Thursday, November 13, 2014

Race Recap: 2014 Disney Wine & Dine Half-Marathon!

If the 2010 Disney Marathon Weekend is forever known as "The Year it SNOWED!", then the 2014 Wine & Dine Half-Marathon will now be known as "The Year it RAINED!" Admittedly, not the same caliber of challenge, but still... this was one tough race.

But before I get to the race itself, I have a few pre-race tidbits to discuss!

First of all, I have pretty much nothing to share about the expo. I went, I saw, I got my stuff, I socialized, I got out. ~yawn~ See, I'm not a shopper, and I've been to a bunch of runDisney race expos: they're all about the same after a while. I wanted only three commemorative items for this particular race: a mug, a wine glass, and a mini 2014 Wine & Dine medal. Bib and packet pickup was a breeze, as was paying for the few things I wanted to purchase, so I was done in no time!

Clockwise from bottom left: race program, free $10 gift card, wristband for after-party, free coaster, purchased mug, purchased wine glass, purchased  mini medal, free race shirt.

Pre-race item #2: my hotel. I stayed off-site for this one to save money and gain a kitchenette... and I'm so glad I did! I went with a super deal through Orbitz for Buena Vista Suites (BVS). It's not the fanciest place in Central FL, but I didn't need fancy: I needed cheap, safe, convenient and comfortable. BVS hit it right on all points. The beds were very comfortable, with fresh mattresses and down comforters, I was only about a 10-15 minute drive from Walt Disney World, and I paid less than $100 a night. Having a microwave was wonderful - I used it to make oatmeal for breakfast and to heat my pre-race dinner. I did have to park pretty far from the building when I returned at night, but I felt perfectly safe: everything was well lit and there weren't any shady looking characters lurking about. My only gripe is the $8.99/day charge for wifi. That stings. Still... I only used it two of my days, so my nightly cost was still MUCH lower than any WDW property with "free" wifi. I definitely recommend BVS and will likely go back in the future!

Pre-race item #3: Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
I got talked by a couple of super friends into doing this party the night before the race... and we had a BLAST! With Wine & Dine being a night race, I had no concerns about being out late and on my feet the night before; I would never consider this before a morning race. I haven't been to the party since my son was little, so it all felt new and fresh, and experiencing it with a couple of pals, minus any offspring, was the perfect way to get a racecation going! Spoiler alert: If you're heading to the party, don't click through to the video - let it be a surprise!

Okay with all of that pre-race fun out of the way, let's talk about the 2014 Wine & Dine Half-Marathon, shall we?

I slept in a bit the morning of race day, though not as late as I'd have liked; a nap later was a must. My goal for the day was to lounge around a lot, relax, do some reading, watch some TV and eat. Exactly what I did for the Tower of Terror 10-Miler a month prior. I think I did an admiral job... after a leisurely breakfast in my room, I indulged in a hot bath, got dressed, and eventually made my way out for lunch. And dinner. All at once. I had a Plan... I opted to visit one of my favorite WDW resorts, Caribbean Beach Resort (CBR), where I grabbed a turkey sandwich and ate it there, at the food court. But I also got a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a croissant - to go. Dinner! Not just dinner... the BEST pre-race dinner I've ever had. CBR makes a mean chicken noodle soup: lots of white meat chicken, a delightful broth that was just salty enough without being too salty, and penne pasta cooked perfectly al dente. A small bowl of that plus the croissant for extra calories and carbs was just right.

So after a good nap and dinner, I took one last look at the weather forecast before dressing for the race...

~sigh~  No change. A front - a 600-mile-wide front, to be exact - was moving across Florida and was forecast to be smack dab over WDW for the entirety of the race and after-party.
Now, let me be clear: rain doesn't scare me. I've run through more FL summer rainstorms than I can count. I ran through a lovely light rain in the NC mountains. I even once ran through a named storm, complete with ankle-deep flooding - for 10 miles! I'm down with rain running. But the forecast did alter my expectations of the race. My phone would be protected by several layers of plastic wrap, so no picture stops. Which could mean a fast race... but for the fact that I was starting from a pretty late corral (I, out of A-L) and would likely be slowed by lots of folks who are not used to running in the rain. I was also concerned about the temperature, as my rain runs are usually in the scorching heat of summer. I'm still acclimated to the heat and wasn't at all sure how I'd feel in lower temps and rain. So I adjusted my expectations, decided that I'd run for as long as I was feeling into it, allow myself to quit if I was miserable, and do what I could to mitigate the cold wet.

Flat V was ready for the rain!

Luckily, the rain held off during the wait-around time before the race, when we were most likely to be miserable. I met up with my running group for some quality social time before the race and the most it did was mist a bit. Yay! I even managed to visit the porta-potties before the rain really hit. Double yay!

By the time my race buddy, Anne (go visit her blog at when you're done here), and I got to our corral, it had officially begun to rain for real. I've never seen so many ponchos, rain jackets and trash bags used as cover-up in one place! I had my rain jacket and an umbrella, which helped keep me pretty warm and dry until we started.

