Walt Disney World Marathon and Expo Weekend Recap, Part 2
Part 1 of my recap covered my expo experience as well as general observations.
Part 2 will cover my day at Epcot in brief, 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.
Day Out At Epcot
On Friday, we decided to take advantage of the extra day and head to Epcot. At the same time, we decided to use our free vouchers to DisneyQuest in Downtown Disney, an interactive arcade that alone cost $44 for adults to get in.
The first deal at Epcot was Future World and in that area we’d run into some characters after getting through the spaceship ride.
In particular, Goofy did not take too well that I was NOT doing his challenge.
Le sigh, Goofy, le sigh.
We worked our way around the Living Seas Aquarium, where I was a bit intrigued by the fish there, as I always had been by creatures of the sea growing up.
And then, that massive stingray.
Behold the ugliest fish you’ll ever see: the frogfish.
And another stingray. Yes, stingrays always amused me as a child. Not to mention they are quite delicious (yes, I’ve eaten one at a French restaurant, nicely buttered with capers…but that’s another story.)
Caught sight of a poisonous arrowfish.
And took in the Nemo ride there too. One thing this trip would reveal is how much I missed growing up…and how out of touch I was with some of the current films out there *cough*Frozen*cough*. I’d never seen any of the Nemo movies, so needless to say I blanked when a small child, in wanting to make some innocent conversation in the queue, asked me which character was my favourite from the film.
“You can’t get better than Nemo,” I responded, not wanting to disappoint him. “I mean he’s bright and orange and just awesome!”
On the Nemo ride, we were entertained by many of the characters from the film.
I still have no idea who that turtle is.
After a brief break over at Downtown Disney for lunch and then a rather disappointing jaunt at DisneyQuest, we took the bus back to Epcot, figuring we’d continue the rest of our day leisurely until the fireworks show came on at 9pm, when the park closed.
We wandered around the different countries and then we also managed to stumble into several characters, including Winnie the Pooh, Princess Aurora, and several others.
We also took in several of the structures around the different countries. For some odd reason, these stone/sand structures in China just creeped me out.
We also took in a boat ride underneath the Mexico Aztec temple when it got much darker.
I was also quite disheartened I wasn’t going to be able to take one of these home with me from the German stand. I’ve been itching to go to Germany but it is surely two years or so off now.
Finally, I stopped in Norway to have a quick open-faced sandwich, reminding me of my days in Denmark, although, let’s face it, the sandwiches there were so much better. I then encountered a queue that was ridiculously long. Oh, another character, I thought. I walked the other way to the meeting room exit to come across this.
Who on earth were these people?
“Elsa! Elsa!” a kid screamed. I scratched my head. Who was Elsa? The only Elsa I knew was my co-worker and work was the last thing I wanted to be on my mind.
Then I saw the “Frozen” sign on the front. It was another film that I’d never heard of until now; upon hitting the shops and checking my smartphone later on, I would find out Frozen was released last summer, all whilst being miles deep in schoolwork. Ugh. Incidentally I might have just saved myself from an embarrassing situation. At least I recognized every other character I had taken a picture with.
Soon night fell and we took in the fireworks display.
All in all, a great day that we had to enjoy Epcot. But it was Friday, and my attention soon had to turn to race day.
On Saturday, I tried yet another acclimation run, but again, my eyes started getting puffy from water loss. After cold compressing the area, I managed to get an early 4pm pasta dinner at the Wolfgang Puck cafe and got my kit ready back at the hotel, with a planned lights out at 6pm. I talked to my dad at that time, he sensed the nerves in my voice but he reassured me that I’d be okay no matter what.
At around quarter til 6pm, I got the most unusual call from my mother. After shellacking me all winter break – and all year for that matter – for training for this race, she called me to wish me luck and to think positive tomorrow. I checked the caller ID to make sure no one was mimicking her or prank calling me. It couldn’t be possible.
Hell must be freezing over at this point.
And after I went to bed, two more of my friends from the northeast, Caroline and Shohreh, left a melodic message at 9pm before hitting the clubs, also wishing me the best of luck. It was a message that I woke up and played back around 2am.
2am. This was it. Shower, kit change and my cereal and milk here and was going to hit the bus around 3:20am. Runners had to get the last bus from the hotel by 4am otherwise they would not make the start.
