Race Recap: Disneyland Half Marathon 2016

Last weekend was unbelievable. I ran the Disneyland Half Marathon, got a birthday PR and visited two magical theme parks with Geof. It was his first time to Disneyland and it was a bit of culture shock for him, but fun nonetheless. 

A few months ago, I received a complimentary race entry to the Disneyland Half Marathon from New Balance, as part of their MyNB program. The program gives you points when you purchase gear and link your runs with Strava. You can then redeem your points for various rewards. I run primarily in New Balance shoes and use Strava religiously to track my running progress, so it was easy for my points to add up. Choosing to run this race was a no brainer. Registration normally costs $200, but with a free entry, all I needed to do was book a flight and a few months later, Geof and I were headed to Anaheim, California to visit Disneyland. The race took place over my birthday weekend and I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate than doing what I love—running and traveling. It was a win all around!

RunDisney puts on a huge race weekend, complete with a 5K on Friday, a 10K on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday. I was allowed entry into one event only so I chose the half marathon. I love this distance and thought it was cool that the race fell on the day of my actual birthday. There was also a challenge called the Dumbo Double Dare, where you could run both the 10K and half and receive a special medal. I would have loved to attempt this but was perfectly happy with just running the half. 

We flew into Long Beach Airport on Friday and checked into our hotel in Anaheim. Because I had taken dramamine on the plane to help with motion sickness, I was super drowsy and went straight into a three hour nap right when we got there (whoops, haha). After I woke up, we walked over to the Disneyland Hotel for packet pickup and the race expo. We explored Downtown Disney that night, ate pasta and wandered back to the hotel to get some sleep.

The next day, Saturday, was spent at Disney California Adventure. I love this park more than the original Disneyland, mostly because of Cars World. We went on a bunch of rides but apparently, I have the worst motion sickness because I started to feel sick on Mickey's Fun Wheel and after riding the California Screamin' roller coaster, I was so nauseous that I had to sit down on a bench for almost an hour. Not exactly the way I wanted to spend the day. I wasn't feeling any better after a while, so we went back to the hotel where I took another nap. Once dinnertime rolled around, we made our way over to California Pizza Kitchen, which was a short walk from the hotel. I was a little worried about eating dinner after 8:30 p.m. the night before the race, but tried to choose something light. I had the asparagus + spinach spaghettini and ate half of it.

On Sunday, race morning, I woke up at 2:45 a.m. to eat last night's leftovers. You know the rule about not trying anything new on race day? Well, I didn't listen to that and ate a completely different breakfast than I usually do on race morning. I ate the leftover spaghettini and a pouch of GoGo squeeZ apple sauce, which I had received at the race expo. I decided I would just take a chance on this meal. It seemed light overall and was easy on the stomach. After drinking a cup of nuun and getting ready, we walked over to the race start on Disneyland Drive. Geof was coming along as support but wasn't running, so I really appreciated him waking up so early and walking with me to the start. I took one last potty break and we parted ways so I could find my way to the corrals.

The race had a start time of 5:30 a.m. I lined up in corral B, which was the second wave. Each corral was assigned based on a previous race time you had to submit, which I loved because it puts you around other runners with similar paces. I didn't have any goal expectations going in. I wanted to have fun and enjoy the run and not take it too seriously. My legs weren't well-rested having walked around the park the day before, so I decided to run by feel. As I was waiting for the gun to go off, I realized I had to pee again, but had to hold it since there were no port-a-potties in sight. Once the race started and I began running, I forgot about it as we ran through Disney California Adventure, passing through Cars World, Paradise Pier and A Bug's Land. We then headed toward Disneyland, running by Tomorrowland, the Matterhorn and through Sleeping Beauty's Castle. It's pretty magical running through the parks when it's dark out with the lights of the attractions to guide you. I loved it. The excitement of the people cheering us on was what carried me and I was running a quicker pace than I usually start out with. 5K—25:33

Photo: runDisney

Photo: runDisney

I was surprised at how good I felt. Even though I went out faster than usual, I thought that I might as well try and hold this pace and see if it would last. After we exited the park, it was the least interesting part of the course. I took a quick potty break at a water station at 4.5 miles but it didn't slow me down too much. At this point, the sky was turning from dark to the light of the morning and the weather remained overcast and in the 70s for the rest of the race. This part of the course had a lot of long straights and I just tried to keep a steady pace. 10K—53:01

