The Run Disney Calendar, Take Two


Here’s my fourth blog entry, Running Disney: Run the Disney Calendar, Continued! for WDW Radio. To read my original post visit here:

As mentioned in my previous blog entry, the crown jewel of Run Disney’s calendar is its first race of the year, WDW Marathon Weekend.  However, there are other races throughout the year that really are special and deserve the consideration of my fellow DisneyGeeks that either currently enjoy running…or are looking for a reason to purchase their really cool first pair of gel-infused Nike’s.  So I’ll paint a quick picture of each race, hoping that some of you might be motivated to earn a run Disney medal in the near future.

The newest race on the run Disney calendar is the Tinkerbell Half Marathon, scheduled for its inaugural running during the weekend of January 27th-29th 2012.  This race goes off three weeks after the WDW Marathon, in Disneyland.  No other real details are available as of yet – but I’ll keep you posted on any details I may hear.

Walt Disney World’s Princess Half Marathon occurs annually in late February (the next run is scheduled for the weekend of February 24th – 26th 2012).  I’ve heard nothing but great things about this race!  It’s slated as a women’s half marathon, although approximately 300-400 men ran it last year, I believe.  As a father of a 12 year-old daughter that’s just dipping her toe into running, I think this race is absolutely fantastic.  It’s a true celebration of women’s’ strength.

The first weekend in March brings us to the Champion 5k race, run as part of ESPN the Weekend in Walt Disney World.  March is a great time to run in WDW – the humidity is low, the temperature is just right, and a 5k distance is a wonderful entry race for any new runner.  If you’ve never run before (or haven’t run in quite a while), and you are looking for a manageable distance with a fun atmosphere, put this one on your calendar!

In early May, the Everest Challenge is run in Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.  This race is….well…unique.  I just ran it about 3 months ago, and had a really fun time.  It’s run in the evening, and it is more than just a 5k jog past the home of the Yeti.  The race begins in the parking lot of the park, sends you through the front gates, and winds you past the Tree of Life.  At several points along the next three miles, you have the added challenge of maneuvering up, over, and around various obstacles in addition to your evening jog.  Once you cross the finish line, the challenge is only half complete!  You are then handed a tiny flashlight, a pen and a map, and sent back into the park on a scavenger hunt!  The prize?  An extremely cool medal that doubles as a compass!

The Run Disney race series takes a bit of a break from mid May through the end of August as school’s out for the summer and, let’s face it, it’s more fun to work on our tans than train for a race!

The Disneyland Half Marathon is run each Labor Day Weekend.  I ran the inaugural race in 2006, and it was an absolute blast.  Through the streets of Anaheim, around the warning track of the Anaheim Angels’ baseball stadium, and through Disneyland itself, the sites and sounds of this race were a joy to experience.  I’m sure that, 5 years later, this race has consistently improved.  If you’re thinking of a first half marathon, this could be the one for you.  It’s flat and fast, and the finisher’s medal rocks!

The Wine and Dine Half Marathon is run in early October (the next one is scheduled for the weekend of September 30th – October 1st 2011).  While I don’t want to end this blog entry on a sour note, I do need to be honest about this race: I ran the inaugural one last year, and was quite disappointed by the lack of proper lighting on parts of the course (it’s another night time race), as well as the lack of organization within the finishers area and the afterparty in Epcot’s World Showcase.  That being said, I am sure that Disney received a ton of feedback on how to improve this race…and I look forward to seeing the positive changes in less than 2 months.

So there you have it – the Run Disney calendar at a glance.  In my next entry, I’ll begin to share some ideas on how to pick the right race for you, as well as how to get started on your trek toward finishing your first Disney race.  Until then, make sure to double-knot your shoe laces!  And if you have any feedback, comments, etc., please feel free to email me at joseph_kolinsky@yahoo.com

My Thoughts Regarding the WDW Marathon Weekend, Running Disney: Running the Disney Calendar


My original blog post Running Disney: Run the Disney Calendar for WDW Radio can be found here ….and yes…my 3rd blog entry for WDW Radio…..have I bored you yet?  No worries – I’ll get back to whining soon…..

In this blog entry, I’ll begin to summarize for my fellow DisneyGeeks the Run Disney calendar of events.  For those of you that are already runners (but haven’t given a Disney race a shot yet), hopefully these descriptions will help you select the race that sounds best for you to dip your toe into the Run Disney water.  And for those of you that are considering taking up walking, jogging, or running, maybe these descriptions can help you select the first race you enter.  As a reeeeeeally slow runner, I know that I need a carrot to dangle in front of myself in order to stay focus while I’m training.  Is there any bigger carrot to dangle in front of my eyes than a trip to WDW?  Not for me there isn’t!

So the Run Disney calendar kicks off in a BIG way, with what has become their signature event: The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.  There are shorter distance races for kids, a 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) race on Friday, followed by a Half Marathon on Saturday and, to put a huge bow on the racing weekend, The Walt Disney World Marathon goes off on Sunday.  Some absolutely crazy runners actually run the half marathon on Saturday, and then wake up the next morning to run the full marathon.  Let’s face it – you gotta be Goofy to do that, right?  So if you run both races on this weekend, you travel home with not 1….not 2….but 3 medals!  A Donald Duck medal is hung around the necks of all Half Marathon finishers.  A very shiny Mickey medal is all yours, as long as you run all 26.2 miles on Sunday.  And….if you dare to run both….you also earn the Goofy Challenge medal, thereby making it clearly evident to those around you that the cheese must have fallen off of your cracker a loooooong time ago.  (I ran the Goofy Challenge in 2009, and most of my buddies have taken that act as firm confirmation that I’m slightly…well….askew).

