Okay, so I started running in April 2018.
(When I say running, I mean that as a nice jog when I see the green Photopass stands or the finish line).
Once I got back from the first runDisney event, I signed up for the Dopey Challenge the first day it was open. I was ready for my first marathon.
For those of you who are not familiar with this type of race event, the Dopey Challenge is a four-day race event at Walt Disney World each January. Runners begin with a 5K, 10K, and then a half marathon before the full marathon. There is the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge (complete the half and full marathon) and then the Dopey Challenge (all four races). If you complete all four races, you get six medals, because you automatically complete the Goofy Challenge.
Also, the races begin at 5:30 am. Yup –that is correct. You have to wake up between 2:00-3:00 am to catch a bus and stand in a parking lot to run through the parks before they open. Disney is not stupid – they want the same crowds in the parks, so the runners come through earlier.
Any runDisney race does require a 16:00 minute mile pace. If a runner cannot keep this pace, then they encounter the Balloon Ladies and the bike police. These two groups sweep the races and redirect anyone too slow to complete the race to the waiting buses. The Balloon Ladies leave after the last corral is released for each race. The bike police are also dispatched to patrol the last runners in case they are ill or hurt. They also yell out how far (or close) the Balloon Ladies are behind the last group of runners.
No one wants to see either group.
When I read the minimum requirements, I believed this to be a totally doable option. I could walk a 16-minute mile…easily.
I will skip the details about training and get to the good part of the story. I did train, and I thought I was ready.
I was so wrong.
So. Very. Wrong.
Okay, fast forward to January 2019. I had chosen my race outfits, had four pairs of running shoes, and had cold weather corral clothing to stay warm. I had gloves, mylar blankets, sunglasses, visors, ibuprofen, and any other thing I could imagine to be successful.
Each day has a race character patron. They match the medal and the shirt. I will not dwell on the first three races but include the character patron and the distance:
Day One: Oswald’s 5K Race
Day Two: Minnie’s 10K Race
Day Three: Donald’s Half Marathon
Day Four: Mickey’s Marathon
Today was the day. I had gone to bed the night before at 7:00 pm, got up at 2:30 am and was in the staging area for the race. What follows is a true account of the next several hours of my life.
Things one should know when running at Walt Disney World:
- Epcot parking lots are the staging area…but, you walk over a mile to the start line and the corrals. When running 26.2 miles, one more mile DOES matter.
- This morning, the corrals were A-H, with mini waves in each one. This was done to cut down on the horde of people starting at one time. It also made for a very long wait.
- A fully charged Garmin will quit on you at mile 26.
- There is so much mental game involved in a marathon. More than you know. More than I know.
Now, the longer courses use the access roads and other spots in the Magic Kingdom resort area, so the races are not all parks and fun sights. Some of the spots are positively icky (I am thinking of you, access ramps!) and it does take more effort to complete those sections.
Sidebar: There are no real hills in Orlando or Dallas. So, when there is an exit ramp, it feels like you are climbing a mountain.
I was ready, my outfit was comfortable, and there was nothing else but to move.
And, I lost my sunglasses. It was 4:00 am and they were not necessary at that moment, but I knew they were going to be a necessity at some point. But, they were nowhere to be found.
That should have been my first clue this was not going to be easy.
Okay, over an hour after the first wave left, I was off! Once the first mile was completed, I realized there were 25 more miles. No sooner than that idea passed through my head than I knew I might not complete this trial.
I started getting tired. Really tired. It was as if I could not keep my eyes open. I honestly thought of sitting down at that moment. Two miles into the race and I was going to give up.
But, I kept moving, albeit slowly. We made our way into Magic Kingdom, and I was barely ahead of the Balloon Ladies. How did this happen? What was I thinking, entering a marathon? Did I have time to pee?
I stopped in a bathroom, cried for a moment, and then kept going because the bike patrol was hot on my heels. I figured I would quit once I got outside the park.
While debating the location of my unceremonious exit, I texted a friend and she told me she was right outside the park at the Polynesian Resort. So, I thought I would say hello and then quit.
I texted my husband, who was a single parent to our Doberman while I was running. The text conversation went something like this:
Me: I cannot do this.
