Hello everyone! I hope you all enjoyed (and actually had) the long weekend! We had some friends in town for the Inauguration and were lucky enough to get tickets to watch with them on the Capitol lawn. The entire event was incredible to see, and I have to say that regardless of your politics, if you ever get an opportunity to watch an Inauguration in person, it is really amazing!
But I’m back from my mini-blogging hiatus to recap the Walt Disney World Marathon. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t itching to run, which is part of why I’ve put off writing this recap. So as soon as I finish typing this up, I’ll be getting a start on my PT exercises with hopes of getting back out running ASAP (and while I see everyone complaining about the temps on FB and Twitter right now, I would give anything to run right now!).
Walt Disney World Marathon
Getting to the race
Like the half marathon, the marathon starts at 5:30 am, and all participants must be on a bus to the start line by 4 am. After a close call the day before, Matt and I woke up at 2:00 am and made sure to leave to get on a bus by 3:15 am. That little change in time made a huge difference and we made it to the start line with a lot less traffic!
After checking our bag, we headed to the corrals about 1 mile away. Here, again, the change in time had a big impact! There were so many fewer people and instead of shuffling our way to the corrals, we could actually walk. That made a big difference for my knee!
We made it into the D Corral with a substantial amount of time to sit around and wait. We entertained ourselves but checking out the costumes (we saw a Richard Simmons look alike!) and laughing at the really bad DJ they had. (Just because a song is in Spanish doesn’t mean it’s a Spanish song…a lot of countries speak Spanish as the national language.) Before too long I decided I wanted one more bathroom stop so we left the corral, stood in a long line to pee (no bushes, Mom!), and then climbed our way back towards the middle of our corral. Before we had much time to wait, the race was getting underway and our corral made its way to the start line!
The course started the same way as the half marathon course, so we knew where we were headed. I had decided my race strategy was going to be to run 1/2 mile, walk 1/2 mile as long as my knee would allow, and then walk as much as I could until the pain reached a 3 and I needed to drop out. After realizing just how much the ITB strap helped the day before, I started with it on but the mixture of sunscreen (my pale skin needed some protection in the 80 F day ahead of us) and serious humidity (read: sweat!) meant I had to stop every couple of miles to readjust the strap. And at least once each mile I would have to try to pull it back into position.
After the first half mile, my knee was ready for a break. It had stiffened up after sitting and standing around and the jolt of running was a little much. Part of me had worries about getting through the race but I thought back to the first couple of miles during the half and told myself to get to mile 5 and see how it felt.
The corrals were spaced about 7 minutes apart so during our first walk break the fireworks went off to send out Corral E. I heard someone around us say they felt like they were in The Hunger Games and were expecting to see faces in the sky. I started laughing so hard and thought about that each time we heard another round of fireworks go off! (And if that doesn’t make sense to read, please read the books ASAP!)
I was also surprised by just how many people were run/walking the race! I’ve never done another marathon were there were so many people run/walking, and it made me feel a lot better. I always worry about getting in the way when I slow to a walk and try to get out of the way of runners, so know that a lot of people were using the same strategy made me feel better about that.
As we made our way towards the Magic Kingdom, I knew we would see our moms at mile 4 by the Transportation Center, and I was amazed that my knee wasn’t causing me any problems by the time we reached that point. I was also amazed that despite walking half of each mile we were still maintaining about a 12:30 average pace! We spent a lot of time weaving in and out of people during the half mile we would run because everyone around us was using a diffierent timing or mileage plan for their run/walk. During the weaving I realized that running faster felt better on my knee than running slower (I can’t explain that either) so I would pretty much just take off practically sprinting during each half mile run.
Before long we made it to mile 5 and I was elated to have at least made it that far!
Just after mile 5 we entered the Magic Kingdom and were able to see Cinderella’s Castle while it was still dark outside! The view coming down Main Street USA was incredible!
I told Matt heading into the park that I wanted to make a bathroom stop and he said he’d spotted a good place to go the day before. Sure enough, just before we entered the castle, off to the right, there were bathrooms back behind the new Fantasyland addition with no one in them!!! I was in and out in maybe a minute!
We ran through the castle and made our way through the rest of Magic Kingdom, soaking in the crowds and atmosphere before the long stretch we knew was coming. After exiting the back of the park, we took a single lane road behind the Magic Kingdom resorts (Grand Floridian and Polynesian), which is where we met up with our moms again. I used a tissue to try to wipe the sweat off of my ITB strap and we grabbed some clementines before jumping back in to keep going.
