Disney World marathon (Dopey – part 4)

It’s taken me a few days to get to this post as post-marathon celebrations took over and the holiday got in the way of the blog writing. Apologies!

Marathon day started very similarly to the previous four although the nerves and excitement were clearly evident. We were up a bit earlier as we’d decided that, to give ourselves the best possible chance, we all wanted to be in the front of our respective corrals and that it was worth the extra 15 minutes of sleep we’d miss. I will admit to being thankful that it was the last time my alarm would go off at something starting with a 2. While the early starts hadn’t been as hard as I thought they might, it had meant us completely building our days around what time we were going to bed (6pm) and I was looking forward to getting back to a degree of holiday normality.

Regardless, we were up and in the car by 3.15am and, thanks to staying close by and Disney efficiency, were parked, unloaded and at the event village by 4am. We pretty much went straight through to the corral walkout and joined the crowds, stopping for a quick toilet stop on the way (with almost no queues). And so we all found ourselves very close to the front of our corrals. Our little crowd in Corral G set out our cardboard, sat down and got comfortable. The temperature was a relative balmy 6 degrees so our well planned blankets and space blankets were definitely enough to keep us warm and we were thankful for some time off our feet, especially as we still had 2 hours to go until we started.

You would think, after hearing the routine for 4 days in a row, that I would be a bit blasé about it all but the American national anthem (sung so beautifully) actually brought tears to my eyes. They would be the first of many. This was a big day, a really big day. I have dreamed about running at Disney pretty much since I took up running yet never ever thought I’d be able to run a marathon. And, standing there that morning, I still wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to. I just knew that I wanted to try and had done all I could to make it happen.

The fireworks went off for the elites then, wave by wave, the other corrals were let go and it was our turn. Our early start had been worth it – we’d made it into the first wave of our corral (just – the tape was behind us!) which gave us a few extra minutes space. And we were off.

Based on the experience of the previous days, I’d decided to stick to running 1 minute per kilometre with brisk walking for the rest, as long I stayed under the required pace. I was still quite unsure of how my leg would hold out and didn’t want to push it, only to find it couldn’t cope. And I do walk quite fast. So that’s what I did. The kilometres heading towards Magic Kingdom went pretty quickly and, before long, I was headed through the parking ticket booths. At this stage, I was running with Jill-ish – we were doing our own intervals which ended up being at pretty much the same pace so kept catching up with each other. So good to see a friendly face on the course, especially as I was finding those first kilometres challenging, knowing how long the road ahead was.

However, I was looking forward to running through Magic Kingdom (again) and that kept me going. I messaged my husband (very hard with frozen fingers) as I was coming into the transportation center to let him know I was nearly there as he was waiting there to see us. Running down Main Street USA was just as good the second time and I teared up…again! These are the moments that make this run just so special. When I came through the castle, I was searching for my husband and saw him at the bottom so took the time to stop to say hi and give him a kiss. It was exactly the boost I needed and put an extra spring in my step for the rest of the park.

Then we were back out on to the roads and on our way to Animal Kingdom. The roads felt loooong. There was an out and back section where I got my hopes up that I might see my friends and I stuck to the inside lane to give me the best opportunity to scan the crowds as I ran but had no luck. This, combined with the blisters that started somewhere around this time, brought my mood down and it just became about getting it done.

It seemed to take a very, very long time to reach Animal Kingdom and, while I was glad to have a break from the open roads, I wasn’t feeling the Disney magic and just kept pushing through. There were animals on the side of the road as we entered, including a llama and a goat and the distraction of different scenery including the Everest ride – my mood perked up a little and I reminded myself that this was supposed to be an experience to be enjoyed and not endured. The good old “you don’t have to do this, you get to do this” mantra entered my head and brought a smile – as much as my feet were hurting, I was lucky and didn’t want to be anywhere else.

Out of Animal Kingdom and back onto the roads, this time towards ESPN. Having read lots of blogs on the topic, it seemed to be an area people either loved or hated so I was trying to keep an open mind to see how I would feel. I know, heading towards it, frustration was the word that sprung to mind – as you run towards ESPN, you pass runners coming out and the 35km flag which stings when you’re still somewhere in the late 20s. Despite my now very painful blistered foot, I did actually enjoy ESPN. Running on some different surfaces with something different to see was a great change and I didn’t mind that it was going around in circles.

My mood dropped again when I realised, coming out of ESPN, that no one else was going in – I was closer to the back than I had thought. Again, it became a ‘getting it done’ exercise. The kilometres from ESPN to Hollywood Studios were my hardest – physically and mentally. I felt like the blister on my foot extended under all of my toes on the ball of my foot (a reality check after the event confirmed this) so it was pain with every step. And, mentally, I was now worried about having got this far and being caught by the balloon ladies and the sweepers. I powered on. The fact I still had crowds around me was a positive and I tried to draw on their energy as many of them clearly were still enjoying it although a few looked in the same pain I felt.

