the second wave of corral B.

One of the things Disney does so well are fireworks.  I have run a lot of races in a lot of locations and still to this day, only Disney starts them off with fireworks.  I don't always have a phone with me, but I did for this race so I could try and capture a shot.  I do think it is funny that the fireworks are as spectacular by the time the last wave is released.

Let the Half Marathon Begin!

The half marathon route, like most Disney races, is mostly flat.  There are a few small elevation changes with the larger ones belong on/off ramps and bridges.  None of the too long compared to most races.  Again, this makes the course favorable to runners tackling the half and full marathon distance for the first time.  Between the flat course, the scenery and the energy around such a large event it's hard not to be motivated.

Strava map of Walt Disney Half Marathon

The first five miles are fairly mundane.  You start on Epcot Center Drive and then head up World Drive towards Magic Kingdom.  The course has changed some, at least for this particular event.  There is a lot of construction around the entrance which might have contributed to the changes, but frankly I like the new route a lot.  While largely the same as I have seen in the past, you enter the park from a different perspective.

You still pass through the car entrance gate, through the parking lots, under the Seven Seas Lagoon past the Contemporary Resort, but instead of continuing around the to right of the park and entering between the candy shop and Tony's Town Square, we actually came through the bus drop-off area and into the front entrance of the park, then up Main Street,  From there it continued as normal around Tomorrow Land, past Fantasy Land, through the center of the Castle, out towards Frontier Land and out the park onto Floridian Way.

Once you leave Magic Kingdom you stay on Floridian Way past the Grand Floridian Resort and the Polynesian Resort.  Of course there are more photo opportunities here along with DJs.  You just don't get entertained in the parks, but I would say about every mile or so there is something to help keep you moving forward.

Once you pass the Polynesian Resort your back on World Drive heading to Epcot.  Right around mile 10.5 you are faced with the first of two real hill climbs.  This first one is the on-ramp to get you from World Drive back onto Epcot Center Drive.  Of course you'll find a green army man (a Sergeant no less) making sure you "get up that hill" or face the consequences.

Around mile 11.9 you face the final climb of the race.  After making a U-turn on Epcot Center Drive, you head up a hill to cross over some park entrance roads and make your way into Epcot.  You enter the park from the right side of the park (if standing at the entrance looking into the park), and come out near the bathrooms next to Spaceship Earth.  At this point you only have about a half mile to go.

You run past the fountain towards World Showcase, turn around just as you enter World Showcase and head back towards the fountain, this time going past Spaceship Earth on the other side and then out into the parking lot to the finish line.  There are some really good photo locations within Epcot, so make sure you are smiling, no matter how tired you are.  Having Spaceship Earth as the backdrop can make a great photo.

Of course the post finish line area works as with the other races.  The major difference being that the medical area is more heavily staffed, and frankly more heavily used.  As I mentioned this is a large race and a half marathon is a series distance.  That being said, you will find a lot of runners taking advantage of ice packs, Tylenol, bio freeze and other items.

2018 Walt Disney World Half Marathon Medal

As you leave the runners chute you will have your medal, a mylar blanket if it is cool outside, a drink or two, a snack box and your banana.  If you checked a bag you pick that up as you exit the food area or head back to the VIP tent to grab it.  You can then meet up with friends and family and then grab the shuttle bus back to your resort.

While I have talked with runners that are local or even visiting for the race, that do drive in on their own and stay with friends or hotels off property, I wouldn't recommend it.  The races are crowded, the event is early and having the bus service to and from the resort is a major stress item you don't have to worry about. One of the runners I talked with in the VIP tent lived 20 miles from Disney and he was staying on property so he didn't have to deal with the drive each morning.  He was also doing the Dopey Challenge.

