So after four months of training on weekends at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, where the weather ranged from being overcast to becoming way too hot, I finally got to run the half-marathon at Disneyland this past Labor Day weekend of 2010. It was the first marathon of any kind I have ever ran, and I was excited as much as I was scared about it. Looking back on the whole day though, it was a fun time despite the after effects which have me practically turning my beaten down legs into ice cubes.
The various pace groups of AIDS Project Los Angeles met up with each other at the Paradise Pier Hotel which overlooks Disney’s California Adventure. If you are staying on the right side of the hotel, you can check out the fireworks that go off in the summer season on a daily basis, or the World of Color show which I have yet to see (I missed my chance to view it, darn it). The day I had to check in was nerve wracking because if we were late or didn’t have the right information on us, we would not be allowed to participate in the half-marathon. Disney was completely inflexible with this ruling, and I was desperate not to screw anything up. I did raise over $2,000 dollars for the fight against AIDS, and I didn’t want my efforts in accomplishing that go to the wayside.
Now I live about 35 to 40 miles away from Disneyland, and taking the 5 freeway to get there can be unpredictable in terms of traffic jams (the 405 freeway is practically a used car lot). You think you are making good time, and then the brake lights light up in front of you like some beautifully staged murder out of a Dario Argento film. Actually, I should mention that I used to work at this famous park a number of years ago, and I endured this same drive for over two and a half years. In regards to the end of my employment there, that is a horse I have beaten to death long after it decayed beyond all recognition, but I can say that being backstage there was not always “the happiest place on earth.” After driving all the way over there, I couldn’t help but think to myself:
“What the hell was I thinking in subjecting myself to this torturous commute for all that time? No wonder my anxiety was never ending!”
Suffice to say, I do not miss that commute in the slightest. If I ever do work there again, I may as well move back to Orange County.
Anyway, I did make it to the park and got all settled in my hotel room which I shared with another runner. We could have gotten our own rooms, but then we would have to pay off the other half which was about $100 plus dollars. After spending a bit to register for this half marathon, let alone buying a pair of running shoes (Sauconys) for $110 dollars or so, it seemed an unnecessary financial venture. Besides, I have at times overslept, and to sleep through the start of this race would be irritatingly tragic. Disney is strict about you being on the starting line at a certain point, and their flexibility on things can be non-existent.
All the team members enjoyed a nice carbo load dinner at the nearby Annabelle Hotel, and judging from the nametags, I think Disney owns it and its restaurant too (what don’t they own anyway?). This dinner allowed us to stock up on all the carbohydrates we were going to need the day of. Of course, that meant a lot of pasta, the meal of choice for runners the night before. There was also a good helping of vegetables which have complex carbohydrates, chicken, bread, and desert. As is always the case, I have a serious weakness for chocolate chip cookies, and I lost count of how many I ate (but that’s just as well).
After the dinner was over, we all walked back to our hotel rooms to prepare for tomorrow, and to get to bed early, something I usually suck at doing even during the week. This was not going to be the time of beer kegs and shots of Jack Daniels or Patron tequila. Gatorade or water were the only beverages we could consider, and that was fine because running with a massive hangover just didn’t feel all that necessary in hindsight.
Being as nervous as we were, getting sleep was easier said than done. As it is, I always end up going to bed far later than I ever should, sometimes even after midnight (and we’re talking weekdays here). We did have the opportunity to check in with our coaches for last minute supplies we would need for tomorrow like bananas, Gatorade powder, water, pins we use to attach our racing numbers to our running shirts (or singlets as they called them), and to of course pick up the Disneyland ticket we were promised for participating in this run.
One nice addition to these supplies were a couple of rolls of yellow duct tape which we could attach to our running shirts and shorts with the names of people we were running for who had supported us to this point as well as those who have since passed away from AIDS or other infuriatingly deadly diseases. I put the names of my immediate family members who supported me from day one, friends of mine from work who had promised to come out and cheer me on, and also for one of my Eeyores who I brought with me as a good luck charm (his name is Jackson Eeyore). One name that I put on the front of my red tank top was Jim Kirkwood, my acting teacher and mentor from the Bay Area who sadly passed away earlier this week from cancer as those of you know from the article I wrote about him. I think it’s safe to say that Jim would have been proud of what I did.