It felt like runDisney sped up the start process, leaving little time between each corral. I kind of suspected they'd do this, in the interest of getting the race started sooner due to the weather. In a short while, it was our turn - I ditched the umbrella, zipped up my jacket and gave a good "Wooo hooo!" as our fireworks went off and we got the party going!

Knowing we'd likely see precious little entertainment on the soggy course, Anne and I decided to count discarded ponchos and trash bags along the roadsides, much as one might count road kill on a car trip. (What - not everyone counts road kill on car trips? How do you people pass the time?!) We hit 100 before we'd gone half a mile. And couldn't keep track anymore. So much for that game.

The first few miles passed easily, if slowly. The pack wasn't moving particularly fast as we all tested our footing and adjusted clothing and accessories. I didn't find the highway asphalt to be slippery, but my Newton Gravity shoes were proving themselves to be not so great in the rain: they filled up with water quickly and didn't drain well. Fortunately, they are very lightweight, so the extra water weight wasn't too bad. And my Smartwool socks are the bomb-diggity: I had NO fear of blistering. I took off my jacket after about a mile; I was getting hot. I tried wearing it around my waist, but it wasn't repelling water and was getting heavy... off it went to the side of the road. And surprisingly, I wasn't cold. I felt pretty great, actually!

By the time we entered Animal Kingdom (AK) around Mile 4, the rain was really coming down and Animal Kingdom was experiencing some flooding. After hurdling a couple big puddles I gave up and decided to run through whatever came my way. That was very liberating and I felt like a kid playing in the rain as I splashed through the park and its parking lot!

AK wasn't very thrilling in the rain. The paths there are lumpy and bumpy to start, and a bit slick when wet, so I spent most of the time there with my head down, being extra careful with where I placed my feet. Many construction walls were up, blocking some of AK's best views, like those of the Tree of Life and Expedition Everest. Even poor Everest looked dark and dreary in the rain, despite its nighttime lighting. I bet this is a fun part of the course when it's not pouring, but it wasn't particularly exciting this time.

My feet were hurting a bit as we left AK and reentered Osceola Highway, but nothing unmanageable, and a quick assessment told me that all other body parts were still in good working order. My ears, nose, elbows and fingers were getting cold, but my core still felt warm enough. So when we passed the buses parked outside AK, ready to take on any runners ready to be done, or who fell behind pace, I had no interest in stopping. Onward!

It's odd... I felt like I picked up my pace quite a bit in the next couple miles, but my stats don't show a dramatic uptick in speed. I don't know if I just felt faster than I was due to the weather, or if my GPS was off. In any case, I still felt good as we approached Disney's Hollywood Studios (DHS). I felt even better as we entered the park... and it stopped raining - like Magic!!!

For the short time we were in DHS, the rain did nothing more than drizzle lightly. Which meant two things: 1. I could safely take my phone out of its wrappings. And 2. I could get the pics/video I'd wanted most from the race!

I adore the Osborne Lights. It's been a family tradition to visit them every year that my son's been alive, and it simply doesn't feel like the holidays until we've seen them. We missed them last year, for the very first time, and it was a major downer, especially for my son. So I took a few moments during the race to really enjoy the ticky-tacky splendor that screams "CHRISTMAS!!!" to my family and gave a big mental shout-out to my boy, who should have been sound asleep, but was probably hyped up on candy, watching bad TV with his Gramma.

As we prepared to leave DHS, the rain started back up and I pulled over under an awning to re-wrap my phone. Which would not cooperate. I told Anne to "go on without me!" as I spent five minutes swearing at and struggling with my stupid, wet, armband and finally got it wrangled back in. And then... I took off. Seriously - I may well have run my fastest split ever (though I'll never know, because the time I spent getting my phone settled is mixed in - GAH!) as I booked past people to catch up with Anne.

I was on the walking path from DHS to the the Epcot resorts, which was pretty narrow, and had fallen behind a whole lotta folks who'd given up running altogether. Lots and lots of slow strolling through there. I initially felt badly about my constant calls of "Excuse me!" and "On your left!", but folks were very nice and a few thanked me for being so polite about my desire to move faster than the overall speed of the crowd. That made me smile!

I caught up with Anne shortly before we entered the resorts boardwalk and found that she was ready to pour on some speed, too. It was getting chilly, the end was almost within sight, we were still feeling strong and happy, and wanted to finish on a high note. The folks around us were decidedly not feeling the same way. I remember thinking that the very air smelled like dejection. We did our damnedest, Anne and I, to whoop and holler and clap and cheer and get folks feeling some excitement - we'd all come so far in less-than-ideal conditions! But it fell flat; very few were ready to party at that point.

We powered through Epcot, running flat-out with only a couple short walk breaks, and then, there it was... the Finish!

