Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Race Recap & Review: Castaway Cay Challenge 5k

If you don't know by now, Matthew and I are both huge Disney Cruise Line fans. Back in July when we registered for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, we also registered for the Castaway Cay Challenge.

The Castaway Cay Challenge is simple; sign up and complete any of the races at WDW Marathon Weekend (5k or longer) and then complete the Castaway Cay 5k on Disney's private island while on the cruise leaving the Monday after the marathon. This challenge also comes with a highly coveted, super special, cruise ship medal. Running + tropical island + more bling? Obviously, we had to do this in 2017!

Our special-edition cruise documents book.

We boarded the Disney Dream on the Monday afternoon directly following the marathon on Sunday. Because we stayed at a Disney resort, we were able to utilize a direct transfer from our hotel to the cruise terminal at Port Canaveral. We had no issues checking in, getting our "key to the world" cards, and then walking right on the ship. Since we'd already picked up our bibs and shirts at packet pick-up for Marathon Weekend, we didn't have to do anything special for the race when we boarded.

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A pamphlet with final race instructions was waiting for us in our stateroom including details of a mandatory meeting on Tuesday (At Sea Day) at 4 pm in the Buena Vista Theater, the movie theater on board. The race would take place Wednesday morning, the day we'd spend at Castaway Cay.

Surprisingly, the meeting was super helpful in understanding some of the finer details of the race. While Matthew and I have completed the regular Castaway Cay 5k before, we weren't sure what to expect for this new (for us) race. At the meeting we learned that because we were getting off the ship so early- the race started at 7 am- the entire island would be "closed" and thus, very dark. And because the start time was so early, we'd actually be docking at the island sometime during Tuesday night instead of first thing Wednesday morning. This meeting also covered the course route; it would be significantly different from the regular Castaway Cay 5k course.

Special Castaway Cay Challenge course.

On the morning of the race, we were seated by corral in the Buena Vista Theater. Matthew and I were in corral A (!!!) so we were one of the first people off the ship. It was insanely dark on the island! Since the island wasn't designed for guests to be there in the dark, there are no lights- anywhere. However, this did give us a beautiful backdrop for pictures of the Disney Dream all lit up. Mine came out a little blurry so you'll just have to imagine how cool it looked in person.

The view from our walk to the start. 

This race started on the airstrip as part of the different route rather than the normal Castaway Cay 5k which starts near the bike rentals. We were pleasantly surprised to see actual corrals (with gates and everything!), runDisney food boxes, full medical staff, racks of medals, and a DJ playing upbeat music at the starting line. Compared to the normal "no frills" 5k, this felt extravagant! We even had special appearances by Goofy and "Indiana Jones," aka our cruise director Peter. It felt like an actual runDisney race- just on a tropical island!

Look at all those runner boxes.

I don't see this often.

Characters everywhere!

These two helped count down the start of each corral.

In true runDisney fashion, the corrals were released with about five minutes in between. As Matthew and I started the race, we saw Pirate Mickey down at the end of the airstrip. The line was super long so we didn't stop. Instead we continued down the road that snakes behind the cabanas. Along this stretch, we jumped in a short line for Chip and Dale and then headed out toward the turn-around point. This race was a simple out and back along the cabana road and then one loop through the bike path. When we came back out to the airstrip, Pirate Minnie had replaced Pirate Mickey with almost no line so we were able to grab a quick picture.

These pranksters. 

Pirate Minnie!

Surfboard mile markers.
Map details from my Garmin.

After a fast trip around the bike loop, we ran across the finish line and collected our medals. There was a Castaway Cay Challenge backdrop and a few characters out for pictures but the lines were long and we had to hustle to get back on the ship- we were doing the normal 5k later that morning at 9 am and had to get back on board to check-in and pick up our bibs.


