Welcome back friends! Get comfy and settle in, this one’s going to be a long one…
Saturday January 9th. T-Minus 1 day and counting to the marathon.
To say I was nervous was a HUGE understatement. The sleepless nights started weeks earlier and the nights I did get sleep the nightmares of not hearing the alarm, forgetting my Garmin, or just plain not finishing were becoming the norm…So to distract myself from what felt like pure impending doom I planned a super fun day for the Boyfriend and I at Epcot.
He had never been to Epcot before so of course the first rides of the day had to be Test Track, Mission Space and Spaceship Earth. I was a little bummed that Soarin’ was closed for a refurb but it is well needed. Im excited for the addition of a third theatre (increased capacity) and the new film – Soarin’ around the world. The new and enhanced ride will debut sometime in summer of 2016.
In addition to the headliners I even managed to get the Boyfriend on some classic rides like Journey into the Imagination with Figment and one of my favorite’s – Ellen’s Energy Adventure… I know, I know. Everyone hates on that ride. Go on, you have 30 sec to yell obscenities at your computer screen….What can I say I just love me some Ellen and Bill Nye the Science Guy! …Stupid Judy. #hatersgonnahate
By the afternoon, we had seen pretty much everything in Future World and I was starting to worry that I had been on my feet too long so we headed back to the resort for some lunch and R&R.
It wasn’t long though until we found ourselves back at Epcot for our dinner reservations at Via Napoli in the Italy pavilion.
Now if you haven’t been to Via on any of your Disney trips – you are vacationing wrong. The pizza at this restaurant is to die for. I admit, I’ve never been to Italy myself so I can’t compare it to the real thing, but it’s still pretty darn good. The pasta dishes on the other hand, weren’t anything to write home about. On this trip, I opted for a pasta dish since I didn’t think that eating a greasy pizza would sit too well for a morning race. The meal was was ok, a little bland, just nothing special. Needless to say I spent the entire meal drooling over the Boyfriend’s pizza.
I forgot to mention that before we got to Via it starting raining. Not just a light drizzle but an absolute downpour. It rained so hard that I actually stopped and purchased two Disney ponchos at the price of $59.95 each and my first born child…Ok maybe I spent a little less than that but man are those things expensive!
I was pretty bummed about the weather – we had Fastpasses to see Illuminations ,which the Boyfriend had never seen before so I was really excited to see it with him, but the weather just wasn’t improving and another storm was on its way. By the time we left the restaurant it the rain had eased up a bit but my feet were already cold and soaking wet and I was starting to get anxious about the race so we decided to just head back to the hotel and prep for the morning instead.
Back at POP, I laid out my clothes for the race, iced my knees, and foam rolled for a bit. I also got a quick pep talk from the Boyfriend and set my alarm(s) for the morning.
Flat ‘Wonder Woman’
I was just hoping and praying that I would finish and not have any of my past injuries flare up. I had struggled with IT issues all throughout training and had some issues with IT pain at the hip during most of my long runs (18+ miles) and was worried I would be hobbling to the finish.
After about 4 hours of sleep the alarms were going off! IT’S RACE DAY PEOPLE!!! I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of bed so fast …
I quickly got dressed, said my goodbyes to the Boyfriend (he got to go back to sleep and was meeting me in Animal Kingdom at the half way point later that morning), and was on a bus by 3:40 AM.
I stuck with my usual pre-race ritual and got a photo with a character (this time it was Daisy), ate my bagel, stopped at the medical tent to lather my knees in BioFreeze, and headed out to the corrals. I was in corral J for the full and had about 45 min to wait after Corral A left before I would be crossing the start.
I tell ya, standing in those corrals waiting to start can be the most exciting and nerve wrecking minutes of the race. I was using the time to try and visualize the finish and all the steps to get there. I planned to run my intervals (00:30/1:00) and take it slow to start to make sure not to aggravate my IT early on.
Before I knew it my corral was ready to go…my feet crossed that start line, I started my Garmin, and I was on cloud 9. It was official. I was running a marathon!!
The first 8 miles or so are pretty similar to the WDW Half Marathon & Princess Half (both i’ve run before so I knew what to expect). Around Mile 3 I entered the Magic Kingdom Toll Plaza (CAUTION RUNNERS: Speed bump ahead!) and by Mile 4 I was running through the Ticket and Transportation Centre and passing the Contemporary. The crowd support in this area is awesome! It really gets you pumped up before you enter the Magic Kingdom – if you’re not already excited enough!.