My eyes were still puffy from Saturday’s episode and mentally I was not 100% percent. I kept trying to tell myself I was at Disney and that everything would be okay. If the heat or my shins acted up, just walk at 15 minutes and just collect that medal even though my body clearly could do so much more.
Eventually, I queued up for the bus when the runner behind me – a Goofy challenge competitor named Marla – offered me her son’s Race Retreat pass. Considering this ran $55 per person, I regretted not having anything on me I could give her in return but she mentioned she just wanted to get rid of it as her son wasn’t able to make it with her. We chatted on the bus – she had driven up 3 hours from Boca Raton to make Saturday’s race and crashed in the Pop Century for one night. She also complained to me that her husband royally hated anything Disney and admitted that she had a poor experience when he accompanied her to last year’s Goofy Challenge. It was quite the weird coincidence as strangely one of my friends who had come with me was also vacationing from her husband – in fact he was completely unaware of her trip with us. (Disclaimer: Chances of her being outed by me are nil, as no pictures of her are anywhere to be seen on social media.)
It struck me because I had always thought of Disney as a family-oriented place, but given the sheer number of solitary men and women – particularly the older crowd – I wasn’t feeling so bad thinking of Disney as a place to get away from family, to be carefree, to be ourselves and not have anyone whinge at us for doing so. Just another version of what a happy place could be for someone.
We continued chatting until the bus dropped us off in the Epcot parking lot. Soon we were at security checkpoint and the bag drop off station. Security was smooth and easy to get through, no hangups or long queues. One major change was that EVERYTHING – all bags, and even running pouches, had to be checked. Still I got through quickly.
Once we were through we came to a vast area where we could hit the retreat, stretch outside or get ice. The bag check was to a tent to the right, and the race retreat tent to the left.
Sensing my body was colder – we were starting at 55 degrees or so – I marched into the race retreat tent, holding up my wrist with the gifted retreat band around it.
The retreat tent was worth the trip, more than, it was warmer, there was a lounge area to relax and watch TV, a stretch area, where you could get heat sheets (which I did) for when you waited in the corrals, and plenty of coffee, tea, bananas, bagels, dried cranberries, and such. I had taken a banana with me but also carried a Powerade bottle on my person in anticipation of the jump in temperature. There were many tables and chairs for people to sit and warm up but most importantly was how short, and sequestered the bathroom queue was. And there were separate makeshift sinks where runners would use their feet to pump water and wash their hands with soap. First time I’ve ever seen those.
After spending time at the retreat tent, the emcee started calling corrals to start the long – and I mean – long walk to the freeway where we would begin. Only runners were allowed past the white tents and slowly it was a long walk in the coolness of the night.
Mentally it felt like a deathmarch. My stomach felt weird and my legs felt meh. Soon we were in our corrals when Mickey, Donald, and Goofy started talking about the Dopey challengers and throwing out the usual jokes.
Finally, the national anthem. And before you knew it, the wheelchair competitors and then the first corral was off. Fireworks went off as each and every corral crossed the start.
Mentally it took until our corral was right against the start line for me to whip myself into shape.
This is it, this is all what it comes down to. Make the most of it, I told myself, and just have fun, breathe easy. Just cross that finish, no matter what your time.
Miles 1-3: We were flying on the freeway with the temperatures in the mid-50s. Our corral being right in the middle of the pack, started off at 6am. My main strategy was to cover as much ground as possible before the sun came up. The first few miles, there were 3-4 high school bands playing fight songs or songs to keep the runners pumped up and this did help. These first few miles were mostly flat and easy and I cruised easily as we sped into Magic Kingdom.
Bathroom facilities and water and such were plenty and I had no issues so far. So far, so good.
Miles 3-6: After passing the entrance, we headed through Main Street and through the Magic Kingdom. There was a stretch of road before actually hitting Main Street and once we did, we encountered a slight and gradual hill. But this I knew about so it was not an issue for me. The downside was that already, the sun was coming up.
This was also the very first opportunity for the first photo-op. My choice was to skip most photo-ops in the first half of the race and then if I felt I had time or energy, queue up for 1-2 in the second half. I skipped a section where you could have a shot taken in front of Cinderella’s castle, but did manage to shoot before we hit the underpass.
After Cinderella’s castle, it was a sharp descent and off we headed through a series of back roads. It would be another six miles before we hit another park.