Overall, this race was incredibly fun. We loved seeing the Pirate-themed characters and loved having the race mimic so much of a true runDisney race. It was cool seeing how the race organizers were able to recreate the WDW experience on a tropical island. There were other cool touches to this race as well including some "characters" dressed as Swiss Family Robinson folks near the lookout tower- ha! The only thing we didn't like about this race was the race shirt. It's not an attractive design (M's wearing it in the picture above) and it feels like the design was ironed on to the shirt. It's not the usual shirts that runDisney uses and we just didn't care for it- it felt "cheap."

Another cool bonus to this race was the scenery for post-race medal pictures. 😃 While we didn't get a castle shot with our bling this year, I think posing with the gorgeous Disney Dream and the sparkling blue ocean in the background kinda makes it tolerable.

Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday. 

Handsome Dopey and Castaway Cay Challenge finisher.

Would we do this race again? Absolutely! Would we do the cruise directly after WDW Marathon Weekend again? Maybe. More on that in a future post. However, the Castaway Cay Challenge 5k was a fantastic race full of special details that make runDisney events so magical. And besides, running a 5k on a private island in the Bahamas with Disney characters cheering you on? A total Disney Dream. 😊

Have you ever done the Castaway Cay Challenge? What were your thoughts/experiences?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Accountability February

Hi friends!

I've missed you!

February has been kicking my ass- between crazy work hours, appearing in a local production of The Vagina Monologues, and entering the fourth week of a viral upper respiratory infection- I am barely able to keep track of my own schedule, let alone get some blogging done!

But, I do have lots to fill you in on. Here's a little recap on what's been happening in my world over the last few weeks, in newspaper headline style, just because:


Matthew and I cannot catch a break! We've been sick with viral upper respiratory infections since the beginning of February. Each time we think we're getting better, wham! More congestion, runny noses, coughing, headaches, and general crappiness. Hopefully we are in the home stretch and won't be sick all of next month too.

We should just bathe in lysol at this point.


Well, maybe not lost it totally, but I'm definitely on the struggle bus. Since we've been home from the cruise/WDW Marathon Weekend, I've run exactly three times- once in the snow we finally got a few weeks ago. But overall, it's been a slow return to running. Partly because I've been sick for weeks, and partly because I seem to always struggle after a marathon. All I feel like doing is eating and sleeping. Maybe I'm actually a bear and I'm supposed to be hibernating this winter? Either way, I've got to put together a training plan soon because we've signed up for lots of races in the next few months.

More of this please, future Sarah. 


That's right, Matthew and I took advantage of some discounts and signed up for several races as part of the Harrisburg Area YMCA Race Series:

Vinewinder 4 miler, 5/13/17- this one goes through the Vineyard and Brewery at Hershey! 😁
Harrisburg Mile, 7/19/17
Harrisburg Half Marathon, 9/10/17

We also signed up for our fourth (!) Steel Challenge, 5/6/17 - 5/7/17 (Pittsburgh 5k on Saturday, Pittsburgh Half Marathon on Sunday) and WDW Marathon Weekend in January of 2018; Dopey Challenge for Matthew, Half Marathon for me. We're also looking at a few local-ish half marathons and 10-milers in March and April.

See you soon, Pittsburgh!

I've still got recaps to write from our latest Disney cruise and the last part of the Castaway Cay Challenge which I'll try to finish up sometime this week/weekend. I hope to bring "Accountability Monday" back on a regular basis too. Fingers crossed March is a better month than February.

Have a great week, friends! 😉

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Race Recap & Review: Walt Disney World Marathon

After cheering all day at the "Pop Art" Half Marathon, Matthew and I met up with his cousin and her husband for dinner and a Wal-Mart run. The weather for the marathon was predicted to be in the 30-40 degree range with a severe wind warning. So glad we went all the way to Florida just to run in winter weather! <insert eye roll here> We grabbed some extra layers from the clearance section in the largest Wal-Mart I've ever seen (seriously!) and then prepared for the race the next day.

As you might know from this post, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to run the race. In fact, I'd been debating that entire week if I should try to run or just cheer for Matthew or try to jump in at mile 20 and run the last six miles with him. After lots of conversation with Matthew, and some soul searching, I decided that I was going to start the race and run as far as I could. With that race plan in place, we set our alarms for 3:00 AM (ugh) and settled in for a fitful night of anxious sleep.

