After running my first marathon in 2012 in Richmond, VA, I wasn’t sure if I would ever run another one again. I had talked about it with Christie on occasion that I would like to try to achieve a time under 4 hours (having gotten a time of 4:01:20), but hadn’t set a solid time frame on for it.
One day Christie at the dentist for a normal checkup with the topic of marathons and races came up with our dentist, Dr. Thomas Gromling. Apparently Dr. Gromling is a huge fan of races and running in general and mentioned the Walt Disney World Marathon to Christie. He stressed how he goes every year and that if it is something you want to do, that you need to sign up early before all the spots fill up.
That evening Christie presented the idea to me of taking another family trip to Disney World (we had last gone as a family in January 2012, ironically right around the time as that year’s Walt Disney World Marathon). She said I could run the marathon and we could spend the next few days enjoying the excitement and “magic” that Disney World has to offer. Having the chance to run another marathon was all I needed to hear, so the next morning I signed up and we got to work planning our trip. This was April of 2016, so I had quite a bit of time leading up to the marathon to train and get ready.
Caitlin also asked if our Christmas house elf Clementine (read her story) could run the race with me. How could I turn down that challenge?
The Trip and Days Before the Race
I anticipated the weather for the race to be anywhere from 50-70 degrees judging by what I read about past races. There was an off chance it could be in the upper 40s, so I decided to pack a pair of pants, long sleeve race shirt, and jacket just in case. We left late Friday afternoon to catch a flight down to Disney World. As those of you who have been to Disney know, they are great about taking care of all the logistics of picking you up at the airport along with delivering your luggage, so the trip down was easy as it could be.
The day before the race we took a trip over to the ESPN Wide World of Sports area to pick up the marathon race packet and bib. Around this time we started to get word that the weather for the marathon may be rather cold. Disney made the decision to cancel the half-marathon that morning due to thunderstorms, which were the beginning of a cold front about to move into Florida. I tried not to be on my feet a lot for the rest of the day, but that is near impossible at Disney World, and we spent a majority of the day at Downtown Disney checking out the various shops.
After dinner I started my normal race day preparations of pinning my bib number, laying out my race clothing, and for this specific race, attaching Clementine to my running backpack. She would have the job of staring at any runner who happened to be behind me during the marathon. The forecast that night was calling for temperatures to be in the low 30s, with wind chills that morning in the 20s. I couldn’t believe it, but was very thankful that I had packed the race pants, jacket, and winter cap. Many of the marathon participants were sending frenzied messages on the Walt Disney World Marathon Facebook page of where they could find warm clothing and garments to wear while waiting for the race to start.
Frigid Temps and Waiting for the Race to Start
The Walt Disney World Marathon begins around 5:45 a.m., so in order to get over to the race in time, I planned to wake up at 3 a.m. and catch the bus over to the waiting area around 3:20 a.m. (Disney was great about providing transportation from their resorts over to the marathon starting area). Stepping outside that morning I knew it was going to be miserable waiting for the race to start. It was very cold (upper 20s perhaps) and the wind was blowing around 10-15 mph.
Upon arriving at the race starting area, myself and 18,000 other runners had to leave the bus parking lot and walk to a race holding area close to the Epcot park. There was a DJ trying to get everyone pumped up and dancing in the cold weather (I recall him being bundled up with a thick winter jacket), while many of the runners huddled together to keep warm from the bone-chilling wind. There were several gas heaters placed around with several hundred runners gathered near each one. I tried to keep moving and walking to keep my mind off of the cold. Each time the wind would gust it would blow right threw my clothing and the audible groans of the other runners told me they were experiencing the same misery.
After what seemed like an hour or so the race organizers marched us into another area where we waited for another 30 minutes or so until they opened the gates and we walked a mile to the marathon starting corrals. This was a huge marathon so there were tons of starting corrals set up according to your planned finish time. I was either in corral D or E with a planned finish time of around 4 hours, so I waited there for what seemed like another 30 to 45 minutes trying to stay loose between hunkering down from the frigid gusts of wind each time they blew through the racers.
Finally after a large video presentation along with some fireworks and Mickey Mouse starting the race, they let the first corral of elite runners go. Working the way down the line every 5 minutes or so, my corral was allowed to walk up to the start line and after a few final minutes we were off!
