So let me begin by saying Disney is a FUN marathon - it's only my third, but I would venture to say that it has to be the most fun out of all of them, but maybe I'm wrong. It's definitely not one for setting a PR though. One of the pace leaders commented that the usual average finish time for a marathon is four and a half hours but for Disney it's five and a half hours. I'm not surprised at all. First, there are tons of water stops (which I loved) plus all the characters came out to cheer us on and almost all of them had lines of runners waiting to take their pics with them.
I arrived in Disney late Wednesday night. My family had already arrived that morning so they were all settled in our hotel, the Polynesian resort, which by the way is an AWESOME hotel. Really beautiful grounds. But to be honest, I've really enjoyed all the Disney hotels, even the "value" resorts like the All Stars ones.
I headed to the expo Friday morning at Disney's Wide World of Sports and dragged my whole family with me. Looking back, I probably should have just taken the shuttle bus and gone there alone because it was a pretty massive event.
I had no line to pick up my race packet which was nice. I had submitted my 2:08 half marathon time which placed me in Corral C (I think it went up to H). Then it was off to the expo and as usual, you had to go all the way to the opposite side of the entrance to get your goody bag and race shirt. If I had more time, I would have gladly shopped around the expo but I had to move relatively quickly. As soon as I entered the expo, I immediately lost the boys in the group (my dad, brother-in-law, and nephew). My mom and sister made me some cheer cards (awwwwww) while I picked up my race shirt (which was pretty cute)! I next lost my sister but my mom made sure to stay by my side. She helped me pick out some cute marathon apparel (I bought a track jacket and running T plus a little marathon Mickey stuffed animal for my nephew). After we had a quick tasting of Disney's "magic wine", we headed out of there to meet up with the rest of my family who had already reunited at the family mini-van at that point.
Saturday was a low key day for me. My brother and I headed to the gym at the Grand Floridian in the morning. Since I had been sick and out of commission for the week leading up to the race, I wanted to get a quick run in just to get the legs moving again. Afterward, we had a character breakfast at our hotel where we hung out with Mickey, Pluto, Lilo, and Stitch. We then headed toward Magic Kingdom. I rode a couple of rides with the family but then went back to the hotel to get some rest. I also checked into my own separate room at that point which luckily happened to be right next to our other two rooms! My family met up again for an early dinner followed by church and then headed back to the hotel.
I spent the rest of the evening laying out all of my stuff for the next "morning". I set two alarms for 2:30AM as I was paranoid about oversleeping. I probably finally went to sleep around 10:30PM! Oh well, I knew sleep would be limited.
I woke up on time (a little earlier than the alarms, actually), got all my stuff ready and then brought all my luggage to my parents room since I definitely would not be back there before checkout which was at 11AM.
The race began at Epcot. I had read somewhere that we should be at the staging area by 4AM. If you're staying at a Disney resort, you have two options. Most of them have shuttle busses that will take you directly to the start. If you're at one of the Magic Kingdom resorts (Polynesian, Contemporary, or Grand Floridian), you have to take the monorail to the Transportation & Ticket Center (TTC) where you then have to switch to the monorail that directly takes you to Epcot. But if you're at the Polynesian (like me), you have one more option which is just to take the direct walkway path to TTC (it was about a 5 minute walk for me, if that) and then board the monorail to Epcot directly. Definitely the quickest option in my opinion. So if you're interested in running Disney, stay at the Polynesian!
I thought there were be more runners at the TTC but there were only three of us then so they put us up in the front of the monorail with the driver - very exciting! :) We all chit chatted a bit on the way there. It was all our first time running Disney where one was running the Goofy challenge (half marathon on Saturday, full marathon on Sunday) and the other was running her first marathon ever.
Once we arrived at Epcot, you finally saw all the crowds. There was this thick stream of runners coming from the shuttle bus drop off location. We all met in the staging area first which was located in one of Epcot's parking lots so we had plenty of room there. (That was a nice change since my last two were more urban settings - Chicago and SF.) They even had a big concert stage set up with a live band performing for us at 4AM in the morning. (You could even hear them outside my hotel!) I then got in line for the port-o-potty where I started talking to a couple of other runners, one of them also a Goofy runner (they were definitely the "rockstars" in my opinion! heehee). She had recently run both the Chicago and Nike marathons that I did so we chatted a little bit about those.
