I completed another marathon. It wasn't my best performance, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that I learned a lot from this experience and had a lot of fun along the way. And I was amazed at the mental toughness it takes to run in a place far from home, away from anything familiar. But now I can say I am a marathoner.
Grace and I took a Saturday morning flight out from NYC and got into Orlando around noon. We stayed at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort, which was a nice little resort by a river. After an early check-in. We scoped out the cafeteria, then headed to the World Wide Sports Complex where the Expo was being held. All the buses and directions were clearly labeled so we had no trouble finding which way to go. Once there, we got our goodies, and did a little shopping for gear. I bought a cute sweatshirt knowing that the one I wore on the flight would be given up at the starting line.
After several hours of checking things out, we were famished and decided to head back to the resort to grab an early dinner. When we got back to the room however, I realized I had lost my timing chip! We ransacked the room to no avail, and made our way back to the sports complex in a slight panic. Worse comes to worse, I'd run the race without being timed, I thought. In any case, some nice random stranger must have found it and returned it to the runner's relations booth. (Thank you!) It wasn't a good way to start, but disaster was avoided. That little scare combined with the travel wore us out.
At the resort, we both grabbed some jambalaya and beignets, fed ourselves, convinced the guy behind the bakery counter to sell us 4 bagels (which they wanted to save for some reason) and headed back to the room to hang out and prepare for the morning. We were in bed later than I wanted, but being wired from the day, we finally hit the sack at 9:30pm.
Grace's alarm clock woke us up at 2:15am. I felt awake enough to do a light stretch, got dressed and made some coffee. By 3:15 we were out the door and to the cafeteria again. I had a bagel with peanut butter, and sipped water. 3:45am one of the marathon bus pulls up and along with others we boarded and was transported to the staging area.
Once we arrived it was a bit overwhelming to see. The staging area was this large parking lot behind Epcot. Thousands of runners all in the same area. Thousands more lining up for the thousands of porta-potties. Some band was playing. Grace and I just kind of wandered until we found the bag drop-off area. It was pretty all surreal considering it was still in the middle of the night. We ended up at the A-C bag check area by 4:15am, but I wasn't able to find anyone to say hello to, so we sat and just hung out until about 5:20 where we got on for the last potty break.
At about 5:40 we started to make our way to the starting line. It was just funny to see so many guys and girls running for the bushes to make a last pee stop. Even stranger is how everyone was just accepting it as fact. Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go!
By the time we arrived to the corrals, everything was a bit hectic. Someone was singing the national anthem. We heard Mickey and Goofy and the race organizers, but we couldn't find the right corrals. I think by the time we got trapped, we were at H. (On a related note, it seemed that there were a heck of a lot of tall people racing.) Finally the guns were off and fireworks exploded from the top of the start line. And we were off! (Okay, being all the way in the back it took about 10-12 minutes to actually reach the start line...)
The first 6 miles were good. I stopped once at the World's Showcase to take a photo with Mulan. It was a constant pace that took us from the highway to through and around Epcot Center. The night air was cool and humid. Between mile 6-7, we were back on the highway. There is a highway loop that we pass, and a lot of people starts walking here. I mean, a lot of people. I thought about weaving my way through, but decided not to since it will only drain my energy. I opted to walk until the roads opened up a bit more. Somewhere between spotting Mr. Incredible and listening to a band play the Rocky theme, I had to make a pee break. That took a few minutes since there were only two along that route.
By the time mile 7 came, the sun was partially out. I saw the roads more clear and I was able to see everyone around me. About 2 hours in I passed mile 8. The sun was starting to warm up the air, drying out the humidity. All was well heading into Magic Kingdom. To be honest, that was the only part of the race I really thought about. I did well mentally and physically from 9-12. I stopped like crazy to take photos with characters. (Hey, what's the point if I didn't get to enjoy myself?)
There were a lot of spectators leading into the Magic Kingdom, and just seeing the Cinderella castle open up in the sky in front of me was the one image I wanted to keep. Someone had a sign that read "Remember this feeling forever." I started tearing up because here I am, halfway to another accomplishing yet another goal. And after all that self-doubting I am doing it and am being rewarded with such a beautiful sight. I stopped to take a photo of the castle. A volunteer asked me if I'd like a photo and I said yes. Everyone was so nice that I smiled all the way.
