Garden Spot Village Race Recap

2 start line

Garden Spot Village Race Recap

Race: Garden Spot Village Marathon and Half Marathon
Location: New Holland, PA and surrounding boroughs
Distance: 21.1km (13.1 miles)
Date/Start Time: 11 April 2015, 8am
Distance Travelled to Compete: 98 km (61 miles)
Weather conditions: Clear, started at mid 40s and rose to mid 50s and sunny
Course conditions: Rugged roads through Amish country and with inclines and rolling hills. First hill is mile 5 and second hill for those running the half will be mile 8, a very steep incline. Unfortunately for those running the full, this same hill is mile 21. For those running the full, the course goes further west into Leola, PA, otherwise, half marathons make a turnaround on Peters Road at mile 7.
Preview: My first race back in Lancaster since 2010. The good news is that it was in much nicer weather. The bad news is that the hills and overall the course were extremely challenging.

Race Preview

I took Amtrak into Lancaster Thursday night and stayed with family for what was probably the first time in ages.

1 cover tent

On Friday, packet pickup opened at 2pm. If you are staying in Lancaster County, expect to spend at least 20 minutes on PA 23, as that road is a very slow road through Leola and New Holland. As I stayed in the west part of the county with family, it took us close to 40.

We arrived around 4pm hitting rush hour traffic. Check in was located on Weaver Road at the central part of Garden Spot Village, a retirement community that consisted of many complexes and apartment buildings and duplexes.

Check in was quite seamless. Check your name against your number, collect your bib, your kit and your bag and be on your way. Definitely though the shirt and bag were well done.

The Race

2-1 start

When we arrived Saturday, the start was right where packet pick up was, right in the middle. Off to the side was a slew of concessions, behind that was a tent where runners could get post-race massages. Next to that was a runners’ only post race meal tent, which awaited after we crossed the finish line.

3 band

Pre-game festivities included a band (above) and of all things, an invocation. Being agnostic, I had to remind myself where I was and almost shook when the crowd resounded with a huge “Amen”.

4 mile 1

But soon all the festivities were over and we were on our way. The gun went off and the crowd roared. I was frozen enough to wear an old mylar sheet pre-race. I would soon find out later that the sun would heat us up quite nicely.

5-1 somewhere in the middle

Mile 1
The first mile was on campus, then through another neighborhood before heading out on the first country road. I was feeling the ruggedness of Lancaster County already. Men in suspenders and women in bonnets suurounded me as did your average everyday local. It was mostly flat and fast.

Mile 2
We ran into the first slew of Amish families seated outside their homes and supposedly cheering on their loved ones. It was up an incline and hung a right as we headed toward a few houses covered by trees. First water stop was here as well.

Miles 3-4
More open farmland. We headed toward another development and down another rolling hill. Crossing a bridge that separated a farm and a junction that would lead us toward the finish line, we saw a second water stop. Amazingly I was losing water in my body at the rate that I had to use multiple cups to fill my bottle. I should have run in short sleeves, I was running in my Love Run kit from this year. Damn me.

Mile 5
Speaking of that shirt, another man dressed in that kit ran right by me. “Nice shirt!” he remarked. At least we had that badassery in common doing two half marathons in two weeks.

We went up our first large hill which was more long and rugged than steep. It took a bit of time and wind out of me, but I did manage to recover and take a first pass at an old classmate of mine who also lives in Philly now. A bit ironic because she is more fit and fast than I am. She probably was not having a good race.

After this part of the course the course opened up to traffic although caution signs were pretty much everywhere and any traffic was restricted to one way traffic.

Mile 6
Entirely downhill. It would be our first sighting of the lead male for the half, and first sighting of Mile 8, the hill from hell. The latter part took us such a steep decline that I needed energy to slow down and not run over people.

Mile 7
This was the turnaround point, marked by a large red flag. Those of the pack running the full marathon would continue past this flag, and the rest of us would turn around.

6 mile 7 turnaround

I was a bit winded at this point and stopped at the water station and the bathroom (having drank so much fluid) before the turnaround. Incidentally, my parents were right at the turnaround, but given the ruckus and the official at the turnaround point shaking her cowbells as she yelled at us to turn around, I’d completely missed them as I turned around and headed on the “good” or return side of the road.

7 horse and buggy

We passed a horse and buggy at Mile 7 as well, incidentally the horse lost the plot but thankfully it didn’t interfere with the runners.

8 amish girl mile 7

Mile 8
This. The most hilariously difficult part of the course. After we turned around, we faced the same hill we’d come down for Mile 6.

It was too steep to even try running upwards. I tried leaning forward but my calves instantly felt a nasty pull from behind. I was forced to walk and even then I felt that calf pull. I’d seen the 7min/mile runners also struggle earlier so I didn’t feel so bad. No runner around me bothered to run.

9 mile 9

Mile 9
This climb took us back through another development which thankfully meant another water stop. The last hill forced me to exhaust my water bottle, I was forced to refill.

The next incline was gradual and we went through another tree covered area. Several patrol bikers passed us by.

10 mile 10

Mile 10
Finally, another downhill. The same slow hill we acsended when approaching Mile 5 but in reverse. I passed my classmate yet again (who I’d presumed had passed me whilst at the bathroom). A great scenic view of the farmland, but the ruggedness of the roads made me want to get this run over with. We passed our second to last water stop then set off in the final part of the course.

Mile 11-12
Two flat roads on our way back to Kinzer Avenue. We went through more farmland and through some rail tracks. At Mile 12 I passed my classmate one more time and this time I left her behind.

More Mennonite families cheered us on the way back. And with that I could taste the finish line. THAT post race meal.

11 mile 13

Mile 13
Kinzer Avenue to Weaver Road to the finish line. I wanted to jump for joy when I saw that street sign. Unfortunately, I did not know how long that final mile would be – compounding that feeling was a massive headwind. We ran the final mile entirely against the headwind.

We passed an ambulance past the final development, knowing that was a key safety distance from the finish, I knew we were quite close to the end. One more bend…

….and then Weaver Road. The bright orange shirts of the volunteers. Finally. The end was near.

We made one final turn to the right and off to my left it was my parents and not far behind them, the finish line.

Boom. Complete. Not my worst time ever, managed to survive.

The Finish Line and Post Race

The first thing I saw were volunteers handing out medals. Half finishers received a silver medal with a purple ribbon and full finishers received a gold medal with a green ribbon.

