Go out and do something that you would usually say, “you’re out of your f*cking mind” to! Those were my first thoughts when a friend first told me about the Disney Dopey Challenge. Do you want to really push yourself to new limits? Find a race (or anything) outside your comfort zone, commit yourself by registering for it, find a training plan, and get at it! That’s exactly what I’ve done this year for the 2018 Disney World Dopey Challenge this January. Earlier this year, I decided to train for this challenge, something that I saw as ridiculous and impossible.
If you’re just tuning into this blog, you may be asking yourself what exactly the Dopey Challenge is:
Disney World Dopey Challenge –
The Dopey Challenge consists of 4 days of back to back races:
- Thursday, January 4th – 5k (3.1 miles)
- Friday, January 5th – 10k (6.2 miles)
- Saturday, January 6th – Half-Marathon (13.1 miles)
- Sunday, January 7th – Full Marathon (26.2 miles)
Yup four days, back-to-back, of running races that a sane human being would typically only choose to run one of. I’m not all the way sane.
Training So Far
Currently, I am starting week 22 of my 28 week Dopey Challenge training plan. You can see how the first 10 weeks of my training went here. If you want the pleasant way to describe the last 21 weeks, I’d say it has been enlightening! As cliché as it may sound, I am consistently learning new things about myself each week of this Dopey Challenge training. BUT if you want the most honest insight to how I have been feeling: I’d say it has been self-inflicted torture that is somehow simultaneously glorious and empowering.
To have the discipline to stay consistent with something that is so physically and mentally demanding is HARD. I often find myself thinking “I must be crazy” for adding this training into my already busy life. My life the last few months literally consists of me looking at the calendar every Sunday, trying to figure out where I can sneak in a run! “This week I’ll have to run before the sun comes up because I have classes at night, but this week I’ll have to run right after I put Charm on the bus…”. It has been…interesting.
Dopey Challenge Training Plan
I started training for the Dopey Challenge in June, 5 months ago. For the first 10 weeks I followed the Jeff Galloway plan provided by Disney. A couple of weeks into that plan, I made the decision to switch to the Hal Higdon Dopey Challenge plan. The Galloway plan is 29 weeks long and uses the run/walk method that Jeff Galloway promotes. The Higdon plan is only 18 weeks, but I felt like the mileage was better situated to prepare me for race week (in addition to the 10 weeks I had already been training). My last Dopey Challenge post goes into detail about why I made this jump.
My Dopey Challenge Training Plan
Dopey Challenge Strength Training
Holy shit batman! Including strength sessions with a personal trainer has been the best thing to help me prepare for these races! Since the start of my training, I have been working one-on-one with my trainer. I’ll admit, in the beginning, I was hesitant to spend money on a trainer. I’m queen of thinking I can figure things out on my own, isn’t that what google is for?! (Says to self: No Ebony, that is not only what google is for!)
I’ve known since the first day of working out with my trainer, Loraine, that I made the right decision to include her. During our initial session, she put me through an assessment to gauge my abilities. First thoughts: “Crap! I’m not as strong as I thought”! She’s been able to point out all of my problem areas and weak spots, and hone in on them. I thought the main focus of our sessions would be on making my legs stronger. But our sessions tend to be a total body focus. I have been shocked to learn how beneficial it is for me to strengthen my core and upper body. When I get tired during a run, my upper body starts to droop. I have learned to recognize when this happens and how to reactivate those muscles.
As a fellow runner, Loraine also keeps me from aimlessly doing workouts that wont even help me as a runner. She is also an amazing human being that donated all of her earnings from our sessions to the National Down Syndrome Society.
Strength training only works if you go to the sessions
One would think that this is a no brainer, but it’s not. It’s so damn easy to dismiss strength sessions when I am training for a race because I get so focused on mileage. But I can definitely tell the difference in my running now that I am incorporating purposeful cross-training.
Overall, my entire body feels stronger. My posture is different when I am running. I notice how different muscles activate during my runs as I start to fatigue. Most importantly, I feel stronger during my long runs. Even bigger plus: My body is toning and become more defined. As my training has progressed, I find that my muscles are constantly tight. I’m positive I don’t stretch or foam roll as much as I should. Loraine has suggested that I start to add 1-2 hr/week of yoga to my training.
Chiropractor and Deep Tissue Massage
I’m putting this here because I visited a chiropractor at the recommendation of a couple friends and my trainer. Around late September, my lower back was hurting and I had this constant knot between my shoulder blades. As a birthday present to myself, I did some self-care and treated myself to some pampering. My chiropractor cracked my body in so many ways, it was amazing. It was like I could feel all the tension release from the places that were causing me agony! Maybe it was a placebo affect, but when I ran that night I felt like my joints were lose in all the right places!
