Only a tiny fraction of people on the planet have ever completed a marathon – by some estimates, only a fraction of one percent. On Sunday, I plan to join that elite club, with a goal of finishing in five hours or less.
Am I nervous? Hell, yes. Do I think I’ll do it? Same answer. On the way, I’ll face some challenges and enjoy some favorable conditions as well. Here’s what I’m thinking about.
The Tough Stuff
Here’s what’s working against me:
I’ve never even attempted this distance before – even in a solid training program, the longest run I’ve done was “only” 20 miles. I have no idea how my body will respond in mile 21 and beyond, because I’ve never asked it to.
The Bitter, Bitter Cold
As of today, weather projections for race time show temps in the low-to-mid 30′s, possibly colder. For my northern friends, running in that weather is not a big deal. For me, for shorter distances, it’s doable, but winter temps are pretty draining on me. I have no idea what the cumulative impact will be for long distances, but I’m sure I’d rather be running in the 50-60 degree range than this.
Sleepy but not Dopey
Race time is 5:40 a.m. To get up, change, catch the bus, have a small breakfast, and get to the starting corral on time, I’ll need to get up about 3:00 a.m. I doubt I’ll be able to sleep, anyway, given my nerves. I’m going to have to rely on whatever sleep I can get Friday night, not Saturday.
Fortunately, I have a lot of things pushing me forward.
Trusting my training
While this is my first marathon, it’s not my first big race, or even my first big, long race. And what I learned from those races, I’ve put into practice this time. I crafted a serious, long-term training plan that I stuck with. I put in the miles every week, and figured out what worked for me and what didn’t. I learned how my body responds to the demands I put on it. (Eating a steak dinner the night before a long run? Bad idea. Stick to pasta.) I know what to eat, what to drink, how much sleep I need, and how fast I should expect to go. I have worked hard for to do this, and that hard work will pay off if I just rely on what I’ve learned.
It’s a small world after all.
It’s Disney. Underneath the smiles and joyous laughter, Disney is a seriously-tuned, well-oiled machine. Everything about this race is going be highly organized and professionally managed, from the pre-race transportation to the food and water stops to the supply of medals at the end. But besides the highly-efficient support structure that Disney brings, Disney also infuses this race with the one thing they do best: joy.
Everyone who runs this race agrees that it’s fun. There is music, and entertainment, and Disney characters all along the route. The starting gun? Fireworks. The medals? Shaped like Mickey Mouse. And the race itself runs through all four major Disney parks – through Cinderella’s Castle, around the Tree of Life in the Animal Kingdom, next to the Tower of Terror, and around the World Showcase and Spaceship Earth. I don’t think you can ask for a better route to run a marathon. I’m glad my first will be at Disney.
The friends and family plan
Even though running is sometimes a solitary effort, there’s no way I could have done this alone. Along the way, I’ve trained with and relied on the wisdom of friends who have run this race before, and those who are joining me to run it for the first time. My neighbor Andy has been a great inspiration, running partner, and sometime coach. My friend Tim, who I hadn’t spoken to since we went to high school together, is running for his first time and trained with me in the “monster month” just before the race. The Blue Sharks, a group of total running fanatics, made it fun to run long distances at 5:30 on a couple of Saturday mornings.
But most of all, my wife Dineen and my two sons, Alex and Nate. They have braved the early mornings and unpredictable weather to cheer me on, and have even started running races of their own. They have endured long absences when I’m out training, and suffered through my self-absorbed focus on training. Thinking of them standing by the roadside as I pass, even as I write this, provides a powerful emotional jolt – a runner’s high even when I’m not running. I cannot imagine doing this without them by my side, and waiting for me at the finish line.
I’m nervous, but I can’t wait to get my feet moving.