2 Days, 4 Theme Parks
Can’t really believe that I completed that this past weekend at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend as a Goofy Challenger. What that medal doesn’t include is: two back-to-back 2:15 a.m. wake-up calls, three days of standing at the Runner’s World Challenge booth checking in runners, a late night of bowling with RW coworkers (bowling + runners’ glaring lack of coordination = many, many hysterical gutter balls!), and one epic afternoon appeasing my inner eight-year-old riding Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean at the Magic Kingdom. Busy, busy, busy!
We also stayed at the Yacht Club Resort a.k.a. runner nerd heaven. The place was literally jam-packed with running elites and legends. While I was checking in, 2012 U.S. Olympic marathoner Desi Davila was waiting behind me (!) and yes, I had a small heart attack. What’s new? I saw her again the next day leaving an elevator, and I completely geeked-out at her with word-vomiting excitement. You’d think that I’d be better at handling these brushes with fame, but man, I’m pretty sure I scared her a little. Ooops, sorry Desi! (Thankfully, I ran into her again later that day, and I got the chance to redeem myself and prove that I’m not actually a crazy person.) I have to say, she’s an absolutely awesome (and tiny!) person, and it was incredible getting to hear about her comeback post-Olympic injury. She’s going to dominate once she’s healthy again, I’m sure of it! (Side note: I’ve now officially met the U.S. Olympic Marathon team trio: Desi Davila, Shalane Flanagan, and Kara Goucher. Ahh! I can tell you that they are all such amazing and inspiring women, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities to get to meet them!) I also ran into and spoke with Bill Rodgers for a bit, and I spotted Frank Shorter, too. All in all, it was pretty surreal sharing a roof with these people.
Now, on to the races:
Above all else, the goal for the weekend was have fun and embrace the experience. I wanted to earn all three medals, and it didn’t matter how fast I did it. If I had to give you a time goal, it would be to break two hours in the half and four hours in the full, but that was by no means a serious goal. I’m just a very Type A kind of person, and deep down, I have no ability to just run. I need to work on that – not every race needs to be run for time! Anywho…
[Pump-up song of the day: “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” from Mulan]
Despite absolutely dreading waking up at the butt-crack of earliness, thank God I’m the type of person where once I’m up, I’m up. Cait and I (she was doing the Goofy, too) snapped a pre-Goofy photo (left – with coworkers Robert and Jeff), and then we and the other RW Challengers loaded the bus to the start at 3 a.m. I was quickly designated the group’s cheerleader. I blasted Disney songs (and sang along with them!), while I attempted to make my energy infectious and pump everyone up for the race. Heck, we were at Disney World about to run an incredible race, how could you not be ridiculously stoked!?!
Once we got to the corral, I was flat out giddy with excitement. We got to start within feet of the actual line, and we were spitting distance away from NSYNC’s Joey Fatone and Drew Carey! How cool is that?!? Had I told my 12-year-old self that I’d be this close to a member of NSYNC, I wouldn’t have believed it! Then Mickey Mouse gave us the countdown, a burst of fireworks lit up the sky, and we were off! I ran most of the race with my coworkers Cait and Hannah (who ran a HUGE PR!). (right) Cait and I decided to take it easy and conserve our energy for Sunday’s marathon, running around 8:30 – 8:50 pace the whole way. We made our way toward the Magic Kingdom, passing by loads of costumed characters (my favorite was the Pirates of the Caribbean ship that played music from the movie). Then we turned onto Main Street, and holy wow was it awe-inspiring. The road was packed with screaming spectators as we ran up to Cinderella’s stunning castle. That moment alone made the lonely highways to and from the castle worth it. Hands down. We pushed it to the finish (after nearly running over a crossing armadillo – seriously!), and just like that, we were a third of the way done with the Goofy Challenge. We ran it in 1:54:13. To quote The Big Bang Theory – Bazinga!
The only glitch in the road was that my achilles and heels were totally feeling the last three days of standing. I iced them that afternoon to get ’em ready for day two!
[Pump-up song of the day: “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” from The Lion King]
I’ll be honest here – when my alarm went off at 2:15 a.m. again on Sunday morning, the immediate realization that I had to run a marathon (a whole 26.2 miles!) in a couple hours was horrifying. What the heck was I thinking getting myself into this? I turned up the Disney music to shake that feeling away because I’d promised my RW Challengers that I’d be as upbeat and happy on Sunday as I was on Saturday. Oh I just can’t waaaaait….to be kinggggg!
