Walt Disney World Marathon

January 12, 2014

Full marathon morning, for me, is a true test of my mental training. I LOATHE getting up early and for runs and races, it is (almost) always a necessary evil. When my alarm sounds for the fourth consecutive day at 3:00 AM (early so I give myself one or two snoozes), I automatically reach over to turn on the bedside light. I also turn on the TV. I’m slow getting up but the reminder of what lies ahead for today gets me moving.

I check the weather and it’s much cooler today than it has been for the other three races and significantly cooler than yesterday’s half. I’m wearing a tank top and running skort but I have a light coat that I can tie around my waist if I think I need it. I also can take a large trash bag to wrap around my shoulders and toss it when I start running. Either way, I was prepared.

I'm ready to go for the final day of Dopey. It's marathon time!

I’m ready to go for the final day of Dopey. It’s marathon time!

While I’m getting dressed, I eat my cereal and some yogurt. I can’t eat a lot so early in the morning when I’m still trying to wake up. Cereal is always a go to for me and it doesn’t bother my stomach before a run. When I’m finally dressed and I’ve finished eating, I grab my gear (again, so thankful that I lay everything out the night before) and head out the door. It is cool but I don’t think I’ll need my jacket so I head towards the bus line.

The bus line is much longer today. Many runners are chatting while many others are just (like me) waiting patiently and still trying to wake up. Many of them have coffee (these are the times I wish that I liked coffee!). The line is moving fairly quickly; I didn’t wait for a bus for more than ten minutes. The bus is crowded as this bus is one of the Disney buses so there is room to stand in the aisle (the other buses are more like motor coaches with seats more like on an airplane). I’m listening to the runners around me talking and the guy standing in front of me mentioned his Ironman. I wait for a moment as I hate to be that eavesdropper, but I asked if he had done a full Ironman. Sure enough, he did the Wisconsin Ironman. I’m uber impressed as it’s a future goal of mine to do a half and full Ironman.

The lady next to me, also from Florida, and I chat with Ironman and his (I think) girlfriend. They are super nice and I really enjoyed hearing about his Ironman experience. They were also doing the Dopey Challenge and he said if I could do Dopey, I could do an Ironman. This definitely gives me a little boost in the confidence department!

We arrive for the final day in the EPCOT parking lot and everyone files off the buses. I say goodbye and give well wishes to my fellow runners and I make my way towards the runner entrance area to check my gear bag.

Once I finally check my bag and make my way to my corral, there is nothing to do but wait. And that’s when the cold hits. I’m not shivering but I am definitely cold and I completely forgot to bring my trash bag! I try to keep moving as much as possible and make conversation with some of the people around me. And, as the corral starts to fill up, the body heat does help some. But, I’m still cold.

Finally the moment has come. It’s time to send off the first corral. The National Anthem is sung and then the fireworks send off the first corral. Everything starts moving more quickly now.

From the time the first corral went until the time that my corral got to go was about 40 or so minutes. It was a long wait but your adrenaline gets going so it doesn’t seem so long. The music is playing, fireworks go off for each corral, and you easily get lost in all the excitement.

Corral L is about to take off at the WDW Marathon. 26.2 miles to go!

Corral L is about to take off at the WDW Marathon. 26.2 miles to go!

I finally get started and it easily takes me four miles before my body finally warms up. The sun is coming up but it hasn’t warmed up very much. I’m sweating so that makes the cool air even cooler on my skin. I’m glad it is cooler though. This is much better than heat and humidity!

I pace myself using 1/1 intervals; one minute run and one minute walk. I was mindful during the three previous races to not overdo it because I wanted to have happy legs for the full marathon. I get to mile five and I’m still feeling great and we’re just about to the first park; Magic Kingdom. Here’s the WDW Full 2014 for the marathon.

