Sunday, January 15, 2017

2017 Walt Disney World Marathon Race Recap

by Meghann on January 15, 2017

It’s race day! After 9 hours of glorious sleep I had no problem jumping out of bed at 2:15am race morning and running an amazing race with no problem whatsoever!

Ha! I kid. I kid.

The truth is I developed some serious pre-race insomnia Saturday night. I may have been in bed with the lights out at 7:30, but I’m not sure I ever really fell asleep. Annalynn started screaming for no apparent reason sometime after midnight. Derek or I are usually able to just pop her binky back in her mouth and that will get her back to sleep, but that was not the case here. We tried the binky, rubbing her back, nursing her, and rocking her in a chair, but she was having none of it. Finally, after almost an hour of both of us going back and forth, I finally tried something that I haven’t done since she was 6 months old – I brought her in bed with us and put a boob in her mouth. She eventually drifted back to sleep (FINALLY!) and I think I even managed to get a solid 45 minutes in before my alarm went off. Ugh.

Despite the severe lack of sleep, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting to get out of bed so early. I managed to get up with my second alarm (at 2:17am) and slowly made my way to the bathroom, where I had stashed all of my stuff the night before. Derek and Annalynn were laying side-by-side in almost identical positions on their backs with their mouths open. I was uber jealous of them.

Now, the number one rule when it comes to running is never try anything new on race day. Well, I pretty much royally screwed that one up. For my race day outfit, I had ordered a tank top that was the same size and style of another tank top I own and train in. The forecast initially called for warm weather, and this is Florida after all, so I thought I was safe with the tank top. It arrived, I ironed my name on it, and that was it. I never thought to A) try it on or B) take it for a test run.

As the forecast began to dip lower and lower, I knew I still wanted to wear the tank top (I mean, it already had my name on it. obviously.), so I packed some warmer layers to go under the tank. Again, without trying anything on or taking them for a test run. In fact, it wasn’t until race morning (at 2:20am) that I tried the tank top I had ordered on for the first time. Umm… why is this shirt so big? My other tank like this doesn’t feel so big. Did I order the wrong size? Crap, I look terrible. D’oh!

Well, it is what is. I had packed zero back-ups, and the pullover I had packed to layer under the tank was a little too short to feel comfortable running in. I would rather deal with a tank that was too big/unflattering, than a pullover that was consistently riding up over my stomach. So I said “screw it!” took a photo, and was out the door.

The Hilton Bonnet Creek was just a short walk from our room at the Waldorf Astoria. The Hilton Bonnet Creek hosts a send-off celebration for all runners before the shuttles arrive to take everyone to the starting line. The send-off is part of the Marathon Weekends package and is open to all hotel guests who registered through the Runners’ Concierge in the days leading up to the event.

To say that I was impressed with the send-off would be an understatement. I was immediately greeted by Hilton “cheerleaders” with signs, noisemakers, and plenty of spirit. Loud music was pumping through the room and an emcee was welcoming all of the runners. There was hot coffee, Gatorade, bottled water, and plenty of snacks. It was quite a spread.

Coffee at runDisney send off at Hilton Bonnet Creek Marathon Weekends

Gatorade and water at Hilton Bonnet Creek Marathon Weekends

Snacks at runDisney send off at Hilton Bonnet Creek Marathon Weekends

runDisney send off at

There was also a giant backdrop where runners could pose in front of, and a raffle with a chance to win a free weekend at the Hilton Bonnet Creek.

Hilton Bonnet Creek Marathon Weekends

I made a coffee, stuffed my pockets with granola bars, and made some new friends. The buses arrived just after 3, and load-in was quick and painless.

runDisney shuttle bus via Hilton Bonnet Creek Marathon Weekends

I ended up sitting next to an IRONMAN finisher, so we spent the bus ride discussing IRONMAN events and other marathons. His daughter was running her first marathon, after taking up running only a year prior. I saw her on the course ahead of me and she looked fantastic out there. I hope her first marathon went as great as she looked!

The bus arrived at Epcot and we had a short walk to the staging area. It was in the 30s at this point, and this Floridian was freezing. The last time I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon it was in the low 20s while we were waiting to start, so in comparison this wasn’t as bad but still pretty cold! I had a throwaway fleece over my race gear, as well as a hat and gloves. I wish I had something a little thicker, but it wasn’t terrible. I grabbed a spot by the heater near the stage and found warmth in the 100 other runners who had the same idea.

staging are at Walt Disney World Marathon

If there’s one major complaint that everyone that has done a runDisney race has in common, it’s how early they expect you to arrive. Granted, the early arrival is great for keeping traffic down and making sure everything stays on schedule, but man does it suck. When I arrived on site, it wasn’t even 4:00am yet and my corral wasn’t scheduled to go until 6:00am.  I tried to space out my pre-race granola bars, but I ate them way too fast probably due to boredom. I also didn’t want to kill the battery on my phone, so I did a lot of shivering and talking to strangers as opposed to phone playing. At least the camaraderie at these races is always top notch.

