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In Life/ Off-the-Beaten-Path/ runDisney/ Running

How I Cut 24 Minutes Off My PR at the Lake Minneola Half Marathon

Running has never really been about speed to me. In fact, I’ve never been much of a competitive athlete at all. (People who know me well are going to read that last sentence and laugh out loud at what an understatement it is….) I never wanted to win anything or Boston qualify or hit some crazy personal best. I just wanted to get lost on the course and come out better (mentally, physically, emotionally, etc.) on the other end.

That said, it’s hard not to know that you’re getting better when you’re training hard – and I’ve been training so hard lately. I think originally I was just really spooked by having gotten plantar fasciitis. That had grounded me for the better part of a year – so when I was able to start running again I wanted to do everything I could to make sure my body could handle it.

This was my fourth Dopey, but for the first time I really followed a hardcore training program. I went with Hal Higdon’s Dopey Challenge training plan, building it out about 8 additional lead up weeks so that I started in July. By the time Dopey came in January, I was running 40-50 miles every week. (As anyone properly training for Dopey really should be doing – but I’d built up to it so methodically at that point.)

The process of following an actual set schedule instead of just “running a ton” was fascinating to me. I know enough about the power of habits for this not to have been a surprise, at least academically – but seeing it actually play out was wild. Somewhere along the way, my mind just stopped fighting back. If the alarm was going off at 4 a.m. for a 20 miler, I swung my legs off the side of the bed, laced up my sneakers, and ran 20 miles. I knew the hardest part would be the first few miles and I resigned myself to them knowing there’d be a light on the other end. I knew what running for hours on end felt like and I went in every time without any illusions about it. I just did it. No complaints. No mental resistance. I just did it.

When you’re demanding that much of your body, you start thinking a lot more about how best to fuel whatever it is you’re doing. I intermittent fasted on non-long run days to help with healing. During the bracket of the day when I *was* eating, I made sure it was food that was packed with good stuff. I was (and still am) mostly back to a paleo-style diet when I’m at home. I barely drink alcohol at all. I made sure I was sleeping as much as I could between work and the early runs and the kids etc etc. I just consciously took really good care of myself because my body was so clearly a tool that needed good fuel. I wasn't perfect at anything – but I did the best I could with everything and hoped it added up.

My legs got stronger. My lungs got stronger. My heart got stronger.

When we ran Wine & Dine in November, the half was a break from the 17-miler that I was supposed to be doing that day. 

Dopey came and went. I was more than ready and everything about it was amazing.

Then Princess came and went. I ran all three races and didn’t really get serious during the half until 6 or so miles in, but still ended up crushing my old PR with a 2:01:39 finish time – less than two minutes short of a sub-2, which had been a back-of-my-mind goal for awhile.

And that left me winding down the runDisney race season really wanting to know what my body could do uninterrupted and on fresh legs at a local race.

And now I really wanted that sub-2. The time should have been a no brainer at that point – I just needed a non-runDisney race that I could run full stop for 13.1 miles.

Which brings me to the Lake Minneola Half Marathon.

I got an email about this race less than 2 weeks before it happened. The email said it was fast and flat and at an address that looked to be less than 40 minutes from my house. Also, I love the Lake Minneola area. If you recall, we actually talked about an off the beaten path restaurant on the water there awhile back – the Tiki Bar & Grill.

I did no more research – just spontaneously registered on the spot.

And then the days ticked away and I started to get so, so nervous.

It’s really hard when you admit to yourself and other people that you want something really badly. It’s so much easier to succeed or fail at something that you can pretend you don’t care about. That you haven’t worked for and openly shared that you want so badly you can taste it.

I thought about every detail. My sleep. My fuel before and during the race. My clothes.

I stressed deciding between the tried and true HOKA Bondi that cradle my heels and my just broken in Nike Vaporfly until the day before the race, when I did a loop around our neighborhood in both and finally decided to take my chances in the Vaporfly. Only to bring the HOKA in the car the morning of the race, telling my husband that if I called in a panic to find me on the course and give me my HOKA back.

I’ve run way more half marathons than I can count, but I was a MESS on the morning of this race. I fixated on my playlist. If I’d chosen the right sports bra. How many bananas to eat. Whether it would be a good idea to take some prophylactic Pepto Bismol. Any runner will probably know exactly how I felt when I say that every variable felt like a roll of the dice as to whether it would speed me up or slow me down. I think I was probably just fixating on the things I could control.

But for all of my worries, the morning just fell into place. We arrived at 6:15 a.m. and I got my bib. I was so nervous that I got in line for the bathrooms three separate times. (We all know nerves will make you have to pee no matter how little you’ve had to drink – and I was REALLY HYDRATED.) I walked around shivering but knowing that the perfectly clear 55 degree weather couldn’t have been any more perfect for the run.

The race itself was TINY. Less than 190 runners. And it wasn’t flat – at least not by Florida standards.

The funny thing is, if I’d known I was walking into a tiny, hilly half marathon, I probably wouldn’t have done it. If I’d known just how small the race was, I think I would have lost my nerve. Not much feels more exposed than running on a race course that’s not the slightest bit crowded.

But once we’d started, once I was moving, nothing mattered.

The empty course made it feel like a training run. Just me and my Vaporfly that I hoped were the right choice and my playlist that I hoped would hit right and the pavement and my thoughts.

The race never got hard. At least not physically. It felt more like a chess game. Trying to make the right decisions about pacing and water stops and fuel. I pushed as hard as I could while still feeling like I’d have enough for the full 13.1 miles.