Walt Disney World Marathon -- Sunday, January 7th
Here we are at day four of the 5th anniversary of the Dopey Challenge.  Three events down with only one left, but we haven't even completed half the milage yet.  We have 26.2 to go and have only run 22.4 to date.  Waking up early is starting to catch up with me along with days in the park or in Disney Springs.  While I am cautious not to do too much on the day or two leading up to the final event, it's hard not to take advantage of what Disney World has to offer.  That, plus the fact that you have to eat right.  That means the right mix of carbs and protein for all the running, and nothing too unfamiliar that could upset your stomach or cause other issues.  Even during a runcation the motto "nothing new or different on or in your body before a race" is still key.

Morning routine for the marathon was the same as the half marathon.  Once again I had the VIP Race Retreat so I woke up early, caught the bus and got the tent to grab something to eat and mentally prepare.  I grabbed a couple of Tylenol from the medics in the tent to help with any soreness that might crop up.  They will mark the back of your hand with a black "X" using a sharpie to indicate you had a dose already and are only allowed one more during the event.

The morning food options for the marathon are the same as the half marathon.  However, the marathon also provides a brunch for after the race and the tent will remain open until 1pm.  I took a picture of the marathon food and timeline.

VIP Race Retreat Marathon Day Food and Timeline

I left the tent just before 5am and made it to my corral just as the first wave of corral A was released.  I did cut it a little close, but it was nice not having to stand around and wait and just get started.  The weather was still very cool, but about 6 degrees warmer than the 5K morning and not a lot of wind.  The temperatures were suppose to climb into the high 50s by the time I finished, so I dressed in long thin pants and a light long sleeve shirt.  I was cold when I started but I knew I would heat up.  Fact is I got hot near the end, but there wasn't much I could do about that.  The weather change really warranted two different outfits, but obviously that isn't feasible.

Strava map of Walt Disney Marathon

What I found interesting was that after the first two tenths of a mile my TomTom indicated that I had reached my 10,000 step goal for the day.  What!  I was about to run a marathon and already walked about five miles?  Yes indeed.  There is a lot of walking from the moment you leave your hotel room until you cross the starting line.

One interesting fact about the marathon race is the quality of the runners.  I don't mean they are all really fast.  What I mean is their etiquette.  The Disney races are crowded, and you get runners of all types and abilities.  To that end, you will find a lot of walkers and a lot of participants who aren't very concerned about other runners around them.  They will walk 4 or 5 across.  They will stop in the middle of the course without warning for any number of reasons.  You definitely have to pay attention.  Breaking the corrals up into several "releases" did help a lot, and there isn't really anything Disney can do about this, but the marathon is clearly different.

My guess is that for the most part the marathon course is made up of runners who run a lot.  Have run many events, perhaps multiple marathons and they are familiar with how things work.  I rarely saw people walking side by side taking up the course.  Runners were also very courteous to raise their hand before stopping.  And they did their best to get to the right side before trying to slow down or stop.

The first 8.6 miles of the marathon course are identical to the half marathon route.  As you come up Floridian Way, you make a right onto Bear Island Road instead if getting all the way back to World Drive.

Strava detailed map of Walt Disney Marathon Magic Kingdom section

I have to admit that Bear Island Road is probably my least favorite portion of the marathon course.  While there are a few photo opportunities and some music, there isn't much to look at.  You also run past a waste treatment plant which isn't the nicest smelling experience.  After that is an out and back section along Western Way that is just over a mile long.

Around mile 12.5 you start to enter Animal Kingdom.  You are coming in from the back side where most of the animals are kept out of the weather.  So, you will get to see the Rhino House, the Elephant House, the Cheetah House and several other buildings before entering the part near the Harambe Market.

Strava detailed map of Walt Disney Marathon Animal Kingdom section

Running through Animal Kingdom is great.  It is a beautiful park to begin with, but following the lack luster scenery this is really a welcome change.  You make your way past the Yak and Yeti restaurant, past Expedition Everest, the Theater in the Wild, past Dino Land and then out of the park.  Depending on when you run through this section, you may have the opportunity for a quick ride on Expedition Everest if your in the mood.  When I went by it was still closed.

