15 January, 2015

Walt Disney World Marathon: A Marathon Post

Hello, my name is Jamie and I am a marathoner.  I thought perhaps a reintroduction was in order.  You know, since I am officially an elite endurance athlete.  OK, I admit that’s laughable, but only .5% of Americans (per this) have ever run a marathon.  So yeah – that puts me in a pretty small group.   I’d bet the percent of obese people is even smaller, but since they don’t take your BMI at the start line I’m sure there are no reliable statistics!

I guess I should’ve included a spoiler alert, huh?  


It’s taken me a few days to figure out how to approach this race recap, and finally I decided to not do my standard recap for the following reasons:

  1.  I work for a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, so it’s not entirely appropriate for me to provide commentary on Disney products and services. (although I have to say this was by far the most well-run race I have ever been in.  I saw literally ONE broken mile marker sign, and nothing more serious than that!)
  2. Although I had a goal pace (15 minute/mile), my ultimate goal was to finish and have fun along the way.  I never treated this as a “race,” but as a life experience.
  3. My brain has mostly categorized memories of the race into feelings (i.e. “things that made me cry”) rather than distances, which would make a traditional recap kind of strange.
  4. This race was more about me and the people I ran with than about the surroundings.

That said, if you’re considering the leap from half marathon to full marathon, this post might be helpful for you.  But know in advance that I’m not writing this post for anyone but me.  It’s going to be long (300+ words before any talk of the actual race? Yeah – that’s a sign of things to come!), but the race was long.  The training was long.  And darn it, I’m not going to short-change my memories for the sake of brevity!

I’m going to take just a second to introduce the main characters in my story:

Jamie (me): 35, first-time marathon runner with 13 halfs under my belt.  I’ve only managed to finish one of those in under three hours, and I currently do long run intervals of 25 seconds running/40 seconds walking.  (after this marathon though, I’m officially bumping that up to 30/40 for my next races)
Jackie: 40’s, has run the WDW Marathon multiple times.  She did the Dopey Challenge last year, proclaimed that she hates this marathon course and didn’t think she’d ever do it again.  Then I said I wanted to register, and she immediately signed up for this year’s Goofy Challenge so that I wouldn’t have to do my first marathon alone.  She and I met during the Orlando Half in 2013, when we were both weak-legged from Space Coast the week before.  By the end of that race, we were already Facebook friends. I think we ran about a half-dozen races together in 2014.
Sarah: 30, signed up for the Dopey Challenge having never done any distance races.  At the beginning, she said she hated running but Dopey and Goofy were her favorite characters so she might as well do all of the races at once to get it over with.  (she’s already signed up for three more race weekends with me before the end of February – I think she’s hooked)  We worked together in my last job, and compared notes during training.  She also did two of my longest training runs with me, even though I’m slower than she is.

Sarah and her sister ran the first 2.5 races of the Dopey Challenge together, but they split off around mile 9 of the half marathon and decided not to even attempt the full together.  This ended up benefiting me, because it meant Sarah would be starting with Jackie and me.  She said she’d probably stick with us for the first mile or two and then go on at her (much faster) pace.  As it turns out, she stuck with us past mile 14 and was there for lots of my “big moments.”  Jackie, as promised, stuck with me to the end.  

Sweet Emotions
I joked the days before the race that I was taking on the “Grumpy Challenge.” This was the perfect storm of combining race nerves associated with your first marathon with a week of major PMS.  I cried, I hated people, people hated me…  I’m sure I still owe a person or two an apology, though I tried my best to only yell on the inside.  By the Thursday before the race, my mental clouds had lifted and I was left with optimism and excitement (and the unfortunate knowledge that the “P” in PMS stands for “pre,” which is all I’ll say about that except that “super plus” is a real thing and it is amazing).

In the car on the way to the race, I started to get choked up thinking that this was the big day and how hard I’d trained, etc.  To stop myself from getting all emotional, I told Jackie we should keep track of the number of times I choked back tears during the day.  “ONE!”  I think I hit four before we even parked the car!  Other things that set me off: getting into our corral (where I promptly yelled, “I’M IN MY CORRAL,” which the people around me didn’t seem very impressed about!), seeing the fireworks going off for the corrals ahead of ours, our fireworks going off, passing the start line (where I yelled, “I’M RUNNING A MARATHON!”)… you get the picture!