I went back a couple weeks later and did a deep tissue massage. Bruh! I told the masseuse my IT Band area was giving me the blues. Well, when he got to massaging, my IT band was the least of my worries! He could tell I foam roll regularly. My real problem areas were my shoulders, arches of my feet, and my BUTT! Massages need to be a part of my everyday life now.
Marathon training without strength training
I did a lot of things wrong training for my first marathon. During my poor attempt at training, I lost a lot of weight. You could see how thin I was, especially in my face, and I don’t have room to lose weight! This time around, I am packing on pounds and I know I it’s because I’m adding on muscle weight! My legs feel more powerful during my runs than they did before. I also don’t have the same intensity of aches. Don’t get me wrong, my body hurts like a MFer after some runs. But I’m not having pains lingering for days in my ankles, hips, and glutes. Before, my body was weak! At the bare minimum, I definitely suggest you consider talking with a trainer and getting some suggestions.
On a regular day I like to eat. I’m always hungry even when I haven’t run 30 miles during the week. These days, I have two moods: TIRED AND HUNGRY, and usually both at the same time. I kid you not, last week after a three-mile run, I showered, climbed in bed with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, ate it under the covers, and fell asleep next to the plate and crumbs. It was a Friday night and my kid wasn’t home, but that’s my life right now.
I am consistently trying to make sure I take in enough calories. I have to eat enough to replenish what I’ve lost running and cross-training, while eating enough to fuel for the next run. My student workers have seriously started a snack collection in our office because they know I am always hungry. They also know I have a stash of snacks behind my desk, that they have no shame hitting me up for!
Long Run Fuel
One thing I am working on is fueling properly to make it through my long runs. This includes being sure to eat a good dinner the night before, getting up early enough to have a decent pre-run breakfast, having snacks for while I am running, and having a game plan for a good meal post run!
The night before a long run, I’ll usually cook some sort of pasta dinner: spaghetti with chopped zucchini cooked into the sauce, steamed broccoli or sautéed asparagus, and a bread. My pre-run breakfast usually consists of a little bit of oatmeal, banana with peanut butter, and some water with a Nuun electrolyte hydration tab. Post-run meals vary. I run early in the morning. So sometimes I will park my car near a restaurant I would like to eat breakfast at. That way, I have something to look forward to when I hit the finish line.
Fueling during the run
What I struggle with the most is having good snacks that help push me through my long runs, this is anything over 8 miles. Typically, I can feel my energy start to deplete between miles 4.5 and 6, depending on how well I fueled prior. This is where a good fuel source comes in to combat that sluggish feeling I have. Mentally and physically I’ll be great, and then I’ll hit a wall where my legs just don’t want to move anymore. I’ve been experimenting with some different energy fuels, here’s what I think of them:
Honey Stinger – Organic Energy Chews and Waffle Wafers (FAVORITE). The energy chews by themselves are not enough. By themselves, I would have to eat one every two miles. I would like something that would sustain me longer. The wafers have worked wonders. I can eat one with a little water while on the run and keep pushing for a few miles. Rotating eating an energy chew and a wafer also is great! I did this on a recent 17 mile run, and never had to stop to snack. I’d eat a chew and after a couple of miles I would eat a wafer that would last me 3-4 miles, this is a good rotation for me.
Nuun Electrolyte – Flavored tablets for my water (FAVORITE). I love putting this in my water before, during, and after a run. Big plus – they come in different flavors. I am fond of the watermelon tab. It is hot as hell in Louisiana, which means a lot of sweating and loss of electrolytes. Nuun helps me balance that out!
Trader Joe’s Trail Mix – I like carrying a baggy of trail mix with me. It does more for me than the energy chews. The only problem with this is the peanuts dry my mouth out making it hard to swallow without a lot of water while I am simultaneously trying to run. If I am trying to power through, I prefer something that’s easier to get down on the go!
Huma Chia Energy Gels – I don’t feel like these did much for me. Similar to the energy chews, I feel like my body ate up everything they had to offer and starts looking for more within a mile or two.
Skratch Lab Energy Chews – I did not notice any energy boost when I ate these. I found with them I have to eat at least two at a time.
Dopey Challenge Long Runs
The longest run I have completed so far is 17 miles. I was supposed to do an 18 mile run last weekend, but I was still recovering from a bad cold. My long runs have been good and bad. It seems like every time I have a decent one, it’s followed up by a bad one a couple of weeks later. My struggle during long runs was figuring out what fuel sources work for me. After experimenting with the items above, I will be sticking to Honey Stinger energy chews and wafers and Nuun electrolytes in my water.
