The Magic of Slowing Down to Run A Half Marathon

It was a dark and stormy morning.  As the wind blows, the rain pours, the evil witch cackles…

Dark and stormy?!  No way!  We’re at Disney World!  It’s fireworks, energy, music, and Mickey.    We’ve been up since 3am.  There really isn’t much that I would get up for at 3am.   After months of training, and years of dreaming, today is the day.

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Time to wake up, sleepy head…

4:45am and we have arrived at the start line.  Derrick shuffles in the crowd of 17,000, nervous about the 13.1 miles he’s about to run.    I look down at my feet, out at the crowd, and up at the fireworks.   Here we are.   It’s Race Day at the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon.

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Looking back, running a half marathon has been on my Life List for many years.  But excuses kept coming up: Oh, that date doesn’t work, I don’t have time to train, I don’t want to run on pavement, what if they release the new trailer for upcoming Pixar movie. I don’t know if it was fear, doubt, or maybe I had this goal just because everyone else had it.   Maybe it was time to Let It Go.  It turns out, maybe I just needed the right magical location to get me out of my head, and onto my feet.

Derrick said that for his 35th birthday he wanted to go to Disney World (because what 35 year old without kids wouldn’t want to do this?!).  Looking at dates, I saw that his birthday lined up perfectly with the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon.   So without worrying about it, on January 17, 2017 I registered.  I told Derrick afterwards: “I’m doing the Disney Half, want to join?”   Derrick has said he doesn’t like running, but a day later, as if the Fairy Godmother visited him, he signed up too.  Even if Tinker Bell needs to carry us, we are going to run our first half marathon!

July 1 was the start of our training: two 30 minute runs, and one distance run a week.  We also registered for the Philly 10K at the end of August as a good midway goal. Speaking of goals, we talked out what would push us, and motivate us, but not crush us. Derrick’s goal was to do the Half without stopping.  My goal: anything under 2 hours, and to do the Philly 10K in 45 minutes or less.  I Can Go The Distance!

Training was going well.   Having the structure pushed us when we may have stayed inside dreaming of a Whole New World.  We were running 3 miles, 5 miles, 7 miles.  Every new run was a longer run than either of us had ever run before.   I was feeling confident, motivated, and prepared.   I was moving from Zero to Hero,  feeling present, step by step, experiencing a sense of flow with the world.

The Philly 10K arrived in no time.   We’d just run 11 kms in our training, and I even achieved my goal of running it in less than 45 minutes.  So what does that mean for Race Day?  Do it faster.  We started together, and once the crowd began to thin, I gave Derrick a welcomed bum tap as a I zip out on my own.   A few kilometers in, I find myself in between corrals.  I am the only one for a few blocks.  Just me, my feet, and the crowd on the sidewalks.  It’s a beautiful moment.

The race ends and I’ve done it:  43:29.  183rd overall (3631 ran the race),  placing 146th out of 1457 males, and 43rd for my 30-34 age division.  It really isn’t about winning but… I’m more competitive than I’d like to be with myself, so this felt amazing.  I’d been working really hard, and this was the reward I was hoping for.  Faster, stronger, more focused.   I met up with Derrick at the finish line (who was incredible: he didn’t stop!), and we felt unstoppable in that moment.   A little sore, but happy.

The next day, I’m still sore, but I’m motivated and decide to do my 30 minute run as planned.  The training can’t stop, and won’t stop.   I’ll take it easy, and run out the ache…

30 minutes later, I am in a lot more pain.  Mentally and physically, I’m frustrated.

A week later, I wake up and finally my leg was not sore.   So what do I do?  A run!  I’m pumped.   I zip by the water, smile at strangers, dance in my head to One Republic.  The run felt great.   But when I stopped running, it’s worse than ever.   I can’t even stand.   Mentally and physically, I’m broken.

