Race Report: Disney World Marathon Weekend

Well the moment I have been training for over the past 4 months has finally come to pass. On January 4th, my wife and son joined me for a flight to Walt Disney World for the 2012 Disney Marathon Weekend in Orlando. It was almost like a dream that we were actually making this trip -- something I had been thinking about and visualizing for so many months. Yes, we were going to have fun at the parks. Yes, we were going to see Hogwarts at Universal Studios. Yes, we were going to enjoy warmer weather.

But for me, the big "Yes" was that I was going to fulfill a milestone I had set for myself last summer. I was going to run a Half Marathon -- 13.1 miles -- and it was going to be a Disney experience to boot! I was both excited and nervous. I mean I knew I would be able to finish the race because I had trained very hard for this race, avoiding injury and preparing my body for both the distance and the effort.

But there was also the unknown. I had never run on Disney property. I had never run in a race with a field of 22,000 other runners. I had no idea what the weather would be like (too hot or snowing). And there are always those nagging doubts that slip into one's mind, wondering whether the training was sufficient. But I cast those thoughts aside as we boarded the Magical Express bus to the Pop Century Resort. I was ready, and I was going to prove it!

Doug, Ryan, me, and Ciara waiting for the Fiesta 5K to start

Friday was the first big event. My son Ryan and me, along with my running partner Mike and my first cousins Doug and Ciara, were all standing in 45 degrees of foggy darkness at 6AM, waiting for the start of the Family 5K -- the Fiesta 5K. Thankfully, the weather warmed and the fog lifted once the sun came up. This race was not timed; it was a "fun run" for families of all ages to participate. Mike and I did not want to really 'run' the race because we wanted to save our legs for the Half Marathon the next day.

Being that this was Ryan's first race, he was nervous. He did not expect to run the entire distance and was worried that he couldn't finish it. I knew that he could. And in fact, he did a tremendous job! All of us had a lot of fun during the event, which took us through all of Epcot. It was cool running through all the countries. The park was empty except for Disney cast members who were cheering us on.

Unsurprisingly, Ryan ran at least 2/3 of the race! In fact, towards the end of the race, he ran to the finish so fast that he beat me to the finish line. I clocked our pacing with my sports watch and noticed that he was running at a 5:54/mm pace! That is FAST! I was actually surprised I could even run that fast! LOL

After the 5K, Christi, Ryan, and I went to the Kona Cafe to have breakfast with members of my W.I.S.H. (We are Inspired to Stay Healthy) Racing Team called the Hakuna Matada. With the exception of my friend Mike, this would be the first time I would be meeting the team in person (this is an online community within DisBoards.com) so I was excited to finally meet them face to face. It turned out to be awesome! They were all nice and welcoming! And breakfast was pretty tasty too!

While Christi and Ryan went to spend the rest of Friday at the Animal Kingdom park, I chose to spend Friday relaxing before the Half Marathon race the next day. Mike and I spent more time at the Expo, listening to John Bingham and Coach Jenny speak at workshops and meeting up with my friend Beth. Good times!!!!! Later, the 'larger' WISH racing team gathered for a photo at 4PM where I met even more cool people. Then it was time for dinner and then some time with The Stick to roll out my legs before an early bed time.

Vicky and Mike hanging out before we headed to the Corral CSaturday was definitely my big day!!! The alarm woke me up at 2:30AM so I could get ready, dressed, and out the door to catch a bus to the runner gathering area for the Half Marathon. I met up with Mike, Vicky, Dave, and Eva from the WISH team at the bus stop and we headed out. The temp was around 48 degrees but I had some throwaway warm-up clothes to keep me comfy until race start. I checked my gear bag and the wait began.

The first thing we had to do was walk about a MILE to the Corrals outside Epcot! I knew we had a bit of a walk, but I was not expecting it to be that long! It was kinda funny watching runners moving over to the trees lining the parking lot to take a quick 'pee' because they hadn't gone to the porta potties ahead of time. Believe it or not, women do it also.

So we got to our Corral (Corral C) about 20 minutes before our Wave was scheduled to begin. We watched the start of the Corrals ahead of us -- each Wave Start was kicked off by Donald Duck and then fireworks and fanfare! Really cool and emotional (I took some video of the start which I will put on YouTube soon)! I ran with the others for a while but eventually I started speeding up (they were keeping an easier pace to save their legs for the Full Marathon the next day).

I was keeping my pace around 11:00/mm for the first two miles to use that time as my warm-up after standing in the cool air for so long. Then I increased my pace to 10:20/mm for the next 4 miles or so until reaching the Magic Kingdom. The course we were on was the main road into the Magic Kingdom, and there were all kinds of entertainment along most of the way. Jumbotrons showing Disney cartoons, bands playing, DJs spinning songs, cheerleading squads, and Disney characters. Plenty of things to keep your eyes and mind engaged. (I had accidentally thrown away my earbuds when I tossed my throwaway clothes so I ran the race with no music of my own).

When I arrived at the Magic Kingdom (MK), I was really excited, and it gave me an emotional boost! There were several decent inclines as we ran through the parking ramps and backlots of the MK. We emerged in Tomorrowland! There were Disney cast members cheering us on EVERYWHERE! And there were lots of other people there cheering us on as well! It really brought a smile to my face! Running through the MK was something I will never forget, especially because it was still dark out and all the park lights were lit up, music blaring, and people yelling encouragement!

