Race Recap: Disney World Dopey Challenge 2017

Ahhhh — For once, I’ve finally arrived at my A-race intact! Not only that, I’ve also followed my entire training plan. This entire training season has been quite the ride, and it would turn out that race weekend would still have a few tricks up its sleeve…Only in Florida.

Packing and preparation

Preparation for a 4-day race was no easy feat. It turned out that this was almost more complicated than packing for an out-of-state triathlon. 4 sets of running clothes, contingency cold and hot weather running gear, race nutrition, toiletries, first aid kits, recovery items, theme park gear…you name it, we packed it. However, since I was flying Frontier Airlines, all I got was one carry on bag. I had to make it count. I also only packed one mini-costume, which was just a tutu (see below). If I actually had legit costumes, I wouldn’t have been able to pull this off at all.

It starts off with lots of quart-sized plastic baggies, and rolling clothes into them. And then rolling those bags until all the air is out of them. And then you repeat over and over until everything fits.

And that’s how you get a week’s worth of running gear into a single rolling carry-on suitcase!

Race expo

Not too much to see here – I picked up a bunch of swag since this was my A-race, and stood in a bunch of lines. This was an excellent primer for what I had in store for the rest of my week. (Just more lines.)

Race corrals and fireworks galore!

So, the thing with Disney races is that you have to get up insanely early. The races begin at 5am or so. The resort shuttles begin at 2:30am, and the last one you can hop to make it on time is 3:30am (or so). Sometimes, you’ll also stand around and wait for races longer than the actual running time too. For instance, I stood around about 2 hours for the 5K (from the time I got off the bus until I began running), even though the 5K took me about 40-something minutes. Ridiculous, yes, but I still did it.

Anywho, the pre-race festivities are somewhat mandatory – they lock you out of the corrals if you don’t show up by a certain time anyways, so it’s in your best interest to show up to drink the kool aid. There’s plenty of entertainment (DJs, announcers, characters) and other runners to keep you company, so it’s not exactly boring. It can get chilly though. This year I noticed that they actually had coffee/food tents, something that I’ve neglected to notice at other runDisney events. Maybe I was always too nervous at past events to pay attention. Downing coffee and/or hot cocoa meant a lot of porta-potty stops for the longer distances but it was worth the sacrifice.

What they also had were character photo stops. The lines were really long for them (probably 150-200 runners for each character?) so Erik and I tried to selfie one with Dopey. Luckily he was playing along…

Also, the start of each race begins with lots of fireworks. I wonder what it’s like to work as a pyrotechnic for Disney. It must be really fun to design these shows. The runners don’t all begin at once – since there are so many of them, we run in waves. I’m slower, so I’m one of the last waves. For the 5K, Erik actually finished right before I began my run. For the 10K I think he finished right when I started too. Anyways, here’s some of my footage of the fanfare.

The 5K (3.1 miles)

I used the 5K as a warmup. Technically this was a fun run since it was untimed for everyone else. For Dopey runners, we were still held to our time limit. It was great seeing everyone out there running through the parks — people of all ages, shapes, and sizes, all having a great time.

After I collected my bling, I got washed up and headed out to Hollywood Studios. I had a full day out at the park to shake out my legs!

The 10K (6.2 miles)

This morning was incredibly humid. It was significantly warmer and wetter than the day before. I regretted wearing my base layer about a mile into my run. Here, I was maybe three miles in and the sun began gleaming down on me.

I make my way to the Epcot parking lot again, where it smells like overturned porta-potties and rotten eggs. However, based on the smiles of these dudes on stilts, they probably don’t smell it, so I stop to take a quick picture with them before scuttling on my way.

I keep running and somehow I end up in a fake Chinatown. Huh?

Golden hour is still upon us. But, flame-y fire torch-y thing!

Mile marker with childhood heroine who loved reading books? Yes please!

Photos of the boardwalk. It’s so hot that I wish I could just swim to the other side. However, this is a duathlon or a triathlon so swimming doesn’t count and is probably frowned upon. I continue running.

