The 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon

The impossible is achievable if you let go of negativity and believe that you can accomplish anything. Leading up to the marathon I was very unsure that I would be able to finish it. My knee was stopping me from completing almost all of my long runs and I had begun to give up on myself, but even as I did a part of me still believed I could do it. I had trained properly up until the last month, I kept going out for all of my training runs even when I had to end them early, and I wouldn't give up on myself. Well, guess what - I DID IT!

Walt Disney World Marathon 2016

Walt Disney World Marathon 2016

The Walt Disney World Marathon was unlike any other race I had ever run. The friends and family who got up with their runners at 3am to get us started were amazing, the park employees encouraging us on behind the scenes were incredible, and the crowds handing out candy and beer at the end of the run were priceless. It was an overwhelming experience and I can't wait to do it again next year!

Race Prep

Marci and I flew in to Orlando three days before the Sunday marathon on Thursday. It was a blast to fly together and talk the entire flight from LA to Orlando. We decided to pre-reward ourselves with celebratory drinks on the flight.

Pre Marathon Celebratory Mimosas!

Pre Marathon Celebratory Mimosas!

Friday we had a fun day and went to Animal Kingdom. We paced ourselves, did a lot of sitting and minimal walking. We wanted to keep loose, but didn't want to overexert ourselves, which can be tricky coming to the parks!

Relaxing at Animal Kingdom!

Relaxing at Animal Kingdom!

Animal Kingdom's Tree of Life!

Animal Kingdom's Tree of Life!

While wandering through Animal Kingdom we saw a henna artist and decided to get our own designs. I was feeling nervous about how my knee would be during the run, so I decided to get a henna tattoo called 'Healing' in hopes that it would get me through the long miles.

Marci getting the 'Health' henna tattoo.

Marci getting the 'Health' henna tattoo.

Me getting the 'Healing' henna tattoo.

Me getting the 'Healing' henna tattoo.

Henna tattoos and running shoes at Animal Kingdom!

Henna tattoos and running shoes at Animal Kingdom!

Saturday morning we decided to go out for a very easy three mile run to loosen up. Since I was concerned about my knee I already had a new strategy of running slow 12 minute miles and walking at set distances during the marathon. Marci is a fast runner, but she generously gave up any chance of PRing this marathon and slowed down to my pace to run the entire distance with me. I honestly don't know how I could have done it without her!

It was a humid and foggy morning on Saturday, but we got up early to get an easy three miles in!

It was a humid and foggy morning on Saturday, but we got up early to get an easy three miles in!

3 Mile Run Before the Marathon

EXPO & Packet Pickup

The day before the marathon we went to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for the Expo and Packet Pickup. It was a great day walking around to all the vendors and scoping out tons of great running gear, but little did we know how coming back here during the marathon would be the toughest part of our race!

ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex

ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex

Runner Expo

Runner Expo

 
Packet Pick Up!

Packet Pick Up!

Packet Pick Up at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex

After the Expo we headed to the Swan Hotel adjacent to Epcot where we would spend the night before the marathon.

Marci at Disney's Swan Hotel!

Marci at Disney's Swan Hotel!

It was great to stay on property the night before the race and have bus transportation to the start line the next morning. If you're heading down to the marathon or any of the races at the parks I would definitely recommend staying at any of the park hotels - it makes getting to the start easier and less stressful.

 
The hotel welcoming the runners!
 

Unfortunately due the high volume of guests we weren't able to check into our room at 3pm. It was a little frustrating not being able to get in since we just wanted to put our feet up and relax for the evening. We had some pre-race prep to do, but ended up taking a boat to Epcot and walked around for a while before we could finally get into our room around 5:30pm. These things happen so the best we could do was just relax and go with the flow.

Having fun at Epcot waiting for our room to be ready.

Having fun at Epcot waiting for our room to be ready.

Once we finally got into our room we began sorting through our race gear and munched on our dinner of hummus and carrots, a veggie wrap, a kale salad with blueberries, dried cranberries, edamame, and almonds, and a super yummy chickpea salad.

Vegan dinner of marathon champions!

Vegan dinner of marathon champions!

The pre-race prep continued as we packed our gear bags, filled our hydration packs, I taped my knee, and had some fun with these awesome metallic temporary tattoos that we got lots of comments on during the run!

Metallic Temporary Tattoos
Metallic Temporary Tattoos

We tried settling into bed around 7:30pm, but of course couldn't sleep, so we watched some TV and then caught an amazing fireworks show from our room balcony that overlooked Hollywood Studios.

I think I only slept about three hours that night. I had a hard time settling down and while I wasn't too nervous about the run, I just couldn't shut my mind off. Eventually I did, but the early 2:45am wake up alarm seemed to come way too soon.

RACE DAY

We gave ourselves 45 minutes to get up and down to the hotel lobby for the bus that would take us on the five minute drive to Epcot. I felt a little numb that morning, I couldn't believe all the training was about to pay off and it just didn't feel like we'd be running for the next several hours. I knew I had trained long and hard this past year, but it was all a blur. I kept reminding myself to take every moment in because I'd never have my first marathon again.

I've run five races over the past four years and the Disney run was by far the best organized race I've ever done. We got to Epcot bright and early around 3:45am and there were tons of happy and awake volunteers ready to help us get to our gear checks, answer any questions we had, and direct us to the start corrals. A huge stage was set up and a DJ was playing some great music getting us pumped up for the day.

Marci making her way to the corrals.

Marci making her way to the corrals.

The official start!

The official start!

The race started at 5:30am and runners were lined up in corrals A-P. With each corral start there was a fireworks show to get us going. Marci and I were in Corral K and we started running around 6:10am.

