It was a good day for a run. The temperature was around sixty, and it was foggy. I left my hotel room with my trusty roommate and crew chief Lori in tow around four in the morning. My hotel was about a half-mile walk from the Disneyland Parks entrance and then about another half mile or so to the starting line. I considered this a nice warm up for the race. Too bad it was a wasted effort, as I would get to the starting line around 4:30 am and stand there until about 6:40 am when my group was finally called to the starting line. This one’s a little long guys but feel free to get the rest after the jump.
This race had the same air of excitement that my runs at Disney World had, and that really helped keep me excited while I waited for my chance to run this magical thirteen and one tenth mile course. A Disney race is like no other I’ve been to. They just seem to take everything a few steps farther and nicer than anyone else can or does which makes their races so nice to be a part of. Even just standing in the starting coral I could feel the energy and hear the music and the hosts pumping me up through loud speakers. There were large video screens showing runners as they stood in line, crossed the starting line, or just interacted with the hosts and characters at the starting line stage. It can easily take you out of your pre race nerves and make you just want to run. I did not turn in a race time so I was placed in the last corral to start so I was skeptical about that situation to say the least. I knew that I was going to be surrounded by slower runners and walkers, which would not help me navigate this course with ease. I kept seeing people walking around with signs in other corrals that had goal times on them, and I wanted to sneak over to at least the 2:30 group, thinking that if they were in the coral in front of me I was indeed in for an interesting time in the crowd I was with.
It turned out to be a great experience in that corral as I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people who were interested in my ”shoes” and my shirt. I was doing a little self-promotion with my gobarefooting technical shirt as well as running in my bright blue Bikilas. I had thought of running this course barefoot or in my ZEMs, but a recent injury forced me away from both of those options. My heel spur has healed a lot over the last two months or so, and I’m glad for that, but I am nowhere near back to normal, and that really hindered my training and comfort levels for this race. In the nearly two months leading up the race I had one six-mile run and a couple of three milers to get me ready for a thirteen-mile race. You are thinking correctly if you’re thinking that does not add up. I had one three-mile run in my Bikilas two weeks before the race and decided that since I had minimal pain on that run, I could wear them for the race and be ok. Not my most sound logic ever, but it worked out okay in the end.
Truth be told, I do not recommend anyone do what I did, which was run a race on such a small amount of training and with an injury that should keep you from running at all. That is not a lesson I want you to learn from me. With that said, this race was a mission for me, a proving ground, and a lost expense if I sat it out. I want to say one of those reasons weighed more than others, but the truth is that they all factored fairly equally in my decision to go for it. I’ve spent the last year proving to myself that I can be a runner again, and completing Disney’s Coast to Coast Challenge was what I set my sights on to make that statement so I “had” to run. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could face adversity and continue like I used to. I had let my knee injuries and surgery make me a non-believer in myself, and this race, this challenge, was something I felt I needed to prove I was past that. I also spent a lot of money on the trip for this race, and well that’s about as big a reason to do something as anything else, whether we want to admit it or not.
I did a lot of teaching in my corral about running bare and minimal and really enjoyed all the people I met while we stood there watching thousands of people get to take off running before us. Once the host finally called our group to the starting line, everyone said good luck, and just like that we were off. I felt good at the start, which I always love about races. In a training run I need at least a mile before I feel decent, but in a race I have adrenaline on my side, and that first mile feels good instead of painful. The first few miles center around the parks and through the parks, which is always exciting and entertaining. The only problem with it is that the paths are a little narrow, and it’s difficult to get into a good stride, but other than that I really enjoy getting to fly through a Disney park with characters and cast members lining the course to cheer me on.
After we left the parks I was feeling good about the race. My energy was up, my cardio was strong, and my feet felt good so I was in a happy place. The course was now on city streets, and there was plenty of room for me to work my way through the crowd and really let my legs loose. Through the first six miles or so I was really wondering how my body was feeling so good. The sky was cloudy and the air was cool and crisp so that made me feel great. I was keeping a pace that was faster than I anticipated and decided I would just forget about it all at that point. I quit looking at my Garmin and forgot about my time. I figured I was feeling good enough to just enjoy the run so I put it all out of my mind and ran.
