Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Full marathon report

It’s shortly before 6am on a surprisingly foggy Sunday morning. I’m standing in the middle of a road outside Epcot in Florida, waiting anxiously for the start of the 2008 WDW marathon and am surrounded by thousands of others. I am a bit nervous but also quite excited about this adventure…

Hang on a minute: running a marathon? Me? How did someone so definitely non-sporty like me end up here?

The real story starts a year ago, when I was bored at work and stumbled across an account of someone (can’t remember who!) who had just completed the 2007 WDW marathon. I thought it was pretty cool – not to mention a great way to get a vacation – and when I found out that registration was open for the 2008 event I sent the link to my husband. He is, after all, the sporty one and I said to him “you should do this”. He wrote back “no, you should”.

He was probably not being serious but his reply made me think – why not? After all, I had a year to prepare. So I did some research, found some training plans and decided that I would register for the 2008 marathon. I also found out that there was to be a secret and one-of-a-kind medal given out to finishers so that made me REALLY want to sign up.

I also needed an excuse to get fitter and lose some weight to this seemed the ideal plan. I started my training plan slowly and through the following 12 months progressed from barely being able to run for 2 minutes to running for 30 minutes and covering more and more distance.

Before I knew it I was standing at that starting line outside Epcot and waiting for the fireworks to signal the start of my first marathon. All my persistence and patience during training paid off – which is just as well as I was out running on all kinds of weather, during vacations and even when I didn’t feel like it. It was all worth it when the fireworks went off and the race started! The atmosphere was electric and my earlier nerves gave away to pure excitement.

The weather had given me a few sleepless nights the previous days as rain was forecast but the morning of January 13th was foggy and even a little muggy. I later found out that humidity was at 94% at 6am, the time the race started. But I felt comfortable and quite happy to be running in warmer temperatures after some pretty cold long training runs in the UK. The first few miles went by relatively quickly and before long we’d reached our first park: Epcot. What a feeling to see Spaceship Earth shining in front of me, like a beacon in the fog! We ran under it, then continued down towards World Showcase where we turned left towards Mexico.

It was pretty special to run past this pavilion as this is where I worked for over a year. But I didn’t have much time to dwell on nice memories because before long we were running past Norway, taking a quick left turn (but stopping to have my picture taken with Snow White beforehand!) and we were backstage. Again, this area I know quite well from my cast member days so it was nice to see it and also to see some enthusiastic cast members cheering us on.

After a quick run backstage we went past the security gates and we were… pretty much back where we started! We’d done 4 miles by then and not really progressed much but energy was still high and we I kept going strong. I seem to remember around this point that we approached a hairpin bend towards the Magic Kingdom and it was amazing to see, from the overpass, runners stretching left to right as far as I could see. This was around mile 6 and I was feeling pretty strong still.

We then ran along the long road that takes happy guests to the Magic Kingdom and although it was fairly straight and boring there was a lot going on: besides the guests and volunteers we also had some cheerleading troupes that were VERY energetic for so early in the morning! Every once in a while we would also hear the quiet whoosh of the monorail overhead and perhaps even the toot of the horn. Before we knew it we were in the MK parking lot and running around the race track.

Here a little surprise awaited us: we had a choice of two paths, depending on what music you preferred – country or 80s! I chose 80s and it was fun to run and dance along to some forgotten classics. Soon enough we were at the Transportation and Ticket Center and the crowds were waiting! It was energizing to hear their clapping and cheering and this is the spot where I first saw David and Samuel which was very encouraging! After the TTC we ran on towards the Contemporary Hotel (including a very steep underpass which was not good on tiring legs) and then a quick left where we followed the monorail. We turned right onto a backstage area… and soon enough we were in Main Street!

This was probably one of my favourite parts of the whole race and it was incredible – the crowds, the music, the sight of Cinderella’s castle… I almost wanted to stop running and slow time down to savor the moment. But too soon we were taking a right turn into Tomorrowland, which was nice too I must say but a lot quieter as it was just us runners here. The route took us to the back of the castle and with a fanfare we were welcomed by Princes and Princesses! We ran through the castle, then made a quick right and onto Frontierland and all too soon we were backstage again, where it was quiet and we hit mile 11.

We then ran past the Grand Floridian where a good crowd of people had gathered and carried on toward the Polynesian (where I saw the boys again) but pretty soon we were leaving the crowds behind and were running on back roads. This were the toughest miles on the course for me (14 to 16) because they were pretty boring (nothing to look at but woods and a recycling plant) and at this point I was also feeling the full effects of the heat and humidity. I was very grateful for the many and varied Sharpie signs along the road. What are the Sharpie signs? Well, Sharpie is a race sponsor (makers of pens) and they placed lots of little signs along the road with witty comments like “when something is out of whack, what is whack?” or “if Barbie is supposed to be so popular, why do we have to buy her friends?”. These helped distract the mind and were generally quite thought-provoking (or at least provided humor relief).