12 medal

The next thing we received was a water bottle and mylar sheets. I then saw my parents direct me to the runners’ food tent, where only those with a bib were permitted inside.

The first thing we were given was chocolate milk from a local dairy. Next, we could serve tea, coffee, hot cocoa or further electrolytes if we needed. After this, we had our pick of oatmeal with toppings, turkey, chicken or veggie hummus wraps, trail mix in cups, banana or orange slices. And yes, the best part were the omelets (our pick of egg or cheese) and strata (eggs or ham).

14 meal

It was an insane amount of food and furthermore, I didn’t know of any other race that had such a post race meal. The hot food was much prepared by the kitchen staff but much of the other food plus any concessions outside were given or sold by local businesses.

15 post-food

I also caught up with my classmate.

16 post race

After leaving the tent, I queued up for the massage tent. It was a good 20 or so minutes but with 12 local therapists under the tent the queue moved quickly. I was given a chiropractor who helped stretch my quads and hamstrings and calves. It wasn’t going to fully accomplish the job but her stretches really helped.

Once I was through the tent, it was time to call it a day and head home.

Overall this race was extremely well run and supported by the community. At $75 for early registration it might seem pretty steep for a small race but the organisers really take care of the runners and the post race meal was so good. Race shirt was of good quality and design and really liked the swag bag itself.

The course was brutal but scenic and for such a well organized race with Clif gels at every water stop to boot, this race is well worth it.


More Miles and More Friendships

The autumn has proven to be extremely busy for me, many miles clocked in various cities for business, and followed up with two weeks in cold London. I’ve been running everywhere figuratively and literally, seeing the world and the country…all whilst keeping up with my Philly Half training. I’ve posted pictures of my excursions on Pinterest for both my UK trip and the downtime on my business trips to Atlanta.

Note: More details on the trips to follow in separate posts…

Atlanta’s miles were brutal, the place is very hot and hilly (hence its nickname Hotlanta) and the drivers are so terrible that running can be a leap of faith unless you are near the Botanical Garden in Midtown. London on the other hand was colder (about avg 50F) and rainy half the time.

Upon return home, I attended more running events as I ramped my training. Somewhere in there, I’ve made more friends and built relationships through events held by City Sports and Philly Runner, two stores whose running groups have been key to my training discipline and sanity and social world. A few smattering of pictures:

Halloween run with City Sports:
halloween run

The “candy” we got post-run – VERY yummy, the caramel ones taste more like chocolate. No wonder they do, given the ingredient list.
supercandy halloween

Costume Run with Philly Runner, part of their Halloween tradition.

Philly Runner’s 10 year anniversary party – congrats to Ross Martinson and his crew for boosting the running community in Philly the last decade. Even after I leave Philly, I won’t forget all the fun memories. I only wish my schedule would have allowed me to parttake in a training team for one of the Philly races, nearly everyone I know has greatly benefitted from it!
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Getting photobombed at the 10-year party:

It’s been quite a busy yet fun time meeting more people and I’m happy that I will be celebrating an early Friendsgiving with them! Here’s to more awesome memories over the next year racing and training in Philly and beyond!

Have you travelled anywhere interesting recently? Where have you gone? How did you get the miles in?

Any questions about the destinations I’ve been to, just give me a shout!

More Wine? Yes Please!


My last getaway was my trip to Walt Disney World for my full marathon back in January and since then, amidst my final semester of graduate school and then an uptick at work, I had not had the time to actually get away from things.

In the meantime I had booked a trip to the United Kingdom in October and am planning a Christmastime trip to South Africa currently, but as that is still far off, I felt the need to find a new place, regionally, where I’d find it interesting, close enough to warrant driving, and relaxing to some extent.

Enter New York State’s Finger Lakes and its multitude of wineries. There are 5-6 lakes in total but the three main lakes are, from west to east, are Keuka Lake, Seneca Lake, and Cayoga Lake. We stayed in Horseheads (yay hotel points!) at a Fairfield Marriott about 8 miles south of Watkins Glen.

Our trip started on a sour note – as we were about to leave, my dad had a mishap that involved breaking a thermometer – with that dreaded mercury. Cleanup delayed us by about 2 hours, but we were all sorted out. We arrived about four hours later and managed to make dinner reservations at Jerlando’s Pizza, which was a very good Italian place carrying a lot of the local fare – and local wines.


We split a margherita pizza and had a few glasses of wine. My dad had a riesling from Glenora – which ultimately guided us to that place, amongst many other places.

The next day we got up and had breakfast, as provided by the hotel. Overall our hotel was outstanding and even more than expected for a Fairfield, which makes sense as they have to compete with all the B&Bs and private hotels in the area, and closer to Corning and up Watkins Glen. The service and quality is worth the drive, not to mention the hotel was in the middle of a shopping center which made getting any essentials or other things easy.

Monday was a good day to hit a load of wineries. What I failed to do properly was plan for the rest of the trip, as my parents wanted to go hiking in Watkins Glen State Park. I had little problem with this – other than my fear my heights, which I quickly overcame if only for that day – except it was not communicated how long she wanted to spend there. What would further compound the issue is that my mother is NOT a morning person and my dad and I were very much so. This amounted to getting out of the hotel a serious challenge in of itself, and getting an early start on the sights/wineries/hiking was crucial as many places closed at 5pm. It was not like the city where you had a few hours in the evening to see things.

Unfortunately this was not something my mother easily understood or was willing to accept, culturally speaking, she takes things in a very relaxed manner. If I’d had planned for it, I would have avoided a lot of the problems we had on the trip. While I can adapt to sudden changes in schedule such as illness or poor weather (and we had plenty of that during our trip) or other things one cannot control, usually, there is some understanding as to what will happen in the time we had. But that said, it’s a good lesson learnt for future trips with others.

On Monday, we managed to squeeze in a load of wineries, all on the west side of Seneca Lake. We started off with Lakewood Winery, where I purchased a berry red win that would work for sangrias after their $2 tasting. Might I also add that nearly all the wineries’ pricing for tasting was quite competitive. The rest of their wines weren’t so bad, my dad and I had the dry lineup, whilst my mother had the sweeter lineup.