Layers on layers on layers. Also, not sure Matthew is awake yet.

Just like my first marathon recap, we're gonna run through this one with the help of some Disney songs. 😄

To set the mood for a "Frozen" marathon morning... 

🎶 Do you want to build a snowman?
Come on let's go and play!
I never see you anymore, come out the door, 
it's like you've gone away... 🎶

It. Was. Freezing. I am so glad we grabbed extra throwaway clothes to wear at the start. We packed up our post-race bag (complete with external phone charger, pants, sweatshirts, other warm clothes, etc.), got dressed, and caught an early bus to the race start at Epcot. We met up with our running Ohana in our usual place and all huddled to keep warm. Shout out to Amy's friend for helping us tie our heat sheets around us so they'd stay on! We also met up with our friends Matt (from Hokeyblog) and his wonderful photographer wife Kim and grabbed a few pictures.

The crew, minus Lauren, Sara, and Kelsey who were warm and cozy in Race Retreat. Totally not jealous. 

Matt and his magical wrap thing. Again, not jealous at all.

As we walked back the half mile walk to the corral, I pulled out my YakTrax hand warmers and put them in my gloves, in the palms of my hands. Let me tell you, they were so warm! I ended up keeping them until around mile eight. I grabbed them while I was packing on a whim, not really thinking I'd need them in Florida where the weather was supposed to be in the 50-60 degree range. But I digress...

Matthew and I were in corral I which was the 5:30- 6:00 hour pace corral. The last time we did the marathon together, we were back in L so it was pretty cool to be so much closer this year. We found a place to sit down but weren't sitting long- they had us moving right after the race started. Somehow in the crowd of people I managed to find Jess, a fellow ENELL ambassador who lives near my hometown- we see each other at a lot of Baltimore-area races.

We were truly frozen.

There's a few ENELLs hiding under there, promise!

The view from I corral as we approached the start line.

About 30 minutes after the race start, it was our turn to start the race. We started off with our 30:30 interval, 30 seconds running, 30 seconds walking. We had planned to keep our pace hovering around 14:30- 15:30 minutes per mile, just slowly and steadily working our way to the finish. As I was coming off not running for a month and Matthew had just run almost 23 miles in the last three days, we knew slow and steady was the best possible option for finishing.

The first few miles of the race were pretty uneventful as we made our way towards Magic Kingdom. I felt great- a little rusty, but pretty good. We passed under the Magic Kingdom entrance sign (which is misleading because we had at least another mile before we made that right turn onto Main Street USA), through the Ticket and Transportation Center, and then under the bridge with the awesome DJ.

"Caution runners, speed bumps ahead."

Many runDisney enthusiasts will tell you that running through Cinderella's Castle is magical. And it is, to a point. However, I think the most magical part of this race is turning onto Main Street USA and seeing hundreds of cheering people, hearing "When You Wish Upon a Star" playing as you run down the middle of the road, and seeing the castle lit up in thousands of lights. It is so absolutely magical that I cry each and every time I make that right-hand turn.

🎶 When you wish upon a star,
makes no difference who you are,
anything your heart desires
will come to you.
If your heart is in your dreams,
no request is too extreme.
When you wish upon a star like dreamers do. 🎶

There she is. 💗

Kim (Matt's wife) saw us and managed to grab a few pictures of us in awe of the castle. We made another right into Tomorrowland, stopped to use a real bathroom in Fantasyland, ran through the castle, grabbed a quick picture with a colonial man (and Sam the Eagle!) in Liberty Square and then headed out behind the park towards the Grand Floridian.

Still wearing the clothes we planned to throw away at the start. Shout out to Kim for getting these gems.

Can you spot Sam?!