So, I did get to bed far earlier than I thought I would at around 9 pm or so (believe me that’s a personal record), but as soon as my roommate and I turned out the lights, the damn fireworks went off. It’s bad enough that we could hear them bursting loudly, but we didn’t even get to see them from the window on our side of the hotel! My guess is to stay in a room that did have the view would have cost more money than APLA were willing to spend, and that’s even if they got a great deal on the whole package.
Wake up time was about 3 to 3:30 am in the morning so that we could get dressed and be ready to be in the hotel lobby by 4:30 am. The half marathon didn’t actually start until 6 am, but the organizers at Disney were insistent that we get in position long before the gun went off. We ended up getting sectioned off into different corrals based on the estimated time we were expected to finish our run, and I ended up right near the back in Corral F. Moreover, the corrals started off at different times; once the first corral took off, it would be another five minutes before the next one began running. Where me and my fellow pace group members were standing, we expected that it wouldn’t be till about 6:30 am before we started to run, so we sat down for a bit since standing was already proving to be hard on our backs.
We did eventually make it to the starting line which had a big digital display which would signal when were off in case we weren’t paying attention to the announcer standing next to Mickey and Minnie. There was some dude up there with a headset on getting us all psyched for our run. Now people like these usually drive me up the wall because they can say such annoying things like:
“Are you ready? I can’t hear you, ARE YOU READY???!!!”
Still, it was preferable to hearing some loud cannon go off right next to us signaling the start. The sound alone would have deafened us and have us walking around in circles wondering if we had been suddenly rendered permanently deaf. This is not to mention the effect it would have on our overall running time in the half-marathon.
Now the one thing I tried to keep in mind the whole time was not to start off super fast and sprint past everyone. To do that would have me burning out long before I crossed the finish line. I remember doing that at the start of a Cross Country race I ran at high school, wanting to be among the top ten runners at the finish. Instead, I ended up placing at about 157th place while a friend of mine from a rival school got 10th place. That did wonders for my nonexistent ego at the time.
So I started off nice and easy and ran at a smooth pace once we were set off to, even as there were spectators holding up signs that said, “run like hell.” The half-marathon began at the streets right outside of Downtown Disney, and we went from there up through part of Katella Avenue. This path led us into Disney’s California Adventure from the backstage area of it, a place I wasn’t sure I would ever get to see again upon my employment ending there, and we got to meet up with characters from The Incredibles including Frozone, the one voiced by Samuel L. Jackson, and the lead characters from the movie that were voiced by Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter.
One of the nice features we got to partake of while running the race was stepping to the side when we saw some of our favorite characters like Woody, Jessie, Cruella Deville, storm troopers from Star Wars, and we could get our pictures taken with them. I didn’t bother stopping for any photo ops, but I would have if Eeyore was hanging around. The lines for pictures were almost as bad as the ones for all the portable toilets lined up down different sections of the run. I’m happy to say that I never used one the entire time. Took care of that business at a nice bathroom before I walked out to the starting line.
Another really cool part of the run was happened when we were running through Fantasyland and came to Sleeping Beauty’s castle. As we crossed the drawbridge, you could see the Wicked Witch at the top with her arms outspread as if she was about to cast a spell on us (or on our legs for that matter). You have got to admire these Disney cast members who woke up at the same ungodly hour we did and still put on this energetic display even before the park was opened to the general public.
After running through both parks, we got a nice little tour of Anaheim where we passed by various places of businesses and town residents who cheered us on throughout. We later passed by a Mexican restaurant which had western looking couples doing dances accompanied by your typical mariachi band (pre-recorded I should add). There was another place nearby with Hawaiian dancers which reminded me of when I went on vacation there a few years back, and my niece who was 3 or 4 years old at the time jumped onstage and dance with the lovely ladies in hula skirts and succeeded in stealing the show. There was also a plethora of cheerleaders from nearby high schools cheering their asses off, completely oblivious to the responsibilities they will be forced to face upon graduating. Towards the end, we ran through a tunnel full of them, and their yelling and cheering reverberated over the walls to where I felt I was at a rock concert and forgot to bring ear protection.
Then there was the nice little jog we had into Anaheim Stadium, home of the Angels, where you could see yourself projected up on the stadium’s jumbotron once you passed by the cameraman filming all those running past him. I kept wondering where that camera was because I thought I would pass it as I ran out of the stadium, but that was the case. In the end it doesn’t matter too much to me because the camera adds on 10 pounds or so, and it makes me feel I have not come close to losing any weight.
Throughout all this, I was doing my pace of running for three minutes and then walking for one, and I am happy to say that I kept this up all the way through. I tell you, this run-walk method we were trained on is perfect for events like this because there was no way I or anyone else in the group was going to run the whole 13.1 miles without stopping.
