Post Three: Only Half Dopey
I’ve run many half marathons in my life, but never under the conditions of the Walt Disney World Half Marathon en route to completing my Dopey Challenge. I had already run the 5K and 10K, “all” that was left were the Half and Full.
After feeling so under-prepared the morning of the 10K, you can bet I made extra sure to be ready for the half marathon. We went to bed nice and early and were extra responsible about hydrating the day before (though our plans went slightly awry when housekeeping woke us up at an hour which, for us, was the middle of the night despite it being an entirely “normal” 8:00 PM).
Walt Disney World Half
We decided to run the half together and see how it went, so I dropped back from my assigned starting corral of E to Mike’s corral of G. It was another sub-freezing Florida morning, and we were grateful to have the Mylar blankets from the finish line of the 10K at our disposal. We also padded out some extra time this morning because I was running the half with a backpack and we, thereby, had to wait on an extra security line to get our bags checked on the way to the corrals.
We went as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker for the Half marathon, and my Luke costume included carrying Yoda on my back. Yoda did his part though, holding my salt tabs and race fuel for the entire 13.1 without complaint.
The half marathon was when we knew we had to get serious about running. 13.1 miles is not a distance to sniff at even under normal conditions, and these were far from normal. We agreed to run the first six miles fairly normally, then slow way down at the back half of the race to try and save our legs for the marathon the next day.
Race Start and Course
Waiting in the start corral, we were treated to the usual Disney fanfare: fireworks and spectacle with every released wave, and a visit from Donald Duck to send us off. If you’re going to be standing in the freezing cold for hours before dawn with thousands of strangers, there’s really no better place to do it than at Disney.
The most exciting part of the half marathon course, for me, is my favorite stretch of running at Disney: one mile of utter magic in the Magic Kingdom. The course took you through the Magic Kingdom parking lot, down Mainstreet USA, through Tomorrowland, looped back around through the castle, out towards Adventureland, then out of the park. That turn onto Mainstreet USA is just incredible. Crowds of people line the streets on both sides, a wave of sound hits you as you enter the gates of the Magic Kingdom, if you run fast enough you see the castle sparkling in the pre-dawn light. It’s a feeling like no other, and often elicits happy tears when I hit that part of the race.
Despite the fact that we are middle/back of packers, the crowds hadn’t really thinned by the time we hit Mainstreet USA. We did have to (unfortunately) run past a photo op with Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas because the line was just too long by the time we got there. I was a little sad about this, but I really wanted a picture by the castle and it was so early in the race that I couldn’t justify stopping for a line so long.
Bathrooms on the Course
One thing to know about running Disney races is this: the bathrooms in the parks are way more pleasant to use than the port-a-johns they put out on the stretches of road between the parks. If you do a little research and planning, you can duck off the course and use a real toilet with real flushing action and wash your hands in a real sink with real soap! What luxury!
The lines at the real bathrooms, in my experience, are no longer than the lines for the port-a-johns and move much faster. The real bathrooms also tend to be cleaner, and don’t run out of necessities like toilet paper or soap. One of the best bathrooms to stop at on the half and full marathon course is the bathroom in Fantasyland near Gaston’s tavern. It’s about 25 meters off the course, but those 25 meters are definitely worthwhile. For the half and full, it falls at about mile 5.5.
The real “money shot photo stop” on the half marathon is in front of Cinderella’s Castle. After you run through the Castle (which is one of the coolest experience you’ll have on a race course), they’ll direct you either to “run” to the right or “photo” to the left. Take the photo. Seriously. When else are you gonna get that chance?
After you leave the Magic Kingdom, you’re in for a lot of highway miles. One of the best things about Disney races is that you’re pretty much guaranteed to find Sarge from Toy Story somewhere near the end (you know, right when you’re suffering so badly that you forget why it was you signed up for this crazy thing). They place him on an overpass, one of the few hills you’ll encounter while running a Disney race. Because it’s steep, and because it’s near the end of the race, it’s pretty demoralizing; so thank you Disney for making sure there’s someone there to get runners up that hill.
When we ran past Sarge, we had dropped back near the back of the pack so a lot of people were walking; Sarge shouts encouragements as you go by and is available for photos (we dropped and gave him a few pushups because really, you kind have to).
Half Marathon Finish Line
Once you pass Sarge, you’re pretty much just a hop skip and a jump from the finish line. At this point it had warmed up a little bit (and I do mean “little”); My hands were still relatively cold but at least the rest of me was warm.
We finished the half strong, if a little tired. Personally, I was beginning to feel the “dopeyness” of the dopey idea. I had grossly underestimated the impact of so many early-morning wake-ups and my body was starting to rebel against the schedule. I was so grateful that we only had one more morning left, and it felt weird to think that “only” a marathon stood in between me and finishing this daunting task.
And it is a daunting task. The gravity of those four races adds up in a way that I hadn’t anticipated until I toed the starting line of the marathon, but I’ll get to that in my next and last installment of this blog series.