Stick to the plan

Stick to the plan

by Jim R.

The decision to compete in the Disney marathon was made months before I even had a relationship with Experience Triathlon and Coach Joe, but joining ET and working with Coach Joe would have a major impact on my training, race plan and how I would perform in the race.

With the hardest part of my training in the rear view mirror and comfortably situated into my taper weeks, I set up a consult with Coach Joe to discuss race strategy. While I thought I knew what we would discuss during this meeting, when we sat down I was totally surprised and pleased with how the conversation went. I listed out my goals for the race and rated them by importance of completion. Once that was done I realized a specific race finishing time was not in the top ten goals. From that day until race day, the stress level was reduced immensely because every critical goal that was listed was within my direct control. The race plan was created, now the only thing left to do was to go out, execute against that plan and have a successful race, easier said than done. So my mantra that day became “stick to the plan” and would be something I’d repeat to myself hundreds of times during the race to keep me focused.

We, my fantastic support team Cheryl and I, landed in Florida to prepare for race day. We spent quiet days on Friday and Saturday while I was mulling over race day strategy. On Saturday night I received a call from Coach Joe to see how I was doing. Coach was not only worried about my overall physical well being but also my mental state and wanted to make sure there were no changes to the plan.  There weren’t and I was ready.  I told myself again, “Stick to the plan.”

Day of the marathon started early because of a start time of 5:40 AM so I woke at 2:45 east coast time to prepare myself mentally and physically to race.  We were in the car and driving out of the hotel parking lot at 3:25 AM, everything running as planned, or so we thought. Just before exiting the parking lot, Cheryl and I spotted a lady on her phone with a race bag slung over her shoulder with a look of panic on her face. That look of panic on her face told us to stop and see what she needed so we rolled down the window to see if we could help. The first words out of her mouth were, “Are you guys heading to the race?” We told her yes. She then asked if she and her husband could hitch a ride with us because their taxi had not waited and left without them, desperation clearly etched on her face. We made a split second assessment of her and the predicament and said sure.  However, Cheryl, knowing how I am about “sticking to the plan,” said, “As long as he gets here now because we can’t wait very long.” No need to wait because jogging down the road was her husband and they jumped in the back seat, a sense of relief on both their faces, and said, “Let’s go!”  We had just met our new friends Barry and Maria from Boston and some got good karma for the day. At that moment in time we were just helping out some fellow runners in a tough situation, nothing more. Later in the day I believe this simple assistance to Barry and Maria came back to me at a time when I needed someone to pick me up – GOOD KARMA returning the favor – but more on that later.

We drove the distance to the race learning more about our new friends and talking races completed and plans for future races. Barry and Maria had completed the half marathon the day before and Barry was going for the Goofy medal. The Goofy medal is awarded to anyone who does the half marathon on Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday, hence the name of “The Goofy Challenge.” At one point Barry wanted to make sure we weren’t “axe murderers” and I reminded him, laughing, “You asked us for a ride!  That might be a question we should be asking!” We finally arrived at the race with everyone else with plenty of time to spare. Cheryl and I went over our meeting strategy for during and after the race one more time to make sure we knew exactly where to look for each other, hugged and kissed each other, Cheryl wished me luck, and I was off to the start line with Barry. Cheryl and Maria headed to our first meeting spot at mile 4.

The race started on the grounds of Epcot and the geodesic dome was easily visible as the crowd walked to their respective corrals.  The temperature was a cool 39 degrees, perfect for racing. I was lucky enough to be seeded into corral B and arrived there at 5:10.  I had 30 minutes wait time so I took advantage of the time and did some stretching and used the facilities behind a truck like everyone else (men and women, what a sight!) Also during this time the crowd was entertained, Disney style, with large screen TVs and interviews with race participants to keep us occupied and help the time go faster.  All it did for me was want to get the race started. As we neared race time, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy took the stage to start the countdown to the race start and to sing the national anthem. That completed, the wheelchair division was sent off at 5:30 with a boom, fireworks, and some pyrotechnics that were pretty cool, then corral A was sent off in the same way. It was now time for our start with the fireworks that actually helped warm the racers up if even for only a few seconds. I crossed the mat, started my race watch, and the quest for my PR began, again reminding myself to “follow the plan.”

The first mile was a little crowded and it was hard to get some open running room but went by quickly, so I thought, until I looked at my watch. At 9:09, I was already slightly behind my planned 8:45 first mile. The second mile started to open up and I clocked it at 8:30, a little faster than planned but not too bad. We were now in Epcot running down the promenade with the Christmas tree in the center, around the dome and back out to the roadway that would lead us back past the start line on the other side of the roadway. By mile 3 running room was plentiful and I was on track and “sticking to the plan.” Once out of Epcot it was time to look for mile marker 4 and my first link up with my support team and some words of encouragement. Just as we planned, there was Cheryl in her lime green fleece that was easily spotted even though it was over an hour until sunrise. We hugged, kissed, took pictures and I was off again with a smile and the knowledge that I would see her again at mile 9. In between mile 4 and 9 there was plenty of Disney entertainment from pictures with Tigger and Eyore to disc jockeys from the 60’s and Vegas style singers.  One thing Disney did during the entire race was have entertainment every 3/4 of a mile. They really know how to keep you entertained.

