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Walt Disney World
I Did It!
About a year ago, several friends and I made the commitment to enter the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. As die-hard Disney fans, and after reading our friends' 2005 reports, it seemed liked the perfect place for our first half marathon attempt - after all, we'd be going to Disney World!
My "athletic" days were over about 30 years ago, but I figured it wouldn't hurt me to start walking and to follow a training program - maybe I'd lose some weight, and build some endurance. Due to some knee and back problems, I chose to follow a walking plan, and ended up adding some very short periods of running as the race drew closer.
We set out, each at our own pace, but with one goal - to be at the start line on January 7. It seemed like such a long time to wait but by the time October rolled around, we were getting into the training program and the race was just around the corner. Occasionally, there would be e-mails from Disney with marathon weekend information, and finally the race information packets arrived! We constantly compared notes, offered advice, and encouraged each other as we began to crank up the training and preparation for the trip and the race.
Finally, it was time to head to Florida! It was one of the most exciting, yet frightening trips of my life. No matter how much I read about other racers' experiences, no matter how much I walked, I couldn't comprehend what I was about to experience. My husband, Bryant, went with me to provide moral support and capture photographic evidence.
Participants reported to the Wide World of Sports to pick up their race bibs, timing chips, race information booklets and race shirts. There was also an expo featuring athletic apparel and gadgets of all kinds, information about other marathon events, and a large area of WDW half-marathon, marathon, and Goofy Challenge merchandise.
I went on Friday morning to pick up my packet and the line was very short. By the time I got out my ID and my signed my waiver, I was at the head of the line. When I left, the lines were much longer. It was interesting to see what people were buying - lots of socks, gloves, and clothing for the predicted cold weather for the weekend! I spotted a half-marathon tee shirt with "I Did It!" written on it but didn't buy it. Didn't want to jinx myself, as I was indeed worried about not "doing it".
On Friday night, we had dinner at Raglan Road with our friends, Kerry (who also did the half) and his wife, Georgia. I kidded Bryant and Georgia that they would probably be more glad than we were to get this race finished. My online buddies were great support but you can't beat a husband who'll give you a back rub when you've walked 10 miles or a pep talk when you're wondering why signing up for a half marathon EVER seemed like a good idea. Thanks, Bryant, for being my rock.
Race Day at last! Boy, was it COLD! And early -- participants were encouraged to arrive by 4:00 a.m. Buses were running from the resorts beginning at 3:00 a.m. plus there was transportation from the Magic Kingdom resorts via monorail and parking available for those choosing to drive.
Even though my alarm was set and I had a wake-up call scheduled, I was wide awake at 2:35 a.m. It was finally here, and I wasn't sure if I was excited or afraid, or a little of both. Accompanied by our friend, Pam, we arrived at the Epcot parking lot around 4 a.m., but because it was so cold, we spent a long time sitting in the car. Finally, the time came that we needed to head out, so I shed the outer layer of sweat pants and we made our way towards the crowd. It took us a few minutes to figure out where we needed to go (probably because there was such a large crowd), but we finally found the baggage drop off tent so that Pam would have her belongings after the race, then visited Portapotty Row, and headed towards the starting corrals. The walk to the corrals seemed to take a long time - but it felt good to get the muscles warmed up a bit and to keep moving so we wouldn't freeze! Once we were in Corral G, I called Kerry, only to find he was a few feet in front of us. We spent some time talking and I also ran into Shontell (from DVC-By-Resale) and enjoyed talking with her for a few moments.
Finally, time to start! The "official" start time was 6:01 and a few seconds but it would take 19+ minutes for us to reach the start line. I was very antsy during that time, as I knew I'd need all the time I could get to finish. As we reached the start line, Pam took off like a shot (great finishing time!) and Kerry reassured me that as long as I stay in front of all those people behind me, I'd be okay.
