Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Race Recap & Review: 2018 Unofficial Castaway Cay Challenge

Last month, the day after the 2018 Walt Disney World Marathon, Matthew and I boarded the Disney Dream to complete the second half of our WDW Marathon Weekend trip: a four night cruise to Nassau and Castaway Cay.

As you may recall, Matthew and I decided to book the Castaway Cay Challenge cruise in late October so we'd already missed the registration for the official Castaway Cay Challenge race.

A little background (because this can be confusing, lol)- to run the Castaway Cay Challenge (a race that takes place at 7:30 am on Castaway Cay, Disney's private Bahamian island), you must register for and run at least one race during WDW Marathon Weekend, book your room on the Disney Dream for the cruise directly after the marathon, then register for the Castaway Cay Challenge race. This race was sold out by the time we booked our room on the cruise so we opted to do the "free" (included in the cost of your cruise) 5k at 9 am, directly following the official challenge race.

In essence, we were doing the challenge- one or more races at WDW Marathon Weekend + a 5k on the island- we just weren't doing the official race with the bling, the shirt, and the earlier start time. We did the official Castaway Cay Challenge last year and while we loved the race, we were ok skipping all the extras this year.

Ok, back to the recap!

Monday morning, our muscles still aching from the marathon the day before, Matthew and I started the most favorite part of our trip- cruising on the beautiful Disney Dream!

Hello, Donald!

Our first two days on the ship (embarkation day and Nassau day) were spent how we usually spend them- lounging around and enjoying all the Dream has to offer: we tried out the Rainforest in Senses Spa, had dinner at the adults-only restaurant Palo, swam in the Quiet Cove pool, did a Whiskey Tasting (which was super cool, by the way!), met lots of characters, and enjoyed coffee on our giant verandah each morning.

Somehow, we were put in an ADA (handicapped-accessible) room so the room itself and its verandah were absolutely enormous! We are absolutely spoiled for any future cruises :-)

This is maybe 1/3 of our verandah deck.
Oh hey, Punzie!

What a Goof!

The morning we docked at Castaway Cay, we were up and on our verandah by 7 am. We actually were able to hear music from the start line about three quarters of a mile from where the ship was docked.

Around 7:30, we heard the race begin and I can tell you will all honesty, I had absolutely zero FOMO (fear of missing out). Matthew and I chatted, sipped coffee, and then went down to Evolution (the biggest bar/club on the ship) to get ready for our race which would begin at 9 am.

Just chilling on our deck with a private island behind me, NBD.

Matthew and I at the start of the "regular" Castaway Cay 5k.

Because the challenge runners used a different course than the regular 5k route, our race followed the challenge course because there wasn't enough time to switch over the courses in between the races. Basically, we followed the same route as the official challengers, we just didn't have the character stops during our race.

I was happy to see that the mile markers and inflatable start/finish line was still up- it made our race feel a little more special.

Matthew and I ran this race using the same intervals we'd used all weekend; 30 seconds of running followed by 30 seconds of walking. About a quarter of a mile into the race, one of our table mates from dinner, Dameon, came up beside us. He'd just run the challenge race and was running the regular 5k as a bonus race!

Dameon had never done intervals before and while he was just curious at first, after hanging with us for the whole race, I think we might have converted him to a Galloway runner :-)

Mile one.

Mile two.


I lead us the majority of this race and I tried to push the pace during the run intervals. We ended the race with negative splits and an overall pace of 11:39- how's that for tired legs that just ran 39.3 miles in two days?!

After the race, Matthew and I grabbed drinks at our favorite island spot, the Heads-Up Bar, and then took a ton of medal pics with the ship in the background. By then it had started pouring rain so we headed back to the ship earlier than we'd wanted to.

Before the rain...

All the creative points to Matthew for this shot.

I will never tire of looking at this bling. Or this ship.

Overall, did we miss not doing the official challenge race? Not one bit. We had just as much fun doing the regular 5k and then enjoying the island.

Rainy days on the island are better than sunny days anywhere else :-)

Will we do this race/cruise again? Stay tuned- I've got another recap coming with my overall thoughts on the whole WDW Marathon Weekend.

Have a great week, friends!

Friday, January 26, 2018

WDW Marathon Weekend 2018: Part IV

This recap will cover the WDW Marathon. Check out the posts below for recaps of the expo, 5k, 10k, Cigna Blogger Event, and WDW Half Marathon!

