As I touched upon briefly in my previous post (spoiler alert: the title of that post gives away the ending of this report), I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon over the weekend, marking my first attempt at a 26.2 mile marathon, and only the second time ever that I’ve tried to run more than 10 miles in a single outing (see our Tower of Terror 10-Miler Review for the first). This post will cover my review of Marathon Weekend, some of my feedback after participating in a second runDisney event, and photos I took along with course. (I apologize in advance for the during-race photos in this post; I shot them with my Sony RX100, and often times, they were shot while running on semi-automatic modes. Many might be blurry, poorly composed, or just plain lousy.)
As with all of my trip reports, this will start with a bloated and wholly unnecessary preface before cutting to the chase and discussing the race. To begin with, I am an expert at doing idiotic things. Most decisions I make are bad ones. It’s sort of my thing. So last spring, eons ago it seems now, when it seemed like a good idea to register for the Walt Disney World Marathon without ever having run a half marathon and not really having run in a while, it probably wasn’t.
My idea at the time was that registering for the Marathon would be motivation for getting out and starting a regular exercise program. Unfortunately, I continued not making the time for exercise in the spring and summer. As fall approached, I thought about getting more serious, but we took a slew of trips, and when I was not traveling, I was playing catch-up at the office, editing photos, and trying to get blog posts done. Then we became busy with other things and suddenly it was the holidays. I enjoy running, but the holidays are a time for merriment, and exercise just doesn’t hold a candle to a good yule log and dark stout.
Just after Christmas, I realized that the Marathon was only about two weeks away. At this point, I knew I had to buckle down and start running on a daily basis, or else risk injury or not finishing. So, I went for a 4-mile run, which ended with blisters on my feet and knee pain. I am no stranger to knee pain when running, and actually used Vibram Five Fingers shoes for a while a couple years ago to correct my running form. Once I had that “fixed”, I moved to Nike minimalist shoes (due to blisters from the Vibrams), which was what I used for that 4-mile run. I figured at this point, since I no longer had a heal-strike problem, I could safely move back to shoes with more support, but I wanted to get fitted at a reputable running store. I delayed on doing this until the day I left for Walt Disney World, which was obviously another mistake, but again, it was tough to find the time. With no run training and some poor dietary choices made in the weeks leading up to the event, I knew I was setting myself up for disaster.
I want to put a caveat on this up front given some comments on social media I’ve received that have found me not training encouraging for their own marathon prospects. I am not recommending a “strategy” of not training. It’s an awful idea. While I had not been running, per se, before the race, I am generally in pretty good shape. On my various travels that made exercise difficult, I regularly walked or hiked 15-20 miles per day, most of the time carrying a 20 lb camera bag. I often eat fast food and drink beer, but I also eat bizarre health foods and have an efficient metabolism. All of this is to say that it’s not like I rolled off the couch, licked the Krispy Kreme glaze off my fingers, and laced up my running shoes.
I had a few days in Orlando before the Walt Disney World Marathon itself, and knew the proper course of action would probably be to eat healthy, take it easy on my feet, and get sleep. Since my expectation at this point was either not finishing or having a terrible race, I decided to disregard these pragmatic things. I didn’t want the trip to be a complete wash with me not finishing the Marathon and also not doing things I enjoyed, so I decided to just treat it like a normal trip. I had cupcakes and fried foods at Walt Disney World, 3 cups of Butter Beer and 2 of pumpkin juice in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, stayed out late taking photos every night. If I were going to fail, I might as well go out in a blaze of glory.
The day before the Marathon, I went to the runDisney Expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports to pick up my registration packet and also see what other useful products that they might have. I’ve got to hand it to runDisney, because for as many participants as there are in the races, this Expo and just about everything about the weekend goes off without a hitch. It amazes me that D23 can barely handle crowds a fraction of this size at some of its events, but runDisney manages huge groups with ease.
Disney being Disney, there are a ton of things for sale at the Expo, from fitness gear to pins to frames for medals to shirts. One thing that sort of bugged me was “I Did It!” (it being running the Marathon) shirts being sold there, prior to the actual Marathon. When I asked the Cast Member whether they would be sold post-race, he said if there were any left, and acted like it was odd that I wouldn’t buy one in advance. I don’t necessarily consider it bad luck to buy one of these shirts in advance…just sort of poor form on par with Disney giving out medals to those who don’t finish, but I know these are sensitive topics with Disney runners…
I had done a little research into proper nutrition, etc., before and during the race, and on the basis of what I read, I picked up a couple of gel packets (I had brought CLIF bars with me) for during the race, as well as BodyGlide. I had heard a lot of things about BodyGlide on our Disney Packing Guide post, but assumed it wasn’t necessary for me. That might be true in terms of normal park touring, but it turned out to be incredibly useful the race. Consider me a convert.