We then headed off to Fulkerson, another place that my friend from Rochester recommended. I didn’t dig their wines, but my parents did. Dry wines were too flat for me, the sweet wines were way too sweet. 11% or greater residual sugar…no thanks.


Our next stop was Glenora Wines, where we clearly enjoyed their tasting the most. This is where I purchased a Gewerztraminer, nice and dry but still worked extremely well with spicy foods. We had our pick of six or seven wines here, though they had plenty of food samples.

glenora 1

After this, we stopped at Herman J. Weimer, another one of my friend’s recommendations. My mother sat this tasting entirely out as they had no sweet wines, but to their credit, she got one taste on the house, their sweetest at 5%. Of course, she is one to go for 10% or more.


Our last winery for the day was Fox Run Wineyards, where I purchased dessert wine for under six bucks! That never happens. A monroia, a dessert traminer. My mother got the same bottle.

That night, we hit up Wildflower Cafe, great fresh food at a reasonable price.

Tuesday, as mentioned before, proved to be an even more problematic day. Knowing that the weather would be an issue in the evening, we knew that we had to hike early in the morning and clear the park by midday so we could attack the cheese farms and more wineries on the East Side of Seneca Lake.

Watkins Glen State Park was overall a great place to hike with loads of waterfalls and plenty of shade. There was the option of a side trail but we all preferred the most scenic route out and back.


We cleared Watkins Glen State Park despite running late, but the day was ruined as on our way to the Lively Run dairy farm, we paid too much attention to our GPSes and not enough attention to the speed limit. We wound up getting dinged by a cop well after we passed the area in which the speed zone dropped.

Although I wasn’t driving, I was more than sour on the issue.

When we reached the goat farm, my mother took a stroll down memory lane herself seeing all the goats, as she used to raise goats in her homeland when she was younger. We had samples of the cheeses though, unable to preserve anything in the heat, had to move on without buying anything.


We then took a jaunt along the East Side of Seneca Lake and squeezed in a few more wineries: Lamoureux, Wagner (along with the brewery) and Hazlitt with a 15-minute suicide squeeze.

At Lamoureaux, I found the riesling I so badly craved. Check. This was unfortunately for my mother, another place, which she sat out, as there were no sweet wines. Here you had your pick of five wines. My dad bought a Moscato from here.

At Wagner, I took to the brewery to also try their brews in addition to their wines, but I found I did not like the beer. Interestingly I had spoken to my friend who also said that Wagner beer was poor. At their winery, we had the option of their pre-picked lineup of seven wines, or any four we wanted. My dad and I picked the pre-picked lineup, whereas my mother went for the four sweetest wines possible. I wound up taking a semi-sweet red table wine for a cool six bucks. Not bad.


Finally at Hazlitt, my mother found more of her sweet preferred wines, which she took to purchasing a whole lot of. I purchased a few of the smaller bottles of wine, notably a Brambleberry and a White Stag. The Brambleberry in particular is FANTASTIC with dark chocolate.

After we wrapped up our wine tasting this day, the rain came pouring down again. We made it to a Mexican place on 4th Street, and had some very delicious food.

On Wednesday morning, we took a trip to Shtayburne Farm, where they were selling cheese. The cheese was very good, but with a six plus hour journey ahead of us, we would not be able to preserve any cheese in the July heat.


Finally it was time to call a wrap down here. Didn’t want to leave, but had to.

Overall the trip was something I would not regret. Despite the bumps on this trip, I’d definitely come back here to celebrate a bachelorette here, or just spend a weekend her with friends or perhaps in the future, a significant other. Well someday, I suppose. It’s extremely peaceful and I love wine and I can see this being a nice retreat area for me on a long weekend. At the end, I not only learnt a lot about wine but a bit about travel planning and that can’t really be a bad thing, now can it?

My biggest regret though? Not buying enough bottles of wine.

You can view a full gallery of pictures here as well. Any questions on recommendations, feel free to ask.

Any wineries you recommend, either in this region or elsewhere in the Northeast?

Walt Disney World Marathon and Expo Weekend Recap, Part 2

Walt Disney World Marathon and Expo Weekend Recap, Part 2

1-18 epcot main

Part 1 of my recap covered my expo experience as well as general observations.

Part 2 will cover my day at Epcot in brief, my race experience and the afterparty.

Race: Walt Disney Marathon Presented By Cigna
Location: Walt Disney World (Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios), Lake Buena Vista, FL
Distance: 42.2 km (26.2 miles)
Date/Start Time: 12 January 2014, 5:30am
Distance Travelled to Compete: 1577 km (980 miles)
Weather conditions: Varies each year from sleet (2010) to blistering heat (2013). Average temps are between 50-70 in January.
Course conditions: Mostly flat but a gradual hill around Cinderella’s castle (mile 6), sharp hills at the speedway underpass (mile 9), after Animal Kingdom (mile 15) and an exit ramp at Mile 21.
Preview: Second marathon ever, I was training hard and well until I picked up a shin injury that forced me to sit out my tune-up half in November, the Philly Half. With the help of strength training, a change in running form and massage therapy, I got back on track. Only one X-factor to worry about, the unpredictable weather.

Day Out At Epcot

On Friday, we decided to take advantage of the extra day and head to Epcot. At the same time, we decided to use our free vouchers to DisneyQuest in Downtown Disney, an interactive arcade that alone cost $44 for adults to get in.

The first deal at Epcot was Future World and in that area we’d run into some characters after getting through the spaceship ride.

2-3 epcot ss 3

In particular, Goofy did not take too well that I was NOT doing his challenge.

5-1 goofball

Le sigh, Goofy, le sigh.

We worked our way around the Living Seas Aquarium, where I was a bit intrigued by the fish there, as I always had been by creatures of the sea growing up.

2-13 fish

And then, that massive stingray.

2-20 stingray

Behold the ugliest fish you’ll ever see: the frogfish.

2-27 frogfish

And another stingray. Yes, stingrays always amused me as a child. Not to mention they are quite delicious (yes, I’ve eaten one at a French restaurant, nicely buttered with capers…but that’s another story.)

2-22 small ray

Caught sight of a poisonous arrowfish.

2-26 arrowfish

And took in the Nemo ride there too. One thing this trip would reveal is how much I missed growing up…and how out of touch I was with some of the current films out there *cough*Frozen*cough*. I’d never seen any of the Nemo movies, so needless to say I blanked when a small child, in wanting to make some innocent conversation in the queue, asked me which character was my favourite from the film.

