My First Marathon at Disney World (January 2018)
8 months of training. Countless hours of running. 5 half marathons completed. It all came down to one moment.
On a brisk Florida morning, I waited in Corral D with 20,000 other runners around me. As each corral started, Mickey sent fireworks up in the air signifying our start. I waited impatiently for my corral to be called and to cross the start line.
I was antsy, anxious, and a little sleep deprived. The alarm had gone off at 2:30 am. I had stuffed a bagel with peanut butter in my mouth, got ready, and hydrated. I boarded the Disney Bus by 3:15am and arrived in the Epcot parking lot by 3:50am. Then, it was a matter of waiting in the cold for the race to start at 5:30am (TMI pro-tip: I hid in the out houses a few times to keep warm).
When corral D was called, I started my 26.2 journey at 5:51am. It was pitch black. It was cold. It was full of many Disney enthusiasts dressed in an assortment of costumes. I wore my classic, sleek black attire – black Under Armour compression tights, black Nike shorts, and a black Nike long sleeved shirt. And then I rocked my highlighter Nike shoes.
Miles 1-4: The first few miles were tough. I felt great, but I was continually weaving around people pacing slower. I was also keeping an eye on the road as lots of runners had discarded jackets and blankets in the beginning of the course (and it was dark!). I didn’t want to trip in the beginning and wreck my ankles.
Overall, I could tell this race was going to be phenomenal. The runners were energetic, the morning seemed magical, and the Disney staff were great. Before I knew it, I was logging mile 3 of my first marathon. I still couldn’t believe that all my training was for this moment happening right now.
The mile markers illuminated the clock time in red and displayed fun Disney characters on the signs. Lots of runners veered off the path to get pictures with the mile markers. There were also numerous Disney characters to wait in line to get pictures with. Naturally there were long lines to get pictures with the characters. As amazing as pictures would’ve been, I opted to stick to my game plan of running my first marathon with as few stops as possible (less chance of getting tired, wrecking my time, waiting around in line and getting stiff, etc.).
Mile 5-6: By mile 5 I was approaching Magic Kingdom. In my opinion, all Disney parks have an enchanting, magical side to them. Growing up in Southern California, we had Disneyland passes for several years. The magic never subsided. As I ran through the Magic Kingdom gates and approached the winter castle, I was so excited. I stopped for a few selfies with the castle in the background. I looped through Tomorrowland, veered through Fantasyland and ran through the castle gates. It was amazing. The spectators cheered all throughout Magic Kingdom which made me run faster. We cut out through Frontierland. Just like that, I was through Magic Kingdom and 6 miles into my trek.
Miles 7-11: At this point, the running crowd had thinned out and I was feeling pretty good. At mile 8, I had my first Go Isotonic energy gel – an apple sauce flavored gel with 22gs of carbs. I had a small hydration belt around my waste with 3 of these gels for the race. Miles 8-11 were great miles – I was excited, texted my wife and brother a picture, and enjoyed the race. It was fun looking at other runner’s creative costumes and letting the energetic vibrations fuel me further.
Miles 12-14: I entered the Animal Kingdom property (my 2nd favorite Disney World Park). I swung by Everest, ran by the Tree of Life and overall felt decent. However, I could tell my body was starting to break down a little bit.
When I was training, the most I ever ran was 16.25 (with a few rest stops thrown in). I knew going into the race that I would have to do a run/walk combo. My goal was to start that around mile 17-18.
Mile 15: I swung out of Animal Kingdom and started to feel a little discomfort and fatigue setting in. I passed the 15-mile marker and realized that I was going to have to start my run/walk combo earlier than expected. I considered pushing my body for an additional 2 miles, but I figured long term that would break me down faster. After mile 15, I started to walk a bit. I took another Go Isotonic Apple energy gel, had some Gatorade at a nearby station, and then took some electrolyte jelly beans they were passing out. After about half a mile walking (my longest walk without running), I felt good enough to push myself further and start running.
Mile 16-20: These miles were tough. I stopped at every water station and had both a cup of water and Gatorade from Miles 16-20. I headed towards the ESPN World of Sports Center (Miles 18-20). I started feeling it in my hamstrings and my body seemed to be getting a lot stiffer. I could tell I was losing mobility. I was doing everything I could hydration and carb wise to push forward. My mentality was strong, I knew I was going to finish, but my body was breaking down.
At mile 20, I took my last Go Isotonic gel. I got another pack of the electrolyte jelly beans they were passing out and continued to hydrate.
Miles 21-22: These two miles were tough as well. I was at the point where I had to stop running to give my hammys a chance to recover a bit before continuing. My quads were starting to feel it too.
Mile 23: By mile 23, we entered Hollywood studios and I knew we were close. The water station had candy. I thought it was electrolyte candy, but it turned out to be regular M&Ms. By the time we were running in Hollywood Studios, the park was open and people were cheering us on. I used that energy and started running faster. Unfortunately, as I started to hit my stride again, my left hammy started throbbing which forced me to walk. This was the worst it felt the whole race.
Mile 24-25: I walked for a bit. Then tested the hammy and it felt okay. I continued to do a run/walk combo through miles 24-25. I could taste success and the spectators grew louder and more encouraging. I felt like it was a disappointment to walk at this point. The spectators pushed me to continue moving forward (thank you!). I zoomed into Epcot with a mile left. I wanted to run the last mile, but unfortunately had to continue with my combo, a 1-2 punch.
Mile 26: As I passed mile marker 26, I started to get emotional. All the anticipation. All the training. All the half marathons. All the discussions were coming to a close. I never get emotional, but approaching the finish light got me excited, accomplished, emotional and energetic. I ran through the finish line at 4:43:08 with a 10:48 average pace.
I finished. I was relieved. I was excited. I was victorious.
I’m still in a high from last weekend. And I’m already dreaming about next year’s Disney World marathon and trying to decide what marathon I should train for in 2018.