My Disney Marathon Experience

Six months of training. Over $1,000 spent between the event registration, hotel and Disney park tickets. The scare of an early morning stalker. Sacrifices made from my entire family enabling me to train, travel and attend this event.

All of that built up to this very moment. The time was finally here – The Walt Disney World Marathon on Sunday, January 9, 2011.

I was a nervous wreck the night before the marathon, worried that I would sleep through one of the three alarms that I set. Mickey Mouse called as my iPhone sang and the alarm on the nightstand beeped simultaneously at 2:30 in the morning. Yes, you read that right, 2:30am. Even though the race didn’t start until 5:35am, I had to make sure that I got on the bus by 3:00am, as was dictated in big bold letters in the marathon brochure “You must board the bus by 4:00am or you will not make it to the start line in time.”

I sat on the bright yellow touring bus with about fifty other nervous runners. Many of us sat in silence. Others chatted nervously. The woman next to me munched on her cinnamon raisin bagel and clutched her plastic runner’s bag. The girl across me from texted someone, who was also awake at 3:00am, with frantic speed. It was the first marathon for some of us, including myself. Others were seasoned marathoner’s hoping to PR. We all had one thing in common though: we were nervously awaiting our 26.2 mile run through Disney.

I downed two bottles of water and a protein bar while I waited for the bus to arrive at the Epcot Wonder lot. The race arrival area consisted of a concessions stand, merchandise booth, bag check area and hundreds of porta-pottys. As soon as I walked into the area, the DJ began playing “Ice, Ice Baby” and I knew that I was going to finish this race. I bought a coffee, but decided almost immediately that was a bad idea, so I tossed it in the nearest trash can. They urged us to begin walking towards our corrals because it was a twenty minute walk from the arrival area to the starting line. There were eight corrals, labeled A-H, which would start in four minute intervals beginning at 5:35am. At this point it was only 4:20am, but the DJ was not exaggerating, it was a full twenty minute walk to the starting corral. I was in corral C, so I headed that way and stretched while I waited. It was cold, but I brought along a pair of jogging pants that I planned to throw away before the start and I kept hand-warmers stuffed in my jacket pockets to keep me warm. I downed a GU about 15 minutes before the start and then tossed my jogging pants in the donation bin. The wheelchair race started first and they took off in a flash. I heard the countdown, 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, with a flash of the fireworks and cheer of the crowd the race had begun. Before I knew it our corral was moving towards the start line and then took off across the start line.

The first mile was actually the toughest. My mean evil twin began whispering doubts in my ear, “You can’t do this.” “Why are you here?” “Do you really think you can do 26.2 miles?” But, I brushed her off and put one foot in front of the other. I also had to pee like crazy, even though I went four times before the race even started! The first porta-potty wasn’t until mile four, so I was a little distracted for the first four miles. I sprinted to the first porta-potty that I saw and waited in a five minute line. I hopped back in the race refocused and the first nine miles went by in a flash.

I already saw people over at the medic tents lying down on cots, injured. I wondered if they were done for the race or if the would be able to recover. I said a prayer for them and prayed that I wouldn’t meet that same fate.

Before I knew it, I was at mile ten, which was in the Magic Kingdom. I saw my two best friends, Christie and Stephen, wearing bright pink shirts and cheering me on from the sidelines. I scanned the crowd for my husband and kids, but didn’t see them. Seeing my friends gave me renewed energy and I sprinted towards the castle. I had to stop right before the castle for a picture with Rapunzel, since she is my daughter’s favorite Disney character. I hopped back in the crowd and enjoyed the pivotal moment of the race: running through Cinderella’s Castle. I scanned the crowd again for Shane, Joshua and Emily, but didn’t see them anywhere. They were there staring right at me and cheering me on, but I didn’t realize this until after the race when they told me. I felt a little down because I knew they were there for me, but I was really hoping to see them, so the next two miles were a little tough as I dealt with the disappointment of not seeing them.

I regained my composure quickly when I realized I was at mile 13, halfway through the race! I felt great knowing that I was halfway through and still felt wonderful. My IT band that had given me so much trouble while training was behaving and I felt great! My legs were strong, my lungs were strong and I felt like I could go forever. We ran past the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa Wedding Pavilion and a “wedding singer” was singing the “Humpty Dance.” I was laughing as I ran and enjoyed the scenery of the beautiful deluxe resorts, including Grand Floridian, Polynesian and Shades of Green. We also ran past the golf course and lake. We were headed to Animal Kingdom next, at around miles 15-16, and I was excited to arrive because some of the back roads and highways were pretty boring. We were greeted by llamas at the Animal Kingdom gate and I was excited to see that they had a Christmas tree in Animal Kingdom, as well as all of the Disney parks.

