Disney World is about dreams coming true. You can go there and be whatever you want, if you believe. It’s a perfect place to run a marathon.
Disney is also perhaps the earliest marathon: fireworks start the race at 5:30, at the end of a one-mile walk to corrals past the gear check, once you get off the bus, which you “must be on board” by 4:00. So, we had dinner at 5 Friday evening, and then went straight to bed. I was so excited, I woke up at 2:09. And to Disney’s credit, the morning runs seamlessly. The bus ride passes as Donald and Mickey give last-minute video instructions. Live entertainment enlivens the waiting areas and start corrals. Bathrooms? A glance around one of the waiting areas reveals that its border is actually made of port-a-potties. A trash bag provides plenty of warmth in the 60-degree (moist) Florida air.
Saturday: Day 1, 13.1 miles. Dione and I accompanied Dad and Andrea to the start. Dad is a walker, and was concerned about being seeded in a later corral because he didn’t want to be any closer to the sweeper truck than he had to be. Fortunately, he had an extremely good year of diligent training, and he was early enough to be right in the front of his corral. I was confident all along that if he could finish ahead of the sweeper in his first half-marathon, in which he fell off a curb and sprained his ankle at mile 5, he was going to be golden this time. Andrea said she hadn’t done many long running sessions, but her job at a big gym saw her achieve big fitness gains this year; even if she was a little nervous inside, she had on her game face for her first half.
The starting line was an exciting and boisterous place, which suddenly gave way to the reality of 39.3 miles of racing ahead. The air was a strange warm but super-cool-humid feel, and the sky was black as we began. This year unveiled a new course, which started on “ordinary” roads outside Epcot; after a few miles, we weaved around a bit, went past some non-descript back-of-house buildings, went through a door and then BOOM: Magic Kingdom!
The course was bright with the lights of Main Street, lined with fans. Traffic was tricky as runners stopped for photos – but can you blame them?! We weaved through Tomorrowland and Fantasyland – past the Teacups and Dumbo – then waved to Belle and the Beast before heading right through Cinderella’s castle.
Chronologically, I’m only 5 miles into the 39.3-mile race – allow me to summarize a bit. The half-marathon course generally went to Magic Kingdom, then back to Epcot. Dione and I chatted and took it in, from the course-side characters getting their pictures taken to the runners of all shapes and sizes in all kinds of outfits and costumes. From our starting position in Corral C, we were consistently in dense traffic, so our pace was easy partially by design, and partially by circumstance; it was always our strategy to take the first day easy, finish with an even split, and get on with recovery. For some reason, the half felt harder than we expected – hmph.
Afterward, we sat for a few minutes exploring our post-race food boxes – the salty cheese and crackers were heavenly – then decided to high-tail it back to the hotel before everyone else decided to do the same. 5 minutes on the bus took us to showers, food, hammocks and the pool for most of the afternoon. Sounds like a good strategy to me, huh? We reconvened with Dad and Andrea for a big round of congratulations, part 1.
Wouldn’t you know it, it was easy to get in bed at 6 p.m., and fall fast asleep!
But I didn’t wake up before my alarm on the second day in a row, no. It was a touch harder to get up – but marathon day was the “big” day for me. How would it feel after already doing the half? How would David fare in his first full marathon? (David is my little brother, who recently through-hiked the 2,182-mile Appalachian Trail, so I was highly confident in his perseverance).
The half and full-marathon fields were about the same size, and we left the hotel only a few minutes later, but the crowds on marathon morning were much larger: I posit that marathoners get up and get to the race site earlier. Discuss.
Four years ago, I ran my first marathon at Walt Disney World. Throughout the day, I considered how far I’d come as a runner. Surviving Goofy’s Race and a half Challenge was about running-smarts, and Dione and I had nailed our pace, nutrition, recovery, and perseverance. We raced like we trained – it’s amazing how much we have learned about each other along the way. Just because she’s quiet doesn’t mean she’s upset, but if you ask twice, she might be.
Again, we started on the road in the dark for a few miles. Ask Dione for a highlight of the race, and she’ll certainly recount the thrill of peeing in the trees – another rite of passage in our running-relationship. Again, we burst into the scene at the Magic Kingdom, and it was every bit as sweet the second time. After a water stop, we went back out into back-of-house small park roads. But there were seldom dull moments: there were characters and DJ’s and music – plus the native Florida plant life and ever-changing sunrise. We were amazed at how quickly the miles ticked by, even at our modest pace.
A wise advisor once suggested, when I was feeling distressed, that when I wake up in the morning, consider that a miracle had occurred which caused all my stressors to go away. Race morning has quite the same effect – leave your baggage at gear-check and get on with the race. And as those miles underfoot became more challenging, around another corner would suddenly appear another Disney park, abundant with smiles.
We took a lap around the speedway, where NASCAR-looking dudes with handlebar moustaches sat trackside next to their shiny cool cars, sipping coffee at 6:30 a.m. We ran though Animal Kingdom, with a couple photo-op stops. We learned later that David took a brief stop to ride a roller coaster. Then after 3 hot and grueling miles on the Osceola Parkway, we ran pretty much every track in the Wide World of Sports.
In the final 10k, we picked up the pace. OK, Dione, it was the final 10 miles. Our early-race pacing had paid off, and we moved steadily up through the field. We were energized by cheers of “Go Team” – this is one of TNT’s national events, and we were in good company with maybe 1,500 other purple people. If this report is inspiring you to even consider running – we’re forming teams now: join us!
Mom and Dad were stationed at mile 24, ringing their cowbell all day long as they watched the entire field – from first to last – go by. Through an obscure connection, they learned that one of their cousins, who they had never met, was running; they only knew his first name, so they wrote “Andrew” and the Canadian flag on a piece of cardboard … and he stopped to meet them when he ran by and spotted it.
After the race, I asked Dad for a remark for my race report. He said Dione and I were “two of the happiest Goofies that we saw.” Here we are, 37.5 miles into it – our lens may be smeared with sunscreen, but we’re still happy to be running. I’d say the marathon wasn’t that much harder for having run the half the day before, it just got harder much earlier in the day. But it’s supposed to be hard.
That’s pretty much how it went. It was a vacation and a family event, it was sunny days and easy moving. It was gratitude for growing as a runner… and Dione’s blister from day 1 not growing on day 2. It was a magical tour of the happiest place on earth.
Often, after races people ask “how was your time?” In this instance, the answer is confidently “I had a great time.” The number I’m focused on is 39.3. And 3 medals, yo.
We splurged on a super-fancy dinner the night after the marathon, at the Grand Floridian. Our dressy clothes looked pretty dapper adorned with those finishers’ medals. The food and service were perfect, but when the harpist began to play “Chariots of Fire,” it was magic. That’s what Disney is about.