Thursday, January 15, 2015

Disney Dopey Challenge 2015 - Race Report

I've been known to say that I wouldn't run "just a marathon" and keeping true to form, this wasn't "just a marathon".  The Dopey Challenge takes place at Walt Disney World and is a 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon, over the course of 4 consecutive days.  Yeah.  That sounds a bit crazy and it was not a hard arm twist by my friend to get me to do this.

Waaay back in 2007, long before I did tris or was a runner, I was talked into doing the Disney Half Marathon.  My friend Christine was doing the Goofy (half and full marathon) and I decided to do the half marathon and keep her company, thinking we'd be walking most of it.  After I registered, she let me know that, in order to make the cutoff, we'd have to run a decent chunk of it.  Crap.  And then I began running in earnest.  Long story short, I broke my foot right before the race and couldn't start.  I was already on a masters swim team and "running" 3x a week, and the triathlon seed was planted.  If it wasn't for that half marathon, I probably wouldn't be a triathlete.  And so when that same friend did the Dopey Challenge last year, I felt like I really should have been there with her and decided to register for 2015.

Those that know me know that I'm about fun and adventure most of the time, but when it comes to racing I'm pretty serious.  I'll still smile and encourage people, but I definitely like to push myself and see how I can perform and improve.  Going into Dopey, I was getting a bit frustrated.  I was on this facebook group and people were *very* worried about the 16 minute/mile pace requirement.  There was a lot of chatter about costumes and riding rides during the race.  And there were a bazillion people registered (25,000 for the half and full marathons).  There was little discussion about racing.  It didn't seem that this race was my kind of thing.

About a month ago, I decided to "try" and let go and have some fun with this Dopey thing.  Usually, my race clothes are my armor, but some little voice in the back of my head told me that once I got to the start line with only armor, that I would be a bit sad that I didn't have anything fun to wear.  So I invested in fairy wings and a purple sparkly skirt.  I even tested the fairy wings out on a training run up Waterton (and got a whole lot of crazy looks).

it looks like Tink was following me on my run
I'm pretty sure no one as affixed fairy wings to their Orange Mud backpacks before...
My original plan going into this (and having no idea what to expect) was to do the 5k and 10k with my friend at her pace, do the half marathon solo at a somewhat chill pace, and then just see if I could beat my CDA run split for the marathon.  All character photos and messing around would be done in the first three races because the marathon was going to be serious business.

In hindsight, I know realize that these races are really more events.  Its nearly impossible (unless you're in the first few corrals) to "race", given all the people and all the fun things offered up during the run.  So I let go and really enjoyed myself.  I am still surprised to the extent in which I let go and just had fun.

half marathon: this is the face of someone who just got smacked over the head with pixie dust.     
5k - Thursday
Woke up at 4:15, left at 5 AM for a race start of 6:15.  It was windy and they had issued a "wind chill alert".  ooooh, scary Florida with your 45 degree temps.  Full confession, I was cold and actually shivering while waiting for the run to start, mainly because I didn't bring my warm "wind chill advisory" gear.  There were a ton of people and it was really impossible to run fast.  I still have no idea where I ran, except it was in Epcot, and it was dark.  We didn't stop for characters because the lines were long and there weren't any "must stop" ones we needed photos with.

I'm so glad I added my gloves and beanie to my carry on at the last minute!
5k finish jump
these were the "cheap" plastic medals.  which were incredibly nice
I then spent the rest of the day feeling like I had jet lag.  Fun!

10k - Friday
I think I got up at 4 AM (ugh!), left at 4:45, and the race started at 5:30.  Again, I hung out with Christine and I'm vaguely aware of where we ran.  All Epcot, but more of it.  And probably some of the boardwalk, where ever that is.

random sidebar: Racing back-to-back 4 days in a row with similar courses meant EVERYTHING was bleeding together.  I ran through the boardwalk again on the marathon and honestly couldn't remember which day (or days) I had also ran on this.  I just knew it looked familiar.

The 10k was again, crowded and dark, but not as cold as the day prior (no wind!).  I just hung back and ran easy with my friend Christine.  That was until mile 3 when my legs woke up and just took off on me and I had to force myself to slow down.  Silly legs - didn't they know they had way more work to to?

Really, this race felt like no big deal.

it kind of became a "thing" to jump here
this was the only finish line photo for the entire series...

I felt much better today post-race than after the 5k (I think my body was finally catching on to east coast time.)

