On Friday, January 7, 2011, Jennifer and I headed down to Orlando, Florida from Richmond Hill, Georgia. It was about a 4 ½ drive to where we were staying at Disney World. Jennifer had arranged for us to get military pricing at the Disney All Stars Resort and she was thrilled that we were in the ‘Toy Story’ complex. I’ll have to admit it was pretty cute – the stairs were encased in “Buckets of Soldiers” and there were some big Toy Story characters in the courtyard. Plus, there were Toy Story posters on the walls and bedspread. Disney knows how to do things right. Jenn was alternating between being thrilled to be at Disney World and terrified at the idea of her first race (a half marathon no less) the next morning. I was just thrilled to be at Disney World and excited to be at the race (and hoping I had some lungs and legs after being sick most of December).
We caught a bus over to the ESPN/Wide World of Sports park to go to the packet pickup and expo. The race is so large that the packet pickup is in one building and the race expo is in another building. Jenn got in the half marathon line to get her bib. I got shuttled around from line to line until someone told me I need to go upstairs to the Goofy Challenge section. The race weekend is geared around several races. There is a 5K and diaper dash on Friday, half marathon on Saturday, and full marathon on Sunday. If you sign up to do the half marathon + full marathon, it is called the Goofy Challenge.
Once we made it through the lines, we headed over to the expo. Jenn picked up her goody bag with her race shirt and I picked up my goody bag with my three race shirts. There were nice long-sleeved tech shirts for the half and whole marathons (Donald Duck on the half, Mickey Mouse on the full) plus a dark blue ‘Goofy’ shirt for the race and a half challenge. We then wandered the expo and picked up some neat gear. I bought a few rolls of KT tape, a headband, another pair of compression socks. Jenn bought a couple of headbands and a new running bra that was pretty awesome since it does a good job of controlling ‘bounce’.
We laid out all our gear and ate an early dinner and then tried to get some sleep. We knew we had to be up at 3:00 a.m. in order to get on the race buses over to the half marathon start at Epcot Center.
Saturday, January 8th started way too early. I had forgotten to actually turn on my alarms, so it was a good thing Jennifer’s went off. We got dressed and walked next door to catch our bus to the race start. They had plenty of buses available, so we instantly got on one without waiting in the cold. Disney World has this whole race thing down, but it was different from many other marathons that I have done, so I was glad to have Friday as a trial run for Saturday.
Once we got off the bus, we had to walk a ways to get to what we thought was the start of the race. Nope. After a POP stop, we sat on the ground for a while and then realized we had to go through tents to drop our ‘drop bags’ and then walk some more. My tent took forever! This seemed kind of silly to me, because if you had to put your warm clothes in the drop bag that early – what was the point of a drop bag? Luckily we had some throwaway gloves on and sleeves to help keep us warm.
Once we dropped our bags, it was about a 30 minute stroll to the corrals. We were in corral F (H was the final corral) based upon Jenn’s projected speed. Our goal was to aim for 3 hours for the half marathon. Jenn thought she could maintain the speed for this, and it wouldn’t push me too hard so that I would be too tired for the marathon the next day. Lots of runners had dressed in costumes for the race and they had some huge screens available to watch some of the goings on. It was kind of emotional for us both when they showed one woman who had arranged with her husband’s duty station in Afghanistan to run a corresponding half at the same time and have each of them run the same pace.
After the national anthem, the race started. Sort of. There are actually 8 starts to the race. The wheelchair start, then each wave start of the seven waves. It was pretty cool that they had fireworks going off with the first waves and lots of excitement in the air.
Jenn was fairly buzzing with excitement as they moved our corral up to the starting line.
I hit my Garmin start as we crossed the line and we set off on our great adventure together.
Only… to have it end pretty soon. After about a quarter of a mile, the foot injury Jenn had been experiencing started to flare up and she was forced to walk. And then walk with a limp. My heart was breaking. I know what it is like to DNF and I didn’t want this to happen to her. I was praying as hard as I could that a miracle would happen and that after a few miles her foot would loosen up and the pain would end. Nearing the three mile mark, Jennifer forced me to move on. She knew she was going to have to drop and didn’t want to ruin my race. We were both crying as I hugged her and set off. I didn’t think she was going to make it very far and expected she would drop at the next medical tent.
Mile 1: 15:06 Mile 2: 16:03 Mile 3: 15:12
You really don’t need to run with music on this course. They have bands all over the place or else piped in music. People watching was also a great thing to do. So many runners and so many people around cheering you on.
After a couple more miles, we entered the Magic Kingdom and started working our way around the park. This is not a race to try and PR in. Too many runners and walkers. I got a lot of practice shooting gaps and avoiding collisions, but at places the course narrows down so much that you cannot even run because racers are blocking the path. Plus lots of turns within the parks themselves. And people pulling over to get their picture taken with Disney characters or taking pictures of various sites. It was pretty neat to see Cinderella’s castle up ahead and then they looped you around the park and back through the castle before winding your way out of the park and back onto the main roads.
About mile 8 I was so happy to get a text from Jenn. She had made it to the halfway mark before dropping out. She was determined to get through the castle, but also wanted to DNF before getting caught by the sweepers that were pulling people off the course. I was so proud of her for gutsing it out that far because I know how much she was hurting.
Mile 4: 13:33 Mile 5: 13:10 Mile 6: 15:17 (winding around the park) Mile 7: 13:16 Mile 8: 13:09
I was maintaining the pace I wanted – between 12.5-13.5 minute miles –in order to have some legs and lungs for the next day. I could tell that I was still not recovered from being sick, but could also tell that I had enough miles in the bank to be able to push myself through both races.
It was a little scary right before mile 10 when an ambulance went racing down the wrong side of the road and at the mile 10 aid station, we were all pushed into one lane to keep us away from the emergency. The EMT’s were doing chest compressions on a runner – so it looked bad. Still haven’t heard if the runner pulled through. After that, we looped up onto an overpass to head back towards Epcot.
Mile 9: 14:45 (just resting and bathroom break) Mile 10: 12:53 Mile 11: 12:54
The final run through Epcot was fun. They circled us around and through a lot of areas, so speed slowed down. I also kept myself from pushing because I knew I had to go into immediate recovery mode for the marathon. I was trying to encourage some other runners around me that were struggling and help them to the finish line.
Mile 12: 12:44 Mile 13: 13:12
I high-fived Donald Duck and Goofy before crossing the line.
Once I finished, I received my Donald Duck medal (first half medal) and then contacted Jenn. She had just got to the finish line before me, so was waiting after I picked up my drop-bag. She had had her good cries and talked to Jeremy and was better able to handle her disappointment at this time. They had given her a half medal as a souvenir – but I think she was happiest with the warm fluffy blanket they had put on her in the medical tent to stop her from shaking from the cold.
We took the bus back to the hotel and got cleaned up and ate a late breakfast. It felt kind of weird to be over with racing for the day by 9 a.m.
We took another trip over to the Wide World of Sports to get a few more items we wanted and to have Jenn’s foot taped by the KT tape people. That seemed to help her not limp as much. Wish we had tried it the day before – but it was a little too late to think about that.
Napped for a couple of hours – then took another bus over to Disney Downtown where we wandered around and did some shopping and just relaxed and had fun.