These are a few of my Favorite Things

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Why I'm Goofy, and You should be Too!

Runners!  Disney enthusiasts!  Zany, Goofy individuals!  There is still space to register for the Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge!  I want to take a minute to tell you all about why I'm Goofy, and why you should be too.

Channeling Malificent the morning of the Half Marathon.

Earlier this year, I participated in my first Goofy Challenge as part of Walt Disney World's 2014 Marathon Weekend.  Marathon weekend is one of eight runDisney events, four of which occur within the Walt Disney World property in Florida, and the remaining four of which are run in and around Disneyland Resort in California.  runDisney enthusiasts know that the Disney Magic is amplified by  tackling the challenges - which mean committing to anywhere from two to four events and 19.3 to 48.6 miles over the course of the weekend.  The Goofy Challenge is one of the more intense multi-race events, requiring participants to finish both a half-marathon and a full-marathon within the span of two days!  Needless to say, you have to be at least a little bit "Goofy" to participate in such a challenge.

Prior to running Goofy, I had participated in two half marathons and one full.  One of those half marathons was my other runDisney event, the 2013 Princess Half Marathon, so I knew firsthand the two truths that a non-Floridian runner learns upon first running Disney World:

1. The course entertainment is unparalleled, with character photo ops at least once per mile, thousands of spectators cheering along the way, and the breathtaking scenery of castles and coasters along the course.

2. Florida is the most humid place in the world.  Period.  Even at 5:00 in the morning.  (Seriously.  We even get some pretty good humidity here in Pittsburgh at times.  I can't imagine the shock coming to Florida from, say, the aridity of Arizona.)

I knew I could finish a full marathon.  I knew I could finish a half marathon in the Florida heat and humidity.  I knew that runDisney races have the slowest median finish times of all half marathons in the US.  But I did not know whether I could complete the Goofy Challenge.

I did it!  Crossing the finish line of the WDW Marathon to complete my Goofy Challenge.

The answer ended up being "yes."  Very slowly, very carefully, but yes.  One of the most magical things about runDisney races is that very few people are in it for either a place on the podium or a personal record.  Instead, nearly everyone, even those who are striving to achieve some specific goal, is there to have fun.  Tutus, sparkles, costumes and mouse-ears are the norm!  Runners stop to to take photos with favorite landmarks and beloved characters.  Many utilize the Jeff Galloway run-walk-run plan while others, like myself, simply apply liberal walk breaks when necessary.

The Walt Disney World marathon is an unparalleled experience in itself, one that I'd recommend any distance runner or Disney-lover add to his or her bucket-list.  The marathon is the only runDisney race that allows runners to experience all 4 parks, the Atlanta Braves training field at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, and the speedway at the Richard Petty Driving Experience.  The WDW Marathon is the only race I have EVER heard of that allows runners the chance to ride a roller coaster!  (It's not advertised by Disney, but savvy runners know that the Expedition Everest in Animal Kingom could be theirs for the riding.)  The Marathon is a must-do.  So why run Goofy?   Goofy gives Marathon runners the extra challenge, extra excitement, and extra camaraderie.  Walking around the park throughout the weekend, other runners recognized my configuration of wristbands, my race shirts, even my trademark exhaustion.  There was something magical about being part of that elite club, regardless of how much I wanted to crawl back into my bed at the Port Orleans resort when the alarm went off the second morning.  If you're an achievement hunter, like myself, Goofy gives runners an extra medal and an extra shirt at the end of the line.  Bling, bling!

I loved my Goofy experience, but I will offer the disclaimer that I ran both events much slower than any of my previous races.  PR hunters need not apply for a Goody medal.  In fact, I added almost an hour on to my best half marathon time to complete my Walt Disney World Half.  Potential Goofy participants should expect a fun experience, but a challenging one.  Not only must the runners complete 39.3 miles worth of race, but they must wake up between 2-3 in the morning to reach the start line by 5:00 am!  Additionally, I would not recommend the Goofy Challenge to runners who have never run a marathon.  The twenty-six-point-two adventure is such a uniquely challenging endeavor in itself.  I would never suggest for someone to tackle that for the first time after running 13+ humid miles the day before.

Running down Main Street USA.  One of my favorite places on the WDW Courses as runners enter the Magic Kingdom.

If you are feeling prepared for the challenge, Goofy still has over 10% of its slots available!  This may not seem like a lot but, considering many runDisney events sell out within 2 hours, it must be Disney Magic that this race is still open to the hundreds of runners that will still register.  I am tempted to register myself, but don't know if the pocketbook and the work schedule will let me - I'll be journeying to Anaheim the week after Goofy to use the Force in the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend!  As for Goofy, I hope to recap my specific memories from each individual race at some point leading up to next year's event, but, in the meantime, may you be as Goofy as I!