The first six(ish) miles of the marathon route is the same as the half marathon route. After we exit Magic Kingdom, that’s when the course changes. We head back towards Magic Kingdom parking and we get to run the track at the Richard Petty Driving Experience. This is really neat because they have a lot of people with antique cars and some of the cars are just plain cool. I’m not into cars but even I can appreciate how cool some of these classics are. Also, they have some of the characters from the movie Cars as well.

We exit the track and have a long stretch of back roads and highway before we get to Animal Kingdom. Disney does their best to make this less boring by having characters, bands, or other entertainment to distract the runners. I don’t mind it so much knowing that there is still a lot to see along the course.

We come into Animal Kingdom through the backlot and there are some of the animal keepers that have a few of the animals out and available for pictures. There was a really pretty tropical bird with one of the handlers and even a monkey (or something similar). I think I might have even seen a goat. I didn’t stop for any photos but I did like seeing the animals. We continue through the backlot and then come into the actual park. As I’m running, I notice that we’re near the entrance to Expedition Everest. I hear some yelling up ahead and I see runners coming out the Expedition Everest exit. I have a flash of temporary confusion and then realize that they must have ridden the coaster. I’m just approaching the entrance to the ride when the Cast Member yells to the runners that we can go through the Fast Pass line if we want to ride. At this point, I’m on pace to beat my time from last year by about 20 minutes. I have only a second to make a decision and it doesn’t even take me that long. In the blink of an eye, I’m following about six other runners through the line to get on the coaster.

Waiting in line to get on Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom just after the halfway point of the marathon!

Waiting in line to get on Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom just after the halfway point of the marathon!

This is a surreal moment for me. Never in a million years did I even think I could ever ride a roller coaster during the middle of a marathon. Even after hearing some people on the bus talking about it, I didn’t think we’d be able to. But now, I’m standing in the line waiting to get on. I can’t stop smiling….even as I type this! Our train arrives and we all jump in. It is excitement that I can’t even put into words. The coaster is fun and the fact that we’re in the middle of running a marathon just makes it all that much more AWESOME! The ride comes to an end and we’re all back off and headed back to our run. We stop before the exit to view our in-ride photo and I was able to snap a picture of it with my phone. This picture is my favorite race picture.

I'm on a roller coaster; Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom; in the middle of running a marathon! HOLY FUN!

I’m on a roller coaster; Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom; in the middle of running a marathon! HOLY FUN!

I wasted quite a bit of time on the coaster and I really messed up the groove I had going by stopping for so long. But, even if it costs me a better time, I think it was well worth it. After all, it’s a great story!

After Animal Kingdom, there is a long stretch of highway as we head to the Wide World of Sports complex. We’re a little more than halfway through our journey. It takes me a little while before I can get back into a rhythm. In fact, I don’t think I ever really got back into a solid rhythm. First, I got a Garmin for Christmas and (shame on me) I didn’t really read through the instructions. I found that I could do intervals and I had set the intervals for one minute run and one minute rest. But, the maximum number of intervals I could set was 99. This means my Garmin would only go for 198 minutes (a little more than three hours). After that, I was going to be running my intervals by feel. Second, my legs got tight from the coaster stop so they were starting to feel like lead weights. I knew I could work with my legs but not running set intervals was going to be a challenge.

(Note: Had I actually read all of the instructions for my Garmin I would have found that I could in fact set run/walk intervals that would continue indefinitely. This is not what the “interval” feature is on the watch. The interval feature is more for cross training or doing things like sprint intervals. Hindsight – 1, Brandy – 0)

I kept going by feel as best as I could. I know I wasn’t running quite a minute but I was still keeping a decent pace. Knowing WWOS is up ahead is giving me something to look forward to so I push myself to keep moving forward.

I think it’s probably about mile 17 or so when we hit WWOS. This is also where we get sponges; cool, wet sponges. While it’s still cool outside, the sun is fully out so a cool sponge is a welcome amenity. Instead of a sponge, it is actually a hand towel but it’s still welcome. I grab one and wipe my face and neck. It is an immediate cooling and my neck especially appreciates the cool. I wrap the towel around my neck and hang onto it for the better part of a mile before tossing it. It felt great but I don’t want to carry it.