Being my first attempt at such a large race, and after the months of training (usually alone), it was somewhat distracting to be in such a thick crowd. During the first mile, I passed a lot of people and a lot of other people passed me. There were clothes flying everywhere as racers discarded sweat shirts, gloves, hats, etc. It was so fascinating to watch that I had to remind myself to focus several times.
The course itself was relatively flat - the largest "hill" was as we went under the waterway bridge heading into the Magic Kingdom. Water and Powerade stops were set up at nine points along the course, offering plenty of opportunities for beverages. There was one fruit stop as we left the Magic Kingdom, then a Clif Shot distribution at mile 10.1 that I don't even recall seeing! I did grab a half banana and made several grabs of water and Powerade. The volunteers did an incredible job and making sure that everyone got what they wanted or needed at each stop.
By the time I reached the Magic Kingdom, I was still worried about my pace. On the other hand, I didn't know if this would ever happen again so I wanted to slow down and absorb the experience. I settled for a fast walk and a huge grin as we headed onto Main Street from back stage. As I headed up the street, I heard a familiar voice call my name and saw Bryant and Georgia! That was the first time the tears started, as I grabbed a quick hug and pat on the back and they snapped some photos. I mumbled something about being swept, they told me to keep on walking.
I picked up the pace a little at that point, constantly reminding myself that I'd accomplished exactly what I set out to do - BE THERE! But finishing would be nice too, so it was time to get serious. As many times as I'd looked at the course map, I didn't realize we'd be walking through the castle back towards Main Street. What a rush to step through the castle into the sunshine! The photographers were lined up as we exited, and yes, I've already bought that one. The grin I had on my face as we exited the Magic Kingdom wouldn't fade for the next mile or so.
Heading towards the Grand Floridian, I could see the sweeper team pacing a little closer and closer so I stepped it up a bit faster, hoping to make it as far as I could. By the time I reached the Mile 10 check point, I began to believe that I might actually make it to the finish line. All the tired muscles and aching joints couldn't diminish the sense of happiness (and relief) as I made the turn back onto Epcot Center Drive.
As I turned into the parking lot to Epcot, just before Mile 12, I spotted Bryant, who had walked over to take some more photos. As he headed for the finish line, we headed around to the right of Epcot and entered the park to the right side of Spaceship Earth. That's when the tears started escaping again. As we wound our way towards the finish line, around the13 mile point, there was a wonderful gospel choir singing and urging us on to the finish. That one last boost of support was incredible.
Crossing the line, I stopped to talk to Bryant for a few seconds, then was congratulated by a volunteer and handed a "blanket" then got my medal. Woo Hoo! A quick stop for a photo (did I look rough by that time!) and I headed out to find someone, anyone that I knew. First I saw Georgia and Kerry, then our friend, Robin, then Bryant found us. The tears really did flow then, as I hugged my husband. He never doubted that I could do it and never stopped encouraging me, even when I was doubting my physical (and emotional) capabilities of the challenge. Next stop? The souvenir trailer - I had to have that "I Did It!" tee shirt! (along with a pin and a Stitch marathon plush)
The only blemish on the experience, for me, was the timing. Since I was still within the time limit at 10 miles, I wasn't swept. However, the timing chips stopped recording after the allowed 3 hours and 30 minutes, plus the 25 minutes it took for everyone to cross the start line. Since I finished at 4:01, I missed getting an "official" time. I wholeheartedly agree with how the officials arrived at the stop time for the chips, and I understand why, but it was still a bit disappointing. Needless to say, I've second guessed the times I slowed down to savor being in the Magic Kingdom or Epcot, or the stops for water or a bathroom break.
There were so many wonderful supporters along the course. Fortunately, I didn't need medical attention, but saw several folks being attended along the way. The marching band and drum line made me smile because they reminded me of my son and his fellow band members who had wished me well on this adventure. There were groups of cheerleaders, cast members, Disney Cruise Line representatives, even a group of pirates! The characters were out in abundance, but I didn't stop for any photo opportunities.
Maybe next year oh yeah, I'll be back!