Dopey 2019 Reflections: Rest and Recovery

Just over a week ago I finished the Dopey Challenge with a personal best marathon time in spite of really struggling with the heat and humidity. You can read about that here. For those of you who thought I was done with Dopey posts – nope. I’m going to milk it a little longer. I want to tell you about the rest and recovery that got us through the challenge in this post and then the celebrations and the medals in the next.

So the first thing to think about it how much sleep you’re going to need. Dopey is tiring and I think we managed to make the challenge enjoyable in part because we slept loads. We had an afternoon nap every day during the race weekend. It meant not playing in the parks but it was the right thing to do! Work, Christmas, travel and all of that meant we were tired anyway, add early starts and running increasing distances for 4 days in a row. You need to sleep – at least you do when you’re me!

So afternoon naps and early bed helped massively and that pattern didn’t stop – we slept after the marathon. On the Monday after we played in the parks with lots of sit downs and stops and we came away quite early. On Tuesday we went to the parks early but then came back and slept before heading back out, same on Wednesday. Thursday we managed a full day in the parks without a nap and were sooooo proud of ourselves, Friday we were back to resting if not napping!

The only thing that really got me was chafing. I shall spare you the details but trust me when I say you should never be that conscious or that worried about exactly where your underwear sits. It all happened during the half marathon when we had a pee stop. Sweaty lycra pants are tricky to get back up properly and they never sat right again. The full just aggravated the already raw areas. As much as it freaks me out, this was a job for vaseline. I hate vaseline, the texture, the smell, everything… but vaseline it had to be.

I am sure that being relatively active helped recovery. We walked a fair bit and kept those legs moving. I also spent quite a while lying down with my legs up in the air and overall I think I did pretty well. After the half marathon I was fine. After the full I was tight and my feet were a bit tender. However nothing really hurt. My lower back on the right side and into my right hip were niggly on and off but nothing too bad. I suspect that could have been avoided completely if I had stretched more. In fact this is the one thing we really neglected. We’re idiots! We hardly stretched at all which is just daft because that actually makes a massive difference and I think would have avoided the soreness that we did experience. Live and (probably not) learn.

The other thing that probably wasn’t ideal is food. We fuelled relatively well during the challenge having chosen our restaurants carefully but even then the portions were too big and we probably had too much. The days after we could probably have made better choices to help with our recovery. We didn’t go crazy and kept the booze within relatively sensible limits but Disney portions and menus that kept enticing us to have three courses meant that we had far too much and too much of the wrong stuff. I can’t tell you how excited I was to find some actual green vegetables! The food was amazing and part of our celebrations but it was really not a healthy week!

I was worried about how I would mentally deal with finishing Dopey, recovering and then starting running again. I mostly did quite well. I was overwhelmed and had little cries every now and again but I recovered well mostly. I had one major wobble. It didn’t come until Tuesday when we were queuing to get into Hollywood Studios. There were a few Dopey runners and marathon runners around and many of them looked very sore. I was feeling ok. I suddenly thought, wow I clearly didn’t work hard enough, I’m not sore, I should have done so much more… and I started thinking about points where I could have pushed harder. I soon snapped out of it but every now and again my mind goes back to that. I also forget or fail to recognise that Dopey is a pretty big deal. It can’t really be because I did it. And I don’t do things that are such a big deal.

I was also worried about getting back into running after Dopey. I struggled with that last time and London Marathon prep suffered as a result. I was concerned that I won’t recover enough to train properly. The first test came on the Thursday after Dopey. We decided to try a little run on the Contemporary running track. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about how far I would go or how fast. I just wanted to see if I could still put one foot in front of the other. I could. I was incredibly tired and my legs felt pretty heavy. I trotted round a mile and a bit, took some pictures. Right at the end I felt my hip niggle a bit so I stopped. Overall, it was a good first trot out.

Dopey 2019 Reflections: why I’m (probably) done with Dopey

Dopey 2019 has been awesome on a whole load of levels. I am loving having done it. I am loving walking around the Disney parks with the Dopey medal. I am loving pausing every now and again to remind myself that we did something pretty special a few days ago. I am excited that I improved my running and fitness levels to a point where even the marathon was not totally miserable. It has been great. However, I’m pretty sure I’m done with Dopey. Here’s why.