Husband: Are you hurt?
Me: No. I am totally overwhelmed mentally.
Husband: Oh. Then you are fine.
Me: No, really. I am struggling here. I cried in a bathroom at MK.
Husband: You can do this.
Me: I don’t know.
Husband: I do. You can do this.
Me: Thank you.
Then, the conversation went silent for a bit. While I was considering my mental abilities at this moment, my phone lit up with a text from the husband. I checked it:
Husband: When you are really struggling or think you are about out, click on this link.
I clicked on the link and busted out laughing.
(Now, there is something you must know about the Husband. He is a good man. He is a funny man. He speaks silliness and sarcasm with me. He is amazing when he teaches. He is an introvert who is polite, but does not necessarily like big groups of people. He is a much better runner than me. He does not like the unfairness of the world. He shows me pictures of cute puppies and things I love from the Internet. And, he really does not like it when he is the topic of conversation, so I am trying to respect his privacy and not post too much about him. Suffice to say these text messages are quiet reminders as to why I married this man).
What did he send, you ask?
The Baby Shark Song.
If you know it, you know it. If you do not know the song, here is a link:
Now, I had heard this song once before this moment, but did not know what was being said because I was not paying attention. I had no idea there were coordinated movements.
I listened, laughed, and kept moving. Then, I kept making up different lyrics to the song:
Gotta pee do do de do do do
Pop balloons do do de do do do
I hate my life do do de do do do
Where’s the mouse do do de do do do
Running sucks do do de do do do
It’s real hot do do de do do do
I am insane do do de do do do
I think you get the idea. I tried to break it up as much as I could.
Anyway, I kept moving, got a massive hug from my friend, and tried to stay ahead of those damn Balloon Ladies. As the bike riders called out the times from the mile markers, my anxiety built. What if they caught me? What if I do not finish? What if…
So, I tried to not look back to keep the anxiety levels down. I entered Animal Kingdom, knowing I was not going to be able to ride Everest (some runners like to get to AK early enough to jump on Everest, ride the coaster, and then get back in the race). So, I kept going. The park was opened at this point (yup, I am that slow) but just tried to not quit. I realized there were people already in the park enjoying their day and wondering why there were these deranged looking runners, and I started to cry again. It was not a massive sob, but more of an embarrassed leaking from the eyes, as I knew my mission far outweighed my abilities. But, no one likes to see someone running and crying, so I stopped (and it was too hot to cry), and kept moving.
Outside of Animal Kingdom, people from the running group had a cheering station, and my friend also drove over from the Polynesian to the Animal Kingdom parking lot. More hugs, some snacks (tiny Diet Cokes, Swedish Fish, and a Kleenex or two) and tons of words of encouragement came my way. At that point, I thought this was not as horrible as a few miles ago, and I cold totally do this!
Then, we were on the access roads.
Now, running at Walt Disney World is a unique experience. It is also a boring experience. Originally, I thought it would be more or a frolic through each park with a small sojourn in between as we ran through the turnstiles. That is absolutely false. As part of any race, the running pattern takes you through the access roads, the onramps and off-ramps, and the backstage areas. Those parts are boring, void of shade, and seemingly never-ending.
By this point, people have already finished the race, but I was still two parks away from the Epcot finish.
And I was wrong.
I forgot about the “Fifth Park”…ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Now, this is a delightful stop if you have to pick up your race bib, or you want to stop and shop at the expo. It is atrocious to run through this complex, because it is very hot and equally boring. The runDisney people actually make you run around the baseball diamond and a soccer field. The last time I ran around a soccer field was in college with a cigarette in my hand. (I was not an athlete, remember?) It was brutal. So brutal. I started to cry again, as I saw those damn balloons in my rear view, but my tears evaporated because it was too hot.
I kept going, because quitting at ESPN was really anticlimactic and boring. I much preferred my dramatic end to be more exciting, like rolling down Hollywood Boulevard or collapsing in front of Spaceship Earth. I couldn’t go out like this.
Back to the highways and byways of Lake Buena Vista! I kept moving, met some nice people on the blacktop, and wondered if I was ever going to be done. At times, I felt like I was walking backwards. But, that was not the case.