This weekend of races has historically been held the second weekend in January.  The next WDW Marathon weekend is slated for January 5th – January 8th, 2012.  As of June 30th, the half marathon and the full marathon were at 50% of their overall participant capacity (which reminds me – I got to sign up soon).

The Family 5k Fun Run held on Friday, January 6th takes the participants through Epcot.  I think this is a great opportunity for teens (or tweens) to get their first taste of running in a large group with a runner pinned to their shirts.  Fun runs like this aren’t held with a fierce competitive overtone to them, so each person can go at his or her own pace and feel the satisfaction of finishing a distance that maybe they’ve attempted before!

The Walt Disney World Half Marathon will be held on Saturday, January 7th.  The race takes the runners through the Magic Kingdom before a big finish in Epcot.  Runners have the opportunity to run through Cinderella’s Castle, down Main Street USA, and through the World Showcase.  There are characters and photo opportunities everywhere, so most runners don’t come into this race with a goal time in mind…but I bet they run with a camera in their hands!

The Walt Disney World Marathon will be held on Sunday, January 8th.  This race is truly special, because it’s the only race on the Run Disney calendar that allows the participants to run through all four theme parks.  The number of characters out along the course, rooting for the runners, is amazing.  By finishing this race, each runner can say that he or she was in every one of the four theme parks….before lunchtime (or, in my case, before a late dinner – I really need to stop running with a grand piano on my back….but I digress…)!

Volunteer support throughout the weekend is fantastic.  Water stops and medical facilities are always available.  Cheering spectators can be found lining the various courses all weekend, helping you to achieve your goal.  By the time you pack your bags for home, you cannot help but depart with an incredibly positive vibe that you’ll carry with you for weeks….hopefully months!

Another good thing about this Marathon Weekend is the time of year that it’s scheduled for.  Early January provides comfortable temperatures and slightly lighter crowds within the parks. So you can celebrate your achievements by riding Splash Mountain, beating a family member at Toy Story Mania, or simply strolling down Main Street USA, taking in the splendor, unparalleled creativity and unique ingenuity that is Walt Disney World.

So get out there, get moving, and make sure you double-knot your shoe laces, because Marathon Weekend is only 6 months away!  In my next entry, I’ll continue to share with you brief a description of the other races that Run Disney offers.  In the meantime, if you have any general running questions, feel free to drop me a line at joseph_kolinsky@yahoo.com.  I’ll try my best to offer advice – and I’m more than willing to offer motivation to get your ears in gear!  I’m not a doctor, specialist, elite athlete or coach – I’ve just run a few of these races and I’ve made every single dumb mistake a runner can make.  If I can help you not to duplicate my utter stupidity, I’ll do my best!

In the words of my wise Irish grandmother,

“whether you think you can, or you think you can’t…you’re probably right.”

I’ve Added a Few New Blog Entries For WDW Radio, Running Disney: An Introduction


….and here’s my first one!  I hope you enjoy it!  I’ll get back to whining about my running life in just a bit….

Visit WDW Radio to read the original blog post Running Disney: An Introduction

Since you’re a fan of WDW Radio, I’m going to go out on a limb and just assume that you’re a Disney enthusiast.  Am I right?  I figured as much.  Well, so am I.  I’ve been called a “Disney Nerd”, a “Disney Geek”, a “Disney Addict”…and the list of labels goes on and on (and, frankly, I’m proud of every moniker that I’m assigned when it comes to my admiration for Walt and his works).   Spending time in the parks, at the resorts, and amongst fellow Disney enthusiasts makes each trip to WDW special for me.  I always seem to come home relaxed, refreshed, and with a bit of renewed creativity.

Another passion of mine is “running”.  Yes, that’s not a typo – I put the word “running” in quotes, because I firmly believe that what I do while wearing a pair of sneakers can be loosely referred to as running…although it looks more like waddling.  I look in the mirror each morning and the same thought passes through my rather dense cranium: I’m built for comfort, not speed.  But that doesn’t stop me from lacing up my sneakers at an obscene hour each morning and logging a few miles before going to work.  I know I’m slow – that I’m as quick as a turtle – but who cares!  Running – just like all things Disney – puts a smile on my face.

While my appreciation for Walt Disney World was easy to establish and cultivate through my joy of being a Dad (my daughter and I first visited WDW in 2004 – when she was 5 years old – and we’ve been Disney Geeks ever since), my passion for running was one that required a prolonged incubation period.  I always looked at running as a punishment.  In high school, if I threw an interception in a football game, the coach would yell “take a lap!”  In little league, if I struck out with runners in scoring position, my coach would yell “take a lap!”  When I joined a crew team in college, the first thing my coach would yell each morning was “take 5 laps!”  So let me be quite honest here: by the time I graduated college, I hated running.  However this opinion would drastically change after I made a promise to my daughter to run a marathon.  (I know – I should have promised her a Dole Whip and an Fastpass to Toy Story Mania – what was I thinking!)  I trained for and waddled through the 2005 ING New York City Marathon – and shortly after crossing the finish line, I wondered whether Disney held any running races at any point during the year.  I hopped on the internet…and eureka!