1. Training for Dopey is pretty tough. Not significantly worse than for a marathon actually but Dopey training happens as the nights draw in, days are short and daylight limited and then there’s Christmas towards the end of the training. It’s not a great time to be training for a multi day running event culminating in a marathon.

2. I’m really really not a marathon runner. I will have one more go for the London Marathon but I don’t have anything to prove here and I think there are other challenges out there for me that I will enjoy more. I want to get off road more. I want to be a more confident trail runner. I have said before that I like half marathon distance because it’s a serious distance but it doesn’t break me. That is absolutely true and I think with a marathon there is always a risk that it will break me and put me off running. I have learned never to say never when it comes to running but at the minute I feel like I have achieved what I wanted with Dopey 2019. There is no unfinished business. I am more than happy to take this Dopey and remember it as the marathon weekend that helped me believe that I can do the impossible.

3. Dopey is brutal in two unexpected ways. It’s not the running. The running I would do again in a flash notwithstanding the comments above. The first is the early morning starts. Even with the help of staying on U.K. time, getting up at 2.00am ish for 4 mornings in a row is tough and you get more and more tired and reluctant to get out of bed with each day. The second is the waiting around. There is no getting away from it really, at least none that I can see. Thousands of people have to get to the start line and then into the right corral etc so you have to set off early on the transport provided, then you have to wait. Waiting takes its toll. There is a lot of sitting around, standing around, just waiting and that actually makes running more difficult because even with a good warm up routine you end up standing around for at least another 30 minutes after that and most likely much longer. If you are a middle to back of the pack runner it can take another hour to cross the start line… I don’t think I want to do that again. Not for 4 days in a row.

4. Florida weather in January. It can be anything! So in terms of running gear you need to pack everything. It might not be warm. This year it wasn’t. It was cold, really cold for the 5k, the 10k was marginally warmer, the half was just nice and for the full, well it’s been the only really hot day we’ve been here so far. It was humid too and clearly I don’t function well in humidity. While dealing with whatever weather for one day is doable, having to run 4 races on consecutive days in potentially completely different conditions messes with my mind. Perhaps I don’t need that again.

5. Dopey is not to be underestimated. If you also want a Disney holiday and you want to play in the parks, it’s tough to do that during the race weekend. At least it is for me. We needed naps on each of the race days and we headed to bed early. We have a full week after the race weekend to do stuff which takes the pressure off and means we can still do our favourite Disney things. But we are tired. We had naps on Monday and yesterday, we have had a lot of downtime today and we are going to bed early. I’d like to combine a runDisney event with a holiday again but maybe with a half marathon, not with such a huge mileage challenge. Something that I can recover from more quickly and which means I don’t have to spend my holiday napping. I don’t feel like I am missing out because I’ve been here several times before and because we have prioritised our list of favourite things to do. I think if you combine Dopey with one of your first Disney trips you really need to be careful not to do too much and exhaust yourself. Disney can be full on and exhausting even without any running!

6. What are the chances of running three personal bests during the Dopey Weekend – one in all but the 5k race – again. Probably zero! I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead! For anyone else thinking about it though, it’s phenomenal, it’s magical and it is great to have done it. Just don’t rely on pixie dust alone! It’s a serious challenge and a serious achievement and I will wear my race shirt and my medal (and possibly the ears too) with pride!

Dopey 2019 Reflections: Logistics and (not) cheese

It’s the Wednesday morning after the Dopey Challenge. I’m going to milk this for all the blog posts it’s worth so there are a few more to come. This one is about the logistics, the race organisation and most importantly, the snack boxes you get at the end.

Disney races are unlike anything else of this size. The organisation is slick. I see grumbles on Facebook pages and I heard people complaining but I don’t quite see why. Disney can do logistics. They get it. So over the entire race weekend which actually starts on Wednesday with the Expo, things run pretty well and are well thought out. They have frequent and plenty of buses from resorts to the Expo and back, they have buses starting early to get you from the resorts to the races and the only slight glitch here was having to wait until the course cleared on 5k day. On half and full marathon day the monorail runs from the monorail linked resorts and it runs frequently.