The first tears escaped my eyes right after we exited Magic Kingdom and turned onto Floridian Way.  There were speakers set up playing “Best Day of My Life,” and they had a poster that said “You are running a marathon. This is the best day of your life.”  Before I knew it, I wailed “ohhh…this IS the best day of my life!” and hot tears streamed down my cheeks.  Sarah grabbed her camera and took pictures, and Jackie was nice enough to pose as well, pointing and laughing at my ‘ugly cry’ face.  I’ve never happy-sobbed before.  It’s an amazing feeling, but sobbing makes it hard to run.  Still, we managed to keep our intervals up!

My next big moment, though tear-free, was about two miles later at the point where the marathon course no longer follows the same route as the half marathon.  At the exact moment we left Floridian Way and turned into the TTC parking lot toward the WDW Speedway, “The Impossible Dream” cycled on.  It was a perfect moment! 

I almost cried inside the Sports Complex (mile 18 or 19) when “This is the Moment” started playing.  Seriously – look at the lyrics for that and YOU try to not cry while actively pursuing a check on the bucket list!

Just before entering the Studios (mile 22+), I looked at Jackie in amazement and pointed out that we were now officially off the public roadways and wouldn’t be swept.  We then rounded a corner and saw volunteers handing out Hershey’s Miniatures.  I took a Mr. Goodbar, popped it into my mouth, and burst into tears again.  Something about the combination of chocolate and major milestone was too much for me!

Finally, I officially lost it within sight of the finish line.  I always kind of figured I’d finish.  I had trained well, and things had gone really well during the day.  My confidence grew to “I think we’re really going to do it” when we passed the sweep point.  But something about seeing the finish line and knowing I could hop/crawl/roll to it and there were only a few hundred feet between me and my goal?  Oh my GOD!  I cried again, and Jackie got this picture.  Then we started running toward the finish line, threw our arms into the air, and DID IT!  After that, I pretty much sobbed on and off for the next two hours.  I was so happy… and so tired… and so many other emotions.  It was just too much to process!

Flat Tires and Other Shoe-Related Crises
I had my first crisis-that-wasn’t-really-a-crisis as we were running the tunnel under the water bridge between Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon (around mile 4.5).  The guy running behind me stepped on the back of my shoe and it left my foot completely.  “Shit!  My Shoe!”  He picked it up and handed it to me, but we were on a bottleneck part of the course, without a shoulder (we were actually against the cones separating us from traffic), so I started to walk with one shoe, figuring I’d have to wait until we got to the top of the tunnel to put it back on.  Sarah’s logical engineer brain kicked in, and she told me to just stand between two of the cones and put the damn shoe back on.  That worked, and I was able to get my shoe back on (I’m not sure, but there may have been some “where’s Prince Charming?” jokes flying) without causing a major back-up of runners passing us.

A few miles later, while inside the Speedway, I realized I had a pebble in my shoe.  This time, I went to an infield wall, kicked my foot up above hip-height (seriously, how I managed to not pull a hamstring during this race is beyond me!), and shook out the pebble.  That was the point when I realized I was being quite rational about this whole marathon thing.  Eight miles into a half, I probably would’ve shaken the pebble to the toe of my shoe and kept going.  But I figured doing so with 18 miles to go was a recipe for disaster. 

I had another pebble in the Sports Complex, and stopped at a picnic table to shake that one loose.  There was a runner laying on the bench attached to the next table, waiting for a medic.  I think he was overheated or something.  I saw a bunch of people who wouldn’t finish during the day, and was so thankful every time that my training/luck/karma/spirit/body was stronger than theirs.

Our Support Crew
Part of my “Grumpy Challenge” was knowing that I didn’t have a Jamie out on the course for me this year.  Last year, I solicited requests from my running friends, and was camped out at a corner they passed around miles 16.5 and 20.5.  I had drinks and snacks, and made a poster and cheered on all the other runners.  Although some people said they would be out cheering, none would commit in advance to a spot and I finally realized I was going to have to be my own Jamie.  So I made “runner love kits” with special things for me (Combos and orange soda), Jackie (oranges and Sprite), and Sarah (diet Pepsi).  Plus I added Swedish Fish and Skittles.  We ended up having two separate mobile cheer/pit stops with kits that I made up.  Daryl was at the Grand Floridian, Studios, and finish area; and Jodie and Kevin were at Animal Kingdom and Studios.  Although I didn’t know where they would be when we started, we were able to get good locations from them by texting back and forth and caught them every time.  We enjoyed a soda/walk break just past the halfway point, and grabbed goodies from them every time we saw them. 

I was so grateful to have them out there, because they all spent a huge chunk of time traveling and waiting just to see us for a minute or two at a time.  Once I realized that, my pity party stopped.  As it turns out, I didn’t even mind making up my own survival kits.  I’m pretty type A, and this way I got exactly what I wanted!  It was also nice having a random snack bag of leftover Swedish Fish to snack on Sunday night. 

