If I were a book author then this would be the final chapter of the first book in a series. As most of you know, for the past year I have been training for my first marathon which I ran on Sunday, January 9th 2011 at Walt Disney World. In those 12 months I was focused on my singular goal of running 26.2 miles while at the same time becoming healthier. In the picture below you’ll see how I looked a year ago. I’m on the right. As you can see from my aerodynamic haircut I was born to run, but hadn’t realized it yet! 🙂
I must say that I didn’t like this picture at the time it was taken, but it now has a place of honor on my refrigerator door! It’s my reminder if I ever ask myself why I’m up at 4:00am to go to the gym during the week or why I’m about to spend the better part of my Saturday running 20 miles. Now, all of that is in the past. Across the last year I lost 50 pounds training for Disney.
All this preparation led me to Marathon Sunday! I had signed up to run with the WDW Radio Running Team which supports the Make a Wish Foundation. The team was fantastic and it was an honor and privilege to run with such an excellent group of people. I must say that if you ever run the Disney marathon or half-marathon then look these folks up and join the team! They do great things and I’m sure they will continue to do great things for Make a Wish. I’d like to send out a personal “Thank You!” to Deanna and Steve on the team as I ran several miles with them before stopping for a photo at the castle in the Magic Kingdom. It was so much fun to run with two other people and the miles just zipped by running with new friends! Of course, a strong support team is also needed so another big “Thank You!” goes out to Mary Jo “Mo Jo” Collins who made sure everyone on the team knew where they were going each day, gave wake up calls/texts, and even called runners during the race for an on the run pep talk if needed! I’m sure Mo Jo didn’t sleep for the entire weekend as she operated the WDW Radio Running Team’s Central Command for the entire weekend! Thank You to the rest of the Running Team as well. It was fun meeting everyone at EPCOT after the race.
One final “Thank You!” goes to my girlfriend, Kate, as she put up with my training schedule the last half of the year including suffering my training diet and sleep schedule, accompanied me to the race, schlepped from the cozy Hilton Grand Vacation suite to the Disney Value Resort prior to race day and spent 5.5 hours standing in three places waiting to see me along the course during the marathon. Thank you baby! I love you so much!
Now, back to the marathon! The long awaited morning arrived and I had prepared the night before as I always do before a race by pinning my bib to my shirt ahead of time…of course I took a picture and it was the first of many.
I didn’t think I’d get my lucky number when I registered for the marathon, but low and behold good ol’ 16,450 came rolling out! (sarcasm!) I had my WDW Radio Running Team shirt and I was ready to go! I went to sleep at 8:00pm Saturday night since I had to wake at 2:30am in order to be on the bus to the start line at EPCOT shortly after 3:00am. I had my usual pre-race breakfast of Fiber One Cereal (Carmel Clusters) and added a banana for good measure. I also drank a bit of Gatorade on my way to the bus.
When Kate and I arrived at the EPCOT parking lot we both grabbed a cup of coffee and met the rest of the WDW Radio Running Team for a picture.
Afterwards we all started our 20 minute walk from the parking lot to the Start Line! It was a chilly walk (low 40s and dropping) to the start and we arrived about 45 minutes before the race began. I was in Corral H so I was in the last wave of runners to start. The race started at 5:30am and I crossed the start line a little after 6:00am.
The fireworks went off for the first Corral and my group watched for the next 25 minutes as each group walked up to the start line for their own fireworks laden send off and a salute from Mickey & Minnie in full running gear! Disney definitely knows how to send you off in style! I was able to see the other seven fireworks displays before my own started me on my way!
The first few miles went by in a flash as we ran through EPCOT. The race’s ending takes runners through the World Showcase, but I wouldn’t see that area again for another 5 hours. Still I stopped to snap a couple pictures of Spaceship Earth.
It was amazing running through all four of the parks! I’m a fan of Disney AND an ex-Cast Member too, but this was over the top even for me!
I had to stop for a quick snap shot of the Holiday Tree. All the parks were still decorated for the December holiday season which was nice since I usually don’t get down to Disney this time of year.
The next thing I know I was leaving Epcot and passing the 4-mile marker where my girlfriend, Kate, was waiting for me with a small group of spectators. She had made friends with three other individuals and they stayed to cheer for each of their four runners before moving on to the next viewing spot on the course! It was great to see her and I felt energized as I took off for miles #5 & 6!
I was amazed at how quickly the miles started flying by at that point!
