Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Calm After the Storm: Eagle Lake Classic Race Recap

Forgive me, but the beginning of this race recap is also a bit of a bash on the Princess Half-Marathon.  See, the Princess Half wasn’t all love and light and was, in fact, a source of more than a little drama and tension. 

Leading up to the race, there was rampant concern and intrigue in the Disney running community about corral placement, training plans, costume choices and runDisney’s 16-minute-mile minimum pace requirement.  In the weeks immediately preceding the race, concern frequently turned to outrage as corrals placements were released, verifying that some fast runners were “stuck” in far back corrals, while slower runners were placed in earlier corrals.  Some slower runners and walkers became fearful, worrying that they might not be able to keep up with their assigned corrals. 

During the Princess Half weekend’s festivities, I heard too many negative comments to count – in lines at the Expo, in park restrooms, overheard at dining establishments – about crowds, corrals, and other runners.  Race day brought more of the same.

And, sadly, perhaps the worst of it has come post-race.  Lengthy discussions about who “deserves” a medal.  About whether or not merely finishing is sufficient if one did not maintain the minimum pace.  About runDisney’s ever-increasing participant cap and its effect on course congestion.  About what a “real” runner is, looks like, strives for. 

Let me be clear: I was not immune to all of it.  I added my voice to a number of online and in-person discussions and, yes, I made some negative comments of my own.  I’m not proud of this.  By the time I actually ran the race, though, I’d really had enough of it.  I felt like all of the negativity took away from an event intended to bring people together.  I’ve felt the race and its accompanying drama like an albatross around my neck.  I’ve been making an effort to mentally separate my individual race experience from the nonsense and I’ve been making an even bigger effort to separate myself from the nonsense altogether.  Because, in the end, I want my running to be about more than races.  

The Eagle Lake Classic could not have come at a better time.

Two weeks after the Princess Half and less than a week after I’d been hobbled by bronchitis, I wasn’t even sure I could run some of a 5K, let alone set a new personal record (PR), let alone come away with a joyful race experience.  I’d have been happy just to finish and spend some time in a favorite park.

The mood before the race was relaxed and friendly.  There’d been some confusion in the days prior about packet pick-up, but everything ran smoothly on race day.  After securing my bib (and awesome swag bag – too many useful giveaways to count!), I set out for about a mile warm-up, knowing that it always takes me about that long to find my groove and release pent-up tension in my muscles.  As I jogged through the park, I encountered other runners doing the same and we all smiled and said “Good morning!” as we passed.

Getting into position for the start, I recognized a fellow mom from my son’s school and we chatted briefly about the race and others coming up.  In no time, we began moving forward and the race quietly started.  Throughout the race, I was impressed with the number of other racers and volunteers who took a few seconds to say “Good job!”, “Keep it up!”, or “Looking good!” as I passed or was passed, and I did the same in return.  My lungs were in bad shape and weren’t able to run as much as the rest of me could handle, but the encouragement kept my head held high right through the finish.

By the last half-mile, I knew that I was very, very close to hitting a new PR.  I wanted to repeat my finishing kick at the Princess Half and dug deep to sprint that last half-mile, but my lungs just couldn’t keep up.  I managed a fast quarter-mile, took a walk break to recover my breath, and did my best to sprint the finish line… clock time and iSmoothRun had me within half a minute of my previous PR, achieved at last year’s running of the same race.  I wouldn’t know my final chip time for another day, but I was more than happy to be so close!

But, really, the best part of the race came after the finish.  I walked some to cool down and sip water, then found an open spot at a picnic table and sat down to eat a snack and nerd-out on my race stats.  But the woman next to me was telling some other folks at the table that it had been her first race and I offered my congratulations to her.  At that, I was drawn into further discussion with the fine folks at our table, talking about other races, gear, injuries, training… Not once was there mention or debate over other runners’ performance.  When I said something that sounded entirely too apologetic about needing to take walk breaks, I was quickly reminded that there is no shame in walking; didn’t’ we all learn to walk before we ran?  When overall and age group winners were announced, we applauded politely, though we didn’t know any of them.  And when I took my leave to head home to Leo, we thanked each other for the nice conversation and encouraged one another to keep it up, that we’d look for each other in future races.

The 2013 Eagle Lake Classic was the perfect counterbalance to my Princess Half experiences.  Though it didn’t start with fireworks, though the only on-course “entertainment” came from a couple corny jokes made by the amazing volunteers, though I walked away with  a  sample-sized toothpaste instead of a shiny medal, Eagle Lake embodied everything I love about running: communion with nature, people who want to help others succeed, and positive energy.  I think there’s a place for both types of racing, but I think I prefer the low-key experience of a small, local race to the mega-watt excitement of Disney racing.  I’m so glad I live in a place where I can do both regularly.

And oh, about that PR?  Yes, I actually coughed up (pun intended) a new one!  Shaved 14 seconds off last year’s time.  Imagine what I could do with fully functional airways! :)


  1. Congrats on your new PR! While not a runner (yet!), I did follow a lot of the runDisney chatter on social media, and I heard lots of the complaints you mentioned. I'm glad to hear that you had such a great experience at the Eagle Lake Classic, to counteract some of the negativity from the Princess Half. It must be great to get that kind of support and camaraderie from your fellow runners. Way to go!!

  2. My wife and I also ran this race. I saw you before the race but never found you after the race to say hi and introduce myself!

  3. KJ, thanks so much! I swear, only the Disney-addicted can get THAT uptight about things. ;)

    Jamie, that's so cool! The world of blog feels so anonymous, which is good in some ways, but it's always exciting when it spills into the real world. Oddly, I know exactly zero local runners - we'll have to make sure we all get a chance to say "Hi!" in the future. Any upcoming local races in your schedule?

  4. We're running the Florida Beaches Halfathon tomorrow morning and then we'll be running the Police Appreciation Run/Walk in St. Pete on May 5th.
    Jenny (my wife)is running the Iron Girl 5k on April 14th.

    We're also running the Tower of Terror 10 miler and the Wine and Dine half Marathon.

  5. Oh cool - I'll be at the Police Appreciation 10K and TOT, too! Please say "hi" if you see me~