Race Day. 2:00 am. Eastern Time. Which means all my West Coast friends were still mostly awake and some were still out doing their Saturday activities. The alarm goes off and I’m up and moving to get dressed to ensure I’m at the bus stop for the first bus to the start at 3:30. I had been dreaming I was late for a race and that they wouldn’t let me start. No way was that going to happen in real life. Also, having done Glass Slipper Challenge two years ago, I recalled buses being full and not necessarily letting people on the first ones that arrived. I ate my banana and peanut butter and drank a water with electrolytes on the way to the bus. Made it on the first one. As I stepped off the bus in the parking lot, my heart started racing. It was that moment that the butterflies and nerves truly kicked in.
Liza, armed with her bag and in her cheer outfit (that she snuck off one night to make in secret while I iced my knee) walked me to the Race Retreat tent and said she’d see me in Magic Kingdom.
Race Retreat. 4:00 am. I had never sprung for that before. It was nice and relatively quiet compared to the chaos outside at the stage. Televisions streamed the festivities. Characters from Pinocchio were there for pictures. The food set out was fruit, yogurt, and bagels, with coffee, water, and soda options to drink. And while the food was not the $100 worth of food you paid, it was definitely worth the piece of mind to know I could toast a bagel with peanut butter and eat before the start. For a half marathon, I’m usually good with only a protein bar or banana so I probably would not invest for that. There was also an area for stretching and warm-up. And private porta potties, which meant no lines and slightly cleaner due to lower volume.
I found a few #Firsties to be nervous with, before some others texted me to meet at the corrals. Took a few pictures and said good-byes and good lucks. I walked to my corral – Corral I – right in the middle – with Lori who was also a #Firstie. As we walked we chatted. Emergency porta potty stop for me, and I prayed this wouldn’t be another race like Avengers was as I didn’t feel like I had enough buffer for that on a full course. That and most of the race was on the highway roads that run between the parks on the resort property. I was lucky to be with her so she could hold my stuff, and I didn’t have to risk losing my inhaler or cell phone on the floor in the dark. Worst nightmare – happened to me at Princess.
And finally, corrals. 5:00 am. Things were getting real. Lori was a little jumpy, I was a
little jumpy. And I’m sure the other #Firsties were jumpy as well. Lori and I talked strategy – our intervals, our pace, and holding ourselves back and doing the intervals from the very start. I can be very tempting to start a race out running for a bit and then moving to intervals despite intentions. Knowing she had the same plan helped me to stick with my plan.
The start….5:30 am. The first corral went off. Still nervous. Fixing watch and getting it ready to start. Started moving to the right knowing I’d be a slower runner so others could pass me. 6:04 am. Corral I is up. Rudy – the voice of runDisney and honorary member of the #Firsties – gives us #Firsties a shout out. Not just the normal, “who here is a first timer?”, but a “Where are the #Firsties?” We had a list of corrals for our information posted and I, J and M had our largest groups. Lori and I looked at each other and cheered, knowing that shout out was for us. And go!
Lori’s intervals were shorter than mine, so after 20 seconds we wished each other luck and parted ways. Now I was running alone, with my music. Five miles to the castle.
It was extremely humid that morning, so despite the fact I was pacing myself and taking it nice and easy, I was sweating as if I had completed a half marathon in California. Geeze. There were a lot of tight spaces and a lot of congestion at the start so I moved even slower – something for which I’d later be grateful. There were also puddles on the ground and some inconsiderate runners splashed through them soaking other runners’ shoes. Really annoying since most of us skipped having a spare pair once we knew the rain was stopping.
Mile 5: Into Magic Kingdom we went……coming down Main Street. And I see it. The first #Firsties sign. One of ours. I stopped to say high and pass along wristbands and buttons since their runner had missed the meet-up. And positioned right next to them was Team Caryn, aka Liza. Yay! A hug. And I requested wet towels at Animal Kingdom. With this moisture, I was going to need them by then.
Running around Magic Kingdom was a blur. I’m more familiar with Disneyland than I am Disney World. But coming around Cinderella’s castle was amazing. The castle was lit up with icicles so it was more Elsa’s castle and Cinderella’s. Gorgeous. I hoped for a good running photo. I had regrets for not bringing a camera like I normally do, but I knew I’d be too scared to stop and waste time with it my first full. Elsa and Anna were overhead, and it was “snowing”. Note to runDisney: that probably wasn’t such a cool idea. The snow which was soap bubbles made the path very slippery. Luckily no one wiped out while I was there.
Once outside of Magic Kingdom, I was starting to feel comfortable. I figured out the timing for my fuel (the mile markers helped me track what to eat when) and my electrolytes. Water and Powerade was available about every 2 miles starting just short of Mile 2, but the Powerade was yellow which I hate, so I was grateful I had trained with my Ultima Replenisher and had brought it along. Each water stop, I took water, and each mile in between I drank 2 oz of Ultima Replenisher. And I ate my Honey Stinger Orange chews and Untapped Maple every few miles. I was on a roll.