*All photos in this post courtesy of Marathon Photo.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Pittsburgh Penguins 6.6K Run and Family Walk

How many differently distanced races have you run?  Millions of people have participated in the most popular race distance - 5K.  Other popular distances include the 10K, the 10 miler, and the 13.1 mile half marathon.  But have you ever participated in a 6.6K?

6.6 kilometers is roughly 4 miles and it is certainly a unique distance for a race.  So why run 6.6?  Pittsburghers and hockey fans recognize the significance of the number 66.  Penguins' center Mario Lemieux wore number 66 from the time he joined the team in 1984 until he played his final game in 2006.  Lemieux is an inspiration to any athlete.  Not only was he a skilled hockey player who led the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in the 1990's, but Lemieux also proved his tenacity when he returned to the game after battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Lemieux raises the cup.  Photo from

The Pittsburgh Penguins 6.6K Run and Family Walk celebrate the spirit of Mario Lemieux by challenging athletes of all ability levels as the events raise money for two Pittsburgh charities, The Mario Lemieux Foundation and The Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation.  The former raises money for cancer research and patient care, as well as to create playrooms for children and families whose members are currently receiving treatment in medical facilities.  The latter promotes physical fitness and teamwork to young people through hockey and other activities.

The 6.6K run, and corresponding 1 mile walk will be held on Sunday, October 5, starting and ending at the Penguins' home stadium, Consol Energy Center.  It is an urban race, running through Pittsburgh's downtown streets, so there should be plenty to look at along the course, ample crowds to cheer runners along, and only minimal, gradual hills.  Children and adults of all ages are invited to participate in the 6.6K event.  The 1 mile walk also welcomes participants walking well-behaved dogs.  (Dogs are not allowed in the 6.6K.)  Both distances welcome children in strollers, though the 6.6K asks those pushing strollers to please stay at the back of the pack.

The afternoon sun christens the newly built Consol Energy Center during the opening game in 2010.

The event itself is fun and supports two worthy causes, but there are other activities in store for participants.  The Penguins are hosing a unique post-race party to punctuate a uniquely distanced race.  After the events, the Pittsburgh Penguins welcome all participants and volunteers to stay and watch the team's open practice starting at 11:00 am.

Early bird registration for the 6.6K ends TODAY, August 15, with fees of $30 for participants age 14 and over, and $20 for participants 13 and under.  Starting August 16, registration will be $35 for 14 and over, $25 for 13 and under.  Registration for the 1 mile walk is $20 regardless of age or date, but families of 4 can register for the discounted rate of $70.  Children age 5 and under are free with a participating adult.

Celebrate the spirits of Pittsburgh, the Penguins, and Mario Lemieux by running, walking, or volunteering as part of this race.  If nothing else, you will get to cross a great new distance off of your list. (And earn a PR, provided you haven't run 6.6K before!)  If you ran the 6.6K in its inaugural year last year, you already know what a special event this is.

Registration closes September 28th.  Not interested in running or walking?  Volunteers can sign-up here.  The Pittsburgh Penguins 6.6K Run and Family Walk is sponsored by Consol Energy.

Awesome Running Mix: Volume 1

Ever since I saw Marvel's The Guardians of the Galaxy last week, I've been completely enamored with the soundtrack.  The 12 tracks, which represent both hits and one-hit-wonders of the 1970's, were hand-picked by the film's director James Gunn.  I love the soundtrack, first and foremost, for the way it captures the adventurous, irreverent spirit of the movie.  I knew immediately that I wanted to incorporate these songs into my running mixes.  According to a handful of interviews, actor Chris Pratt also listened to these songs while training for his role in this movie.  Pratt now-famously lost 60 pounds during this training period, so, obviously, working out to this soundtrack yields results!  Whether trying to get fit, nail a PR, or just have a blast while running, I've comprised some of my favorite tracks from the bunch. 

To Channel your inner Space Cowboy

"Come and Get your Love" - Redbone

For those unfamiliar with the term, Space Westerns are a sub genre of Science Fiction that feature elements of a Western - exploration of uncharted lands, archetypical heroes and villains battling on the fringes of civilization, and other hi-jinx in the "Final Frontier."  Guardians of the Galaxy kicks itself off with our hero,  Peter "Star-Lord" Quill, dancing to "Come and Get your Love" as he explores an uninhabited planet in search of a mysterious artifact.  The scene sets the tone for the movie perfectly, and the song has just the right joie de vivre of the lovable outlaw who aims to misbehave.  The song is catchy, upbeat, and ideal for a lighthearted run exploring a new route or appreciating the character of an old one.

To Rock Your Way to a PR

"Cherry Bomb" - The Runaways

If "Come and Get your Love" is Star-Lord's song, "Cherry Bomb" belongs to Rocket.  The raccoon-like creature embodies the relentless energy and wily strategy necessary to achieve a personal record in a race.  The girl-power punk-rock anthem has both the driving guitar and the powerful vocals to propel any runner speedily towards a new goal.

