Walt Disney World Marathon and Expo Weekend Recap, Part 1
Part 1 of my recap will cover my arrival, expo experience as well as general observations.
Part 2 will cover my race experience and the afterparty.
Race: Walt Disney Marathon Presented By Cigna
Location: Walt Disney World (Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios), Lake Buena Vista, FL
Distance: 42.2 km (26.2 miles)
Date/Start Time: 12 January 2014, 5:30am
Distance Travelled to Compete: 1577 km (980 miles)
Weather conditions: Varies each year from sleet (2010) to blistering heat (2013). Average temps are between 50-70 in January.
Course conditions: Mostly flat but a gradual hill around Cinderella’s castle (mile 6), sharp hills at the speedway underpass (mile 9), after Animal Kingdom (mile 15) and an exit ramp at Mile 21.
Preview: Second marathon ever, I was training hard and well until I picked up a shin injury that forced me to sit out my tune-up half in November, the Philly Half. With the help of strength training, a change in running form and massage therapy, I got back on track. Only one X-factor to worry about, the unpredictable weather.
The Flight To Orlando (MCO)
Not too bad, with about 2.5 hours or so each way. Annoying on my end as this was the very first (and likely last) race I would do that involved flying. To make matters worse Delta for some inexplicable reason had moved up my flight one hour earlier…and then proceeded to cancel it as it was going through JFK Airport (Queens, NY) which was still recovering from the mess created from the preceding weekend’s polar vortex.
Luckily, Delta staff immediately rerouted me through Atlanta, with a shorter layover AND an upgrade. Sweeeeet!
The bigger issue, however, was mental. First, there was the weather to contend with, the fact that I was coming off nursing a weakened shin long term despite moderate massage therapy courtesy of Brian at Phila Massages, additional weighttraining and a change in running form. All produced the desired changes and restrengthened my leg, but there was always that what-if situation. What if my body just got stubborn on race day?
Weather alone for me is cause for concern as I do very poor in heated conditions. My times at the Odyssey Half Marathon in 2011 and 2012 were both roughly 30 minutes slower than my PR. Average temperatures during those races were high 80s and low 90s with a load of humidity. The weather was the prime reason I opted never to run that race again, especially as the race directors have moved that race into a June time slot. No thanks.
All of this had me well nervous and it was the first time I was flying to a race. Oy. But at the same time, I was at Disney, I was told to enjoy it. I’d fought the odds to get here and it was a much needed break from the insanity of my life. It was the first time since 2005 that I really was able to take a getaway that I could enjoy myself for and thoroughly could disengage from everything. School, work, and family drama. It was much needed time for myself, and the coming days would show how much I’d forgotten and how badly I’d been desensitized and dehumanized.
Bearings Down and Off to the Expo
The first order of business was making my way to Disney’s Magical Express, a bus service that comes with any Disney hotel vacation package, an automatic that I’d gotten when I booked my spot for the marathon. It proved to be more than worth it as I did not want to drive and rental car fees were insane.
I got myself checked in and having just missed the cutoff for a local tweetup, decided instead to get myself situated in my hotel, get my bearings down, and head off to the expo. I got to my hotel room and having never been here, was taken back by simply how pervasive Mickey Mouse was.
Seriously you could not escape it if you tried.
My hotel reminded me of a Disney-themed college campus. Every hotel had ten buildings to it. It was insanity. It was a massive compound.
Our room was relatively ordinary.
But the rest of the grounds were not. Models of all sorts were everywhere. And since I stayed at the Pop Century Resort, there were many symbols of objects that reminded me of what it was like growing up.
The Big Wheel for one was a favourite with my brother.
Foosball I recall being popular for me through university.
Finally, I decided to check out the gift shop, the commissary and the cafeteria, where I would have most of my meals, and most of these facilities would be available at nearly every Disney property.
It reminded me of the dining halls from university, just more personality to it!
There were other remnants of the past as well.
The Play-Doh really rolled back the years.
