Friday, January 16, 2015

Walt Disney World Marathon recap

My journey to marathoner started in April of 2014 when I registered for the Walt Disney World Marathon and Chicago in the same week.  I thought I might be slightly crazy for running a marathon in October and another in January but I really wanted to run both and being accepted in the lottery for Chicago seemed like a sign.  I had initially said I was going to run one marathon and retire.  After that first marathon I knew I wasn’t through with the marathon.
We arrived at Disney the Tuesday before the marathon so we had time for fun and relaxation before race day.  We made our way to the expo on Wednesday first thing as the kids were participating in the Mickey Mile on Thursday and John was participating in the 10k on Friday.  We had fast passes for Anna and Elsa later that day at the Magic Kingdom so we were on a tight timeline.  Bibs and shirts were in hand and on the way back to the busses, I picked up my Minnie Mouse visor to complete my race day ensemble.  When we returned to the hotel that evening after the park, I realized I forgot my handheld water bottle at home.  When we headed to the kids races the next day, I picked another one up and had a quick chat with Jeff Galloway before heading over to the start line of the Mickey Mile.  
Marathon morning started off with a 2:30am wake up call.  While, it was extraordinarily early, I hadn’t been able to sleep so it was a relief to get up and get on with the day.  My family was getting up at 4 since they didn’t need to be on the busses as early that morning.  My race day supplies were out and ready and by 3am I was headed to the pick up location at the front of the hotel.  Within a short period of time we arrived at Epcot and I made my way to the race retreat.  I was able to grab a banana and bagel with peanut butter and do some browsing on social media before the start.  The cool thing about the race retreat is there were character appearances so I had the opportunity to meet the gang from Toy Story.  I also had the ability to use the bathrooms before heading to the corrals without waiting in a 20 minute line.  Granted they were portable toilets but it was better than nothing. 

At 5am, we were told we had to make our way to the corrals.  The race started at 5:35 am and the corrals were a good 20 minute walk from the race retreat.  By that point in the morning I had probably already put on 1.5 to 2 miles on these legs.  I wish I could have stayed in the tent a bit longer because I knew my corral wasn’t going to start until close to 6:30am.  The fun thing about these races is that each corral is sent off with fireworks.  I noticed early on that the song played for each corral corresponded with the letter of the corral.  Corral F had Fancy.  I have to admit I was dancing around while waiting for our send off.  I may have looked silly but this race was about having fun. 
Shortly before 6:30, our corral was off.  I decided to approach this race cautiously.  In Chicago, I got swept up in the moment and ran my heart out those first few miles and it really got me at the end.  I ran that first mile conservatively.  It was above goal pace but I was ok with that since I knew that it would leave me with energy at the end.  It felt like that first mile flew by as we made our way towards the Magic Kingdom.  Mile 2 felt comfortable and I was right at goal pace with that mile.  I was feeling good and running by feel.  I had my music but I left my headphones out so I tune into my breathing and the sound of my feet hitting the ground.  Before I knew it I saw the 3 mile mark and we were headed into the gates of the Magic Kingdom.  I knew from running Princess last year that it was a good 2.5 miles until we were actually in the park.  Right after mile 4, we hit the Ticket and Transportation Center and I needed to use the restroom.  There were real bathrooms here and I waited in line for almost 10 minutes.  I was annoyed with this but the line wasn’t much longer her than for the portable toilets.  I was back on my way and this was a nice stretch because there were plenty of spectators there cheering us on. 
At around mile 5, we were somewhere in Magic Kingdom in the service areas.  The Magic Kingdom is my favorite park and offers one of the best experiences in the race.  I also knew this was the first time I was going to see my family.  We made our way through the service gate and we were in the park and I knew the right hand turn onto Main Street USA was coming up.  The Christmas decorations were still up in the park and the spectators were lined up like we were the afternoon parade.  It was amazing.  As we approached Cinderella’s castle, we made the right hand turn towards Tommorrowland.  We ran through Tomorrowland, past the speedway, the teacups and were headed to my second favorite part in the race:  Cinderella’s Castle.  As we approached the castle, I could see Anna, Elsa and Kristoff in the balcony welcoming us.  There was artificial snow in the air, I waved to our friends from Arendale and I made my way through the castle.  There were photographers at the exit who captured some great shots of me.  