As I ran through the finish line, it hit me... I'd just completed my very first UNINJURED half-marathon!!!!!!! Not so much as a wink of IT Band Syndrome for what turned out to be 13.82 miles. To say I was overjoyed is a major understatement!

But something else hit me, too, as I tried to hang on to the Powerade, snack box, medal and Mylar blanket being thrust into my hands... the COLD. I'd felt fine while running, but as soon as I stopped, frigid tendrils of cold began snaking through my limbs and by the time I'd added a free cup of wine to my pile o' free stuff, (seriously, runDisney - BAGS! We need bags here!) and we had our checked bags back, I was shivering nonstop. All I wanted was a warm, dry place to get into my warm, dry change of clothes - I had no attention for any other matter.

The changing tent had what looked to be a 20-minute wait to get in, and we figured we'd get more chilled standing there in the rain than by continuing to walk, so it was off to Epcot we went. We landed in the Land pavilion, where we waited in line in the heat, out of the rain, and finally got out of our drenched running clothes and into the stuff we'd brought to change into for the after-party.

That's right - party. The Wine & Dine Half-Marathon ends at Epcot, where the annual Food & Wine Festival is held at the same time of year. So once finished with the race, participants can spend the rest of the night (or, really, morning, as the party ends at 4am) strolling the Festival and/or enjoying Epcot's attractions. Friends and family members, too, can buy tickets to the party and enjoy it while their runners do their race.

I felt surprisingly good and was getting very hungry, so yeah - I was ready for the party! 

Finished, bundled up, and ready to party!

Right up until we left the building... and found that it was still raining. I was still hungry, but had no interest in standing around in the rain, visiting the Festival food booths. We found what was left of our running group in the Mexico pavilion - most folks had opted out of the party altogether and those who were left were ready to head back to hotels, too. It was after 3am, but Anne and I were ravenous. So this happened...

Big, steaming heaps of nachos, covered in ground beef, cheese, tomatoes and guacamole, with a side of hot cocoa. Best post-race meal ever! Eaten under a roof, no less. Booyah!

By the time we were done eating, everything was closed and the poor Epcot Cast Members working that night were cleaning up, trying to shut the place down. So we took off for the exit in an oddly empty Epcot, along with the few other stragglers, and Anne hopped a bus to her resort, while I made my way back to my car. Which I only knew how to find thanks to this pic I'd snapped before the race...

Take note, future drivers to Wine & Dine: snap a pic of your parking row! Trust V.

After a hot shower and some necessary foam rolling, I finally crashed into bed at 5:30am... when I normally get up each workday.


So the obligatory final question: would I do this again? I'm giving the Wine & Dine Half-Marathon a definite YES! After the Tower 10-Miler I thought I might be done with night races, but wanted to see how Wine & Dine went. Well, I'm still not a fan of the night race - at least not when they don't start until 10pm. But I think I can manage one a year, or every other year. And despite the unfortunate weather, I really enjoyed this one. I REALLY enjoyed cooler weather leading up to it; it was so nice to go into this race feeling strong and energized, as opposed to wilted and tired at the Tower 10-Miler, after a long, hot FL summer. And running through three parks is a major perk - can't do that in any other WDW race other than the full marathon! And with the Tower 10-Miler canceled indefinitely, well, I don't even have to choose one over the other. Chances are, I'll be back to Wine & Dine again next year. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

2014 Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler - Race Recap!

You know the saying "Third time's the charm" right?

Well, it was!

This was my third running (2012 here, 2013 here) of the runDisney Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler (TOT from here on out) and I don't think I could have have asked for a better race. Why? What made it the "charm"? Let's start at the beginning...

Best Race Hotel Stay Ever!

A week before the race, I decided to head to WDW a day early. Which meant hotel shopping. And long story short, I wound up adding a night and moving to a new resort for the whole stay. I booked three nights at the Hilton Bonnet Creek (HBC) resort. I've stayed at HBC in the past, but never for a race... but I'm ready to book ALL of my race stays there now! It was a superb choice... I felt so pampered the whole stay, between a lovely room, comfortable bed, fluffy towels, and deluxe amenities. But what really made the stay special was the staff: every single employee there was friendly, eager to assist, and clearly dedicated to making each guest feel welcome. It was a HUGE departure from my recent stays at WDW resorts.

My room view! See Tower of Terror back there? Motivation.

HBC offers race transportation and it looked easy and efficient. I opted to drive, though, because I wanted dinner elsewhere before heading to the race. Returning at almost 4am, I was a tad concerned about walking from my car to the hotel in the parking garage, on my own, but I needn't have worried: it was well lit and open and I felt perfectly safe.

Info and swag for runners!

HBC offers Marathon Weekend rates for WDW race events. Check them out - I highly recommend the place!

Killing time...

Arriving a day early worked out beautifully! I spent Friday driving to WDW and hitting the expo. The expo was, as with previous years, quite calm compared to other, bigger races, and I was able to get what I needed (namely my bib, race shirt and a new Sparkle Skirt, thanks to a coupon in the iGiftBag!) quickly.

