Then the one day you find, ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun. Pink Floyd, "Time"
The week before the Disney Marathon, I received an unwelcome gift in the mail. Someone needs to tell the people at AARP that the last thing one wants to receive the week they turn 50 is an invitation to join an organization that "fights to strengthen Social Security and make health care affordable for older Americans." They might as well just send a birthday card that says: "Welcome to the old persons club. Enclosed is your discount card to matinees." Of course, my wife eagerly opens the envelope that I would just as soon throw away. "Its funny," she says. "I'm not dead yet," I reply (a la Monty Python's Holy Grail) .
On Thursday, I get a reminder that we can only put off that aging process so far with all of our fitness training. Good friend and marathoner, Wayne from Anchorage, Alaska calls me to tell me that he went in for a stress test after feeling dizzy during a training run. Wayne was starting to gear up for a 3 marathon tour of Europe in the Spring. It turns out Wayne has major blockage in 3 arteries and will have to have triple by-pass surgery the following Tuesday. I now have a person to whom to dedicate this marathon. This one's for Wayne. Follow Wayne's postings as he undergoes the trials and tribulations of surgery and recovery at http://atrampathonabroad.blogspot.com/.
Later that night, the University of Florida Gators give me the best present one could ask for in turning 50: the BCS National Championship. We whoop and holler the evening away with some of my and my son John's friends. Everyone was decked out in Gator gear, a requirement to gain entry to the theater room. The game ends just before midnight, so I ask everyone to stay a few extra minutes. Training buddy John does the honors of opening up the bottle of Champagne I bring out (sparkling cider for son John and his friends) and we toast the Gators and my old bones.
Saturday morning, I drive to Orlando ahead of my brother Dave who agreed to run the Disney Marathon as a return to marathon running after a 3 year lay-off. I hit the race expo to pick up my number, race chip and tee-shirt. Of course, the large cool-max shirts (nice) are cut for a giant (sucks) and they race officials will not allow exchanges for a smaller size (doubly sucks). If you know anyone with really large arms looking for an over-sized Cool Max shirt, call me.
I check into the hotel and direct my brother to the hotel when he arrives a few hours later. We get together for dinner with co-poster John and a few other friends at a restaurant in Celebration, a town developed by Disney that eerily reminds me of the stage-set town in The Truman Show. John says, "Que the moon" and sure enough, we have a low horizon full moon that is so big it looks unreal. At diner, we are advised/directed by a friend to stop eating meat, avoid flour based products, and start taking lots of different dietary supplements. As I continue eating my pasta with meatballs, I decide to take the advice "under advisement." That's judicial-speak for "I'm postponing a decision now, but will decline your request at a future date."
We return to the hotel to try to get to sleep. One of the problems with the Disney Marathon is that is starts at 5:50 AM and there are traffic delays to get to the staging area just outside Epcot. Thus, the race director advises leaving for the start at 4AM, which equates to a 3AM wake up. As we watch the first half hour of Saturday Night Live, I realize I will get little to no sleep. We cheat on the wake-up by setting the alarm for 3:15AM. When the alarm goes off at 3:15AM, it feels like you are coming to after being knocked unconscious. I state this without ever having been knocked unconscious, but I'm pretty sure this how it would feel. You awake not knowing where you are or why you are being awakened. We drag ourselves out of bed and get dressed.
Being stuck in the traffic on the way to the parking lot is both good and bad. Its good in that we don't have to wait in the cold early morning air. Its bad in that by the time we get in the porta-potty line, I'm shifting from side to side to keep from soiling myself. The lines at the porta-potties seem extremely long. I'm sure one of Einstein's unpublished theories of relativity reads: The worse you have to go, the longer the porta-potty lines seem.
After taking care of business, brother Dave and I head to our separate corrals. I've provided prior marathon results and have gotten placed in the first non-elite corral, Corral A. Dave, not having a prior race result with which to get properly seeded, is place in the absolute last corral, Corral H. He later informs me that he looked at the enormous crowd lined up ahead of him, then looked behind him to see that there was no one behind his corral. As the race starts, he is forced to bob and weave through the newbie runners and walkers of all ages, shapes and sizes that make up the back of the 15,000 people doing the marathon.