Being able to enjoy two of my passions at the same time – Disney and running – is what motivated me to begin this blog for WDW Radio.  In future entries I’ll provide updates on the various races that Disney offers, as well as some motivation and recommendations on how you can start working toward a goal of earning a medal in a Disney race.  All this…and a load of laughs mixed in for good measure.  So stay tuned!!

The 2010 ING New York City Marathon – Part 2


“Anyone can run 20 miles.  It’s the next 6 that count.”  – Barry McGee, winner of the bronze medal in the 1960 Olympics

As my teammates and I crossed the halfway point of the marathon on the Pulaski Bridge (the bridge that takes us from out of Brooklyn and in to Queens), and I recorded a personal best time for the half marathon distance, The Tool decided that it was time to fire the first volley and throw his soldiers of self doubt into the fray.  I accepted the internal challenge and maintained my pace alongside my two TFK buddies.  But just the simple act of firing that first volley caught me by surprise.  His initial plan must have worked – I had forgotten that he even existed.  And then I realized: that was the key to running a great marathon – never letting your self-doubt catch you by surprise or gain control over any portion of your mind while you’re in motion.  The Tool had drawn up an effective battle plan.  He made himself known as a legitimate threat and I paid heed.

His initial volley scored a direct hit on my focus.  Instead of thinking about the crowds, my pace, or talking to my teammates, my attention turned to my foot.  It didn’t hurt yet – but I was already thinking about how I’d handle it if the pain began to show itself.  Worrying about an injury makes running a race like this more difficult than it needs to be.  This distraction knocked me for a mental loop, like being sucker punched by Lennox Lewis.  And then, as I waddled forward in the daze that immediately follows a shot to the mental jaw like this, something wonderfully unexpected happened.  It wasn’t in my race strategy.  The Tool never accounted for it.  And I was thankful for it: I got some help.  Perfect timing.

As we came off of the bridge and were about to be greeted by the Queens faithful, I looked ahead and saw a large video screen.  Surrounding the video screen was the Asics logo – now it made sense.  This year, Asics sponsored three large video screens that would post pictures and comments from anyone that wanted to support a marathoner on the course.  Friends and family could sign onto a website, enter the runner’s name, and then send them a picture and/or text message that would be flashed onto these large screens each time the corresponding marathoner passed over a covered marker on the racecourse.  There was no guarantee that any one person’s message would be selected for viewing – I’m sure there were tons of submissions to the site to begin with.  But as I passed over the covered marker, the screen changed and I received a message of encouragement that came as complete surprise.  To me, it was getting a shot of pure adrenaline.  To The Tool, it was like a smart bomb.  Suddenly, the fog lifted.

Technology is truly incredible.  In a race like this, the GPS watches a lot of us wear allows our progress to be tracked via a satellite, thereby providing accurate split times, distance covered, and overall race time.  The tabs that we wear on our shoes electronically track where we are on the course and how we are doing. The applications available on smart phones and through the internet allow family and friends to track their runners for the duration of the race from any computer or smart phone in the world.  And technology allowed me to receive a jolt of motivation just when I needed it the most.  At that moment I also realized that people are following me….friends and family that love me are checking on my progress.  So…….I better get moving.

Now it was The Tool’s turn to deal with the dull haze that comes with a harsh and surprising counter attack.  I felt like I dodged a bullet.  A big smile came across my face as I made the left hand turn and began listening to the Queens crowd.  The noise only lasted a few minutes – this part of the course was mostly made up of office / industrial space, so residents are sparse but enthusiastic.  As I ran through the quiet Queens streets on my way to the 59th Street Bridge, I took stock of how my body felt, staying with my race plan.  So I took a roll call:

Me: “Feet?”

Left Foot: “Not sure, chief.  I’ll get back to you.”

Right Foot: “Hey – I’m fine!”

Left Foot: “you are such a brown nose.”

Nose: “I heard that!!!  Take that back.”

Me: “Enough – I’m busy here.  Ankles?”

Ankles (in two part harmony): “We’re fine.”

Me: “Calves?”

Calves: “MOOOOO!!!!  ……just kidding.  We’re fine, chief.”

Me: “Well that was stupid.  Moving on – knees?”

Knees: “A-OK..”

Me: “Nice.  Hamstrings?”

Hamstrings: “We’re good to go, boss.”

Me: “Back?”

Back: “Yo Yo Yo!!! Baby got BACK!!!  …….sorry.  That got away from me for a moment. I’m fine.”

Me: “Everyone’s a comedian.  Abs?  Abs?”

Abs: “OK dude – we’ve been listening to the stomach whine and cry all morning.  Are you kidding???  A bacon & egg on a roll – and that’s it?”

Me: “I know, I know.  A mistake.  But let’s get through it.”

Abs: “Fine – but you owe us a week without any plank exercises.  Got it, bucko?”