The DJ was going strong, doing his best to pump the crowd up, while also encouraging everyone to the corrals. He started with corrals A-E, encouraging them to make the walk about an hour before go-time, and then 15 minutes later called for F-J. I was in corral H, and while I knew it was way too early to head to the corral, I really had nothing else to do so I started making the walk. Since I didn’t have a bag I bypassed the lines for gear check and headed straight to the corrals. By the way (and I remember this from past events) once you get passed the gear drop off there are HUNDREDS of porta potties with NO lines. Granted, lines could have started forming later on, but I was incredibly impressed with the amount of porta potties and the fact that only about half had anyone in them. I feel like this needs to be marketed a lot more. Maybe a livestream above the DJ showing the hundred porta potties behind gear check with no lines? Perhaps that would discourage the long lines from forming at the dozen or so toilets in the staging area? If ANYONE complains about there not being enough toilets, they obviously didn’t look hard enough. #runnerproblems

The walk to the corrals was about 5-10 minutes from the staging area. I remember the path not being very well-lit in the past, but that was definitely not the case this year. There were light towers every 5 feet and it pretty much resembled daylight on the path. I was really impressed. There was even a DJ at the halfway point, trying to keep all of the runners pumped up and entertained on their walk.

I found my corral, lifted my throwaway jacket to prove this was indeed my corral (security is tight at runDisney corrals), and made my way to the front. At this point it wasn’t even 5:00am. Yep, I was super early.

The time moved like molasses. Luckily everyone in the corral was really nice and I made a few new friends. Some of them were running their first full, others were doing Dopey (and shared how they had got their 13.1 miles in the day before), and one person had recently lost 100 lbs! I always meet so many incredibly inspiring people during races. Even though we were all strangers, we had no problems huddling together for warmth. It was now in the mid-30s and we were freezing just standing still.

FINALLY, they brought the main announcers on stage for the big send-off. We watched as the first corral had its big countdown, and then the 7 other corrals that went before us. They did a great job staying spacing the corrals and it was a smooth, well-oiled machine getting everyone through the starting line. Finally, FINALLY!, it was our turn at the front. Mickey gave the big countdown (1-2-3…) and we were off with our own fireworks!

The first few miles flew by pretty quickly. I felt great and decided to keep the pace as long as I could without walking. I discarded my throwaway jacket around the 5K mark and went with the flow. I was worried that since I was starting a little farther back than I’m used to in corral H that I would deal with walkers or have to face a slowdown of runners, but that never really happened. Yes, there was some portions where the course narrowed and it felt a little more cramped, but otherwise I was really pleased with everyone’s pace around me.

Our first park was Magic Kingdom. We ran through the parking booths and under the iconic Magic Kingdom Sign, then headed to the Ticket and Transportation center, where there were hundreds of enthusiastic fans cheering. I ditched my hat around this point.

We veered right towards the Contemporary and made our way around the outer edge of the Seven Seas Lagoon towards Magic Kingdom. As many runDisney races as I’ve run, I should know this route by heart by now. I wonder if it’s the same DJ that’s on the bridge over the steep decline and incline every year?

There’s nothing quite like entering the Magic Kingdom during a runDisney race. You enter through a side door and I swear everything is silent until you cross through the gate and enter Main Street. Main Street is packed with all of the support crews and everyone is scream, cheering, and the Magic Kingdom’s soundtrack is playing in the back ground. Then you turn and see the castle. Oh, the castle! Still lit up in holiday lights, it’s really an amazing thing to behold.

I ran toward the castle, stopping to take a few selfies along the way. We turned towards Tomorrowland and then circled through New Fantasyland. There were a few characters for photos, but I just enjoyed taking everything in. I put my phone away when it came time to run through the castle and just enjoyed every moment of it.

After the castle we circled through Liberty Square, Adventureland, and back out the park. We spent roughly a mile in the park and exited a little more than 6 miles into the race.

The next portion of the race had us circling back around seven seas and then straight on to Animal Kingdom. At roughly 6 miles, we still had quite a ways until the next park. While the stretches between parks can be incredibly boring, runDisney did a pretty great job this year filling out the entertainment on the course. I would say there was a source of entertainment (whether it be a character, DJ, or themed water stop) every mile on the course. There was always music coming from somewhere and I never felt the need to put my headphones in.

Right outside Magic Kingdom was a touching tribute to rides of Magic Kingdom’s past. The couple running in front me were questioning each other on who the character was, but I don’t think they understood it wasn’t the character that stood out there, it was the background! I remember riding 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mr. Toad’s Wildride, and the Skyway as a kid. It was really cool to see them on display.