We weave around the WWOS complex running along the soccer fields and onto the track where track and field events are held. The track is a different surface so it’s actually a nice change of terrain for a few minutes. We run through some of the baseball fields and make our way to Champion’s Stadium (where the Atlanta Braves have spring training) and we get to run the warning track. There are a lot of people in the stands cheering as all of the runners pass. Just hearing all the cheers, even if they aren’t specifically for you, is awesome and can really help when you starting to feel mile 21. It is even better when someone catches your name off your bib and gives you a shout out. Running through the stadium always gives me a big smile.

It is about mile 21 and we’re out of the WWOS complex and headed towards Hollywood Studios (any other Disney fans still want to call this MGM?!). It is another good stretch on the highway and the sun is beating down from behind us. It isn’t blazing hot; a blessing; but it has warmed up since the early morning. I’m still feeling like my legs are heavy. I think it is even worse though because I know right around mile 22 is an uphill exit ramp that I’ll have to climb before I head into HS.

When I get to the exit ramp, I resolve to walk it. My legs are tight but they’ve loosened up some and I’m not feeling like I have steel boots on. I walk up the hill and then start jogging. HS is just around the corner and I know there will be candy before we head into the park. It’s funny how knowing some candy is coming up can put a little pep in your step. To my surprise, there was more than candy. There was also some gummy fruit chews. I ate a couple of the fruit chews but I just wasn’t feeling them so I tossed them in the trash and devoured the two pieces of chocolate I got. I think they were both Hershey milk chocolate bars but I ate them so fast I don’t think I really registered the taste!

Running the streets of HS is really neat. There are guests in the park and the course is lined off. Occasionally, Cast Members make small adjustments to the course to allow guests to pass through without disrupting the runners. It is really quite genius and the whole process is quite smooth. The streets are lined with guests and they’re all just cheering for random runners. Some of the spectators even have signs; some that are quite clever.

After running through HS, we’re on our way to the Boardwalk and then to EPCOT. That’s the home stretch! I like the Boardwalk section of the run. There are a lot of people and there is a lot to look at. It’s just pretty to me so this helps keep me moving. I also know that once we hit the end of the Boardwalk, we’ll make our way into World Showcase and it’s just over a mile or so from there.

Finally I make it to EPCOT and enter World Showcase. We come into the park right by the United Kingdom. I’m jogging along and as I pass a runner walking to the right of the course, I notice he’s got a beer in his hand. He stopped at the pub in the UK and got a celebratory beer. He yelled “cheers” as I passed him and I couldn’t help but smile. I don’t think I could stomach a beer at this point but it did look really good!

The only country we don’t pass on the World Showcase route is Canada. We make our way around and, as with HS and AK, the guests in the park are cheering for the runners. Some of the kids and little ones were even holding out their hands for high fives. The crowd support really is incredible. Even the Cast Members cheer and offer high fives.

The last country we pass is Mexico before we make the turn towards Spaceship Earth. I pass a couple of ladies coming out of the Mexico pavilion with margaritas. They looked AMAZING but again, I don’t think my stomach would be too happy with that at this point. Besides that, I have basically nothing in my stomach and one drink would probably be enough to make me a bit more than tipsy!

It’s really hard not to run when you know you’re in the home stretch. It’s even harder to walk when you know you have a fan waiting for you at the finish line. I had a friend that volunteered to be my cheer-tator (those of you who’ve seen Bring It On will hopefully get that reference) and knowing I had someone cheering for me made this run a little sweeter. I promised beforehand that I would text at the mile 26 marker so I did. I even took an extra second to make sure it sent and quickly got back an ‘OK’ response with the general location to look as I approached the finish line. So, I tucked my phone away and took off for the last 0.2 miles.