Half Marathon - Saturday
Ok, here's where the real challenge starts.  I got up at 3:45 and we left at 4:30 and traffic was awful.  We had barely cleared bag check and started to walk to the corrals (1 mile from the car) when I heard the fireworks for the first wave go off.  And I realized I forgot my Garmin.  Awesome.  I was not happy.

The photographers were also a bit aggressive in wanting to get pre-race photos.  One actually made us stop.
I might be smiling but I'm saying not very nice things about the photog in my head....
Christine and I had to split to head to our respective corrals (I was "I", she was "N").  I was waaay up and the corrals had already started to move.  Did you know that J looks a lot like I?  Yeah.  I ended up in the corral behind me but didn't realize it until it was way too late. 

So I'm in the corrals, no garmin, late, no bathroom stop, and more than a little cranky.  I then just took a moment to appreciate where I am.  In 2008 I was supposed to be at this very race - as my first half marathon - but couldn't because I broke my 5th metatarsal running.  Now I was at the start line as a 3 time Ironman.  Amazing.  Right then and there, I told myself to get over being cranky and just enjoy the ride.  (this didn't keep me from constantly looking at my watch...)

Also: its hard to be cranky when your race starts with fireworks.

So with this race, you start at Epcot, run in the dark on some road past a speedway to the Magic Kingdom and then back along the road to Epcot.  I think.  No garmin means no map of where you went....  I did set up the race tracking to send me text messages of my progress, and the tracking was on top of it.  As soon as I'd hit a mat, I got a text message with my split, total time, pace, and estimated time of finish.  

From the start, I found a few people wearing Ironman gear and decided they were "my people".  I hung with them for 3+ miles, even though they were running WAY too fast.  It was dark, I was by myself, and it was nice to have people to talk to.  Around mile 4 I lost them, mainly because Jack and Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas were there for pictures.  The line was HUGE so I consoled myself with crappy cell phone pictures of them posing with random strangers.
its *almost* like they were posing right next to me.....
So you run for a while (I'm still not sure where) and then the road opens up and you see Space Mountain.  Wow.  And cool.  And then you run around a bit more and go through something like an employee entrance and then *bam* you are in full on Disney World with lights and classical music.  
pixie dust is starting to take effect
And then you turned a corner and *BAM* there is Cinderella's castle front and center and all lit up.  At this point, I felt like Cartman in Casa Bonita (South Park reference).  Suddenly, I wasn't running a half marathon - I was a kid again in DISNEY and there's the castle!  I stopped and took pictures, went a few feet, took more photos, swapped phones with people and got photos, and was just generally overcome and taken away with Disney magic.

showing this again because my smile could NOT get any bigger

think I liked the castle at all?
The other cool thing about running through the Magic Kingdom was that every section had greeters, welcoming you.  "Welcome to Fantasyland" "Welcome to Adventureland" and so on.  Very cool.  I also did the robot both times I ran through Tomorrowland.  Because I'm a dork.

there was someone here to take your photo and I couldn't resist.
AND I got to run THROUGH the castle!

I was so delirious with pixie dust by this point and just having a crazy good time.  After you run through the castle, they had an option to pose for photos in front of the castle.  "Race serious Erin" would never stop for such things, this race was way different.
more jumps.  and some crazy eye
as you can imagine, the line for these two was RIDICULOUS so I got the next best thing.
So after that point, there was just more running as you head back to Epcot.  This section kinda sucked because it was just road and trees and not much of anything else.  Around mile 9 things started to feel a bit tired.  I had some caffeine Honey Stinger Chews and just told myself to suck it up.  The chews helped and I felt better and just ran.  Then you ran into Epcot and things looked familiar again - and there were distractions - and the running was easier.

still high on pixie dust

The photogs weren't as on top of things in the finish area or I just didn't see them.  But no finish line jumps.

But even better, Micky and Minnie were at the finish line.  I probably wasn't supposed to snap a photo with him, but I did.... and it was awesome.
just chatting at the finish, no big deal

this is one of my favorite photos from the whole weekend
I finished and felt pretty good (a little tired/sore).  I was a dummy and forgot my Osmo recovery drink (of all the days to forget it....) so I foraged for food and found Dopey.

I was shooting for a 2:30 finish and came in at 2:44.  Considering all my stops and how much fun I had, it was all good.  

