Saturday, February 9, 2013

My First Half Marathons

Dave here.....

I wanted to give my honest opinions on doing my first two distance races. Before tackling two half marathons in 8 days the longest distance I've covered in a race was 10k (6.2 miles), and that was with a very relaxed pace of 16+ minutes a mile.

This is going to be long post. If you don't stick through it, I understand (I'll highlight the important bits). So I wanted to put this statement upfront in case you didn't make it through: If you followed me on Facebook there were times towards the end of training I was very negative about all this. I would say 80% of that related to weather or early morning training outings. The training and races were truly not the negative experiences I may have made them out to be. If a half marathon is something you want to try then go for it. I am happy I took this challenge on.

Background; I'm a heart patient. I had open heart surgery a few months before I turned 3 years old. Everything went fine, but my doctors and parents were very cautious so I never played any organized sports, thus never developed an interest in sports. With no interest in sports, exercise wasn't interesting either.

Early 2010 and my first Disney race

Approaching age 40 I was a shade over 200 lbs and decided to lose weight. I dropped to the mid 170's within a few months and was feeling good about it. One time I had a bad dizzy spell after a workout so I consulted with my doctor. That resulted in a stress test, a visit to a congenital specialist, brain MRI, and 30 days of heart monitoring. We ended up postponing a big trip to Peru due to the monitoring. After all that we found out I needed a new pulmonary valve. So we spent the next few months planning for another open heart surgery. After surgery and recovery there were many followups, stress tests, MRIs, etc. In the end the doctor said all was great. I was told to keep up the exercise and watch my heart rate while doing so (no higher than 85% max). My congenital cardiologist told me I had no more limitations. Hearing this for the first time ever felt great.

So I kinda felt the need to commemorate that news. Having an athletic wife and over 100 running friends led me in the direction of tackling a distance race. I knew from watching Holly I'd have no patience for marathon training or being out on a course for over 6 hours. So the half marathon seemed a reasonable choice. Doing my first half on Marathon Weekend at Disney World with my friends on Team AllEars seemed to make the most sense.

Many runDisney racers are motivated initially by the medal. I am one of those folks. But I wasn't going to be satisfied with just the Donald medal. If this was my one-and-only time doing this I wanted the Coast to Coast medal. So that meant I had to do a second half marathon in Disneyland the same calendar year. Since Holly hadn't done the Tinker Bell Half, and We had some plans in-mind for Labor Day (when Disneyland's other half marathon is), it looked like we were going to California the week after going to Florida. At least I'd only have to train once.

Training: My official training program started in early October. Before that my gym regiment was focused around 3-4 miles a visit either on an eliptical, indoor track, or outside. Usually I work out at my office (we have a nice gym), but during the summer Holly encouraged me to add Saturday training sessions so I would get used to weekends as part of the training. I was on a modified Hal Higdon Novice 1. That put me in the gym Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday at home for long run days. The most I did during the work week was 5.5 miles (72 laps on the track) and 10 miles for the long run. What I didn't like about training was I could not play with the schedule. If Friday was meeting-free I couldn't change up my days. Cutting down how many beers I could have on a Friday to prep for Saturday was also making me grumpy at first, but I adjusted after a few weeks in.

There we're times I thought this was the dumbest thing I ever tried. Over Christmas break I had to do 6 miles in hilly Pennsylvania. I swear it was uphill both ways, 20 degrees, and 20 mph wind gusts. Nuts. A few days later I was to do 5 miles - while freezing rain came down and roads were iced over. Luckily I saw Holly doing her run along my route and she told me to pull the plug. I covered 17 miles on a treadmill in Jamaica over the course of a week. Who does this on vacation? Events like this led me to coin the phrase "done with this nonsense". But there were good training days too......

Since before I started on this path I was getting nasty shin splints. Started in by mile one and cleared out by mile 4. As I got into the longer outings I planned out a pacing method using different music genres. The first part of the outing would be set to lover's rock and Jamaican oldies. Slower stuff to remind me to keep around a 14:20 or so minute a mile walking pace. The back half of the outing would be set to fun 80's songs and today's dance hits. With this plan in-place I was averaging around 13:50 minute per mile walking pace for the entire outing.

On the other side of the camera

Race Day - WDW: that morning we were with all our Team AllEars friends waiting to start the race. Everyone kept asking me if I was excited, nervous, etc..... Gotta say this was probably the most emotionally neutral I have ever been. Hanging out with my friends before the race was a lot of fun. I enjoyed being on the other side of the camera for the team picture this year. But I can't say I was yet feeling anything about the actual race itself.

To occupy myself, and to keep true to being a documentarian, I filmed along the race course. That was lots of fun. I looked for friends, talked to strangers, peed off the side of the road at Disney. Good stuff! I never stopped for a character photo. I was too motivated to avoid the sweep and get an official time under 3.5 hours to be sure I would meet the Coast to Coast requirements. I finished at 3 hours 12 minutes.

I enjoyed going through the Magic Kingdom with Holly (whom adjusted her pace to do this) and our friend Dan. I had fun watching other racers enjoy themselves. Holly was kind enough to lollygag a bit at the end of the course so we could go through Epcot and cross the finish line together. There were good friends waiting to see us at the finish as well as a big group from the team. I really believed a week before the race I'd get teary-eyed (or worse) at the finish. I get misty when someone wins a car on Price is Right, why wouldn't this make me cry? Nothing..... The only thing I come back to is that this was only one step to completing the goal - I still had Tinker Bell to get through so I could get my Coast to Coast medal.

Race Day - Disneyland: I was still sick from my WDW trip and walked about 14 miles the day before. Definitely wasn't as confident starting the morning out as i was the week before. After Mile 1 we were in theme parks and Downtown Disney until close to Mile 6. Those miles were not as cramped as Disney World so I felt a bit more comfortable. I enjoyed going through the wide city streets of Anaheim and getting a feel for the surrounding area. I was more tired towards the end of the race and my legs were stiff. To make matters worse the heart monitor was not staying on well for the last 3 miles - eventually I took it off and paced my steps in my head. I was certainly happier to see the finish line this day. Finished at 3 hours 4 minutes.

Emotions - about the same as last week. But what made me feel really good was getting marshaled toward the Coast to Coast table and getting my medal. I know for sure I kept admiring it while wearing it more than I did the Donald medal or the Tink medal.

So am I happy I did all this? Yes. Would I do it again? Only for a good reason. That might include getting to see something unique or exclusive on the course, helping another walker maybe take the plunge, or raising a boat-load of money for charity. Did it change me? Yes. I got to prove to myself I could actually do something physical after 40 years of nothing and I think it's opened me up to consider other experiences.

I need to close this in thanking my wife Holly for all the support. She wasn't just dealing with a couch potato - she was also dealing with, and worrying about, a heart patient. It's wasn't easy for me to choose exercising on Saturday morning over playing Assassins' Creed, or hitting a treadmill at 6am on vacation . But she helped get me in the right mindset to do this, and hopefully some other things down the road. Everyone should have a coach like her.




  1. Great accomplishments, Dave. You and Holly are so lucky to have found each other. You make a great team!