I loved the fact that this time the monorail exit linked straight into the race village thus bypassing the main security bag check making this much calmer and taking the pressure off all areas. The start area is big enough for everyone with plenty of quieter corners to hide in. You can choose to be pumped up by the main stage or focused somewhere at the back tucked away. The corrals are easily identified and there are staff and volunteers everywhere telling you where to go and by when. You don’t need your brain, you can just focus on doing your race thing and follow instructions (and crowds).

Here’s the big one: toilets. There are porta potties everywhere. Queues are always fairly short, the potties are well stocked and re-stocked with toilet rolls and the loos are not limited to the start area. There are some along the corrals and then plenty on the course for each of the runs too. Race organisers take note. This is how you do toilets at a race event! The picture shows a tiny selection in one area.

The courses are extremely well marked and marshalled with volunteers, signs and announcements everywhere. In fact I suspect that ‘Caution Runners! Course narrows ahead’ will be stuck in my head for a while! While it’s still dark volunteers point out any corners or turns with glow sticks that remind me of lightsabres. Volunteers are also strategically placed along the course to cheer you on and shout encouragement.

Water and aid stations Are plentiful and have water or Powerade and Vaseline, biofreeze etc respectively. again they were staffed by fabulous volunteers and were set out on wide stretches of the course with both drinks at either side and plenty of room to keep going through the middle.Then there is the entertainment on course. I have read and heard a couple of grumbles about how limited and crap it was. I disagree. There was pretty much something every mile. There were character stops, music, DJs and then of course the very Disney mile markers themselves. That and of course actually running through the parks themselves. While you don’t spend much time in them, a mile max really, they do really lift you.

The finish line area is wide and the first thing you come to is the medals which are given out by enthusiastic volunteers ready to congratulate you on your achievement, then there were space blankets or cooling towels, then further on bottled water and more Powerade, then the mouse ears on marathon day and then the snack box and banana station.

So the snack box. I’m not sure what to make of it really. It was some nice bits and pieces in including tortilla chips, pretzels and some apple purée which I actually really like (but not immediately post run) and then there is this:

Despite its name this is not cheese. I don’t know what it is but it’s not cheese, not even anything remotely resembling cheese. Nothing should be dipped in it. This stuff, whatever it is should not pass your lips. Just no! The thing is, people have been saying this for years. Our Dopey 2016 boxes had ‘the cheese’. There were so many comments about it, the whole non cheese thing was named cheesegate. Well chessegate continues. But seriously, just no!

So if you want to organise an event, you can learn a lot from Disney, throw people at it, more people than you could ever imagine you might need, brief them well and then make sure you have enough space and enough toilets. Everything else runner’s are likely to forgive easily but insufficient toilets is a big no and so far Disney races are the only ones where I have actually seen enough! If you can’t make that happen, just make the bling ridiculous. Disney have that covered too!

Dopey 2019 Day 4: Marathon

I didn’t manage to blog on Marathon day. It’s the end of the day after now but I’ll try and capture how I felt about it all immediately after and save reflections etc to a later post.

I woke up before the alarm again. Before I even moved I scanned my body wondering what would hurt from yesterday’s half marathon. Nothing. I didn’t quite trust that. I got up, made coffee, felt terrified. I was fairly sure that there was no way I could run a marathon. Both of us were anxious. I felt sick. I got ready. It crossed my mind that it would be easy to just crawl back into bed and just not do the marathon. After all, I already had 3 lovely medals and a fabulous half marathon personal best. But I didn’t come her for personal bests and I didn’t come here for three medals. I came to do what I don’t think I can. I came to do the impossible. I came to do Dopey. I know I completed it in 2016. I know I finished the London Marathon in 2016 but it doesn’t seem real, maybe it never will. I still don’t see how it is possible that I did that. Dopey always has and probably always will seem impossible. Yesterday we proved (again) that sometimes the impossible just needs to be done.

