Walt Disney World Marathon Race Report

This marathon was Part 2 of our Goofy Challenge weekend. Read Part 1 HERE.

On marathon morning, the alarm went off at 2 a.m. (again) and I stepped out of bed. I didn’t feel so bad. Maybe this would work out after all.

Instead of going barefoot, I felt I should try to preserve my feet. I opted for my pair of very minimalist Kigo Drives, which was still a little risky since I hadn’t tested these on long distances. I hoped they could pull me through 26 miles.

During the half, I had done some miles in my Zem 360s, but the seam was starting to bother me and made a small indent on my sole. So I opted to leave those behind today.

We got dressed, packed our bags, and loaded up the car. As soon as we started driving, a deep sleepiness started to hit me. By the time we parked, I had my eyes closed and I soon fell fast sleep. Minutes before the race start.

I’m a fairly strong runner, but there are two things I have a hard time fighting: sleep and hunger. Both make me cranky and I don’t particularly give a shit about running when I’m tired. Next thing I knew, Shacky was waking me up. It was time to go.

I wasn’t ready to be awake. I got out of the car and started to walk—I was actually sore. I felt like I had already run 20 miles, and I didn’t have the slightest clue how I would now run a marathon.

It was chilly, but I had my space blanket to keep me warm. While we waited in the mob of people, Shacky covered me with his space blanket as well so I was pretty toasty and I almost fell asleep again leaning up against him. I was happy in my little cocoon and hoped I could just stay there for the entire marathon.

Go away crowds. I’m sleepy.

I remembered reading a book a few years ago about a prisoner named Richard Wurmbrand who was tortured and brutalized because of his faith. He was put in a tiny cell too small to lie down in, and in his biography he wrote about how he would sleep by putting his forehead against the concrete wall and leaning against it, letting the rest of his body go limp.

I felt like a martyr myself, so I wondered if that would work for me now. Before I could try, Shacky was shaking me awake for a Marathon Maniacs photo.

I managed to bust out a smile for the picture. See? Wide awake.

The long walk to the race corrals wasn’t as fun this time as it had been in the half. We’d made this trek before. The Disney race announcers were saying the same lines and making the same jokes. They were funny yesterday, but this morning they sounded scripted and cheesy.

Donald came on the speaker. Then Mickey. Then Goofy. All with the same stupid lines. Was this a tape? The race announcer made a comment about Corral B that was identical to the comment he made about them yesterday, even though it was a new set of runners. I was grumpy.

By the time we had found our place at the race starting line, my entire body was sore. I thought I should try to stretch it out a bit so I wouldn’t collapse in the first five minutes. I sat down on the side of the road where some other runners were stretching, and covered myself with the space blanket as best I could while I stretched out my legs.

Closing my eyes, I tried to bust out some mental strength. “I will get through this somehow,” I told myself. But I had never in my life felt so shitty at the beginning of a race.

As I was doing some deep breathing and trying to get into my groove, some clumsy runner came through and trampled all over my sore feet. She kept apologizing, but I still wanted to jab her eyes out.

When she left I wanted to either cry or go to sleep. If Shacky wasn’t there, I might have just gotten up and walked home. Instead, the countdown started and I stood up to run.

The first three miles were miserable. I ached and thought about dropping out, but I was motivated by the fact that I had paid a shitload of money to run this race and I’ll be damned if I didn’t somehow get my ass across that finish line. It felt like mile 35 of an ultra. What a disaster.

After 3 miles, my funk suddenly lifted. My body stopped screaming at me, as if it suddenly decided I was hopeless and would not listen. I felt much better and the sun was starting to come up.

I decided to pull out my video camera and do some filming (stay tuned for a video post). I started appreciating my surroundings, looking at some of the other runners, and shaking off my introverted mindset. This was an experience that may never repeat itself. I was in Disney World!

I saw my grandma again.

And Carlos. 

The first few miles of the race repeated the same course as the half, but it seemed to go faster this time. I ran towards the Disneyland castle for the second time and envisioned princesses cheering me on.

I saw Pocahontas, one of my favorite Disney characters, and suddenly I was running with all the colors of the wind. I was going to finish.

My thoughts were soon broken by a loud and piercing shriek:

“BUZZ LIGHTYEAR!!!!!! OMGGGGG!!!!! BUZZ LIGHTYEAR I LOVE YOU!!!!”

There was a tiny Asian dude behind me in compression gear who had just spotted Buzz at a post taking pictures. Instead of lining up for photos, he opted to jump up and down from the sidelines, waving his arms wildly and screaming like a pre-pubescent girl at a Justin Bieber concert.

Buzz waved back.

After the first park, I concentrated on running from one park to the next. This helped me worry less about distance and enjoy the journey.

The parks were amazing, and very distracting with the scenery and spectators. As long as I was going through a park, I forgot I was running.

The Animal Kingdom was my favorite. They had a little pig who snubbed me when I tried to take my picture with him, some beautiful birds, some sheep, and a couple of mules. I wanted to pet them all.

One of the three little pigs.

A few times Shacky and I saw random birds (not part of the race attractions), and I’d stop to take pictures with them too. I probably could have easily run through a petting zoo and been equally thrilled.

At one point I heard someone behind me and ask, “Are you Vanessa?”

“Yes….” (Who are you?)

It was Paul, one of my blog readers who recognized me from my Facebook profile picture. He was from Toronto and before I moved, I had mailed him some of my marathon running books. He was doing the Goofy challenge as well.