We ran up past Expedition Everest and across the bridge to enjoy the view of the iconic tree. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see any of the animals in Animal Kingdom, other than the few llamas that greeted us at the gate. At this point the park was opened and guests were milling around in the park. Some guests were cheering us on from the sidelines, but others were irritated that the runners were blocking their access to cross the road and hop on the rides.

We exited Animal Kingdom as quickly as we entered and we were back on the long road. This stretch was long and kind of boring. There were not a lot of sites and the road seemed to stretch out in front of us forever. I repeated to myself, “I feel strong.” “I could go forever.” “I feel great.” And I really did feel that way. I was pleasantly surprised that I felt so strong.

I made sure that I employed the run-walk method, even though I didn’t want to walk in the beginning, and I made myself walk for one minute at every mile. I also made myself drink water and PowerAde at every station to stay hydrated. They were giving out Clif Shots at some of the “food stations,” but I brought my own GU because I prefer that brand. I took at GU at hour 1, 2 and 3, but stopped after three hours because my mouth was too dry.

At mile 20 they gave out chocolate and we made a turnaround for the final 6.2 miles. I kept telling myself, “Don’t get too excited.” “You are at mile 20, but you still have an hour to go.” “It’s not over yet.” I felt great though because at mile 20, I was confident that I was going to finish.  At mile 21 I saw a guy rolled up in a blanket on the side of the road with a medic and two frantic runners by his side on their cell phones. I wondered if he was OK and I said a prayer for him. I was worried about him, but I saw the medics were taking care of him, so I kept running. I saw many fit people on the sidelines, unable to finish. I thought about how horrible it would be to come all of this way to be sidelined by an injury.

We entered Disney’s Hollywood Studios and we ran through the Backlot, which is my favorite part of Hollywood Studios. I love watching the cast members make the costumes. We ran past the iconic Mickey Sorcerer’s hat and we saw the Disney Pixar characters such as Sully and Mike from Monsters Inc, Mr. Incredible from Incredibles and Woody from Toy Story. I didn’t stop to take a picture with any of the characters because I was scared that if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to start again.

I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I felt great and I was ecstatic that my knee wasn’t acting up. I was a little disappointed in my time though because I realized that I wasn’t going to break the five hour mark that I was hoping for. I know they say not to set a time goal for your first marathon, but in the back of my mind I was hoping to finish in less than five hours.

We quickly went from Hollywood Studios to Epcot and ran back through the World Showcase. I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings because I was so focused on running as fast as I could for that final two miles. I tried to sprint to the end and went as fast as my tired legs would allow. There were hundreds of spectators lined up watching us make the final trek to the finish. I saw Shane, Joshua, Emily, Christie and Stephen right before the finish and I was ecstatic. I was so happy to see their faces, it gave me the extra energy to sprint across the finish. I crossed the finish at 5:07:47. A volunteer put the Mickey Mouse medal around my neck and like I could achieve anything. A medic tent was to my immediate right and I noticed a lot of runners with ice packs on their knees, shoulders and ankles. Some were lying down, some were sitting. I grabbed a Tylenol and a water bottle and kept moving towards the Epcot reception area to get to the most important part of the race: seeing my family!

We met in the reception area and I was so happy to see them. They lined up to show me their shirts, which spelled out STACY. They even had my ‘90s “popcorn hair” picture on the back and it said “2011 marathoner.” It was hilarious! I walked around the reception area to keep my legs moving and I even posed with Daisy Duck along with Emily and Joshua. I was so proud of myself for meeting my goal. Six months ago I set out to run in the Disney Marathon and it wasn’t an easy road. I had to give up many Saturdays for hours of training. I ran three days a week, giving up my other favorite cardio classes. I had a scary experience, in which a car followed me to my house on my early morning run, forcing me to finish my final long run on a treadmill. I had an IT band injury, bringing shooting pain up my left knee every time I ran. All of that led to this pivotal moment. Was it worth it? Yes. Will I do it again? Absolutely. I’m already looking for my next challenge. Triathlon? Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon? I’m not sure, but I do know that I’m not done challenging myself yet.