The next section of the race had us going past The Grand Floridian and towards the Walt Disney World Speedway.  There were not as many spectators on this part of the route.  It was a peaceful and I was staying pretty steady with my pace here.  Somewhere around mile 7 or 8 we hit the speedway.  The ramp into the speedway was wicked.  Very steep decline which leveled out and then the steep incline onto the speedway.  There were cars parked on the track and owners close by cheering the runners on.  This was the first time I had ever seen a race track first hand so it was interesting.  That mile stretch on the track was pretty boring though. 
After we left the speedway, we were making our way to Animal Kingdom.  We took a rustic looking road to the park.  There were virtually no spectators along this stretch but there was entertainment and fluids along the way.  We made our way into Animal Kingdom through what appeared to be service roads for cast members.   There were animals along with their handlers on the course for photo ops.  This was a neat touch.  There was a handler with a turtle and he was quite popular for pictures.  Many people were pretending to race the turtle for their photos.  We entered the park and went past Expedition Everest.  Many runners were taking the opportunity to take a break from their running and take a ride.  I had a very specific time goal and I knew I could meet it if I pushed myself in the second half so I didn’t stop for a ride.  After all this is why I started out conservatively.  I knew my family was going to be here to cheer me on so I was looking for them and finally I rounded a corner and I saw them.  My son handed me pretzels, I hugged my oldest and gave my hubby a quick kiss before I was on my way.  I was about to hit the halfway mark after we left the park.  I was about 10 minutes off pace and this was as a result of that bathroom stop around mile 4.  
Shortly after the halfway mark, my right leg seized up and I had pain in my foot.  It didn’t feel too bad while I was running, but walking made it pretty uncomfortable.  I stopped somewhere around mile 14.5 to massage my leg to loosen it up a bit.  This helped for a little bit.  Based on the fact that this act made things feel better I decided to keep pushing on.  We were headed to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at this point.  It was somewhere around mile 17 that we were headed into the complex.  On my way in, I could see other runners on their way out.  There was a jumbo screen and an announcer cheering people on as they exited the race.  The announcer stated they were at mile 20.4.  I did the math in my head and I realized this stretch of the race was going to be long.  I had to use the restroom again right before mile 18.  There were some real bathrooms on the course and I waited a good 10-12 minutes before it was my turn.  I knew I couldn’t wait and it would probably be my last stop before the finish.  I continued on and right around mile 18, I broke down in tears. It was a good thing I had sunglasses on.  I knew at this point in the race with the  bathroom stops and the pain in my leg that I had to switch my approach from a PR to just finishing the race.  I had worked really hard this training cycle and had I kept my pace and shorter bathroom stops, I would have come close to a 40 minute PR from Chicago.  I was so disappointed in myself.  I knew I had two choices though:  to be miserable and drop out or swallow my pride and finish this damn race.  I wasn’t a quitter so I pulled myself together and continued on.  Part of this race has you running on the warm up track of Champion Stadium.  I believe in signs.  As we made the turn into the stadium, I knew my decision to swallow my pride and just finish was the right decision.  At that moment, I heard the Notre Dame victory march.  This is frequently played by my husband and as I was waiting in the corral that morning, he sent me a text message that said “Play like a champion today”.  Yep, that was the sign I needed.  I liked running around the baseball diamond.  It is a fun experience and I tried to do it with a smile on my face.  I was going to fake it until I made it that day. 
We headed out of the complex and I finally hit the 20 mile marker.  It was just a 10k at this point.  Not that a 10k is easy or a short distance, but was short in comparison to what I had already accomplished.  I knew that we were going to be headed into two more parks before I hit the finish line.  We were making our way towards Hollywood Studios and entered the park around mile 22.  At mile 22.5 some kind volunteers were handing out candy.  I had a Hershey’s miniature and took a moment to text my husband that I was less than 4 miles away so he could plan for my arrival.  He texted me back that he would have a lemon-lime powerade and a coke waiting for me when I crossed the finish line.  I don’t drink either of these regularly but I do after a marathon.  
We made our way out of Hollywood Studios and were headed to the Boradwalk area.  I had never been over there before and it was a nice surprise.  It was beautiful, peaceful and there were spectators!  This is exactly what I needed to get through these next few miles.  I chatted with people along the way to distract myself from the pain in my foot.  I knew we would be hitting Epcot soon which meant I was almost there. 
We came into Epcot through a back service entrance where some fairy looking lady greeted us.  I have no idea who she was but she said when we hit France we only had a little over a mile to go.  Woo hoo! This was also the last water stop and the volunteers made sure we all knew so we could properly hydrate.  The sun was shining pretty bright at this point and it was getting pretty warm.  Much of the race had been under cloud cover and occasional showers. After passing the 25 mile marker, I texted my husband to let him know that I was a little more than a mile out.  There were plenty of spectators along this portion of the race as the park was open for the day.  There were runners stopping in Germany to get some beer for the last mile.  I am sure they forgot to grab water at that last aid station. I didn’t have any cash on me otherwise I may have stopped for one too.  Where else can you have a beer while running the last mile of a marathon? I was nearing Spaceship Earth and I knew that meant the park exit was shortly after that.  I made my way past Spaceship Earth and rounded the corner to see the mile 26 marker along with the gospel choir.  I lost it again.  I knew I was going to finish.  Distance running is very emotional for me and this race was no different.  I went through so many emotions this race and had conquered a pretty amazing challenge that day.  I had a few more turns and the finish was mine.  I could hear the music and then the announcer.  I could see the finish line and the stands were filled with spectators.  I tried to look for my hubby but there were too many people for me to see him.  Even though my body was hurting, I crossed that finish line strong.

I made my way through the finish chute to get my medal.  As I was approaching a volunteer to get my medal, I saw this woman just sobbing.  I patted her on the back and congratulated her on a job well done because I know that feeling.  The marathon finish is raw and very real.  I approached the volunteer and she put the medal around my neck.  At that moment I broke down and told her I wanted a hug.  She was so sweet and hugged me and let me cry on her shoulder for a moment.  I am so very thankful for that volunteer.  I stopped for my photos and made my way back to the race retreat to meet up with my family.  My hubby met me, rose in hand, shortly before I made it to the race retreat and gave me a hug.  Yes, I cried some more. 
When I got in the tent, I grabbed my gear bag and made my way to the kids.  I sat down and had my son take my socks and shoes off because my feet were on fire.  Luckily I had my flip flops in my bag.  While they aren’t the most supportive, it was just what I needed at that moment.  My feet were hurting so bad in my running shoes in that last mile that I contemplated for a moment, taking the shoes off and running in just my socks.  I decided against it but I seriously considered it.  I ate some food and we made our way back to the bus for the hotel.  I waddled my way there and it felt like a good half mile from that tent to the bus.
This was a really fun race. There was a lot of on course entertainment to break up the boring stretches and plenty of spectators.  The volunteers were great as were the other runners.  While the marathon distance is tough, I am glad that I decided to do this marathon just three short months after Chicago.  I am most definitely not done with the marathon.  I will be running my next marathon in June.  If you ever consider running just one marathon, Walt Disney World is one of the best out there.  I will be seeing a sports medicine doctor about my foot so I can knock marathon number 3 out of the park!

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