The next few miles fell away at my planned pace and things were going great. Coming up to mile 9, then the Magic Kingdom and running through Cinderella’s castle.  I started to look for Cheryl, and there she was, right where we planned. Same as mile 4, we hugged, kissed, took some pictures and she asked how I was doing and I responded, “Perfect so far!”  She introduced me to her new friend, Phil. Cheryl met Phil at mile 4 while waiting for me to come by.  Phil was there supporting his fiancé, Patti. I left Cheryl and Phil behind, knowing I’d see at least Cheryl at mile 13 and entered the Magic Kingdom with the sun starting to rise behind me. I’d now been running for just under two hours and everything was running hot, straight, and normal. Running through the castle was very cool.  Of course they take your picture coming out the other side, so I made sure my ET hat was on straight, hands were in the air and put a big smile on my face. Can’t wait to get that picture 🙂

Again my pace for the next few miles was as planned as I constantly repeated my mantra to myself, “Stick to the plan!” and was happy in the knowledge the plan was still working. I passed mile 13 and was looking for Cheryl on the left side, except the left side of the race course was a traffic lane for busses and cars. I thought, “Oh no, I’m not going to find her here!” and my next viewing point was not until mile 26!  It was not a good feeling. Not yet ready to panic I started to scan both sides of the roadway for that lime green fleece, sure that she was there somewhere and that I’d see her. I passed the half way point and still no Cheryl. I ran a little more trying to scan both sides as I went but nothing yet and my watch said I was at 13.5 miles; I wondered if I’d missed her. Finally at mile 13.7 the race course veered left and again allowed spectators to be on that side.  I continued to look left, hoping I hadn’t missed her, and there she was just prior to mile 14.  Thank god for that lime green fleece!  This time I got to say hello to Cheryl and Phil since Phil was by now an old friend. I told Cheryl everything was going as planned, I was feeling great, and that I’d see her at mile 26.

I now started to set my sights on interim mile markers for different reasons. My first was set at mile 16 because I knew after that I only had single digit miles left. Mile 16 came and went with the plan still working and working well. I was sticking to my pace and actually speeding up slightly. My next mile marker was mile 20, knowing that only a 10K was left to cross the finish line. At mile 20, which was an out and back and I could see mile 21 on the other side of the road, my pace amazingly increased to 8:10 and I passed mile 21 going faster and feeling very strong. It looked like I was going to get my PR and then some. I continued to run strong through mile 23 and as I approached mile marker 24 I hit the proverbial wall. It’s at this point in the race where I needed a pickup to get me to the end and got it from another runner.  GOOD KARMA was coming back to me from the morning. A new friend was made at mile 24 in Wes Clark from New York who noticed I was struggling.  He patted me on the shoulder and said, “Let’s run each other in to the finish line.” From that point on we finished the race running strong, matching each other step for step while talking about everything from where we were from to football.  He’s a Jets fan.

It was now time to look for Cheryl at mile 26 and then cross the finish line. As I rounded the corner heading for mile 26 and the finish line with Wes from New York, leave it to Disney to have a full choir singing Alleluia at mile 26.  I looked right at the choir even though Cheryl was standing on a huge concrete flower planter on the left screaming at me, and then I was gone toward the finish line. For the first time in the race, I didn’t follow the plan and missed seeing Cheryl at mile 26. 🙁 Crossed the finish line strong at 3:48:39, a PR, my bladder almost bursting because I had had to pee since mile 13. I kept telling myself I’d stop at the next aid station but everything was going so well I didn’t want to upset the rhythm. I never did see Wes again once we crossed the finish line and never got to thank him for those last few tough miles that he got me through. So here it is: Thanks, Wes Clark from New York, I’m sure GOOD KARMA will follow you too.

I met up with Cheryl at the family reunion area and gave her a big hug and kiss and had tears in my eyes because of how much her support means to me. She keeps my feet grounded, never lets me get too “out there” and is always there for me. Oh, we also had a chance to see our new friends, Barry and Maria, from earlier that morning and congratulated each other on a great race. We exchanged last names and promised to look each other up on Facebook.

In the end, seeing Cheryl as much as I did, sticking to the plan Coach Joe and I had laid out two weeks earlier, and my training carried me through the day. It was an awesome experience and in the end I hit all the critical goals I had set and I did it with a huge smile on my face.

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