Anyway, we were both a bit of a mess but I think we both started feeling better once we got dressed and out the door. I’d not been too bad until runDisney had issued a weather advisory for warm and humid for the marathon day. That did not settle nerves and I was worrying about hydration and fuel and heat and and and. Still, we were doing this. in the lift we met a group of lads coming back from a night out and they were confused and impressed that we had been to bed and were heading to run. The little exchange with them lifted my spirits. We got on the monorail and to the Race Retreat tent. It was far too noisy. The music was really loud, there was nowhere quiet and it wasn’t really relaxing. We had our breakfast, went to the loo a couple of times, got organised and checked in our bags. Then we walked to the corral. F again for this one. I didn’t really feel any more settled.

We were both quiet, creating our own bubble and shutting out the world. I was trying to pretend that this was going to be fine, that 26.2 miles was no big deal but I wasn’t really kidding anyone. Finally the national anthem came (better version than any of the previous three) and things started moving. There seemed to be two waves per corral which made me worried as I tried to figure out how big my time buffer was exactly. It looked like I would be in F1 and so there would be another 5 waves behind me. I just hoped that that would be enough. I needed to pee. We set off. There is something completely bizarre about setting off to run 26.2 miles. It’s just so totally insane. I laughed at myself but as I started moving I also realised that I felt ok. I had no ill effects from the half marathon. I could feel the humidity and it was a little warmer than it had been but fundamentally I felt ok.

We stopped at the first toilet stop. We’d jogged to there, gently finding our pace with Kath reassuring me that we were being sensible and had slowed down from the previous day’s pace. It was all good. We ran on and dropped into run/walk about at mile 2. Ok, so far so good. Last Dopey I’d had enough at this point so I was already doing better. The first part of the route followed the same path as the half marathon so this was familiar. I was ok with this and 3 miles, then 4 came easily. The pace was consistently sensible. We ran past our hotel and the Magic Kingdom came into view, Mile 5 ticked by as we entered through the font gates. The castle looked spectacular and kept me moving forwards up Main Street USA. We made our way through Tomorrowland and back round through the castle and out of the park through Frontierland. 6 miles done. 20 to go. I felt ok. Not great but ok.

Kath had been encouraging me on, talking to me all the time, telling me the pace was sensible and good, giving me little reminders about form, telling me I was doing great. At times it felt like it was just me and her running. The sun was starting to come up and the humidity was beginning to really get to me. I was finding it more and more difficult to get enough air in and over the next 3 miles or so a couple extra walk breaks sneaked in. Still, we’d made good progress really. I was concerned about how hot I was feeling, how dehydrated I was getting in spite of drinking at each of the frequent drinks stations and how energy zapping I was finding the warmth. Kath kept talking to me, reassuring, urging us onwards. She had also grabbed a small bottle of water in the Race Retreat and was carrying it. She kept passing it to me for little sips in between drinks stations and she refilled it several times throughout the run. Without it I think I would have been in trouble.

I began having serious doubts about mile 10. I fought the battle in my head. I pushed on and made it to the animal kingdom park. Running through the park gave me a bit of a boost but things were starting to tighten up and hurt. My hips weren’t happy at all but mostly I was just too hot, too thirsty, too hot, just too hot. After the Animal Kingdom I mostly walked. Kath kept us moving by making sure we were striding out and marching not just ambling along and by putting landmark to landmark runs in, short ones, but effective ones. Running 2 minutes was now out of the question but running from street sign to street sign seemed possible. Somewhere around 15 and a half miles or so we found ourselves with a run/walk pacing group who we’re running 30 seconds and walking 30 seconds so we briefly thought we’d try and fall in with them but their runs were too fast and their walks too slow, it just didn’t work for us so we went back to doing our own thing.

