Post Four: Marathon Day
The last morning that alarm went off, I could not have been more relieved. It was the last ridiculous wakeup, the last ridiculous race, and the last ridiculous bedtime. When I went to sleep that night, I could count myself done with seeing the front end of 3:30 AM (at least until I forgot the pain of staring her right in the eyes multiple mornings in a row).
For the Walt Disney World Marathon, we dressed as Captain America and Ironman. I had another backpack, a well-made version of Cap’s shield with thick wide straps, so we left extra time again for bag check.
Walt Disney World Marathon
If you do plan to run in costume (and I HIGHLY recommend it!) make sure that you test everything in your kit (and I do mean everything). The skirts, the shirts, the shield backpack, every last piece of my costuming had been taken out for a test run of significant distance before I determined it race worthy. If you decide to wear a pack of any kind, I highly recommend something with wide straps and good weight distribution; it makes a big difference in terms of shoulder comfort over long periods of running.
We had some serious goals for the full marathon. The Disney marathon course winds through all four Disney parks, and when they open you are allowed to duck off the course and sneak in a quick ride or two. I had two things on my bucket list that I had to accomplish at Disney: ride a roller coaster during a marathon, and drink a margarita during a marathon.
The roller coaster Expedition Everest is right after the halfway point of the Disney Marathon, and the course runs just past it. The best darn margaritas in the world are at the Tequila Cava in Mexico at the Epcot world showcase, again just off the course (and, incidentally, right around mile 25.5).
To accomplish both these goals, and still have time for a few picture stops, we had to strategize. I started in my corral to buffer some time, and planned to run a strong half marathon to get us a place on line for Expedition Everest. Mike would start further back and catch up to me on the course.
The morning was (blessedly) about twenty degrees warmer than it had been the previous few nights. The corrals were only mid-fifties, and it was projected to go up to the mid-sixties over the course of the day. After all those days of racing in the cold, it was the perfect weather for running a marathon. We still bundled up in throw-aways and Mylar to stay nice and warm, but waiting in the corrals on marathon morning was just that: warm and toasty. Comfortable, even, when compared to the previous mornings.
The walk-out from runner village to the corrals for the Disney marathon is actually pretty significant; it’s about a mile away. Just something to know and plan for on race morning; no not assume you can roll right in at 5:30 and get to your corral on time before the starting gun. It doesn’t exactly work that way.
Things were going great on marathon morning. I ran strong and was coasting along through Adventureland before I hit my first must-stop photo opportunity. I had previously told Mike that I wasn’t stopping for Maleficent unless she was a dragon. Well, as I exited the Magic Kingdom, there she was: Maleficent the dragon! I pulled over and got on line and called Mike who sprinted to catch up with me. We were at about mile 6 and going strong; and that’s how I got to add “battle a dragon” to the list of things I’ve done while running a marathon.
After the photo, I sprinted off to keep going strong. The next park that we ran through was Animal Kingdom (also home to the halfway point AND the aforementioned roller coaster). After some highway miles, I was really excited to see signs that we were entering the park. Runners were greeted by a cast member with what I later found out was a rotating cadre of friendly critters decked out in their marathon finest; when I arrived at Animal Kingdom it was a sheep wearing a sign that said “don’t look BAAAAAACK!” and a Marathon bib attached to its bottom.
Animal Kingdom has plenty of opportunities for more bathroom stops including a real bathroom that’s (literally) steps off the course right after the halfway marker. Since Mike had dropped back a bit, I availed myself of the opportunity before hopping in line at Expedition Everest.
I got there just in time to see the “expected wait time” on the ride tick from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. While I knew we had banked some time, I was pretty sure we hadn’t banked enough to warrant a 30 minute plus stop. I ducked onto the single rider line which moved relatively quickly. Mike joined me soon after.
In addition to the normal pacers you expect to see at a big race, Disney races have one very helpful set of pacers: the balloon ladies. These volunteers start at the end of the very last corral and maintain the requisite 16 minute mile pace requirement throughout the race.