We continued running on the streets of Anaheim, where there were a bunch of people cheering on the sides of the road with their old retro cars. We took a turn by the Honda Center and then along the Santa Ana Trail that overlooked the river. 15K—1:19:48

Photo: runDisney

Photo: runDisney

I could see Angel Stadium coming up ahead and began to get excited. I had been looking forward to this part of the race the entire time and as I ran into the stadium, I got chills. It was so loud and energetic inside and running by home plate is something I'll never forget. It was by far my favorite part of the race. I gave everyone in the stands high fives as I ran by and though the time in the stadium was short, it gave me the momentum I needed to keep pushing. I didn't realize how much my speed had picked up as I ran through there but the adrenaline must have got me. We headed out and began making our way back to Disneyland.

I always look weird in race photos. Let's not talk about that. Photo: runDisney

I always look weird in race photos. Let's not talk about that. Photo: runDisney

At the mile 11 marker, I thought I was at mile 12, which was kind of a downer but I was determined to hold my pace. At mile 12, I quickened my steps as we ran back around the outer edge of California Adventure, the parking lot and to the finishing chute on Downtown Drive. There was so much excitement from the crowd. I heard the announcer say my name as I pulled up to the finish line and I high fived Pluto and Mickey right before I crossed the mat. I just had to. Final chip time—1:52:19

The moment I crossed the line, I was so proud. I knew I had just ran my fastest half marathon ever. It took me almost a year and a half to best my old time, but in this moment, I thought about my coach and all the work I've been doing with her. It's really making the biggest difference. I collected my medal, water and snack box and waited in the meetup area for Geof. I wasn't too interested in what was in my snack box and Geof was hungry, so we headed to a nearby sandwich shop where I had grapes and orange juice and Geof had a breakfast sandwich.

Snack box food.

Snack box food.

We walked back to the hotel so I could shower and headed back out to enjoy the rest of our day at the theme parks. I tried a Dole Whip for the first time and we got in as many rides as we could. This day was much more busy than the previous day, so it was a lot of waiting in lines. By the end of the night, my watch showed that I had been on my feet for over 25 miles (13 of those were from the race though) and I was so ready to get some rest. I couldn't stop thinking about how memorable my birthday had been. It was the perfect day! Thank you runDisney for such an incredible experience.

Photo: runDisney

Photo: runDisney

Next up on the race schedule is the St. George Marathon. I'm nervous but hopeful. Only three more weeks...

Race Recap: Nike Women San Francisco Half Marathon

This past weekend, I traveled to San Francisco to run the Nike Women's Half Marathon. This is a race I've heard great things about and was super excited when my name was drawn in the random lottery earlier in the summer. This was my fifth half marathon this year, but my second one out-of-state, which makes it ten times more fun since you get to make it into a mini vacation too.

Geof and I arrived in San Francisco on Friday afternoon and did the usual—checked into the hotel, walked and explored the city, ate delicious food and picked up my race packet. On Saturday, we grabbed breakfast at a coffee shop, switched to a hotel closer to the start line, ate pasta and wandered around the city some more. When we were walking through the San Francisco Centre, we randomly came across the Nike Braid Bar, where they had stylists there to prep and braid your hair for race day. I ended up doing this and it was great because it held up perfectly through my run and was one less thing to worry about on race day morning. I had a big bowl of noodles at Ajisen Ramen as my pre-race dinner—it's carbs but light enough so it didn't sit heavy in my stomach the night before.

On Sunday morning, I woke up around 3:30 a.m. and ate my usual race day breakfast—an english muffin with peanut butter, honey and bananas and drank a glass of nuun. We walked over to the starting area at 5:45 a.m. From there, I warmed up, parted ways with Geof, got into my corral, went to the bathroom and lined up on Post Street to wait for the 6:30 a.m. start. I didn't feel too nervous going in, but as the clock ticked down to the start, the anticipation and excitement began to build. There's something really powerful about lining up with 25,000 other women. This was the biggest race I have run size-wise and I could feel the energy all around me.

