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After running my first marathon in 2008 (the City of Oaks in Raleigh, NC) I caught the bug and decided to sign up for my next marathon at the happiest place on earth – Disney World. Now, I am a Disney World fanatic so this sounded like a win-win for me. I could go play at Disney AND run through the parks seeing them in a way I never had before. I was ecstatic.
I convinced my race crew (dad and hubby) to make the trip down January 2010, and was determined to run the race in four hours. I trained smarter this time, and used the Runner’s World marathon training program (this one). I invested in a water belt and learned how to eat shot blocks during my run. I also took a page out of my super-running aunt (she just ran her 100th road race and looks incredible – I want to be a running rock star like her when I am in my 60s!) and got an old fleece jacket and hat at the thrift shop so I could throw it off and leave it for the clean-up crew (they donate them!) once we got started.
DID YOU KNOW? The race starts at about 4 a.m. Yes, 4 in the morning. And you need to get to the race (which starts at Epcot) around 3 a.m. So, this is definitely a race I would recommend you train for with morning runs to get your body used to going early in the morning (very early).
Luckily I decided to pack my leggings (I have run half of my marathons in these Champion leggings and still rock them) and, ear warmers, and gloves. So it is race morning and it is cold. I don’t mean 35 degrees cold. I mean it was a frigid 16 degrees. In Florida. The coldest winter on record in 25 years (which was basically my entire life at that point).
So hubby, dad and I, along with about 10,000 other runners huddled around the port-o-potties for warmth for an hour before I walked the half mile to the start line.
Finally the race got started and off we went. There were people (guys and gals) dressed as Tinkerbell and princesses all around me, meanwhile I realized my handheld water bottle was frozen shut. This was going to be interesting.
The first part of the race through the countries of Epcot and out toward Magic Kingdom went by in a blur. I distinctly remember seeing Aladdin and Jasmine and thanking the running gods I was not them in their scantily clad costumes!
I started to warm up a bit as we ran under the castle – and was able to wave to dad and hubby there (I later learned they avoided hypothermia by riding the monorail for hours while I ran – it is hard to get to most of the course as a spectator so after Magic Kingdom their mission was to survive the arctic cold until I finished back at Epcot).
I was feeling strong as we ran through Animal Kingdom and loved that they brought animals out to greet us on the way in.
Per usual, I made a friend. He was about 6.5 feet tall and had run every Disney Marathon to date. And he did the Goofy Challenge annually to boot (where you run both the half marathon Saturday and marathon Sunday – thanks but no thanks). He chatted away with me in his short sleeve shirt and shorts (he was from Boston and thought it was just a normal run day – meanwhile I skidded through the water stops that were covered in ice). I can’t remember a lick of what he said to me, but at mile 19 when we ran down a highway only to turn around to come back from mile 20, he pushed me through that terrible wall that gets you in those first few marathons and got me to Hollywood Studios. Let me mention that I am STILL wearing my thrift store gear 20 miles in.
SIDE NOTE: Miles 19 and 20 are pretty awful in my opinion. You are running an out and back on a flat highway with no scenery or cheer squad. This is inevitable during any Disney World race that goes to multiple parks as most of them are not right next to each other. Just keep that in mind if you plan on running a Disney World race and build up your mental stamina for the in-between-park miles.
Finally, we hit the last mile – which loops through the countries at Epcot. I realized I was super close to making my 4 hour finish goal, so I sped it up as much as I could muster (getting passed by a guy dressed as Santa may I add), and was able to eek past the finish line at 4 hours and some seconds – which I am calling goal!
I literally had to cut icicles out of my hair after the race, and it took all day to warm back up. I haven’t braved the marathon again, but I have run other Disney races and had a blast!
FINAL TIP: I wouldn’t use Disney as a PR or Boston Qualifying run. You are going for the experience and atmosphere and will have a much more enjoyable experience if you focus on enjoying running through the parks and behind the scenes at Disney World rather than making a certain time.
I am not going to lie. The medal you get for the Walt Disney World Marathon is pretty sweet. In fact, it is my favorite race medal from any of the races I have completed – including Boston!
Oh and ONE MORE TIP: After you shower and refuel – go walk around one of the parks and get that lactic acid moving and out – it will help you recover much faster and will make the drive or flight home more bare-able. Basically, don’t do what I did and head home after shower and lunch! I made my poor race crew stop every two hours, making for a very long trip home, to get my cramping legs up and moving.