I’m not sure words can adequately describe the experience I had this past weekend running the half marathon at Disney World. However, so that I can share it with you (and preserve it for my own use) I will try…
Eddie, Ellen, Karen and I left the house at 3:45am to head to the race. It was cold, which I was quite okay with because I really have enjoyed training in the cooler (and cold) weather. It was crazy to see the amount of cars driving into the parks at that hour of the morning. As we pulled into the EPCOT parking lots we were directed to our parking spot and headed to the first starting area. Eddie came with us to take our “before” picture and to give us some last minute encouragement. Just as we were saying goodbye he handed each of us a little note that read "There will a day when you can no longer do this. Today is not that day." As soon as I unfolded the note and started reading it I got choked up but pulled it together. I looked over at Karen who was already crying so I had to reign it again again because if I started I knew it wouldn't be pretty. (Yeah, I'm sometimes a girl about these things.)
We had our pre-race photo and then headed off through the runners only gate. We hit up the epic line of portapotties (seriously, I've never seen so many in one place in my life) and then headed in the mass of humanity towards the starting corrals. This was quite a little trek. It took us close to a half hour to walk to the starting corrals. Along the way we passed an old Jungle Cruise boat (Magic Kingdom ride), scores of men peeing into the trees (unfair!) and another epically long line of portapotties, which we utilized "just in case". By the time we reached the start of the corral line-ups the National Anthem was being sung and the overly-excited-for-5am emcee was counting down the start of the wheelchair race. We hustled (as much as we could in the sea of people) to our corral and then weaseled our way as close to the front of it as we could. (Note: 22,421 people finished the half marathon on Saturday…so that gives you an idea of why I keep saying it was crowded!)
Corral A went off. Corral B went off. And then it was our turn. Each corral got its own countdown and pyrotechnics, which was pretty awesome. We shuffled our way to the starting line and then crossed over the timing sensor and were off! (I had separated myself from Karen and Ellen early intentionally as my pace was going to be different than their pace.) I chose Attaboy from Yo-Yo Ma's album Goat Rodeo as the first song on my playlist and it was pretty fitting as the winding melodies matched my weaving through the crowd. I tried to find my pace but the first mile and a half or so was crowded and the course narrowed. I knew after the second mile that I probably wasn't going to make my high-bar-goal of 2 hours. I ignored the pacing wristband and concentrated on just running well. I set a new mental goal of 2:05, figuring that was a pretty attainable and reasonable goal given the amount of people.
Eddie had mentioned running the tangents (running straight lines through the curves) so I did that, especially during the fairly curvy first half of the race. I was able to see the curves coming and plan ahead. However, I did notice within the first two miles that my watch was off from the mileages signs so I guess the weaving around added a lot despite my tangential running! (Note: Ellen and Karen had the same issue so it wasn’t just my watch.)
The first 5 miles were on the roads leading towards the Magic Kingdom and so normally are pretty boring. So, Disney threw in some entertainment for all of us. We had people on giant stilts, a few Disney characters (you could pull over and have your picture taken with them....tons of people did it but I didn't want to lose time!), high school marching bands (way to be out there EARLY kids!), a hot air balloon, and a troop of pennyfarthing riders. I enjoyed this aspect of the race, especially the marching bands (for obvious reasons).
A while back we had heard that the course at this race was flat. LIES. BIG FAT LIES. A little before mile 5 we had a big downhill and then uphill under a roadway. True to Disney form they had a guy with HUGE Mickey Mouse gloves on waving and cheering us on from that overpass. He made me smile but my legs weren’t smiling heading up that hill as I chanted "even effort, even effort" to myself all of the way. (Even Effort is a strategy for running hills where you don’t worry about keeping the same pace/speed but keeping the same effort.)
A few minutes later I recognized where I was...the "back stage" area of the Main Street section of Magic Kingdom. (Eddie and I did a "Behind the Magic" tour that took us there a few years ago.) I ran through a gate and there I was, in the square at the front of Magic Kingdom. I followed the course's right turn onto Main Street and was met by a sight that I won’t soon forget. The crowd lined the entire length of Main Street and they were cheering loudly. Because it was still pitch black out the park's Christmas lights and Main Street lights were bright and beautiful. And at the end of the street....a big, glowing and majestic castle.
This is a photograph of that view that I took the next morning during the marathon.
