Back-To-Back Racing

More than a week has passed since I returned from Disney Marathon weekend, and reintegration into non-magical life has been bewildering to say the least. There is a distinct lack of whimsy pervading my immediate environment. Cheerful music no longer follows wherever I go. And I can no longer count costumed animalfolk among my short list of huggable friends.

I’ve come down with the Disney bends, and frankly, adjusting to the real world’s shortage of animation, whistling and laser-light entertainment has been an emotional Space Mountain.

There’s the thrill of adventure and accomplishment. But there’s also a post-Disney respiratory war being waged on the battlefields of my infected lungs. Dramatic, I know. But thus far, antibiotics have had little effect on the coughing infinity loop I live in now, so here I am with all the time in the world for some quiet contemplation of the whole Disney Marathon experience.

I’ll admit it—going into the weekend, I was TERRIFIED to run the Goofy Challenge. Back-to-back marathons just seemed like such a fringe activity, to be enjoyed only by certain Runner’s World extremists (ahem) and the kind of endurance-obsessed whac-a-moles who partake in things like 24-hour races and seven-day juice cleanses. I’ll go ahead and admit that I’m not one of these people. I like sleeping and eating and maxin’ and relaxin’—not pushing my body to the limits of human sadness.

After my experiences last week, though, I’m starting to question my commitment to race leisure. Though I probably won’t run another Goofy-style double race for a while, I’m definitely considering packing more halfs into my conservative marathon calendar.

And next time I’m back at Disney, I’ll try to improve on my first tangle with the illustrious canine bumpkin. Here’s what I learned from my first Goofy Challenge, AKA five tips for first-timers running a back-to-back race:

1. Pack two wildly different pairs of sneakers if you have ‘em. I failed to do this in Orlando, and the heat caused my feet to swell to the point where my Nike Flyknit Ones—which comfortably led me to PRs at the RW Half and the Philly Marathon—felt tight and unmanageable. I sure wish I’d brought my much-roomier-in-the-toebox Mizuno Wave Precisions for second-day racing because eventually my blisters were so big they decided to raise little blisters of their own.

2. Get lots of sleep. And mainline some EmergenC. Obviously condensing your mileage will be hard on your body, as I discovered when last year’s lingering respiratory infection decided to stage a seven-show comeback tour somewhere around mile 22. I think if I could have worked more sleep into the mix, the mileage wouldn’t have terrorized my immunity so hard. I was ready to take a few days off after Disney, but I ended up on a weeklong coughing bender that kept me from running for NINE DAYS. If you’re “of weak stock,” like me, be ready for a double-race to take a toll on your body!

3. Set rational goals and manage your expectations. Ask yourself, “Which race do I want to do better at?” Going into Saturday’s half-marathon, I knew I could either go for a PR and feel like hell all day Sunday, or take it easy on Saturday and have a good marathon. I decided “having fun” would be my primary goal for the weekend, and the decision was incredibly liberating. It was the first time since my first marathon that I focused on finishing and not on trouncing previous records, and ultimately my relaxed attitude kept me from beating myself up when asthma troubles flared up on the second day. You could look at my Goofy Challenge times and see them as two slow, lackluster races, but I’m just proud I  covered the mileage.

4. Save your biggest meal for the night after the first race. I overate the night before the half-marathon and felt heavy and sluggish when my alarm went off at 2:30 a.m. On the other hand, I didn’t eat enough after the first race, and spent the whole second race sucking down water and calories wherever I could get them. There’s also the issue of forcing your intestines to adapt to a 4:30  a.m. corral lineup, which makes the eating situation a delicate balance. Just take my word for it—save the pizza party for Saturday night.

5. Break down the mileage into shorter bits so it’s more approachable. 39.3 miles? Terrifying. But a wise Goofy Challenge veteran told me to think of the race as three half-marathons, then plan to run the first two slow and the last one fast. Now that is something I could do. As someone who jumped into running marathons without trying a half-marathon first, I’ll admit that halfs don’t even begin to overwhelm me in the same way fulls do—13.1 miles just seems disproportionately more manageable and less physically punishing than 26.2; running three halfs seem far less daunting than factoring in a full. (But four half-marathons in a row borders on crazy talk.)

Ultimately, I’m glad I swallowed my race-time pride and confronted Goofy apprehension head-on. I’ve given a lot of thought to whether I’ll run Goofy again next year if given the chance—particularly when I’m just minutes away from qualifying for Boston, and the Disney marathon offers such a flat course for single-race triumph. Undoubtedly I’ll go for another two-fer, though—post-race respiratory infection be damned. There is just no way I’m missing out on seeing that magic pirate ship two days in a row.