I entered Hollywood Studios, found the water pit stop, and gulped as much water and Powerade as I could. Coming up behind Tower of Terror is always cool, and I briefly contemplated just ducking inside and telling the race judges that I was caught in the Twilight Zone (it is also air conditioned). But, the cast members at DHS are so amazing, and they have paper towels and Kleenex for those of us who need it (and I always need a Kleenex).
At the point where runners took off down the main drag, I started singing my versions of Baby Shark and wondering if I would ever need to use the restroom. I did need to pee at Animal Kingdom, but was afraid to stop in case the Balloon Ladies caught up to me. I could not risk it, so I had a conversation with my bladder (“You! Bladder! Nope!”) and kept moving.
On to Boardwalk. I have actually never been to the Boardwalk at Walt Disney World where I have not been in a race, so I made a mental note to myself to remedy this if I survived the damn marathon.
The Boardwalk is a wonderful place where people can eat, drink, and watch the runners pass as they lounge. Thankfully, there is a delightful bakery, and my amazing friend had croissants and Diet Coke waiting for me (she seriously is awesome). I got more hugs, grabbed the fuel, and kept going. I did shed a tear or two after I saw my friend because I realized there was one more park.
One. More. Park.
Epcot. The Final Frontier.
Most of the races begin and end at Epcot. I have been in World Showcase numerous times, and each time it is pretty cool. As I entered Epcot, I started to smile. I realized I had a genuine shot of making this happen. I just needed to not fall over for a couple miles.
As I ran through World Showcase, I had a moment to reflect on the day’s events. I was with the last possible pace group, which meant I had been on the course for almost seven hours. That was longer than I had slept for the race. It was a day’s work in some instances. I never thought it would actually take me this long.
Regardless, I made sure to stop any music I had playing (I cannot remember if I had music or a podcast going), and just take it in. In a little over a mile, I would be done.
So, I stopped for the obligatory jump shot at Spaceship Earth. I chose not to lie down, mostly because I could not get back up again, jumped as much as my poor legs could oblige, and made my way toward the gospel choir and Victor Vincent.
Now, Victor Vincent is the police officer who is one of the last race volunteers seen on the course before the finish line. Our running group has made it an unofficial event to stop and take a selfie with Victor. He is a kind officer, and obliges this madness.
I turned the corner, saw the choir, and then saw Victor. Selfie taken, I started to run towards the finish.
Now, I realize that I was not the first person to ever finish a marathon, and I will not be the last. But, as I ran across that line, I felt as if I had won every race known to man. I know it is corny, but it is true.
After I stopped moving, I went to shut off my timer on my Garmin. Ironically, it had died at mile 26 – just .2 mile before the end. It figures.
After the race, the event coordinators keep the herd moving with the medal area, then water, and then funnel the runners into the medical area and the challenge medal area before reuniting you with your family.
As I hobbled towards the challenge medal area, I felt a bit nervous. What if they said I did not finish a race? What if I missed a spot or something silly? What if my chip was not functioning because I was too sweaty?
Everything was fine, of course.
I walked into the challenge medal queue, showed my bib number, and walked through to the medals. First, I was awarded my Goofy medal (for the half marathon and the marathon). Then, I walked forward to get my Dopey medal. When the nice volunteer put that medal around my neck, I lost it.
I ugly cried for a moment. And I am not sorry.
I gathered my wits about me enough to take the obligatory “I did it!” photos, grabbed my stuff, and meandered toward the buses back to the resort.
Once back at Port Orleans-Riverside, I sat down, looked at the medals, took a photo of the hardware, and cried again.
Now, I am not a person who cries easily (unless the SPCA commercial is on or there is a movie about a sad dog), but this day had taken its emotional toll upon me. I thought I was going to fail. I did not.
After a shower, a long nap, and food, I went quickly to Hollywood Studios. It was the only park still open. I took my medals with me, and grabbed some of the obligatory medal photos. I knew I would come back in February and get better medal photos, but I wanted one at the end of my journey.
Now, as I got on the plane to go home, I said I would never do another challenge like that again.
I am already signed up for the Goofy Challenge in 2020.