Me: “Fine.  Deal.  Just shut up.  Arms?”

Arms: “All we can do is swing like this?  Can’t we do something more….fun?  We can wave our hands in the air…..We can do the YMCA without music….we can even flip off random spectators!!”

Hands: “YES!!! We LOVE THAT!!!  Please please please!!  Please let us give the finger to that dude eating the hero sandwich as we pass by!!”

Me: “Arms – keep swinging.  Hands – SHUT UP.  Thank God I don’t know sign language.”

So aside from my left foot, everything appeared to be going as planned.  But as is the case with most feature films nowadays….isn’t that when things begin to get FUBAR?  (for the uninitiated: if you don’t know what FUBAR is – google is your buddy).  Some twists and turns through Queens, and then my teammates and I began to close in on the 59th Street Bridge.  15 miles into the race.  I’ve averaged approximately a 10 minute per mile pace.  My progress was faster than I ever had expected from myself.  But The Tool was right. I went out too fast.  12 miles into the race, the 10 minute pace felt fantastic.  Three miles later…the pain began.

As I passed from mile 14 to mile 15, The Tool unleashed hell.  First, my left heel began to hurt.  The pain came suddenly, and it surprised me even though I had been worried about it for weeks.  Things were going so well – I just figured that I was going to get lucky and the injury would not show its face all day.  No one is that lucky.

And then – like a general sending his reserves into the field of battle for the purpose of making the enemy retreat, I come face to face with the 59th Street Bridge.  If you’ve read this blog to this point, you know that this bridge has been my nemesis for the past 6 years.  Each time I’ve arrived at the base of this transverse, I became intimidated and had to walk to Manhattan.  I vowed that this would be the year that I conquered this bridge.  I looked inside myself and I found the will to keep running – but the pain in my foot quickly escalated as I began the climb.  I told my team mates that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them – that they should carry on and I’d try to catch up with them.

The Tool sensed victory.  He pressed the attack.  The pain was felt in my heel and my ankle.  How quickly it spread again caught me by surprise.

The incline was a steep.  And if I tried to run this hill, I’d have nothing left and there’s still 10 miles to go.  My pace got slower.  11 minutes….12 minutes per mile.  My feet were shuffling now, and every time I landed on my left foot, it hurt.

I was now alone.  I thought of using my Ipod for motivation – an obvious move of sheer desperation.  My team mates were no longer beside me – I felt no peer pressure to maintain the 10 minute per mile pace.

…13 minutes per mile pace now.  About halfway up the span of the bridge.  The wind off the water gave me goose bumps.  Around me, several runners began walking.  The foot hurt.  I was getting hungry.  I wish I didn’t forget those pop tarts.  And I was never able to maintain a 10 minute pace for 26 miles before – what made me think I could do it now?  Maybe if I just walked for a minute of two I could gather myself….

….The Tool claimed victory.  He was king of the moment.  He had a plan and he executed it to perfection.  My strategy for the course was left on the span of that bridge.  The next 10 miles would now be about simply finishing.  Any chance at finishing with a personal best time in a full marathon was set adrift on my ocean of daydreams.  I began to walk.  The Tool raised his boney arms over that bulbous head and exclaimed “Victory!”  As I began to walk the remainder of the incline and crossed the mile 16 marker, I looked out at the Manhattan skyline.  The United Nations.  The Empire State.  The Chrysler Building.  I drempt of hitting 60th street feeling fantastic.  I wanted to be able to high-five strangers as they leaned over the barricade.  I wanted to bask in the feeling of the sunlight on my face as I glided up first avenue.  With my foot in this condition, however, any dreams of that glorious gallop would have to wait until 2011.  Now, instead of entering the borough feeling like a champion, I felt like Leonidis and his 300 Spartans when confronted by a million Persians.  If I wanted victory, I would have to think of a quick response to dealing with the pain.  As I began the descent into Manhattan I realized…I better think quickly.

The grin on The Tool’s face was broad.  He felt that all he’d need to do was tighten the screws a bit, and I would fold.  I’ve felt horrible during marathons – I once ran 3 in a month (which qualified me to join the Marathon Maniacs), and in the middle of this 3-race ordeal was the 2009 Marine Corps. Marathon – which felt like an 8 mile run immediately followed by an 18 mile death march.  I was sick to my stomach that day, constantly having to throw up on the side of the road before continuing on.  The Tool knew I had a high threshold for pain – but this was different.  I was never truly injured before.  This was uncharted waters for me – and he was trying to steer me right into the rocks.

As I continued the descent toward the loving arms of the crazed fans in Manhattan, I had to quickly develop a plan to deal with what existing circumstances.  If I fight the pain, it will only get worse.  If I try to tell myself that the pain doesn’t exist, the rest of my body will openly rebel against me.  I have to contain the issue.  I have to accept it.  Then I remembered how U.S. Special Forces deal with moments of pain: they try to embrace it.  Feeling pain is better than dying.  Feeling pain motivates them to finish the task at hand.  Pain can keep a person aware and alert. Embrace the pain.  Easier said than done, because I am the very definition of a pansy.

