[Note: This is a race report written by No Limits Athlete Stephanie Riis, who recently completed the 2014 Dopey Challenge, which was held January 9-12, 2014. What’s the Dopey Challenge? Read on and you’ll find out!]
Everyone loves a challenge, right? Well, the Walt Disney Corporation, or #RunDisney to be specific, has learned how to entice runners from around the world to participate in a challenge like no other – the Dopey Challenge held during the Walt Disney Marathon weekend in January. This race is unique in that it caters to a plethora of different “runners”, encourages costumed attire, and even draws the ultra-competitive type that is looking for a new way to prove his/her endurance abilities over a 48.6 mile, multi-day course.
What is the #DopeyChallenge, you ask? Here is what I experienced in a nutshell…..and why I needed the help of No Limits Endurance coach, Maria, to get me there.
The Dopey Challenge is a running event that is held over a four day period and it coincides with the annual WDW Marathon weekend festivities. The challenge is simply this: run a 5k on Thursday, a 10K on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday, and a full marathon on Sunday.
Sounds easy, right?
Well, that depends on your training and preparation because covering 48.6 miles in four days is not something you want to take lightly.
Disney is known for its top of the line productions and this event did not disappoint. Logistically, the four days of race starts/finishes seemed very streamlined, and even though we had to wake up at 4am to catch a bus to take us to the start, Disney made sure that all of our race day transportation and the overall experience was top notch.
The six medals we received are coveted by many (I’ve even heard they are being sold on Ebay to the staunch Disney buffs), and having run “Disney” before in their annual Princess Half Marathon, I have to say these events trumped that 13.1 by no stretch of the imagination. Characters cheer you on along the course, you run through all four Disney parks at some point (and many times more than once), spectators are there in all of their glory, and…..wait for it…..you have the chance to ride the Expedition Everest roller coaster at the mid-way point of the marathon if you choose to take five minutes off your finish time to do so! Which, being the recreational runner that I am, I did. And it was awesome!
At the end of the weekend, my legs were still my friends, I had six medals to prove I ran the 48.6, and I could now bask in the glory of having completed an endurance event of a lifetime!
When I committed to run the Dopey Challenge I have to admit I was a little intimidated by the overall distance and what my training would involve to get me prepared for multiple days of back to back running. Knowing what it feels like to run 26.2, I was not sure that this was going to be pleasant.
I had been working with Maria for a number of months prior to the start of my training to get ready for summer triathlon season. I was well trained up till about July. At that point, I had to take some time off due to personal reasons and was very worried how this would affect my base that I had worked so hard to build.
September rolled around and I was back in action, preparing for another Disney event, the Tower of Terror 10 miler held in early October. Maria and I talked, and we planned for this race to be my base-building goal to get me ready to go into my official Dopey training program. The 10 miler went well and I felt that the work I had done to build my mileage had worked and I was now ready to jump into upping my weekly mileage and prepping for back to back running days.
When I would look on Training Peaks for my weekly plan, I started to get used to seeing runs of 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour, and 45 mins with no rest day in between. Maria and I had multiple conversations about my feelings on the “rest” day; however, she assured me that in order to be successful in Dopey, I needed to train my body to be prepared for successive days of running.
Alrighty, then. I went with it.
Over my 12+ weeks of training, I learned many things.
1) I learned that I am capable of RUNNING many more miles than I thought. I was a firm believer in the run/walk approach. I have trained for multiple marathons/half marathons using a 9/1 plan – run 9 mins, walk 1 min.
But Maria and I determined that if Dopey brought me nothing else it would bring me confidence in running more, walking less. I overcame my insecurities about walking less and I became mentally stronger knowing that I could do it – and with success!
During the actual event I did end up using a run/walk plan (and oh how those “plans” were modified along the way), but only due to the fact that my running mate had trained that way and it was her first 26.2 so I wanted to be cognizant of how her experience was going to go. I wanted her to enjoy it and not hate me after; I’m a firm believer in “never leave your wingman.” With my training leading up to this, however, I felt that I was more than prepared to go the distance now that I could walk at times as well.
2) I learned that 48.6 ain’t nothin’ but a number. Running back to back days like that did not prove as intimidating as I had thought. That, I attribute to my training. I felt no more fatigued at the end of the marathon than I have felt in the past marathons I’ve completed.
Yes, I was tired. Yes, I teared up when I saw my family at mile 24. Yes, I was glad it was over. But my legs were ready and they stood by me.
This event was definitely Dopey, but my body was up for the challenge.
3) I learned the importance of working with a coach. I’ve been embedded in the running community for about seven years (prior to that, running was only something I did if I was being chased. By a masked man. In an alley.).
And, I have used many different plans to get me to many different finish lines. I’ve worked with #TeaminTraining coaches in the past (which were crucial in my love of group runs and the support they bring), and I’ve even gone on to become certified as an RRCA Run Coach myself and, with my good friend, started a local running club because I love this sport so much.
The training experiences I’ve had in the past cannot equate to the work I did with Maria. I am trained to coach other people, but I am my biggest critic. Do what I say, not what I do, right? Self-doubt, frustration, and life get in my way. Being accountable to my coach pushed me to “get ‘er done” and at times “suck it up, Buttercup.” We dealt with mental hurdles, successes, failures, training set-backs, good days, bad days, cross-training, fatigue, overachieving, and lastly, “tween” text speak together. She became my friend as well as my coach, and for that I will be forever grateful.
[Congratulations, Steph! I am so proud and pumped for your achievement!]