Then suddenly we were approaching ESPN Wide World of Sports. I hated this last time. It was just endless. I was determined to enjoy ESPN this time. As we entered it the DJ was playing Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer. It gave me a boost. I picked up the walking pace. I managed some more lamppost to lamppost running and we had a giggle through the ESPN complex. I even ran some on the track and in the stadium. I also got gravel in my shoe. I wondered if I should stop and empty it out but I was scared to stop, I did t want to risk losing momentum. It’s easy to keep moving if you’re moving! We exited ESPN and hit the 21 mile marker. Just after that we saw the balloon ladies and sweepers heading towards ESPN. We were a little over 4 miles ahead of them and according to Kath still ticking off each mile within Disney pace. I dared to hope.

Kath kept a little protective bubble around me. She got me water at drinks stations, she carried a cooling towel with her and re-wet it along the way so she could wipe down my shoulders and arms and the back of my neck, she grabbed cooling sponges for us and poured water down the back of my neck. She always let me have the shade and she kept talking to me, telling my head to shut up, telling me to stride out, nudging me to jog little sections. Without her the heat would have been too much. I would almost certainly have been poorly.

The last 5 miles are a bit of a blur. I remember seeing Hollywood studios. I remember running a bit through the park, the cheers of the crowd lifting me. I remember exiting and hitting the walkway between Studios and Epcot. I remember people encouraging us and telling us we were so close. I remember willing every muscle in my body to keep working. I remember the Boardwalk and I remember a slope onto a bridge that we did during the half too that had seemed like nothing. Now it seemed soooo hard. I heard Kath telling me to power up it. And then we jogged down. There were people with signs, signs that were making me cry. Everything was making me cry. I was in danger of being completely overwhelmed with about 2 miles to go.

I got a grip as we left the Boardwalk and entered the Epcot backlot I’d seen twice before. We entered Epcot proper through the UK but then turned right towards France and went the opposite way round the World Showcase than we had in the 5 and 10k. It seemed to go on forever. I managed a few more little jogs. Kath was urging me on and reminding me to look around and take it in. Before the start of the Dopey Challenge I’d thought crossing the finish line with a beer or margarita would be fun but there was no way I was going to stop or that I could even contemplate drinking anything other than gallons and gallons of water. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I used the energy from the crowd to jog a little more. I walked the short backlot stretch as we left Epcot and then we could hear the cheers, started jogging, turned the corner and saw the finish line. I could feel the tears coming, we were going to cross that finish line. We’d done it. Kath had got us round. Together we were doing the impossible. We crossed the line holding hands.

Then I stopped my watch and as I did I saw the time. Then the tears came. We had just smashed our marathon personal best by about five minutes. As I now know, Kath kept us within Disney pace for every single mile of the marathon. Her protective bubble kept me safe and her encouragement kept me within pace. It was not pretty, it wasn’t a good marathon, it was messy and it was a very fine line between doing it healthily and risking heat stroke or something. I got away with slight sunburn on my shoulders and heat rash. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t actually have a melt down. I probably went mentally before I started struggling physically but although the doubts were there, they were not the only voices to be heard. There was also a quiet determination, just something refusing to give up and also refusing to be controlled by fear and doubt. I remember saying to Kath that I wasn’t sure how much I could run but that I thought I could walk with some jogs and that that way I could take it in, maybe even enjoy some of it and stay healthy.

Anyway, reflections on it all over the next few days. For now I just feel incredibly proud to have run half marathon and marathon personal bests on back to back days but I am in awe of a Kath who really did all the hard work. All I did was put one foot in front of the other as best as I physically could. Kath did the mental and emotional work to get us both round and the mental and emotional work required for a marathon is, well impossible to explain but we got there, somehow, together and that’s bloody awesome really.

Dopey 2019 Day 3: Half Marathon

Quick ish post about the half today: I am really tired so excuse typos etc and lack of real detail. Things step up a gear on half marathon day at the Walt Disney World marathon weekend. The number of participants about doubles to roughly 20000 people. Everything is just bigger. Anxiety was kicking my butt this morning. I didn’t sleep as well as I had previous nights.