This was a welcome sight - the weather forecast called for a cold front to come through!

Love, love, LOVE this year's race shirt! I think the design is fantastic and... LADIES' CUT, finally!!!

I spent the evening at Hollywood Studios with friends, which wound up being a great way to calm pre-race nerves, stretch the legs, and get a few motivational rides on. 

I got to bed around 10pm that night and slept until 8 the next morning.  I woke up to this:

and agreed 100%! I spent the morning lounging around my room, watching ESPN Gameday uninterrupted by chores or child. I wandered off to Saratoga Springs Resort for some lunch, then went back to my room for more lounging, napping and resting before getting up around 5pm to start getting ready. Yep, arriving the day before the race was a good decision!

Time to race!
After grabbing dinner at the Caribbean Beach Resort, I hopped a race bus and was off to the pre-race staging area to meet my running group. As with the previous two years, I found the TOT pre-race area to be relatively open and unstressful. I think the late hour makes TOT feel more like a big party than an uber-competitive race, and the dark skies and DJ spinning tunes adds to that. Spending time chatting with folks I haven't seen since Princess Half-Marathon weekend was wonderful, and the time went by much too quickly - before I knew it, it was time to get into corrals and we were off!

I was assigned to corral E... and I was a little nervous about that. The great thing about E? A large number of my friends were in it, too, so we all got to start together. Yay! But I planned to run slower than any of them, and I presumed slower than most of the corral. I was concerned about being the "slowpoke" everyone in E would leave in their dust. But runDisney knew what they were doing; I never felt too fast or too slow during the race and think I was seeded just right! I always had room to maneuver to pass slower folks, and they always had room to pass me when I slowed down. I know that's a major concern for lots of folks, and I'm happy to say I thought there was ample room for us all out there. Good job, runDisney!

I had a Plan for this race: First, it was a training run above all else, NOT a race. I have the Wine & Dine Half-Marathon in five weeks, so no need to push hard at TOT and risk injury, right? Second, I wanted a few pictures. As you may recall, I've yet to stop for pics in this race. And I was determined to change that this year. So I had it in mind to aim for an easy first mile to warm up well, pick up the pace down Osceola Parkway, and then take my time through Wide World of Sports (WWOS) and Hollywood Studios.

Miles one through five? Nailed it! Hit my times right where I wanted to. Even with pulling over to take this very bad photo, which took 3 tries to achieve...

Scary inflatable spidey
And this equally bad shot of mile 5...

Halfway there!
Mile 5 began the "trail" portion of the course, which is actually a dirt and gravel road into WWOS. I was feeling pretty good at that point... my stomach had not felt its usual self all day and was fairly uncomfortable through the first few miles, but seemed to calm down by mile 5.

I love the short trail portion of the course. It feels good on my feet and legs after so much time on the asphalt, it's dark and creepy, and if you're very lucky, you can end up in there with a fun crowd willing to poke fun at silly decorations and make scary-monster-in-the-woods sounds!

Once through the trail, it was time to prepare for the second half of my plan... photo opps! My race outfit paid homage to the Haunted Mansion, and I had my heart set on a couple of special pics to mark the occasion. 

I was expecting the Haunted Mansion Undead Butlers to be in the track oval, as they'd been the past two years, but they surprised me by showing up on the right, before the track. Luckily, I saw them before I passed and pulled into line. It took a few minutes for the folks ahead of me to get their photos shot, so I had time to wrangle my phone out of its armband, pause iSmoothRun, and disconnect my headphones. And then, this...

I wanted to pose with a shovel, but they weren't giving those up. Drat.
Next stop was Champion Stadium, where the official cheerers for my running group were stationed with sweet treats to lift us up and put some pep in our step!

i haz gummy bearz!!!
I was running ahead of my expected pace at that point, and was getting lonely out there on the course by myself. Running by myself isn't normally a problem, but I've run this course twice already; the thrill of wondering what might be around the next bend was gone and I was - dare i say it? - a little bored. So when I saw my awesome, sweets-sharing friends, I pulled over to chat. For about 5 minutes. Uh-huh. I pulled over, chatted, waved at other runners as they passed, and was totally unconcerned with the fact that I was, you know... in a race. And THAT is why I like running Disney races! No pressure, people.

Eventually, though, I was told to get a move on (thanks again friends!) and I hustled on out of the stadium and on to my next planned stop.

But before we get to the epic result of said stop, let me pause here to talk about the weather. Because if you've read my 2012 and 2013 TOT recaps, or if you've heard pretty much anyone talk about those races, you know the weather has historically been... HOT. And. HUMID. Insanely HOT and HUMID. Beastly HOT and HUMID. Now, this year was a little humid; I mean, there was legit fog banked over the fields of WWOS. The air was damp. But a cold front chose the hours of the race to move through: it was comfortably warm at the start and through WWOS, but when we exited back out to the open road? HOLY ZOIKS! Hellooooooo cold front! My clothes and hair were soaked with dew and sweat and when a blast of chilly air hit, I was cold. Like, goose bumply, shivering cold. To be clear, I'm not complaining; it's been a loooong summer here in Florida. But the unexpected cold, to which I was in no way acclimated, did impact my running. My knees don't enjoy being chilled and they got pretty achy pretty fast. My shoulders tightened up to keep from shivering and that became increasingly uncomfortable. I was really ready to be DONE with the race and changed into dry, warm clothes by mile 8. Which made for a rather long feeling 2 final miles...