Eventually, Hollywood Studios appeared and my mood started to lift. The park was full of people who lined the route and cheered – couldn’t help but smile and teared up (again!) at their encouragement. Coming out of Hollywood Studios, I knew it wasn’t far to the last sweep point and, through the car park, it appeared – the last of the parade buses, waiting to take those who couldn’t keep up with the pace. The driver smiled at us and said ‘This is your last chance to get on the bus. No? Then you better keep going for the finish line – YOU GOT THIS!’ and, at that, my face broke and I cried the ugly tears that had been waiting just under the veneer. I was still fighting back the sobs as I powered along the boardwalk and another runner said to me ‘It’s ok – we all feel the same way’ which just made me cry more. For the first time, I actually believed I was going to finish this.

I pulled myself together, stood up taller and resolved to enjoy every moment remaining. We entered the now very familiar Epcot and this time it was full of people, all cheering and smiling and watching us. Nearly finished marathoners were also popping off the course in droves to buy turkey legs and celebratory drinks to carry them to the finish line. I felt my injured calf pull and was reminded that, until I crossed the finish line, this wasn’t done so I slowed it down to do all I could to get there.

I paused one last time at Spaceship Earth for a picture and took a moment just to stand and breath and take it in – I was here, at Disney, running a marathon. Seriously. So lucky to get to actually live a dream I’d had for so long. And then it was time to get it finished.

Rounding the corner, the finish line was there, as was my husband, and I crossed my fingers that my leg would hold out and I ran for the finish line. I don’t think any finish line has ever felt so painful and yet so sweet. I collected my marathon medal and then proudly presented myself to the challenge tent to get the next 2 before moving on to rejoin my friends.

I suspect this won’t be the only post I write about marathon running but it’s well and truly long enough and says all it needs to about the day. A magical day, yes, but harder in so many ways than I envisaged. You learn so much about yourself and what you’re capable of when you do hard things and I still aren’t sure how I pushed through some of those kilometres. But I did. I am a marathoner.

Disney half marathon race recap (Dopey – part 3)

So it should have felt like Groundhog Day again this morning but it actually didn’t. I set my alarm a smidge earlier – half marathon distance is not to be taken lightly and felt like it needed more preparation than a 10km. More Body Glide. More tape. More Clif Shots. Just more.

We left about 3.30pm and things were already different as we had to take a slightly different route due to road closures. Somehow, it all worked out and we found where we were going, ending up at the same runner drop off as yesterday. But everything from there was also different. The crowds were much, much larger, with approximately 25,000 people expected to participate. We could see them streaming from the buses into the event village and then joined them in the toilet queues (which we hadn’t had to queue for on the previous days). We then had to ask for directions to the corrals as they too were in a different place and were much further away – about a 1km walk.

Once we hit the corral, we found our spots and sat on our cardboard (a great idea one of our group had the day before). While we didn’t get to do that for long, it really helped to not be on our feet for as long as we were yesterday. All the usual bits happened – a video about the charity being supported, the American national anthem and Disney characters out to rev up the runners. We joined in by giving a rendition of the Australian national anthem for those around us. And then the shuffle to the start line started.

Today was different. The fireworks were better and as good for our wave as they were for the first. Before we knew it, we were off and running – Jill and I sticking together again. I didn’t really know what to expect of the day (as has been the case all the way along!) however we started off as normal, running 2 minutes per kilometre to keep us under pace. We started on the roads outside the park again, heading towards the Magic Kingdom. There were enough sights to keep us amused including a giant Mickey hot air balloon and a school band as well as various characters. And there’s something quite magical in itself about running on roads around Disney in the dark. Like we were the special people.

However our excitement really kicked up a notch as we approached the Magic Kingdom and ran through the entrance gates – I don’t remember what was said but I’m sure there were squeals of delight involved and ‘wow, we’re really here’ comments. Once through the gates, it still takes a fair bit of running to get into the park but the closer we got, the more people there were which was very encouraging. And then we were inside and the pixie dust was definitely in the air. As we ran up Main Street USA and towards the castle, I will happily admit to fighting back the tears. It was one of those moments that are just so overwhelmingly amazing that you can’t take it all in.

After that, we ran through another few areas of the park before exiting back on to the highway and back towards Epcot. We then came across another fantastic distraction – the pacer group. These wonderful runners, affiliated with Jeff Galloway’s running method, were the 3:30 group from our corral and were running at 15/30 pace. So we joined them. Neither of us have ever run intervals that short before so we weren’t sure how we would go but we actually really, really enjoyed it. It was just enough running to keep us under pace with enough walking not to strain anything. We stayed with them for quite a while and then ended up in front of them, however still following the run/walk bits when they shouted them. In fact, so efficient were we that we caught up with the 3:15 group (from a later corral) and tried to keep up with them for a while but found it hard to duck and weave through the crowd to keep their pace. So we did our own thing as we worked our way towards the finish.

Back into Epcot, we ran only a short loop this time, still including photo time with Spaceship Earth and then the finish line was there and we were smiling for the cameras again.