We chatted briefly and Shacky took our picture.

My first time meeting Paul.

Edit: Meeting Paul actually happened in the half marathon. I confused it for the full because the whole weekend is just a big blur.

The stretches in-between parks were starting to feel rough. My legs were wincing with every step. I had to focus all my mental strength on relaxing my muscles and running with loose legs. If I allowed them to tighten, I knew I would end up on the side of the road like many others we were passing.

I walked at one point to eat a banana since my stomach was growling, while Shacky ate a Vega bar. At that point, it was just as painful to walk as it was to run. So I wanted to run to get it over with faster.

Around mile 20, I caught a glimpse of Buzz’s #1 fan again, Mr. Asian guy. This time he was very quiet, staring hard into the ground in front of him like he was hoping it would open up and swallow him. Or maybe that’s what I was hoping.

Shacky started encouraging me again. I needed it. The water stations were becoming more frequent, so I knew we must be close to the end. I didn’t want to count miles anymore because they seemed to be getting further apart. And I didn’t want to slow down at aid stations, because I would break my stride and that would just hurt more.

Instead, Shacky offered me some Vega drink from his handheld, and when I emptied it he’d run ahead to an aid station to fill up. Then he’d catch my pace again so I wouldn’t have to speed up or slow down. Sometimes all I could manage to indicate that I wanted to drink was a rude grunt. After drinking I’d immediately hand off the bottle because it felt heavy.

I have no idea how Shacky ran this so smoothly and still took care of my hydration needs while also making detours to take all the pictures. I kept asking him if he was hurting, because it looked like he was just cruising while I was shriveling away into nothingness.

A lot of people walked. I could feel their pain, but it still surprised me to see runners stopping on that final mile. At that point, it was easier to push ahead and finish strong. Besides, walking would just extend the hardship.

We passed a ton of people in the final mile. Not because we were running fast, but because we were one of the few still running.

In the final stretch, I was digging deep. Shacky said, “Just a couple loops around the block with Ginger!” That really helped.

I remembered Ginger in her doggy hotel, and how much we love to run loops around the neighborhood after work or early in the morning. A couple loops never killed anyone… I was going to make it.

Around the final corner and… There was the finish line! Crossing it, I announced “I can’t believe we’re done!” And I really couldn’t. I imagined we’d be running forever.

The race volunteers at the finish were amazing. We got our medals, lined up for pictures, and were out in front of our car within minutes with food in our hands. These were the most organized races I have ever attended. We even had enough time to stop back to the hotel and shower up before heading out to the airport.

The plane ride home was in many ways more painful than the actual marathon. I couldn’t find a comfortable position in my tiny seat. My feet hurt when I stood up and my ass hurt when I sat down.

I sprawled across my seat and annoyed at least one stranger with my shuffling. The only comfortable position I could imagine was on my knees with my face planted on the floor and my butt in the air. I wanted so bad to fly in this position. But the flight attendants would have scolded me.

At one point in the airport, I put my hand on my quad and I could physically feel my legs muscles still pulsing under my fingers in a running motion. Somebody forgot to tell my legs we were finished.

Before boarding the flight, I noticed a bunch of runners were wearing all their medals and doing deep stretches in the middle of the aisles. I was reluctant to do this. I felt it looked like a cry for attention, “Hey look what I can do! Run a marathon!” when probably half the airport ran the same race but were NOT sprawled out on the floor jingling their medals. But maybe those guys were in less pain during their flights.

On the car ride home, I was out like a light. I don’t remember ever being so tired in my life, not even at Across the Years. But the next morning, I was up bright and early and thought I might even be able to run again. I brought my shiny medals in to work and hung them up. Now I only have fond memories.

Cube bling.

Disney races are painfully pricey. The flights to Florida are packed with screaming toddlers, the airlines are overbooked, and the souvenirs are expensive. But these races materialize your dreams into objects you can see and touch. They make your miles magical.

Running Disney is about running with the eyes of a child. Some are lucky enough to do that regularly, but many of us need reminders. Disney delivers wonder at every turn, sometimes a princess and sometimes a hero. These races remind you that it’s OK to stop and make a memory.

And if you do it right, you can go home and realize that the wonder is still there. A bug in your backyard. Wildlife on your trails. An unexpected sunset. There’s still magic at every turn. All you needed was to run with the eyes of a child.

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11 responses

  1. Wow. Wow. I really loved reading your honest assessment of this race. Thank you for sharing with us. I am training to run my first half since switching to Vibrams. I ran 18k this weekend in minus 20C with aqua shoes and wool socks. Vibrams don’t work in snow drifts and extreme cold. I am inspired to keep working toward my goal when I read stories like yours. Thank you.

  2. loved reading both half and full posts… the disney half was my first ever race back in 2008…now i am training for my first 50 miler this coming may….can’t wait.

    by the way…absolutely love your sleeves from the marathon…do you dare share the brand?

  3. Awesome race report Vanessa! I wanted to do the Goofy challenge, but backed out after seeing how $teep it was!! Instead we came to Disney this week (the weekend after the races).

    The whole time I was walking through the different parks I kept thinking about hire awesome it would have to be to have raced through them… I bet all the different finishes of cement on the different areas of the park made for some really cool feed back on the soles!

  4. I love your blog. I am not a runner but I love reading and watching ultra maratoners. I run a DW 5k I plan to run another dw race but I only want to run Dw races. I have no interest in ever running anything else. It was great to hear your take on the races.

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