Still, there was the EPIC photo stop. And it, alone, was worth running for.

Undead at the ball, y'all. Booyah!
Seriously, I adore this shot. LOVE it! There were a few people in line ahead of me and a couple of the undead dancers left their post to start roaming and interacting with us in line, as well as with folks who slowed down to see, but didn't fully stop. Hanging out there for a few minutes was a BLAST! Totally worth a painful right foot, cranky tummy, and cold limbs.

With that stop accomplished, I had only to pick it up for another mile, then relax through the final one in Hollywood Studios. 

Last year's fireball, that would have been so welcome with its blast of heat as the temperature plumeted? Was absent. Replaced with a big, inflatable... eyeball. D'oh!

It didn't even growl. (RIP growling plastic gator.)

Hades was stationed on the overpass leading into the park, shouting out "encouraging" words like, "What're you... walking?! This is a RACE, people, let's get going!"

I made a point of taking my time through Hollywood Studios, soaking it all in. We ran through the Lights, Motors, Action! soundstage...

...and up the New York street scene...

If I can make it here...

...through the "Disco Hallway", full of actual disco tunes, mirrored balls and lotsa lights, a few turns, and then... the Finish! Of which I have NO picture. Camera was on the right, I was on the left, no photo for V. <sad trombone>

It ain't over yet!
I thought the finish chute went smoothly this year and I had my bag retrieved and was on my way to a restroom to change in no time. I couldn't stop shivering at that point and getting into dry clothes was my #1 priority, though I did down a bunch of glucose on the way to stave off a big ol' sugar crash.

Warm and dry in several layers, I reunited with my friends and we proceeded to take group pics, ride rides, eat snacks and have a really, really fun time at the after-party! Unlike last year, I wasn't nauseous or dizzy, I wasn't in pain, and I wasn't even all that tired. I ended the race day with a hot shower back in my room, a glass of cold milk and a cookie the size of my head. Grand rewards for a grand effort.

Final thoughts...
The third time really was the charm. My first run of TOT was hampered and blighted by the intense pain of injury. Last year saw a massive PR, but also heat illness and a distinct lack of the elements that make a Disney race special. This year? I finished in a time that, excluding photo stops, would have been a PR. I got a few really cool photos. I had fun with friends. I didn't suffer from the heat. And I finished UNINJURED! What more could I ask of the race?

Nothing. I can ask almost nothing more. Which is why... I think I really am done with this particular race. I feel like I've gotten from it everything I wanted and feel no need to do it again. I know, I know - I've said "no more!" before. But that was out of frustration. And discomfort. And fear. This is different. This time "no more!" is about having met my goals, and feeling good about my performance, and a calm, deep sense of accomplishment. I would love to go back next year to cheer for friends and celebrate their racing, but I think I can happily walk away from racing this one again for a while. And that's a pretty neat feeling!

So now, it's time to set my sights on the next race in my lineup: the Wine & Dine Half-Marathon - my first time running it! Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Tower of Terror in T-minus One(ish) Week!

Sorry – I’ve been MIA for a while. Only because, what’s to say, really about distance training through a Florida summer?

It’s hot.

And humid.

And also HOT.

Lather, rinse, repeat.  Endlessly.

My summer has involved a lot of cursing the elements, but there's been one glaring thing missing, compared to previous running summers...


I'm almost afraid to say it out loud, it seems so impossible. I have somehow managed to go through a training cycle without incurring any pain significant enough to require time off and rehabilitation. My poor chiropractor hasn't seen me in months and probably thinks I just quit running altogether.

So, how'd I do it?

I have NO idea. Okay, I have some ideas, just no way of knowing for sure if any one, or a combination of them, actually prevented injuries, or if it's just dumb luck. But I'm not a complete dummy; if doing what I have these past few months got me here in good shape, you can bet I'll keep doing it.

First, I found the right shoes. Again. And... again. Listen, you know me by now - I won't lie and say I haven't tried a few shoes that weren't right. I did and I'm humble enough to admit it. But I knew immediately that they were wrong and sent them back. That's progress, people. Since May, I've run most long distance miles in either my Newton Gravity or Newton Fate shoes. I've used the Newton Distance on short, speedy runs, too. Between them all, I've got about 200 miles logged in Newton shoes and no injuries. Not a bad return on investment. 

