Monday, January 16, 2017

Even Dopier Than Dopey: The #IndoorDopeyChallenge

Treadmill Running: A History

When I tell others that the majority of my marathon training is completed on a treadmill, they're almost always shocked. "How can you run for so long on a treadmill?" "Do you watch Netflix or listen to music?" "The most I stand is like 2 miles!" These are just some of the responses I get. The truth is, I used to enjoy running outside. A lot. But after experiencing several months of never-ending snow in New York, I had to bring my running indoors. Initially, I started out with 3-6 milers, which eventually grew to 10 milers. So the jump to completing all long runs (12 miles, 16 miles, 18 miles, etc.) was pretty easy.

The Creation of a 48.6 Mile Treadmill Challenge

Back in 2015, I had the opportunity to compete in the Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World, which had been a dream of mine since the inaugural event in 2014. I even quit a previous job to do it, because my employer would not allow me to take the days off of work, even though I had registered before I was hired. For those of you not familiar with the Dopey Challenge, it is a four-day event in which you complete a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon around all four parks.  I spent five days in WDW, and it was easily the best extended weekend of my life.

Embrace the clank!

Last year, I wasn't able to compete in Dopey. It was my first year at my current job, and I had already taken a day off for the Dumbo Double Dare in Disneyland. About two weeks before the event took place, I was running a 7-miler on the treadmill when I had an idea; why not complete Dopey on the treadmill?

I knew the this was going to be challenging, mostly because of the 26.2 miles on the fourth day. Most people compete in Disney events because running through the parks before they even open is incredible. The race courses are scattered with character stops, friendly volunteers, and enthusiastic spectators. Not to mention that the parks look stunning all lit up, and running through Cinderella's castle at 6AM is an experience I can't even describe. The closest I would get to Disney World that weekend would be by running in the Run Disney long-sleeved participant shirts I got a year prior.

Two days before the actual Dopey Challenge kicked off, I announced on both Instagram and the #TeamRunDisney Facebook group that I would be attempting the challenge on the treadmills at my gym. I received a ton of messages from people stating that I was either "awesome" or "crazy," as well as a decent handful of "good lucks!"

On January 7, 2016, I completed a 5k on the treadmill after work. The easiest "race" of Dopey was complete, and I was actually excited to run the remaining 45.5 miles. The next day, I ran the 10k on the treadmill again after work. I remember being upset that I didn't go before work, because there would only be about a 12-hour difference between the 10k and the half marathon the following morning. I slept in some PRO Compression over-the-calf Marathon socks, and felt fine the next day.

The half marathon felt effortless, and I even impressed myself with my sub-2 hour time. I couldn't help but feeling nervous for the marathon the following day, since the most I had ever run on a treadmill was 18 miles. I also hadn't completed a ton of long runs since finishing the New York City Marathon the previous November. But with enough determination, fueling, hydration, and Pandora, I ran 26.2 miles on a treadmill and loved every second of it.

Inaugural #IndoorDopeyChallenge complete!

Two Years Running

In the months following last year's challenge, I didn't think about whether or not I would run it again this year. Training-wise, 2016 was a rough year for me, and by November I was still working on getting my speed and endurance back. Just over a month before the challenge would start, I decided to post on Instagram that I would be running it again. By sharing this decision with my friends and followers, I would feel a huge sense of accountability, which would help me run all 48.6 treadmill miles whether I was ready to or not.

In the weeks leading up to this year's Indoor Dopey Challenge, two friends who I met on Instagram years ago told me that they would be joining me. I was surprised that others were signing up to do it, but also so stoked to have both Kristen and Elle complete the challenge! Coincidently, we had all just been selected as PRO Compression 2017 Ambassadors, so Kristen and I coordinated socks since we had a few in common, and Elle joined us on the days that she could. Kristen also had the idea to create "character stops" by attaching mile marker signs featuring Mickey, Dopey, and others to wooden rods. I totally mimicked her idea, and created six of my own, one for each distance and challenge (the Goofy Challenge is completed as part of Dopey by running both the half and full marathons for a total of 39.3 miles). Having these ladies share their ideas and enthusiasm with me definitely helped me get excited to run!

The 5k - The 5k was the easiest run to complete, as expected, and I finished in 27 minutes flat. I headed to Gold's Gym after work so that I could complete the distance in their Cardio Cinema. The Cardio Cinema is exactly what it sounds like; three rows of cardio equipment, including ellipticals, treadmills, and stationary bikes, facing a large projector that displays a different movie every day. My favorite thing about the cinema is that it's totally dark, and there's an industrial fan mounted in the corner of the room that keeps it super cool.

The 10k - Not much to report here. Again, I headed to the Cardio Cinema after work. Running felt effortless, and I completed the 10k in 54:11. Similar to last year, I was worried that running later in the day would effect the half marathon that I would be running the following morning. When I got home, I put on different compression socks and foam rolled to help my legs feel fresh for the next day.