I took a deep breath, muttered to myself “this is gonna hurt”, and then slowly began to jog off of the ramp of the bridge and onto 60th Street.  Half a block of screaming fans, four rows deep, yelling and screaming in the shade of the bridge.  Immediately you can hear people yelling “Joe!! Looking good!!  Keep going!!”, “Go Team for Kids!!”….that helped me.

I had taken The Tool’s first assault.  Some casualties were assumed.  But I kept moving.  It was a mental smack in the face to The Tool.  And that pissed him off.  Now the battle would only grow more intense.

As I slowly jogged down First Avenue, the only word that accurately describe the scene is…NOISE.  LOUD, LOUD NOISE.  As I passed under the bridge and into the sun, I was greeted with a corridor of noise.  The fans were at least 5 deep on both sides of the avenue, for three miles.  The buildings caused the yelling and screaming to hover in the air, which added to the moment.  As I made my way down the avenue on my way to the Willis Avenue Bridge and the brief dip into the Bronx, I originally thought I’d feel the strength to release my inner Kenyan and take off at a 9:30 per mile pace.  But the foot injury negated that possibility all together.  I mixed jogging and walking through miles 18 and 19.  They handed out sponges and a horrible-tasting gel to take in that give runners a quick energy burst.  (It’s not made by Godiva, so I politely decline).  At Mile 19, The Tool snapped out of his fog and began to execute the next wave of his onslaught.  All the way up First Avenue the only words I could mutter to myself over and over again was “pain is my friend”.  Yeah….what a buddy.  A real pal.

As I slowly worked my way through Spanish Harlem and onto the Willis Avenue Bridge, I remembered my game plan.  This was my chance to mentally prepare myself for the last 10 kilometers.  While the crowds are thin, I could concentrate on what I am doing without distraction and think about the task at hand.  The Wall was a minor concern at this point.  The pain, however…that was another issue altogether.  It was becoming unbearable.  I could hardly put weight on my left heel without yelping like a puppy that just caught his tail under a rocking chair.  The pain traveled to my ankle.  I also felt the back of my left knee tighten up, caused by overcompensating for my heel.  “Pain is my friend….pain is my friend”….

The Tool: “Joe – shut this down.  Quit.  Your leg is killing you.  Just stop.  All of my pieces are on the playing board.  I cannot turn up the pain dial any higher – it’s pegged at 10.  You have nothing left.  You are done.  Beaten.  Just shut it down.  Surrender.  Quit.  This isn’t that important.”

This was it.  The Wall.  The Tool waited until this moment to unleash every weapon in his arsenal.  As I wound my way past the Mile 20 marker and closed in on mile 21, my body had run out of fuel to burn to keep me going.  Marathoners call this feeling “The Wall”.  We all go through it.  We all deal with it.  I believe that breaking through The Wall is one of the reasons we actually enjoy running this distance, and why so many people come out and support the runners on Marathon Sunday.  If this were a 20 mile race, The Wall wouldn’t be an issue.  It’s the last 6.2 miles that make this race special.  It’s THE TEST.  Pass or fail – break through or quit.  This is the moment that every marathoner can look back at after the medal is placed around his/her neck and say “there was a point where I felt like I couldn’t go on – then I found something inside of me that made me keep going”.  The Wall allows the marathoner to find out what his/her limits are…and then redefine them.

My moment had come.  Time to make a decision.  Quit or finish the race.  My thought process began with one simple concept: well, it’s only another 10 kilometers.  Then out came my inner drill sergeant….You already banked 20 miles.  You’re going to let this little 4” prick make you quit after logging 20 damn miles?  Joe, you’ve gotten this far on the basis of your training, discipline and consistency.  To all of this, you must now have to add resolve.  There is no victory without sacrifice.  Now stop complaining.  Take whatever this little schmuck can throw at you, and then spit it right back in his face by NOT STOPPING.  All go – no quit.  Now move!  I promised my friends and family that I wouldn’t quit.  I promised myself I would finish.  This injury is nothing compared to what others deal with.

As this inner pep rally was going on, The Tool tried to distract me.  The heel.  The ankle.  Now the damn knee.  I was a little dizzy.  I started to develop a headache.  The Tool was making a last ditch push to claim victory.  He was so close he could taste it.

With The Tool yelling in one ear and my inner drill sergeant basically yelling in the other, my mind was in utter chaos.  But in that chaos, I found a moment of clear perspective.  I touched my left shoulder.  Then my right.  I remembered that I wasn’t alone in this.  Now let me clear this up: I am not a huge religious guy.  I’m not.  But I guess I really like the idea of my deceased family members that I knew and loved, if only for a small amount of time, sitting in box seats right outside the pearly gates while Saint Peter hands out popcorn and diet coke, cheering me on as I compete against my own limitations and inner demons.  Between my heavenly fan club (I sort of picture them as the angel-equivalents of bleacher creatures), and my friends and family rooting for me to succeed and following me electronically as well as on the course, I realized that I had the support I needed to withstand anything The Tool had left.

I slowly mixed jogging and walking until I hit the Madison Avenue Bridge, which spills the runners back into Manhattan, through Harlem.  It was on this bridge, in front of the Mile 21 marker, that I confronted The Tool for the last time during this race.

Me: “OK.  You tried.  You failed.  Whatever you do from this point on will not break me.”