Then come race time, talk about déjà vu. The first eight-ish miles of the race were exactly the same as the half-marathon course, and it was somewhat eery covering the same ground at the same time two mornings in a row. Again, the Magic Kingdom’s stunning views took my breath away, and then… it all came crumbling down…
Around mile 10 (yeah, just 10! 16.2 miles left!), everything below my knees began to ache. My shins, my ankles, my achilles, the bottom of my feet, everything. SO not fun. (My coworkers and I later agreed that this pain might have been caused by the course’s pancake-flatness and subsequently repetitive stride pattern.) It was pretty unsettling to feel that yucky that early in the race, and I wondered, How did I feel so good for the first 18 miles of Steamtown? This was already shaping up to be a very different experience from my first marathon.
As I made my way through the course (it was mostly on highways, punctuated by jaunts through the Magic Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot, all of which were pretty neat to run through), my thoughts shifted toward tweaking my stride to make my legs hurt as little as possible. I also tried so hard to just keep running because I really didn’t want to walk. Let’s just say those middle miles were consumed with thoughts like Why the heck am I doing this? This sucks. Please get me to the next park so I can distract myself. Stop hurting legs! Think positively. There is still soooo much left to go. Can I be done, please? Pretty please? With a cherry on top? Don’t walk, just keep running. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Hey look, there’s Buzz Lightyear! Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Once I reached the Wide World of Sports Complex, I decided I’d walk the water stops from then on. Looking back, I think this was the best decision I could have made, and it was definitely a turning point in my race – not only did it give my legs a break, but the idea of rewarding myself with a walk break and water kept me motivated and moving between stations. I learned that walking is definitely NOT a bad thing in marathons.
I realized – to my utter relief – that the end was near when I got to Hollywood Studios around mile 23. The crowd support was through the roof, and even though I was still in an epic amount of pain, I started to sense a bit of that “marathon magic.” Pretty fitting that I truly felt that at “the most magical place on Earth,” right? I was overcome with joy at the realization that I and everyone around me were going to finish this thing. I’d compare this feeling to the “runner’s high” – it’s elusive, but it’ll show up just when you need it to! Ahhh it was totally awesome. With renewed energy, I shifted gears and tried to finish as strong as I could. I crossed the line in 3:55:28, and then Bart Yasso snapped this photo of me (right). Despite having a mostly awful race, I don’t think I could’ve been more genuinely happy.
Now that it’s over, I wouldn’t consider this race a bad race at all. First and foremost, I learned to respect the distance. Marathons are not easy. Period. I needed to experience this, and was glad I did. I also learned that you can feel that “marathon magic” even in crappy races, that pace and finishing times are not always the most important thing, and that finishing alone is a huge accomplishment. Lessons (thankfully) learned. Side note #2: How cool is this bling?!? (I spent the rest of the day with these clanging around my neck!)
Post-race, I got to celebrate with some of the most incredible runners ever: the Runner’s World Challengers! I mingled with the @TwinsRun twins, Malinda and Leah, who are so passionate about running and Disney it’s contagious. They even raced both days in super-cute costumes! Their outfits rivaled one Challenger’s kilt! (left) I also witnessed a mother and her daughter complete their first marathon together, which was beyond neat as well.
But what managed to bring me to tears was Robert’s race. Robert (right) battled throat cancer last year and came back to break four hours and QUALIFY FOR BOSTON! He was visibly euphoric, and I can tell you that that moment will stick with me forever. We had waited together in the corral before the race, and I can say that words really don’t do justice to describe how kind and wonderful and inspiring this man is. He told us how after treatments last year, he literally started from square one (think only being able to run the length of one side of a block), and then worked his way toward this goal of a Boston qualification. Stories like his remind me of why running is just plain awesome.
Overall, the weekend was an exhausting but exhilarating experience, and I’m pumped to say that marathon numero dos is in the books! Now, time for some rest and then let the Boston training commence!
QUOTE OF THE POST: “There are times when you run a marathon and you wonder, Why am I doing this? But you take a drink of water, and around the next bend, you get your wind back, remember the finish line, and keep going.” – Steve Jobs
Disney runners: What was your favorite part of the race?
Read my other Race Reports here.