Photo: Nike

Photo: Nike

The race started while it was still dark out which was fun because you're basically running as the city woke up and the sun came out. I usually go into races without a strict pace in mind—just running by feel. This time, I wanted to break 2 hours on a hilly course (I've done a 1:54 on a more downhill course but never on a course with positive elevation, though I've come close twice at 2:00:27 and 2:00:31). I knew I needed to hit a 9:09 mile average if I wanted to do that. 

We began with an uphill out of Union Square and zig-zagged through the surrounding neighborhoods. I did some weaving around people and didn't run the tangents as well as I could have, which is why my watch started to beep early before every mile marker (for this recap, I'll be using the official time provided by Nike and not what my watch said). The hills here didn't seem that bad and I ran them by effort, knowing I could make up time on the downhills. 5K—28:29.

Photo: Nike

Photo: Nike

The course then took us through Golden Gate Park, which was really scenic and pretty with stretches of longer straights and some slight uphills and downhills. There were marching bands playing on the sidelines. I don't remember much of this part other than how much I enjoyed it; I tend to zone out during races sometimes. 10K—55:23.

I was feeling pretty good here. I didn't feel too tired and my legs were moving quickly. This portion of the race took us out of the park and through more neighborhoods. There was a steeper hill after the park where we hit an 8% grade and I remember telling myself to just breathe and take consistent steps up. We then took some zig-zags through the neighborhoods of the Richmond District. I was still surprised at how good I was feeling overall. I was averaging an 8:56 minute pace. 15K—1:23:13.

Somewhere after mile 9, I began to feel the tiniest bit of fatigue in my legs and little twinges on the outside of my right knee. I knew my IT band was getting tight and just focused on my form and tried to take fast steps and not think about it. We entered the Presidio and that's where the big hill started. I had heard about The Hill at Mile 10 from other racers, where you gain around 250 feet over one mile, and knew this was coming. This is where I think trail running in Utah pays off. It doesn't seem like that much elevation gain, but after running 10 miles, it felt like a mountain. I climbed up the hill steadily and didn't stop once. My legs were getting tired but I just told myself to keep going. This was also welcome since my tight ITB didn't hurt going uphill. It was really cool to see Nike pacers here encouraging runners. I think they definitely helped keep me moving. Once I got to the top of the hill, I was excited that it was behind me but also not excited, because I knew the pain from my ITB would get worse on the downhills, which the rest of the course was. We ran by amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and downhill headed toward the Marina. I intended to blaze downhill and would have normally appreciated the downhill shift and picked up the pace, but I was now starting to feel ITB pain in my left knee which was probably from my compensating for the pain in my right knee. My pace slowed a little. At mile 12, I took my first walk break (other than the brisk ones through the water stations) to let my knees recover a little. From here, I kept telling myself that I was almost there and to just take quick steps and I'd get there. My ITBs really didn't love me and thought otherwise. I had to take three more short walk breaks down the last stretch of the Marina. 20K—1:54:08

Photo: Nike

Photo: Nike

From here, I just wouldn't let myself stop anymore. I looked at my watch and knew I could still make it within my goal time. There were more bands playing and I could hear crowds cheering up ahead. I ran the rest of the way despite the pain in my knees and crossed the finish line. Looking up at the clock, I knew I was close to my goal but didn't know just how close until I found Geof among the crowds where he had looked up my results. Final chip time—2:00:36. 

It was hard on me. I initially felt the rush of accomplishment when I crossed the finish line, but after finding out my time, I felt a wave of disappointment flood over me. I've never felt that way after finishing a race. I think I'm too hard on myself sometimes. I kept thinking that if I had just pushed through the final mile and not taken the walk breaks, I would have made my goal. And I would have. But I can only live in the moment and knew that walking was right for me then. I just have to remind myself that every race is a learning experience and every run (good or bad) will make me better. For that, I ended my weekend happy knowing I did accomplish something great. 

Photo: Nike

Photo: Nike

Thank you San Francisco and Nike! It was a wonderful time. Also, a big thanks to Geof for being my support and cheering me on.