Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

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It had finally arrived; the day I had been waiting for, the marathon I had been training endlessly for and the moment I could finally put these legs to the test – the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend.

It felt like I had just signed up for this race days ago and had just begun my preparations when, in fact, I had made the decision to run this race nearly six months ago, devoting my time and attention to work, family and training and more training. Truth be told, I had planned to blog about my 25-week training plan, but as it usually does, life happens. We suffered the loss of a dog, a family member, changes in jobs and everything else you can throw into the mix. However, the one thing I somehow managed to keep on a continuum was my running. Some days, it was like my therapy, escaping for a solid hour or more with just my music and my feet on the pavement.

And then fast forward to January. It was suddenly here.

Usually, sis and I have everything planned for months and months in advance. Yeah . . . . not sure what was going on with us this year, but we didn’t even book a room until a mere week before race day. In fact, I didn’t even sign hubby and I up to run the 10K until a week before we left! At this rate, I would be equally unprepared for the entire weekend and would be getting swept up by the balloon ladies telling me to pick up the pace or I would be forced to call it quits.

This year, instead of staying at the usual Bonnet Creek Resort, we opted to branch out. We started a search on Airbnb and realized there were a ton of great properties within easy driving distance to Disney. We booked an amazing three-bedroom condo in an area that was about 12 miles from Disney in the quietest neighborhood that was devoid of crazy tourists or loud children. Normally, I could overlook this, but for this kind of race with its incredibly ridiculously early bedtime, it was welcome. The pictures were exactly as it had been described on Airbnb and the place was simply perfect.

On Thursday, we met sis and Jake at our usual Chick-Fil-A stop around lunchtime, this time not blowing past the exit. So far, this was off to a good start. After a quick bite, we caravanned to the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney to get our race packets. This was definitely our first stop before checking into the condo. No packet pick-up by 7:00 p.m., no race the next morning. Since this was dad’s first Disney race, we sure didn’t want that to happen. Fortunately, things were looking up this year. We managed to all make it to ESPN without a hitch, a gas shortage, or getting lost like we did last year.

Since hubby and I waited so long to sign up for the 10k, we were placed in the last corral – literally in a special lane at packet pickup called “Last Corral.” At first, I was going to have the family fall back into the corral with us, but with our finish time and dad’s finish time differing, this worked out for the best.

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So, with packets in hand, we wandered around the expo for an hour or so and finally made our way to the condo. This year, we planned out meals ahead of time and both brought coolers of food to get us through the non-Disney eating days. I would absolutely do this again. This saved us from having to make that Publix stop that always seemed to take way longer than planned. So after dropping our luggage off, instead of heading to the grocery, we enjoyed a nice dinner at Texas Roadhouse.

With our bellies full, and dad’s silly “dehydration” tactic in place, we set off for the condo. We were all tired from traveling, getting up early and the usual chaos that comes with a Disney race, so getting to bed tonight would be a breeze. We set out our clothes and fuel for the next morning and headed to bed.

2:30 a.m. came early. So, so early. However, I bounced up, ready and excited for the race. I did manage to get some decent rest. Maybe after all of these Disney races, I’ve finally been able to train my body to get used to this . . . . if you can ever get used to 2:30 a.m. wake-up calls.

The weather, however, had taken an unexpected turn. It was cold. COLD. At least for this southerner’s bones it was cold. Hubby and I had been watching the weather and brought plenty of options with us. I had even made a stop at Goodwill the day before so we could ditch our top layers if necessary. Because if there was one thing we had learned was that the wind whipped through the open parking lot of Epcot at 4:00 a.m. and the cold was even colder. So Hubby dressed in a hilarious amount of layers, thermal pants and all, while sis donned a tank-top, tights and a tutu. Fortunately for everyone involved, I had purchased emergency mylar blankets for times just like these. So no matter who was dressed for the arctic or not, we would be warmish.

Since I had thrown together a 10k costume at the last minute, I used my favorite pink sparkle skirt and turned myself – literally overnight – into the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. I went to hobby lobby, made myself a tail, matching ears, and was ready to go! This was probably the fastest I have ever created a costume for one of our Disney runs and I definitely would have put in more effort had we not attempted this at the last minute, but it’s okay. I was able to still go as the Cheshire Cat while completely warm.

When we arrived at Epcot, we had smooth sailing getting into the parking lot – albeit we were at the complete opposite end of the lot from where we were supposed to be, but it didn’t really matter. We were going to be walking and running plenty anyway! We stood around as usual, took pictures, froze and froze some more, and then waved goodbye to dad and sis and Jake as we headed off to separate corrals.

Hubby and I decided this was going to be a complete fun run for us. We were going to run, take pictures, enjoy the sights, and savor every second of running a Disney race. And we did.