“You can’t get better than Nemo,” I responded, not wanting to disappoint him. “I mean he’s bright and orange and just awesome!”

On the Nemo ride, we were entertained by many of the characters from the film.

2-10 turlt

I still have no idea who that turtle is.

After a brief break over at Downtown Disney for lunch and then a rather disappointing jaunt at DisneyQuest, we took the bus back to Epcot, figuring we’d continue the rest of our day leisurely until the fireworks show came on at 9pm, when the park closed.

We wandered around the different countries and then we also managed to stumble into several characters, including Winnie the Pooh, Princess Aurora, and several others.

2-36 real mary

2-38 belle

2-40 aurora close up

2-42 aladdin-jasmine side

We also took in several of the structures around the different countries. For some odd reason, these stone/sand structures in China just creeped me out.

2-57 chinamen

We also took in a boat ride underneath the Mexico Aztec temple when it got much darker.

2-78 fiesta hoy

I was also quite disheartened I wasn’t going to be able to take one of these home with me from the German stand. I’ve been itching to go to Germany but it is surely two years or so off now.

2-86 german apple

Finally, I stopped in Norway to have a quick open-faced sandwich, reminding me of my days in Denmark, although, let’s face it, the sandwiches there were so much better. I then encountered a queue that was ridiculously long. Oh, another character, I thought. I walked the other way to the meeting room exit to come across this.

Who on earth were these people?

2-84 elsa

“Elsa! Elsa!” a kid screamed. I scratched my head. Who was Elsa? The only Elsa I knew was my co-worker and work was the last thing I wanted to be on my mind.

Then I saw the “Frozen” sign on the front. It was another film that I’d never heard of until now; upon hitting the shops and checking my smartphone later on, I would find out Frozen was released last summer, all whilst being miles deep in schoolwork. Ugh. Incidentally I might have just saved myself from an embarrassing situation. At least I recognized every other character I had taken a picture with.

Soon night fell and we took in the fireworks display.

2-87 epcot night

3-1 fireworks 1

All in all, a great day that we had to enjoy Epcot. But it was Friday, and my attention soon had to turn to race day.

On Saturday, I tried yet another acclimation run, but again, my eyes started getting puffy from water loss. After cold compressing the area, I managed to get an early 4pm pasta dinner at the Wolfgang Puck cafe and got my kit ready back at the hotel, with a planned lights out at 6pm. I talked to my dad at that time, he sensed the nerves in my voice but he reassured me that I’d be okay no matter what.

At around quarter til 6pm, I got the most unusual call from my mother. After shellacking me all winter break – and all year for that matter – for training for this race, she called me to wish me luck and to think positive tomorrow. I checked the caller ID to make sure no one was mimicking her or prank calling me. It couldn’t be possible.

Hell must be freezing over at this point.

And after I went to bed, two more of my friends from the northeast, Caroline and Shohreh, left a melodic message at 9pm before hitting the clubs, also wishing me the best of luck. It was a message that I woke up and played back around 2am.

2am. This was it. Shower, kit change and my cereal and milk here and was going to hit the bus around 3:20am. Runners had to get the last bus from the hotel by 4am otherwise they would not make the start.

The Race

My eyes were still puffy from Saturday’s episode and mentally I was not 100% percent. I kept trying to tell myself I was at Disney and that everything would be okay. If the heat or my shins acted up, just walk at 15 minutes and just collect that medal even though my body clearly could do so much more.

6-1 prerace

Eventually, I queued up for the bus when the runner behind me – a Goofy challenge competitor named Marla – offered me her son’s Race Retreat pass. Considering this ran $55 per person, I regretted not having anything on me I could give her in return but she mentioned she just wanted to get rid of it as her son wasn’t able to make it with her. We chatted on the bus – she had driven up 3 hours from Boca Raton to make Saturday’s race and crashed in the Pop Century for one night. She also complained to me that her husband royally hated anything Disney and admitted that she had a poor experience when he accompanied her to last year’s Goofy Challenge. It was quite the weird coincidence as strangely one of my friends who had come with me was also vacationing from her husband – in fact he was completely unaware of her trip with us. (Disclaimer: Chances of her being outed by me are nil, as no pictures of her are anywhere to be seen on social media.)

It struck me because I had always thought of Disney as a family-oriented place, but given the sheer number of solitary men and women – particularly the older crowd – I wasn’t feeling so bad thinking of Disney as a place to get away from family, to be carefree, to be ourselves and not have anyone whinge at us for doing so. Just another version of what a happy place could be for someone.

6-2 bus

We continued chatting until the bus dropped us off in the Epcot parking lot. Soon we were at security checkpoint and the bag drop off station. Security was smooth and easy to get through, no hangups or long queues. One major change was that EVERYTHING – all bags, and even running pouches, had to be checked. Still I got through quickly.

Once we were through we came to a vast area where we could hit the retreat, stretch outside or get ice. The bag check was to a tent to the right, and the race retreat tent to the left.

6-3 pre race bedlam

Sensing my body was colder – we were starting at 55 degrees or so – I marched into the race retreat tent, holding up my wrist with the gifted retreat band around it.

6-4 retreat

The retreat tent was worth the trip, more than, it was warmer, there was a lounge area to relax and watch TV, a stretch area, where you could get heat sheets (which I did) for when you waited in the corrals, and plenty of coffee, tea, bananas, bagels, dried cranberries, and such. I had taken a banana with me but also carried a Powerade bottle on my person in anticipation of the jump in temperature. There were many tables and chairs for people to sit and warm up but most importantly was how short, and sequestered the bathroom queue was. And there were separate makeshift sinks where runners would use their feet to pump water and wash their hands with soap. First time I’ve ever seen those.

After spending time at the retreat tent, the emcee started calling corrals to start the long – and I mean – long walk to the freeway where we would begin. Only runners were allowed past the white tents and slowly it was a long walk in the coolness of the night.

Mentally it felt like a deathmarch. My stomach felt weird and my legs felt meh. Soon we were in our corrals when Mickey, Donald, and Goofy started talking about the Dopey challengers and throwing out the usual jokes.

6-5 first corral

Finally, the national anthem. And before you knew it, the wheelchair competitors and then the first corral was off. Fireworks went off as each and every corral crossed the start.