To Endure the Middle Third of a Long Run

"O-O-H Child" - The Five Stairsteps

Cool, calm, sunny, and steady, this track is practically designed to be rocked during a long run.  The lyrics alone are enough to make this the mantra of the distance runner mid-workout:  O-O-H Child, things are gonna get easier.  

To Crush the Final Third of a Long Run

"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

After "O-O-H Child" pushes you towards the end, trust the lyrics of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" to push you across the finish line.  No matter how may hill repeats you may already have run, just remember that there's no mountain too high to keep you from the family, friends, brunch, and bling that await you on the other side.

To Strut your Stuff at a Rest-Day Dance Party

"I Want You Back" - The Jackson Five

On a cross-training or rest day, many a runner enjoys dancing, whether in a fitness studio, in the club, or just in the kitchen while making dinner.  One of the more commercially popular songs from this soundtrack, "I Want You Back" spent time on the Billboard charts, and was gleefully danced to as the Jackson Five performed on the TV show Soul Train.  During his lifetime, Michael Jackson cemented his legacy as one of the world's most skilled dancers, but, after watching Guardians of the Galaxy, this song crowned a new champion of dance.  I won't share any spoilers, but stick around during the credits to see some masterful dancing to this track, and then bust some moves yourself!  (For those who have already seen the movie, or don't mind being spoiled, watch the delightful dance clip here.)

Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 has earned its spot in my rotation of running mixes.  While I focused on just a handful of tunes here, the remainder of the songs on the mix are just as awesome.  The full mix is available on iTunes for download and, for those who prefer a more retro experience, on CD.  Sadly, it looks like there is not a cassette available for purchase, so the purists will have to make their own mix tape.  Whether you enjoy these songs while running, dancing, walking, or adventuring, I hope that others enjoy this soundtrack as much as I have!

*All photos included in this post have been taken from the Guardians of the Galaxy gallery at  While this post is an endorsement of a product, all opinions are my own and I have not received any compensation for my endorsement.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

I've been out wandering.  Back in March, I earned entry into the Marine Corps Marathon, and planned on training to not only run, but also to PR in the October race.  In May, I started on the path to another goal, the Runners World Run Streak, in which I would run at least a mile each day for 40 consecutive days.  But then I wandered.

Setting and reaching a goal is often difficult.  Knowing how to course-correct when a goal isn't going to be achieved?  That's so much harder.  

During the Runners World Run Streak, I successfully completed 25 consecutive days of running.  On the 26th day, I found myself too busy, too tired, and neglected to complete my run.  This lapse in the plan was hard for me to reconcile.  I felt disappointed and hesitant to let others know that I'd faltered in my quest. I felt like those 25 successful days were rendered meaningless without the other 15 to complete the sequence.  In hindsight, it's ridiculous and unfair to myself to feel this a total failure.  In the end, my Runners World Run Streak included 73 miles of success.  According to the challenge website, I placed 2251st out of 43,166 participants.  I may not have conquered all 40 consecutive days, but there's a lot to be proud of in that little challenge.

Stretching after a short speedwork session at the Mount Lebanon High School track.

Similarly, my best laid plans for Marine Corps Marathon Training have not been my best executed. Currently at week 5 of my plan, I've neither completed the quantity of miles nor the quality of speed and strength exercises I've planned.  Within the next couple of weeks, I will decide whether to tackle the race or to defer entry until 2015, and focus on shorter distances for the time being.

Morning sun on the Keuka Outlet Trail between Lake Keuka and Lake Seneca in New York.
I'm mildly disappointed that I've strayed from my plans, but, last week, I had a run that reminded me I'm not lost.   I'm proud to be involved with a series of virtual races called Nerd Herd Running.  Last week, the Herd held the Lord of the Bling 5K/10K.  Virtual races allow participants to run on the date and at the location of their own choosing.  I happened to be on vacation in the Finger Lakes when I went out for my race.  I loved the idea of running in a scenic, wooded area to best embrace the Lord of the the Rings theme.  After a brief Internet search of local running paths, I found the Keuka Outlet Trail, a perfect course along a riverbank, where I enjoyed wandering for 6.2 glorious miles.  I didn't have a particular goal other than completing the 10K, and, while completing the race, I remembered how beautiful it is to simply run, breathe the fresh air, enjoy the course, and celebrate small victories.

The beauty of wandering - found this waterfall during my Lord of the Bling 10K in Rivendell, Middle Earth.  (The part of Rivendell played by Penn Yan, New York)

Will I complete Marine Corps Marathon training?  Will I focus on shorter races?  Will I simply run for fun?  I'm not certain what the next few weeks hold, but I'm going to trust my body to enjoy the wandering and get a feel for what is next.  What I do know is that I will enjoy the wandering, and not worry so much about whether I am lost.

J.R.R. Tolkien - The Fellowship of the Ring