Disney Marathon – Paul’s Race

By Paul Nielsen

I only decided to run the Disney Marathon four weeks prior to race day, after running a huge PR at the OUC Half Marathon. I knew I was in good shape going into the race, but had no idea how I would fare on such a short cycle and little specific preparation.

That said, my goal going into this race was to at least PR and break 2:30 in the process. I went for it at the gun. I wish I had splits to report, but I was running in the dark for 16 miles, and taking splits would’ve been pointless because I wouldn’t have seen any of them. They had a clock at every mile, and since I started right on the start line, I used the entire race.

I ran with the eventual fifth place finisher and current FTC runner, Mike Hensley, for the first eight miles. After I realized we were slowing from 5:40’s to 5:45’s, I decided to set off on my own to run my race. So I ran completely and utterly alone from mile eight to the finish. I hit the halfway point just about what I wanted to come through in 1:14:19, still feeling pretty relaxed. Mile 15 is where things got interesting, in an instant, my right achilles got as tight as a steel cable, and I seriously considered pulling the plug right then and there. But after about three minutes, it wasn’t getting any worse, so against my best judgment, I decided to continue.

I passed through mile 20 very close to what I came through in Twin Cities last October, around 1:53:40. Since I knew the last 10K wasn’t uphill here, I was feeling pretty good about my chances at a sub-2;30. Just before mile 21, there’s a turnaround point, giving me a good chance to see those around me and, shockingly, I see the 7-time winner of Disney, Adriano Bastos, behind me. I definitely would’ve remembered passing him. I found out later that he had stomach issues the whole races and stopped about four times. It goes to show that even the elites aren’t immune to off days. He struggled home and ran a 2:45.

Around mile 22, I realized my achilles was most likely swollen because it was rubbing like crazy against my shoe. That’s not good. Now I’m starting to second guess my earlier decision to continue with the race. Mile 24 is where the wheels fell off, and my pace slowed significantly. After slowing, I didn’t care about my finish time, just about finishing. I passed a guy that was laboring worse than I was around mile 25. I figured I was in the top five overall, but didn’t know the exact place. As I turn the final corner and see the finish line, I get a huge ovation, because I’m a local guy finishing in the top three. It was so amazing it sent chills down my spine.

After I finished, I was disappointed that I didn’t break 2:30, but after everything I went through getting third place, it went away. I’ll even go as far to say that I’d rather get third and run 2:31, then run 2:29 and get fourth. It was that neat of an experience, at least for someone who doesn’t get that type of treatment at every race. I went for it and have no regrets.

The marathon is a unique race; You can do everything correctly in the months leading up to the race, nail every workout and long run. But if you don’t “have it” on race day, there’s not too much you can do about it. Unlike the 5K or 10K, there is no “do-over” in a marathon. You have to properly recover and likely won’t get another chance at your goal for another few months. At this point, the 2:30 mark is a mental barrier for me, but just like any other arbitrary time barrier I’ve encountered, it’s only a matter of time before it fails.

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was pulled over to the media tent (which was heated and had every type of food imaginable inside) and interviewed by four different people. One being the Orlando Sentinel, one being the Disney people, and the other two I have yet to determine. I was then assigned a “shadow” whose only job was to follow me around from the time I crossed the finish line until after the awards were over and did whatever I said. It was definitely a new experience that I’m totally not used to, but that’s the sole reason I enjoyed gettin top three in this race so much. I felt like a celebrity.

I got a chance to talk to the winner, Fredison Costa (through his interpreter, he didn’t speak English), and second place, who happend to be the Mike Wardian. I’ve read numerous articles about him and his running. he’s one of those guys that people like me can look up to. A runner who holds a full time job, has a wife and two kids, and still manages to get the best out of his running. He’s truly inspiring. Costa was especially impressed when he found out i was only 24 years old. He noted that he didn’t start running his fastest marathons until after age 30. Comments like that gave me hope for the future. I felt honored to be mentioned in the same sentence with Costa and Wardian.

When we walked from the tent to the awards ceremony, I felt like an even bigger celebrity because I was getting asked to take pictures with complete strangers, and I even signed an autograph! Needless to say, I won’t forget this experience anytime soon. After the awards were over, and I collected my 20 lb. Mickey Mouse trophy, more pictures were taken and everyone went on their separate ways.

I wish I could come on here and report that I shattered 2:30, but I can’t and I didn’t Though despite what some of you might think, I’m not really disappointed. Sure I wanted to run under 2:30, but I have to keep everything in perspective. I’ve now run two 2:31’s in three months and I didn’t decide to do this race until four weeks ago. With the extremely abbreviated cycle, I feel like I performed really well out there. Even though I was in good shape, part of the training that leads to a good marathon is having the right mindset and I just didn’t have that going into this race.

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