After the Expo, I headed to Epcot for the afternoon and evening before the race. I told myself I was going to leave right at the end of IllumiNations so I could at least get a decent amount of sleep, but I couldn’t resist the temptation of World Showcase photography late at night, so I ended up closing down the park. On the plus side, I was staying at the Swan, so the commute back to the hotel didn’t take too long. Still, it meant only about 4 hours of sleep before the alarm went off on Marathon morning so I could get ready and catch the bus.
One thing I learned from this event is that you don’t need to follow Disney’s time recommendations unless you enjoy standing around before the events. The runDisney Marathon pamphlet indicated that the buses would operate from hotels until 5 am for runners and spectators, but that runners needed to be on a bus by 4 am to make it to the race on time. I boarded a bus around 4:10 am, and arrived at the Epcot starting point by maybe 4:30 am.
The race itself started at 5:30, and my corral (the last one) didn’t go until 6:30 am. I could have rolled up at 6 am and still started the race on time.
Fortunately, I knew some people running the Marathon and there were fireworks and DJs, so the time passed quickly as we waited to begin. As you can see, the fireworks were pretty far away from my initial spot.
Our corral got closer as others were released.
Then, at just after 6:30 am, the fireworks blasted overhead as my corral started.
Much of the race is a blur in hindsight, so if you’re hoping for a detailed account of what happened, you’re probably going to be sorely disappointed. Before the race started, I had calculated what kind of pace I’d need to be in the Magic Kingdom by the sunrise at around 7:15 am. Since the Magic Kingdom was after Mile 5 and I was going to be starting just after 6:30 am, I knew I’d need to run about an 8 minute pace to make it in time for the best color.
This was in the back of my mind, but I figured it would probably be unrealistic to manage that pace, as I wanted to run/walk throughout the Marathon to conserve my energy and not fade later in the event.
I’m not sure when I actually crossed the start line, but I want to say it was around 1:02:00 or so, putting me at around 8 minutes for Mile 1.
My goal was to take a photo of every Mile Marker sign (I did not succeed), so prepare for a lot of these photos.
I think it must have been adrenaline, but after I passed Mile 3, I realized I wasn’t slowing down. At this point, I was in the zone. As I started to see the pre-sunset colors illuminate the sky, the running became a lot easier.
It may not seem like a long way when you’re in the bus or driving, but the Magic Kingdom toll plaza seemed a loooong way from the park on foot.
Here’s an auto-pano taken with the RX100. Not the best quality, but I liked the inclusion of the monorail.
The sky was really starting to look amazing, so for a bit I focused solely on running, not stopping for any photos, save for this one of Bay Lake Tower. It looked much more impressive in person.
Shortly thereafter, I turned onto the backstage Magic Kingdom route, with the park so close. As soon as I turned onto Main Street, I saw this. I’ve had some pretty memorable experiences at Walt Disney World, and this was right there among the best of them. I can see why so many people become addicted to runDisney events. When Walt discussed the castle as a ‘wienie’ to draw guests, I don’t think he meant runners, but it certainly functions that way, too. Talk about the ultimate motivation to complete the Magic Kingdom loop!
I headed around Tomorrowland, eager to make the loop around the Magic Kingdom to get the view of Cinderella Castle that I wanted. This part of the race I could do in my sleep. I’ve raced around the Magic Kingdom chasing sunlight more times than I can count, most of the time carrying much more camera gear.
The course went into Fantasyland and back through Cinderella Castle. This was the view coming out through the front side of the Castle. Again, it was much more impressive in person.
I stopped in front of Cinderella Castle, where it seemed 2,393 other Marathon participants were also stopping for selfies and the like. This wasn’t the photo I really wanted, but I thought the lights on the Castle looked great set against the blue and white of the clouds.
By contrast, no one was standing at the edge of the Liberty Square Bridge, where I got by far my favorite photo of the race. I really wish I had my DSLR to do justice to this scene (maybe I’ll take a lightweight one next time), but the memory of this scene/shot alone made that Marathon worth it for me.
I missed the previous couple Mile Markers, but here’s #6 in Frontierland…just in case you don’t believe that I actually ran this thing!
A train engine was parked outside of Frontierland as a photo op for guests. I was really impressed with the sheer number and quality of photo ops and entertainment for guests along the Marathon course. I didn’t count the number of things, but I’d hazard a guess that there were around 50. From local marching bands to rare characters and more, the variety and quality was really exceptional.
Okay, I spoke too soon. They had the infernal castle parade float out behind some princesses. I began running faster just to get away from this thing.
Mile 7 was just outside the Grand Floridian.
That covers it for Part 1 of this Walt Disney World Marathon trip report. Burning questions like how many Country Bears I met, the quality of the bananas given out by volunteers, and whether I finished will all be answered in Walt Disney World Marathon Report – Part 2, so click that link to keep reading!