The words of encouragement we received really helped and we continued making our way to the Speedway (passing a piece of raw bacon on the ground!) around mile 8.5. We entered the speedway down a steep hill (which most people were stopping to walk down, forcing all of us to walk) and a short incline back out before emerging on the race track. To be honest, I really wasn’t excited for this part of the course because I was expecting a boring lap around a really long speedway with the sun beating down overhead. HOWEVER, the sun was behind the trees when we raced through, which kept it nice and cool, and there were so many awesome dragsters around the track I loved seeing all of them as we looped through! I will give RunDisney props because that was a lot cooler than I thought it would be.
We left the Speedway and started down the back roads to the Animal Kingdom, passing mile 10. My body was still feeling strong at this point, and I was popping a salt tablet/eating Jelly Beans every 5 miles, so I kept on pushing.
During this part of the course I heard another runner talking about how it was the worst section of the race. While there are several reasons why that may be the case (there is nothing around you except for the waste processing facilities…and no that’s not a joke), there was a ton of shade. And on a day when the temps are quickly making their way to 80 F, I’ll take all of the shade I can get! (Spoiler alert: there was a lot of unshaded course to come!)
A couple of places along these miles we had some entertainment in the form of characters and animals from the petting zoo at Conservation Station, but I was more than relieved when we made it to the Animal Kingdom and we had a lot more entertainment! We had been hoping to get to ride Expedition Everest once we made it into the park, but we were sadly 20 minutes early for the park opening and I wanted to get in as many miles as possible before it got REALLY hot.
We took a side road out of the park (the same one used during Wine and Dine right before the relay runners and half runners split), which is a crazy narrow road that always makes me curse RunDisney’s planning. But as we hit the halfway point, I had no clue that my favorite part of the race was about to take place.
Let me set the scene for you: we are boxed in on a small trail that is narrower than most sidewalks barely running faster than we can walk. We desperately try to make our way to a free place to run only to get trapped in again and again. Finally we get into an open space and start to pick up speed. I hear Matt say, “Oh really, right there?” so I look to my right and see a man peeing ON THE ENTRANCE TO ANIMAL KINGDOM!!!! I was totally shocked that with 10 minutes before the park opened and a crowd of at least 1,000 people around him, a man was choosing to pee on the entrance. Flabbergasted, I barely have to to comprehend what’s going on before I notice that a cast member has sent a small group of people across the course (which they do when there’s space) but along with this group an old woman on a scooter takes off without paying attention. I’m able to get by her just in time but she doesn’t slow down and heads straight for Matt. As he barely jumps out of the way in time, I hear him yell, “Get out of the f***ing way!!!” And immediately I bust up laughing as I look around at all of the kids watching the race, thinking to myself, yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is my husband! (I think I laughed for a good 20 minutes after the race reliving this moment when Matt tried to justify that it wasn’t that loud before realizing it really was and he taught a lot of children a new world in the middle of the race.)
After surviving that excitement, we made our way out through the parking lot and onto the Osceola Parkway and hit mile 15.
While everyone was dreading the stretch into Animal Kingdom, I was more worried about the stretch after. I knew the Osceola Parkway would have no shade and was in direct sun, and we’d hit it just in time for the sun to start coming up. I was just thankful that my knee was still feeling really good at this point.
We took the stretch down to Victory Way as we made our way to the Wide World of Sports, and somewhere in here Matt and I began grabbing extra water at the water stops to dump on our heads. Around mile 17 we made our way into the complex, looping in front of the Josten’s building before heading to the track. The instant my feet touched the soft surface, I wanted to run the rest of the race as loops around that track…it was heaven. I really started to noticed the heat at this point, and laughed as 2 different groups were talking about winter Olympics sports while we were all sweating to death under the hot sun.
Mile 19 took us on a loop that stretched from the track through the complex and to a side entrance to the Brave’s spring training stadium. During this half mile run, I really took off sprinting and Matt yelled after me to slow down because I was running a 7:00 mile!!!! A guy next to me yelled out that that was awesome and I told him I had no clue I could run that fast…on top of an injury! But I listened to Matt’s wisdom and slowed to an 8:00 mile pace . Like I said, fast felt better than slow.
We’d been hearing a lot about a build up for the mile 20 spectacular, given that this was the 20th anniversary of the race, so as we started our loop around the warning track in the stadium, I kept waiting to see something awesome. It was definitely really cool to watch myself on the jumbo screen, but I kept thinking there has to be something more.
We left the stadium and headed back out to Victory Way where there were cast members dressed up in some crazy puppet-like versions of Disney characters in front of an arch displaying all of the marathon medals from the last 20 years. It was cool to see, but it definitely wasn’t the coolest entertainment on the race course and was a big let down from what we’d been hearing as the build up to mile 20. (I honestly had told myself I really wanted to get that far to see what it was going to be and was really disappointed.)
However, I was happy to make it to mile 20 and starting to feel like I was going to make it to the finish line.
