So another year, another marathon. I've been training for the past few months to prep for the 2017 Disney Marathon. Last year, I ran the San Antonio Rock 'n' Roll marathon. Finished in an acceptable time, but really felt the effects of the run for a couple weeks afterwards. Honestly, it was largely an unpleasant experience, especially the last 8 miles or so.
So, this time, I decided to run a marathon at the "Happiest Place on Earth" and see if a little Mickey Magic would help. Plus a better training plan, sleep plan and nutrition plan.
However, my training plan revealed that a nagging issue with my right hip flexors was still present. I can't blame anyone but myself. My coach had me on a pretty good regimen of stretching and strengthening that I was marginally compliant with. When it flared, I got much better about it and was able to keep the injury from getting worse. Lesson learned for this hard-headed guy -- follow instructions from people who are smarter than you are about running.
Anyway, back to the run.
My wife and I arrived a few days early and headed to the Expo on Day 1. As is typical for RunDisney events, it was fabulously organized, and we were in and out of the registration process in about 5 minutes. However, the parking lot as ESPN Wide World of Sports was particularly crowded, so there was little walking to get to the registration. The exhibitor floor was stuffed full of all sorts of vendors from Fit2Run (a large, Florida-based running store), New Balance, Disney apparel, Sport Hooks, Garmin and more. Great to see the latest wares and talk to the experts about running and great gear.
So my wife and I headed to the parks that Friday afternoon. Unfortunately, the warm, sunny Friday yielded to an angry, stormy and lightning-filled Friday night and Saturday morning forcing RunDisney to cancel the 1/2 marathon. The decision to cancel could have not been easy, but was clearly the right thing to do, as bands of strong thunderstorms rolled across Orlando from about 10pm to 8am. Putting 25,000 runners into lightning storms would have been rather irresponsible. Disney did, however, offer disappointed runners reimbursement in the form of a future half marathon, gift cards, free passes to the parks or the ability to run the full marathon the next day. Many of the Dopey and Goofy challenge folks ran their own half-marathons on Saturday morning after the weather cleared.
While Friday morning was a balmy in the mid-60s, Sunday morning, Marathon morning, was another matter entirely. Just goes to show the wisdom of bringing cold-weather running gear and "throw away" warm clothes to ditch at the beginning of the race. Sunday morning was 38 degrees with a 20 MPH wind from the north. Chilly. I headed out the door at 3:30am to catch the bus and was very pleased that I was wearing cheap sweats and my running tights and jacket. Once we got to the corrals (about an hour later) I dumped the sweats on the side of the road. RunDisney collects this discarded clothing and donates it to local charities.
At 5:30am sharp, after the National Anthem, the wheelchair division racers were off, followed, every 5 minutes, by a corral. I crossed the start under a shower of typically-awesome RunDisney fireworks at 6am. As we headed away from EPCOT and headed towards Magic Kingdom, we were treated to DJs, performers and character photo opportunities along the route. I headed into Magic Kingdom at around the six mile mark and stopped for the obligatory "castle" photo and headed out. My strategy for the first 18 miles or so was to run much slower than my normal pace -- around 11-11:30 miles, so that I wouldn't hit the proverbial wall quite as hard as I did in San Antonio last year.
After Magic Kingdom, it was about six more miles to Animal Kingdom. After a quick trip through Africa, Asia and Dinoland, we headed to the parking lot and toward ESPN Wide World of Sports. For the past few months, I've been concerned about WWoS. I figured it would be boring and relatively boring as we wound among the sports fields of the complex. However, the route planners mixed it up with some runs on the tracks (including a lap on the inside of the baseball stadium) and routing along the beautiful tree-lined paths that crisscross the complex. Very nice. Looping out of WWoS, we headed over to Hollywood Studios, entering right behind the Tower of Terror, and heading out the front gate. As the entire back part of Hollywood Studios is undergoing renovation to make space for the new Star Wars and Toy Story areas, the run through the park is disappointingly short.
Immediately on exiting Hollywood Studios, the course enters the Boardwalk area. This beautiful part of Disney a boardwalk lined run along a canal and lake surrounded by trees and fantastic Disney resorts. About now, right around mile 24, I started to feel the run. Started to walk a bit more and think about finishing a lot more. I wasn't in the sort of pain or distress I had experienced in San Antonio, but I was ready to be done. The Boardwalk ends right at the entry to EPCOT parade of nations between the UK and France. Just after crossing the bridge to France, the 25 mile marker beckoned. All along the roped-off course, crowds gathered to cheer on the runners as we passed all the countries between France and Mexico on our way to Future World. Again, I stopped for the obligatory, "Big Ball (aka - Spaceship Earth) photo and ran out the exit (and the 26 mile marker) to the parking lot and finish.
Minnie was there at the finish line giving out high-fours as we crossed the line. I finished in 5:15. Well over my 4:57 from San Antonio, but feeling much better about the run. Yes, I was tired, but I didn't feel awful as I had a year earlier. I grabbed my medal and lunch (with that awesome nacho cheese sauce everyone talks about) and headed to the Race Retreat Tent.
For those not familiar, the Race Retreat is an option that runners can purchase in addition to their race experience. It offers a nice plan to hang out both before and after your run in climate controlled comfort with dedicated port-a-potties, changing rooms and food + drinks. A bit expensive at $125, but in my view, worth it.
All in all, I found the Disney World Marathon to be a superb event. Terrific organization, enthusiastic crowds made up of volunteers, employees and the general public with terrific on-course entertainment. Unlike other marathons, the support and entertainment continues to the very end. If you're looking for a first or 100th marathon, this should be high on your list of runs to consider.
I'm not sure I'm going to run another for a while. It takes a lot out of my schedule, work and family to train for a marathon. I'm going to explore improving my 1/2 marathon times, losing some weight and maybe dabble in some triathlon events. However, I do plan to do a Dopey challenge some day in the next few years, so I fully expect to do 26.2 with the big Mouse again one day.