Signs of Awesomeness
Right around mile 11, we passed a sign I hadn’t been expecting, which was made by my boss and hung up by one of the workers on that stretch of road.  I was on the right side of the road when I noticed it hanging on the fence over on the left.  I screamed (it was more like a squeal) “I HAVE A SIGN!!!” and took off running straight across the road.  I had tunnel vision…hopefully I didn’t run over anyone or trip anyone up!  I took a selfie, and Sarah took a picture from a respectable distance, and then we took off running again.

Side note: I heard later from someone working that day that there must have been a bunch of other Jamie’s, because he saw at least a dozen people stop and take pictures with my sign.  I love that! 

There were lots of folks out with posters, both funny and motivational, but I only remember the ones that I took pictures of – “Do it for the Dole Whips” and “Someday you will fail. Today is not that day.” (yep, got choked up by that one!)  The last poster to choke me up was right before mile 26, at the turn to enter the backstage area:

That’s Carlie, who had run her first half marathon the day before, plus Mark and Reid.  After I took this picture, I took a selfie with her and warned her not to touch me because I was so sweaty.  She said she didn’t care and gave me a big hug. *tear* (almost)  I didn’t expect to see her out there at all, and only found out about 10 minutes before that she was there.  It was a great way to finish running through my fourth theme park!

Seeing “My People” Who Were Working
One fun thing for me about running Disney races is that I see a lot of old friends and co-workers out on the course.  I saw a bunch of Security folks I know, and even a few familiar law enforcement faces.  I saw Roy from security, and circled back to hug him (early, before I was really sweaty).  He asked “what are you doing?” and I replied “I’M RUNNING A MARATHON,” right in his ear.  I still owe him an apology for the temporary deafness I caused!

Scott waited backstage at Animal Kingdom – near stinky port-a-potties no less – to say hello.  I saw Matthew working a medical tent around mile 15.  Dan was at a post right where we entered Studios.  I think the last person working that I saw was Sharmain, right at the exit of Studios.  I know that none of these folks were out there for me but it’s so nice to have an extra person cheering, or smiling for a picture, or telling me I’m doing great (or in Matthew’s case, telling me to speed it up so I don’t get swept).

One-Liners and LOL Moments
Oh man, I wish I could remember more of these.  There were so many times I laughed so hard I could barely run.  If I get more from Sarah or Jackie, I’ll be sure to add them.

Scenario: Jamie chokes on a sip of water at the mile 6 water stop, proceeds to spit the contents of her mouth back in the cup and have a coughing fit.  Sarah says “are you choking? Do you need a throat punch?”  Jackie almost dies laughing, Jamie recovers enough to drink the remainder of her backwash cocktail.

Scenario: Jackie chokes on a Skittle, Sarah again offers a throat punch.

Scenario: Jamie looks around the interior of the WDW Speedway and says “it’s bigger in here than I thought it would be.  Heh…that’s what she said.”  Jamie and Sarah both at the same time correct the statement to “no, that’s what HE said.”  The man running right in front of us turned around and must’ve made a face.  I said sorry, and Sarah said “no we’re not!” 

While I was shaking the first pebble out of my shoe, a guy dressed like Goofy asked to take a picture with Sarah, who was also dressed like Goofy.  Later on, Jackie and I saw the Goofy guy in line for a character photo and she yelled “hey Goofy!” and tried to high-five him.  She was totally ignored, so I high-fived her.

Scenario: Sarah attempts to hitch-hike headed towards the Contemporary from the TTC.

Scenario: Ten miles later, Jackie and Sarah try the same thing on Osceola Parkway.  Jackie at least got a bus driver to honk at her, which I rewarded by mooning him.  It’s ok – the sparkle skirt is sheer anyway and I had pants underneath it!

Early on in my race planning, I decided that I wanted to be one of those people who stops mid-race to ride Expedition Everest.  Jackie had never done it before, and I figured that this might be my one chance EVER to ride a roller coaster during a race so I should take advantage of it.  We ended up waiting about ten minutes just to ride, but I’m so glad we did it.  Not only was it a fun break from the running, but it was a photo op, and a chance to scream and yell for a minute.  I rode next to a man dressed like Winnie the Pooh, and his Piglet was in the seat right ahead of him.  They were nice, and we had a great time.  Amazingly enough, I was able to get in and out of the car with no trouble, and wasn’t dizzy at all when we started running again.

For really fit people, climbing the real Everest might be on their bucket lists.  For me, finishing a marathon was on my bucket list.  It was fitting to add a little Everest to my big day!