The Castle at night! Awesome!I tried to remember to take photos during the race, and I did take several while in the MK. I will post these on my FaceBook page later. It was simply an amazing part of the race. There were lots of Disney characters there as well. I chose not to stop to take character photos because most of them had lines and I was in a running groove I didn't want to interrupt.

Running through the Castle was especially awesome! I know that Brightroom Photography took photos of us all running through it, but because it was still dark outside, I doubt any of them will look decent. But it didn't matter! I was there; I was running strong; and that silly smile was still plastered to my face! LOL

Then we headed out of the MK and back on the long run back to Epcot. There was still entertainment on the road back, but it seemed as though there was a lot less on the road leading to the MK. The sun came out around Mile 7, so that offered a different view of the course. I was still feeling really strong. One thing I noticed is that my sports watch was showing that I had run farther than the course mile markers showed. I am certain this is due to all the back and forth "weaving" that I had to do as I navigated past slowed runners, manhole covers, etc. (In fact, by the end of the race, I had actually run over 14 miles)

During this long leg of the race, I talked to a lot of runners offering encouragement and receiving the same in return. I also found energy from the music I would hear as I ran, often clapping or singing a bit to renew my spirits and give me a boost! This was especially gratifying given that I couldn't listen to my own music.

My fueling plan worked out pretty well. I had Chocolate Outrage GU packets with me. I took one about 20 minutes before the start, and then another every 4-5 miles with water. I had my own water bottle with me so I only stopped at a Water Station when I felt the need for some PowerAde (which I usually did 2-3 miles after taking a GU). I never 'bonked' during this race which was a good thing!

When we got to about Mile 10.5, we hit the first real hill/incline. There was a Green Army Guy from Toy Story there, shouting out stuff like "Come on! Take this Hill! You can do it!" I was told about him ahead of time so I was looking forward to hearing him do that. Unfortunately, he kept taking photos with runners so his 'drill sargeant' routine kept getting interrupted. I took the first hill in stride. It tired me a bit but it was okay. Then that led pretty quickly to a second hill. I was not expecting that one. I ran that hill too, but then my heart rate started to climb into the upper range of Zone 4 so I decided to take a 1:30 minute walk break to bring it back down. That was fine, and soon I was back running.

Then about 1/2 mile later, there was a third hill! Okay so this time, I decided to walk up the hill and take it easy and then pick up running once I reached the top. By this time, I think I was at Mile 12.5 or something like that. There was no way I was not going to run my way to the finish so I got moving!

I finished my first Half Marathon!!!!When I passed the Mile 13 marker, I was all smiles! I knew I was home free! I picked up the pace and ran for that Finish Line! I heard the announcer yell into his megaphone "Hey there WISH Team! Good job!" And since I was the only one nearby wearing a WISH shirt, I knew he was talking to ME! How awesome was that!!!

I crossed that finish line totally fired up! Clapping to the music and everything! I got my medal and a mylar blanket and then walked over to get my Finisher Photo taken! Then it was on to get some water, PowerAde, bananas, a bagel, etc. I found Mike, who had finished a few minutes after I did and we both took a moment to rest and shove some food and drink into our bodies. I picked up my gear bag and headed out to find Christi who was waiting for us! It was so awesome to see her there! And she had a pretty, long-stemmed yellow rose with Mickey Ears in it that she gave to me. We kissed. The day was now perfect!

My final race statisticsThen eventually, we headed over to get our medals engraved with our names and official finish times. Mine was 2 hours, 29 minutes, and 1 second!!! I beat the 2.5 hour mark, which was one of my goals for the race! I have to admit that I was hoping for a faster time, but that in no way deterred from the weight of this accomplishment! I felt like jumping up and down -- but no way would my knees, legs, and feet have allowed me to do such a thing! LOL

I was so happy! I can't even tell you how much it meant to me to cross that Finish Line and complete a quest that I have been training for over the past 4 months. I have visualized this moment in my dreams for months. Now it is my reality. I didn't cry but the emotions running through me were powerful.

Mike and I got on the bus back to the Pop Century resort. I went to my room for a nice ice bath (thanks to Christi and Ryan for bringing in lots of ice) to help my feet and legs. Then I showered, dressed, and we all headed to Epcot for the rest of the day. First order of business: a great lunch at the San Angel Inn mexican restaurant! After that, we did rides and walked all over the park. That evening we ate sushi at the Tokyo Dining restaurant.

Our last ride for the evening was Soarin because we had a FastPass for it. Then we headed back to the hotel for a much needed sleep! Of course, I had to use The Stick before going to bed. But all the walking and the ice bath really helped with my recovery (and wearing my compression calf sleeves helped a lot too)!

My first Half Marathon is in the books! And it was AWESOME!!!! I trusted my training and everything paid off perfectly! I send a special thanks to Meghan my trainer because without her advice, help, and encouragement I would not have been able to do this today. And I want to thank my running partner and fellow WISHer Mike, who has been a constant source of support and friendship.

Okay, so what's next? Well I have another Half Marathon scheduled for next Saturday the 14th. Yeah, really I do. But more importantly, I have decided to return to Disney in 2013 to run all three races: the 5K, the Half Marathon, AND the Full Marathon. That's right! I am going for the Goofy Challenge of 39.3 miles (and the unofficial "Dopey" for doing all three races)!

I have a year to train and prepare. As my friends on the Klingon Homeworld would put it: Qapla'!

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