Friday, January 19, 2018

2018 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, Part One

Well, I did it. I actually did it. I crossed the damn finish line. Here’s how my first official {but actual second} half marathon went.

Ashley, Laurie, and I caught a late morning flight over to Orlando on Friday, January 5. We arrived just before 2pm, met up with Laurie’s sister Lisa (who came in from Nashville), and went downstairs to take the Magical Express to our resort, Caribbean Beach. Once there, we met up with Laurie’s and Lisa’s cousin Finnie (who drove over from Tampa), checked into our rooms, and then headed over to the Expo to pick up our race bibs and shirts. The weather was absolutely perfect.

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Once we were done at the Expo, we went back to our room to settle in. Laurie, Lisa, and Finnie decided to go out to dinner, but Ashley and I wanted to eat at the hotel so we could get to bed early. We knew our 2:45am wake-up call would come earlier than any of us wanted!

As expected, none of us slept great the night before the race. In fact, Laurie told us she didn’t sleep a wink. But the anticipation and excitement of Race Day got us up, dressed, and out the door by 3:15am.

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We caught the bus over to Epcot and the parking lot where all of the race tents were set up. It was very cold (in the 30s), so we were mostly concerned with keeping warm. I chose to wear the same thing I did last year, with the addition of two long-sleeved shirts underneath, one to keep on and one to throw if I needed to.

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Once we got out there, we all took time to eat breakfast (Laurie and I even had some coffee), listened to the pre-race announcements being made from the stage, and checked our gEAR bags. Then we took a quick bathroom break before walking over to our starting corrals.

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Ashley was placed in corral D, but the rest of us were in G. This was the worst part: the long wait in the corrals. It took about an hour from the time we got to our corral to actually cross the starting line. But we had plenty of time to stretch, and it was pretty cool hearing Donald Duck send each wave of runners across the line and seeing the accompanying fireworks.

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Finally it was our turn. Donald counted us down and we were on our way! I crossed the starting line at 6:15am.

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The things I worried about the most in the beginning were my feet. Despite trying to keep moving, they were pretty cold. But I stuck with my plan: doing my typical 5-minute warm-up walk and then switching to my intervals. I set them at 4-1, just like last year, hoping this time I really could run through two and do 9-1.

Once I finished my warm-up walk, I hit my stride within a mile and a half or so. I had absolutely no trouble with my breathing the entire race, which was AWESOME. I did have to alter my course to run around people a lot, but it wasn’t too bad. I just took my time and was careful, especially when I had to run in the grass as opposed to on the road.

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The first 5 miles were on the highway and fairly boring. We started on Epcot Center Drive and turned right onto World Drive. We passed through the Magic Kingdom toll booth area halfway through mile 3. It was shortly after that when I decided to shed one of my long-sleeved shirts. It took some time to take it off but I’m so glad I did. I had definitely warmed up by that point and didn’t need it anymore.

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When I ran into the Magic Kingdom at the start of mile 6 (to a glorious sunrise, no less), I had a bit of a moment. I just couldn’t believe I was actually there and doing this thing that I had trained so long for. I got very emotional and started to cry, which was not good. I actually hyperventilated slightly and had to talk myself down. But I pushed through and ended up really enjoying running down Main Street (completely lined with people cheering for us) and through Tomorrowland, the new Fantasyland, the castle, and finally Frontierland.

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Funny story while running through Frontierland: I noticed a squirrel wanting to cross the path of runners. He tried once and almost ran into the lady next to me. I thought he certainly wouldn’t try again, but he did and ran right into my shoe before making it all the way across, leaving startled women in his wake. So darn funny. This is me looking down at him right after he ran into my shoe and made a break for it.

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We exited Magic Kingdom next to Splash Mountain and ran north on Caribbean Way. We ran behind Splash and Big Thunder (where we were spontaneously treated to a few cast members playing drums on some empty trash cans) and then turned left to go out to Floridian Way, which we took all the way back down to World Drive.

I had to refill my water bottle at the station just outside of Magic Kingdom in mile 7. I grabbed the first few cups that were held out to me, noticing that the liquid in them looked cloudy and not really knowing why. I dumped them in anyway and then I realized that I had grabbed Powerade, not water. But I figured it was better for me at that point, so I stuck with it.

I’m so happy and proud to say that I was able to run 9-1 intervals the entire time, with the exception of a planned break just after mile 9, when I walked for about 3 minutes. I dumped my remaining Powerade, refilled with water, and ate a pack of sports beans. I felt pretty good. Until we got to the hills.

Just after mile 10 we hit the first of three hills. In a row. I started cursing Disney in my head and really struggled, but I managed to keep my pace going. My legs were already tired, but three hills in quick succession just about killed them. However, we came down the last one in sight of the Epcot entrance and that gave me decent motivation. I knew I was almost done!

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We were in Epcot for less than a mile, but in some ways it felt like the longest part of the race. The park was open by the time I got in there, so there were lots of people along the course cheering for all of the runners. We finally emerged outside of the park next to the big ball and headed to the finish line.

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I finished at 9am with an official time of 2:44:39 and a pace of 12:39. I was absolutely elated when I crossed that damn finish line. I thought about kicking up my heels as I crossed but ultimately didn’t have the energy to do so. Plus there were a lot of people around me and I didn’t want to hit anyone. 20,801 people ran the 2018 WDW Half Marathon. 12,276 women and 8,525 men. I came in at #681 in my age bracket, #3864 in my gender bracket, and #8354 overall. Not too bad!

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I took a selfie with the finish line in the background and then walked over to get my medal. I bent down so one of the volunteers could place it around my neck and that’s when I started to lose it again. I had done it. I let myself have that moment and tried to soak it all in.

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I picked up my water, Powerade, banana, and snack pack, took an official finisher picture, retrieved my gEAR bag, and went to find Ashley, who finished before me. Laurie and Finnie showed up about 20 minutes after I did, and Lisa found us shortly after that. We all plopped down in the parking lot to stretch and refuel. Included in the snack pack was a small container of nacho cheese and a bag of tortilla chips, which tasted like the best thing ever at the time. There was also a pack of dried fruit, an applesauce pouch, Oreos, and a Ghirardelli chocolate square. All very much appreciated!

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A few other things of note…..there was a big lighted sign marking every mile, with different characters on each complete with their theme music. Lots of people took pictures in front of those. There were also quite a few character photo-ops on the course, including Lightning McQueen and Mater, Jack Skellington and Sally, Jack Sparrow and other pirates, Sebastian, Sully and Mike, Wreck It Ralph and Vanellope, Woody and Bullseye, one of the mice from Cinderella, one of the bears from the Country Bear Jamboree, Cinderella and Prince Charming, the Genie from Aladdin, the penguins from Mary Poppins, and a green army man from Toy Story. Lines for almost everything but I didn’t stop. Oh, and there were multiple local marching bands playing at a few locations along the course!

There was also an opportunity to take a picture in front of Cinderella’s castle, between miles 6 and 7. This was the only one I debated doing but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the wait. Besides, there were plenty of Disney photographers set up along the course snapping pictures of all of the runners. I made sure to get in front of every one I noticed and got some pretty good shots as a result. (See above!)

Kenny was also able to track me quite easily online. Pretty cool, actually; he was able to see my progress in fairly real-time on a map of the course.

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We got back to our room just after 10am to shower and rest. It felt so strange to be done. Recap of the rest of our trip coming up next!

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