Last Monday Seven Mondays ago we returned from Florida. It’s been a long time since I was exhausted as I was that day. It wasn’t a bad exhaustion. It was good because we had just spent the last 5 days living life to it’s fullest.
Five days prior we woke for an early flight, checking into the Polynesian by lunchtime. We hit the ground running: changed into shorts; enjoyed a nice lunch; hit the race expo at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex; and dove into dinner with Mickey and friends at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary.
Thursday I got up for an easy 5 mile run while Anne and William slept till after 9. During that run, my legs were fresh and 7:30 miles ticked off as easily as they should have. After brunch we hit the Magic Kingdom for the day and moved on to Epcot that evening for dinner in Japan! We closed down Epcot and watched the fireworks before heading back for bed.
Fortunately our energy reserves were still running high since Anne had to get up at 3:45am to meet Maggie and Kristina for the 10K. Starting in the dark, they had quite the adventure going further on foot than any of them have in probably many years. They did it wearing Run For Our Sons lime green and bright, red superhero capes and they finished together. Despite some soreness they looked energized at the finish. I never worried about them covering this new distance as I knew they had each other to rely upon to the end.
There was little rest for Anne as we went straight to breakfast then on to Epcot for the day. Despite Epcot not the best place to rest your legs, we enjoyed ourselves exploring and hitting every ride we could. That evening we joined everyone on our team at the Run For Our Sons pasta party. It’s inspiring to see so many families, relatives, and friends gather together in support of the same goal. This year was the 10th time RFOS has gathered at Disney and a number of runners have run each year and their efforts were recognized.
Saturday morning I was up early and went for a short run paralleling the half marathon course as a spectator. During this time I easily saw more than a half dozen RFOS runners in their lime green singlets. It was warm and muggy and eventually the mercury would tie Orlando’s record high of 86–definitely a tough day for running a half!
Saturday was our third day park hopping. We kicked it off early in the Magic Kingdom having breakfast with Pooh and his friends. Despite being in middle school and almost 12 William still has a soft spot in his heart for his pal Pooh. Poor Piglet though! We decided to prank him with a plate of bacon when he came around to visit. Last year he didn’t fare much better with us when I told him I had Pooh on my hands.
After breakfast we hit the park for another six hours walking and riding before joining Maggie, Kristina and their families for dinner at the house they rented. It was a rare opportunity to sit down and rest my legs for tomorrow’s marathon. Thankfully storms blew through that evening to clear the heat and humidity for Sunday’s Marathon.
The alarm rang early Sunday morning after barely 4 hours of sleep. Soon I was out the door for a 5:30am marathon start. I had a great fall of training and my best December ever! I knew my final two week lead in wasn’t great and I had worn my energy levels down over the past week but was undeterred. I took my spot in corral A, which was smaller than the other corrals. It was mostly filled with skinny running nerds but offered a front row view to the pre-race festivities on the stage next to us. At one point the Emcee was listing the different kinds of runners lined up for the race and said we even had superheros in capes! The camera for the big screen cut to an RFOS runner wearing the fast becoming iconic red cape!
The race started with fireworks. Just as I ran under the start I could feel debris from the fireworks raining over me and some of it got in my eye. I worked through that quickly and settled in at my goal pace being careful to watch the mile markers hitting them within 3 to 5 seconds of target. During the early miles of a long race this pace ordinarily feels painfully slow but my breathing was unusually labored and I felt heavy. I was giving too much effort and knew I couldn’t have run 15 miles at that pace. It felt closer to half marathon effort than marathon effort. After the fifth mile I backed off and just ran according to effort which meant slowing 15-20 seconds per mile. I decided I’d just run a strong and smart race to the end. There would be no walking or quitting while running in the lime green shirt that says I Run To End Duchenne.
Settling in at a low 7 minute pace was still rough but I hoped to stick to it as long as possible. It was moderately bearable but I still had concern over my fatigue level. I passed the half marathon clock at 1:33 with more fatigue than I’ve had in any of my previous marathons at that point. I knew it was going to be a hard last 6 miles and accepted that.
Moving through miles 13 to mile 20 I had some rough patches but managed to keep my pace mostly under 7:30. It was tough but I hoped I’d be able to keep rolling at that pace for as long as possible. The sun was up and the weather seemed dryer and cooler. With the exception of a slight breeze it was decent running weather. That was a good thing because the run got even tougher after mile 20.
I ran the last six miles on pure guts. Somehow I thought I was sill running sub 3:10 pace since only the 3:05 pace group had passed me somewhere near mile 13 leading into the Animal Kingdom. My “math” told me I could give up almost a minute per mile and still finish with a Boston Qualifying run and I did my best to run as fast as I could. Soon after mile 22 I saw the next pace group over my shoulder before we entered Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I set a goal to hold them off until we left the park. That pushed me on and I held them off for a mile but was shaken back to reality when I realized it was the 3:15 group. What happened to the 3:10 group?
I knew sticking with this group wasn’t enough for a BQ since they started behind me. I dug deep and kept them in sight to the end, never more than 15-30 seconds up the road. The final miles were painful and exhausting. I gave it hell and willed my legs to keep turning over and refused to slow any further. There was no way I wasn’t going to give it my best effort mindful of who I was running for.
I finished with 3:16:19 on the clock and, unlike my other marathons, was immediately at peace and relaxed when I finished. Instead of bending over with pain, I was almost numb. This race had been on my mind as an important target for months and it was now finished. The script didn’t go according to plan but my effort had. In retrospect after 4 days enjoying Disney with my family running at my fastest was impossible. Still I ran strong and that was OK. When I committed to this early last year, I never imagined we would grow to a team of 5 and double our fund raising efforts! The whole experience and what it meant was much greater than my finish time. Standing in a still barren finishing area having just finished this journey around Disney for boys like William I didn’t feel alone.
Eventually I made my way out, took my finishers medal, changed out of my wet shirt, grabbed my traditional post-Disney run beer, and made my way over to get my photo taken with Chip and Dale for William before finding a seat at the RFOS tent for a few minutes.
Soon enough I was back to the Polynesian where I met my family for my second marathon of the day. We headed off to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, then back into the Magic Kingdom for magical hours packing in over 11 hours of park hopping on our last day at Disney.
Just like last year, Running For Our Sons at Disney is an incredibly rewarding experience. It’s humbling knowing I’m doing a small part to help improve the quality of life and outlook for boys like William who live with Duchenne. It’s an honor to dedicate a period of serious training and a strong run to them. I’m grateful to everyone who supported us in this endeavor. Thank you!