The Half Marathon - I had to get my 13.1 miles in early, because I would be working an event for Vega later that day. Gold's doesn't open until 7am on Saturdays, so I went to my sister's apartment complex around 6:30am to start running. I drank Vega Sugar-Free Energizer before I left my apartment, and kept both water and Vega Hydrator with me on the treadmill. Unfortunately, my extra socks and foam rolling the night before didn't help too much. My legs felt heavy, and I had to switch to a run/walk several times. Knowing that Kristen and Elle were running that day, and that I had a huge audience on social media, definitely helped me persevere. I finished in a time of 2:09:33.

The Marathon - I was so nervous for this. My legs felt like rocks during the previous day's half marathon, and I had worked a 7-hour event for Vega the night before. The main thing that kept me going was the knowledge that Kristen and Elle would be running that day (Kristen started about an hour before I did), and I had people on Instagram cheering me on. I didn't set an alarm for that morning to allow my body get the full amount of rest it needed (I also had nothing else planned for that day, so it didn't matter what time I finished running). For breakfast, I had vegan "nice" cream and iced coffee, and packed my bag of necessities. This included three full water bottles, a bottle of Vega Hydrator, and spare clothes (to prevent from nearly drowning in my own sweat). I arrived at Gold's just after it opened, put my extra stuff in a locker, and headed right into the cinema.

My plan was to break up the 26.2 miles into the following distances (since the treadmill maxes out at 60 minutes): 6.2 miles, 6 miles, 6 miles, 6 miles, 2 miles. I completed the 6.2 miles, followed by the first 6-miler, but I could feel my legs starting to get tired around 14 miles. I ended up running the following: 6.2 miles, 6 miles, 5 miles, 3 miles, 2.48 miles, 3.52 miles. There was some walking toward the end, but I focused on completing the distance, and not on speed. As I ran, I watched "X-Men: The Last Stand" about 4.5 times, and listened to New Found Glory Radio on Pandora. I didn't set a new personal best in the marathon, but I did beat the previous year's treadmill marathon time by about 4 minutes. I finished the Indoor Walt Disney World Marathon in a time of 4:27:04!

Dopey Aftermath

As many of you know, the #IndoorDopeyChallenge isn't an "official" event. You don't have to register or pay any fee to do it. There are no bibs, participant shirts, finisher medals, post-race awards ceremonies...nothing. All you have to do is run a on a treadmill, and share your completion of each distance on Instagram using the above hashtag. That's it. People often ask me "why do you do this if you don't get anything out of it?" To me, this is such a ridiculous question, because I get so much out of this event. I get other people inspired and motivated to try difficult tasks. I build relationships with others who either support me in what I'm doing, or are willing to join me. Most importantly, I feel GOOD about myself, which is a feeling no medal could ever provide me with.

When I compete in a marathon, I almost always cry at the finish line, not when a medal is being placed around my neck. The moment you cross the finish is when you are overwhelmed with emotion. You feel powerful. You feel accomplished. You feel INCREDIBLE. To me, the medals are just evidence that I finished the race. Runners often joke about "doing it for the bling" or "running all the miles, earning all the medals," but in most cases, there's only a little bit of truth to that. We run for the excitement. We run to prove that we can do difficult things. We run to feel ALIVE.

So for the past two years, I completed the Dopey Challenge not expecting anything at the finish. In 2016, I shared on the #TeamRunDisney Facebook page that I had completed my first Indoor Dopey. The post received over 1000 likes, and over 200 comments. One comment came from a woman named Terri Akins, owner of Virtual Run World. She congratulated me on my finish, and stated that she was overwhelmed (in a good way) by the amount of motivation and positive energy that I created in the group. As a result, she wanted to reward me for what I had done. I got to choose any medal I wanted from her website, so I chose this one:
How appropriate!

This year I set off for my indoor challenge, again not expecting anything for completing it. About four days after the marathon, I got an e-mail from the concierge in my building, stating that I had a package. I headed downstairs to retrieve it, and was almost speechless when I saw what was inside:

My friend VK, who I met on Instagram years ago and then in person at the 2016 Marine Corps Marathon, sent me, Kristen, and Elle each a customized Starbucks cup to congratulate us on completing Dopey on treadmills! Both Terri's and VK's gifts at the end of each of my indoor Dopeys are more than just evidence that I finished. They're reminders that as a runner, I have the ability to inspire others with what I accomplish. In a society that distributes participant trophies at children's soccer tournaments, I can serve as a reminder to others the power of intrinsic rewards, and doing things because they are challenging, not because you expect something when you're done. They're also reminders of the incredible friends and community that I have discovered just by running. And all of that is so much more than I could have ever hoped for.