By 5AM, they started routing the runners to the start location. First you entered the tents (only runners allowed at this point) to check your bags and then continue on to the other side. There were more ports on the other side with equally long lines. Then I just followed the pack of the other runners to the start. I knew the race start would be far judging by the course map and I was right. It felt like a walk of doom just because it was still dark and pretty quiet with little conversations here and there.
After a pretty long walk, we finally separated into the two start corrals. The first four miles of the course are split into two paths: Blue group (Corrals A, B, C) and then the Red group (Corrals D-H). I didn't mind being at the back of my corral. I did a quick warm up jog and then stretched a little. We were still there for awhile so everyone was just sitting or laying on the ground. Still dark and still pretty quiet. I was sort of amused by the whole situation.
Things picked up a little with the arrival of the 5:00 Clif Bar pace leader. She was this really awesome woman named Marie and I immediately liked her energy. A bunch of us gathered around her to get the scoop and she explained she would run even 11:26 minute miles where her strategy was to run 5 minutes, walk one, run 5, walk ~30 seconds. She would plan all the walk breaks through the water stops as well. It sounded good to me so I planned to stick with her for as long as I could. She also announced that she sings/cheers at every mile marker with "5 hour rocks!" followed by a song which our group decided to be "M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E" (Hey, it is Disney, after all!)
Running the Race!
Anyway... we are now ready for the start. I think Mickey and his friends were there to send us off but I was all the way in the back so I didn't see much. They then had this really cool display of fireworks (still dark since it was only 6AM) followed by these flames shooting from the two start signs and then we were off! We looped around Epcot for a bit before we finally entered the park through the World Showcase (some runners around me cheered at this point). It was so pretty with all the countries lit up by lights and it was so nice to have the park to ourselves. It was fun keeping up with my pace group as well. The whole 5-1-5-30 plan may sound pretty easy, but let me tell you - the pace leader's walk pace is almost the same as my run pace. I was practically skipping to keep up.
After Epcot, we then made our way to Magic Kingdom. Around mile 5, I realized I really needed to make a bathroom break. I was so bummed - usually, I plan my pre-race water and potty routines pretty well but I guess I didn't do so well this time. I really didn't want to leave my pace group but after mile 6, I passed a row of port-o-potty's and I knew I couldn't wait any longer. Unfortunately, there were still lines so I really got off pace. I thought if I skipped the walk breaks I would be able to catch up but I never saw them again. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. It did work out well, though, as my 5 mile split showed I was averaging an 11:10 min/mi pace.
Another thing I should comment on is the sticky FL weather. It could have been worse, but the humidity is still pretty rough compared to where I normally run with the nice cool climates of northern California. I knew this was going to be another tough race for me to run. By this point in the race, I noticed everyone's shirts sticking to them. Especially those just wearing plain cotton T's. I still can't understand why people wear those for a marathon!
But I digress - along the way to Magic Kingdom, we came to this big parking lot where we diverged into two paths - to the left, you could listen to country tunes and to the right was 80's pop. Obviously, I chose the 80's! I was excited to get to Magic Kingdom because I knew my family was there waiting to cheer me on. That was actually another reason I pushed myself to stay on pace. I knew exactly where my family was waiting so I gave them these half hour windows of time when I expected to run through these areas so I didn't want to make them wait too long.
Family cheer area #1 was Main St at Magic Kingdom which was just past the mile 10 marker - my mom, my dad, and my brother were waiting for me there. It's always fun to enter the parks since there's usually some size of a crowd waiting to cheer you on - sometimes friends & family, sometimes just Disney cast members, either way it's always nice. I quickly scanned the crowd and luckily I spotted my mom, then my brother and my dad. It was so funny because my mom had her video camera on and my dad had the digital camera and I could literally see my dad going, "Where is she? Where is she?" so basically I started waving wildly and paused in front of them to say Hi! And then off I went:
The fun continued as we then got to run through Cinderella's castle. It was cute because on the balcony above the entrance was Cinderella, Prince Charming, the Fairy Godmother and trumpeters announcing our arrival. Luckily, I had seen some race photos from previous years so I knew photographers were waiting for us on the other side:
We then left Magic Kingdom and I got ready for Family Cheer area #2. First we passed the Grand Floridian and then after that was the Polynesian, aka our hotel. Since it was so convenient, my sister, her hubby, and their 7 month old son would be waiting for me there. Nice thing was that almost all the spectators were on the hotel side of the road so I didn't have to worry about scanning both sides of the course. Finally, I heard my sister yell out my name and I saw she had her whole crew with her. This was somewhere between miles 12 and 13 and since I could definitely use a walking break at this point, I stopped to give my nephew (who was comfortably chilling in his stroller) a kiss on the cheek. My sister snapped a pic of me and off I went again.