Matthew and I woke up marathon morning and did the same routine we'd done for the three previous mornings: crawl out of bed at 2:30 am, take cold medicine and Airborne, dress for the race + 100 layers (fleece pajamas and the bathrobe for me), and get on a bus to the start by 3:30 am. 

As we got off the bus and headed towards the bag check security line (which was incredibly long- much longer than the day before) we ran into Ian and his wife Shari whom we first "met" online while training for Dopey four years ago! The runDisney world is a small one sometimes. 

Good morning, friends!

It was great to catch up with Ian and Shari while we waited in the security line- it took us almost 20 minutes to get through! I'm not sure why the wait was so much longer for the marathon than the other days- I think we may have just arrived at the most popular time. 

We eventually got through the line, said our goodbyes to Ian and Shari, and then went off to meet up with our running ohana at our usual spot. I also picked up some KT tape from Katherine because I hadn't brought enough down with me. I realized I was going to be short the night before and messaged our ohana to see if anyone had any. Sweet Katherine was at Disney Springs and offered to buy me some- what a fantastic internet friend! :-)

"Some people are worth melting freezing for." ❤

After lots of hugs and good lucks, we all headed back to our respective corrals. Matthew, Jim, and I were all in F again so we walked back together. 

While it was technically warmer this morning than the previous morning, it actually started to feel colder when we were back in the corrals. I was so glad I'd kept the bathrobe for the marathon- it worked really well to keep the wind at bay while we were waiting to start. 

I call this look "runner chic."

Matthew and Jim sitting on mylar blankets...

...and Matthew under a mylar blanket.

Similar to the day before, the mini wave system worked well and we were moving towards the start in a somewhat continuous movement. One of the benefits of being in the back-of-the-pack is that you have your pick of literally hundreds of discarded clothes, gloves, hats, blankets, mylars, etc. because so many people in front of you already discarded their throw-aways. 

Matthew had given his gloves to our friend Amelia who had forgotten hers, so I was searching for a discarded pair for him. I was also starting to get hungry and had already eaten my mile five snack- whoops! So, as I was searching for gloves along the side of the corrals, I found a nature valley granola bar (still wrapped!) and scooped it up for later :-) Then I found the BEST gloves for Matthew- they were red and green, glittery, Christmas, finger-less gloves that had a little mitten part that you could pull down over your fingertips if they got cold. The best part? One glove said "naughty" and the other glove said "nice" :-)

Jim picked up a fuzzy blue bathrobe for himself and while I considered grabbing something extra, I ultimately decided that what I had on was probably enough to keep me warm. 

Only 26.2 miles to go.

This time, we ended up at the very front of our mini wave so we were quite close to the starting line. As Jim and Matthew and I talked, Jim decided he was going to stay with us as long as possible- our pace of 13:30-14:30 minute miles and intervals of 30:30 seemed like a good plan for him as he was under-trained for this marathon. We hadn't planned on running the race together but this ended up being such a good decision- more on that later. 

Before we could talk too much about race strategy, our fireworks went off, our countdown from Mickey hit zero, and we were off on a 26.2 mile adventure through all four WDW theme parks!

Run 26.2 miles, gain 9.4 ounces. This billboard was just a few yards away from the start line. 

The three of us quickly fell into a rhythm and order. This race definitely felt more crowded than the half marathon so several times, we formed a single-file line: Matthew, me, Jim. Since Matthew is better at keeping us at an even pace, he lead for most of the race. 

We slowly followed our steps from yesterday towards MK, keeping a steady pace of about 14:30-15:00 minute miles. Our goal was just to finish the marathon and not worry about how long it took us. Secretly, I hoped to finish this race in around 6:30. I had trained for 13:30 minute/mile (which is a 6 hour marathon pace) and knew I could beat my course record- 6:32, from my first marathon. But, I know the marathon is a fickle beast- you can never predict what can happen over the course of so many miles. 

Mostly silently, Matthew, Jim, and I ran. We talked occasionally- usually to yell "walking!" so everyone in our group could hear it- with so many folks using intervals, watches were going off every 5 seconds and sometimes it's hard to hear which one is your interval!

I ditched the bathrobe around mile two. As we got closer to MK, I started to get warm but I was wary about letting go of my fleece pajama top- the wind was brutal and the temperature wasn't necessarily going to increase by much while we were on the course. I asked Matthew if he was still cold. He was, so he wore the top backward for the next few miles. :-)

He rocked this look.