Marathon - Sunday
With the stress the day prior, we decided to leave at 4 AM.  That meant a ~3:15 alarm but my growling stomach was nice enough to wake me up at 2:30.  Ugh.  We got to the race start with *significantly* less stress.  I got to my correct corral, had time to watch the fireworks for the preceding waves, and get my head wrapped around running my "first" marathon.  My goal was to come in under 5:15 (my CDA time) and not mess around so much.  
looking relaxed and happy

The beginning was somewhat a repeat of the half marathon.  Leave Epcot, run past the speedway and into the Magic Kingdom.  Around the speedway (maybe? it was dark), Jack and Sally were out again posing for photos.  I had thought about it all day Saturday and decided to just stop and get photos.  I waited in line for 5 minutes, which put me behind pace by 30 seconds per mile.  I thought I could catch up, but it turns out I couldn't.  So I said screw it and decided to have more fun.
I told them I was going to play dead and Jack replied "Dead is the best way to be" ha!
I enjoyed the Magic Kingdom but didn't totally lose my mind in a cloud of pixie dust this time :)  I was still in the frame of mind to catch up for time lost, so not as many photos.  Besides, I think I got enough on Saturday.

I did stop again for castle pics.  I told the photographer I was jumping and he replied "lets get one of you standing first..."  I will admit, jumps were much harder today.

From the Magic Kingdom, we were running in uncharted (to me) territory.  We went back to the speedway, did a lap around the track.  And then we headed down to Animal Kingdom.  Where the roller coaster was.  We're running along the road (past the wastewater treatment plant) and I look up and there's a real, live bald eagle in the tree.  Cool.

not my photo - he flew away as I was grabbing my phone
We got to Animal Kingdom and it was fun. At least it was new stuff to look at and I was feeling good-ish. 
I paid for these photos so you're stuck looking at them ;)

I got to Expedition Everest, which is the roller coaster.  The deal is that the park opens at 9 and they have select rides that runners can ride on.  How fun is that?!?!  I got to Everest, saw there was a small line, and realized it was 8:40.  20 minutes before the ride opened.  There was no way I was standing still for 20 minutes at mile 12, so I kept running (sad face).  I was rewarded with a photo op with Daisy and Minnie before they went on break.
hello ladies!
It was also at this point where I realized I could use my phone to send facebook updates.  I also noticed my coach sent me a text.  Ha.  I'm not used to contact with the outside world during a race.

Around mile 13, things started to hurt.  I hit the caffeine at mile 14 and was genuinely hungry every mile for a while (I typically eat half a SunRype or half a bag of chews every 2 miles).  I didn't want to ignore the grumbles so I ate every mile.  It was a good call, I never bonked.  And the pain cave lessened with the caffeine, so it was good I had a bunch of those chews with me.

random side story: during the half and full, I noticed people were slathering all exposed skin on their legs with something.  I assumed it was sunscreen.  Later on, I saw gallon jugs of Biofreeze with pump dispensers and realized that these people (and there were a ton of them) were coating themselves with Biofreeze.  Weird!  and Funny!

So after Animal Kingdom, we ran on roads and through parking lots and then over to ESPN Wide World of Sports.  The sucky part was that there was a DJ talking to people coming out of ESPN, saying they had a 10k left (so mile 20).  And we were at mile 17.  Boo. People complained about this section being boring, but I didn't mind it.  We ran through soccer fields, around a track oval, on the warning track of the baseball stadium.  It mixed things up and gave things to look at it. It also started raining.
don't I look happy?
As far as running goes, I was doing ok.  Right from the start my quads were sore but I just put that out of my head and ran.  I ran 1 mile and then walked ~0.05 or 0.1 mi (so I could eat and/or drink) and then ran to the next mile marker (this is what I tried to do in training).  I made sure to eat early and drink a ton as it was warmer and I was worried about dehydration.  I ran mile distances pretty consistently until mile 14 and then went to 0.5 mi intervals before taking a walk break.  I actually managed to keep this up until mile 24 and then I went to 3 min run / 1 min walk intervals.  Staying running was significantly easier than during Ironman and required very little self-talk.  I think it also helped that I had a ton of distractions along the way.  The parts going through parks literally zipped by.

Once we got out of ESPN and hit the corner, I knew I only had a 10k left.  Things felt ok.  Not great but ok.  Then around mile 21 I noticed a medical table.  I thought I felt a blister forming and decided to stop and put vaseline on it.  I had to sit down (ow) to get my shoe/sock off and realized I had a pretty sweet blister forming on the inside of my big toe.  Lovely.  I slathered it with goo, put my socks and shoes on, and fortunately didn't think of it again.