The finish line is at the Epcot parking lot. That’s why I keep checking in to a parking lot on Facebook. However, I see Spaceship Earth. It’s so close! When do you think it’ll take off for outer space?

I whipped out my phone for this picture. I also took it while running so that I wouldn’t knock anyone down. Stopping at the finish line abruptly is rude and unsafe (and you’ll find out why here pretty soon).

Ta-da! New shiny bling for 6.2 more miles!

The Half Marathon (13.1 miles)

This was the dramatic morning that struck the entire running community. The dreaded cancelled race. Thunderstorms rolled in through the night and the morning so Disney did the right thing and pulled the plug. They even gave refunds, race transfers, and some other optional concessions, which I thought was awfully generous. I didn’t mind the cancellation — I mean, I would’ve preferred to run the race. I paid for it. However, I did not pay to risk getting struck by lightning while running. According to the route and timing of the storms, it would’ve happened just around the time my corral hit mile 8 or 9 anyways. So, in the face of the cancellation, most of the Dopeys in the Facebook group did what any other runners would’ve done when faced with news they didn’t want to hear…

They channeled their inner Jyn Erso and rebelled!

Some even went as far as to call it the Inaugural Grumpy Challenge. Hilarious! (5K + 10K + 26.2)

Some people opted for outside runs (still) around different resorts. While that sounded tempting, I opted for an indoor treadmill run. Not sexy, and definitely not as fun. I spent six months training for Dopey on a treadmill. I didn’t foresee having to do any part of my Dopey Challenge on a treadmill, but here we were. At least I got a good pre-finish line (????) picture at my hotel.

This is technically my finish line photo. Notice my slump. This is what 13.1 miles on a treadmill does to your posture and morale.

What’s not pictured here is the luscious hot tub soak I enjoyed after my run. 🙂

The Marathon (26.2 miles)

The marathon was a beast. I was still shaking off the disappointment of my training marathon a few weeks prior. However, the conditions this particular morning were different, and for the better. Rather than being too warm, it was too cold. For some reason, Orlando finally decided to participate in winter, and this was day 2 (the day before was day 1). It was in the high 30s, and I had thankfully packed enough cold weather gear to make it bearable. I had enough rest and sleep for this race, unlike my training marathon when I was stacked with work/training and very little sleep.

As I lined up in my corral I noticed a Galloway run/walk pacer group and settled in nearby. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to try anything new on race day. Was following a pacer going to count as something new? Traditionally I never really have a strategy for races. I tend to trot along until I get tired. I then walk a bit to recover, and then I begin trotting again. I continue until I’m a mile or two out from the finish. I then “empty the tank” (as my coach used to tell me). I’ll take in some Gu/Clif gels, about one an hour, generally caffeinated ones. If there is Gatorade or Powerade, I’ll stop for it at the aid stations. However, I’ll always carry a Camelbak of water with me.

After some quick (sometimes extemporaneous) cost/benefit analyses, I went ahead with some of these new things on race day.

So, what were some of the things I did that were completely new on race day?
-Well, I wore that new Mickey beanie for the first time that day. (The trade off was cold ears, and honestly, the risk was minimal.)
-I joined the run/walk/run group and did :15/:30 intervals for the first time in my life. (Turns out it was awesome and I’m a convert!)
-I ate two whole bananas on the race course. (Not in succession, but I also never eat solid food on a race. It turns out that I can run after eat a banana, so long that I don’t run at an all-out speed and if I keep the :15/:30 pace.)
-I ran with my tutu for the first time. (I didn’t order it in time to practice with it.)
-I ran with my hat for the first time. (Same deal as above)
-I ran with my purple shirt for the first time. (Same…I know! I know!! Bad!!! Seriously…and on a 26.2 too! I really wanted to wear Dopey colors for the marathon and just ran out of time.)

