I’m a Disney Marathoner! I bet you’re wondering how that happened. Never fear, a reasonably complete recap follows. Honestly, the whole thing was so amazing, so much fun, that I can’t remember half of the details I wanted to. I’ll do my best.
When we last left off, I had just finished the Disney Marathon Expo and was well on my way to the final two stages of Dr. Rachel’s Seven Stages of Race Preparation. To refresh your memory, they were:
6. Existential Questioning (at the start of the race – “Why did I think this was a good idea? This is very bad idea.”, “Running is really weird. Why do I do it?”) and 7. Euphoria (post-race – “I LOVE running!”, “That was amazing!”, “I can’t wait to race again. Next time…”, “Woooo hoooo!!”)
At the ridiculously early hour of 2:30am, mom and I awoke in our lovely hotel room at Pop Century (a great, reasonably priced resort, by the way). We had a 3:15am bus to catch, so it was time to rise and shine! I had meticulously laid out my supplies, so I got dressed and ready with relative ease. I taped up my pesky fibula with KT Tape and was as ready as I would ever be.
I double checked everything and boarded the bus to Epcot to meet up with my marathon running friends (check out their blog!) and head to the start line. The wait for the bus was minimal and the ride was easy. On the bus, I questioning everything – my training, my decision to run, the stability of my only recently healed fibula. Stage 6 was in full effect. As the bus got closer to Epcot, I felt better and better. This was a great idea! I was going to have So. Much. Fun! Eeeeee! I still get excited just thinking about it. The pre-start area was organized chaos. Thousands of runners and families milled about, taking pictures, dropping off bags, and moving toward the runners-only start chute. Disney had done a wonderful job organizing everything, so finding our way around was easy.
In the runners-only area we walked and walked. They weren’t kidding about allowing 20 minutes to walk to the start – it was a long way. We finally arrived and had a few moments to rest in our corral before the 5:30am start.
At the start, there was plenty of entertainment. There were character visits, interviews, and even fireworks! Within a few minutes, we were off. We quickly settled into a nice, smooth pace and trotted along through the first few miles. There were screaming spectators, fans, bands, and all manner of supporters along the way. We passed Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Out front, spectators cheered. I couldn’t believe how many people were out to watch the race – even at 6am! Before I knew it, we had completed 4.5 miles and were entering Disney World. Knowing my mom was waiting near Cinderella’s Castle, I started looking for her. Imagine my surprise when I found her among the thousands of screaming and cheering spectators! We snapped a (really) quick picture and were on our way.
The miles were flying by. I was having a wonderful race. The course was absolutely gorgeous and the characters, fans, and cheering spectators were amazing. We rounded the Castle (amazing at first light!) and came upon Cinderella and Charming. I had to take a picture!
She was gracious, as usual, and the stop was perfectly timed. We all used the (clean!) porta-potties and got some water at a nearby water stop. Seven miles were done in no time at all. We were having a great time! At this point, my memory starts to get a little blurry. I usually have race amnesia and this race was no different. I know it was fun. I saw characters. I enjoyed the sights. Miles passed.
We entered the Speedway around mile 9. I liked the old one better. The classic and custom cars were super fun to see. We exited the Speedway just as the sun was gaining strength and moved into one of the not-so-great parts of the course. We wound along the backstage parts of the parks and past the Disney waste water treatment plant. Ew. It did not smell nice and there were very few spectators or characters. It was actually very much like a normal race. My standards were Disney-high, so it wasn’t as fun. It was started to get hot, and my leg was starting to give me trouble. I slowed a bit, but managed to stay just behind my friends (who deserve so much love for waiting for me and encouraging me! love you!). Finally, we came upon the backstage part of Animal Kingdom. There were animals and handlers for photo opportunities (so cute!). The camber of the strange pavement at Animal Kingdom did me in. My poor fibula was unhappy and I slowed again. At mile 13 I bid my friends goodbye and set off on my own. I had already calculated that if I could run 12 miles, I could walk the rest and finish under the time limit. So, I slowed way down and enjoyed the view. At this point, my priority changed. I was going to go slow, have fun, and keep the distress on my body at a minimum so I could return to training quickly. I was disappointed, and wondered what it might have been like had I not been injured a month before the marathon and could have trained fully, but I was having fun. And having fun is all that matters sometimes.
Around mile 15, I entered the toughest part of the race. Miles 15-21 were on the way to, in, and on the way out of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. The approach is on Osceola Parkway, a divided, four lane road. The trees are way back from the road. It was hot (about 80 degrees and climbing), there wasn’t much to look at, and there was no shade. I was hot, in pain, and not a happy runner. Somewhere in there, 17 maybe, volunteers handed out sponges and I think it was the single greatest gift I had ever gotten. I loved my sponge. It was amazing. Stupidly, I threw my sponge away. Next time I will keep my glorious gift. We wound through the Wide World of Sports (which, if I never see again, I wouldn’t mind so much) and finally exited. I couldn’t have been happier. Miles 16-19 were a real low point for me. I walked more than I had wanted, cursed some, and generally wasn’t feeling the Disney magic. There was no doubt in my mind that I would finish, but I was hoping to recapture the magic. That happened at mile 20.
Seeing Mile 20, and the huge show at the mile marker, was amazing. It was just the boost I needed. The approach to mile 20 had wonderful characters and the marker had a platform with Disney favorites. I waited in the picture line, using the break as an opportunity to stretch and regroup. I would finish. I would do this. I pressed on with renewed vigor. I felt pretty good. Sure, it was hot (86 degrees by this time according to mom, who was waiting at the finish), sunny, and I was exhausted, but I was running the Disney Marathon! An honest to goodness dream was coming true. I pressed onward. I met some nice people, passed some characters, and before I knew it, I saw the sign for the turn to Epcot!
Having made the turn many times in my life, I knew just how far I had to go. And it wasn’t far! The course snuck us in the back way, through Hollywood Studios. I loved running past the Tower of Terror and through the costume shop. There were trees, and shade, and interesting things to see. Running through the fake New York City street was really fun. Disney cast members did a wonderful job of managing marathon and park traffic and the folks visiting the park cheered loudly. In what felt like no time, we exited Hollywood Studios and entered Epcot! Running around the Lagoon was both the longest and the shortest mile and a half of my running life. I wanted to capture every moment. Epcot visitors were cheering, characters were standing by for pictures, and everyone was upbeat. We were finishing the marathon!
After a short trek around the Lagoon, we passed into a backstage area and emerged moments later on the finish line approach. Spectators were several deep and they were all cheering. I could see the finish line! I passed my mom, and, within moments crossed the line.
It was amazing! Everyone at runDisney was so helpful, so kind, and so supportive. Running the Disney Marathon was easily one of the best things I’ve done as a runner. It really is a race full of wonderful memories.
And, just in case you were wondering, I’m definitely in Stage 7. I can’t wait to do it again next year. Maybe this time I’ll be Goofy.