So here it is. Finally. My 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon recap. I earned my entry through my fundraising for Team in Training and paid for my own travel to Walt Disney World. runDisney provided me with accommodations and other experiences in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own.
Grab yourself some refreshments. This is going to be a long one.
1:00am, January 12th, 2014. Wide awake. My alarm was set for 2:30am. Plenty of time to get up, eat, get dressed, and get ready to board a bus to the start line. My body just wasn’t having it and I decided not to fight it and just get up and get ready for the day. I got dressed and walked upstairs to the media lounge to grab a banana, water, and bag of pretzels. I went back down to my room, paced for a while, and ate. I made sure I had everything I needed for the race (and after) and tried to find something, anything, to take my mind off of the long wait for the 3:45 media bus to the start line.
As always, I snapped a little pre-race selfie for Instagram.
At 2:30, I gave up, grabbed my gear, and headed down to catch the first bus to the start line area. My adrenaline was pumping and I figured I might as well get there early and explore Race Retreat. (click the link to read about my full Race Retreat experience) I was so excited to run into Jama (@runcrazykyle) at Race Retreat! It was good to see a familiar face and I loved hearing all about her Dopey Challenge experience (which she completely rocked).
I said by goodbyes to Jama and started to head towards the corrals. I was running with my friend Amanda, but she was stuck on a bus in traffic and we decided to meet in the corral. The walk over was very easy and organized. I grabbed a spot in corral M and waited for Amanda. She arrived and we started to go over our game plan. Our goal was just to finish and have fun (a continuation in our previous #PRInFun goals). Amanda was on day four of the Dopey Challenge and doing great.
Before we knew it, fireworks were going off and we were crossing the start line.
The Walt Disney World Marathon course takes you through all four theme parks, the Walt Disney World Speedway, and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
We started off at a pretty great pace, running 1/1 intervals. We had decided to try and get as many miles under our belts as we could before the sun came up. I was actually chilly, which felt great. My big mistake this morning was not having caffeine. I typically have tea every morning and I was already feeling the effects of skipping my morning cuppa. Thankfully, my friend and fellow Disney Parks Moms Panelist Marc was spectating in the Magic Kingdom and had an ice-cold, caffeine-laden Coke waiting for me. It was just the motivation I needed to pick up the pace. That and we wanted to get to the first set of real restrooms. We continued down World Drive, keeping up our current pace.
The next thing we knew, we were at one of my favorite spots on the course: the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). There are always tons of spectators cheering and a band playing. It’s a great energy boost. I really feed off of the energy from the crowds and this put a definite pep in my step. After the killer Contemporary Resort hill, we made our way into Magic Kingdom Park.
This never gets old, my friends. The crowds, the sight of Cinderella Castle, the Main Street, USA music loop. It gives me chills each and every time. As promised, Marc had a Coke (and a hug) waiting for me, and he wasn’t the only one we ran into.
Amanda and I must have stopped every five feet for another hug or high five from a friend. It was hilarious! I took a few swigs of my drink and we stopped for a quick castle photo before heading into Tomorrowland and around through New Fantasyland.
At this point we both wanted to get to Frontierland (aka the land with the biggest restrooms with no wait). After a quick pit stop, we were off and running. I always find it easiest to run through the theme parks where there are lots of twists, turns, and distractions.
All too quickly, we were back out on the road, heading towards the Speedway. It was at this point that I started to feel my toes burning. BLISTERS?! What?! I couldn’t understand it. We were 7 miles into 26.2 miles and I already had blisters. This was not an issue I had during training. I could only assume my feet were swollen from the temperature change. I could deal with the pain now, but I started to worry about what would happen down the road. Part of me was tempted to stop at the first medical tent and tape my toes up, but I was worried I wouldn’t want to get back up again or that I’d make things more painful with the potential of tape/band-aid chafing. I was just going to have to suck it up. Luckily, the blisters didn’t hurt as much when I was running. I definitely felt them more during the walk intervals.
We made it to the Speedway and entered through the very steep (and dangerous) ramp. The Speedway reminded me a lot of the Disneyland Half Marathon with lots of classic cars lined up, but it definitely lacked the fun and nostalgia of the DHM auto drag. At Disneyland, the car owners have music playing, they’re cheering, honking horns, and having fun. Many of the car owners were actually sitting in their cars (and a couple were asleep). This was definitely my least favorite part of the entire course. I think they could really make this an exciting addition in the future, though.
Luckily, the Speedway portion was over and we were back on the road. The stretch on Bear Island Road ended up being quite nice. It’s mostly shaded, and even with the Water Treatment Center stink, it ended up being a nice little stretch of road. I was starting to get pretty hungry at this point and I knew we’d get a banana stop before entering Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park.
Then there they were: tables and tables of cold bananas. I chowed down and we kept on trucking into DAK. This is also another good location for real restrooms. DAK was open and filled with park guests and spectators. Many runners take the chance to jump on Expedition: Everest, but we decided to skip it. I was afraid I wouldn’t want to stand back up again or end up with motion sickness. Neither would be ideal halfway through a marathon. On the way out of DAK, we ran into Amanda’s family. They were so great to constantly skip around on the course to see her in action.
I knew we were in for a long, sunny, boring stretch of road ahead before we would reach the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. At mile 15 I ate the first half of my Snickers Energy Bar.
I really wanted to make sure I was taking in calories and staying ahead of my nutrition. I was drinking water and PowerAde at every water stop, as well as sipping on the NUUN in my handheld bottle. It was also around now that I decided to take a couple of Extra-Strength Tylenol. I was hoping it would at least dull the pain in my feet a little. We were really starting to walk a lot more at this point and the breaks were killing my feet.