As all of the other corrals took off, it was finally our turn – the last chance corral. Disney had opted to split up the different corrals into mini sections within each corral. It was a great idea. This prevented the thousands of runners attending to bottleneck at certain spots along the course. Luckily for us, we were at the very front of our mini section. I’ve never been at the very start of a Disney race and the view was awesome!

When the fireworks exploded overhead, we took off. As I said, we took our time on this course, absorbing all of the amazing entertainment along the course. Epcot will always be one of my favorite places to run through. I adore the torches they have lit around the countries and all of the workers standing out there cheering for the fellow runners. And, as usual, it didn’t disappoint this year.

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It wasn’t long after we crossed the finish line that I received a text from sis saying that they had just finished and were in line to get their post-race goodies. I couldn’t believe the impeccable timing. We quickly met up with them – dad sporting his new and super-hard-worked-for medal proudly. We took pictures, dug into our goody boxes, and set off for the car. Sure, we had just rocked this incredible 10K, but we had other things to do – Hollywood Studios!

Once we had all cleaned up, we headed back into Disney for a completely fun-filled day at Hollywood Studios. This was Jake’s first time at this particular park so we did all of the must’s – Rockin’ Rollercoaster, Tower of Terror – twice, the new Toy Story Land and everything else in between. It was truly a magical day with the family.

We decided to close the park down this night, which wasn’t very late at night, thank goodness. By 9:00 p.m., we were all wiped out. In fact, by the time we got back to the condo, I’m not even sure I said goodnight to anyone. I went straight into a shower, climbed into bed, and was out before the lights even went out.

The next morning I got up at another ridiculous hour. On purpose, nonetheless. I knew if I slept in, I would never go to bed at 7:00 p.m., which was my anticipated bed time before the full. So I got up, made a cup of coffee and relaxed until the others began to stir. We didn’t have much on the agenda today. We had breakfast plans and were going to hit Disney Springs afterwards. I knew that I needed to rest my legs as much as possible that day. I was afraid if we did a park, or anything that included a lot of walking, it would show in my performance the next day.

Sis had brilliantly made a reservation at Cape May Café for Minnie’s Beach Bash Breakfast – a character breakfast – at Boardwalk. Fortunately, we had arrived early, were seated without a hitch and had ample time to take pictures with characters. I will give it to sis, she had done her research. She read that this was a hidden gem, that you really get plenty of time with the characters at this breakfast, and she wasn’t wrong. We saw each character at least once, took plenty of pictures, and had the most amazing time ever. And, come on, what a perfect pre-race fuel of more Mickey waffles than I could handle.

Stuffed silly, we left breakfast and decided to wander around the Boardwalk for a little while – perhaps to work off some of this food we had just devoured. We took lots of pictures, drank coffee and enjoyed the incredible weather we had been blessed with this day.

And then sis had another brilliant idea. Let’s rent the surrey bikes. Well, apparently five perfectly grown adults can ride the surrey bikes together. Luckily for me, and much to their dismay, I got stuck in the middle where I didn’t have to pedal at all, since I was resting and everything, of course. So off we took. We had been warned there were a couple of hills on this route and, boy, did we find them. We hilariously made three rounds on this mile or so course, laughing hysterically along the way, and only nearly taking out a few pedestrians.

Once we gladly turned the surrey bikes back in, we set off towards Disney Springs. I had a table along the water calling my name.

And just as I had envisioned, we found a table along the water. I sat with dad and hubby, while sis and Jake did some shopping. We got some popcorn, the guys had a beer, and we even got a little entertainment with a dance group that was performing on stage next to us. We did a little shopping ourselves, but around mid-afternoon, we knew we needed to head to the condo. We also still needed to stop by Publix for my requested chicken, green beans and sweet potato for dinner.

Once back at the condo, we all ate dinner together. This is also where we decided at the last minute that using sis’s Garmin watch, as opposed to my older version, would be best so they could text me along the route. I’m not sure we realized this would be quite the undertaking at the last minute, but sis being the amazing sister she is, went the extra mile to make that happen.

As hubby and I went to bed, which didn’t come as difficult as I was anticipating, dad, sis and Jake took off to run a couple errands. I didn’t sleep as great as I would have liked – the anticipation kept getting me up every hour after around 11:00 p.m. I kept worrying my alarm wouldn’t go off, or I would oversleep, or something crazy would happen to force me to miss my race. But, the alarm did go off. I was probably already fully awake with excitement as the sound went off. I climbed out of bed, left hubby sleeping for a few more minutes, and began race-day preparations.