Also, in case you were wondering what Walt Disney World does with all their waste, we had a great view of the waste facilities on the course.

I texted Derek to check-in and he sent me an adorable photo of Annalynn in bed. I was on mile 9 and they were still warm and toasty in bed. You can’t help, but laugh at that.

My pace was pretty steady at this point, averaging just below 10 min/mi. I was doing a 4:30 run/ :30 walk and felt good. I passed Jeff Galloway at one point and said Hi. I’ve met him at a handful of runDisney events and he’s always been an approachable, great guy. I found it amusing that a few minutes later I came upon the 4:45 Galloway pace group. I wonder if they knew that Galloway himself was just a few beats behind them?

I went back and forth with the Galloway group for a while. There were a dozen or so of them taking up a good portion of the course. I would get ahead of them, they would catch up and pass me, etc. etc. Finally I got tired of all the back and forth and decided to try and join them. I followed their lead with run/walk and – holy crap! – weren’t they a speedy bunch. They were holding a 9:00 min/mi pace during the runs and I was pushing myself to keep up.

We entered Animal Kingdom and I lost the group when I opted to stop and take selfies instead of keeping their pace.

Worth it.

I saw King Louie and since he didn’t have much of a line – and I consider him a rare character – I stopped for a photo.

I love running in Animal Kingdom. The park isn’t part of the Walt Disney World Half Marathon or Princess courses, so I consider it a rare treat.

We exited Animal Kingdom just after the half marathon point and were greeted to a huge crowd right outside the park. As we made our way to the parking lot, I checked my phone and saw a photo Derek had texted me of Annalynn in her “Run, Mommy, Run” shirt. It was a total emotion overload and I started to cry right there on the course. I’m coming for you baby, don’t worry!

I was STARVING at this point.  I had completely forgot to bring any nutrition with me on the run and was really paying for it. I was taking a Powerade at every aide station to try and get some calories in, but I could really use something solid. There was a food station at mile 14 that I was desperately looking forward to, but unfortunately all they had was bananas. Ugh. Fail. I could feel myself growing weaker. I really, really needed food. Luckily, around mile 16, there was a group of spectators with a “running buffet” set up. One person had cookies – COOKIES! – and there was a variety of candy and fruit. I grabbed a cookie and some Swedish fish.

Man, did that hit the spot! I instantly felt refreshed and re-energized. Thank you, random strangers handing out cookies and candy. This runner really appreciated it.

The course took us over a bridge past the Hollywood Studios entrance and on our way to Wide World of Sports. At this point there were runners going both directions on the highway. A guy came up next to me and told me “don’t be fooled – those runners are at mile 22, we still have a while to go.” Ouch. Talk about deceiving.

I kept pushing and made my way into Wide World of Sports where –finally! – there was Gu station. I took two packets and shoved them in my bra for later.

They added the Wide of World of Sports tangent the year after I ran my first Walt Disney World Marathon, so this was my first time experiencing it. I’d heard not-so-great reviews about the section, and even had a guy near me on the course tell his friend that this was his least favorite part of the race. I can see why. Somehow, they squeezed almost a whole 5K in the Wide World of Sports. That’s a lot of weaving, backroads, and randomness. Basically, you spend more time in WWoS than any other park.

I stopped at the first restroom I saw in the park, and I have to say, it was nice using a real restroom with flushing toilets and running water. Sure, I wasted a good 5 minutes, but it was all worth it.

We did the loop of the track and then spent way too much time on a backroad going nowhere. There was another banana station (gah) and we circled back to the baseball stadium.

Now, the stadium was pretty cool. There were a couple of high school bands in the stands playing music, announcers giving shout outs, and a big screen putting everyone on display. We passed mile 20 and started the 10K countdown to the finish line.

I grabbed some more candy from spectators in the parking lot (THANK YOU!) and peaced out of that joint. Next up: Hollywood Studios!

Or so I thought. Turns out I still had another 5k to get there. Oye.

My husband called me between WWoS and Hollywood Studios. The 9:15 bus he was supposed to take to meet me at the finish line with plenty of time to spare was running really behind. Because of traffic, it didn’t end up getting him until after 10. He had Annalynn, and they were on their way to the finish, but he wasn’t sure they were going to make it. I hung up and started crying. No. That’s not going to happen. I need them at the finish line. They NEED to be at the finish line. So I decided to slow down. I walked a little more and really just took my time. There was still plenty of time for him to get there, right?

We finally made it to Hollywood  Studios and they were handing candy out at the entrance. I grabbed a full size crispy M&M and ate about half of it.

I couldn’t believe when I saw Oswald just ahead. Even better, he had no line! Why the heck did he have no line?! Didn’t these people know this was Oswald’s official debut at Walt Disney World?!?! Say what?!