What doesn’t get you pumped up though is super long porta potty lines. This race was pretty damn humid so I had been drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated. I usually don’t need to stop for a bathroom break at all during a half marathon so I really didn’t account for too many stops. This was not going to be the case though. I think I wasted almost 6 minutes during that first bathroom break because of the lines. I was getting worried I was loosing too much time so I decided to pick it up as I headed into the Magic Kingdom.
Now this is one of the two moments that really make up a Disney race for me (the other being the finish of course). There are no words to describe that feeling of entering the Magic Kingdom from backstage. You can hear the spectators from a distance before you even enter the park. You turn the corner on Main Street and the street is lined with people cheering on runners as far as you can see and then, there it is.
The castle – shining in the distance. All those miles, the pain, the hours of training culminate in that moment. That is the moment I always feel like “hey – you did this, you made this happen” and at that moment I always feel like I AM actually a runner. Makes me tear up every time…
This year we spent a little more time in the Magic Kingdom than usual as the course winds through New Fantasyland before running through the castle. And as usual, the “running” through the castle, is actually a very slow shuffle.What I wouldn’t give to be one of the speedy runners in an earlier corral and actually get to run through the castle.
After winding through Frontierland we exited backstage and got to check out the Maleficent “steampunk” dragon float (from the Festival of Fantasy Parade) up close. Would have been cooler though if they had it breathing fire, like in the parade…
You’ve probably noticed the lack of character photos so far – there were a lot of characters out on the course but with my irrational fear of being swept during my first marathon I didn’t stop for any photo ops.
The miles between the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom drag on a little. There isn’t that much to see, unless Waste Water Treatment Facilities are your thing, but it still seemed to go by fairly quickly. I think I was just really excited to see the Boyfriend. In all my years of running Disney Races I never had someone, let alone a significant other, come support me. I was pretty pumped.
As we entered Animal Kingdom there were a few ‘animal therapy’ stops. The had some goats, a bunny, a huge snake and what I think was a ferret that you could stop and pet or get a photo with. The line for the big snake was huge (bummer) but I did stop to pet a bunny.
Only in Disney…
Only in Disney would one stop running in the middle of a marathon just to pet a bunny. Shortly after I came across a medical tent and decided to re-apply some BioFreeze (just in case) and take another not-so-quick bathroom break. Another 6 minutes or so lost.
Running through Animal Kingdom was amazing as always. I’ve run through this park twice before in the Expedition Everest Challenge but with that race a thing of the past, this is the only course that goes through this park. A lot of runners were stopping to ride Everest but I decided to pass. Up until then, I had been running a consistent 14:00 mm with the exception of the miles I stopped for bathroom breaks or medical, but I still didn’t want to chance being swept. I still had visions of my knees failing or my IT acting up in the miles to come.
I passed the halfway mark at 3:12:31 and headed out into the Animal Kingdom parking lot still feeling strong and full of energy.
There were so many spectators cheering outside the park entrance and the crowd support was awesome at this point. I finally managed to spot the Boyfriend in the crowd – I’ve never been so excited to see him! I’m pretty sure I ran up to him, gave him a huge (very sweaty) hug, and just said “I’m doing it! I’m running a marathon”. FYI: running makes you very articulate.
I grabbed a few more GU Energy Gels from him, ate a handful of M&Ms and got my head back in the game. Next time I would see him would, hopefully, be at the finish line…
As I started to make my way towards the ESPN Wide World of Sports I decided to pop my headphones in to help those 3 boring highway miles fly by. Just after mile 15 I made yet another not-so-quick bathroom stop and short stop at the medical tent – this time to tend to my achy sore feet. Luckily I had no blisters just sore soles. I decided to take a chance and applied some BioFreeze to the bottom of my feet – something I had never done before. Best. Decision. Ever. After that I felt like a new woman and was pumped to make it to ESPN.
Miles 17-20 were a little underwhelming but it was nice to run somewhere new and on some new terrain. I had never run through ESPN before and once inside you get to run on the outdoor track and run through Champion Stadium. Fun!
On my way out I passed Mile 20 I knew I was in the home stretch – only another 10k to go!
Unfortunately, a mile or so after is where I slowly started to unravel mentally and physically. I think it was around mile 20.5 that I spotted the dreaded balloon ladies. For anyone who doesn’t know who they are, the balloon ladies are a couple of runners who maintain a 16 mm pace throughout the race. If they pass you and you’re unable to maintain the pace there is a good chance that you will be swept and picked up by the bus at the next mile marker.
