I was a runner for years, but I never had plans to do a marathon. I heard all the horror stories of runners vomiting and peeing on themselves (and worse), collapsing at the end, carted off in ambulances from heat exhaustion, and seen the weather change drastically from one extreme to the other for race day. Why would I want to put myself through that torture?
So why did I do it? I’m a good friend. Melanie wanted to want to try it. We convinced another friend Christy, to do it, too. We chose the 15th anniversary of the Walt Disney World Marathon to be our perfect first marathon. We had 6 months to train. Turns out other friends had plans to run it, too.
The night before, we girls loaded up on pasta and meatballs, soaked in the hot tub and went to bed. I was so nervous, I lay awake for more than an hour. Less than 4 hours later, it was time to get up for the biggest running race of my life!
At 4:45 am (yes, A.M.), we pulled into the EPCOT parking lot and finished getting our numbers on and stuffing our belts with energy gels, drinks and pills. We walked straight over to the port-a-potty lines and waited. Then we walked closer to the start, and got in the port-a-potty lines again. It’s amazing how much you need to go when you’re nervous and excited all at the same time!
The emcees were talking up a storm, 13,000 racers were lined up ready to go, and the atmosphere was electrified. The countdown for the start was excenuated by fire blasters on top of the START rigging. 10…9….8…7… I could feel the adrenaline building inside me….6…5…. “Let’s get a picture together!”…4…3…2…1…Horns blew, fireworks went off, and the pack started moving forward. Ten minutes later, I crossed the START line!
The pack started with a light jog. People were chatting, telling jokes, and reading the back of people’s shirts. Friendly banter between runners kept the mood light and cheery. Comments like The back of the pack is where it’s at stayed with me through the whole race. We read a T-shirt with the saying Run like a Kenyan on the back. Melanie asked me “What’s a Kenyan?” I explained to my geographically challenged friend that it’s a person from Kenya and tried not to notice a few sideways glances in our direction.
At mile 6, the crowd started thinning out so I could pick up some speed. At the water stops I was getting one cup of water and one cup of PowerAde to keep myself hydrated since I wasn’t carrying water with me. I made a mistake here of drinking the water and dousing my head with PowerAde. Sweat and PowerAde taste nasty together.
Mile 7 had us bottle necked through the tram ways of the Magic Kingdom parking lot, passed the Contemporary Resort and into the Magic Kingdom. Team In Training for the Leukemia Society dressed in purple shirts were numerous on the course, and I happened to get stuck behind a group of purple people going uphill. They decided to slow down and were blocking me. Frusterated, I yelled “Come on!”. One guy turned to look at me, so I regrouped quickly and shouted ” Come ON, you can DO it!” and coached them up the hill at a more decent pace. The guy thanked me, and I returned a compliment before I shot ahead.
Mile 8 we were running through the Magic Kingdom. We went up Main Street where there were spectators waving signs and cheering us on. Disney had printed our names on our numbers. It was so cool to hear people shouting my name and encouraging me. I couldn’t let my fans down. I smiled and ran faster for them! We wound through Tommorrowland, past the teacups into Fantasyland, then a sharp left in front of the carousel to go through the castle. Winnie the Pooh was out for pictures and Cinderella and the Prince were up above the castle tunnel. When we came out of the castle, photographers were everywhere to take our pictures. I moved over to the side to make sure I got mine.
Between Frontierland and Adventureland I took a real bathroom break. There was no line inside the civilized flushable bathrooms. I even took an extra minute to wash the sticky PowerAde off my face and arms. Three minutes later, I was refreshed and energized! By this time I had run 9 miles, and was 10 minutes off my designated time. I knew it would be hard to make up that time from such a relaxed beginning, so I decided to enjoy my first marathon, the Disney way.
Up until now, any character that was on the sidelines had a line of runners waiting for a picture with them, but now the crowd was thinning. At mile 10, I saw Baloo and King Louie from the Jungle Book and ran over with my cell phone. I handed it to the cast member protecting the characters and slid in between the two fuzzy animals for a great picture.
Mile 13, my thighs were burning. I hadn’t been doing my intervals because the excitement was so overwhelming. I started walking for 3 minutes, running for 6-7, but it was getting difficult. An ambulance went by after mile 14. I started to realize this is a battle of willpower. The ambulance brought up negative feelings, and I needed to stay positive to finish this race strong. Disney had positioned speakers along the course to play music from each of the 15 years they had sponsored the marathon. That helped.
Just before I entered the back areas of DAK, I changed my socks. I don’t know if it helped, but the stretches did. Some of the cast members were lined up along the road with real animals like a parrot, owl, and a llama. I crossed mile 16 at 3 hours and 10 minutes. That was my usual 17 mile time, so technically I was only a mile off. Drummers were out and the park was open for guests. I had chased down many birds in Animal Kingdom years ago when I worked there, so I zigzagged like a cheetah through the park. We ran out and in front of the park through the parking area where spectators had signs and T-shirts made up to encourage their family and friends who were running the marathon. Again, I couldn’t let my fans down, so I ran strong until I was alone again.
Mile 17 was a big milestone for me. It was the furthest I had ever run during my training. Now with every step I took, I was breaking my own record. And I took a picture with Minnie.
Mile 18 I walked again to text my friends where I was at. Some texted back encouraging messages which I read on my walking breaks over the next few miles. Things like Woohoo! I’m so proud of you! You’re my hero! And one of my favorites, you’re crazy! My parents were monitoring my time over the internet. I had to get a picture with Captain Hook, and then more official photographers were on a crane above the course to get some aerials shots. I ran towards them like a lunatic, but I didn’t see that picture in my marathon photos on the web.
My knees were hurting on mile 19. I walked a lot on that mile. A band was playing on the corner which was a good motivator for about 2 minutes and then I walked some more. There were signs along the side of the road that the Sharpie Company had created to give the runners something else to ponder besides the hurt and the distance left. One that I remember said Nearly 50% of Americans live within 50 miles of their birthplace. I thought that was interesting being a military brat so I started thinking about my friends and where they were born. The pondering worked for mile 21.
Mile 22 I admit I was exhausted. I had my last energy gel and walked the entire mile behind Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I used to work there too, so it was a trip down memory lane. The guest areas were filling up fast with vacationers, and again I ran strong as long as there were people around. That’s when I noticed my hands had swelled up. If I had had white gloves on, my hands would’ve looked like Mickey Mouse’s.
Mile 24 I was doing intervals of 3 minute walks with 3-4 minute runs. The course circled around the EPCOT resorts where someone actually had to remind me to smile. I was smiling the whole time, but the pain was getting unbearable! One person was sprawled out on the grass, medics around him giving him IV and oxygen. I had 2 miles left to go. I knew I could do this.
I didn’t see any mile markers after 24. I knew I was almost done. All I had to do was run around the worlds at EPCOT, through the front of the park and out to the parking lot. My running increased in speed, but not in time. I was still walking in intervals. But this was it. The end was near. Spectators were crammed around the course, shouting names, clapping, blowing noise makers and waving signs and banners. My body found that last bit of adrenaline and pushed through the pain. I lengthened my stride and increased my speed. I imagined all those people were shouting for me, and I was going to finish strong. I took off my headphones as I passed a church choir singing rock and roll praises. I could see the FINISH banner. One more corner. There it was! Masses of people in the stands and photographers everywhere! One last push of energy and I passed two people for a spectacular picture finish! I was ecstatic! I had done it! 26.2 miles! I was elated, but two things were on my mind.
1)How am I going to find my friends, and
2)WHERE IS MY MEDAL?