Second, I changed up my training plan. Long, hot distance wasn't resulting in anything good, so I tried something different: I went for more running days, higher intensity, and less long distance running. Most of the summer saw me slowly increasing both the distance of my twice-weekly short runs (from around 2.3 miles to my current 3), and the length of my run intervals (from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, 30 seconds), adding a day of mostly walking with a few short run intervals, and keeping my long runs to 4-6 miles. I also dumped traditional strength training and went with two days a week of high-intensity yoga and/or Pilates. The effect has been amazing! I feel stronger than ever, my lungs, when not tormented by allergens, are operating well, and... no injuries!

Third, I made a vow to listen to my body - and I stuck to it. There were a few days when I was exhausted, or achy, or sick to death of being overheated, and I took them off. With no guilt and no reservation. And y'know what? It worked. Instead of pushing and potentially doing damage, I gave my body time to restore and went back to the next run feeling good.

Lastly, I respected the heat. I did need to start bumping up the distance of my long runs in preparation for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler, and in the worst heat of our long Florida summer. In previous years, I repeatedly flirted with heat exhaustion, trying to pound out the mileage... this year I ran to the point at which the heat began taking a toll, then walked the rest of my planned distance. Some days, taking 5 minutes to walk was enough to feel good and start some easy running again. Other days I walked until I was done. It worked. So well, in fact, that I was able to run my short runs with much greater effort than in previous years. A lesson learned there, to be sure.

In conclusion, I am very happy to report that I made it through the summer without incident and am actually feeling ready to tackle the fairly insane race season ahead of me. I'm not foolish enough to think I can now throw caution to the wind, and my IT Bands like to remind me of that toward the end of my longest runs, but I feel better equipped than ever to pay attention and do what I need to do to stay healthy. I guess I'll find out in just over a week...

~ ~ ~

FYI, I'll be posting updates from the Tower of Terror 10-Miler weekend on Twitter at @VsFuzzyWorld. Follow along, and chime in if you'll be there, too!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Shoe Review Times TWO: Newton Running's Distance & Fate!

Yes, I've been busy testing shoes again.  And no, I'm neither getting paid to do so, nor am I getting free shoes.  HOW do I go about getting one of those gigs?!  Because I think I've proven my expertise in such matters.  ;)

Anyway... I've been slogging through yet another hot, humid, Florida summer and about the only ray of light (you know, beyond the many cancer- and heat stroke-causing rays emitted by the freaking sun) in my training has been the glory of Newton Running shoes.  I already detailed my experience with the Gravity '13 model, and I'm happy to report that I'm still running in it and still loving the ride!  BUT... the more I run in them, the less comfortable every other shoe feels.  And I really do need to alternate.  So I grabbed a pair of an earlier model Distance on clearance, and a month or so later, a pair of the new Fate. I've been running quite a bit in both. Results?  Read on!

Newton Running Distance
The Distance is Newton's second main neutral shoe, very similar to the Gravity in shape and form, but with less weight.  I find the "Distance" name a bit misleading, as this feels like a speed shoe to me.  Just picking them up out of the box, I could feel they were lighter than the Gravity, and immediately noticed the different heel...

Distance sole
Gravity sole
See how the Gravity has that extra, black layer of outsole?  That's a pretty rugged rubber that doesn't wear quickly.  See how the Distance has no such extra layer?  Its heel is the soft, foamy material found in the midsole.  What this means for a heel striker is some major wear and tear on the heels.  What it means for this forefoot striker who's pretty light on her heels even while walking is limited wear and tear on the heel, but lots of extra pep thanks to losing the excess weight!  These shoes are FAST, I tell ya.

That said, the lack of extra stuff on the heel also means less stabilizing back there.

Additionally, there's not much in the upper to control heel movement, nor to support the Achilles; the mesh of the Distance is a bit more stretchy than the Gravity, and allows my feet to move around more.  In some ways, this is good: nothing in this shoe pushes or pulls in any uncomfortable way.  But the lack of ankle stability is dicey with my bum Achilles; I've only taken these up to six miles at a time so far, as that's about the point at which I feel like I need extra support.

I may never wear the Distance for longer runs, but they're still a great addition to my shoe line-up!  They have all of the awesome energy return of the Gravity, thanks to those super lugs, fit my feet and mechanics beautifully, and deliver a super-peppy ride.  I've been enjoying them for both speed work and, rather surprisingly, as a walk-around-theme-parks shoe.

Moving on to my newest shoe...

Newton running Fate
The Fate is one of Newton's new line of 5-lug shoes, and falls into its middle, P.O.P. 2 category.  What the heck does that mean?!  Well, here's a guide: Choose Your Ride.  In my view, the P.O.P. refers to how much "pop" one gets from the lugs, with P.O.P. 1 giving the most energy return (Gravity falls into this category), P.O.P. 2 giving a little less "pop" and a little more cushion, and P.O.P. 3 offering more cushion and a ride similar to traditional running shoes.

Full disclosure?  I couldn't have cared less about which P.O.P. level I was selecting: they had me at lime green. 

Okay, yes, the color is awesome, but how's the ride?  Let me tell ya...