Balloon Ladies (as seen during the princess half)
In all my years of running Disney races I have NEVER seen them in real life before – until now. Luckily, they were on the other side of the road and just starting to enter ESPN and I had about a 45-55 minute head start on them but it was still incredibly unnerving.
It was at this point I was really getting desperate for another bathroom break too. I had been stubborn, not wanting to loose more time, and not stopped the last few miles but couldn’t wait anymore. The next porta potties I found were at mile 21. There were about 3 of them for a line of 15 runners. A lot more time was lost.
Once I got running again I felt like I had lost the groove I had going before the bathroom break. I was starting to get tired. Nothing was hurting (aside from the bottoms of my feet) and I was pretty impressed that my IT hadn’t bothered me yet but I was exhausted. The lack of sleep over the last few days and just the fact that my body had been in motion for 5+ hours I was starting to hit my wall. I knew ‘the wall’ was coming so on my walk interval I called my mom for some words of encouragement. It was at this point another runner passed me and overheard some of my conversation. She ran beside me for a bit and when I got off the phone she told me she was running with me and I didn’t have a say in the matter. She said it sounded like I wanted to quit and she wasn’t going to let me. She said she would stick with me until I got my rhythm back and we were both going to finish. THIS, my friends, is why I love running. The support in the running community is incredible. I can’t recall her name but I remember she was running Dopey, which I have mad respect for. We ran together for about a mile until I got my second wind, picked up my pace, and we said our goodbyes. If you’re reading this random stranger – you are awesome and got me through one of the hardest parts of the race – thank you!
Mile 22.5 was inside Hollywood Studios and the end was near! Just a little over 5 km to go. It was here they were giving out little squares of Dove chocolates. I think I stopped and grabbed a chocolate from every volunteer and ended up with about 7 of them. Delish!
Shortly after that, the exhaustion I thought I had overcome started creeping back again. I was so tired that I was seriously contemplating just going and riding Star Tours over and over and calling it a day. All I wanted to do was sit down or stop moving. I was starting to get really emotional. I was about to give up and that’s when it happened…
I felt a hand on my shoulder – a familiar face! It was a runner from one of the Facebook groups I’m a part of. We had met once before in person at Wine and Dine last November and he recognized me right away – there weren’t many other runners dressed like Wonder Woman. He was running Dopey and said his legs were beat and didn’t want to run much anymore anyway and that he would stick with me and run at my pace to the finish.
Chatting our way through Hollywood Studios and the Boardwalk made those last few miles fly by and took my mind off of quitting and my tired achy feet.
Just before mile 25 we entered Epcot. What an incredible experience – so many supporters lining the streets of World Showcase. I was starting to get super emotional and it took what little strength I had left in my body not to cry. I was in the home stretch. I remember looking over the lagoon and seeing Spaceship Earth in the distance and just thinking to myself “this is your victory lap – nothing can stop you now. You just ran a marathon”. I honestly think that mile 25-26 was my favorite mile of the whole race – so euphoric.
Before I knew it I was passing underneath Spaceship Earth and running past the gospel choir to the mile 26 marker. I stopped for a quick photo here and texted the Boyfriend to let him know I was almost at the finish line.
Time to finish this thing – I turned the corner and caught a glimpse of the crowds cheering on the runners. I knew the Boyfriend was out there somewhere and just as I passed the first set of bleachers I heard someone scream my name. I knew it was him but couldn’t spot him so I kind of half-waved in the direction of the scream and then took off. I could see the finish line. I felt a fire light inside me and I sprinted to the finish with tears in my eyes. This was my moment. The one I had day-dreamed about during those countless hours stuck on the treadmill. This was the culmination of years of hard work and training. I crossed that finish line with my fist in the air like a champion – I was a marathoner. I was a bad-ass marathoner.
My official finish time was 6:37:56. I had hoped to finish somewhere between 6:00-6:30 but considering I took 3 bathroom breaks and 3 medical tent stops (costing me approx. 25 min total) I’m still pretty damn proud.
This was the most incredible and most challenging running experience for me to date. I learned a lot in those 6.5+ hours. Would I do it all over again though? Absolutely.
Stick around for part IV where I talk about what I learned during the race, what I would do differently, plus get a peek at some of the post race celebrations and shenanigans…Wine and fireworks anyone??