I immediately got all sorts of choked up but snapped out of it when I heard people yelling my name! Eddie's family had gotten a great spot right there and were cheering me on. This was a great part of the race for me and I felt really energized as is evidenced by this photo of me as we ran through Tomorrowland:
And then back around towards Fantasyland and then...THROUGH THE CASTLE! I knew this was part of the race route and was looking forward to it. It was really awesome to run through the tunnel and out to see Main Street again sprawling ahead. (I do regret not pulling over for the photographers that were there to snap a picture of you with the castle in the background.) The course cut to the right through the Liberty Square section and then into Frontierland and then out through a gate into the backstage part of the park.
The Magic of the Magic Kingdom part of the race was sadly short-lived for me. Once we were out of the backstage area we were on a desolate road with few fans besides the adorable cotton-haired retirees who were volunteers for the day. (They were scattered sporadically through the “outer Mongolia” parts of the course with noisemakers.) I knew there was a long stretch before we hit another park. My legs felt pretty good and my breathing was even but my brain was over it and it very much became a mental game. I flipped through my playlist a lot during this stretch and I realized that I had a lot of songs that reminded me of people in my life that were important in some way. So when those songs came on I made a mental note of the person and "dedicated" that part of the run to them. It sounds incredibly cheesy but it worked. What also kept me going was the moment I chuckled at a guy that passed me who was wearing Tinkerbell wings. As he passed me I looked down and saw that he had a prosthetic leg. It was really inspiring to see him running and made me grateful for my own two legs. So on I went…
I hit mile 10 and started to get my mental game back because I “just had a 5K left”. Remember when I said there were hills? Well, right after Mile 10 they thought it would be fun to have us run up the World's Longest and Most Slanted exit ramp! “Even effort, even effort, *#&%, even effort.”
I battled up the hill and as it evened out I picked out a woman who was going at the pace I wanted to and stuck behind her. She was a member of Team in Training and looked like she knew what she was doing. I ran near her for about a mile and then spotted ANOTHER HILL...another bleeping exit ramp. I said out loud, "Well, that's just mean!” The woman looked over and laughed. She asked if I had ran a half before and I said no. She congratulated me and complimented me on my pace. Sadly, I lost her at the water station. But I had a pick-me-up shortly after the water station when I saw Eddie. At this point I think it was about the 12 mile mark and I was definitely feeling the miles, still mostly mental I think. Seeing Eddie was a good boost to take me to where we headed into EPCOT. We ran by Spaceship Earth (the big ball) and through just a small part of the park but it seemed to last forever. It was a loop that doubled back so I knew when I turned around how much was still left before going out of the park to the finish. (Sometimes a blessing, but in this case for me, a curse.)
I continued to push but at this point my brain was feeling much relieved and accepting that there wasn't much ahead to go. Right after coming out of Epcot there was a high school gospel choir totally rocking it out. I came around the curve after them to see the family (including Henry!) cheering, one little bend in the course and the finish line! I picked up the pace and ran to the finish but not before high-fiving Donald Duck! (You can watch a video of my finish online here. You can see me cut across from right to left to high-five Donald around the 13 second mark.)
I stopped my watch and it said 2:04:45 and 13.22 miles. Under 2:05, the goal I had set early in the race! My official time from the race timing was 2:04:36. (The time shown on the clock in the video is the time since the first corral started. I was in the third corral which is why the time is different.)
We were quickly ushered towards people with beautiful, shiny medals for us. I bowed to the cast member and she put it over my head.
I stood up and followed the other finishers to get a shiny foil blanket and food/beverages. Oranges, bananas, Toy Story fruit snacks, Clif bars, bagels, water, sodas, Powerade. I stocked up and headed out to find the family.
I was relieved, excited, a little sad that it was all over after months of training (274.71 miles of it!) but mostly proud. Physically I felt pretty decent considering I had never run that far in my life before. Sure my legs were tired but I was very mobile and mostly feeling good.
After the race (and the marathon) the parks were filled with people wearing their race shirts and medals. I was one of them!
Here I am with Donald, who is the mascot of the Half Marathon and is featured on our medals:
I hardly ever feel like a “cool kid” but I certainly did these past few days as Disney castmembers and other runners shared smiles and congratulations. And I never thought it would be because of running!
Now that I’ve had a few days to process the weekend I can say that I am darn proud of myself. There really is something to be said about setting a goal, working hard and meeting (and even exceeding) the goal. It seemed like a long-shot goal when we decided we were going to do it. I couldn’t even run the whole 3.1 miles of the first 5K I ran...and last weekend I ran 13.1 miles in a time that I am proud of.
And yes...I’m thinking very seriously about going for a full…