The Tool: “Six more mil….”

Me: “Just shut up.  SHUT UP.  I am in control.  You said you were the game?  I played you.  I won.  You said you were the pain, and I couldn’t take you?  Well I have.  5 miles, you little prick.  5 miles.  You won’t break me.  I am unbreakable today.  You failed.  Now sit down, shut up, and let me deal with the mess you made.”

The Tool: “But you aren’t even close to….”

Me: “STAI ZITO.”  (again – for the uninitiated – google is your pal)

It was as if someone came along and unplugged the speakers at a heavy metal concert.  Silence…in my head.  Now all that remained was to focus and finish.

The last five miles passed by in a complete haze of pain and determination.  I mixed slow jogging and walking through Harlem.  A children’s gospel choir lifted my spirits.  I hit Mile 22…and there was the Asics sign again.  There was that message again.  That lit the fire inside of me.  Around Marcus Garvey Park I waddled.  Onto Fifth Avenue.  Up the steady incline.  23 miles logged.  I made it to Central Park.

The fans were loud.  Really loud.  Louder than I had remembered in my other races here.  I was now in my back yard.  Today – Central Park was Team for Kids’ home field.  The pain was miserable, but I was now close.  I took the rolling hills of the park between miles 23 and 25 easy.  Mixing a very slow jog and walking, I made it to Mile 25.  I was very happy to exclaim “God fuck the Queen!”

1.2 miles to go.  Out of the park I waddled, and onto Central Park South.  The noise was music to my ears.  Fans line the streets and really get enthusiastic, willing the runners forward for one final push to the tape.  I began to slowly jog…and not walk.  Leave it all on the street – that’s what I wanted to do.  That’s what I would do.

Half a mile to go.  The pain was there…but it took a back seat to the moment.  The turn at Columbus Circle.  Re-entering the park, only one word could describe the scene in front of me: Glorious.

As I passed under the mile 26 marker, I decided to look at my watch for the first time in 13 miles: 5 hours, 20 minutes!  My God.  I could do it – I could set a personal best time in a marathon for myself.  I went to my arms and began to sprint.  God it hurt – but the fans yelled and screamed as they saw me trying hard.  I crossed the finish line in 5 hours 22 minutes.

As they placed the medal around my neck and wrapped me in a heat sheet, the emotion of the moment overwhelmed me. I began to tear up a bit, I’ll admit it.  I’ve run this race 5 years in a row prior to this, and I’ve now run 11 marathons overall.  This is really the first race where the event got the better or me.  As I made my way to the Team for Kids area of the park to collect my bag and get some warm clothes, the one thought that kept repeating in my mind was “you never quit”.  I could barely put any weight on my left leg as I hobbled slowly home in the cold…but the feeling of accomplishment – that feeling that comes with being pitted against your own limitations and then claiming victory over them through hard work – that’s the feeling that I crave.  That keeps me coming back.  That…..and being a hero to my daughter.

…and as I waddled home to get something to eat, a small voice whispered in my ear… “well done.  You beat me – today.  Enjoy your victory, because in two months you have the Goofy’s Race & a Half in Walt Disney World.  And I promise you…..I….will…be….there.”

….eight weeks.  Eight weeks to heal myself and prep for a 39.3 mile weekend.  I’m running the Race & a Half to benefit the Make a Wish Foundation.  Then it’s on to Miami, where I’ll run to raise money for MS research.  Then Ft. Lauderdale a month later to run in the A1A Marathon (simply because I want an excuse to get some sun). Then it’s on to Napa and Los Angeles in March.

…eight weeks.  I better get to work.

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“Get going.  Get up and walk if you have to, but finish the damned race.”  – Ron Hill to Jerome Drayton during the 1970 Boston Marathon

The 2010 ING New York City Marathon – PART 1


“To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind.”   – Jerome Drayton

I figured I’d begin this blog entry with that famous quote (well, famous at least in the marathoning community) by Jerome Drayton, because I felt the term “agony” would be quite appropriate for today.  Jerome is the Canadian record holder in the marathon (2:10 time set in 1975 – which, by the way, is hellishly fast – especially in cold of Canada, where the average temperature is -120 and penguins are in a constant search for parkas), and he obviously understood very well the ordeal that a marathoner goes through from the moment he toes the line to the moment he breaks the tape.  As my alarm began to blare at 4:15am (“The Game” by Motorhead), even the words of the song rang menacingly in my ears:

“It’s all about the game and how you play it.
All about control and if you can take it.
All about your debt and if you can pay it.
It’s all about pain and who’s gonna make it.”

Motorhead….those heavy metal dudes must have run a marathon.  Maybe that’s why they sound so darn angry all the time – they must write all their lyrics after hitting the wall at mile 20.  I listened to the words as my head remained on the pillow.  I knew how to play the game – this will by my sixth ING New York City Marathon.  I know the course.  I know what to expect.  I have a strategy.  The question that remains is whether I will be able to follow my strategy for the entire race.  My ability to take control of the situation today, regardless of how my foot held up was an open question as well.  I believe I paid my debts up to this point – I worked hard, lost weight, consistently went to practice and completed the necessary long runs each weekend.  It all comes down to the pain – how much could I take and whether my foot will hold up for the entire race.  The Game – what began simply as my alarm for marathon morning turned into my theme song for the day.