13 & 14 Miles:
I’m starting to think the half-marathon should have been my race! I ran 13 miles at a 9:45 pace during week 11 of the training plan, and it was a really strong run for me where I wasn’t even pushing my hardest. The 13 miler was the first time I tried the Honey Stingers Energy Chews. Other than quick stops to eat a chew and drink some water, I was able to power through my entire run without walking.
I started a bad habit of stopping around mile 6 to get an energy chew out of my camelback. This was horrible for a few reasons:
1. I was waiting too long to start fueling. I could feel my body ready to fuel around mile 4.5, but I was prolonging it so I didn’t have to stop;
2. My snacks should have been somewhere I could get to them easier while I was running. I was storing my energy chews and gels in my camelback. The only way to get in my camel back was to stop, take it off, get what I need, and put it back on. There was just way too much going on with that; and
3. The stop and go game on my legs was killer. With each stop, my legs would get stiffer making it harder and harder each time to get going again.
My 15 mile run was cruel and unusual punishment. From the first step of this run I could tell it wasn’t going to be pretty. For one, I started this run late in the morning. I usually start running before 6 am, this morning I started after 8 (big mistake). This run was the day after Hurricane Nate was “supposed” to make landfall in our area. Well Hurricane Nate turned out to be nothing more than a little wind. Taking precautions, I waited a couple of hours later than usual to start running. I paid for that dearly in heat exhaustion! 8 miles in I had to go into run/walk mode just to get the mileage.
At one point, I was running along a stretch of the lake, the sun was blasting down on me, and there wasn’t a stitch of wind to be found. I could feel my skin burning in the sun. All I could think about was saying f*ck it and calling an uber home. Of course I didn’t! I just kept thinking to myself this is going to be a mental training day. This will be the run I look back on when I am in that stretch of my marathon hating life and cursing myself out. Even my running buddy struggled, he damn near passed out with one mile to go.
My 16 mile run was just as bad. what could go wrong did. I woke up well before the sun to go run on some trails 30 minutes away on the Northshore. As soon as we got to the trail head it started lightning. To not get struck by lightning running through the trails, that plan quickly got scratched and we headed back to New Orleans to run more familiar routes in the rain. Running in the rain doesn’t bother me. You never know when it’s going to rain on race day! Running in a lightning storm through the trails, that’s another story!
We wasted an hour driving to and from the Northshore, so we were off to another late start. We ran the first 3-4 miles in a downpour. A few feet in my shoes were full of water. I remember thinking about how blistered my feet were going to be from running in waterlogged shoes and socks. Then, as to be expected in the bipolar Louisiana weather, the rain stopped and the humidity reared its ugly head for the next 13 miles!
By time I reached my 17 mile long run, I had learned quite a few lessons from some miserable runs. My goals for this run were to:
- Better situate my fuel source so I did not need to stop to get ahold of it; and
- To keep moving, even if that meant walking if needed.
I was able to do just that, and stayed on the move the entire 17 miles pacing at 9:55/mile. I was able to situate my energy chews and wafers in places I could better get to them. In other words: I stuffed the chews in a little pocket in my shorts and the wafers in my sports bra, but it worked!
Now I am well aware of a lot of ways to better carry these things. I’ve tried the waist packs, I hate them! I don’t like anything that constricts me while I am running. Whether it be drinking water or eating, I prefer to be able to do it on the go and with as little fumbling as possible!
Unfortunately, I was not able to run the full 18 miles. I was 100% on the struggle bus. A few days after my 17 mile long run, I came down with the plague, aka the flu or some ridiculous cold that knocked me on my ass for a couple of weeks. For a two-week stretch I either had to completely miss my runs or shorten them. The weekend I was scheduled to do my 18 miler, I was also scheduled to run 3 miles on Friday, and 8 on Saturday. My 8 mile run turned into 4, and my 18 mile run turned into 10.
When I got sick, I still had 8 weeks to go until race day. There was no point in killing myself by not giving my body time to get better. So I just played these couple of weeks by ear and listened to my body. If I wasn’t up for it, I didn’t push it. The first week I was sick I scratched most of my runs (an 8, 4, & 11 mile run), as well as a couple runs at the start of the next week. I could barely get out of bed and make it to the bathroom without my heart jumping out of my chest. Running wasn’t even an option.