By now I was approaching the TTC. That’s the “Ticket and Transportation Center” for you non-Disney folk. 😉 I had run the Disney Halloween 5K back in October so I recognized this part of the course and knew that I was not far from the the Magic Kingdom (MK). I had finally found Steve and Deanna at this point so we were really putting away the mileage. I text Kate who was waiting in front of Cinderella’s Castle to see me to tell her that I’d be there soon!
At the castle I left Deanna and Steve. I wanted to get a picture in front of it and how often do you get the chance for a picture sans crowds at the Magic Kingdom?!?!? I ran over, gave Kate a kiss and was back on my way. Next stop, Frontierland!
The castle was at about 10.5 miles and there were no more stops for me to see friends and family for the remainder of the race. The best part though is that I felt great! I took a little extra time for pictures getting out of MK and continued on my way. I was impressed at the entertainment Disney put on whether it be live music, a DJ, characters or other ways to distract runners from the mileage ahead.
At last I was at the half-way point! I ran 4 half-marathon in 2010 so when I reached this point I was happy that I was feeling good and was in no pain. I was dialed in and enjoying the run!
Again, the miles started to fly by after passing the half-way marker. Still, I took the time to stop for the occasional photo opp!
Running through The Animal Kingdom reminded me of the Inaugural Wine and Dine Half-Marathon I ran in October, 2010. The route here was similar though it was day time for this race rather than night time like in October. Much better photos this time around!
During my training for the Disney Marathon I had ran 20 miles a couple times as the schedule had dictated. Now that I was at this point again I wondered what another 6.2 miles (the equivalent of a 10K!) was going to feel like. I trudged on and continued drawing energy from incoming texts from friends and Kate as well as reading comments on Facebook from the photos I had posted while on the run. It was like I was running with a group of people the entire time and it felt great to have the support behind me!
At 22 miles I was hurting a bit though I was still smiling! Kate had arrived at the Finish Line way ahead of time and was texting me. With only 4.2 miles left I knew it was no problem to finish so I just kept at it and soon I was running through MGM Studios (oops, I mean Disney Hollywood Studios). 🙂
A portion of the race course for MGM was running through the Backlot Tour Attraction. This was awesome as we ran past the original Disney Airline Plane, a few Japanese Zeros from Pearl Harbor and through the Costuming building. I was happy we avoided Disaster Canyon though! If you’ve ridden this attraction then you know what I mean! 🙂
Mile 23 came and went, but Disney had one more surprise for runners heading into the last 3 miles. After I passed the marker I came across tables full of mini-chocolate bars! A great tasting energy source to help get me through to the end!
The last few miles were good as I pushed forward to the final park run-through in EPCOT! The run from MGM to EPCOT was great as it followed the path along the waterway with great views of the hotels.
Once I reached mile marker 25 I felt great! I was as little as 12-14 minutes from the finish line for the last 1.2 miles! The course took us around the World Showcase countries. I got to see Lou Mongello and the rest of the WDW Radio Running Team supporters as I ran into the UK Pavilion. It was great to see a group of familiar faces cheering for me before that last mile plus push to the finish!
Being such a Disney fan I have walked around the World Showcase dozens of time…so many times that I knew it wasn’t much further after leaving EPCOT and heading toward the EPCOT parking lot before I would see my final mile marker!
Seeing the final mile marker was bitter sweet for me. I was happy to accomplish my goal and see all the hard work from the last year pay off. However, there was that little part of me that was having so much fun that I didn’t want it to end. Of course, then I thought of Kate waiting for me at the finish line AND all the fun I was going to have in the parks that evening which spurred me on to the finish line!
At last I approached the finish line and saw Kate just a few feet away. She was right there for a great photo finish!
Shortly after crossing the finish line a volunteer awarded me my finishers medal. It now rests in a place of honor with my other medals. It is the largest one I have, my only full-marathon medal (so far) and I will always cherish it as my first 26.2 mile adventure!
Of course, a 26.2 mile race is cause for a celebration if there ever was one so Kate and went back to the hotel, cleaned up from the day, took a nap and headed back to EPCOT for fun, food, and refreshments. Our first stop was the Mexico Pavilion where I enjoyed a cerveza and churros!
After a couple weeks of rest from running (still working out though) I am getting ready to start training for my next race (a half-marathon) which will take place in Kansas in April. I get to run this one with a good friend of mine so I am excited to travel to see friends and run a race with them!