And sculptures of animated characters from Disney films at an adjacent hotel called the Art of Animation Resort.
After getting myself sorted out, it was off to the expo.
The expo for the Walt Disney Marathon was located at a separate facility known as the ESPN Wide World of Sports. From the Pop Century Resort, it was about a 10-20 minute bus ride from there. We had to take buses wherever we went and Downtown Disney, a shopping and entertainment area was only accessible by bus from just about every hotel.
The expo proved to be nearly too big for my liking. I had only signed up for the marathon race; the signature race for the year was the Dopey challenge, where runners would do all 4 races: the 5k, the inaugural 10k, the half and the full on each successive day. As I had arrived on Thursday with the 5k already finished, Dopey runners would have come in the previous day to pick up their shirts and packets. Even then, Goofy challenge (half on Saturday AND full on Sunday) runners had their shirts in one building and marathon and half marathon only participants had to pick up their stuff in a separate facility.
To begin with, I had trouble simply going downstairs to get my bib. Runners got their bibs in one area. Check. Then I went to the general merchandise area (above) and then was told that marathoners had to pick up their race kit in the Jostens building, which was back upstairs and in a separate building. Worst of all it was raining, and I was caught out without an umbrella.
Before then, I managed to take a closer look at the life-size course map and corral chart.
Charts were also up for the other races, including each of the challenges.
Jostens also had the full area of merchants, or not quite. MOST of the merchants were in the Jostens, along with kit pickup for each of the singular races.
I finally managed to make my way downstairs and to the back of the area to pick up my kit. My first true marathon kit – MCM did not issue technical shirts but rather souvenir mock neck shirts – so I was stoked. I took a closer look and it was awesome and fit true to size.
I wandered around the merchants, looking through what was on display. There were sure a lot of things to buy, but of all the marathons I have been to, this was one with by far the least amount of freebies. Chiquita was handing out bananas and Dannon was having runners sample their new Greek yoghurt but other than those two vendors, every other was selling wares, and I tend to almost NEVER buy anything at an expo. New Balance and a few other vendors did come in with their special edition shoes for the Disney marathon and I had heard that bedlam had ensued with the release of different types of shoes, similar to the experience with the Nike Women’s Half in DC.
But those souvenir shoes run VERY expensive, and frankly I have 2 pairs of Pumas that will do the trick for me as solid casual shoes.
With the rain showing no signs of stopping, I decided to check out the speaker sessions and I was disappointed as I had missed the triathlete who had spoken earlier in the day. I was hoping that a race as big as Disney would surely have drawn an elite athlete and surely a decent appearance fee for that individual, but nope. No Kara Goucher, no Shalane. I had seen Ryan Hall and met him at MCM; Shalane Flanagan in passing at the Nike Women’s Half.
However, former winner of Biggest Loser Ali Vincent (who now hosts her own show) came on to give a motivation speech about her struggles with weight loss and fighting the mental battle of physically challenging yourself.
That speech reminded me of me. How I struggled to lose the weight in 2009 but did anyways, and just took a leap of faith for my first half marathon.
That seems like such a long time ago now. And even today, it feels weird to some extent.
After the rain subsided, I made my way to the baseball field and checked out the rest of the vendors. That’s right.
They all could not fit into one building. It was utterly insane.
After some time, I made my way back to the bus depot. I was actually tired considering how much walking I simply had to do. Four different buildings for the expo. Two for the vendors, two for the kit pickups, official merchandise was scattered across two buildings and such. This race was not just big, it was clearly massive. And if you were looking for freebies and new things to try out, it would be disappointing. Certainly so compared to nearly every race I’ve done in the Northeast.
It was also disappointing for lack of an elite runner, and surely I imagine they might have tried. But I still took home a valuable lesson from Vincent’s talk and a valued stroll down memory lane. A positive thought if I ever needed one.
My recap will continue in Part 2, with our day out at Epcot and the race recap.
Considering a RunDisney event in your future? Feel free to ask any questions!