And then mile 21 started. We weren’t even a few minutes into the mile and Matt felt cramping coming on in his legs. We stopped to walk under a now blistering sun and didn’t start running again until we finished mile 26.
The water stop half way through that mile was much needed, and it was shortly before that point that our tanks had come off. As we headed back down Osceola Parkway on our way to Hollywood Studios, I was having flashbacks to the heat during the final miles of the National Marathon last spring. We kept repeating that this wasn’t a goal race, we were just out there to have fun, and our priority was finishing without any new injuries.
So our pace slowed (although our overall pace didn’t drop a whole lot as a result of walking the last 6 miles) but we made our way into Hollywood Studios and grabbed a handful of chocolate from volunteers on our way in! We walked through the costume tunnel on the backlot tour and came out where all of the cityscapes are located before passing under the Sorcerer’s Hat.
(And yes I did purposely wear a teal sports bra and shorts in the event that I stripped off my tank so I’d look like Jasmine .)
By this time the parks were all open and the cast members did an incredible job of moving people through the race course. I was impressed by how well everything was organized and have to give big props to all of the volunteers and Disney employees that made this possible!
We left the front of Hollywood Studios and turned down a trail I know well and love: the trail connecting the park to The Boardwalk and Epcot. Whenever we stay at The Boardwalk, it’s the trail we run, and it’s part of the final miles of the Wine and Dine Half Marathon. I was so happy to hit mile 24 at this point, glad that we were surrounded by familiar miles the rest of the way, and then RELIEVED when we found ourselves at a back side entrance to the World Showcase at Epcot. The blister under my toe that I had developed on my left foot during the half marathon was throbbing with each step and the sign indicating we had reached mile 25 was honestly a beacon of hope at that point.
The number of times I’ve eaten my way around the World Showcase can’t be counted, and as we began looping around the countries, I thought to myself about the words I’d whispered to my mom…about the last mile being your victory lap…and I spent the entire mile fighting back tears.
Check out that leg muscle definition (and ignore the stomach flub!).
Tears because I had spent so long doubting I would make it that far. Tears because I had once again learned to work with the injury I’d been dealt and was rapidly approaching another finish line. Tears because even though it feels like the finish line for grad school should be near, it keeps moving farther and farther away…but the finish line of a marathon will always be 26.2 miles. Tears because the magic of Disney gave me a magical weekend of racing. And tears because less than 4 years after deciding I wanted to lose weight I was now completing my 4th marathon…less than 15 months after my first.
Faster than expected, I found myself underneath the Epcot ball and in a blink of the eye the gospel choir was there on my right side. I was at mile 26!
With blinding pain, I began running the final .2. While I never would have pushed myself to run through that pain at any other point during the race, the finish line had come into sight, and I wasn’t stopping.
I was hot, tired, physically and mentally exhausted, but I made sure to savor every second of that final stretch. I watched the finish line grow larger and I smiled as Mickey and Goofy danced at the side lines. I reveled in that feeling that can never be described but every marathoner knows…the mixture of gratitude, relief, joy, exhaustion, but also sorrow that the journey is over…steps before I crossed the timing mats.
Yes, Matt’s muscles were cramping as we crossed the finish line, which is why he is grimacing and running with such bad form.
Crossing that finish line in 5:47:35 (my longest marathon by over half an hour) felt like winning the Olympics. I wish I could capture and bottle that moment so I would never forget the pure joy I experienced. Just two days prior to the race, I didn’t think I’d make it through the half marathon. And then, just before noon, in less than 30 hours, I had complete my first 39.3 challenge! It was truly breath taking.
After the race
Unfortunately, I knew the pain was going to linger longer. I immediately headed to the medic tents to get ice and then headed straight for the Goofy medal pick up. We also received bags to put water and Powerade in (although a volunteer was yelling that we needed to start consuming liquid before we reached him given the heat) before stopping for a photo!
We then grabbed our snack packs before heading straight back to our resort and grabbing lunch at the Artist’s Palette before lazing around and hanging out at the pool for the rest of the day. Recovery also included dinner at ‘Ohana, but a full post on that will be for another day. However, we made sure to head over to the Polynesian early enough to catch the Wishes fireworks show across the water at Magic Kingdom (you can watch from the beach and they run the music there, too). And I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate the day. As the recording talked about always having the courage to make your wishes come true, I thought about Elizabeth and one of the last things she said to me before the race: Be brave. And there, on the beach with three very heavy medals hanging around my neck, I shed tears of joy knowing that I had been brave enough to make my wish come true.
Your Turn: Have you ever run a race at Disney World? What is your favorite moment during a race? What is your favorite way to celebrate a race or another big accomplishment?