My first mile was comfortable at right around 8 minutes. And I just kind of held steady from there. Short of one 9 minute mile that was mostly a pretty steep uphill climb, I was right around the high 7 minute/low 8 minute mark the whole time. If anything I worried that I was holding back a little too much. Or I’d fall into a rhythm and zone out and forget to push as hard for a few minutes. But maybe my body needed those breathers, because I gave it everything I had at the end and didn’t feel like I left much of anything on the course after the finish line.

The Woo Woo Stuff…

When I’m out there on the course, I talk to my dad a lot. This isn’t a secret – I think I mention it pretty often here. I ask him questions. I ask for advice. (Not just life advice. Actual race advice. Which is totally random because he was the opposite of a fitness buff and apparently I think he’s become a running coach in the afterlife.)

And he always finds ways to tell me he’s there. I’m pretty sure he DJs my playlists. At one point in the race, there was a very, very long downhill clip where there were runners climbing back up the steep incline in the other direction. As the stretch of uphill/downhill running continued, I had this very clear dialogue with my dad in my head:

-Me: Dad, I’m going to need a really good song when I turn the corner and start having to run back up this hill.

-Dad: Born to Run COMING UP.

-Me: Dad I SWEAR if you make me cry with Bruce Springsteen on that hill I will kill your ghost.

-Dad: Just kidding…

And I turned the corner to climb back up the hill and I swear on my cat’s ashes as my body rounded the curve the first few notes of What Else Can I Do started to play and I felt something pushing my back up the hill.

I’m not a hugely superstitious person. I don’t know if my dad is really there or not in these moments. I don’t know if I just needed to give my inner strength a name and a presence outside myself. I assume this is what some people call God. A force outside yourself that you know has your back and that allows you to interpret even the worst of luck as something somehow contrived to be in your favor. Minor inconveniences aligned to keep you safe from bigger things. Feeling like you have someone pulling strings for you upstairs reframes every single thing that happens to you.

Whatever you want to call it, as the race went on it stayed with me. I felt my grandmothers on either side of me at one point and turned a corner to pass two older ladies out on a walk together who gleefully yelled “GO YOUNG LADY!!!! GOOOO!!!!!” at me as I passed them and it was everything I could do not to ask them if Frances and Ruth sent them.

In short, there was a little magic on the course, too. At least in my mind.

The Measurable Race Details

The group around me all sort of stuck together – and there weren’t many of us, so I got to know their faces. The backs of their shirts. Their interval patterns. One guy paced within probably 100 feet of me for the last few miles of the race and afterwards we thanked each other for the subconscious push because every time one of us passed the other we got pissed off about it and ran harder.

For what it’s worth, regarding more measurable conditions and decisions on the course:

  • It was about 55 degrees and clear skies at the start and was probably up about 10 degrees by the end. As ideal conditions as you could hope for.
  • I didn’t need any bathroom stops!! Loved that this race had REAL BATHROOMS instead of porta-potties at the start – I went 3 times and was good to go. As for the real runner nitty gritty, I’ll also share that I *did* end up taking a little bit of Pepto before leaving the house and was fine on the course other than cramping up one time.
  • Here’s an elevation map of the 2020 version of the race, which was very similar to this year's. Credit to the site plotaroute.com for this information (which I've not independently verified):

  • I drank only water on the course and did not walk through the stops. Water wasn’t in short supply- stops were every 1.5 or so miles – so I just splashed an ounce or 2 into my mouth and kept moving.
  • I took no Gatorade or other fuel that was available on the course. I’d had 3 scoops of my Tailwind Endurance Fuel with 32 oz. of water on the way to the race. At around mile 6 I started to worry that I might burn out on fuel before the end of the race but I was also afraid to rock the boat on the stomach front and didn’t want to slow down to mix more Tailwind. I ended up eating 3 Clifs Bloks that I’d brought with me while still moving at around mile 7 and it seems to have been the right decision.
  • I’m really glad I wore the Vaporfly. They were everything that you’d want from a shoe on the course – in that I didn’t think about them once the whole time. I imagine they shaved some time off if anything and am curious to see how a similar half in my HOKA Bondi would compare.

The course was beautiful but it probably doesn’t surprise you to hear I don’t have a single picture of it. Still, the sun was rising as we started and the views over the water were so peaceful. The entirety of the course was paved and, while there were certainly some hills, they felt like a good push of energy when they happened.

The Finish

My splits went negative at the end and I crossed the finish line at 1 hour 46 minutes 47 seconds. More than 13 minutes less than my vague “sub-2” goal. I felt great afterwards and probably only really stiffened up later that day because I had to go directly to the kids’ soccer games where I (blissfully) sat too still for too many hours.

For perspective, while I know I was never really running for pace before, my pre-COVID/pre-2022 Dopey Training PR (aside from that recent Princess half) was 2:10:40 – which I’d run in similar conditions at Space Coast in 2020. So through all of that training I ended up shaving almost 24 minutes off my half marathon time. The tangible results of all of that time are so satisfying. I’m not sure where I go from here, except continuing to do this and see, like the song asks, what else can I do.

Huge shout out to Sommer Sports for running a great event. I’m looking forward to taking it on again next year. (Maybe I’ll stop and take some pictures that time around!!)

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You can find my complete guide to making the most of your runDisney race weekend RIGHT HERE and my guide to running trails on Disney World property RIGHT HERE.

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Please join me on Instagram for my day-to-day adventures living a mile from the magic. And join the conversation over in our community on Facebook!

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If you’re missing home (or love someone who is) and are looking for a way to bring the magic home, I’d love for you to check out my Core Memory Candle collection right HERE. And as always, stay safe and be kind, my friends.

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