As you can see from the photo above you run right by the main entrance area of the park.  This is a great place for spectators if you have friends or family that will want to cheer you on.  It is also right around mile 14.5 so this is a perfect place to have someone hand off some substantial (or at least different) food.  Disney has plenty of water and food stops on the marathon course, and of course you can carry stuff with you.  But at this point in the race, if you're like me, you are kind of sick of gu's, had enough bananas and probably would appreciate something a little different like potato chips.

After leaving Animal Kingdom you head down what is probably the only other section of the run that is frustrating.  You take the up and down hilly Osceola Parkway towards the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.  You will find two water stops on this section, some loud music, some spectators and large screens showing music videos.  It all does help, but this is a brutal section of the course.

Strava detailed map of Walt Disney Marathon ESPN Wide World of Sports section

At mile 17.5 you turn right into the Disney ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, where you will spend the next 4.5 miles weaving round ball fields, tracks and parking areas.  One cool part is running through the baseball stadium with spectators in the stands.  You'll also find yourself on the jumbotron TV screen as you run around the home run wall.  This is another cool photo opportunity with the stadium as a backdrop, so be sure to smile.

After leaving the ESPN area you make your way back down Osceola Parkway, take the exit onto World Drive for a short while and then turn right again onto East Buena Vista Drive.  After turning right onto Cypress Drive you will find yourself coming in the back of Hollywood Studios by the Tower of Terror.  I was totally impressed by the amount of detail on the building from angles that most visitors could never see.

Strava detailed map of Walt Disney Marathon Hollywood Studios section

By the time you reach this park, odds are it will be open to the public already.  They will have the "course" conned off and have cast members helping ensure the path is clear for the runners.  You aren't in this park for long at all before you find yourself exiting from the front and making your way into the path leading to the Boardwalk Area.  At this point you are around mile 24.5 and are basically safe from getting "swept".  This is the last area where buses can pick up runners.

Once you get to the boardwalk area you run in a very similar fashion to the 10K course past the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts and into World Showcase near England.  This time however, you run counter clockwise around World Showcase by several photo opportunities before entering Future World.

Strava detailed map of Walt Disney Marathon Epcot section

As you come up through Future World you will find a lot of spectators as this park is most likely open as well.  The cheering and energy really help you get through that last mile or two as you pass Spaceship Earth and head out into the parking lot, past the grandstands and across the finish line.

Overall the race went really well for me.  I had slowed down the 5K since I was concerned about getting sore right away and it paid off.  Well, that and taking care of the tightness in my legs after each race with a hot shower and a rub down.  I had run the 10K about a minute faster than 2016, the Half Marathon about 12 minutes faster than 2016 and the Marathon about 50 seconds slower than 2016.  I would have liked to come in faster, but I have to admit that the Dopey Challenge is really about all four races, and not about the time for any one race.

After crossing the finish line, I happily accepted the beautiful 25th anniversary medal, grabbed a water so that I could mix it with the Skratch Sport Recovery I had in my dropped off bag in the VIP Race Retreat.  I skipped the food since I was going back to the tent for brunch and just went through the challenge area to get the Goofy Challenge medal and Dopey Challenge medal.

2018 Walt Disney World Marathon, Goofy Challenge and Dopey Challenge Medals

I made my way back to the VIP Race Retreat tent, but as I walked there I could tell my muscles were getting sore and starting to tighten up.  Once I got to the tent I stopped by the medic table and grabbed some bio freeze to try and get ahead of things.  I sat for a few minutes and ate a wrap and drank the Skratch.  I have to admit that for longer runs, the Skratch recovery drink really does help.  It has all the same benefits as chocolate milk, but I find it much easier to drink.

