The Disney half marathon is a race I had been looking forward to for a long time. Even before I could run 3 miles I wanted to run Disney, even though at that time 13 miles was an impossible distance. It was supposed to be the race of a lifetime, and it was that, but not without a few headaches.
First off I want to thank my parents for setting this up. They booked the hotel room with their vacation club and paid for my race registration so I could run it this year instead of waiting for 2014 or 2015. Then they invited my brother and sister and their significant others for a mini family vacation. Thanks guys!
Race morning alarm clock went off at 2:30 AM on Saturday morning. The race started at 5:30 (To be finished before the parks opened of course) and the buses from the resort to the start line area only ran from 3-4AM so we had to be out there about 3:30 to make sure we didn’t miss the bus. We got on the bus and then got dropped off at the starting line area and that’s when the first of the headaches popped up. The family reunion area where the buses dropped us off was a MADHOUSE and no one had any clue what was going on, not even the volunteers with the ASK ME vests on. Throngs of people milling around without any idea where to go or what to do. We sort of deduced on our own that I was supposed to go through the bag check area and somehow make my way to the start line. So I left Mom and Dad at the family reunion area so they could make their way to the Magic Kingdom and I headed out.
Immediately past the bag checks was a huge line of PortaJons, which was nice, but the lines were so long it clogged up the whole area and blocked those of us who didn’t need to use the bathroom from getting to where we needed to go. The “20 minute walk to the start line” was more like 30 minutes because of all the congestion. I finally made my way to the starting area and found the corrals which were out in the middle of nowhere in a backlot area on Overpass road. It was about 4:30 so I sat down on the ground, knowing I had an hour-plus to kill. The first corral would go out at 5:30 but I was in the 5th corral.
The first corral starts and there’s huge fireworks (set off from the overpass behind us, whether that was meant as a surprise or was just a convenient place to shoot them from) and we were off! They continued to send the corrals off at 7 minute intervals and we set off from Corral E at 6:03AM. We headed out in the dark road, and while there was a little bit of road side spectator space there wasn’t a whole lot and it wasn’t terribly easy to get to, so note for future races, send the runner to the start alone, there’s no need for spectators to come to the start area.
In true Disney fashion we encountered entertainment fairly early on the course, there was a local high school marching band playing before we hit mile 1 and since it was hotter than normal for that time of year, they also had the first water stop very early around 0.8 miles instead of the traditional 1.5-2 miles for the first stop, so well planned (or last minute change) by Disney. It was also at this point between miles 1 and 2 that we started seeing the wheelchair racers coming back to the finish. They started first, so they had a 35 minute head start on us, but that was still AMAZING they they were zooming past 10 miles on the other side of the road and heading for the finish!
A little after mile 2 we came across a giant pirate ship in the median with Capt Jack and Capt Barbossa! Pirates of the Caribbean is my absolute favorite ride at the Magic Kingdom so I HAD to stop. And the guy they have doing Capt Jack looked so much like Johnny Depp it was uncanny. Capt Jack was not originally in the ride, but I love the movies as well, so that was a must stop.
After the Pirate excursion we headed down World drive to the “Entrance” to the Magic Kingdom. We ran through the gates and the Cast Members there told us “Welcome to Magic Kingdom” but that was a bit of a misnomer since we still had about 3 miles to go before we actually entered on to Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom. We ran along the parking lot roads and around the edge of the Walt Disney World Speedway as we weaved our way to the park. As we ran in front of the Contemporary resort we got to one of the many choke points on the course. The road had one lane for runners and one lane for car/bus traffic and it was really really cramped in this section, we also had a pretty major down hill as we went under a waterway “overpass” and then a pretty good climb on the other side. This route was not exactly flat. We had a turn around point right at mile 4 in front of Space Mountain (on the outside of the park) and then we looped down into an employee entrance to the park on our way to Main Street USA.
I entered Main Street USA and immediately in front of me I saw my brother Brian and his fiance Melanie who shouted and waved and then point to my left to where my Mom, Dad and sister were standing a few yards away. I jumped off the course (nearly tripping on the sidewalk curb) to say hello and have a few quick words. The girl standing next to them was reaching her arm out and straining across the rope, so I made sure to give her a high five as I ran off and then further down the course to high five Brian and Melanie as I made my way back down the course. We then looped around through Tomorrowland to make our way around to the back of the Castle and then in through the back and out the front. Some people in front of us apparently decided to stop and pose at the entrance of the tunnel (despite the photographer sitting there yelling “KEEP MOVING”) as we came to a screeching halt inside the tunnel for just a second before we lurched forward again. At the bottom of the looping ramp there was a photo op there with Castle in the background with very short lines since they smartly had 5 photographers stationed there. I was still feeling good at this point so I stopped for a photo.