Seeing the finish line just ahead brought tears to my eyes (again!). This was only my second marathon ever and I did it on the fourth day of consecutive races. It is a HUGE accomplishment! As I approached the finish line, I easily spotted my cheer-tator and waved as I went by. I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face and some tears in my eyes. I wasn’t as emotional as I was after finishing Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge last year, but I was still a bit overwhelmed at what I had just accomplished.

Heading through the runner’s chute, volunteer’s start handing you all kinds of things. You get your marathon medal first and they were handing out mylar blankets (it was windy and still cooler). Then you hit the water and Powerade tables. I’m wrapped in mylar and my hands are full. Goofy and Dopey runners still have to check in at the end to receive their respective Challenge medals. I know I have a huge smile on my face as I collect my two Challenge medals. And, I’m definitely getting my picture taken!

The Mickey Marathon medal.

The Mickey Marathon medal.

39.3 miles in two days earns one the Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge medal.

39.3 miles in two days earns one the Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge medal.

48.6 miles in four days is a lot of miles. That's what it takes to earn the Dopey Challenge medal.

48.6 miles in four days is a lot of miles. That’s what it takes to earn the Dopey Challenge medal.

After getting my picture snapped and high-fiving some fellow runners, I grab a food box and head to my gear check tent to retrieve my bag. As I exit the tent, my cheer-tator is waiting with open arms to give me a big hug. I’m sweaty and tired and my legs pretty much hate me, but I am on cloud nine. I sit down and pretty much devour my box of food. I also stretch some and even posed for a few more pictures. I put my medals from the previous days in my gear check bag so I could get a photo with all of them.

It has been four exhausting days but I completed the inaugural Dopey Challenge! SO HAPPY!

It has been four exhausting days but I completed the inaugural Dopey Challenge! SO HAPPY!

I don’t have a ton of time since I have to check out of the hotel. I got late checkout but, since I was in a later corral and it took me six hours to finish, I need to get to the hotel and shower so I can be on my way. Since I live only 40-ish minutes from Disney, there really is no reason for me to pay for another night of hotel. It makes marathon Sunday a little bit of a time crunch but it saves me a good bit of money.

I really enjoy the marathon at Disney and the Goofy and Dopey Challenges are amazing (and perhaps life changing) experiences. I learned a lot about myself during the training and during the actual races. It is much more of a mental test than a physical one. But, if you follow a good training program, you can take on the Challenges and be successful.

I finished the marathon in 6:00:27. I knew heading into the last quarter-mile stretch I could beat six hours but I just didn’t have quite enough push. I had been on pace to beat last years time of 5:49 by at least 20 minutes. But, that roller coaster ride cost me. And I don’t even mind a little. I shared that story over and over and even sent the picture to my family in a group text (maybe I even did that during the marathon!). It was something you don’t get to do in every race and I would do it again. It’s just part of the Disney experience.

I’ll be heading to Cali in a couple of days. This whole “I’m going to run all the runDisney races in one year” may prove to by my undoing but we’ll see. I’ve got three days of work and then I’m off again. This will be my first trip to Disneyland and I’m almost counting the hours!

UPDATE: I’m trying to keep up with all of my race related expenses this year. I’m sure I’ll fail miserably at this and end up digging for receipts later, but I vow to try. It’s sort of my homage to the old Mastercard “Priceless” commercials. So…here it is; Dopey weekend in dollars:

Race Registration (including commemorative pins): ~$630
Hotel (three nights): ~$400
Dining/Groceries: ~$135
$Souvenirs: ~$85
ChEAR Squad: $85
Pasta in the Park Party: ~$56
Kennel (three nights): ~$150
Total: ~$1541

In addition to all that coin, I logged almost 606 training miles. It wasn’t a cheap adventure and it was a lot of hard work and a huge time commitment. But, it was, without a doubt, worth every mile and every penny. It isn’t something to take lightly. But, if you can commit, it is an amazing experience.

Until next time…happy running!

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