Starting at the top, the upper is really, really nice and, in most ways, a big improvement over previous Newton models.  All of that green is a fine mesh that's super stretchy: there are absolutely NO potential hot spots likely to cause rubbing, that I can tell.  It's almost a sock-like fit, but not quite - though, I do feel like I could size down a half-size in cooler months and it would fit more sock-like in the smaller size.  My only real gripes are that the tongue could be a bit more plush (I can feel the laces clearly through it on my instep - not problematic so far, but could be on a very long distance), and the heel is a little loosy-goosey, thanks to the soft, stretchy material.

Fate and Distance, side by side

Underfoot, the Fate is a pretty neat ride.  The lugs are less pronounced than on the Gravity or Distance, and I'm less aware of them under my feet while running, though they still give a nice energy return on liftoff.  Beyond that, the Fate's sole offers far more cushioning than the Gravity or Distance, but in such a way that it doesn't feel spongy.  It's more a reactive cushion, if that makes sense, reducing some amount of impact without making me feel as though I'm sinking into mud.  This is HUGE for me, as other highly cushioned shoes have left me feeling like it took a lot more effort to pick my feet back up after landing.  Not at all so with the Fate!

Fate's sole

I'm noticing that the Fate does a superior job, too, of helping me land closer to mid-foot, which reduces a lot of wear and tear on my metatarsals.  I usually end with some pain in that area after a long run in my Gravity's, but that hasn't happened yet in the Fates.  

The Fate's heel is a bit beveled, which helps guide my walking stride; a big plus when I'm fatigued and form starts to get sloppy.

See the beveling?

So far I'm really liking the Fate for easy runs and long, slow runs; it does a nice job of easing aches and pains without feeling like I have a couple of foam pillows strapped to my feet.  It's not as speedy as the Distance, but it just might out-workhorse the Gravity!  

A couple of minor quibbles: 1. these are pretty awful in the rain.  I ran about a mile in pouring rain the other day in them and they just fill up like tubs.  I don't mind being wet, but sloshy and heavy isn't great.  2. that soft, stretchy upper is very unforgiving of mechanical breakdowns.  My feet tend to start rolling outward on the run, and inward on the walk, when fatigued, and the Fate's upper does nothing to prevent this.  I hesitate to move to the Kismet stability model, as any amount of stability seems to invite ITBS into my life.  I've found, though, that a light support insole on tired days fixes things up nicely.  So nothing terrible here, just a couple points to note for those considering the Fate.

So far, as you can see, I'm thrilled with my new-found love affair with Newton Running.  They truly are the only shoe I've tried so far that doesn't irritate my left peroneal tendon, and (knock on wood) I've successfully worked back up to 9+ miles in them with no sign of ITBS.  I don't think the shoes house any sort of magic, mind you - only that I've maybe found some shoes that work properly with, and enhance rather than fight against, my mechanics.  Are Newtons the right shoes for you?  Only one way to find out - give 'em a try!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Running with an elephant on my chest

I worked hard last night, finishing a tough 5 by 400 meter speed workout in our lovely FL summer heat.  I was doing well, despite the less-than-ideal weather, cranking out the first 4 laps relatively easily.  Sure, I was winded by the end of each repeat, but I walked slowly for a few minutes after, caught by breath, and was ready for the next 400.  Until that last one.  Halfway through my final 400, my elephant returned and I was instantly transported to the spring of my sixth grade year, when we were made to run the 600-yard run for the Presidential Physical Fitness Tests…

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I’ll never, in all of my days, forget walking the last couple hundred yards that day, gasping, wheezing, searching desperately for oxygen to fill my lungs and finding nothing.  I remember clearly my vision reduced to a tunnel, the sound in my ears muffled, my chest compressed as if an elephant sat upon it, as my PE teacher shook her head in dismay, saying, as she recorded my piss-poor performance, “You need to try harder.”

I did try. I tried hard!  I was known by then as a sprinter. I couldn’t hit a baseball much past third base, but I could outrun the throw of it to first base every time.  I was always selected as either the lead or the anchor for sprint relays on Field Day.  I was training hard for the ballet at the time, taking classes every weekday, hours-long intensive workshops on Saturdays.  Really, I was among the fittest of my classmates.  And yet… I finished dead last, far behind the pudgy kid who sat out nearly every PE class, in that stupid 600-yard run.  And spent the rest of the day trying to catch my breath.

The trend continued.  In high school, I played varsity soccer: I did fine on the field, where I could catch my breath between runs, but the elephant appeared every time we were tasked with running a straight mile or so to warm-up.  When I met and married a triathlete, I tried swimming laps with him and my elephant showed up with alarming haste.  We tried running on the beach… elephants everywhere.  We took up swing dancing, a fast-paced, highly aerobic activity – and I quickly found that I had to sit every third song out to avoid the elephant.