The roads between the parks were slanted for water drainage. This created some discomfort as I was running on an angle. I remembered my exercises with Harry and took it slower and concentrated on balance to try to even myself out and not have the after-effects.
People were still passing on the right. When mile 7 approached and someone came up on my right I moved over and said, “Yes I see you passing.” They stopped. So I look over and it’s another #Firstie! One of the other Lori’s. She was doing Dopey that weekend with her father and this was her fourth race. I asked where she came from, because I knew she had started a corral ahead of me and I worried that either she was having issues or that I was moving too fast and would burn out. She tells me she’s over it. Her father was aiming for a PR, so he started in corral B and she was just walking. So I told her I was doing 0:30/0:30 intervals and she could come along. She said she couldn’t run. I told her bull….anyone can run for 30 seconds this early on (I knew she wasn’t injured). And so she did. So now I have company and we’re chatting about the race, the training, how I wish I could pose for pictures but was afraid I’d get too stiff and not be able to start again. We chatted about future races and she told me about Dopey. Random conversation. Suddenly, FRENCH FRIES. There was a group of people handing out hot McDonalds French Fries on an overpass (over a McDonalds). With the humidity and degree of sweating, the saltiness sounded like heaven. And while I hadn’t trained on them, I figured a few would not hurt. And I wasn’t wrong. It was heaven.
More random conversation and next thing we know, we’re near the halfway point. Animal Kingdom. I tell Lori to stay right because I knew Liza would be around there somewhere. Up ahead we spot her and she has a boatload of paper towels! Yes! I can wipe the salt off my face without stopping in a bathroom. Hugs, introductions and we’re off again. So many towels, so I start sharing with the other runners in the area who are grateful. Through the park we go. Runners start jumping off the course to ride Expedition Everest. I ask Lori if she thought about doing that. We both had similar thoughts that we might not be able to get out of the ride. I’m envious of those who are brave enough to do that. I also know that my adrenaline would go through the roof from the ride and the race and I might not survive. Runners who rode, jump back on the course and say it was great. Just seeing that was an experience. We run past snakes and vultures and all kinds of animals. The snakes made me run faster. Ew.
And I spot a bathroom (running water) with no line so we jump in there even though we don’t really need to stop. Perfect timing/perfect plan.
Just after the half there’s a fuel station. Not just the Cliff Shots like earlier (I took them in case I needed them but planned to use the Untapped), but also bananas. I decide I’m hungry and to try it. I know. Nothing new on race day. But I do regularly eat bananas before running so I didn’t see how this would be different. It was fine. And it worked because it kept me from feeling hungry and added fuel.
Back on the highway, we’re heading into the long journey to ESPN Wide World of Sports. We are still doing intervals even though Lori wants to walk. I take a few extra walk breaks to fuel, have water, eat a banana, etc., but generally we are still going.
We come across two other women who hear me say ok, walk for 30 and show us their dead Garmins. So I tell them we are doing 30/30s and they come along. I end up ahead with one, and Lori behind with her friend. They get a text from another friend who says she’s up ahead with her watch still working so they say “thanks for the ride” and run to catch up. By then, Lori had picked up a third lady who was also doing intervals, although I’m not sure what her times were.
Mile 17: Like clockwork. I start to get a stitch in my side. Really? So I slow down to walk and stretch out my diaphragm with some breathing exercises I remember from aerobics class in 9th grade. That prevents the hiccups that normally follow, and pretty soon, I’m able to run again so we’re going.
Miles 19-20: ESPN Wide World of Sports. It was a blur to me. I don’t know what I saw. There were characters – the classics like Goofy and Chip and Dale. Maybe in referee gear. But, I do remember there was chocolate – Hershey Kisses. I told the guy handing them out that I loved him. There were more characters. But I couldn’t stop. I keep going and look back. No Lori and other lady. I have no idea where they are. But I can’t stop or I won’t start again.
I run through the soccer field, and around the stadium which was nice to have folks cheering. I look for Liza but don’t spot her. I find out later the buses to WWoS were messed up so she had to skip that stop to make it to the finish on time. I see a guy running in an RGIII shirt and tell him “Right team, wrong QB” and we laugh. Then next 30 minutes or so, I’m back and forth with him passing me, me passing him.
Next I’m back out on the highway. I hurt. I feel tired. I think why am I doing this? I’m now walking. And now I hear my phone whistle. A text. I decide to check my splits and see how I’m faring. I mean I have my watch and I know how I feel but maybe that will motivate me to keep moving. I have a text from a friend who is tracking me saying I’m doing great. I text her not to worry, I’m walking and slowing up, but will get there. One foot in front of the other and keep on moving forward. I have a text from one of my oldest and friends from college. She had done the half yesterday and couldn’t get her tracker to work without my bib number. I tell it to her and that I’m not yet at Hollywood Studios or Epcot. Hoping to see her there. And I have a text from Pauline. Pauline who was supposed to be doing this with me but had a meniscus tear. She’ll be at the finish in her tiara.
