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.