We entered MK the same way we did for the half and it was still as magical. We ran down Main Street- still magical- and grabbed a selfie- also magical. We ran through Tomorrowland and Fantasyland before making a pit stop at our favorite and never-crowded bathrooms- right next to Pinocchio Village Haus. 

Just strutting down Main Street in my PJs.

Park #1.

Double jazz hands FTW!

After we exited the park, we made our way through the scenic water treatment plant, smelling exactly like you'd think it would, on our way to Animal Kingdom. 

We grabbed a few more pictures in AK but declined to wait in line for Expedition Everest. Jim was tracking the balloon ladies (keeping a 16 minute pace- you need to stay in front of them so you don't get swept) and they were only about 2 miles behind us. Our pace had dropped a bit from the bathroom stop and a quick mid-race KT tape application so we had to keep moving. One day I'll ride Everest during the marathon, one day. 

Welcome to Animal Kingdom!

Well hello there Florida sun! Nice to finally see you!

Once we left AK, we started the worst part of the marathon: the dreaded stretch of miles that consists of never-ending highway and winds through never-ending Wide World of Sports (WWOS)- basically miles 14-23. I have zero photos on my phone from this part of the course because it took all my energy to stay upright. Seriously, this is the part of the marathon that is TOUGH- mentally and physically. 

Surprisingly, we actually picked up the pace during this section. Jim was leading us and his strategy was, "this part sucks, let's get through it faster." After what felt like forever in WWOS, we finally got out towards the highway that would take us to Hollywood Studios. 

Looking like Joy but feeling like Sadness.

Badass Matthew, leading us along.

I look like I know what I'm doing here.

Look. At. Those. Curls. ❤

Around mile 22, we were all feeling the fatigue of the marathon and all the miles we'd run in the few days before. Jim started to slowly fall behind us. After a few run walk intervals, Jim was really far behind us. 

We waited for him to catch up and asked him what he wanted to do- should we stay with him? Did he need to walk the last few miles? Should we go on ahead without him? He told us it was up to us- we could decide to stay with him or forge ahead. 

Here's the thing- there's a reason we call our friend group "ohana." "Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind." 

We'd just run 22 miles together, no way in hell were we splitting up now! We continued on, changing up the intervals a bit to 1 minute walking, 30 seconds running. That's why I love the run/walk method so much- it's incredibly flexible and can be adapted mid-race. 

Soon enough, we were entering Hollywood Studios. I was excited for two reasons- #1: chocolate! runDisney always gives out chocolate just past mile 23. #2: We'd see Jim's wife Kellee and their adorable son Trent in just a few minutes. Fun fact- Trent was our "baby Stitch" character stop at last year's Pop Art Half Marathon!

All smiles for friendly faces. Photo courtesy of Kellee.

Hollywood or BUST!

Seeing Kellee and Trent was just the boost we needed to finish out this marathon. We left Hollywood Studios, rounded Disney's Boardwalk, and made our final victory lap around World Showcase. 

Special mile 25 recognition for the 25th anniversary.
We seem to be missing a few dwarfs.

It is SO good to see you, golf ball!

We finally saw that gospel choir at mile 26 and we knew we were just a few minutes away from finishing the 2018 WDW Marathon. No matter how much pain I felt in that moment, it was all somehow equaled out to the joy that marathon #4 would soon be in the books. 


We did it- we were marathoners once again. Matthew finished his third Dopey Challenge and TENTH marathon. I finished my fourth marathon and first unofficial Goofy Challenge. Jim finished his fifth Dopey Challenge. We. Freaking. Did. It.

Sometimes I have great finisher photos and sometimes I have finisher photos
that accurately depict the suffering that is the marathon. 

This guy is my hero.

After we collected our medals, snack boxes, gear check bags, and commemorative Mickey ears (!!!) we snapped a few photos. Matthew gave me his Goofy Challenge medal because he is quite possibly the sweetest, most wonderful man on the planet. 

We met back up with Kellee, Trent, and Jim's parents and our friend Nathan. After some hugs and more pictures, we said our goodbyes and headed off toward the merchandise tent. 

I was able to buy a "I Did It!" Goofy Challenge shirt and Matthew and I picked up a few commemorative pins for the 25th anniversary weekend. I was grateful they still had merchandise for sale and that we didn't have to wait in a two hour line to look at it like we would have had to at the expo. 

Newly purchased items in tow, we headed back to French Quarter exhausted but elated. The marathon was over. We survived. 

Not the best finisher photo, but it captures the spirit of this finish.