From MK, we traveled in the direction of Animal Kingdom with a quick trip through the Water Treatment Plant. Kudos to Disney for making this rather boring part of the race semi-fun by including all kinds of trivia along the race course. I finally took off my fleece men's pajama pants at mile 10 when the temps had warmed up to the mid-40's.

🎶 "The more you know" 🎶

We entered Animal Kingdom through a back entrance and headed towards the front of the park through Asia and DinoLand USA. We briefly considered stopping to ride Everest (a long-time goal of mine) but the line was 25 minutes long. We were averaging around 14:30/15 minute miles so we didn't have the time to waste. One day, Everest, one day.

This part of the race had the best on-course music for sure; Matthew and I rocked out to "Son of Man" from Tarzan:

🎶 On this journey that you're making,
there'll be answers that you'll seek.
And it's you who'll climb the mountain,
It's you who'll reach the peak.
Son of Man, look to the sky,
lift your spirit, set it free.
Some day you'll walk tall with pride,
Son of Man, a man in time you'll be 🎶 

Hello AK performers!

After we'd exited Animal Kingdom- and randomly ran into my friend/fellow ENELL ambassador Julie who was cheering!-  we officially hit the halfway mark of the race. Surprisingly, we still felt pretty great. My right foot had been aching since the walk to the corral but by this point, my left foot had caught up so both were hurting equally. Ha!

Somewhere around mile 15, I stopped feeling great. My lack of training in December was catching up to me- everything started to hurt. My quads, my calves, my hamstrings- hell, even my arms and back were aching! I really started to question if I was going to make it to the end of the race. I started thinking about how long we still had to go, over 11 miles, and got into an incredibly negative head space. All the doubts I had about myself, all the "I can't do this" thoughts started getting louder and louder in my head. But I remembered what a wise dude (Matthew, aka, the best running partner/husband) once told me, "Run the mile you're in. Focus on how far you've gone, not how far you have to go."

So, I set my sights on the finish line, focused on each step and breath, and reminded myself that I'd already run 15 miles with a cranky foot; there was no stopping me now. Who knew "How Far I'd Go" if I could just keep moving forward?

🎶 See the light where the sky meets the sea,
it calls me,
no one knows how far it goes.
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me,
one day I'll know,
if I go there's just no telling how far I'll go. 

The hardest part of this race is miles 15- 21. We ran from AK to ESPN's Wide World of Sports and every step felt like a death march. Part of the reason it sucks is that almost all of miles 16 and 17 are spent running towards WWOS as thousands of runners are running out of WWOS, about four miles in front of you. It just messes with your brain!

On a positive note, we got a cute picture with Donald, Chip, and Dale dressed as referees and we ran into several of our friends! It never ceases to amaze me that out of 25,000+ runners, we somehow end up seeing our friends out on the course. We saw Dave around mile 19 and walked a few minutes with him. This dude is Perfectly Goofy and Perfectly Dopey meaning he's done every single Goofy and Dopey challenge since their inception. Bad. Ass.

Perfectly Bad Ass Dave.

Can these guys referee the next Ravens/Steelers football game?

As we were running around Champion Stadium, they were announcing some of the runners names as they crossed the timing mat. Matthew heard them say our friend Kelsey's name (she was running with Lauren and first-time marathoner Sara) but we couldn't figure out if they were in front of us or behind us. So we kept running and we kept our eyes peeled for our friends.

Hi, race photographer!

Sure enough, right after we left the stadium, we ran into Lauren, Kelsey, and Sara! We hugged, we squealed, we shared our candy (Matthew and I brought Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids with us), and took a selfie. I can't explain how uplifting it was to see familiar faces during these difficult miles. To see people who say "You've Got a Friend in Me" at just the right time? Pure magic!

 🎶 You've got a friend in me,
you've got a friend in me.
When the road looks rough ahead
and you're miles and miles
from your nice warm bed.
You just remember what your old pal said,
Boy, you've got a friend in me.
Yeah, you've got a friend in me. 

Smiles at mile 20? With friends like these, no doubt. 

Off they go!