I was still feeling pretty good at this point but things were about to start going South in a hurry. We ducked down through Frontierland past the Country Bear Jamboree and Splash Mountain before we ducked back into the backlot behind Magic Kingdom and back out onto one of the resort roads. We cruised along again elbow to elbow as we were funneled into one lane to allow for some car traffic as it was getting close to time for the parks to start opening. I had felt a few twinges in my knee as it would start to get sore, but the picture stops, bathroom stop, traffic jams that forced walking etc would give it a chance to rest and then I would feel OK again. Between mile 7 and 8 it started hurting pretty bad and I tried my best to soldier on (like the fireman near me in full turnout gear) but then between mile 8 and 9 I had to stop and walk to give it a rest. When I tried to start running again I would make it about 3 steps before a sharp stabbing pain in my knee stopped me in my tracks. I was done running this race, I would have to walk to the end if I was going to make it.
At this point I just wanted to be done. The characters and ambiance didn’t mean anything anymore. I knew full well I had a 4 mile walk to the finish line. We continued down World Drive (back past the Pirate ship), until we got to the overpass to take us back to Epcot, and I had heard about this cloverleaf loop as being the “major hill” on the course, and I would have walked it if I needed too if I was still in running shape, but of course at this point I had no choice. We bypassed the main Epcot gate and headed back out towards where the starting corrals had been before we did a quick U-turn and headed back towards the Globe. The announcers were calling out where people were from as they turned the corner and as I got there, no one else was around and they hadn’t called a state in a few seconds so I threw out North Carolina, to which the announcer added “a Tarheel” which of course I did not tell him to say, but funny enough a few minutes later someone behind me must have heard that because then he called out “NC STATE”. I hate that he had to jack me up that way, but I’m glad NC State ended up getting a shout-out.
For a while it was OK for me to walk and only painful for me to run, but at this point about mile 12 it was painful even for me to walk and I’m sure I was limping as I made my way into the park under the Spaceship Earth globe and into Future World.
I can’t tell if I’m just breathing heavy or if I’m actually groaning in this picture (which I was doing quite often) but whatever it is, it’s not exactly pretty. I don’t believe I’ll be buying a copy of this picture.
This picture on the other hand, I did actually see the photographer and smile and pose so this one is not so bad. Other than being obviously walking at this point it’s OK.
We turned around at the lake and headed back to the other side of the globe and then out to the parking lot and what do I spy? THE FINISH LINE. Oh my goodness… I made it. I’m a little shocked and stunned at this point but I actually made it. I made a beeline for the medical tent after I got my medal and got some ice for my knee but the girl wrapped it so tight it hurt worse with it on there, so I had to take it off and just hold it in my hand. I managed a weak smile for the finishers photo.
Don’t ask me how, but somehow I had done it. I had finished. I survived the Walt Disney World half marathon.
If I’ve got one major beef with the WDW half it’s the finish line area. It was a DISASTER. They had water and Powerade as you were getting shuttled down the finishers chute (which I couldn’t grab as I was trying to hold the bag of ice on my knee) and when you got out into the family reunion area they had NOTHING. They had soda, beer and champagne you could BUY but no water. In 85 degree heat. NO WATER. I took advantage of every stop on the course to get water and had walked the last four miles, so I was fine but I can imagine this caused some problems to some people. The food was also non-existent. They handed out a prepacked box with some trail mix, whole grain crackers, cheese spread (really?) a tiny block of chocolate and a half size Clif bar. I ate the trail mix and the chocolate but the rest looked inedible. I also had a squishy banana that had been sitting out in the sun and was hot and mushy but I ate it anyway. Really Disney? I’m sure you can do better than this. Then the lines for the buses back to the hotels stretched all the way back to the Globe (nearly) and the line attendants holding signs knew which resorts their bus went to (printed on the sign) but had NO clue what line was for the other buses. I stumbled around until I found the line for the Wilderness Lodge bus and then had to wait for a long time as every bus number EXCEPT ours came and went multiple times as we waited for ours to show up.
Finally the bus came and I held the ice on my knee the whole way home until basically my knee was numb, which of course meant when I got off the bus at the hotel all of a sudden I couldn’t walk. I stumbled to the room, at which point my knee started to loosen up a little, took a hot shower (after which I felt just fine) put on my knee brace and was ready to hit the park. Since it was my favorite park, I requested EPCOT and we had lunch reservations at the German Biergarten which was delicious (and no guilt after burning 1900 calories).
After that I stayed at EPCOT with my sister until they set off the fireworks and they kicked us out. A fantastic finish to a not so great race day.