Fireworks at each corral start!

Fireworks at each corral start!

The first five miles on our way to the Magic Kingdom were hot and humid. I was drenched in sweat and was expecting a long, hot run, but as the sun came out the weather oddly cooled off and a breeze came through. Running the first five miles was a little tense as I was fearing my knee was going to give out, but around three miles in I remembered what the day was - my first marathon, my first Disney race, the payoff for all the long runs and early mornings, and the reward for all the effort I put in to training for this day. At that moment I made sure no matter how hard the day got to take in every moment and savor the day.

Magic Kingdom

We rounded a corner and suddenly were entering the park. Crowds had lined up as we turned down Main Street and the roar of their cheering made me grin ear to ear. I high fived as many people as I could as we turned to view the castle. It was awesome! This is what running a Disney race is all about!

We made it to the first park!

We made it to the first park!

We ran towards the castle and then turned right towards Tomorrowland, looping past Fantasyland and turning back towards the castle and as we ran through it snowflakes were falling over our heads (thanks for the magic, Disney). Coming out of the castle we headed towards Adventureland and were guided out of the park towards the backstage area. Then we started our trek behind the park towards Animal Kingdom. It would be another five or so miles, but the time flew by.

Animal Kingdom

We entered Animal Kingdom in a back employee entrance and as we did the music of the parks changed to awesome drumming, and park employees were lined up on the side of the road with some of the animals from the park. I ran faster past the snakes (not a reptile fan) and laughed hysterically when we passed a small pony only to hear someone from behind me yell, "It's Little Sebastian!" (Parks & Rec reference.)

Animal Kingdom was awesome - we ran past the Tree of Life around towards Expedition Everest only to see that it was open to runners! The line was a little long so we decided to skip it, but I actually regret that choice and plan on making sure we ride the rollercoaster next year. We headed towards another employee exit out of the park, but made sure we got a picture on the way.

Animal Kingdom

After heading out an employee exit and hitting the half marathon mark, the route took us back towards the outside entrance of the park and past more crowds cheering. The park was just opening so there were lines and lines of people encouraging us on - more time for high fives! Then we ran through the Animal Kingdom parking lot past an awesome high school marching band playing us on. 

The next few miles were starting to get harder and harder, but we pushed on. Soon we were turning down the road to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and began the toughest part of the marathon.

ESPN Wide world of sports complex

The parks had been so exciting and full of crowds, characters, and music, but once we turned into the ESPN Complex the fun of the day briefly stopped. We turned corner after corner running around their baseball fields, tracks, behind bleachers and stands and it just never seemed to end. Marci was starting to lose it and I was feeling sick of everything by mile 18. Just when we thought we were finally done with the complex the route turned us into a baseball stadium and we ran the bases. Marci just wanted to get out of there so she took off ahead of me and I pushed myself to follow her so we could get out of there as quickly as possible.

Just when I was ready to call it quits my sister-in-law, Sarah, texted me asking where we were on the course. Tom, Sarah, her husband, their two kids, and Tom's Dad and Stepmom were at the next park, Hollywood Studios, ready to cheer us on from the sidelines. This gave me a HUGE boost, especially when I saw the picture she had texted me:

Run Aloha Betti & Betty

Sarah had stayed up past midnight the day before the race making this AWESOME sign for us! My heart flipped and I got the extra boost I needed to break through the wall and keep going!

(Side note - Marci and I read an article years ago about two 80 year old women named Betty and Betty who had been runners since their early 20s and still ran together. We vowed to be like Betty and Betty and have nicknamed ourselves Betti and Betty.)

Hollywood Studios

By time we made it to Hollywood Studios the parks had fully opened and the crowds cheering us on had greatly multiplied. It was such a blast. By mile 22 we rounded a corner down the main drag of Hollywood Studios and saw my family cheering us on - it was amazing.

After a quick photo shoot we left our empty (and disgustingly sweaty) hydration packs with them and set off for the last couple of miles.

Epcot

Around 24 miles I finally understood the feeling of having to dig deep into my mental and physical state and to pull every ounce I had left into finishing the marathon. My back was hurting, my ankles were burning, my feet were throbbing, but we were so close to finishing. My mind wanted to stop, but I managed to pull something out from deep inside of me to keep going. 

We ran into Epcot and through the countries past more crowds cheering loudly, torches lit on fire, and more awesome drumming music to get us to the finish. We were so spent, but knew we could finish, so we just kept running.

Then suddenly, we were crossing the finish line and were done. All the hard work, all the planning, all the tears, all the hours upon hours of running were done. I got a little choked up, and I think Marci did too, but we did our best to just keep smiling because if we did let some tears out I'm sure we would have become uncontrollable sobbing messes and I really didn't want to start crying in front of hundreds of strangers!

Finishers!

I'm still amazed I managed to finish the marathon when my knee flared up on every single one of my long runs in December. Generally, I'm not the most positive person. I've been trying more and more to see the positive in difficult moments, but it doesn't come easy for me. Training for this marathon helped me to practice seeking out the positivity in every situation, good or bad. After every single failed long run attempt I wouldn't give up because I KNEW I could run this marathon. I KNEW I would be able to finish if my knee would just cooperate. I KNEW I could do the miles and the time. I think this new constant belief in myself helped me cross the finish line in the end. Since I've finished the marathon I'm realizing that believing in myself is coming naturally. Maybe I've finally taught myself to believe in my capabilities, or maybe I just made myself finish what I started, and maybe it was the constant support from Tom and Marci after every failed run that got me to the end, but no matter what, I can now call myself a marathoner and I know that I can accomplish the impossible, if I only just believe.

 
Walt Disney World 2016 Marathon