As I write this, I’m sitting on a plane heading back to the West Coast and I’m wearing the 20th Anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon finisher’s medal. It’s Monday night, and since the previous morning, I’ve only taken it off to shower and sleep. Weighing in at 8.7 ounces, it’s a heavy, marvelous piece of bling. I can’t even begin to tell you how thrilled I am to have completed this incredible once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment—but what I can tell you about is the marathon weekend and what’s it’s like running my first marathon.
First stop – shopping
As with any large running event, the first stop to make is at the packet pick-up/expo. Although I had previously purchased my marathon merchandise online, Thomas and I dodged the long line for packets and went directly into the shopping area just in case other wonderful “I have to have it” items may appear. And appear they did. runDisney pulled a good one—the pre-event 20th anniversary merchandise that was available online was different than was what offered at the expo! Oh, and there was new Coast-to-Coast merchandise. And runDisney merchandise. And, well, you get the picture. What had planned on being a quick stop for maybe a commemorative wine glass turned into a full-scale shopping expedition.
The official runDisney merchandise area at the Health & Fitness Expo offers numerous shopping temptations for those participating in the 20th anniversary marathon, including medallion mouse ears. Photo by Lorree Tachell.
With a very large shopping bag in hand, we wandered out the merchandise booth exit and ran smack into the runDisney booth. I noticed a small bank of three computers—could they be offering early sign-up for the Disneyland Half, brand new Disneyland 10K (6.2-mile) race, and the Dumbo Double Dare challenge (for those wanting to register for both)? Why yes indeed they were! The line was short so I jumped on the opportunity. This was a wise move, as the queue wrapped around the entire perimeter of the runDisney booth within the next hour.
The expo proved to be very productive—not to mention expensive. One weekend task complete.
Second stop – Disney Family Fun Run 5K at Epcot
The weekend race events start Friday morning with the Disney Family Fun Run 5K. Held at Epcot, this 3.1-mile event starts at Epcot's Imagine parking lot, then enters the park and navigates around the 11 countries of World Showcase, by the Fountain of Nations, Spaceship Earth, and the Leave a Legacy Monument before ending back at the Imagine lot. It’s a beautiful course and a great chance to stretch out the legs prior to the half-marathon on Saturday and marathon on Sunday. It's also a great chance to pick up a really cute rubber medal.
As with the rest of the 2013 WDW Marathon Weekend events, the number of participants for the 5K increased dramatically from past years. With 10,000 participants (many of whom were first-timers), it made for a large group to manage, but runDisney did a great job. There were five corrals, each with their own start. Corral E actually had two starts: One to accommodate those without strollers, and another for those who'd registered in the stroller division. The latter group was placed at the back of the pack. I was in corral B, which put me out very nicely to get in a nice pace. As the race is not officially timed, I didn’t bother with my Nike+ running app, but just relaxed and enjoyed the sights and sounds of sunrise in Epcot. Many of the characters local to Epcot—such as Mulan and Mushu in China and Marie in France—were available for pictures, which made it fun to see who was around the next corner.
The Disney Family Fun Run 5K proved a perfect start of the day. Second weekend task complete.
Final stop – the marathon
My alarm went off at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, and I did not want to get out of bed. All the negative thoughts I had been pushing out of my mind regarding the marathon were flooding me that morning and causing total panic.
“What in the world were you thinking when you signed up” “You can’t do this” “You didn’t train near enough”. I had to remind myself that the medal was awesome. I could do this. And while my training fell short when I took at tumble at the Tower of Terror 10 Miler, I had done enough half-marathons through enough adverse conditions to know that when my mind is set, I can accomplish anything.
I dragged myself out of bed and by 3:45 was on a bus heading to the starting village at the Wonder parking lot at Epcot.
Thomas, my CSO (Chief Supporting Officer), came along with me on the bus and helped keep me focused on the task at hand. If you have ever seen Disney's TV short "Prep & Landing Stocking Stuffer: Operation: Secret Santa" (2010) you may remember a scene where Lanny, a relatively new Prep & Landing elf, is nervous about a task they are assigned by Mrs. Claus. His partner, Wayne, reminds him where we keep our fear—which is apparently in our hats. Thomas has perfected his Wayne imitation and per his instructions, I proceeded to tuck my fear in my hat. I wondered if anyone else was as nervous as I was. It was already hot and humid and the weather wimp in me was worried.
Not long after our arrival, the call came out to begin the dark 20-minute hike to the corrals. I gave Thomas a hug like we were parting ways on the Titanic, and off I went. I was in corral D, which I took as a good omen—my first half-marathon (which not coincidentally was at WDW) also started from corral D.
As I walked with the other participants, my hat was leaking fear all over the place (darn the ventilation holes). I couldn’t help but notice all the excitement and kick-butt attitude radiating from the crowd. We passed the Fairy Godmother, who had a long line of runners waiting to pose for pictures. She’s kind of my good-luck charm from all the Princess Half Marathons—so I take it as another good omen seeing her so early in the morning, and think to myself that this may be OK after all.
I took my place in the corral and all too soon the fireworks went off, and we were on our way. Given the heat and humidity, Coach Rae Mills from Texas advised that it was best to run for the experience and not for a time. Good advice. I had my camera with me and decided to make it a photo event. The goal was to finish standing and earn the medal; given all the circumstances, I just hoped to stay ahead of the sweepers.
