Oh boy, half marathon number two. I clearly remember thinking to myself during the last few miles of my first one that I would never do that to myself again. However, it’s become apparent to me that long races are similar to childbirth in that they both must trigger the same chemical in the brain that makes you forget the pain and want to do it again. For people who have been doing this kind of thing for longer than just a couple years and who have run more long races, this must already be an accepted fact, unless maybe I’m alone in this feeling.
Anyway, once the fiancée and I found out that our group trip to Disney World just so happened to span Disney’s Marathon Weekend, we knew what the deal was. This needed to happen. Once we were signed up, we started a long training process. We knew that we’re both the kind of people that don’t know how to just run slowly and enjoy the scenery, we both run for time and are constantly trying to improve that time. With that in mind, we knew that we’d to really have to up our stamina so that we could run hard for 13.1 miles after three full days of walking around Disney and with another three and a half more days of the same following the race. Unfortunately, the four months of training we did leading up to the race was littered with injuries for both of us, more so for the fiancée than myself, but my ankle has been in bad shape for four months now. With all of the injuries, we didn’t get to do the training we wanted to do, but somehow we did it.
I guess I’ll talk about the course first. The race starts outside of Epcot and takes runners towards Magic Kingdom. There’s a lot of open road running for a little while, but eventually, the course leads runners into a crazy path through Magic Kingdom. Once you enter the park, you’re right on Main Street and there are people cheering everywhere. It’s intense and it’s loud, the adrenaline starts pumping like crazy here. The race continues into Tomorrowland and then around through Fantasyland. To exit Fantasyland, it’s a run right through Cinderella’s Castle. After Cinderella’s Castle, the course goes through Frontierland, but skips Adventureland. Instead, runners are taken out of the park by Splash Mountain and start the trek back to Epcot along some dark roads (the sun still isn’t up yet, but more that later) that don’t have a lot going on. Here it’s easy to lose a some of that adrenaline that was pumping through Magic Kingdom. There are random cheer spots and DJs that help with that though though. At one point the course double back on itself as it gets a little closer to Epcot. Here, I was able to see the last wave of runners going by in the opposite direction only a couple of miles into the race. It was kind of cool to see the very end of the pack and the cleanup crews right behind them.
The conclusion of the race takes the runners right into Epcot and around Spaceship Earth. Runners head into Epcot and do a 180 around the Christmas tree at the entrance to the pathway around the World Showcase Lagoon. With less than half a mile left here, it’s time for the final push to the finish line. The course goes down the other side of Spaceship Earth and out into the parking lot for a huge finishing area with bleachers and tons of people cheering.
Even though the half marathon only hits two of the parks, it’s a great course. The full marathon course is even better and hits all four parks, but none of that for us…this trip.
Okay, so with the course out of the way, let’s get to how I did.
The race starts bright (read: dark) and early at 5:35am. Not only is the sun still not up yet, but about 90% of the race was in the dark for me. With the race being this early, we had to get up at 2:45am to get dressed and catch a bus over to the starting area. The bus drop off was about a twenty minute walk away from the start so we needed plenty of time. We made sure to call it an early night the day before and tried to get in bed by 7:30, but I think I only mustered about three hours of sleep. Luckily adrenaline took over and the lack of sleep didn’t feel like too much of an issue. Surprisingly.
The race had eight waves of runners spaced six minutes apart, I was in the first thanks to an ambitious goal and a decent first half marathon time of 1:47:11. Once I got up to my starting coral, I could already feel a little soreness in my feet from being on them constantly for the three days before…and my right knee hurt which was a little worrisome since that’s generally the one that doesn’t give me problems. I tried not to worry about it too much though, I just needed to get through the 13.1 miles ahead of me.
The air was also pretty chilly. I ran the race in shorts and a t-shirt, but it was only about 50 out and I didn’t bring any throw-away clothes so standing around waiting for the race to start wasn’t very pleasant. I tried to warm up as best I could while the pre-race stuff was going on on the stage in front of me.
The race started off with a blast of fireworks and we were off. There were a lot of people around, but the road was wide enough that it wasn’t hard at all to get around people and find my own space to run. While I had read a few descriptions of the race before that said some spots get crowded, I never felt like I had to fight for my space. The beginning of any race seems to be a big struggle for me still as I try to find my pace while getting around people, I have a bad habit of starting out too fast because of it. This time I did a better job than normal, my first mile time was 7:22/mile which was my average pace in my training runs. From here, I kicked it up to about under 7 minutes/mile for a few miles. Probably more than I needed to, but I was able to keep the pace without feeling like I was pushing too hard.
It wasn’t long into the race before my feet felt legitimately sore. As much as I love my Vibram Five Fingers and as much as they’ve really helped me become a better runner, I probably could have used a little cushioning. The soreness mostly came and went throughout the race. My ankle proved to provide me with more pain than my feet did, but again, that came and went. The worst thing for my ankle was the curves in the road. Many of the turns in the course are along on and off ramps which are banked quite a bit. Not being able to land my foot with my ankle completely straight felt awful. I faced the same issue while training when turning at street corners (did I mention that my ankle pain started four months ago and I’ve been running on it since?). I tried to suck it up as much as I could though. I’ve been planning on seeing a doctor and taking a few weeks off so I knew that I just needed my ankle to get me through one last run before I could let it heal. I wasn’t going to hold back now.