Miles 6-9: Back roads and then leading into Disney’s Motor Speedway, which would prove to be the first signs of trouble amongst the runners in my corral. This area was a series of backroads that were mostly barren. More highschool bands, a few DJs here and speakers there though.
“Sweet Caroline” played around Mile 7, to the shock of one runner who complained it should be the Mile 22 song. It didn’t matter though, as the sun rose, any motivational music would keep me going. We passed more back roads and such, another band and another DJ. The sun was up by now and the humidity was beginning to set in.
In particular I noticed the effects on everyone around me as we hit the relatively steep underpass leading into Disney’s Speedway. Not a single runner around me ran up that underpass. Furthermore, that underpass was really another hill and that hill even if man-made caught me off guard.
But the reaction of the other runners? I did not expect a mass slowdown by the crowd. That was telling of what was to come.
We rounded the speedway and caught sight of the cars on the edge. Quite a few awesome antiques.
Miles 10-14: Once we left the speedway it was another few miles of barren road as the temperature continued to rise. My cardiovascular system started to tax itself and I tried run-walking and extra fluids to try and tame the heart rate, but I found myself at one point going slightly worse than a 12 minute mile. Not good, I thought. I’m okay when I go slow but it’s scary the humidity was making me go THAT slow. Needless to say, I found myself refilling my water bottle with equal amounts of Powerade and water. And even then I was losing way too much water as my skin acted as a third kidney. Ouch.
Around Mile 13, we reached Animal Kingdom and effectively, the halfway point. I felt weird, I made it halfway. At the same time, I was also intrigued by Animal Kingdom, as I’d never been there and many people had told me that it “wasn’t that good” or worthy as an attraction. Maybe another child-oriented park? Probably. There had been plenty of goats harnessed with bibs held by staff members to entertain us another mile back though. Animal Kingdom staff cheered us on as we trooped through the park, and Mile 14 brought us to a back end, and a slight incline as we passed through and by a recycling facility whose stench didn’t help the nauseating effect of the humidity. The sun was also starting to shine brighter, which, despite wearing a bright cap, didn’t help my case.
Miles 15-17: Another straightforward and long stretch of open road. One rolling hill after another going over a couple of bridges. We were on our way to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and on this stretch was more music but a noticeable uptick in runners stopping at medical tents and such. The sun and the heat really started bearing down upon us, taxing my breathing even further. Around Mile 17 though did I notice a hairpin turn; the runners that were already through the sports complex. As I closed in on every mile, I felt a little more confidence that even if I had to walk it off, I would complete this but still at the same time I was trying to regain a bit of the time that I had lost.
We made a right on the intersection leading to the complex, a route that took us through all the major facilities.
Miles 18-21: We started through the soccer field, then the football field, then the track. Strangely enough at Mile 18 itself, another song blasted on the speakers that yet again, late in a race, boosted my spirits.
The irony was that I absolutely hated this song when it was first released. Today? It resulted in me fistpumping with everyone else and waving my hands and picking up my pace.
After the track, we rounded the baseball field. I had another episode of major fluid intake; I tried in vain to figure out where the bathrooms were in this part of the course, but unfortunately they were not clearly marked. I would not be able to find another bathroom until mile 22.
After we left the facilities, we continued up another long road and then we caught the final hill, another that caught me off guard: an exit ramp. Ugh. It was also at mile 21 that I began to heat cramp at the top of my quads and I started piling the Biofreeze on at the medical station.
To add to the mental anguish, when a medical staffperson complained they were reaching the bottom of the barrel with the Biofreeze, a male runner complained it was because “we are the bottom of the barrel!”
Ouch. I mean really now, even to say that for yourself…
And if that weren’t bad enough, I caught sight of another runner going to eat the Biofreeze. Ew. It turned out it was a Chilean runner (bearing his country’s flag around his waist) who didn’t understand English. We had to tell him in Spanish not to eat the gel and instead to apply it onto his body. I asked him if it was his first marathon, and incidentally it was.
Now that would have been a cruel lesson to learn.
Miles 22-24: This part of the race took us through Disney’s Hollywood Studios, another part of Disney that I had also never been to and was also told that it did not quite live up to its billing.
We entered the park and hit up a snack area where we were given pieces of chocolate. I was dehydrated that the chocolate did not taste like chocolate but it was better than nothing.