I try to accept that my body isn’t going to fix itself immediately, and I need to simply stop for now.  I seek massage and physical therapy.  It feels nice, but it’s not fixing me like I need it to.   I need to be fixed faster.  Every day I wake up, hoping, and then I step out of bed, disappointed.   Hours, days, and weeks pass.   I’ve got a good stretching routine down, and I’m told it will help, so I stick with it.  The pain moves from my quad, to my psoas, to my IT band, to muscles I’ve never heard of.   Each day, the Half comes closer.  I’ve adjusted my goal to simply completing it, and I’m beginning to fear that that might not even be possible.   Rest, stretch, move, slow down, smaller strides, walk on the outside of my feet, use my toes, and hope.

Six weeks later, with two and a half weeks before Race Day, my leg is finally better.   Like actually better.   This time, I give it another day.   Better.  I take it slow.  I run 1 mile. No pain.  A rest day, then 2 miles.  No pain.  3 miles, 5, 8, 11, 12.   Seven days before race day, I run 14 miles.   I’m as ready as I can be, I’m not in pain, and I’m faster than I ever have ever been.  I do one more 30 minute run, rest, and wait.

Let’s go back to Disney World, November 5, 2017, 5:30am.  Wine and Dine, and Derrick and I are at the start line.  Excited, anxious, ready. Fireworks are in the air, my Disney themed playlist starts, and we’re off.   I give Derrick a welcomed bum tap as I skip by him.  Around the first corner, a marching band.   Of course, Disney.   More fireworks shoot off, as How Far I’ll Go from Moana beats in my ears.   I look back, and the world slows down for a moment.  I tear up a little.   I am here.

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The race weaves through the back lots, the Disney road ways, through Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.   It’s a pretty dynamic route.  Rarely seen characters pop up every now and then, inviting me to stop and take a picture, and also give my legs a break.   I’m incredibly competitive with myself, and unless there’s a 3 person or less line, I won’t stop.   Typically the lines are 20 or more.  I take a few “in motion selfies”, and run along.

Mile by mile, I go through waves of ease, and of challenge.   I slow only for water, and keep moving along.   Then, I see the Penguins from Mary Poppins.  Only two people in line.  Okay, I’ll stop.   I slow down, wave to the camera, give the Penguins my best, and get back to it.

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Suddenly, I find myself in between pacing corrals, just like the Philly 10K. And Just Around the River Bend,  there are no lines for the next character.   My feet keep going, but my brain pauses:  Do I push through?  What really will happen if I slow down, and just enjoy it all? But what was that training for?

I stop.  I break from the typical Mike Plumton.  Then another character: I stop again.  I wave so long to the guy I was secretly pacing with, acknowledge he will be faster than me, and step off course for Remy, for Dopey, for Vacation Genie, for Oswald, and more.   I know my race time is sliding away, but I’m at Disney World.   Let there be magic.

When I finally round the World Showcase at Epcot, pass under the ball, and cross the finish line, I am still smiling.  Years in the making, I finally did it, and it was really fun!  And I did it in 1 hour and 47 minutes.  Slowing down actually got me to go faster.   There are other ways to win besides besting my own time.

Shortly after, Derrick crosses the finish line.  I look at him, and smile, “Did you stop?”   “Nope.  I was afraid if I stopped, I wouldn’t start again, so I kept on going”.   The non-runner ran a half marathon in 2 hours and 13 minutes without stopping.  I am so proud of what he accomplished.  Of what we both did.   Different goals, a lot of work, a dose of patience,  space for unpredictability, and a little fairy dust.    We look around and despite it being cloudy after all, it is the most magical morning.

Song of the Day: Zero To Hero (Hercules):

PS: If you’re on the fence about doing something like a half marathon- Run Disney.  And if you can’t make it to Disney, sign up for any one, knowing you are you own biggest villain, yet your own biggest hero.  Here’s a bonus picture of Derrick running through Hollywood Studios to showcase another reason why!   Midway through and the non-runner is still smiling!  Or… is he trapped in the Twilight Zone???…

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3 comments on “The Magic of Slowing Down to Run A Half Marathon

  1. Wow congrats to you both job well done. So glad you got to do it together. Love your blogs Mike. They make me laugh, cry and contemplate. Thanks

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  2. Congratulations , it does not surprise me what you two accomplish. Derrick, well done you made a target and ran without stopping. Mike, you are definitely competitive in nature, I know you well from the university. What is the next challenge for both of you? Nothing will surprise me.

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