I decided to grab my drop bag and change cloths as I started to chill out. It took me a few minutes and tries to get off the chair.  Sitting down too soon isn't a good thing for sure and I probably should have kept moving and changed first.  At any rate after I changed clothes and ate a little more I packed up and headed to the bus area for the return trip to the resort.

Disney Cruise -- Monday, January 8th
As many of you reading this probably know Disney has many different kinds of Challenge runs. There are the ones that occur during a race event like the Dopey Challenge.  There are also ones that are accomplished by participating in more than one event within in a certain amount of time or at specific locations within a particular calendar year.  These include challenges such as the Kessel Run, the Coast to Coast Challenge or the Castaway Cay Challenge.

The Castaway Cay Challenge is fairly simply in nature.  You simply take a Disney cruise the Monday following Marathon Weekend.  You then sign up for the Castaway Cay 5K that takes place while the ship is docked at Disney's Castaway Cay island.  For this particular cruise that would be Wednesday the 10th.

Early Monday morning we checked out of the resort and drove to Port Canaveral to board the ship.  We arrived at the terminal around 11:30am and were on the ship by 12:30pm.  We checked our baggage with the porters and we took our carry on items with us to get lunch.  You can't get to your rooms until about 1:30pm to 2pm.  It's always a good idea to have what you think you might need with you as it can take to early evening before your bags arrive in your stateroom.  Any medicines, bathing suites, etc. you should have with you so you can start enjoying yourself as soon as possible.

Since you pick up your bib for this event during the main expo there isn't really anything you need to do.  Along with your bib you will also receive some information on the event logistics and timeline.  There is also information left in the stateroom in their daily newspaper.  They also held a Q&A session in the Walt Disney Theater if you wanted detailed information.

Castaway Cay Challenge -- Wednesday, January 10th
You would think that running a 5K on Disney's island would be a leisurely event, but no, you have to meet in the Walt Disney Theater at 5:30am and sit with your other corral members,  I was in corral A which sat in the front of the theater.  At 6am they gave some instructions on how the event would work.  We were to leave the ship by corral and make our way to the starting line.

Getting out on the island when it is still completely dark was really interesting.  Almost like you were a real castaway lost at sea. Everything was so quiet and calm.

Strava map of Walt Disney Castaway Cay 5K

The race started promptly at 7am.  For some reason my GPS hadn't synced up when I first started so the map is somewhat inaccurate.  The start/finish line is at the same point, so basically what is missing is the section from the starting line to the top/left and down the beach where you see the starting point.

The route is actually very nice with amazing scenery.  The start and finish line is actually on an airplane runway.  You then turn right down a small bike/running path along the cabanas and beach until you turn around and come back the same way.  Just before getting to the finish line you make a left and do a loop clockwise past the lookout tower before coming back to the runway, turning left and crossing the finish line.

2018 Walt Disney World Castaway Cay 5K Medal

2018 Walt Disney World Castaway Cay Challenge Medal

While we were listening to the DJ waiting for the event to start the ship's cruise director made a comment that there would be free beer and champaign at the finish line.  While that seemed unlikely to me, it was obvious that folks got somewhat excited by that prospect.  I did indulge, and purchased a glass of champaign with raspberries in it when I finished.  And, not to my surprise, it cost $15.  But after all the running, and another early morning, it was a very nice treat.

The End
That wraps up the 5th anniversary of the Dopey Challenge and the Castaway Cay challenge.  Overall it was a great event.  It is tiring, it is a lot of training and you can't really take advantage of the Disney parks too much, but in the end it is certainly something to add to your bucket list.  Wrapping it all up with a cruise, a few runs on the ship and the Castaway Cay 5K is icing on the cake.

2018 Medals for Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge and Castaway Cay Challenge

The volunteers and event coordination are all top notch.  There were over 20,000 runners in the Marathon alone, and the Half Marathon is the largest event.  The logistics involved in getting all these runners to and from the event, feeding them, providing the water stops and managing the traffic is incredible.  So, thank you to everyone involved in putting on this event.