Boy the difference a mile makes. Around mile seven I started to feel a tender spot on my right big toe. I knew I was getting a blister, but once you’re out on a course there is really nothing you can do about it so you just keep going and hope that in a little while it goes numb, so that’s what I did. About that time I started to notice the balls of my feet not being happy and at first I took it to just be the distance and stress on feet that were not allowed proper training, and I tried to just put it out of my mind. Somewhere between miles eight and nine we wound up running next to a ravine, and the terrain changed from paved roads to a loose, gritty dirt trail. I thought this would be nice, but it was not. The dirt got in my shoes, and I could feel it scraping my feet as I slipped around with each step. It was difficult to get good footing in this stuff, and the rolling hills through it did not help any. My only consolation during this time was that I knew I would soon be arriving at Angel Stadium where I could again get some scenery and run through the field.
Running through a tunnel and coming out in a loud and raucous baseball stadium was exciting! I did not expect so many people to be in there, but there had to be hundreds if not more in the stands, screaming and cheering for the runners as we ran the warning track of the outfield. As I ran down the third base line I looked up and saw myself on the jumbotron, and then I was back in a tunnel and on my way down an access road. The crowd and stadium run were amazing, and I was feeling pumped as I got back out on the open streets and told myself to pick up the pace. It was then that I realized I had a problem. My feet were killing me.
I had spent the majority of time since mile six running on rough terrain, much rougher than anything I typically train on, and my feet were feeling it. The roads were rough, and the asphalt was gnarled up. It was very similar to gravel in texture, and even with my Bikilas protecting my feet, I was feeling each and every little bump. For the past three miles I was able to ignore it, and I’m sure the dirt trail distraction helped, but now I was fully aware of the rough roads and my now very tender feet. I could feel my pace slow, and I was in a constant debate about what to do. Should I just back off and let the pain dictate how I finished or should I force myself to hold pace and shoot for a good time?
I wound up doing a little of both as I worked to keep my feet moving at a quick pace from mile nine to eleven. Around that time the course popped up on an access road to Interstate 5, and the terrain got smooth again. My feet were still hurting, and I could now feel my quads, calves, and hip flexors getting really stiff, but I was able to hold my pace and focus on the finish line that was getting ever closer. I kept telling myself that I only had a 5K left, and I could do that. Then it was two miles left, and I could do that. With about a mile to go I was running on rough park back roads again, and my feet were just about ready to detach themselves from my ankles and tell me they were done with me, but I wouldn’t let them. I put on the tunnel vision, and I took off.
My plan was to just give the last mile everything I had left. The faster I get to the finish line the sooner the pain goes away. Of course we all know that the pain would last much longer than that, but I hoped my feet didn’t know the things I kept telling them to keep going. With about a quarter mile left I rounded a corner and saw my mom leaning over a railing, screaming her head off. This woman has powerful lungs so I hope the poor people that were running over near her have not suffered any hearing problems due to the exposure. Still, seeing her there cheering and smiling really made everything I was dealing with go away, and the finish line was right there in my sights. I picked up my knees, threw my arms, and sped straight towards the big blue banner with one of the greatest words in the English language, FINISH, written boldly across it.
Just before the finish line I saw my favorite character of all time, and I threw my hand up. In return the one and only Goofy raised his hand and congratulated me on a race well done with a good old-fashioned high five. Shortly after that I saw my dad and Lori with my mom, who had already made it over to them, all craning their necks over the crowd to get my attention. They waved, smiled, and gave the thumbs up which made me feel really good. I was glad to have all that support there.
I crossed the line with a time of 2:16, which is actually a PR for me. I know it’s not a very fast time, but I’ve only run three halves so far, and this one just happened to be the fastest yet. Getting my best time ever with absolutely no training is something I am surprised about as well as motivated by. I have a lot of room for improvement in my quest to become a runner again and leave my injury demons behind.
Still, that time is not why I ran this race. I ran it for a medal, a single and solitary piece of metal to hang around my neck and now on my wall. The Coast-to-Coast Challenge medal says I made it. I went to Florida in January to start it all off, and I finished it in California this past weekend. I took the challenge from Disney, my good friend Matt Hester, and myself to do something I thought was forever out of reach for my bum knee and me. I took the challenge, and I met it. I met it, and I will never forget how it felt. I will never forget what it meant, and will certainly never forget how it brought me back to a life I had written off. A life I thought was gone forever and a life I now enjoy again: the life of a runner.