Even now, weeks later, I am still processing my thoughts about this race. I'll probably write another post with some final thoughts in the next few weeks, once I wrap my head around all my feelings. I always get this way after a marathon- super reflective and emotional. Running brings all my emotions to the surface, in a good, cathartic way. 

Running with Jim and Matthew was a total blast- there really is nothing better than running with friends. I mean, how can you not bond over running 26.2 miles together and living to tell the tale?!

Even though parts of this race were painful, even though parts of it were boring, even though parts of it were stupid challenging, I wouldn't change a thing about this race experience. Marathon number four was hard, fun, empowering, uplifting, challenging, and about a thousand other emotions. I wouldn't want it any other way. 

I think I'll end this post with one final picture- one that captures what the marathon is like for me. 

The marathon is a always a question- do you have what it takes to endure? And while I might look nervous, and I might be scared, I know at the end of the race- I will be victorious. I will finish. 

Thank you WDW Marathon, for 25 years of helping runners endure to the finish line. Here's to the next 25!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

WDW Marathon Weekend 2018: Part III

This recap will cover the WDW Half Marathon. Stay tuned for the recap of the WDW Marathon!

Recap Part I

Recap Part II

Saturday morning brought another early wake-up (2:30 am) and another chilly Florida morning. Matthew and I got dressed in the outfits we'd thrown together the night before- since it was going to be in the 40's with a real feel in the 30's during the entire race, we had to slightly adjust what we were going to wear to the race.

Not pictured: tank top, pants, gloves, flipbelt, Altra buff, Mojo compression socks, and a couple of mylar blankets.

I wore a running sweatshirt and the bathrobe to keep warm as we boarded a bus to the start line. Once we arrived at the staring line area (the Epcot parking lot), we met up with our ohana and chatted about race strategy and got our traditional pre-race photo.

How is Jeff wearing SHORTS?!

Around 5 am, we started our three-quarter mile walk back to the corrals. The race would start at 5:30 am and with us in corral F, we guessed that we would start somewhere between 6 and 6:30. 

Before we went back to the start, both Matthew and I dropped off our gear check bags and at the last minute, I decided to check the bathrobe so I could have it for the marathon the next day. I wrapped the mylar blankets around me, opened up my hand and body warmers, and hoped I'd be warm enough standing around in the corrals. 

On our way back to the start, we walked with Jim and his mom, Charlotte as they were starting in F as well. Jim was doing Dopey (he's a "perfect" by the way- meaning he's done all five Dopey Challenges!) and Charlotte was doing the half. 

It was so nice to have friends to hang with in the corral!

Jim works for a company that makes chemotherapy drugs so he and Charlotte had these awesome hazmat looking suits to keep warm while in the corrals.

Before long, the race started with a burst of fireworks for the wheelchair participants- the first folks to start at every runDisney event. With the "mini-wave" system new for this year's races, we weren't sure how quickly we'd get to the front. There were 8 corrals (A-H) and within each corral, there were 3 "mini-waves" with about two minutes in between them. 

Surprisingly, we were up to the start line within about 25 minutes of the first wave. With the mini-waves, once the race started it felt like we were continually moving forward; not starting and stopping like it was before. I really enjoyed this change and feel like runDisney got this one right. 

If you look closely, you can see Donald on stage to the left!

When we reached the start line, the announcers told us to get rid of our mylar blankets as they would interfere with the timing mat we'd run over at the beginning of the race. I ditched my blanket and realized I was still pretty cold. Luckily for me, someone had thrown away a flannel shirt in my size right at the start so I grabbed it and put it on and started the race wearing a stranger's shirt! :-)

Thank you, flannel-wearing stranger!

The thing I love about this course is that at its core, it's a simple out and back: run from the Epcot parking lot to the castle in Magic Kingdom and then back to the big golf ball in Epcot. Boom, done. :-)

In all seriousness, I like this course because I can break it up into two parts. For the first fiveish miles of the course, I just keep saying to myself- and sometimes to Matthew- "Let's just get to the castle."

So that's what we did for the first part of this race. Since we started in F, all the character lines were outrageously long so we skipped all of them. We were disappointed that the DJ that's usually right near mile 4.5, right as you go under the water bridge by Seven Seas lagoon, wasn't there this year. However, there were speakers playing the music from Haunted Mansion as we ran under the bridge and it was a little spooky with all the runners' shadows moving along the walls of the tunnel.

Only three more miles until Cindy's castle!