When the course took me into Magic Kingdom, I was a little tired, I was keeping a 7:04 pace at this point, but I got a huge pick me up from all of the people and the cheering through the park. It was wonderful. I also felt kind of like I was doing a photo shoot since there was a photographer every ten feet on both sides for a while. This was kind of awesome and I tried to pose for as many of them as I could as I went by them. Just for fun.
Magic Kingdom was a great mid-race boost of adrenaline, but having read about the course before, I knew I was in for a few miles of nothingness after that so I tried to mentally prepare myself for that.
Throughout the quieter and darker roads, I just kept on pushing myself to keep my pace. I slipped a little, but not much. My pace only lost a few seconds. If my feet weren’t in such bad shape, I think I could have stayed stronger through this section and actually picked things up instead of slipping a little. It really wasn’t so much my ankle here as it was the bottoms of my feet…though that’s not to say that I didn’t entertain the idea of stopping at the medical tent for a quick ankle taping in the 11th mile.
As we approached Epcot again, I was dreading the final hill which I was able to see coming for a few minutes before I got to it. It looked long, but surprisingly, my legs motored up it and sped around a few other runners. This was great a great pick me up for the end of the race.
At this point, I knew the finish line was coming up soon and, once I hit the 12th mile marker, I picked it up a little. I started pushing myself here but I was losing steam quickly. I just kept throwing what I had at course and knew I was getting close to the finish. Once I did the turn around at the Christmas tree at the World Showcase, I knew it was almost over. As I exited the park, I could see the finish line coming up and did one final push to the finish, but it wasn’t as big of a push as I normally do. At this point, I could see the clock ticking and knew I had rocked the race so I decided there was no need to really go for broke to shave for a couple more seconds.
I crossed the finish line at 1:33:54 clock time and 1:33:05 after actually crossing the start line. My goal was 1:35 so I was super elated. I had a HUGE smile on my face as I crossed the line and that smile stayed there for a long time after finishing. I was the 260th finisher out of 27,000 runners, but someone in a wave after me finished in a shorter time so my final place was 261. I will gladly take that.
This was such a great race. I really loved it and even though I was a bit sore from it, I felt insanely better than I did after my first half marathon. I could walk and kept no real downtime between the race and going back out for a day in the park. I actually kind of miss the race. I want to do it again, like right now.
The fiancée finished in 2:03:45 which was a little slower than her first half marathon, but insanely better than she hoped for. She suffered much worse injuries than I did and barely got any training in at all for the race. She still wasn’t fully healed up by race day and it had gotten to the point where she really just hoped to finish. All things considered, I think she’s a damn trooper and that’s a great time for her.
After the race, we wore our Donald medals around the park all day and kept a pretty big high going. Just like when we had our “just engaged” buttons on for our trip last year, we got tons of congratulations from people. On Sunday, we spent a few minutes watching part of the full marathon through Animal Kingdom which really just made me wish I was running that too.What we saw was one of the last waves of runners coming by at around mile 16, but it was still fun to watch because these were the runners that wore costumes and ran onto rides as they’d go by them. Some of these runners even congratulated us when they saw our medals for the half marathon. I thought they were crazy, but Disney’s Marathon Weekend definitely has a feel and sense of camaraderie unlike any other race I’ve ever run. I really loved this.
The biggest surprise of the weekend was just how many people did the Goofy Challenge which is both the half and the full marathon and nets you the Donald medal, a Mickey medal, and a Goofy medal. This seemed insane to me, but it seemed like a few thousand people most have done it. While it appeared that many of those people did more of a jog/power walk for one or both of the races, this is still pretty impressive.
We’ve decided that we have to do the Goofy Challenge, we can do it. I know we can. Even without having run a full marathon yet, I think we could train to do this. We’re looking at the 2013 marathon weekend to do this since 2012 may be tough on us with it only being a couple of months after our honeymoon. Either way, If we run this race again, I think we’re definitely going to cut down on the amount of time in Disney before the race so that we’re not already worn down a bit.
I’m still really excited about this race and like I said before, I’m kind of missing it. I want it again. I’ve got another half marathon coming up in April and I’m hoping to run even faster, but I’m taking some time to let my ankle heal first. If my ankle heals up, I think I’ll be in good shape to beat this time. My feet won’t be sore before the race even starts and I’ll probably have more sleep.
One other thing that I wanted to add is about a husband and wife that had run the race together previously, but could not this year. The husband is a part of the US military and is currently deployed in Iraq. Because they couldn’t run together and really wanted to, he set up a half marathon at his base in Iraq and got 500 other soldiers and military members to run with him. He synced up the start of the race so him and his wife would be running at the same time and they used the virtual partner feature of their Garmins to virtually run together. Before the race, they got to wish each other good luck via a live satellite feed. This was one of the most amazing things.
Below are are bunch of photos, some of us, some of the full marathon runners, and some of the medal we received. They were taken with a variety of cameras (my DSLR, a point and shoot, and an iPhone).