The Reluctant Runner Returns

By Michelle Scribner-MacLean
AllEars® Feature Writer

Feature Article

This article appeared in the April 7, 2009 Issue #498 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

MichelleOne of the tools in a writer's toolbox is to slowly draw readers in and build toward an exciting conclusion of a story. It's a handy method to move readers through a piece until -- BAM! They hit the grand finale. For this piece, I'm going to do it a bit differently. I'm going to go straight to the ending. For several months now I've been documenting my journey as I trained for my first Disney Half Marathon this past January. Here's the big finish: I did it! I completed the half marathon, got my medal, and did so safely, without injuring myself.

As you can imagine... I'm thrilled. Let me say that again: I'M THRILLED!

It was quite a trip. As a Disney veteran, I fancy myself an expert in all things Disney, but participating in this race was unlike any of my other experiences at Walt Disney World. Throughout my trip, I ran the gamut of emotions from excitement to apprehension and from supreme confidence to complete and total terror. I wondered, "Could I do this? After all this training, all this hard work... could I actually do this?"

Without further ado and, in hopes of helping others who might be considering taking on the challenge I had taken on, I thought it might be helpful to share experiences as I arrived in Orlando for the culminating activity in nearly a year-long training experience.

Pre-trip Preparations
and Some Bad News


As the race date got closer, I found myself making some practical decisions. I pulled aside clothes for all of the weather possibilities. Was it going to rain? Rain was in the forecast a few days out so I had to bring rain gear. What about the temperature? Running in New Hampshire in January is quite different than running in Orlando, however, January mornings may find temperatures in the 40s and 50s... so I had to be prepared for that. In the end I had a rather large pile of clothes, including a variety of socks, shorts, long running pants, and a running shirt. Better to be safe than sorry.

Then the bad news came. My brother, Mark, who is training for an Iron Man competition, was intending to run the half marathon with me with the intention of running the full marathon the day after. Disney calls this the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge. (To me, a novice runner, I just call it plain "goofy", but who knows about the future?) I got a call from Mark a few days before we were set to leave telling me that he had a problem with his foot and that his doctor had recommended that he sit this one out.

Now, I'm a very confident person. I've traveled all over the world on my own, I've had my share of adventures, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a bit overwhelmed by the idea of tackling this race alone. I'd already accepted the fact that my other coach, Mike Scopa, was going to have to sit this race out back home in New Hampshire because of knee issues, but now this? Mark made me feel a bit better by mentioning that he'd be bringing my 5-year-old niece, Isabella, to help cheer me on, so that made the blow a little easier to take.

The day before I left, I found myself wandering around the local sports store wondering if my sneakers were OK, wondering if I needed different socks, different running clothes. In the end Mark and Mike advised me to stay with what I had... to stay with what I felt comfortable. This was good advice. If I was comfortable running with the gear I had, why introduce a new variable into the mix?

Thursday and Friday:

With the race on Saturday, I thought a Thursday arrival would be a good idea to get me acclimated, give me time to get my race materials, and allow time for me to rest before the big day. I'm really glad that I allowed myself that extra time. I walked around the parks with my family and found that time to be perfect to not only reflect both upon the task I had before me, but also to think about the training that I'd gone through for the past nine months. As is the case with many people reading this, Disney is my "happy place," so it was nice to have the Magic Kingdom as a backdrop as I recalled all the days that I didn't want to get up, all the aches and pains, all the long runs, all the conversations with Mark and Mike, but mostly to think about how far I'd come.

Thursday's forecast also brought some good news: the forecast for Saturday was for the weather to be clear and in the 50s and 60s... perfect running weather (heck, downright balmy for someone from the Northeast!).

Friday was a very exciting day for me -- it was the day that I was going to Disney's Wide World of Sports to pick up my racing credentials at the racing Expo. Although reports were that the transportation from the resorts to the Expo was very good (indeed, I noticed that even at the Dolphin, where we were staying, buses were plentiful), I decided to rent a car for two days to drive over to the Expo and to have reliable transportation to and from the race the next day.

Although the Wide World of Sports parking area was packed, the crowd was managed very well by Disney -- there was plenty of parking and only a five-minute walk to the Expo. Runners were sent to The Milk House to pick up their racing credentials. For me, as for all runners, this consisted of picking up my number and my chip. What a thrill to open up my packet and see my name and number on my bib! I felt like this was really going to happen. After checking my number, I went to one of many stations to check to make sure my chip was in good working order. The chip, which was going to be attached to my sneakers, was going to be my way to stay connected to my family and friends who were going to be able to follow my progress electronically online as I progressed through the race course. Happily, everything was in good working order.

My last stop at The Milk House was to pick up my Runner's Retreat admission packet. Runner's Retreat is a Disney add-on and a way for athletes and their cheering team to pamper themselves a bit. For $95 runners have access to a private, heated tent with pre- and post-race food goodies, stretching area, private baggage check, private bathrooms, an area to meet the characters, and an area for kids. I appreciated the heat... it was a bit cool during the morning, but I also appreciated the comfortable couches and a chance to relax with some friends before and after the race. I'd recommend the experience to anyone who wants a little extra special race experience.

From there we visited the Expo which was in the building across from the Milk House. The Expo has virtually everything that a runner would want: clothes, sneakers, and accessories that I had no idea existed! Mark treated me to a 2009 WDW Half Marathon Sweatshirt and I picked up a shirt that said, "Training for the 2010 Half Marathon" as a little token of gratitude for my other running coach. Next year I will definitely factor the Expo into my plans for expenses... there was so much I wanted to buy!