6-6 fireworks

Mentally it took until our corral was right against the start line for me to whip myself into shape.

This is it, this is all what it comes down to. Make the most of it, I told myself, and just have fun, breathe easy. Just cross that finish, no matter what your time.

6-7 start

Miles 1-3: We were flying on the freeway with the temperatures in the mid-50s. Our corral being right in the middle of the pack, started off at 6am. My main strategy was to cover as much ground as possible before the sun came up. The first few miles, there were 3-4 high school bands playing fight songs or songs to keep the runners pumped up and this did help. These first few miles were mostly flat and easy and I cruised easily as we sped into Magic Kingdom.

Bathroom facilities and water and such were plenty and I had no issues so far. So far, so good.

6-8 mile 3

Miles 3-6: After passing the entrance, we headed through Main Street and through the Magic Kingdom. There was a stretch of road before actually hitting Main Street and once we did, we encountered a slight and gradual hill. But this I knew about so it was not an issue for me. The downside was that already, the sun was coming up.

6-9 mile 4

This was also the very first opportunity for the first photo-op. My choice was to skip most photo-ops in the first half of the race and then if I felt I had time or energy, queue up for 1-2 in the second half. I skipped a section where you could have a shot taken in front of Cinderella’s castle, but did manage to shoot before we hit the underpass.

6-10 mile 6

After Cinderella’s castle, it was a sharp descent and off we headed through a series of back roads. It would be another six miles before we hit another park.

Miles 6-9: Back roads and then leading into Disney’s Motor Speedway, which would prove to be the first signs of trouble amongst the runners in my corral. This area was a series of backroads that were mostly barren. More highschool bands, a few DJs here and speakers there though.

“Sweet Caroline” played around Mile 7, to the shock of one runner who complained it should be the Mile 22 song. It didn’t matter though, as the sun rose, any motivational music would keep me going. We passed more back roads and such, another band and another DJ. The sun was up by now and the humidity was beginning to set in.

6-11 mile 9

In particular I noticed the effects on everyone around me as we hit the relatively steep underpass leading into Disney’s Speedway. Not a single runner around me ran up that underpass. Furthermore, that underpass was really another hill and that hill even if man-made caught me off guard.

But the reaction of the other runners? I did not expect a mass slowdown by the crowd. That was telling of what was to come.

We rounded the speedway and caught sight of the cars on the edge. Quite a few awesome antiques.

Miles 10-14: Once we left the speedway it was another few miles of barren road as the temperature continued to rise. My cardiovascular system started to tax itself and I tried run-walking and extra fluids to try and tame the heart rate, but I found myself at one point going slightly worse than a 12 minute mile. Not good, I thought. I’m okay when I go slow but it’s scary the humidity was making me go THAT slow. Needless to say, I found myself refilling my water bottle with equal amounts of Powerade and water. And even then I was losing way too much water as my skin acted as a third kidney. Ouch.

6-12 mile 14

Around Mile 13, we reached Animal Kingdom and effectively, the halfway point. I felt weird, I made it halfway. At the same time, I was also intrigued by Animal Kingdom, as I’d never been there and many people had told me that it “wasn’t that good” or worthy as an attraction. Maybe another child-oriented park? Probably. There had been plenty of goats harnessed with bibs held by staff members to entertain us another mile back though. Animal Kingdom staff cheered us on as we trooped through the park, and Mile 14 brought us to a back end, and a slight incline as we passed through and by a recycling facility whose stench didn’t help the nauseating effect of the humidity. The sun was also starting to shine brighter, which, despite wearing a bright cap, didn’t help my case.

6-13 mile 14 sign

Miles 15-17: Another straightforward and long stretch of open road. One rolling hill after another going over a couple of bridges. We were on our way to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and on this stretch was more music but a noticeable uptick in runners stopping at medical tents and such. The sun and the heat really started bearing down upon us, taxing my breathing even further. Around Mile 17 though did I notice a hairpin turn; the runners that were already through the sports complex. As I closed in on every mile, I felt a little more confidence that even if I had to walk it off, I would complete this but still at the same time I was trying to regain a bit of the time that I had lost.

We made a right on the intersection leading to the complex, a route that took us through all the major facilities.

Miles 18-21: We started through the soccer field, then the football field, then the track. Strangely enough at Mile 18 itself, another song blasted on the speakers that yet again, late in a race, boosted my spirits.

The irony was that I absolutely hated this song when it was first released. Today? It resulted in me fistpumping with everyone else and waving my hands and picking up my pace.

6-14 track

After the track, we rounded the baseball field. I had another episode of major fluid intake; I tried in vain to figure out where the bathrooms were in this part of the course, but unfortunately they were not clearly marked. I would not be able to find another bathroom until mile 22.

6-15 sign 20

After we left the facilities, we continued up another long road and then we caught the final hill, another that caught me off guard: an exit ramp. Ugh. It was also at mile 21 that I began to heat cramp at the top of my quads and I started piling the Biofreeze on at the medical station.

To add to the mental anguish, when a medical staffperson complained they were reaching the bottom of the barrel with the Biofreeze, a male runner complained it was because “we are the bottom of the barrel!”

Ouch. I mean really now, even to say that for yourself…

And if that weren’t bad enough, I caught sight of another runner going to eat the Biofreeze. Ew. It turned out it was a Chilean runner (bearing his country’s flag around his waist) who didn’t understand English. We had to tell him in Spanish not to eat the gel and instead to apply it onto his body. I asked him if it was his first marathon, and incidentally it was.

Now that would have been a cruel lesson to learn.

Miles 22-24: This part of the race took us through Disney’s Hollywood Studios, another part of Disney that I had also never been to and was also told that it did not quite live up to its billing.

6-16 studios

We entered the park and hit up a snack area where we were given pieces of chocolate. I was dehydrated that the chocolate did not taste like chocolate but it was better than nothing.

After exiting the Hollywood Studios, we crossed two large hotel complexes, the luxury Swan and Dolphin Hotel, followed by the Camp Wilderness Beach and Marina.

6-17 marina

We ran on the wooden pathway as the sun continued beating down; temperatures at this point were around 90 degrees. My bottle was filled and filled again, determined not to succumb to dehydration.

Finally we went deep into the marina, cheered on by parkgoers who doubled as spectators and such. And little did I know the marina’s edge led to a gate that opened up right into Epcot and the end.

