Race: Walt Disney World Marathon
Location: Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Date: Sunday 7th January 2018
Start time: 5:30am
Costume: Minnie Mouse (mostly handmade by myself with the addition of my regular black running clothes)
What I had in my belt/backpack (yes this list is long, I do not pack light – ever!): gels, a packet of nuun electrolytes, plasters, tissues, painkillers, charger for my phone, ipod shuffle, camera, ponchos (these were supposed to be used if it rain, but we ended up wearing them as we waited in the corral to try and keep warm), safety pins (in case any of our costumes fell apart), gloves, ear warmers.
Main highlights: dressing up as Minnie & Mickey, Magic Kingdom entrance sign, Main Street in Magic Kingdom, riding Exhibition Everest in Animal Kingdom, ESPN Wide World of Sports, the cheering crowds in Epcot, holding hands with Andrew (my husband) as we crossed the finishing line.
Lows: very early morning start, the port-a-loo queues & the smell of them, my foot hurting and Andrew’s knee being achy, not having enough time in the parks, especially Hollywood Studios when all you do is run down the main street, and the end coming far too soon.
It wasn’t a great night’s sleep, but really, who does sleep well the night before a big race? But it wasn’t just race nerves, oh no! We were staying at the Grand Floridian (one of the Deluxe Resorts in WDW), and unbeknown to us, the noise of fireworks and music accompanying the water shows would keep us awake FOR HOURS. At one point I said to Andrew ‘Is that the dinosaur song?’ – meaning ‘Walk the Dinosaur’ by Was (not Was). It was so random, I can’t imagine it was actually that song but it sounded so much like it (we broke out into song and laughter). It was frustrating, and had we realised the glass wouldn’t block out the noise, we may not have stayed at this resort.
The alarm went off at 2:10am and we shot out of bed. I was super organized the night before and had laid out our clothes in order of how we’d get dressed, so it only took us a short time to get ready, face washed, teeth done, and many photos. I hurt my foot a month ago, and of course it started aching as I was getting ready. Thankfully I had the sense to bring KT tape with me, so before we left the room I strapped myself up, in the hope that it was just phantom pains (unfortunately it wasn’t).
At the Grand Floridian you have the option of getting the monorail to the race, or the bus. We planned on getting the bus so that we didn’t need to worry about getting off one monorail to then get on a second. We walked over to the Conference Centre to be told the bus wasn’t running, so we dashed back to the main entrance of the resort, and sprinted up the stairs to catch the monorail. It was super exciting seeing the Disney sights in the dark – the castle and Epcot all lit up was pretty special.
Bag check, port-a-loo visit, and the long walk to the corrals killed a good half hour or so, but that still left over an hour of waiting around, in the cold, in the very, very cold morning. Although, to be fair, the marathon had it good – the 3 days of races before us were even colder. Thankfully though, we had brought extra layers with us, otherwise we would have been icicles.
We were in corral F, which had the estimated race time of 5 hours and 30 minutes. Despite our limited training, we thought we would finish in around 5 hours, plus it was the first corral where you didn’t have to submit a previous race time (this was Andrew’s first marathon, and he has never run a half-marathon, so he didn’t have a time he could submit). At 5:30am the first corral left with a shower of fireworks. It then felt like an awfully long time until we began moving towards the starting line (it was probably only 15 minutes, but given I had my Garmin ready to go, I couldn’t check what the time was). Prior to this race, I had watched so many YouTube videos of Disney races, it felt incredibly surreal standing at the starting line waiting for Mickey to tell us to go.
Finally he did, and we were off!
The first couple of kilometers felt a bit sluggish and were pretty slow. As much as my brain was screaming to go faster, I knew that starting off slow was the smart thing to do. After a few more kilometers we had sufficiently warmed up and were stripping off our throw-away layers – Disney collect all the discarded clothes and donate everything to local charities. And all the pieces that we wanted to keep, we packed them in the cute Minnie Mouse backpack that we bought for this race for Andrew to wear (the pink would have clashed with my red Minnie attire obvs!).
