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Waking up at 2:45 in the morning was not hard at all, this was the race for which I’d been training for six long months.   Paul ran the Walt Disney World Half Marathon the day before, so he’d given me a description of how the start would go.  We’re experienced at RunDisney night races, but 2013 Marathon Weekend was our first time to run morning races and also our first time to run through the Magic Kingdom.

I dressed quickly & quietly, double checked that I had everything and left the room with a bagel spread with peanut butter and a bottle of water.  I forgot the cup of coffee that I’d so carefully made with the coffeemaker hidden quietly in the bathroom.  Darn!  I wore an old long-sleeved t-shirt as a throw away, but I probably could have done without it.   I was on a bus from the Beach Club not long after 3 AM and arrived at the pre-race festivities by 3:30 AM.  I met up with various online Disney running groups like the WDW Radio Running Team and #TeamRunDisney for their group photos.  Dennis Marsico from RunDisney TV had tweeted that they were looking for first time marathoners to interview and I just happened to bump into him before heading to bag check so I had a quick moment to tell my story of taking up running to participate in the inaugural Expedition Everest Challenge, then moving up to the half marathon distance to participate in the inaugural Wine & Dine Half Marathon, and now taking on my very first marathon at the 20th Anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon.

After leaving Dennis, I checked my bag that had a dry shirt, flip-flops, and the extra iPhone battery I’d been using up to that point.  I carried a water bottle and a small Clif bar out to the corrals but didn’t end up eating or drinking them.  The portapotty lines were short here, so I used one and then began the slow shuffle out to the corrals.  Everyone was in a good mood and I felt pretty zen about the whole experience.  I knew I’d finish since I’d done a 26 and a 28 mile training run using the Jeff Galloway time goal training plan and my only major concerns were crowding on the course and dealing with the heat in the second part of the race.  I did have a time goal in mind, but knew it might not be possible.

The shuffle to the corrals was slowed greatly by lines for the portapotties extending across the road.  Lots of men and some women too were heading off into the bushes instead.  I was in the corral by around 5 AM and soon the volunteers were asking everyone to stand up and move forward.  I moved a bit, but was planning to hang to the middle of corral D.  First was the wheelchair start, then corral A, B, & C.  Finally it was our turn and we were off!

The course was very crowded for me.  Any place that we were in only one lane for the first 14 miles was crowded.  Taking the ramp from Epcot onto World Drive was borderline dangerous – lots of pushing and shoving with faster runners off on the grass, cursing at those taking walk breaks that had tried to move to the side.  I had my interval beeper set for 90 seconds run and 30 seconds walk.  I found myself running through some of my walk breaks in the first 3 miles because I was afraid of being crushed if I slowed down.  There were many groups of runners forming rolling roadblocks coming up World Drive, moving 5 and 6 across, sometimes in 2 or 3 rows.  I focused very hard on running the tangents of the course, keeping to my interval schedule, and getting my gels every 4 miles as planned.

I had written my planned time splits on my arm in Sharpie marker.  That’s my version of a pace band and keeps me from doing complicated math factoring in my Garmin time with how far I’ve started behind the clock and how far I’ve overrun the course.  I always overrun a race course, so my hope was to keep the overall pace listed on my Garmin at 11:15, making my chip pace around 11:30, giving me a 5 hour finish.  My 5K split was a little slow because of all the crowding, but my 10K split was about on goal.

I absolutely loved miles 3 to 12 of the race.  I felt good and was so excited to run through the Magic Kingdom.  I don’t stop for character photos, but I love watching everyone else who does.  The crowd in the Magic Kingdom was exciting and even coming out around the Grand Floridian made me happy.  Waaaaaaay back in 1998, my Walt Disney World College Program job was at Gasparilla’s Grill & Games at the Grand Floridian.  I do have to say, the spectators in front of the Grand and Polynesian were not cheering for anyone other than their runners… this happens in every race for the mid-to-back-of-the-pack, but it’s disheartening to run by all the silent people just watching but not saying anything.

I didn’t think I’d care about running through the Walt Disney World Speedway, but I actually really liked it.  I enjoyed seeing the cars, I enjoyed having some room to run, and I enjoyed that most of the car owners were smiling and waving.  After we left the speedway and headed out toward the Animal Kingdom, it was already starting to get hot and I knew things were going to get harder.   I thought there was a reasonable amount of entertainment through this stretch.  I missed my half-marathon split by about 5 minutes and knew I had to mentally adjust my time goal back to a 5:15 finish.

I’ve run all three Wine & Dine Half Marathons and the inaugural Tower of Terror 10 Miler, so the second half of the marathon was on much more familiar territory for me.  I struggled terribly with the heat and humidity at the Tower of Terror 10 Miler and found myself out on the Osceola Parkway in much the same state.  I kept up with my 90:30 intervals and took as much Powerade and water as I could at those water stops.  By the time we turned in to the Wide World of Sports, I felt like I was really struggling but noticed that runners around me were in even worse shape.  I was very glad I had been taking walk breaks from the start.  Every medical tent was crowded with people getting Biofreeze, bandaids, hydration, or dropping out of the race.  It was clear that the staff at all the water stops had been instructed to force fluids on runners.  Some volunteers had big bottles of Powerade and water ready to refill personal bottles.