After exiting the Hollywood Studios, we crossed two large hotel complexes, the luxury Swan and Dolphin Hotel, followed by the Camp Wilderness Beach and Marina.
We ran on the wooden pathway as the sun continued beating down; temperatures at this point were around 90 degrees. My bottle was filled and filled again, determined not to succumb to dehydration.
Finally we went deep into the marina, cheered on by parkgoers who doubled as spectators and such. And little did I know the marina’s edge led to a gate that opened up right into Epcot and the end.
Miles 25-26: At this point as the gates were opened, we were greeted in the United Kingdom part of Epcot by throngs of spectators. I gulped back what just might have been tears because it was not too long ago that it just wasn’t looking great for me. And now here I was. It was just about over.
We rounded out the edge of the World Showcase area and hooked around through Future World. Then the Mile 26 marker. I was screaming to see the finish line, just I had been when I had run MCM. We left Epcot park and then headed to the parking lot, preceded by a large grandstand. And there it was, the finish line. I throw my fists in the air, I had survived my body and survived the heat.
It wasn’t pretty but it was still mission accomplished.
Well I was thoroughly disappointed on my time, but I knew once the temperatures went about 70, I was going to be in trouble. But considering all that had happened in the fall, shin issues and all, I was relieved I’d recovered to finish this race and finally hold my gigantic medal.
I immediately headed over to the medal area, where I collected my medal. Absolutely loved it.
As I received a bevy of text messages from friends and family, I took a seat down at the ice station as I had my very sore calves iced up as well as my knees. I continued down the chute where I received another heatsheet, water bottles, more Powerade and finally as we progressed into another tent, our snack boxes.
We all had our pictures taken before heading out into the crowd and promptly taking a bus ride back to our hotel rooms for a nice hot shower and a bit of rest before the cooldown party.
The Cooldown Party
This is probably another aspect of my experience that was a bit disappointing although I had the chance of meeting fellow runner from Twitter Angie (@AngieMaskeBerka) and her husband Josh (@joshberka). Both had completed the Dopey Challenge and were unwinding. It was awesome getting caught up on race plans and chatting regarding what the future held for all of us on the pavement.
The cooldown party was not actually a party per se, simply an open market of locations in Downtown Disney that offered discounts to runners trying to squeeze in some last minute shopping. Of course there was one problem: none of the places I went to on the discount list actually honored their discounts. At least accessories store Little MissMatched was upfront about the discrepancy – it was supposed to be a pair of socks with the purchase of something else. But two eateries flat out did not give discounts advertised for and that was just shocking.
Would I do Disney again? The price of such a trip would make it an interesting decision. But on merits alone? If money didn’t matter, and I was considering the race alone, and nothing else, I would participate in Marathon Weekend again, but likely NOT the full marathon. The heat was crazy and the humidity for me was borderline unbearable. Admittedly I knew that if I wanted a more realistic time goal for Disney I should attempt to run another half marathon like Oddyssey or Wildwood in August to get used to running in hot temperatures. Even then I’m not sure how I’d fare: I still remember a 12 mile training run in early September I had to cut short at five miles because I was getting light-headed. It makes me wonder that my body might just not be cut out for runs at more than 80 degrees.
Ironically those that ran the half this year were said to have worse amounts of humidity and actually started at a nastier temperature.
However, even with a more or less cleaner race experience, I was partially disappointed by the expo, even more upset with the lack of clearly marked bathrooms in the second half of the race. If existing buildings are going to be used, they need to be more clearly marked.
I had a blast here at Disney and I felt for the most part, I had made the most of my trip and got the recharging that I need. But between the rest of my so-called bucket list and the disappointments I felt through race weekend, the most critical being the bathroom situation, I just would feel hard pressed to spend such funds again to come here. Then again, most of these issues were relatively minor, save the weather.
I can’t really hold the race accountable for weather though, I’d known long before that weather here was unpredictable (sleet in 2010!!). The bathroom issue can easily be fixed in future years and Disney races are otherwise very well organized.
Overall, I think I could see myself here again. It’s possible I have to adjust expectations here in terms of goal time – and a lot of people did. It’s possible I might do the half…or maybe just maybe I might return and do the full again. Goofy could be a stretch too far, but who knows, right?
If you haven’t run Disney though and are looking into it, it should definitely be on your bucket list. Save up the money, you will not regret it.