Just as I thought I was too bored to continue we got close to the Animal Kingdom – our next park. We approached it from backstage, where cast members stood with various parrots and turtles and gave us a cheerful welcome. Pretty soon we were inside the park and as this one was open to guests, it was SUCH a change because it was bustling in there! I have only been to AK once so I didn’t recognize much (I believe we ran through Asia) so I was trying to take it all in: the costumes, the richly detailed buildings and Mt Everest in the background. There were also lots of guests around, most probably quite annoyed at having their visit restricted due to the runners so it was fun to watch them.

Too soon we were exiting the park and running across the parking lot where I saw my boys again. After this we ran over to one of the most challenging sections of the race: the 19 – 21 mile stretch of straight road that faces the sun and then just turns around and you have to cover some of the distance again. Adding insult to injury is that this point also includes two overpasses in quick succession. At this point it was very hot, very humid and it made the going tough. I had to slow way down if I was to complete the race. In reality I didn’t actually find it as hard as I thought and although it WAS hot I was managing fine. I did see a lot of other people really struggling in this section though.

Just before we approached the Disney Studios we had to run along a banked curve and that was tough on my ankles but at least this section had a bit of shade. Once this was over we were in the Studios. I haven’t been in this park for a long time so I was very disorientated for a while but at least this meant occupied my mind for a while. It was nice to see the park again though, and as it also had paying guests, it was also fun to see them be mildly annoyed at the runners!

As we left the Studios just before mile 24 I saw my boys again and it gave me a boost. I was really, really tired by now, my knee was starting to hurt but I know that I only had around 2 miles left to go so I kept going. We ran next to a canal that joins the Studios with the Boardwalk and it was almost pleasant but I was definitely doing more walking than running at this point. Still, it was great to know that the remaining miles would be run with lots to see.

After the Boardwalk we carried on towards the Yacht and Beach club (and I would have loved to jump in that pool!) and after a very cruel downhill run we were backstage in Epcot again! We entered the park near the UK and turned right towards France. Now, I do love World Showcase and I love being there but at this point I was SO tired that I just wanted to stop. But I decided to enjoy the moment (after all, I was in the park for free!) and take in the sights. I had originally planned to save some energy and run the last lap around WS but I just had no legs left for that. Instead I picked up my walking pace a little and counted down the countries as I walked past them.

The crowds were amazing at this point though and all the cast members and volunteers were so encouraging, even though they would have been doing this for hours! I felt very emotional as I went past the Fountain of Nations and then Spaceship Earth, where we made a right turn out towards backstage… and suddenly I saw the biggest gospel choir I’ve ever seen! It was such a surprise as I hadn’t heard them until I was practically on top of them and I nearly cried as I knew the end was near!

I turned a corner and could actually SEE the finish line so I gathered what little strength I had and ran to the end where I was greeted by Chip, Dale, Donald and others I’ve forgotten.

It was an amazing feeling to finish and then I was quickly ushered to various places: get my chip off, get my blanket, and then get my coveted medal. I had finished!

I have to say that I found the race very well organized and incredibly fun to do – the efforts of volunteers and cast members should not go unmentioned as they definitely add to the atmosphere. But also the runners themselves were a source of enthusiasm and camaraderie and I never felt alone or that I wouldn’t finish because I had all the support I could need. It certainly was a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone that wants to do it – even if you don’t think of yourself as a marathoner! If you train properly and have the right dedication, you too could earn a Mickey medal.


Maida - The Healthy Mom said...

What a great race report! Thank you for reminding me of many things that I forgot about until I read this. You have an amazing memory. I wish we (and our boys) could have met in person that day. Congratulations from a fellow 1st time marathoner!

Ovens2Betsy said...

Hi Rosani,

Found you through the Disney Running Forum. As The Healthy Mom says, you do have an incredible memory! I was looking at our route and realized we would have run the boardwalk into Epcot a couple of times (I was on the blue course). I have absolutely no recollection of it in the morning hours (I must have been chatting too much with my husband and our friend!), and when we ran it at the end I was just so focused on finishing (I did Goofy, and unfortunately ran the half too quickly. My legs were dog-tired and the humidity sapped my energy!)

So glad to hear you made it though. Are you in for next year?

scrapcomber said...

Hi Claudia, Congratulations what a fantastic acheivment, I felt as though I was running with you, with your discription of the race. It certainly beats running in London for location.

Sharon said...

Found you through the Scrap a ganza forum.
What a brilliant story to read. I have never even heard of the WDW marathon did extremely well.
Big congrats!!


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