This day, I opted for minimal makeup. After putting in those long miles, I knew what 26 miles would do to even the best makeup. So I kept it simple today. Since I wasn’t dressing up with quite the flair like usual, getting ready was a breeze. When I wandered out into the kitchen, I found the Garmin watch all set up and ready for me – with the sweetest message on it – Good Luck, Dede! I needed that.

Slowly, the others began to stir. By 2:30 a.m., we were all ready and heading out the door. We had quite a debate going about whether we needed to leave quite so early, but Disney made it clear we needed to be parked in the lot by 3:30 a.m. With this in mind, we managed – sort of by not following clear directions – and landed a parking spot almost near the entrance to the race. Total score! I would need this post-race.

So we probably got to the lot a tad too early, but it wasn’t long before other cars had piled in around us. It had warmed up only slightly, but we stayed in the car enjoying the warmth until about 3:00-ish.

It was odd, usually I’m donning tutus and costumes galore, but this time I easily hopped out of the car and was ready for pre-race activities without a hitch. Today I was wearing a polka-dot Sparkle Athletic skirt and matching shirt – credits to Sweet Pea in a Pod Designs on Etsy – and a sparkle Sweaty Bands headband with a matching Minnie bow. It was comfortable and about as costumy as I was getting for this race.

Since we were so early, we took plenty of pictures and even had a chance to stand in line for a photo-op with Minnie – something we never seem to have enough time for. By now, two of my friends I had been training with gave me a call and we managed to meet up. When I began this adventure, I was planning on racing on my own. Then, by happenstance, I met these two amazing women out running one Saturday morning where we discovered we were all participating in the Disney full. Truth be told, I was really excited to have someone to hang out in the corral with. I wasn’t sure how far or how long we would be running together, but at least for the start we would be going at this together.

As I waved goodbye to my family, I set off towards the corral with my friends.

Everyone kept asking me weeks preceding the event if I felt ready, if I was nervous, if I was excited. To be honest, I felt somewhat neutral. Sure, there was a little bit of uncertainty about how the marathon would feel, but I had been preparing over the past 21 weeks and I felt good. I am a firm believer in the power of positive thinking, and I believe that mental preparation is what really helped me to get ready for this race. So, as we sat there together at the corral, I was ready.

I had been getting texts of encouragement already from sis and hubby. The whole family was already posted out at mile 4 awaiting my arrival and sending me pics of coffee and donuts. Lord, help me, I would have knocked someone over for a cup of coffee. As a side note, sis had spent a good amount of time planning out their route literally chasing me around the parks for the 26.2 miles. We weren’t sure if they were actually going to be able to pull this off and meet me at their designated points, but I was hopeful. I sure needed all of the support I could get!

And then, suddenly, the fireworks went off and it was our turn. I took off, quickly falling into a comfortable pace with my friends. I felt flipping amazing.

Miles 1 – 4 – I was on fire. In fact, my energy was bursting through the seams. Sis and hubby sent me super detailed texts about where to find them. Perhaps this kept my mind busy on this first leg of the race. Suddenly, we were at Mile 4 where my family was waiting for me at the Ticket and Transportation Center. There were so many runners and so many Minnie’s in the sea of runners, I wasn’t sure my blonde hair would even stand out. But then I remember the bandana I had stolen from Jake – the bandana he had forgotten to bring for his Woody costume for the 10k and the bandana I thought would be perfect as a sweat rag. I didn’t know at the time it would also be the perfect flag to wave in the air to catch my family’s attention. As I found them standing there cheering me on, it was like a rush of joy. I was jumping and yelling and full of excitement. I even managed to snag a kiss from hubby.

Miles 4 – 7. Life was good. I felt good. I was amazed, however, at the short lines for the characters. I wish I had known this ahead of time. I would have had plenty of time to jump in line for a quick picture and been able to keep with a good pace. Next time. We ran through Magic Kingdom, the infamous castle, which was absolutely beautiful at this time of the morning, and wound our way towards Animal Kingdom. At mile 7, sis had informed me they were waiting just outside of the Polynesian on the back stretch, just after Shades of Green. I was just as equally excited to see them here. I jumped around, weaving that silly bandana. They were across the street from me this time, since Disney needed to leave one side of the street open for drivers. But that didn’t stop me from blowing a kiss to hubby.

Mile 7 – 14 Around mile 11, I lost my two friends. They decided to start implementing a run/walk pace and we agreed would see each other at the finish. I didn’t mind running alone. In fact, that’s sometimes the beauty of running to me – alone time. So I started my music and just did what I loved to do – run.

As I was running through Animal Kingdom, which is between miles 12 – 14, I noticed a line of people at the Expedition Everest ride. I wasn’t sure if there was a character I was missing or something really cool, but then it dawned on me. They were waiting in line to ride! If this hadn’t been my first full and I wasn’t worried about timing, I definitely would have jumped right in line. Another addition for next go-round.