Then there was a long stretch to Animal Kingdom. I was happy to see that Disney had characters everywhere on the course even between the parks. During this part, I think some of the characters included Pocahontas with John Smith, Tarzan (this dude was *seriously* mystic-tanned) with Jane, Captain Hook, and more that I just can't remember. I didn't take any pics with any of them as I didn't want to tote my camera along with all my other stuff. Plus with all the water stops and medical tents (not to mention the heat and humidity!), I didn't need any other distractions to slow me down even more.
We finally approached Animal Kingdom at mile 16 where we were greeted by Rafiki and fun "tribal" music. The funny thing is that Animal Kingdom is actually my least favorite out of all the parks but yet I think I had the most fun here. I was stil taking walking breaks about 1-2 times per mile but I pretty much ran the two miles straight through this park as the music and the crowds really pushed me along.
Then we had another four miles until we got to Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM) and all the other fun stuff. I really was fading at this point because now the sun was coming out and the course was pretty much out in the open with not much shade. By this point, I had also discovered Biofreeze was my new best friend. It sort of looked like green dippity doo gel and I guess is used as a pain reliever but I just liked it because it helped me keep cool. I pretty much stopped at every medical tent to slop more of that stuff on. :)
By now, the heat was really getting to me and it was hard for me to keep running so I alternated between running and walking. I thought I would just take it easy until mile 22 when we would enter Hollywood Studios but even then it was hard to keep going. It's a shame because at this point a lot of people were now at the parks and were cheering us on along with all the friends and family. There were huge groups of people cheering us on as we exited Hollywood Studios and then made our way to the Boardwalk. Some of them were so supportive and I realy wanted to keep running but I just felt weak.
But the end was near because we were now approaching Epcot again! Only 1.2 miles left but it seemed sooooo much longer than that. I was so frustrated with myself because I just couldn't keep running even though I was so close to the finish. I think I may have been about half a mile from the end when I passed this Disney employee who I think was in charge of keeping the park-goers out of our way. But more importantly, she was yelling to all the runners all this motivating stuff, things like "You've come so far, you've worked so hard, you can do it, you're almost there..." and I really needed to hear it. I heard some runners behind me tell her thanks and echo my sentiments.
Finally we were exiting Epcot toward the parking lot and Hallelujah! Waiting for us at the mile 26 marker was this amazing gospel choir and let me tell you, I could have practically joined them! I was so thrilled to know that I only had 0.2 miles left!
I gathered up all the energy I had left and quickly picked up my pace. I soon saw the finish line and I sprinted! Somehow I happened to catch a "Go Audrey!" sign in my peripheral vision and managed to wave to my brother before racing toward the finish line. I almost started crying at this point out of happiness. And like a cheeseball, I couldn't help but raise my arms in victory as I finally crossed the finish line - five and a half hours later. :)
After handing in my chip, I got my awesome Mickey medal which was a little bit snazzier this year since it's the 15th anniversary of the marathon.
After grabbing some drinks and snacks, I took my pic and then headed to the family reunion area. I was stretching when my mom finally found me. She was so cute because she gave me the biggest hug. :) Yes, I may be 32 but it's still fun to make your mom proud. Hee, hee. After waiting in a super long line to take my pic with Mickey and Minnie, we finally headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest. But not before I take my victory pose!
The weird thing is that as soon as we got back to the Polynesian, it started raining like crazy! They had been forecasting rain all week but luckily, it didn't occur while I was running.
After resting for a bit, my family and I later made it out to the parks that evening where I proudly wore my medal along with my new WDW marathon track jacket plus my Minnie ears headband. (I love Disney - where else could you get away with this?)
I flew out Monday and it was fun to see so many people at the airport wearing their marathon shirts (myself included). Some were wearing their medal as well but mine was packed safely in my carry-on. The medal is awesome but it's also heavy. The thing is HUGE!
Anyway, it was such a fun race experience. I'm almost positive that I'll return. But next time, I want to be one of the "cool" kids - so I'd love to take on the Goofy challenge. Maybe 2010? Geesh, that's so weird that I'm even planning something for 2010 - sounds so futuristic! Hee!