I began to shiver as I first started running…a combination of the cold weather and nerves. This would subside by the time I reached the first mile marker and by that then was starting to feel a little warmer. The first couple miles of the Disney World Marathon are the least exciting. We ran along a marked off highway in the dark with not much to look at aside from electronic warning signs to be aware of when the road narrowed a few times here and there.
After the second mile is when Disney characters started to make their appearance. At each mile marker a Disney character would be present which runners could stop and get in line to have their photo taken with. Wanting to run the race in under 4 hours I had no interest in stopping, but did tell myself if one of the characters happened to be Darth Vader that I would make an exception (he never showed). Around mile 5 or 6 we ran through the gates of the Magic Kingdom Castle, which to me was one of the highlights of the race.
By the halfway point of the race the sun had come up and I found myself running through the middle of the Animal Kingdom Park. I glanced at my watch around this time and saw I had run the first half in 1:58:00, so if I kept that pace I would beat my goal of under 4 hours. However on the long highway stretch around mile 19 leading into the ESPN Zone sports park I began to hit the dreaded runner’s wall. Eating an energy gel did not help much as I felt my pace began to slow down. I vividly recall running around the inside of the baseball field at the sports park as part of the marathon course thinking to myself a time of under 4 hours was not going to happen. At that point I resolved to just finish the race in good spirits.
One of the last parts of the course took us up a slight incline where an army sergeant character from the movie Toy Story was yelling at the runners to keep moving along with other comical insults. He looked my way and said “Keep moving up that hill parachute boy!” referring to the pack on my back with Clementine. That brought a smile to my face and helped me to pick up the pace for the last few miles.
Nearing the last mile of the course which lead you through the different villages of Epcot Center, I knew Christie and the girls would be at the finish area which served as extra motivation. I planned to meet them in the runner / family reunion area by one of the land marks there. I kept running but took off my back pack with Clementine in it as I wanted to hold it up as I crossed the finish line to get her in the photo. Roughly a few hundred yards before the finish line I heard familiar voices yelling “DADDY! DADDY! GO DADDY!”, and looked up into the large crowd to see Corinne, Caitlin and Christie standing there right at the front near the finish line. I couldn’t believe they were able to get that great of a spot with this large a crowd and it brought a smile to my face. I sprinted across the finish line holding Clementine up high with a time of 4:08:48.
Cramping, Race Aftermath, and Lessons
Right after crossing the finish line, the volunteers wrap you in a plastic race blanket, place a finishers medal around your neck, and hand you a large drink and box of recovery food. I kept walking and made it to the meeting spot where I would wait for my family to show up. While waiting for them I made the mistake of not moving enough and my legs began to cramp up. The cramps were bad enough that I had to sit and lay down.
Christie and the girls showed up shortly after and were concerned, but I told them I would be okay…just needing a few minutes to try and get my legs in walking shape. One of the race volunteers came over to me and asked if I wanted to be put in a wheel chair and taken to a massage. There was no way I was going to let that happen, especially since a post-race leg massage was $20 (it is Disney after all). After 15 minutes I was well enough to stand up and walk to our bus which was waiting to take us back to our hotel room.
So what did I learn from this race?
First of all I do not think I trained well enough. While I was in good shape, I was not fully focused on running and was also doing some fairly significant weight training at the time. I was foolish to think I could beat my previous time of 4:01:20 without fully dedicating myself to marathon training and that alone.
Second, the cold weather and brutal temps did not help my race time. No matter where I go for my next marathon, I will always bring warm winter clothes just in case…perhaps even during the summer months as I never want to feel that cold again (ha!).
Finally I think the Disney marathon is meant to be enjoyed and not for setting a PR. Not to say it cannot be done, but I was so focused on trying to beat my time that I ignored a lot of the fun that is meant to be had on the race such as stopping to get photos with characters and taking in all of the sights.
The next time I do the Disney World Marathon, and there will be a next time (I plan on running the Dopey Challenge in January 2019 consisting of the 5K, 10K, Half-Marathon and Marathon), I plan to take it easy and really enjoy the marathon for the family fun experience that it is.
Photos from Race Day
This race is part of Aaron’s 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge:
Click on a state to see a recap of that marathon.