I didn’t think it was possible to have as much fun as we did yesterday but we really did. Probably my favourite thing ever was that I truly felt I belonged and was around my people. People surrounded us wherever we were and were running and walking at all sorts of paces, many of them doing intervals. All without judgement or comment. It was great. I didn’t complain at any of the bottlenecks on the course as I was actually so grateful to be somewhere towards the back and still be surrounded by people. All adding to the atmosphere.

So tomorrow. All I can do is get to the start line and do my best from there. Again, I have no idea what that will look like or result in but I shall try.

Disney 5km race recap (Dopey – part 1)

And so it begins. I have never (and will probably never again) had an event with a build up as huge as this one. It was a relief to be on our way to Epcot this morning to get it started.

My alarm went off at 2.50am and we were out the door at 3.30am, having showered, breakfasted and done our best to prepare for the cold. Our drive to Epcot was very easy and parking was fine – we got a spot not too far away from the start and sat in the car until 4am, making the most of the warmth. Once we were out, we tried to keep moving – yes, it really was cold, approx -2 C so a lot colder than we were expecting. We visited the restrooms (I know – so American of me!) and took some photos and then it wasn’t long before we were headed to our respective corrals.

I was in E with 3 of the others so had company which was great – we danced and sang to the music and generally soaked it all in. We watched the first couple of corrals file off towards the start line and then saw the fireworks to signify their send off. Before long, we too were being shepherded towards the start, seeing our own fireworks and were off.

Finally running at Disney World. Well, walking. I had decided early on not to push anything too hard, especially as I haven’t run at all in 5 weeks. However, swept along by the crowd, I ended up walking a very fast first kilometre. The first part of the course takes you onto roads around the park and I used this time to people watch – so many interesting costumes and excited faces. In fact, just so many people around in general.

After that, we were running into Epcot and my friend, Jill, caught me so we ran together, taking in the beautiful sights and uplifting Disney tunes. We spied a few characters on course but weren’t willing to join the lines so smiled and sped on by. We really didn’t need photos with characters – we were happy enough with taking in the scenery and all the glittery prettiness that is Epcot.

In what felt like an incredibly short time, we were zooming back past Spaceship Earth and towards the finish line which we crossed with big smiles. And this is where the logistics of Disney really kicked in – we were perfectly funnelled through to get our finish medals, snack box, banana, Powerade, water and heat blanket before heading to the photo stops for a picture with our medals.

It’s definitely a relief to have the first event done. I’m exhausted and not sure how I’ll get through the rest but am pleased to say that, so far, my leg feels great. I did run across the finish line as a bit of a test and it passed with flying colours. Next up – 10km. See you in the morning!

Dopey training – week 1

I blogged earlier this week that marathon training had started and I’ve decided to post updates of each week’s training. Mostly, I blog for me – a record of this incredible journey that I get to have and to remind me where I’ve been. However if others get something out of it, all the better.

I’m following Jeff Galloway’s training plan which has 2 weekday runs most week (Tues and Thurs) lasting 45 minutes plus varying length long runs on the weekends. As it’s week 1, the long run isn’t very long at all – 5km.

Even though it’s the first week, I’ve already had to vary the plan but I figure that any plan that can’t be varied isn’t the right plan for me and my life. I ran on Wednesday rather than Tuesday (as it fit in better with the chaos that is the last week of school term) then pushed Thursday’s run to Saturday morning (and cut it a little short). And my long run was much longer than Jeff intended – I ended up with 11km. This is mostly because I have Run Melbourne half marathon coming up in a few weeks and need to keep up the long runs to ensure I get the best out of myself for that event – it’s my last chance to get a better qualifying time for Dopey and I’ll be pushing it as it is.

So here’s the weekly statistics…

Wednesday – 5.5km (45 mins)
Saturday – 5.0km (36 mins)
Sunday – 11.2km (1hr 42 mins)

My long run should actually have been longer – I was aiming for 15km but my stomach still wasn’t happy today so I didn’t want to push too hard. I kept the pace very gentle – I’m learning to ensure my long runs are slower and finish with me feeling strong rather than ‘done’. I ran again on my favourite trail – even when I’m feeling less than average, the scenery is guaranteed to make me smile.

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Dopey challenge – here we come!

My alarm went off at 3.45am on Wednesday morning and I actually bounded out of bed. This day had felt like a loooooong time coming; something I’d been thinking about for over a year. I opened up my computer and headed to the Run Disney site……to register for the Dopey challenge (insert freaked out emoticon here!).

To say I felt nervous is a large understatement – my butterflies rivalled those I’ve had at the starting line of major events. It’s a just another event, surely. Why the nerves? There are so many reasons, many of them not particularly rational. We’ve booked in nearly a year ahead so that’s a long time for things to go wrong. I’m not actually running at the moment because I’m injured. The furthest I’ve run is 23km, yet I’ve signed up to nearly 4 times that over 4 days. I haven’t booked the airfares or actually figured out how I will pay for them. But, in the end, these felt like minor details. This event has been on my bucket list since I started running and, if not now, when?

So, it’s done. I was so ridiculously excited that I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day and must have annoyed my workmates with my constant chatter about it. I have a long journey ahead but an exciting one. Bring it on 🙂