Actually, the lines for characters were incredibly short for the rest of the race. None of the princesses in Epcot at had lines – I guess at this point people just wanted to finish.

The run through Hollywood Studios was sad and short. Due to construction, there really isn’t much of Hollywood studios to see anymore and that was painfully obvious when all we had was a quick run next to Tower of Terror and then a left turn to the exit. Hopefully once construction is done  they can add some mileage back in. I really missed running through the backlot.

We headed out Hollywood Studios’ entrance and up the walking path to the Epcot are resorts. There were quite a few spectators and I knew they meant well by trying to encourage me to keep moving during my walking breaks (at this point I was at a 1:00 run/ :30 walk) and I wanted so badly to tell them that I needed the walk. I wanted to say I knew I was going to finish, but my body hurt and I needed to rest. I also wanted to tell them that my husband was on his way to the finish line with my baby girl and I wanted to make sure they had plenty of time to get there. I wanted them at the finish line and I needed to slow down to make that happen.

My friend, Kim, was waiting outside The Boardwalk. I stopped and she handed me a Gatorade and a Hershey bar (because she’s amazing like that) and I told her about Derek and Annalynn being delayed. She said, “So, you can still finish without them.” I think that’s what I needed to hear. I could finish without them. It was going to be okay.

I jumped back on the course and ran the final stretch to Epcot. At this point there was only about a mile and a half to go. I called Derek and he had made it to Epcot, but was confused where to go and security lines were long. He was still doubtful he would make it, but I had faith. He was there! He could make it!

I followed the loop around the world showcase, made my way to Spaceship Earth, and then made a right towards the exit. The choir was there singing loud and proud. The choir is always everyone’s favorite part of the race, it’s quite an emotional experiencing turning the corner and hearing their big, beautiful voices. We made it. We had arrived.

I went out the gate and couldn’t believe how many people were standing by the sideline. The crowds must have been 4-5 people deep. I took my time and scanned the crowds, looking for Derek and Annalynn. Nothing. I didn’t see them. I scanned up and down, but they weren’t there. Where were they? Did I miss them? It was too late, the finish line was up ahead. I heard Carissa say my name and then give a shout out to all the mother runners out there. Other mamas around me cheered. I threw my arms up in fake enthusiasm and managed to pull a grin on my face for the camera.

They missed it. I missed them. How did they miss it? I needed them there and they weren’t.

I just finished a freaking marathon 15 months after giving birth and the only thing I could think about was that I missed my family at the finish line. I was a HUGE emotional mess and everything just came running out. I started crying, big crazy tears. Was I happy? Was I sad? What the heck was wrong with me?

I wiped the tears and walked as quickly as I could away from the finish area. I grabbed my medal, post-race snack box, and got a photo.

My husband called me right after my photo. He was on the other side of the bleachers and was wondering if I finished. Yep, I finished. I met him in the family reunion area and Annalynn was asleep in the carrier. I started crying as soon as I saw them. My emotions were still so raw. I’m not sure what I was expecting. I had built up in my head so much what this finish would be and it turned into this almost anticlimactic event. Derek had fought so hard to get to the finish line. Two of the doormen approached me when we made it back to the hotel asking if he had made it to the finish and how he was on top of them wondering where the bus was and how desperately he wanted to be at the finish line. Sometimes things are out of our control and as much as we want it to happen, it’s just not going to. I’m not going to lie, even though I know he tried so hard to make it work, I would be lying if I said I still wasn’t a little disappointed that he wasn’t there.

I’ve written and re-written this portion of my recap a dozen times. I debated including any of the above. I could have wrote a picture-perfect story where I finished on cloud 9 and was incredibly happy with everything. But that wouldn’t have been real. The truth is I was upset my family wasn’t at the finish line and I was completely overcome with emotion about it. Hell, I’m tearing up writing about it now. Call me selfish, ungrateful, or whatever you want; but I can guarantee that I’m not the first person to cross a finish line and feel this way. I’m human and I’m not perfect.

Annalynn woke up on the bus ride back. Her smile and enthusiasm to see me made my heart melt. That’s what I needed at the finish line.

We made it back to the hotel and I toasted my finished with a much needed beer.

Thanks to our 2pm check out (thanks again to our Marathon Weekends package!), it was really nice not having to really rush to get out. I was able to shower, pack, and get on the road without any extra pressure.

The fact that I finished the marathon sunk in on the way home. My sadness peeled away as I told Derek my recap of the day. I did it. I really did it. I ran a marathon and, you know what?, it wasn’t that bad. It was officially my slowest time ever, but I think I can improve that.

I told myself during training that this would be my last one, but now that I’ve finished…. I could get on board with another. Famous last words, right?

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