We finally made it through WWOS and hit mile 21 on the way to Hollywood Studios. Some awesome spectator was handing out freaking donut holes on the course and they were the best damn donut holes I've ever tasted.

Hollywood Studios is another one of my favorite parts of this race for two reasons: 1. You're almost done! 2. They hand out chocolate at mile 23. This year, they were handing out full-size M&M's and fun-size snickers. So delicious when you're only three miles from the finish. I'm pretty sure I'd have eaten anything at this point. 😂

Selfies with Tower of Terror or it didn't happen, right?

This enthusiasm is only like 50% fake. 

After we left DHS, we started the short (but feels like forever long) trip around the boardwalk and into Epcot. Every part of my body hurt and I was just praying for the end so I could sit the hell down. Our feet hit the planks of the boardwalk and I started bawling- once you get to the planks, there's no way you'll get swept. We'd almost made it- just a few more miles and we'd be marathoner finishers again! This part of the race reminded me that "I Am Moana [a Marathoner]:"

🎶 Sometimes the world seems against you,
the journey may leave a scar.
But scars can heal and reveal just
where you are.

The people you love will change you.
The things you have learned will guide you.
And nothing on Earth can silence
the quiet voice still inside you.
And when that voice starts to whisper,
Moana, you've come so far.
Moana, listen,
do you know who you are? 

We entered Epcot near the UK pavilion and turned left to do one lap around World Showcase. The park was already open but there was one lane carved out for runners with cones. Because it was so late in the race, not many runners were stopping for pictures with the Princesses they had out in their respective countries. We met Belle in France and then got a quick picture with Snow White in Germany. There we made the best decision we'd made all day- we got in line for a Shofferhoffer beer at the kiosk outside the Germany pavilion. A few people in line noticed we were still running so they let us cut in line and get a beer to go. It was one of the best beers I've ever had. Another benefit to running through Disney- booze on the course. 

We're still not sure where Matthew is looking. 

...and we're still not sure where Snow White is looking either.

Don't ask why we're prom posing with the beer.
After 25 miles, nothing makes sense. 
Just taking a walk break and sipping on a beer in Epcot. NBD.

We finished our beer, lapped the rest of the countries, and ran towards the big golf ball and the finish. By our estimates, we knew this would not be a PR race for either of us. My current marathon PR is 5:55:09 and back when training for this race started, I'd envisioned a 5:45 or lower finish time. But it just wasn't meant to be. 

We ran past the golf ball, delighted in the mile 26 gospel choir, linked hands and ran on to finish the 2017 Walt Disney World Marathon in 6:48:01. 

This enthusiasm isn't faked; the finish line is moments away!
Oh, the finish is right there? Well, there's always time for pics with the main mice!

We. Are. Finished!
A little creative editing and we have a complete finisher picture 😆

The marathon is an absolutely incredible experience. And to do it with your husband and friends through the happiest place on Earth ? Magical.

After the race, we finally sat down (!!!!), met up with friends, ate all the goodies from our runDisney finisher boxes, and enjoyed our medals. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon after running 26.2 miles through all four parks.

2017 bling.


Dopey finishers.

The most comfortable I'd been all day!

As you can see from our clothing, it was still pretty chilly by Florida standards. I think it warmed up to the low-50's by late afternoon. After resting for a while, we said goodbye to our friends and then headed back to the resort to shower and meet up with Matthew's cousin and her husband at Disney Springs for a celebratory dinner (and Guinness!) at Raglan Road.

Disney Springs was all about runDisney.

Marathon number three wasn't the race I'd planned; it ended up being so much more. A reminder of who I am, how far I've come, and how the people I've surrounded myself with lift me up at the exact moment I need it. It might sound cliche, but I truly feel blessed. And I am so crazy grateful for all the experiences- and people- life has brought me thus far.

Will we be back at WDW Marathon Weekend for 2018? Of course. There's simply too much magic that we don't want to miss. 😉

See ya real soon!

4 parks, 1 day, no ticket. WDW Marathon, you are awesome.