As I came out of Animal Kingdom, I knew the family was waiting for me just outside of the entrance. This time, however, there seemed to be soooo many people. Between the runners, the spectators and the regular Disney patrons, it was a bit crowded. But, with my lucky bandana, I was able to jump around and catch their attention. They cheered me on, literally the best cheerleader squad I could have ever asked for. I snagged another quick kiss with hubby and kept running, feeling absolutely empowered and still full of energy.

Miles 15 – 24 After I left them at Animal Kingdom, I knew it was going to be a number of miles before I saw them again. We weren’t anticipating meeting up again until Mile 25 somewhere in Epcot. I’ll give it to Disney, there was ample entertainment – even live donkeys outside of AK – and lots to see. There were even spectators hanging out in open parking lots and standing along the side of the course with signs and loud cheers. Some even were handing out fuel! They had clearly done this before.

I decided to FaceTime mom because, well, why not. Since she and other grandma couldn’t be there, I still wanted them to be a part of this. We chatted for a brief few minutes where I was able to share the course with them and their quick iterations of good luck. After we said goodbye, I focused my attention back to the road.

And then mile 17 came. Oh, you silly wall. You stupid, infamous, awful wall. I’ll be honest. I didn’t question why I was doing this, or start rethinking my once clear-decision making skills. Instead, I felt like this would be the longest nine miles I had ever run. We were nearing the ESPN Wide World of Sports when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there was one of my friends! She had managed to catch back up with me. It was a God send. Perhaps with someone else to commiserate with, I could tear this wall down.

As we came into ESPN, the course wound deep into the park. We ran through the entrance, past the intramural fields, and around the baseball field. As we came out of the park, we were led back onto the main roadways where the sun was out in all its force. I tried to remind myself that it was better than being cold, but at that moment, I could have used a pair of sunglasses, some shade, and perhaps a scooter to get me to the finish. Truth be told, I can’t really remember much about the next few miles. I walked some, ran some, trying to keep my head in the right place.

Mile 25 – finish – If I could just make it to Epcot, I knew sis and Jake was there, waiting on me with a beer in hand. I do believe that this was the longest loop around Epcot I had ever run. Usually, I love this part. At this point, it was questionable. But there, just as sis described, they were waiting for me. Jake held out a beer where I stopped long enough to take a great big swallow and keep on running. The finish was ever so close. The patrons in Epcot motivated me to keep on running, whether they even realized it or not. The last few miles were long. In fact, the longest I had ever run. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. And then, we made the last turn towards the back lot. I knew that turn well. The finish was just around the corner. And what was there as we made the turn? My choir. I nearly started crying. As they sang, I cheered for them, knowing I was going to make it.

And then there it was, the finish. I pushed my legs and my lungs, willing them to keep working. Hubby had given me a landmark to fund him and dad by and I was so grateful. In the sea of spectators, without that landmark, I never would have found them. They were there, cheering me on, watching me cross that finish line.

I didn’t cry as I thought I would. Instead, I felt pure joy. I hugged my friend and we parted ways. And slowly, ever so slowly, I limped my way towards the parking lot where hubby and dad were there waiting for me. Hubby greeted me with a beer and told me how proud he was of me. I had actually done it. 26.2 miles. I felt amazing.

I sat down with my goodies and beer, trying to stretch out my legs. Sis and Jake managed to find out in the parking lot where we all began to share stories. And then, the beer started to taste not so great anymore. I handed the beer back to hubby and started to stand up. As we slowly started making our way out of there, everything started to look a little funny – that’s about the only way I can explain it. I was going to see if I could walk it off, but then it felt funny as in I might pass out. So, I said, I feel a little off. Before I knew it, they had me sitting back on the ground, in the shade behind a sign, and had opened a packet of applesauce and told me to eat. That did the trick. Apparently, I needed that influx of sugar.

Once I felt better, we made our way back to the car. There was no time to waste now. We had Epcot eating and drinking around the world waiting for us!

Once back at the condo, I showered quickly, donned a pair of flip flops, super comfty yoga pants, and was ready to head out the door within 30 minutes. We got to Epcot around 2:00 that afternoon. Our first stop, Mexico. I had a margarita and a plate of Mexican food with my name on it. In fact, what started in Mexico went to Japan, Morocco, France and Italy. I ate my body weight in delicious food that day.

As I sat there that evening, I realized I would absolutely do this race again. Perhaps it was a little like childbirth, as they say. You tend to forget the pain and instead remember the joy. And I also decided I’m not sure I would do anything different next time. I had trained right, I discovered what fuel worked best for me and I was mentally prepared. I would, however, take the time to jump into that Expedition Everest ride next go ‘round. Maybe, just maybe, next year.

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