6-18 25

Miles 25-26: At this point as the gates were opened, we were greeted in the United Kingdom part of Epcot by throngs of spectators. I gulped back what just might have been tears because it was not too long ago that it just wasn’t looking great for me. And now here I was. It was just about over.

We rounded out the edge of the World Showcase area and hooked around through Future World. Then the Mile 26 marker. I was screaming to see the finish line, just I had been when I had run MCM. We left Epcot park and then headed to the parking lot, preceded by a large grandstand. And there it was, the finish line. I throw my fists in the air, I had survived my body and survived the heat.

It wasn’t pretty but it was still mission accomplished.

The Aftermath

Well I was thoroughly disappointed on my time, but I knew once the temperatures went about 70, I was going to be in trouble. But considering all that had happened in the fall, shin issues and all, I was relieved I’d recovered to finish this race and finally hold my gigantic medal.

I immediately headed over to the medal area, where I collected my medal. Absolutely loved it.

6-19 medal

As I received a bevy of text messages from friends and family, I took a seat down at the ice station as I had my very sore calves iced up as well as my knees. I continued down the chute where I received another heatsheet, water bottles, more Powerade and finally as we progressed into another tent, our snack boxes.

6-21 bento

We all had our pictures taken before heading out into the crowd and promptly taking a bus ride back to our hotel rooms for a nice hot shower and a bit of rest before the cooldown party.

The Cooldown Party

This is probably another aspect of my experience that was a bit disappointing although I had the chance of meeting fellow runner from Twitter Angie (@AngieMaskeBerka) and her husband Josh (@joshberka). Both had completed the Dopey Challenge and were unwinding. It was awesome getting caught up on race plans and chatting regarding what the future held for all of us on the pavement.

The cooldown party was not actually a party per se, simply an open market of locations in Downtown Disney that offered discounts to runners trying to squeeze in some last minute shopping. Of course there was one problem: none of the places I went to on the discount list actually honored their discounts. At least accessories store Little MissMatched was upfront about the discrepancy – it was supposed to be a pair of socks with the purchase of something else. But two eateries flat out did not give discounts advertised for and that was just shocking.


Would I do Disney again? The price of such a trip would make it an interesting decision. But on merits alone? If money didn’t matter, and I was considering the race alone, and nothing else, I would participate in Marathon Weekend again, but likely NOT the full marathon. The heat was crazy and the humidity for me was borderline unbearable. Admittedly I knew that if I wanted a more realistic time goal for Disney I should attempt to run another half marathon like Oddyssey or Wildwood in August to get used to running in hot temperatures. Even then I’m not sure how I’d fare: I still remember a 12 mile training run in early September I had to cut short at five miles because I was getting light-headed. It makes me wonder that my body might just not be cut out for runs at more than 80 degrees.

Ironically those that ran the half this year were said to have worse amounts of humidity and actually started at a nastier temperature.

However, even with a more or less cleaner race experience, I was partially disappointed by the expo, even more upset with the lack of clearly marked bathrooms in the second half of the race. If existing buildings are going to be used, they need to be more clearly marked.

I had a blast here at Disney and I felt for the most part, I had made the most of my trip and got the recharging that I need. But between the rest of my so-called bucket list and the disappointments I felt through race weekend, the most critical being the bathroom situation, I just would feel hard pressed to spend such funds again to come here. Then again, most of these issues were relatively minor, save the weather.

I can’t really hold the race accountable for weather though, I’d known long before that weather here was unpredictable (sleet in 2010!!). The bathroom issue can easily be fixed in future years and Disney races are otherwise very well organized.

Overall, I think I could see myself here again. It’s possible I have to adjust expectations here in terms of goal time – and a lot of people did. It’s possible I might do the half…or maybe just maybe I might return and do the full again. Goofy could be a stretch too far, but who knows, right?

If you haven’t run Disney though and are looking into it, it should definitely be on your bucket list. Save up the money, you will not regret it.

Walt Disney World Marathon and Expo Weekend Recap, Part 1

Walt Disney World Marathon and Expo Weekend Recap, Part 1

1-7-7 ariel

Part 1 of my recap will cover my arrival, expo experience as well as general observations.

Part 2 will cover my race experience and the afterparty.

Race: Walt Disney Marathon Presented By Cigna
Location: Walt Disney World (Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios), Lake Buena Vista, FL
Distance: 42.2 km (26.2 miles)
Date/Start Time: 12 January 2014, 5:30am
Distance Travelled to Compete: 1577 km (980 miles)
Weather conditions: Varies each year from sleet (2010) to blistering heat (2013). Average temps are between 50-70 in January.
Course conditions: Mostly flat but a gradual hill around Cinderella’s castle (mile 6), sharp hills at the speedway underpass (mile 9), after Animal Kingdom (mile 15) and an exit ramp at Mile 21.
Preview: Second marathon ever, I was training hard and well until I picked up a shin injury that forced me to sit out my tune-up half in November, the Philly Half. With the help of strength training, a change in running form and massage therapy, I got back on track. Only one X-factor to worry about, the unpredictable weather.

The Flight To Orlando (MCO)

Not too bad, with about 2.5 hours or so each way. Annoying on my end as this was the very first (and likely last) race I would do that involved flying. To make matters worse Delta for some inexplicable reason had moved up my flight one hour earlier…and then proceeded to cancel it as it was going through JFK Airport (Queens, NY) which was still recovering from the mess created from the preceding weekend’s polar vortex.

Luckily, Delta staff immediately rerouted me through Atlanta, with a shorter layover AND an upgrade. Sweeeeet!

1-1 plane ride

The bigger issue, however, was mental. First, there was the weather to contend with, the fact that I was coming off nursing a weakened shin long term despite moderate massage therapy courtesy of Brian at Phila Massages, additional weighttraining and a change in running form. All produced the desired changes and restrengthened my leg, but there was always that what-if situation. What if my body just got stubborn on race day?

Weather alone for me is cause for concern as I do very poor in heated conditions. My times at the Odyssey Half Marathon in 2011 and 2012 were both roughly 30 minutes slower than my PR. Average temperatures during those races were high 80s and low 90s with a load of humidity. The weather was the prime reason I opted never to run that race again, especially as the race directors have moved that race into a June time slot. No thanks.