Around the time I got to about mile 6, my feet were really starting to hurt, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me. Races like these, I felt I would just end up walking the rest of the way, but I kept on truckin’ despite my feet getting hammered into the pavement once too often. Coming into this, I knew my legs were going to hate for awhile for doing this, and that certain parts would not be quick to forgive. Some parts recover more quickly than others, but the body is not always quick to forget what you put it through.
Crossing that finish line was quite heavenly I have to say, and there was no denying the accomplishment that I and thousands of other runners had accomplished this day. It was also nothing like doing Cross Country in high school where in some races I felt like I was going to have a massive heart attack before I completed running just two miles. This time, I could cross the finish line with a big smile on my face that was in no way faked. I did it! I ran the whole 13.1 miles! What an accomplishment this was!!
Meeting up with all my fellow teammates, we couldn’t believe that this had all just come to an end. For many of us, it still feels like we started yesterday. But that training more than prepared us in running a longer distance than many of us had ever ran before. I also got to meet up with a friend of mine from work named Ken who took various pictures of me at the finish line and with several of the lovely ladies who also had just finished the long race.
I also got to say that the one great benefit of starting the half marathon so early in the morning was that we got to beat the sun before it threatened to burn our skin or dehydrate us more than we already had been. Throughout the summer of 2010, I and many of my fellow employees of the job we work at became increasingly annoyed when “June gloom” continued leave us with overcast skies all throughout July. But on this day, it was such a huge blessing we all really needed. For once, I was so thankful for “June gloom” overstaying its welcome!
Coming into this whole marathon training deal, I said I was doing it for myself and in the hopes of losing some weight. The latter didn’t quite work out the way I imagined although I’d like to thin whatever weight I did gain was muscle mass, and that’s even if it doesn’t show physically. But looking back, I couldn’t have anticipated the effect it had on me and those who know me personally. Many were very impressed that I took this on, feeling that they could never ever do it on their own. The way they saw it, they were lucky if they got through one mile without collapsing on the hot pavement. Perhaps I was expecting everybody to be flippant about my endeavor, but it was completely the opposite of that. I thought it was all talk when that nice lady from the info session said that running this marathon would inspire a lot of people, but she was right on.
Then of course there was all the money we raised for AIDS Project Los Angeles, and that aims to help all those who are afflicted with this terrible disease. I raised over $2,000 dollars myself, and that money went towards those who can no longer help themselves. It funded groceries for them, doctor appointments, health care, and it helps to continue educating those about the AIDS virus and how it affects everyone. Now I really wanted the work to speak for itself more than anything else, but it is important to note this because this organization has been doing this work for over 25 years. Unlike what others think, this disease is not a “state of mind.”
I also got to make out with a goodies bag as did all the other runners which included supplies like the official Disneyland 5th annual half marathon t-shirt, some gel cubes that were very useful for me throughout, a number of coupons for 15 to 40% off of running supplies (kind of reminded me of all those unnecessary birthday emails I kept getting), and a disposable camera we could bring along with us on the run. They also came with these tiny little bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. Why they were there, I’m not sure. Was it there for us to drink through the race or to put on our skin or something? I have no idea. All I know is that you put them on sandwiches and salads.
Am I proud of myself for doing this? Absolutely and without a doubt I am. I can be modest about a lot of my own accomplishments, and I can’t stand it when people brag about themselves, but I have clearly earned the right to do it here. When I go to work on Tuesday, you will see me wearing my medal with Mickey Mouse on it to show everyone exactly what I did this past Labor Day weekend. If people have a problem with that, then they can keep it to themselves. Anyone who dismisses my accomplishment because it was only a half-marathon clearly has never participated in this endurance sport ever before.
Now as I sit back in my apartment with cold compresses resting on my legs, and after sitting an ice cold bath which I was trying to avoid (I never fancied myself a member of the Polar Bear Swimming Club), my legs are still as sore as Sarah Palin was when she didn’t get elected Vice-President. But would I consider doing this again, or even sign up for the Los Angeles Marathon which is a full 26 miles? Absolutely I would. I was inspired to do a marathon after I saw runners from that event going past my apartment, so it feels like it’s time to bring that inspiration around full circle.
Plus, I won’t have to raise as much money this time, and that’s a relief…
Images from the 2009 Los Angeles Marathon
My Adventures in Training for a Half-Marathon