I was very happy to get that wet sponge at mile 17.  I kept it for the rest of the race, dousing it with water at every water stop and pouring it down my back.  Just having something damp in my hand seemed to help.  I knew I would slow down with all the turns around the Wide World of Sports and was actually surprised after the race to see that I didn’t go slower than a 12 minute mile until after mile 20.  Running around the baseball field does not do anything special for me, but I thought the Mickey hot air balloon was fun.  I was also very, very glad that the baseball that came flying over the sidewalk from one of the teams practicing did not hit anyone!  Someone picked it up and threw it back.

So, I have to be honest here.  I thought the hot air balloon and the baseball field were the “big mile 20 spectacular”.  I sorta remember seeing the red arch and characters on a small stage as we ran out of the Wide World of Sports, but it totally did not click with me that THAT was the big mile 20 spectacular.  I’ve looked at photos other runners took and I just don’t remember seeing the large puppets or the medal in the arch.  I think that speaks mostly to the state I was in by then.   In fact, I kept wondering why I hadn’t noticed a mile 20 marker and clock…

As we made the turn back on to the Osceola Parkway, I found myself slowing even more and taking longer walk breaks.  At one point, I was a bit dizzy and that made me very nervous.  The dizziness faded as I dumped even more water on myself and kept squeezing every drop out of my sponge.  Around this point I passed a couple who were attempting to walk the entire race backwards.  Does anyone know if they finished?

Soon we were up the ramp with the Toy Story soldier.  I walked all the way up, ran down, then picked up my 90:30 intervals again.  I passed several people on World Drive and into Disney’s Hollywood Studios and felt a bit better.  I took gels at mile 4, 8, 12, 16, and 20.  I’m not super-picky about gus and gels, so I took some of my Power Bar gels and some of the Clif Shots RunDisney was handing out.  I did not take either of the bananas offered on the course.  I did take one piece of chocolate offered at mile 22.5 and immediately wanted water, but the next stop was a half a mile away.  Looking back, I wish I had not grabbed the chocolate and instead taken my last gel at around mile 23.

For some reason, it amused me that we ran though the costuming tunnel backwards from the way I’ve run it every other race.  Of course, my Garmin drops out while I’m in there.  Sometime in the Studios, the 5 hour pace group passed me.  I knew they had started behind me, maybe in Corral E.  Before I knew it, I was out of the Studios and heading down the familiar path around the Boardwalk, past the Yacht & Beach Club, and into World Showcase.  I struggled again here and walked a lot.  I was really, really ready to be done.  I knew I’d see Paul and the boys just inside Epcot and focused on getting to them.  I reversed my run:walk intervals for while, running for 30 seconds and walking for 90 seconds.  As we passed by Stormalong Bay, the 5 hour Galloway Pace Group caught up to me.  I thought they might have even started in Corral F.  I missed my 20 and 23 mile splits be enough that I knew I would have to work hard to even get the 5:15 finish time.

I saw Paul and the boys as soon as I ran though the gate into World Showcase.  I handed them my belt and sponge, got a quick kiss, then made the turn to go around the countries.  I had hoped that being onstage in the park would energize me, but it was really hard to keep going.  I’m in the white hat, blue tank, soaking wet gray skirt and crazy zebra striped socks.

mile 25 of the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon

I made it around World Showcase right with the 5 hour Galloway Pace Group but passed them as we came around Norway and Mexico.  As we ran by Spaceship Earth I just wanted so very much to be done.  On to the finish!  I was able to running up to and through the finish line and then shuffled slowly on to get that medal I’d been dreaming of.  I knew I was right around 5:15, my Garmin was a shade under that but it dropped out in the tunnel at the Speedway and in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

I grabbed a Powerade, a water, my box of food, and dutifully opened the Powerade and began drinking.  There were medical staff at the exits of that area saying no one could leave until they opened a bottle and began drinking!  I slowly shuffled on towards the bag check – of course I had the longest walk!  Darn my husband and his last name that starts with a U.  I checked my phone for my official finish time, 5:15:46 (12:03 pace).  I can live with that!  Paul called to see how far I’d made it and I told him I thought I needed some ice just to help me cool off.  We met at the ice tent, I ate a bit of the food from the box and we slowly shuffled back into Epcot.  After waiting in a LONG line to have security check through my bag, we moved around the park, cheered for runners still finishing, and headed out the International Gateway back to Beach Club Villas so I could clean up & rest a bit.

Here’s my mile splits from my Garmin.

Garmin data from Walt Disney World Marathon

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how it went.  I think I did the best I could with the crowds and temperatures.  It was around 77 or 78 degrees when I finished and the humidity was just oppressive.  I’m already ready to think about another marathon someday.  I’d like to try one in 45-50 degree temperature where I don’t walk nearly 20 miles in the two days before the race!  We’re both thinking that 2015 might be our year to go Goofy!  Everything about the race was FUN.  I felt like there was significantly more on course entertainment than any of the night races I’ve run.  I also though the volunteers were phenomenal.  Everyone was happy, everyone was organized, everyone was cheering us on.

We had a late afternoon celebration dinner at Garden Grill and Mickey was very proud of me for finishing his marathon.  According to my Fitbit tracker, by the end of the day, walking to the start, running the race, walking back to the hotel, and walking around Epcot in the evening added up to 36.4 miles and over 73,000 steps for me!

Jen and Mickey after the Walt Disney World Marathon