We then headed into Disney Hollywood Studios, which was pretty cool.  They had 3D movie sets that looked like cities and lots of character opportunities.  The only crappy part was they routed us through this tunnel thing (Disney wardrobe) and it had all sorts of disco lights.  At mile 23, we're plenty disoriented and don't need more help!
Mike and Sully!

I don't know if this was a failed jump or a if the photog missed me.  We'll never know.
By that point, I was doing 3/1 intervals and just trying to keep moving forward.  After Hollywood Studios, we were back in Epcot, running along the Boardwalk, which gave me dejavu and I could honestly not recall if we ran here on Friday, Saturday, or both days.  From this point forward, we had plenty of people cheering and time went by pretty well.  
bippity boppity boo!
Then more running around Epcot through the "world" sections.  It was drizzling but the characters were still out.  My time goal was totally shot.  But there were loads of characters out and zero lines, so I just had fun.

side note: I wish I knew that the character photos were lumped in with my running photos.  I mostly ignored the photographer and focused on my phone.  Pics turned out ok but it would have been nice to have the professional ones with me looking at the camera...

At the end of the worlds section, there was alcohol.  Some guy was giving out pretty generous pours of beer (free!) and you could get roadie margaritas.  I opted to just drink Osmo.  Boring but I really didn't need a beer.

Then we ran to Spaceship Earth and I *had* to get another jumping photo.  Again, it was suggested I get a standing photo first.

a little crazy eyes.  And I blame the photographer for not better capturing my jump
Once you hit Spaceship Earth, you have a mile left.  Just a mile!  Except the course was long  - my garmin was reading 0.5 longer.  Even with the character stop (and a trip to a real bathroom in Tomorrowland) I didn't think I ran 0.5 over.  *sigh*  But I was almost done and in familiar territory.

more crazy eyes
finish chute - look at that air :)
 And then I was done.  No Mickey at the finish this time (it was raining), but I got my medals.  And it was a lot of bling.  Marathon medal, plus the Goofy Challenge (half + full) and Dopey (all 4).  Everyone was walking around with their medals clanking like really off-key church bells.

And then I found Dopey. And he was a bit of a creeper.  For most everyone, he put one arm around them or just did some little pose.  For me, I said hello and then he walked towards me, hugged me and refused to let go for a photo.  I had brought my other 3 medals and wanted the front-facing "look at my bling!" photo.  But I got this, a tired, happy, and confused photo.  And then he hugged me AGAIN.  Weird little dude.


I entered this challenge thinking "it couldn't be worse than Ironman" and then I really hoped I was not wrong with that assumption.  I think Ironman is harder, but Dopey is a close second. Ironman is a long, long day and I always have dark spots and I always have to find ways to keep myself running.  With Dopey, I managed to keep a good pace and could run decent distances before having to walk.  Sure, I may have been doing the Ironman shuffle for a while, but I was running half miles at a time.  The harder part is that I started the marathon on sore legs and had 3 days of running under me.  I had more emotional / physical energy but I was definitely in rougher shape than at the start of an Ironman marathon. The hard thing with Dopey is the early wakeups and making sure your nutrition and recovery are taken care of.  The sleep deprivation was awful (and several days later, I'm still catching up on my sleep).  The other thing is that the roads are canted pertty steeply, which hurts a bit to run on (and caused my awesome toe-blister).  But I was entertained the entire time and never once did I have a dark moment or really have to do some self-talk to keep myself running.

A question I've been asked a bunch this week is "would you do it again?"  The answer for me is no.  The race is expensive ($550 entry, plus travel) and it really is more of an event than a race.  Yes, I had a blast, but I don't know what I'd get out of it by doing it again -other than knowing where and when all the rides are, since I managed to miss all of them.  I like to repeat races to see if I improved, but the nature of this race (crowds and stopping for fun) doesn't lend itself to PRs.

It was a great experience and I definitely learned somethings about myself, mainly that I can let go and have fun.  I definitely recommend Dopey to anyone - just don't ask me to do it with you ;)

Special thanks to Coeur Sports for the awesome shorts for running, Colfax Marathon for the gear, and SunRype for the nutrition.  :)


Maralee said...

Great story, Erin. Thanks for sharing. Impressive work you do.

erin said...

So fun! Love all the jumping pics! Totally think this would be harder than an IM… four super early days and so much running!