One recommendation I have for middle to back-of-pack Disney runners is to go to Disney’s official tracking website and set up tracking for the balloon ladies. You can find out who they are on one of the many unofficial runDisney Facebook groups, or (for me) their information popped up as suggested athletes to follow when I first loaded the tracking page. Since most of us run with a pocket robot (aka cell phone), this allows you to have some understanding of where you are in relation to the sweeps.Because I had done this, I knew that we had about 45 minutes’ worth of a head start on the balloon ladies. While we did wait a bit for Expedition Everest, it was nowhere near 30 minutes. Check that box off the bucket list!
ESPN’s Wide World of Sports
The back half of the marathon course is a little less exciting than the front end (including what many Disney runners dread as the “worst” section: about three miles winding through ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex which falls at about mile 18 when most marathoners are starting to flag). Still, it’s difficult to feel completely spent when you’re at Disney. During some of the more painful miles, the course is lined with signs telling “dad jokes” (which of course I laughed at and promptly forgot since my brain checks out right around mile 18). Some of the few I remember…
“How does Luke Skywalker get through the forest?”
“How many tickles does it take to tickle an octopus?”
“Why can’t you give Elsa a balloon?”
“Because she’ll let it go.”
At the point where you’ve hit mile 23 and know that you still have two parks left, you wonder how you’re ever going to squeeze in a trip through Hollywood Studios before your triumphant Epcot finish. Turns out, blink and you’ll miss it. You round a corner, run up a hill (at the top of which is the best official marathon food stop on the course – the chocolate stop! – where you’re handed your choice of various M&Ms), and then through a back entrance of Hollywood Studios behind the Tower of Terror. From there, you run down the street, around the corner, and back out of the park.
Epcot (The Last Park)
The course takes you through the boardwalk into Epcot from the back end of world showcase. It was at this point that we were faced with a crucial decision. Though I had been dreaming of my Tequila Cava margarita for months, my body wasn’t exactly feeling tequila ready. Mike had already made some noise about possibly not joining me for that finish line drink, and I was about ready to bail on this last bucketlist check box.
But then Mike turned to me and said, “When are we going to do this again?” It was mile 25, so of course I said “NEVER!” He, wisely, replied, “Then we’d better go get that drink.”
We had time on the sweeps so we ducked off the course, ran into the Mexican pyramid, and hopped over to Tequila Cava. There was a line at the bar because the park had been long opened. People saw us wearing bibs and asked “did you run the marathon?” to which I replied, “Actually, we’re currently running it!”
That’s when an angel of a woman, eyes wide, who had a space at the bar in front of us moved aside everyone who was currently at the bar and loudly proclaimed to the bartender, “Excuse me sir! These folks are running the marathon. Could you please get them some service!?”
I’ve never felt more like a VIP in my life.
Finishing The Dopey Challenge
After the world showcase, the only thing left on the marathon course is to run yourself to the front gate. This was good because after four days and nearly 50 miles, we were completely spent. I’m not sure I can put into words how incredible it felt to cross that finish line.
One amazing thing about running the Dopey challenge is the bling! For four races, you receive six medals: one for each race, one dedicated Dopey challenge medal, and one medal for the Goofy challenge (running the half then full marathon) which you do sort of incidentally as part of the Dopey (but you can do separate from the Dopey if you would like). Wearing all of them at once was actually difficult; they were heavy!
My verdict on the Dopy Challenge: definitely a bucket list item. I’ve checked it off and I’m highly unlikely to run it again. That said, I would run the Disney marathon again in a heartbeat. It’s an incredible race with top-notch race support, an insanely supportive crowd energy, and where else do you get to stop your marathon to ride a roller coaster?
Now that a few weeks have passed, I’m mostly recovered from the race. I’m still proud as heck of my achievement, and I’ll definitely be crowing about this epic adventure for many years to come.