And then I saw them. runDisney voluntEARs, holding the most glorious little white squares of heaven:
COLD TOWELS, Y’ALL! COLD TOWELS! My towel was my new BFF. It wasn’t really that warm out, but that towel felt amazing. I twisted it onto the back of my neck and left it there for the rest of the race. It was the perfect little pick-me-up. I also grabbed another banana around this point. I think. All I remember is scarfing it down.
We had reached ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. I had heard people don’t really like this part of the course, but I ended up loving it. The constant turns and changes in surface kept my mind focused and interested. (there are also several opportunities here to use a real restroom, but lines can get long) I also love running through Champion Stadium, even if my Phillies-loving heart cringes a little running in Braves territory. You get a real feel for how large the WWOS Complex is during this portion of the race. You enter around Mile 17 and emerge around Mile 19/20. I have to say, these miles ticked by for me, despite the painful blisters on my feet. It was a nice change of scenery from the long stretch of road we had just come from (and would soon be back on again).
WWOS was also where I hit my longest run ever. My training had led me up to 17 miles, not at all ideal for marathon training, but it is what it is. I saw that Mile 18 sign and felt like I had won the lottery. My feet were killing me, but my legs felt strong, my cardio was fine, and I had energy. As you can tell, I also started taking more photos at this point. I would stop for a photo and then run to catch up with Amanda and our friends. It was a good way for me to keep my legs moving and getting some run time in, since we had started walking more and more by this point.
We left the Complex and headed toward Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park. This is another sunny, long stretch of road, but it was also the site of Mile 21. In my mind, if I made it to 21, I would make it the rest of the way. Mile 21 is also where Amanda’s journey ended at last year’s marathon. It wouldn’t end here this year. I was so dang proud of her!
Mile 22 happens to be a hill. A long off-ramp hill. I guess it’s the less-intense Disney version of Boston’s Heartbreak Hill. Luckily, we get the Green Army Man at the top, motivating us to “MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!” He’s always one of my favorite characters on the runDisney courses and I stopped for my traditional photo.
We knew DHS was right around the corner and just kept trucking. And there it was! I really wish we spent more time in DHS. It’s my favorite park and I’d love to have a chance to run through a few more spots. We ran through the Streets of America, through the costuming tunnel, where I stopped for a little Wreck-it-Ralph love, and around the front of “that hat”.
The park was filled with spectators and I really started to get overrun with emotion. It really started to sink in. I was doing this. I was finishing a marathon. I wiped tears from my eyes as I made my way down Hollywood Boulevard and out of the park.
The course takes you out DHS to the path to Epcot via the Boardwalk. There were a ton of Team in Training spectators and coaches through this portion, as well as TNT Teammates who had finished the race and came back to cheer the rest of us on. I can not tell you how much it meant to me to be a part of this team. There were TNT cheer squads and coaches along the entire course, but the groups in the last few miles really lifted my spirits. I still get tears in my eyes and goosebumps thinking about how inspirational they were.
We entered Epcot and hit World Showcase.
THIS WAS IT.
There was no sweeping. No stopping. We were doing this.
World Showcase was buzzing with spectators, finishers, and park guests. I just wanted to finish. To get across that finish line and get that medal around my neck. It was here that a TNT coach reminded me how I had brought myself this far. I needed to let the spirits of those I was running for, those I had raised money for, those who I dedicated this run to, carry me across the finish line. My emotions started to get the best of me and the tears were flowing. We made our way out of World Showcase and through Future World, back out of Epcot, past the Gospel Choir, and towards the finish. In my adrenaline rush, I kinda, sorta, ran off from Amanda and sprinted to the finish. (sorry Amanda!)
I had done it.
I AM MARATHONER!
Amanda and I said our goodbyes and she went to find her family and head home. I made my way to Race Retreat to grab some ice and water, call my husband, and pick up my checked gEAR bag. I had planned on stopping by the media tent to say hello to the team, but it looked like they were pretty much wrapping up by the time I had crossed the finish line. I decided to hop on the AKL bus and head back to my resort to ice, shower, and rest a bit.
This was an incredible, life-changing experience, both physically and mentally. I pushed through the extreme pain in my feet and the mental roadblocks that told me “you can’t do this”. I finished without any danger of being swept. I did it. I finished with pain, yes, but there was plenty of gas left in my tank. I stayed on top of my nutrition and I really think that made all of the difference. I can’t wait to run another marathon and crush my time. I trained to finish well before the 7 hours it took us, but we had a great time and we both finished. That’s all that matters for this race.
Running with Team in Training was probably the best decision I could have made. The support before, during, and after the race was incredible. I feel so lucky to have been a part of the team and to have raised over $2,700. I know another Team in Training race is in my future and I can’t wait to don that purple singlet again. If you’ve ever thought of running for a charity, any charity, I highly suggest it. It will enhance your race experience in ways I can’t even begin to describe.
On the race side, runDisney did a great job. The addition of extra corrals has really helped overcrowding issues. All of the water stops were adequately supplied. However, we were a bit disappointed in the medical tents. Several had run out of Bio-freeze and other supplies, which was quite frustrating. The only changes I’d make to the course would be to add some more entertainment along the Speedway, or eliminate it altogether, if only for the dangerous entrance ramp. All that being said, I really enjoyed the course (especially ESPN WWOS) and I’m looking forward to running the Walt Disney World Marathon again.
Want to know even more? Check out my Q&A about the Walt Disney World marathon here.