My running pals advised that the pace should be slow the day before a long race; that means resting and relaxing and not a lot of moving around. I'm here to tell you that, for me, there is no place more difficult to do this than Walt Disney World! It was practically torture knowing that the parks were so close (I could see Epcot from my window in the Dolphin) and NOT going into them. Instead, I spent the time sitting in the sun and enjoying quiet meals with family. Very relaxing.

Another thing that got me through the day was the wave of overwhelming support I started to receive from family and friends. This came in many forms: dozens of phone calls and text messages, and even a wonderful basket of running treats and Disney items sent to my room by some dear friends. This support really made me feel as if I had an invisible cheering squad across the country, even across the globe!

With a 2 a.m. wake up call, I knew that I would need to get up early, so a very early bed time was in order. I laid out my running clothes, attached my bib and chip, and tried to turn my mind off as I snuggled into bed at 8:30 p.m. (Yes, that's heresy when you're at WDW, but I do admit that I got up to watch the Illuminations fireworks from my window.)

Race Day

There was a reason that I was supposed to get up at 2 a.m... but it escaped me as I started to hear ringing during the middle of the night. No, it was not my hotel wake-up call, but instead it was my coach, Mike, calling me to make sure that I was up and ready to go. What a great friend! He was so excited about MY racing that he set his alarm in New Hampshire to make sure that I was ready and in a good frame of mind, and to answer any last minute questions.

"Remember not to zig-zag around other runners... wastes energy," he advised. "Remember not to run too far on the side, the pavement pitches and you might fall down. And Michelle?"

"Yes, Coach?"

"Remember to have fun. You're ready for this and we're all proud of you!"

Those final words of encouragement were much appreciated and I found myself trudging toward my car in the middle of the night on my way to Epcot... a very surreal experience.

I arrived at the Epcot parking lot with plenty of time to park in the front row. I knew I'd appreciate this later when I was leaving, as I'd heard stories of people having to walk long distances after the race.

The scene before me was not quite what I'd expected... it was very quiet. The '80s rock cover band was just getting under way and a few volunteers and runners started to trickle in. I realized that because it was 3 a.m, I had three hours to wait before the start of the race.

This is where Runner's Retreat was really a good choice. I found my way to the tent, checked in, got a banana and something to drink, and slid into a cozy leather chair. Outside entertainment was broadcast on monitors all over the tent and I was pleased to see some friends and we settled into quiet conversation as we all nervously looked at the clock that was counting down to the race every five minutes or so.

Finally, at about 5:15 a.m. it was time to take the walk to our corrals. I was surprised by how far the walk was (seemed to be about 1/4 mile), but I finally found my place and realized that I was freezing. I had an extra shirt on, but I realize now that it would have been a good idea to pack clothes that I could peel off and deposit as I warmed up (someone mentioned that these clothes are picked up by WDW cast members and donated to charity). I spent a fairly chilly 45 minutes chatting with some new friends.

This was my first race, but I could see the Disney touch at race time. Four announcers got the crowd excited and motivated and fireworks marked the beginning of the race for each of the three waves of runners. It was such a thrill to move over the electronic pad at START of the race because I realized that my family and friends, who had opted to follow me online, would be getting word that I was on my way!

There were some surprises, the biggest being the sheer number of people. Although I'd trained all alone for months, I was now in the midst of 12,000 others, each with the goal of making it 13.1 miles to the finish line. It took me a while, but eventually I found my pace and was able to move through the crowds without problems.

About every mile or so, Disney had some sort of entertainment -- DJs were playing fun music, volunteers had silly costumes on, something fun was always happening. After a few miles, crowds of cheerleaders began appearing and every time I saw them I appreciated how early they had to get up... and my pace quickened a bit. It was exciting. However, the biggest thrill for me was running up Main Street, USA, headed toward the castle. I found myself slowing my pace a bit and reminding myself of what Mike had said earlier, "Remember to have fun." Running through the castle, running backstage, seeing characters... now that was fun!

There were a few bumps along the way. I got a cramp at about mile 4, but I worked through it and at mile 10, I got incredibly hungry, but a gel shot offered by a volunteer took care of that problem. Luckily, I felt strong throughout the race.

Finally, as I approached mile 12, I started to get tears in my eyes. Perhaps it was the increasing number of visitors and cast members cheering, perhaps it was the gospel choir that was singing near the finish line, or perhaps it was the knowledge that I was going to finish. However, I think what got to me was the awareness of the amazing support from loved ones throughout my preparation for this journey. I crossed the finish line with tears in my eyes. I got my medal. I had done it.

Now if anyone had told me a year ago that I'd be running for as long as it takes me to fly from New Hampshire to Orlando, I would have thought that they were crazy. No, my time wasn't the best, but training helped my recovery... I was able to walk around the parks that evening until 8 p.m. I'm pleased with my accomplishment, but the best part for me was the renewed realization that I have lots of wonderful people around me to support anything I want to do... even the crazy idea that I can run 13.1 miles.

And I'll let you in on a secret... I'm already signed up for next year!

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Please look for a special announcement about the 2010 Half Marathon in Mike Scopa's next View from Scopa Towers blog:


Michelle Scribner-MacLean is a college professor by day and a Disney fanatic in every other bit of free time. She first visited WDW when she was a teenager and now is a DVC owner who visits Walt Disney World two or three times per year. Michelle lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two boys and loves roller coasters, the fantastic food at Disney, and always cries when she sees IllumiNations. She is also a Disney podcast addict and adores WDW Today.


Other articles by Michelle Scribner-MacLean:

Michelle occasionally contributes to the AllEars.Net Team Blog, too:

Be sure to check out Michelle's blog on Running with Gadgets:


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.