I slid my legs out from under the covers, and gently rested my feet on the floor.  The moment of truth – I stood up.  There was a slight ache – but nothing hobbling.  Just minor discomfort.  I quickly convinced myself that the lack of true pain at this point in the day was a sign of great things to come.  I walked to the bathroom without a hint of a limp, and took a long hot shower.  I then got dressed – which, for the New York City Marathon, is a procedure:

  • Generous portions of body glide to sensitive areas
  • My favorite pair of Team for Kids running socks
  • My most comfortable pair of spandex compression shorts
  • My Marathon Maniacs bright yellow team singlet (I wear this singlet under any shirt I choose to race in, because it reminds me of the other team I am associated with – a group of running lunatics that make my addiction to this sport look rather….well….tame.  My Maniac team mates are incredible – some run a marathon A WEEK.  Others run two IN A WEEKEND.  They are a group of people that have taken the term impossible and performed the Irish gig all over it.  Suddenly I appear….well…..subdued.  As I said to my buddy Al a long time ago: “Al, everything’s relative”.  On the left shoulder I wrote the word “Bobby”.  On the right: “Johnny”.  On the back near the neckline: the initials “RVE”.  Bobby and Johnny were my brothers – they never got a chance to run.  I run for them and they run with me.  Every mile.  My angels on my shoulders. RVE is my grandfather’s initials – I wear them on my back because he ALWAYS had my back, without fail.  I surrounded myself with angels; if you believe in that sort of stuff.  I had a feeling I might need them today.  There’s an old saying from World War II: there are no atheists in foxholes…..well I’ll be taking my share of enemy ordinance today.
  • My most comfortable pair of Nike running shorts
  • My Team for Kids lime green (radioactive green would be a better description) singlet
  • A pair of old black running pants that I didn’t really care too much about
  • My Saucony running shoes
  • An old long sleeve shirt that I would leave at the starting line
  • My horrendously ugly lime green running jacket from the 2008 NYC Marathon.

Layers are the key for dressing for this marathon.  The wind off of the water makes waiting three hours at the marathon village on Staten Island extremely rough.  Staying warm is incredibly important.

After I finished dressing, I grabbed my bottle of Gatorade and my Iphone (which is basically an additional appendage at this point), and headed out the door.  As I walked out into the cold, I realized two things: It was about 38 degrees outside…and I’m not near the water, and I forgot my pop tarts.  Now I know I ate a good dinner, but the rule is that runners should top off their energy tanks with approximately 800 calories of high-carbohydrate food in the morning.  And I LOOOOVE pop tarts.  I decided to not return to the apartment, and head to the starting line.

I made a stop at a local diner for my traditional bacon & egg on a roll – that helped me feel a bit better.  I continued to walk to our team buses on 7th Avenue in the 50’s in Manhattan.  I arrived cold and nervous at 5:55am…5 minutes before our scheduled departure.

As I sat in the bus, I realized that I was more prepared than ever to run 26.2 miles.  I never trained so hard for any one day in my life.  Football….rowing….ten other marathons and a decent number of half marathons…nothing came close.  I pushed myself this year.  I remained focused on the goal and stayed dedicated to practice.  There was nothing more I could do.  So as the bus rolled down Broadway on the way to the Battery Tunnel, I closed my eyes and made a promise to myself: that whatever happens, I would see this through to the finish.  Just surrender myself to the moment.  That I would not fail.  I would not quit.  After making that silent vow to myself, I opened my eyes, took a deep breath, and reached in my bag for……my Sony PSP.

That’s right, lab rats: I have a Sony PSP.  A great little gadget.  I watched the movie Hancock as we passed through Queens and Brooklyn.

As we closed in on the Verrazano Bridge, I turned off the movie and began keeping my eyes peeled for Team Achilles.  This is a team made up of runners with disabilities.  They get to start earlier than the rest of us, because their day will be longer than ours, in most cases.  Each Achilles athlete is paired with a guide that will help them through the course.  Each blind runner holds a small rope that connects them to his/her personal guide.  Athletes in old fashioned wheel chairs (like the ones that you get rolled around in whilst in a hospital) are escorted by a guide to help them with whatever they may need.  Athletes on crutches are assigned guides for assistance and safety.  They all wear their traditional team red t shirts – and I personally think that a big S should be attached to each of their chests, for they are superpeople, in my opinion.  To watch them begin their race while I am still in my warm bus fills me with a sense of pride to simply be in the same race as these heroic athletes.

There’s one Achilles athlete – an African American gentleman whose name I do not know because we haven’t formally introduced ourselves – that absolutely blows me away.  I see him every year at the marathon, as well as most every New York Road Runner’s Race I participate in.  In order to log his miles, he turns his wheelchair backwards and shuffles his feet the best he can, slowly propelling him around whatever course we are running.  He constantly has to look over his shoulders to see where he’s going, and he consistently talks to his guide for his/her thoughts and reassurance.  His pace is very slow – but he always finishes.  Every time I pass him, I yell “Go Achilles!!!”…and in return I get a thumb’s up.  The image of him pushing himself like this over bridges and through crowded streets is engrained in my brain – It’s one of those lasting memories that has attached itself to my mental recording of this incredible day.