Once sorted we got ourselves downstairs and onto the monorail to Epcot. This time we had a bag packed for after and we were heading to the Race Retreat – a large tent with somewhere to sit, food, loos and changing areas. I was not a happy bunny. Anxiety levels were through the roof and I was struggling to stem the rising panic. I did not want to be there and I didn’t feel like I belonged there. I was also really not looking forward to the crowds. The monorail was quiet though and because our bags we security checked as we got on it, we didn’t have to go through the main security check when we got to the race village. In fact we came into right next to the Race Retreat.

I settled eventually but not completely. We had a multi grain croissant, water and then a banana in the tent, multiple toilet visits and more toilet stops as we walked the half mile or so to the starting corrals. We were in F for this one. We got in there about 5.10am and watched as people were still streaming into the area, the crowds seemed endless. Eventually, after an even screechier version of the national anthem than yesterday, the first wave was off, people were still streaming in. Volunteers started turning people around and directing them to the last corral, including an elite runner who was less than happy. The instruction actually clearly say you must be in your corral by 5am so there’s no excuse.

Then we were off. We ran the first mile or so and then dropped into 2 minutes run and 30 second walk intervals. I didn’t feel too great. Ok but not as confident or strong as I had for the 5 or 10k. Still, mile one came and went as did mile 2. At just after mile two I realised I had settled and was beginning to feel fine. We kept to the intervals throughout except through water stations where we jogged until we had water and then walked to drink it. There were a few section where the course narrowed and the easiest thing to do was just to fall in step with those around so we skipped the walk breaks. Before I really knew it we passed 3 miles and then 4 and went past our hotel and turned left to enter the Magic Kingdom at just after 5 miles. We jogged through the park mostly. Running up towards the castle all lit up is quite stunning.

We had a toilet stop in the park – the toilets are much nicer than the porta potties along the way and the queues move faster. I felt more comfortable after that but the problem with sweaty running pants is that they don’t really pull up again very well and I couldn’t get them to sit right – chafing is a thing people! The rest of the park is a bit of a blur but I remember humming along to the songs being played and smiling lots. We left the park around half way.

The next stretch is quite narrow because they close just one lane of traffic (the other lane is open but I think only for official and emergency vehicles) and I felt like I was losing my rhythm completely. Instead of taking walk breaks I just slowed a little and kept running. A look at Kath confirmed that this was ok. she was responsible for pacing and keeping us sensible and getting us round. She was awesome, constantly talking to me, reassuring and encouraging. Between miles seven and eight there was a sudden call for a medic which and we saw a woman on the ground. she was being helped by others and it looked like a trip and fall rather than her collapsing so we kept going. I freaked out a little bit but managed to settle quickly.I was surprised to still be going as strong as I was at 8miles, and then 9 and then suddenly we only had a parkrun left. The last couple of miles were a little hard but I knew it would get hard at some point so I kept telling myself that this was going to happen and that it was awesome that it was only now happening. With a mile and a half to go I felt strong.

We entered the park and ran the Epcot loop and to the finish last little bit was tough. I was getting tired. I wasn’t pushing the pace or anything like that, I was being sensible but I was at the end of 13.1 miles, I was tired. I crossed the finish line and was a bit overwhelmed. My Garmin suggested we’d actually covered 13.38 miles in 2 hours 46 minutes and 27 seconds. Faster than almost the same distance at Toronto by a smidge over 2 minute sand my Garmin also informed me that I did in fact run 13.1 miles in under 2 hours 45. 2 minutes under apparently. That’s quite a huge personal best there. I’m excited about that. I knew I could go under 2 hours 45!

I was expecting to feel happy and proud to have done the half. I was expecting to not really massively enjoy the actual doing it. I have said before that I like half marathon distance because it is a proper challenge but it doesn’t break me. Well that’s absolutely still true but now I can honestly say that I can also enjoy running the distance. I had fun out there. I enjoyed seeing the characters out on course (again no photo stops, that’s just not me), soaking up the atmosphere and hearing the music. I should also say thank you to all the really enthusiastic staff and volunteers cheering us on and particularly to whoever was driving monorail red this morning – turns out the monorail horn makes a very encouraging noise!

The rest of the day has been about eating and sleeping. Tomorrow is simply Mind over matter. The is a weather advisory in place for warm and humid but we’re prepared, we can do this!