A little after mile 13, I felt a bit stiff in my left ankle, then a twinge in my left calf. And then my hip. I had to slow down a bit to stretch out, but it wasn't going away. Soon the right calf started threatening to cramp as well, so I did what I could to keep moving, but I wasn't going fast at all at this point. From mile 14-16, the only thing I focused on was keep moving fast enough that I don't lock up, and slow enough that I don't cramp. I was determined to finish no matter what. And kept conscious enough to keep going and just kept my eyes out for the aid stations. I remember passing by at least two aid stations that ran out of biofreeze. None of the aid stations had salt, (which I thought I brought but wasn't in my fuel belt). One of the stations ran out of water. I was not happy at this point.
After slow cruising, I felt better at about Mile 16. I found 3 mini salt packets in my shorts pockets and washed it down with water. The course goes back into one of the parks (the harder miles were in the back lots and remote roads). The road brings us to Animal Kingdom. Some employees were out with animals cheering the runners on. Another turn and we're suddenly into the park. I see this giant tree on top of a hill. There is more eye candy and I pick up my pace as there's more stuff to see. The paths itself were a bit bumpy. Not exactly hilly, but slightly uneven. Stopped a couple more times as there were more characters hanging out. From there the course makes its way back to a parking lot then past the entrance. Another character. It was Mickey. I HAD to stop for a photo!
Mile 19-20 was a bit difficult. The sun was out in full force. It was getting a bit too warm. My left ankle was still stiff. Amazingly enough, my knees didn't really bother me at all. I had one knee brace on and had switched it between knees earlier in the race. Those parts were fine. This time I was dealing with some really tight calf muscles and ankles. Somewhere along mile 20 I passed some photo truck. I remember smiling and waving at them. I think I slowed down at that point since I wanted to catch a small break before the last 10k. That was a mental distraction probably for the worse. I lost focus a bit. That and the Beatles look-alike band playing. I sort of gotten sucked into a moment of self doubt. But someone called my name and waved. (I still have no idea who it was, but thanks! It got me out of that mini funk.)
Mile 20-21 was a skinny U-turn. There was another aid station in between and I grabbed some biofreeze and slathered my calves. I probably sat down for a minute to get that stuff on. Then off. At the U-turn point, an announcer called out my name. I waved. Someone else was announced. They were from Brooklyn. I turned around and high-fived her and her companion. They started walking. I started slow running.
Mile 21-22 were all roads. Some overpasses that people take as hills. They were nothing to me since Central Park is fresh in my memory banks. The course moves to the Hollywood Studios back lot, and a couple of more employees clap for the runners. Then we turn into the actual studios, through what looked like a costume sewing area, then onto the actual park and around the giant Mickey Sorcerer's hat. Miles 22-26 were mentally easy as we made our way through the park and back out to Epcot via the boardwalk. I had a little mantra going here that helped, and it had a lot to do with cakes and pies. 10k left. No problem. Easy as cake... Chocolate mousse cake. Black forest cake... 5 miles left. No worries. Easy as pie. Key lime pie. Banana creme pie. 4 miles easy peasy... I did a Forrest Gump thing with pies and cakes until I realized it was mile 25.
That's when I started looking for the round ball of Epcot. It kept coming closer. People were now excitedly cheering. 1 mile to go! You're almost there! Right around the corner! The course went around the world showcase at Epcot. I made a mental note to revisit the next day. At mile 26 a choir was set up. I took a photo and can't believe I took over 7 hours to run this course. But I was happy. I was at the end. Someone volunteered to take my photo and I let them.
Then suddenly, the finish WAS right around the corner! I got a glimpse of it. It's RIGHT THERE! The announcer guy tells us near the finish line to hurry up so we can make the official time book. I ran the rest of the way with a big smile on my face. Goofy was at the finish and I high fived him as I cross the finish line.
Again, I was overcome with emotion. It was tough for all the right reasons, (under-trained, unfamiliar territory, stressing out the day before), but it was so much fun for all the right reasons. The combination of relief and validation swept me to tears. Someone asked if I was alright and I smiled back a yes. The girls passing out the medals congratulated me and I thanked them. I took a Mylar blanket even though I was really hot. I flew it behind me like the Olympics runners with their national flags. I made my way to the bag check and sat down and turned off my sports band. Then called Grace and waited for her to get out of the massage tent. (She finished an hour ahead of me.) I took my time to stretch out and for the rest of the day, I was happy to surround myself with the thought that I can actually do something if I put my mind to it. I was happy that I decided to challenge myself at Disney. Mission Marathon #2: Accomplished!