My expectations were not very high for this year's Dopey Challenge at Disney. I had just recovered from a torn calf and was forced to "chill out" for a few weeks leading up to the race. The only thing I could do was Water Running, which was a brand new experience for me.
Doing an oval in a pool, simulating running, for two hours may be the most monotonous training regimen every concocted. But it allowed me to visualize the entire race. I could see myself finishing strong during the last stretch through Epcot. I could see myself striding out on the long stretches between the parks. I could see myself enjoying the short, yet curvy section of trail through Animal Kingdom. And I could see myself running through the thousands of spectators at Magic Kingdom. It may have been boring, but those hours in the cold water going nowhere fast made me mentally tougher, and actually kept me in pretty good shape. In fact, it may have made me even better!
The first 3 races of Dopey were extremely cold. I had planned to shed the multiple of layers during the run, but soon found out that I wouldn't be taking off anything! Some people enjoy cold weather running, but not me. Give me 85 to 90 and my body starts to flow. So on the Marathon day, I still had lots of layers and couldn't even see my watch. So I decided I was just going to cruise through the race with no expectations.
I did a little math along the way when I passed the Timing Clocks along the course, but only estimated how I was doing. It was when I got to the 13.1 mile marker that it hit me... I was WAY ahead of my anticipated time. We are talking about 10 minutes ahead of my goal! I decided to not get wrapped up in the time because there was always a chance I would "bonk." But that moment never came.
At mile 20, I finally shed my last layer to where I could easily see my watch. Now I was about a minute per mile faster than what I had hoped. Shockingly, I wasn't even tired. My legs were fresh, my body felt fine, and I wasn't winded. So I decided that I was going to push the last 10k. My pace got so fast that I barely remember running though Hollywood Studios.
Nobody had passed me for several miles and I was picking runners off like they were standing still. I got to the Disney Boardwalk area and saw I only had about a mile left. Still no fatigue. So I started kicking. This is where I fell apart a few years ago, so that flashed through my mind. Not this year! My diet was better. My training had been better (until the injury). I was mentally tougher. I had done this exact route in my mind hundreds of times at this point, so I knew exactly how I was going to finish... strong with a smile.
Sure enough, I beat my projected Marathon time by about 20 minutes. That was about 45 seconds per mile faster than I had hoped. When people asked my why, the first things that came to mind was that "I was just running how I felt." I was just going along with how fast my body told me was comfortable. In this race, that was a recipe for success.
Too often, I find myself judging every single run based on my split times. I don't look around and enjoy the process because I'm too busy looking at pace times, average pace, stride rate, calories burned, etc. But in the 2018 Disney Marathon, I re-discovered my love for running. It was fun again. It was not stressful at all. And surprisingly, it ended in a PR!