Self-care is really important. My trainer told me to look at it as if my body was asking for some rest. She was confident that I have been successful enough in my training so far that I wouldn’t suffer by missing a few days of running. Up until this point, I had hit all of my miles and I was busting my butt in my strength training sessions. Even still, I was really disappointed and discouraged to not be running. It meant a lot to me to have my trainer reaffirm that I wasn’t failing at life because I was sick and needed a few days to recover.
The Sunday I was set to run my 18 miler, I felt like my body was back at 100%, but once I started running I knew it wasn’t. So I decided at mile 2.5 to just take it one mile at a time. I was super satisfied to get through 10 miles before calling it a wrap for the day. Each run since then I’ve felt 10 times better!
Dopey Challenge Running Gear
While I was sick, I decided to take a plunge on a piece of gear I have been wanting: the Nathan’s VaporHowe 4L Hydration Vest. I felt like this vest was the solution to all of my problems in life (or maybe just running problems)! Let me take a moment to tell you about how badass this vest is:
The VaporHowe Vest comes with two soft flasks, with straws, that are situated in two front pockets. This makes it uber easy to drink on the run. In addition to those pockets, it also has a few more front pockets for storage – this is where I store my chews and wafers, AND my iPhone 8 Plus cozily fits in the pocket with one of the soft flasks. The vest is secured snuggly in place with two adjustable chest straps. Lastly, there is a rear storage pocket made to store an additional bladder for water.
The vest is badass. Although, it’s worth pointing out that the two soft flasks alone are not enough for me on a run longer than 6 miles. I plan to get an additional bladder for water, and I will use the flasks for my electrolyte drinks. The vest also costs 150 bucks, which is why I was not spending my money on it without thinking it through. Fortunately, I got away with only spending FOUR dollars on it! My health insurance plan has an awesome incentive that allows you to accrue points by being active. You can cash in your points for things like amazon gift cards. Well, with all this awesome running I have been doing, I had more than enough points to cash in and use towards my new favorite possession. It is the little things in life people!!!
I go into more details about all of my gear in my first Dopey Challenge update. I am partial to Brooks running shoes. Currently, I am rotating between two different shoes: Brooks Adrenaline Seventeens and Ravenna 8s. My favorite sports bra is an all black Victoria’s Secret Knockout bra with the front zipper. I don’t run without one of my many pairs of Goodr Polarized Sunglasses.
All of my runs are tracked on my Garmin Fenix 3HR, which runs a close race against my VaporHowe vest for my favorite toy. Since it is getting cooler outside, I am wearing more leggings. I am partial to any legging that has a pocket on the thigh. As for socks, Feetures are my favorites! I do wear other socks, but I love the fit of Feetures socks and the compression. My feet blister easy, so I need a sock that works to prevent them!
Training has been brutal because of the weather. I feel like having survived marathon training in Satan’s Kitchen, aka Louisiana, I can pretty much survive anything. Marathon training in the humidity down here runs a close second to my military training as one of the hardest things I’ve done. It’s been crucial for me to get my runs in before sunrise or after sunset, if I wanted to not have a heat stroke. I’m not even exaggerating. When it’s as hot as it has been, it is important to slow down a bit and drink plenty of water. A run that I could pace at 8:45 on a decent day, may take me 10 minutes or more when the sun is sweltering. This is definitely where the Nuun Electrolyte Hydration came in handy!
I said before my two moods have been tired and hungry. I don’t even think exhausted is a good way to describe how I’ve been feeling the last 20+ weeks. A typical week for me includes: getting my daughter off to school, running, going to work, going to classes in the evening (PhD program), cooking dinner, helping my daughter with homework, doing my own homework, clean the house, run errands, board meetings or volunteer events, and whatever else may just come up. Running 8 miles first thing in the morning and still getting all that done, leaves me nothing less than fried.
Some days at work, I literally have to shut my door for five minutes to stretch and get my life together. Finding time to wash my hair is remarkable. My hair needs washed right now! I’ve pretty much just come to terms with the fact that there’s a lot of shit to get done. Now I just function exhausted.
Who I am Running for:
The best thing I have to help get me through my training is reminding myself who I am running for. I am Charity Running the Dopey Challenge on behalf of the National Down Syndrome Society as one of my ways to jump-start 2018 with a bang, while also fulfilling my desire to run on behalf of someone else at least once a year! Check out our charity page here and see why I decided to run for them.
How to tailor my training to work for you:
If you’re interested in running the Dopey Challenge, there is a lot of information here that you can use for yourself! Learn from all of my mistakes and successes. I will put a Dopey Challenge guide together after I successfully complete the Challenge in a few weeks (claiming it as mine)! Then I will truly be able to tell you how successful my training plan was and where I see room for improvements. Stay tuned for that final update and your guide to training for the Disney World Dopey Challenge!