All of this had me well nervous and it was the first time I was flying to a race. Oy. But at the same time, I was at Disney, I was told to enjoy it. I’d fought the odds to get here and it was a much needed break from the insanity of my life. It was the first time since 2005 that I really was able to take a getaway that I could enjoy myself for and thoroughly could disengage from everything. School, work, and family drama. It was much needed time for myself, and the coming days would show how much I’d forgotten and how badly I’d been desensitized and dehumanized.

Bearings Down and Off to the Expo

1-3 DME to resort

The first order of business was making my way to Disney’s Magical Express, a bus service that comes with any Disney hotel vacation package, an automatic that I’d gotten when I booked my spot for the marathon. It proved to be more than worth it as I did not want to drive and rental car fees were insane.

I got myself checked in and having just missed the cutoff for a local tweetup, decided instead to get myself situated in my hotel, get my bearings down, and head off to the expo. I got to my hotel room and having never been here, was taken back by simply how pervasive Mickey Mouse was.

1-5 ear towels

Seriously you could not escape it if you tried.

My hotel reminded me of a Disney-themed college campus. Every hotel had ten buildings to it. It was insanity. It was a massive compound.

Our room was relatively ordinary.

1-4 hotel first glance

But the rest of the grounds were not. Models of all sorts were everywhere. And since I stayed at the Pop Century Resort, there were many symbols of objects that reminded me of what it was like growing up.

The Big Wheel for one was a favourite with my brother.

1-7-2 big wheel

Foosball I recall being popular for me through university.

1-7-3 foosball

Finally, I decided to check out the gift shop, the commissary and the cafeteria, where I would have most of my meals, and most of these facilities would be available at nearly every Disney property.

1-7-1 hotel cafe entrance

It reminded me of the dining halls from university, just more personality to it!

1-10 cafeteria

There were other remnants of the past as well.

1-7-5 play doh

The Play-Doh really rolled back the years.

And sculptures of animated characters from Disney films at an adjacent hotel called the Art of Animation Resort.

1-9 triton

After getting myself sorted out, it was off to the expo.

1-7 headed to expo

The Expo

The expo for the Walt Disney Marathon was located at a separate facility known as the ESPN Wide World of Sports. From the Pop Century Resort, it was about a 10-20 minute bus ride from there. We had to take buses wherever we went and Downtown Disney, a shopping and entertainment area was only accessible by bus from just about every hotel.

The expo proved to be nearly too big for my liking. I had only signed up for the marathon race; the signature race for the year was the Dopey challenge, where runners would do all 4 races: the 5k, the inaugural 10k, the half and the full on each successive day. As I had arrived on Thursday with the 5k already finished, Dopey runners would have come in the previous day to pick up their shirts and packets. Even then, Goofy challenge (half on Saturday AND full on Sunday) runners had their shirts in one building and marathon and half marathon only participants had to pick up their stuff in a separate facility.

4-1 expo room 1

To begin with, I had trouble simply going downstairs to get my bib. Runners got their bibs in one area. Check. Then I went to the general merchandise area (above) and then was told that marathoners had to pick up their race kit in the Jostens building, which was back upstairs and in a separate building. Worst of all it was raining, and I was caught out without an umbrella.

Before then, I managed to take a closer look at the life-size course map and corral chart.

4-2 course map

4-3 corral

Charts were also up for the other races, including each of the challenges.

Jostens also had the full area of merchants, or not quite. MOST of the merchants were in the Jostens, along with kit pickup for each of the singular races.

4-4 merchants

I finally managed to make my way downstairs and to the back of the area to pick up my kit. My first true marathon kit – MCM did not issue technical shirts but rather souvenir mock neck shirts – so I was stoked. I took a closer look and it was awesome and fit true to size.

4-7 kit

I wandered around the merchants, looking through what was on display. There were sure a lot of things to buy, but of all the marathons I have been to, this was one with by far the least amount of freebies. Chiquita was handing out bananas and Dannon was having runners sample their new Greek yoghurt but other than those two vendors, every other was selling wares, and I tend to almost NEVER buy anything at an expo. New Balance and a few other vendors did come in with their special edition shoes for the Disney marathon and I had heard that bedlam had ensued with the release of different types of shoes, similar to the experience with the Nike Women’s Half in DC.

But those souvenir shoes run VERY expensive, and frankly I have 2 pairs of Pumas that will do the trick for me as solid casual shoes.

With the rain showing no signs of stopping, I decided to check out the speaker sessions and I was disappointed as I had missed the triathlete who had spoken earlier in the day. I was hoping that a race as big as Disney would surely have drawn an elite athlete and surely a decent appearance fee for that individual, but nope. No Kara Goucher, no Shalane. I had seen Ryan Hall and met him at MCM; Shalane Flanagan in passing at the Nike Women’s Half.

However, former winner of Biggest Loser Ali Vincent (who now hosts her own show) came on to give a motivation speech about her struggles with weight loss and fighting the mental battle of physically challenging yourself.

4-5 Ali Vincent

That speech reminded me of me. How I struggled to lose the weight in 2009 but did anyways, and just took a leap of faith for my first half marathon.

That seems like such a long time ago now. And even today, it feels weird to some extent.

After the rain subsided, I made my way to the baseball field and checked out the rest of the vendors. That’s right.

They all could not fit into one building. It was utterly insane.

4-6 wing

After some time, I made my way back to the bus depot. I was actually tired considering how much walking I simply had to do. Four different buildings for the expo. Two for the vendors, two for the kit pickups, official merchandise was scattered across two buildings and such. This race was not just big, it was clearly massive. And if you were looking for freebies and new things to try out, it would be disappointing. Certainly so compared to nearly every race I’ve done in the Northeast.

It was also disappointing for lack of an elite runner, and surely I imagine they might have tried. But I still took home a valuable lesson from Vincent’s talk and a valued stroll down memory lane. A positive thought if I ever needed one.

My recap will continue in Part 2, with our day out at Epcot and the race recap.

I’ve uploaded full photo albums on Pinterest:
Expo and Race is here and the trip to Epcot and general hotel shots are here.

Considering a RunDisney event in your future? Feel free to ask any questions!


On Disney’s Door

So here it is. One day before I set off to Florida. It’s crazy how the time has passed and it’s been over two years since my last full marathon.