One day, when I was finally employed in a position that offered health insurance, I mentioned the elephant to my doctor.  She asked detailed questions about how the elephant felt – heavy, compressive, like no matter how hard my lungs expand or contract, I can’t fill them up with air – when it appeared – any time I moved really fast over a sustained period of time – and if I’d had any serious lung infections – a bout of flu, that became pneumonia, that resulted in a year of chronic bronchitis in high school, a repeat of the same several years later, more bouts of acute bronchitis than I could count.  And then my doctor gave me the explanation that had eluded me since sixth grade: what I had was a condition called Exercise-Induced Asthma.  And, while there was no cure for it, there were things I could do to mitigate its accompanying elephants.

Exercise-induced asthma isn’t really asthma at all, but its symptoms mimic those of an asthma attack: tightness of the lungs, wheezing, inability to draw a full breath.  Some folks with regular asthma will also suffer exercise-induced asthma, but others may not.  Some folks, like me, who have no other occurrences of asthma, suffer the exercise-induced variety.  We who battle the elephants don’t just get winded with aerobic activity.  We reach a point where our bronchial passages become so constricted, we truly aren’t receiving adequate oxygen.  Without adequate oxygen, our bodies begin to shut down functions.  It’s dangerous, scary stuff.

So what can we do to keep the elephant at bay?  We can avoid aerobic activity, of course, but what fun is that?!  We can, however, avoid doing it in conditions that worsen symptoms: cold and/or dry air, times of high pollen counts, any time our lungs are already compromised by allergies/cold/flu.  For the rest of the time, we can use an inhaler of albuterol, which is typically considered a rescue inhaler for asthmatics.  For the sufferer of exercise-induced asthma, however, the inhaler is a proactive lifeline: taking two puffs 15-20 minutes before I exercise reduces the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma significantly.

Note that I did not say using an inhaler eliminates the symptoms.  It doesn’t sadly.  It does work well enough, especially when combined with using run-walk intervals, to banish all chest-sitting elephants from my runs at paces ranging from easy to tempo, but speed workouts?  They’re another story.  But the good news is that combining the inhaler with increasingly difficult speed work does, eventually, result in aerobic adaptations, and I have been able to increase my speed and pace over time through small upticks in exertion. 

The truth is that I may never be able to run distance without taking walk breaks, no matter how strong my legs may be; I’ll likely always need those walk breaks to avoid a run-ending asthma attack.  I have no fantasies about winning my age group or setting any records, so that’s fine; taking the walk breaks means finishing what I start, and that’s what matters most to me.

As for yesterday’s speed workout, I may have ended that final repeat a few meters shy of 400, but the important thing was that I pushed a little further than I have before (my previous attempt being 4 by 400 meters).  I made my body work a little harder, forcing adaptations, without pushing it to a point of danger.  And I finished my workout strong, running an easy ¾ of a mile with no elephants to be seen.

Do you struggle with chest-sitting elephants when you run?  If you do, and haven’t seen a doctor about it, please do!  This is a condition that can be easily treated and does not need to mean the end fo anyone’s running fun.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A look back... my first runDisney race!

Today is registration day for the 2015 runDisney Princess race weekend!  Inspired by that and by Patty at My No-Guilt Life, who asked for tales of first runDisney races, I took a few minutes to re-read my recap from my first race/first runDisney race/first Princess race, the 2012 Royal Family 5K.  Care to join me?  Click here... Tangled Up in… FUN! Royal Family 5K Recap!

Things sure have changed since that first race!  For starters, registration.  Back then, I registered a month before the race.  A MONTH.  This time, I fully expect the 5K to sell out in a day.  Word's out and runDisney races are popular, folks.  

(Note: if it's near 12pm EDT and you're here reading this, and you plan to register for any of the 2015 Princess races, STOP READING and get over to to register!  I'll still be here later.)

Know what else has changed?  Leo no longer runs with me.  I'm pretty sad about that, but he's 12 now and is still figuring out his "thing" so I try not to let it get to me.  Plus I'm still hoping a Star Wars race appears on the WDW radar to tempt him.

The race itself has changed, growing from 5,000 participants in 2012 to 10,000 in 2014.  When I first ran it, strollers were allowed; now, no strollers and participants must be over 5 years of age.

I've changed a lot since that first race, too!  I'm blonde now, and weigh almost 15 pounds less.  I'm a whole lot stronger, too, and I've since completed two 10-mile races, four half-marathons, two 10Ks, more 5Ks than I can count, and my first back-to-back-to-back challenge, the Princess Triple Crown.  Back in early 2012, I don't think I ever saw myself someday being where I am now!

And, despite my claims in February that I was DONE with all things Princess for a while... I am, right now, pre-registered for another run of the Triple Crown: the 2015 Royal Family 5K and the Glass Slipper Challenge (Enchanted 10K + Princess Half-Marathon.)  
Princess Weekend?  I just can't seem to quit you.

Thanks, Patty, for the inspiration to take a look back!

And to all who will be registering today for their first race, I wish you much success and a whole lotta fun!