I start running intervals again. But now I feel a small – very small – rock in my shoe….It’s probably from WWoS. I need to sit down and take off my shoe to get it out. But what if I can’t get up? What if my feet are so swollen I can’t get my shoe back on? What if…..???? (Did I mention I’m a worrier?) I finally approach an area in the road that has the guard rails so I can sit on that instead of the muddy ground. I get my shoe off and rock out, and get the shoe on. Now I’m running to catch up. And I hurt. I see a bunch of runners at the aid station slathering biofreeze on their legs. I’ve never done that on a long run, but it could only help. And it does. They also have PowerAde at the medic tables in flavors other than yellow. I ask if I can have a cup of blue and some Tylenol. That helps. And then I’m off and running intervals again.
Singing in my head. What’s that song? Bon Jovi – one my friend gave me. Jay-Z….I remember this and singing along while trying to hold a plank several years back. Will.I.Am – The Hardest Ever….”you can go hard or you can go home….” I’m not going home without my medal.
Where is Hollywood Studios????? I say it out loud and the lady next to me says, “I can lie to you and say we’ve been there if it will help….” Hahaha.
Another medical tent stop for more Biofreeze for my ankles. By now, I’m super happy I kept it slow and easy from the start. I’m tired, but I’m still going. Some of the people who zoomed past me early on, are now laid out at medical tent or throwing up on the side of the road from dehydration. But that’s not me.
I’m starting to feel like I need something more. There’s a crowd of observers – I take an orange slice from someone and a salt packet. I figure that will help cramping and make me feel a little better as the humidity and sweetness of my fuel is starting to get to me. Marathon running – the only time it is safe to take open food from random strangers. Don’t tell my mom.
By now, I’m super happy I kept it slow and easy from the start. I’m tired, but I’m still going. Some of the people who zoomed past me early on, are now laid out at medical tent or throwing up on the side of the road from dehydration. But that’s not me.
And then finally, we’re there. Mile 23. Seriously. Those three miles felt like FOREVER! Home stretch. Only three more miles. Crowds are there cheering. Crossing Buena Vista Street (I think that’s what it’s called, or maybe I’m mixing up the streets in Disney California Adventure. I’m turned around. There’s no more Mickey Sorcerer Hat as my landmark to see how far I’m going. Passing Tower of Terror. And there are characters….Wait. Who is that? Glinda from Wizard of Oz??? What? (I found out yesterday on Facebook that it was actually a Fairy Godmother that I had never heard of…..sssshhhh…..)
Back out of the park, but we’re at Boardwalk Resort. I mean, it came up really fast. And, best of all, there was more CHOCOLATE! Dove Chocolate! I grab a bunch of pieces and put in my belt to savor the rest of the way. What I didn’t realize was that they had laid them out on the tables in patterns that said “Go Runners” and “26.2”. It’s possible that I arrived after most had been eaten and before the next design. Either way, I told them I loved them more than the Hershey Kiss people. I love that area of a run. It says “you’re almost there”. Next stop…Epcot!
Finally, mile 25 we enter Epcot. The crowd is AMAZING. It’s mile 25. And I am past the sweep point. I start to get excited because I know I have only about 20 more minutes maximum. I debate stopping for food or drink at the pavilions – something many runners do to celebrate – but I can’t. I am so close. I look up and see “Spaceship Earth” aka “The Golf Ball” to me….it’s in the distance. I’m running. People are cheering for the runners. I hear my name. Strangers reading the names off of bibs to pump us up.
And it’s working. I’m going to finish this. And then I’m at the Golf Ball. I’m in the home stretch. It is the hardest thing to push off for a run interval at this point, but I’ve
got it. I’m running and giving everything I have. And then I get to the chain link fence that divides the park from parking lot. I see the threshold and burst into tears. I’m here. I look up and Mickey is motioning me to finish. Minnie is up ahead. I have no idea where my friends are but I don’t care. I see it. The finish. And I’m done!
I am part of an elite group of less than 1% who will ever complete a full marathon. I am strong. I completed my goal. And I have my medal.
I find my friends for hugs and food. And pictures. My Facebook is blowing up as people who were tracking me are posting their congratulations.
The rest of the day was icing and rest, and football. My team didn’t win. I blame the guy who jinxed it with his RGIII shirt (wink, wink). The following day was celebratory with Character and Medal photos with some of my #Firsties who also finished.
Well, gotta run….no, make that rest!
P.S. – More about lessons next time. I really needed the time to get the trip documented to realize the full emotional impact this has had.