While running just past the Mexico pavilion in Epcot, at mile 25.5ish, I saw a Disney tour guide walking with a man and woman.  Although I intended to nudge Jackie and point them out, instead I yelled “HI JOHN STAMOS!”  He turned so fast in my direction he might’ve gotten whiplash, but recovered quickly and smiled.  He yelled back (not nearly as loudly), “hi everyone! You’re doing great!”  Thank God he did, because if he had ignored me I would’ve assumed that he was the most random hallucination ever!  As it was, Jackie and I were both sort of head-scratching and asking if it had really just happened.  Mr. Stamos, by the way, is much better looking in person than I would’ve expected.  Wow, what a smile!

Best Day of My Life
I have to say that 35 has been quite the milestone year for me.  What started out as “halfway to 70” became the age I finally got my bachelor’s, started my master’s, got a new job, ran my 8th-13th half marathons, and completed my first full marathon. 

If you had told me that I’d laugh so much, or that I’d cry actual happy tears, during the marathon I wouldn’t have believed you.  If you had told me that I’d feel overwhelmingly loved by my friends that day, I wouldn’t have believed you.  If you had told me that I’d be genuinely smiling in photos all day long, I wouldn’t have believed you.  But I did.  And right now, if you tell me that I will ever have a day better than January 11, 2015, I won’t believe you.

The day wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows.  I got really tired on the path from Studios to Epcot, and couldn’t keep up with Jackie.  She was only 5 feet ahead of me, but I felt completely abandoned… for all of a minute or two.  After that, when I started to fall behind, she would reach back and grab my hand and pull me back up to her side.  I thought I was having a major blister crisis when we were going through the World Showcase, and stopped running almost completely because I thought it was way worse than it ended up being.  I was hot, and tired, and deliriously exhausted by the time it was over.  And although I might have resented playing “mommy” for all of us in advance of the race, I’m glad I did because Jackie totally took over that role for me at the end.  She crossed the finish line right at my side, waited to get her own medal until after she took a picture of me getting mine, and collected enough water, bananas, etc. for both of us.  She selflessly let the day be all about me, even though she took just as many steps as I did after running the half marathon the day before!  I can’t imagine ever doing that for someone else, but I’m going to have to find a way to pay it forward someday. 

I also can’t say enough about the half of the race that Sarah spent with us.  The three of us had so much fun in those 3+ hours.  We laughed, I cried, we took pictures…

I know that I could’ve finished the race if I had been out there by myself.  I probably would’ve done it way faster, because I wouldn’t have “wasted” all that energy laughing and carrying on.  But, although we never talked about any sort of strategy in advance, we decided to make the day be more about the journey than the destination.  It was an experience more wonderful than I ever thought in my wildest dreams would be possible.

Jackie and I crossed the finish line about 30 seconds before the “balloon ladies,” which was a little bit embarrassing for me.  I didn’t realize we had done that badly.  But when you consider we probably lost a total of 15 minutes for Everest, and I stopped and talked to every person I know, we definitely could have finished in under 7 hours.  I actually think 6:45 wouldn’t have been unrealistic if we had taken it more seriously.  In the end though, I wouldn’t change anything about the way we handled the day.  When I run my next marathon (yep, “when,” not “if”), I’ll be able to knock a huge chunk of time off and have a massive PR.  That seems reasonable, right?  So here are my official results, posted only as a frame of reference for next time, because as far as I’m concerned “FINISHED” is the only result that matters!

Clock Time: 8:06:29
Chip Time: 7:16:17
Pace: 16:38 min/mile
Overall Place: 19164/19970
Gender Place: 9739/10285

So thank you, Disney, for giving me the opportunity to run through all four theme parks in one day.  Thank you friends who cheered for me on the course.  Thank you Facebook friends who didn’t mute me during my “marathon mania” posting period, and for liking and commenting on so many of my posts and photos.  Thank you Sarah for training with me and for sticking with us for as long as you did on race day.   And thank you Jackie for literally holding my hand when I needed it most, staying with me for the whole damn 7 hours, and putting yourself aside to focus on me.

By the way, the tally of “times Jamie got choked up” ended at 21.  After that I kind of lost count, and I consider everything after the finish line one big cry.  I’ve gotten choked up a few times since, triggered by a song on the radio or driving by part of the marathon course and having flashbacks, and I figure I might have a few more of those still to come.  I did cry some big fat tears again typing these last few paragraphs (which I bet no one but my mother and I will ever read this far), and I think after this I’m probably done with the tears related to this race.  It was an amazing journey, but it’s time to start looking forward to the next set of challenges and experiences.  

After all, I turn 36 in a few weeks – I have to figure out how I’m going to make that awesome too!