As the gun goes off and fireworks are shot off, I'm having the opposite issue from Dave. I get pulled out at an 8 minute per mile pace. I find the pace runner holding a balloon that says 3:30 (predicted finish time) and start off with the large number of people running with the pacer. Its too crowded behind the pacer, so I run slightly ahead of the group to keep from getting tripped up. As we run through Epcot in the dark they play The Cars song "Let's Go" that contains the lyric: "I like the night life baby. Let's go." A nice beat and a nice thought. A girl running with a guy near me turns to him and asks: "Do you like the night life, baby?"
As has become my new norm for marathons, I am able to hold this pace for about 10K (6.2 miles) before I start to fall off pace. As I stated in my Las Vegas Marathon posting, the only problem with this is you end up getting passed by a lot of runners as you drop pace. This is a psychological blow that is only paid back in the second half of the race as you start to re-pass runners that went out too hard and end up walking or stretching their cramping leg muscles.
As I run through Disney World around mile 11, I start thinking about being at Disney as a kid, which starts me to thinking of the times I've brought my own kids to Disney World. It makes me feel young and old at the same time. Then, I remember that my buddy Wayne is facing a serious operation on Tuesday and I start thinking of his youngest daughter, Hannah. I hope that all goes well and Wayne is able to take Hannah to Disney World in the near future. I think my eyes got a little moist here. With every official photographer I run by, I start to hold up 3 fingers to make a "W" for my buddy Wayne.
As we run through Animal Kingdom, an announcer on a stage sees a couple of runners near me in Gator running shirts. He calls out, "Go Gators" and a bunch of us start doing the Gator chomp as we run by the announcer. Outside of Animal Kingdom a large crowd of spectators cheer on the runners and call out names. I hear people shout out "Go, William!" and realize the Disney people printed my formal name on my racing bib. So, I start to shout out thanks to people calling me by a name I've never responded to in my life. My buddy Dean, whose formal name is Constantine, heard all different kinds of names shouted out to him. As he said, only the speed readers got it right.
Around mile 15 I start to think about the Ironman in November. I'm going to have to swim 2.4 miles and bicycle 112 miles before running a marathon. How in the world am I going to do that? Its hard enough to do the marathon by itself. I realize I have a lot of training to do before November.
From about mile 16 on in, I start passing runners instead of being passed. I think that this is my new persona. I used to be the rabbit; now, in my older incarnation, I've become the tortoise. Slow and steady wins the race. Nice to see you, bub. Take care of that cramp. See ya! For the last 10K, my pace slows from 9 minute miles to 9:30s and near 10 minute miles. I'm tempted to take a walk break, but don't dare to with my estimated closeness to a sub 4 hour finish time. At mile 26, there is a black church choir in golden robes singing, clapping and swaying side to side. Very appropriate. I clap in rhythm with the choir as I run by. A couple of minutes later, I finish in 3 hours 57 minutes.
Holding up the "W" for Wayne. Get well buddy.
After getting my medal and a massage, I meet up with my friends. First timer Dean finishes in an impressive 4:03. I teach him the secret handshake. It involves reaching out your hand, then grabbing your calf to work out a cramp. Brother Dave tells me he felt he must have had to pass about half of the entire race crowd. He wasn't too far off, coming in 7061 out of 14,940 finishers. His worst moment was being caught being a group of run/walkers at a narrow area near mile 11. He hears a pace group leader shout out "Walk!" and the entire crowd in front of him comes to an almost complete stop. He looks up at the balloon and sees the expected finish time of 5:30. He manages to pass this group and many others to finish in just over 5 hours. Welcome back to the marathon brother!
After a protein packed brunch at Denny's, we return to our hotel to lounge around and watch playoff football all afternoon. In the evening we meet up for dinner with friends Demetri and Effi who worked a water station on the course. Demetri is interested in doing the Goofy Challenge next year, which is doing the half marathon on Saturday followed by the full marathon on Sunday. It sure sounds goofy to me.
The next day, as I drive back from Orlando, I key up Billy Joel on the iPod to get ready to attend his concert the upcoming Friday. I feel good about my performance and decide the age thing doesn't bother me. One of Billy Joel's songs ques up that kind of sums up my feelings on turning 50, so I finish with a quot:
If it seems like I've been lost in "let's remember;" if you think I'm feeling older and missing my younger days. Oh, then you should have known me much better, 'cause my past is something that never got in my way, oh no. I'm keeping the faith - Billy Joel
I'm also keeping the faith with regard to my buddy Wayne. See you on the other side of your surgery. During recovery, we can plan that trip to Disney for Hannah.