Obviously the race isn’t until Sunday, but it feels so weird and even more weird having to deal with a polar vortex that has struck the North and Northeast US bringing temperatures down to well below freezing and then in a day, going from that to scorching hot temperatures.

It’s a tale of the two extremes, but it will be nice to get away for a few days.

I’m excited and nervous. Excitedly nervous and nervously excited.

I’m going to enjoy Disney. Given my shin injury last fall, I know I cannot push it too much but I am fairly confident that I will do okay. A huge shout out to Brian from Phila Massages who helped me sort out my shin issue – AND gave me some critical running tips that helped turn my training around.

I’m thoroughly bummed however, I will be missing the key meetups for Disney – I completely missed out on the signups for the official RunDisney meetup and my flight will not be arriving in time for an informal meetup that someone else is having.

I’m also currently debating whether to head to Epcot or Magic Kingdom for the day Friday. But more or less my weekend is planned out. More or less. I’m thinking Epcot though, or at least leaning towards it.

For now, it’s just packing, checking my list, making sure things are together.

I plan on taking loads of pictures for my race/expo recap and loads more pictures when I get to Disney. I’ll be sharing as I can on Twitter!

A Breath of Fresh Air

11 Funtown post-Sandy 1

It had been a long time coming, but I finally got out for a nice weekend getaway. With school and work having taken over my life, any sort of fun – even a weekend getaway – had been a true luxury. Life truly has passed me by, with many of my peers travelling the world or even the country, among other things. Strangely, I’ve only begun turning the corner in this respect.

With six weeks of freedom between mid-May and June, main highlights were a friend’s wedding, getting summer networking going with my graduate school association, a brief trip to the Jersey Shore, and a 4th of July camping trip to the Hamptons. It may seem mundane to many people, but this is a breath of fresh air after years in the proverbial dungeon. Even then, work is pounding hard though, and although still lacking a full-out vacation for years and counting, the six-week reprieve from school is also the first I’ve had in at least 2 years. In my 12 years living in Philly, not once I’ve been to the Jersey shore. (I did go to Wildwood, NJ with my family when I was 11, but I have no recollection of that now.) That’s how ridiculous it has been.

Money was tight until only a few years ago, but lately now, time is the real problem. Because my family does not see me nearly all year, this also makes getting away during the holidays – my only break from both work and school – impossible. Twice in the last two years, I’d attempted to travel abroad, only to anger my parents (another story for another post). Even then, my mother is still livid that I am taking off to run the Walt Disney Marathon, but things have unfortunately come to a point I needed to put my foot down.

That said, WDW will be my first vacation in eight years, so I need to just hang in yet again until then. And even then after that, I get slammed with my capstone semester. Two prospective trips abroad are in the making, but they are more than a year off now.

So with all this in mind, I was incredibly excited to go to the Jersey Shore. Julie, a friend who I met through school, is from North Jersey and her mother has a beach house in Lavallette, NJ, just five minutes north of a more populated Seaside Heights, and about half an hour south of Point Pleasant. The area was greatly affected by Hurricane Sandy, and my friend’s mother spent easily thousands of dollars renovating and repairing the damage. Lavallette had not taken as much damage as Seaside Heights (pictures to follow) but flooding kept residents out for nearly two months.

Last weekend, we hit the road to the beach, much needed on my end, having come off a two-week business trip to Charlotte that was intense.

On Saturday, the very first thing we did was enjoy the sun, and no complaints. I don’t recall having been to a beach since running the Shamrock Half in March 2011. Before that my memories of Wildwood (age 11) and Ocean City MD (age 8) and OCNJ (right after high school graduation) are very distant. So the feeling of sand was something I was really enjoying, I think I had spent several hours getting my feet all comfy with the sand.

My friends probably thought I was weird, but after I told them I hadn’t been to the beach in ages, frankly after that I didn’t care.

1 SatPMrelax

After a few hours of sun, we all headed in to my friend’s house and started preparing for the barbecue. Of the 13 in the entire party only three of us were vegetarians, myself being one of them. Nonetheless, we prepared an extensive menu, one that easily accomodated us, between salmon and chicken sandwiches, mozzarella cheese on tomato and balsamic vingear, a host of grilled veggies, corn, and goodness knows what else.

5 more food prep

Julie’s husband proceeded to cook the meanest salmon he could, which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

6 Corys salmon masterpiece

Seriously, it was delish. And with the sangrias, I had no complaints. I also went for gusto and tried some of the beer. The Centennial IPA was profusely bitter but as he was a heavy beer drinker, they also tend to be heavily biased towards IPAs, so another one of our friends brought in a Bell’s Oberon mini-keg, which had an orange accent to it.

The best part of all this was the camaraderie. Everyone was easygoing, and just catching up on life and people talking about all sorts of things. From future vacation plans (needless to say, everyone was harping on mine!) to wedding plans and everything in between.

Unfortunately for me, my runner’s diet of very scant amounts of alcohol year-round did me in. I found myself crashing out sooner than expected that night although most of the rest of the party went to a nearby crab house that evening.

The next day, we hit the beach again and the boardwalk. Sunday morning as I was told, was completely dead. Completely.

10 Sunday morning

One thing I learnt about Jersey boardwalks – the boardwalk culture is very different from other beaches I had been used to or had heard about from my parents. On weekend mornings, there are swarms of bikers, joggers, and walkers getting up and getting active on the boardwalk. But here, I was told, no one gets up early in the morning and no one cites the boardwalk until the afternoon, and later on I could see why.

I also shouldn’t have been surprised as the hit-reality show Jersey Shore made these areas known for its insane nightlife, but then again of course, I wouldn’t have known this.

After a few hours on the beach, we hit the Seaside Heights boardwalk. To our right, we saw how badly the area had been affected by Hurricane Sandy the previous fall.

14 Funtown 4

The amusement park was still in tatters and some developments still had not been fully rebuilt.

19 Beach soccer 3

Nearby where the cranes were rebuilding, a beach soccer tournament was going down. I took in the boardwalk, but now I could see what Julie meant by a purely nighttime vibe. There was hardly a breakfast area anywhere near the boardwalk, it had a very nightlife/party atmosphere to it. Even in broad daylight.

20 Beach Soccer 4

Unfortunately our time seaside came to an end. I left with two of my other friends for back home but not without feeling so much more relaxed. Much needed for a crazy week at work to follow and I’m hoping I will be back soon.