What the YouTube race videos don’t show you are the numerous boring parts of this race. Yes, you do run through all parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and ESPN Wide World of Sports) which is incredibly exciting and fun and special, but there are so many kilometres that are on boring long roads (and sometimes very smelly roads past what could only be a sewage/waste plant!). I was pleasantly surprised about the ESPN section. In the YouTube videos, a lot of runners had said it felt like you were in there for hours and it was boring – but I really enjoyed it. You run around several tracks and a stadium, there were enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. And really, how often are you going to get the chance to run around a stadium and be on the Jumbotron?!?! For me, it was the long, long, long roads between the parks that got incredibly boring and tiresome. But during this time I would put my music on to distract myself, or simply think how lucky I am to be doing this and to take it all in.
Disney really does know how to put on a race! The water stations were perfectly placed. The volunteers and medical staff were incredible. There were so many treats on offer (bananas, Sport beans, chocolate, Gatorade, and probably more goodies, I can’t remember now). The mile markers were fun. There seemed to be many characters on the course but we weren’t bothered about getting photos with any of them. I don’t know, it’s weird to me to think it’s likely a petite women in there, probably dripping with sweat (maybe I have it wrong, but I just don’t get the character thing). They could have done with more port-a-loos – the lines were incredible! We stopped and waited in a line and that kilometer recorded at over 19 minutes!!!!
One thing that did frustrate me so much was the number of walkers that stopped running in the middle of the road/path. ALL the races I have done in the past, if you wanted to walk you would move to the side of the road (doesn’t matter which side) to get out of the way of the runners. Not on this race, it seemed like the majority stopped to walk wherever they were running, and gave you little to no warning they were about to stop! We didn’t walk often, preferring to take a short break when we were in the water stations, so we would be weaving our way around the walkers, so much so that we did way more than 42.2K! My Garmin died a couple of kilometres from the end of the race, but before it died we had done almost 47K!
Disney opens up the rides when the parks open, so if you time it right, you can hop on rides in Animal Kingdom. As we came up to Exhibition Everest, the wait time was 20 minutes. For a split second we contemplated not waiting, but were like ‘when will we ever get the chance to run a marathon and stop mid-way to ride a rollercoaster?’ So we waited. And actually the wait was nice, we had a drink, posted a pic on Instagram and the time went past quite quickly. I am so glad we stopped as riding that was one of the highlights, so much fun!
I have always run in kilometers, but as this was the US they are all about miles. It was nice in a way, because unless I looked at my Garmin, I had no idea how far along we were. We took photos of every single mile marker (they are huge big boards with the time and a character), and even though it takes longer to run a mile than a kilometer, at times it felt that we were speeding through the miles.
Running around Epcot was incredible. The crowds were so loud, even though we didn’t have anyone there cheering us on, it really sounded like these strangers were there for us – they gave me the push I really needed in those last few kilometers. Disney picked the perfect songs (in my opinion) for that last push, I found myself belting out Pocahontas and Moana songs as we ran around the World Showcase. When we came across the gospel choir I knew from YouTube videos that this was it, the end was in sight. I got a little teary, but mostly because it was over – my dream of running a Disney marathon had come true.
I loved running with a buddy. In my previous races I have mostly run solo, which is nice but when it’s tough it’s great having a buddy. So during the times Andrew was feeling deflated, I was able to give him the boost he needed to keep going, and vice versa. But it also meant when someone wanted to walk/take a port-a-loo break, then so did the other one! Running across the finishing line holding hands was the best feeling – shame the photographers didn’t capture a picture that had both of us in it….that would have been nice.
Would I run this again? I honestly don’t know. It was absolutely a bucket list race for me. I love, love, love that I did it, but I’m not sure if/when I would do it again. My next blog will be about race-cations so I will go into a bit more detail then.
Have you run a Disney race? If not, would you like to one day? Or do you have a similar bucket list race that you are training for or planning to run one day?