The buses dropped my teammates and I off at the front of Fort Wadsworth at approximately 7:30am.  My wave was scheduled to start at 10:40am.  Three hours in the cold.  No big surprise.

I spent my time talking with my teammates.  Most were first timers.  I reassured them the best I could.  Tried to fire a few of them up.  Did my best to make them relax through laughter.  Before I knew it, it was time to stretch.  Then some final words from the coach.  Then….head to the corrals to start our wave of the race.

After a five minute walk to the corral, I waited alongside several hundred other runners to enter the starting area.  Runners are herded into large corrals just like cattle, left to wait for upwards of 45 minutes before the singing of the Starred Spangled Banner…and then the cannon.

Once the cannon’s blast echoes in the air, the mass of humanity inches its way forward through the front gates of Fort Wadsworth (lovingly referred to as “the World’s Largest Urinal”), I finally reach the starting line after almost ten minutes of this snail’s pace.  I cross the starting line, and I start my running watch.  The GPS in my Garmin running watch calculates pace per mile, total time elapsed, and approximate distance covered – it will be my lifeline for the next five hours.

Since I wore a green-numbered bib, I began the race on the lower deck of the bridge.  The lack of sunlight, the cold temperatures, and the strong winds off of the water made for a frigid first two miles.  I was lucky to run into a TFK teammate as I traversed the bridge, and our light banter took my mind off of the fact that I was freezing my dimpled Irish ass off.

As we passed the two mile mark, we left the bridge behind and entered Brooklyn.  Feeling the sun on my face and the softening of the wind as we made our way off of the highway and on to the streets of this amazing borough, I looked down at my watch: 20 minutes down.  10 minute per mile pace.  Perfect.

Onto the streets of Brooklyn we spilled.  Thousands of runners of all shapes and sizes, wearing every color of the rainbow.  As all of us shuffled through the side streets, the crowds along the sidewalks began to grow.  As a runner who’s experienced this marathon before, I knew what was coming: 4th Avenue.  These side streets in Bay Ridge was a first glimpse of what was in store for all of us.  Children handing out paper towels to wipe the sweat from our faces.  Families that set up makeshift water stations.  Grandparents banging pots and pans out second story windows.  And then…..the right turn is made, and onto 4th Avenue we go.  HELLO BROOKLYN.

To try to describe the ethnic diversity of miles 3 through 13 in this blog would do the experience a severe injustice.  From the moment the runners step foot into Brooklyn, the thick crowds of loud, adoring fans yell and scream their lungs out for complete strangers.  As I made my way through mile 3, I literally bumped into two other teammates that I consistently ran with for months during practice.  They were like oasis in a large desert – a most welcome sight.  They helped me maintain my pace as the miles ticked away.  4 miles – 40 minutes. 6 miles – one hour down.  10 miles in – one hour and forty minutes in the books.  We averaged a nice, easy 10 minute per mile pace, and I felt strong.  We high-fived kids as we jogged along.  We cheered for Team Achilles as we passed them by.  We cheered on our teammates whenever we saw another lime green jersey, regardless of whether we knew them.  The first two hours of this race was a constant block party.  To look at everyone lining the streets – every color and creed represented – all yelling as one to spur the runners on – it restores my faith and my love for this city on an annual basis.  As we hit the Pulaski bridge and left Brooklyn, I checked our time: 2 hours, 12 minutes. That was a personal best for me in the half marathon distance.  I’ve never covered 13.1 miles in less than 2 hours and 20 minutes before.  As I looked at my teammates, I mentioned: “2 hours 20 in, and we are halfway there.  We are cruising!”

…..and as the three of us yelled “HELLO QUEENS!!!”, a small, all-too familiar voice responded:

The Tool: “Hello Joe.  Remember me?”

Me: “Yup.  I figured you’d show that sour puss of your’s at some point.”

The Tool: “Know that, for what I am about to do, I am NOT sorry.”

Me: “Well whatever you have planned, know that I have a counter-attack prepared.”

The Tool: “You know….that was the fastest half marathon you’ve ever run.”

Me: “Yup. I’m cruising.”

The Tool: “Well I take great joy in telling you that you came out too fast.  And the damage is done.”

Me: “No it isn’t.  I can handle whatever you throw at me.”

The Tool: “I know you.  I AM YOU.  I AM YOUR SELF-DOUBT.  While you rested and watched episodes of House on TV, I built up my troops.  Every time you hobbled to the fridge for a diet coke…..every time you had to ice your foot….every time you felt that question in your head of ‘gee, I wonder if I’ll be OK on race day’…..every time you skipped a practice because you needed to give your heel time to mend…..THAT….WAS….ME.  You have no answer for me.  This asphalt you’re running on – that’s just the road.  I…..AM….THE…..GAME.  And Joe, you cannot play me.  I AM THE PAIN – AND YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO TAKE ME.”

Me: “You talk too much, you little 4 inch prick.  Now shut up and just bring it.”

……and with that, the battle was joined.

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“Most people run a race to see who is fastest. I run a race to see who has the most guts.” – Steve Prefontaine