Those ended up being the only two photos I snapped during the marathon. I was so exhausted. Somewhere after Animal Kingdom and before ESPN Wide World of Sports, there was a hairpin turn and cutoff point where the course turned on itself. I could see the sweeper buses and the fabled balloon ladies. I saw race security and buses close in on some people behind the balloon ladies and bikers. Those racers looked devastated. It must’ve been 5-7 miles in to the marathon already. Some of them were crying. I would be too, to see my race cut short. It definitely wasn’t for lack of trying. Everyone’s got a different story as to why they get swept. I’m not one to judge. I’ve finished dead last at a race before. I’ve never been swept but I know what it’s like to be last, and what it’s like to be tailed by security. Obvious news flash: It sucks.

Also, remember earlier how I  mentioned that stopping abruptly at the finish line could be dangerous? I almost railroaded this guy who jumped in front of me and then struck a pose for his photo finish:

I think I’ve made a pact with myself that when and if someone ever gets in my way again I’m going to make awesome faces and gestures at the camera. That way, it’s just as much my photo as it is theirs.

Anyways, back to my marathon. After 2 bathroom stops, 2 eaten bananas, and dozens of Gatorade stops, I finally reached the finish line. Do you know what it takes to run a marathon with me? Apparently it takes running it 15 seconds at a time, over and over again, until you have to stop for the bathroom. And then you start again, running it 15 seconds at a time, until you get to the finish line. What happened when I ran my marathon 15 seconds at a time was that I cut off an hour and 15 minutes from my previous marathon time. I mean, really???? My feet weren’t burning like they were in Dallas, I wasn’t demoralized, my legs didn’t feel like lead, and my time was better. This was something new I could get behind.

I was fairly elated at the finish line given my new finish time. This was now my 2nd best marathon time, which doesn’t say much given that this is my 4th marathon and two of them ended catastrophically with me in tears. However, this one was a joyous occasion, and in the few times I was almost brought to tears on the course, it was for happy reasons only. No sadness allowed!

The aftermath

Every mile is indeed magic here, and they never let you forget it. Erik met with me after the finish line. We struck a quick pose before carrying our stiff legs aboard our bus back to the resort.

From there, we snapped some quick photos next to the giant floppy disk by the pool of our snazzy medals. So many medals!

I laid in the tub for awhile. I brought along some suds and salts and enjoyed a hot bath for what felt like an hour. I also ate my tortilla chips and cheese thing in the tub and I didn’t care about anything because I was too tired to care. I’m pretty sure I heard Erik snoring all the way from the tub. By the time the evening rolled around, we boarded a shuttle to Disney Springs for dinner. First, we stopped by Starbucks for a quick refreshment, and I treated myself to my usual long run treat: a venti (in this case, a trenta) Very Berry Hibiscus! (Along with a sammich, since I was ravenous.)

Now what?

Well, with Dopey under my belt, I’m pretty happy with my progress. I’d say I’ve bounced back from my injuries in 2014 pretty well. It seemed like 2015 was rehabilitative and 2016 was reconditioning. Hopefully I can get in some really good training in 2017!

A few days after Dopey, I emailed my Disney travel agent and asked her when registration was going to open up for 2018. It looks like we’ll be going back next year! We have a small Dopey in our home as a reminder.

Until Dopey 2018, I’ll be working on getting into the Rock n Roll Marathon Series Hall of Fame.

That means I need to run a mix of 15 half or full marathons during the 2017 calendar year. I’ll be using them as training runs for Dopey but I’m really still trying to figure out what kind of goals to set for 2017 outside of just finishing the races.

The Dopey Challenge was really special to me — it took a lot for me to accomplish it, despite all of the difficulties and setbacks I had. I look back on my journey and all of the other major A-races I’ve trained for — Athens, Louisville (that eventually became Palm Springs), and now Dopey — and I would say that this completely dismantles Athens. This may even dismantle Palm Springs. It would take something by orders of magnitude to exceed this experience. I’m really looking forward to Dopey next year.

On to the next challenge (whenever I figure out what that is)!

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