Our first destination was Magic Kingdom park. Along the way, we passed by captains Jack Sparrow and Barbossa and a very large pirate ship available for character photos. Miles 4 through 7 are through the Magic Kingdom and include the always incredible run up Main Street. This year it was even more incredible, as the Christmas decorations on Cinderella’s Castle were still on display. The castle, fully lit in the dark of the morning, was a stunning sight to see. Castle trumpeters heralded our arrival at the castle as we ran through and back out to Main Street. I scanned the crowd, and in the early morning light, I found Thomas. A quick hug and a kiss and I was back on the road. So far so good!
Just after leaving Magic Kingdom, between miles 8 and 9, we were treated to a new experience as we ran around the oval of the Walt Disney World Speedway. The oval was lined with various cars, from racers to classics to Disney’s Cars Land creations. The sun was just starting to rise as I entered the speedway, and the sunrise was beautiful to see. Of course, the sun wouldn’t stay our friend for long, but it made the experience of viewing all the cars much more fun.
After leaving the speedway, we headed down the road to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where we ran by the Tree of Life and Expedition Everest. Although the park was still closed, the Everest attraction was up and running—offering runners a chance to grab a quick ride via the single-rider queue. At this point we were at miles 12 and 13; just about through the first half. The sun was quickly starting to be an issue but at this point it was "heads-down and keep going."
We exited the park and were met by a large and very vocal contingent of race supporters. I didn’t see Thomas, which meant things weren’t going according to his plans—but I would hopefully see him at the next landmark, EPSN Wide World of Sports Complex.
How many races let you ride and run? Expedition Everest in Disney's Animal Kingdom park is operational during the marathon, offering runners a chance to take a quick detour to enjoy this popular coaster attraction. Photo by Lorree Tachell.
At about this time, my wheels started to fall off. The heat and humidity were way over my comfort level and there was little shade along the course. My hat, which had been leaking all my fears, was now also leaking major sweat. Every water station became a quick shower as I sipped water and dumped the majority of liquid coolness on my head to try and cool down. Miles 15 through 19 were a sad, slow trudge, as I watched my race pace on my Nike+ continue to creep up. I tried to remind myself that this was for the experience and not about the time. The sweeper was still considerably behind me so at this point, I was safe. There was no sight of Thomas at EPSN—he must not be having a good time in the least.
Mile 20 was actually a turning point for me. runDisney had promised a special surprise at the 20-mile marker in celebration of the marathon’s 20th anniversary, and they did not disappoint. The large puppets from Disney California Adventure’s World of Color preshow were out in full force. Lumiere, Sebastian, Aladdin’s Genie, Mike Wizowski, and Tigger greeted the marathoners as well as Mickey, Donald, and Goofy! We passed through a large 20th anniversary arch, and suddenly it hit me—we were in single digits to the finish!
For some reason, I didn’t hit the proverbial wall at 20 miles but instead actually picked up energy and speed. I started to run again and by the time I hit Disney’s Hollywood Studios (miles 22 and 23), I had finally filled all the leaking holes in my hat; the fear was finally gone!
We ran through the Costume Shop with all the colorful costumes in various stages of creation or repair, then past the Sorcerer’s Hat. We wound our way down Hollywood Boulevard and exited the park to the Boardwalk, where we ran by Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resort. The crowds along the Boardwalk were large and vocal, which gave everyone even more help in finishing.
At mile 25, we entered Epcot for the last 1.2 miles of the marathon, and it was here that emotions started to bubble for many of the participants. I found myself choking up as I realized that I would actually make it to the finish, and I was not alone. The celebrations were already starting, and the last mile was loud and festive as the spectators along the course applauded and called out final encouragements. We ran by Spaceship Earth and made the final turns (to the sounds of a gospel choir) to the finish line.
At the 26-mile marker, I stopped to savor the moment. This entire experience of finishing a marathon, 26.2 miles, had been an incredible journey that I originally started in 2007 in time for the 15th marathon anniversary. I didn’t get to participate in that event due to the loss of my mom, and it took me years to make the decision to give it another go. This time around, I learned a lot about myself and how to use the power of the mind to get through the negative chatter (hiding my fear in the hat also helped).
I thought about my mom and all my friends who were rooting for me and knew they would be proud. I took a deep breath—and as I ran in to the finish, I spotted Thomas’ orange hat in the crowd. He says I had the most surprised look on my face when I crossed the line; it was total disbelief. We tossed "woo hoos" over the fences as I continued on to collect my medal. My final task of the weekend was complete.
Of the 25,000 athletes who registered for the marathon, just over 20,600 completed their journey. That total includes participants from all 50 states and 46 countries. The 80-plus degree heat and high humidity created extremely challenging and dangerous conditions for everyone out on the course, including volunteers and costumed cast members who were out there far longer than I was. One friend dropped out at 11 miles and another asked to be picked up at 21 miles before she collapsed along the course. A good friend who finished the marathon suffered the effects of heatstroke long into Monday. Coach Mills followed her own advice and made the race an experience full of picture stops. She, along with many others, collected her Goofy medal for yet another year (for completing both the half-marathon and marathon). Congrats to everyone who made the effort to complete the race no matter the final outcome.
I found a quote years ago that I love: "Run the first mile with your legs, the second mile with your mind, and the third mile with your heart."
After completing 26.2, it’s truly a combination of all of the above and then some. It also takes a wonderful CSO to provide support, volunteers along the course to provide care and feeding (and bless every single one of them for their time and encouragement), and the desire to truly take on a challenge and achieve a goal. I am proud to say that finally I have achieved my goal.