Matthew and I chugged along, probably at about 13-13:30 minute/mile pace (I don't know because I didn't even look at my watch the entire race), and slowly we rounded the corner by Space Mountain and started towards the side entrance of Magic Kingdom, like we've done several times while doing this race course.

However, we didn't go into the side entrance, we ran right through the front gates! Matthew and I were so shocked at this change heading into the park- we've never entered this way before. We were treated to a beautiful view of Grand Floridian before running through the "guest entrance" gates and into the park.

Florida mornings, amirite?!

So new! So different! So cool!

Well, good morning, Magic Kingdom cast members!

I really, really loved how we entered Magic Kingdom (MK) this year. Another win for runDisney- this was a cool surprise for those of us who've run this race multiple times.

We entered MK and headed straight down Main Street towards the castle. I'll be honest, this moment still gets to me every. single. time. No matter how many times I've run through MK and the castle, it is still special and overwhelming and emotional.

Hello, beautiful.

My real life Prince Charming. 

After making a right-hand turn we were headed towards Tomorrowland and the famous Purple Wall! If you don't know what the Purple Wall is, you're not alone- I didn't know until this trip! If you search for the hashtag #purplewall, you'll find thousands of pictures of people posing against this random purple wall in Tomorrowland. Since we were in Tomorrowland and we had absolutely zero time goals for this race, I grabbed Matthew's hand and we headed to the large purple wall just to the right of the bridge that delivers you to Tomorrowland.

That sky though.

Is this what all the kids are doing these days?

After grabbing an infamous #purplewall selfie, we were surprised again by this course as we traveled all through Fantasyland before running through the castle.

I absolutely LOVED running through more of MK during this race- again, runDisney got this so damn right.

Somewhere in the park I finally ditched my flannel shirt- it had served me well. Fun fact- Matthew kept his throw-away fleece pajama pants and long-sleeved shirt on for the whole race!

Just strollin through MK on a Saturday morning, ya know?

After a quick jaunt through the castle, which was surprisingly not super crowded, we began our trip back to the big golf ball, aka Epcot.

This part of the course can be a bit boring as you're just running along the highways back towards Epcot- I have zero pictures from this part of the course to prove it. But Matthew and I made the best of the uneventful miles with some idle conversation and the miles just ticked on by.

Before too long, we were back in Epcot and running the little out and back to the entrance of World Showcase and then out to the parking lot near where we started.

Multi-tasking during a walk break. :-)

Hey golf ball, see you in just a few!

We ran through the rest of the park, rounded the corner with the gospel choir, literally ran into our friend Patrick, and then crossed the finish line of my 25th half hand-in-hand with my better half.

Finishers of the 2018 WDW Half Marathon.

Matthew and I collected our runner boxes (filled with snacks!) and grabbed our gear check bags and headed back to French Quarter. We were both pretty tired and cold and were anxious to get off our feet for a bit.

That morning, I'd woken up feeling sick again, so I'd taken some cold medicine and had been using a bunch of cough drops on the run. It definitely wasn't my worst half marathon but it didn't feel great either. I could tell I was getting a cold and was getting slightly nervous about the full marathon the next day.

Once we were back in the room, we finally took some finisher pictures with our medals since we'd forgotten to at the finish. That's how you know I'm not feeling 100%- when I neglect to take tons of finsher selfies! 

We ate like kings, showered, and then napped for a bit before I headed back to Disney Springs for the We Run Social meet-up.

Next time you're in Disney World, check out the French toast in French Quarter. You can thank me later. :-)
We run Disney. Photo courtesy of We Run Social.

We walked to Port Orleans Riverside that evening for dinner with our friends Steff and Joe. Joe would be attempting his first marathon the next day so it was fun to chat about the upcoming race over a dinner of pizza and french fries. That's the right way to carb-load, right? ;-)

Just like the previous three nights, we got our gear check bags ready for the next morning, laid out our bibs and race outfits, took another dose of cold medicine, set an alarm for 2:30 am, and were in bed by 7 pm. We had 26.2 miles to conquer in the morning- we were going to need every bit of rest we could get!

Blurry, flat runner.

Part one of my unofficial Goofy Challenge was complete; "just" a marathon left to accomplish my goal. When I went to bed Saturday night, I actually felt pretty good. No real aches or pains and besides my cold, physically I felt strong and ready for the marathon. Mentally, well that's another blog post entirely!

One more recap to go- the 25th anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon! Stay tuned for a story of 26.2 magical- but sometimes challenging- miles!