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Natalie's Disney Experience

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Natalie's Disney Experience

I can't remember when or why I decided to enter the Disney Marathon, I think I saw an advert in Runners World and decided to look it up. Having been to Florida on holiday a few years ago and enjoyed it, it seemed like a nice idea - sunshine, holiday, relax on some roller coasters(!) and do some running at the same time. When I looked closer at the Disney Marathon site, it became apparent there was a whole weekend of activity in early January - some kids races, a 5K, a half marathon and a full marathon.

I spoke to Lee and we were decided that we would have a holiday and definitely do "something" out there. Reading on it became apparent that you could enter the "Goofy Challenge" where participants run the 1/2 on the Saturday and the Full Marathon on the Sunday. Wanting to make the most of it that’s what we did. Using the same logic of wanting to make the most of it I entered the 5K as well. Unfortunately I was banned from the Mickey Mile and other races because I am over 12 years old. If I could have entered them I would! So I was all set to run out there on the 7th, 8th and 9th January. 

Time flies and I kept a solid base involving a bit of triathlon training over the summer. I had quite a good training build up, learning from my training errors of early 2010 I made a concerted effort to train smarter for this event. Then in December the dreaded snow struck. Snow does not really bother me with a good pair of Innov8s, but trying to do a 20 mile training run in as much snow as we had - I would have ended up overly tired or injured, so I did my last two 20 mile runs on a treadmill at Wombourne Leisure Centre. It wasn't the greatest running experience of my life but I managed to do them on the basis it was better to do something than nothing. Before one of my 20s I also did a 10 miler the day before to try and replicate the experience of doing a 13.1 and a 26.2 on consecutive days. It was tiring but sticking to an easy pace it didn't feel too bad. 

So on the 4th on January, having opened the curtains and panicked at the sight of a sprinkling of snow, we were off from Manchester to Orlando, Florida with no delays. It was mostly me who had hatched the plan to do the Goofy Challenge, and I also hatched another cunning plan. The Disney Marathon Weekend events all start VERY early in the morning. The 5K was to start at 7am, but depending on the wave you were in the 1/2 and Full Marathon... well you HAD to be in your start pen by 5AM! The first wave went off about 5.30AM. So my second plan was to keep on UK time as Florida is 5 hours behind us. This meant for the first few days we were out there, we would be going to bed at 6PM (11PM), and getting up at 4 or 5AM (9 or 10AM). This would make it easier to get up and run the events - and amazingly we managed to stick to UK time. We would get up, have a leisurely breakfast and get the early shuttle bus to one of the theme parks (Universal / Disney) and come back at 3 or 4PM ready to eat and go to sleep again.  

On the Thursday we had to go to the Expo to collect our numbers and goody bags at the ESPN World of Sports in the Disney Resort. It was a decent enough Expo, not quite as big as the London Marathon one, but we got all our numbers and 3 very good quality technical t-shirts, one for being in the half, one for the full marathon, and one for the Goofy challenge. It was there that they were showing what the medals looked like - some serious bling! 

 

Friday it was the 5K, or more accurately "Buzz and Woody’s Best Friends 5K". This was really just a warm up and a little bit of fun. We left the hotel at 5AM and were at Epcot, where all these races start from, by 5.30. There were a surprising amount of people around, 99% of them being in the queue to have their photo taken with Buzz and Woody (from Toy Story). More and more people appeared, and by 6.30AM there were a few thousand runners. It does not matter what country you go to, there is always someone at the start of these races completely underdressed, overdressed and the obligatory OTT warm up man shouting out aerobics moves to some horrible dance track. Anyway, I got vaguely near the front of the crowd as I wanted to have room to run, and at 7AM we were off. No little parp from an air horn, but full blown fireworks coming out of the start gantry which was brilliant. At this point the sun was only just coming up, which was another nice touch – I’ve never done a race before that started in the dark/dawn and finished in the light! If someone had just come to Disney for the 5K, they might have been a bit peeved as the first mile of this race went around the edge of the Epcot car park (the car parks are BIG) and then past what I can only think, due to the smell was some sort of sewage works! The Green Toy Soldier from Toy Story was there yelling at us, which distracted from the pong. At this point we turned and went in to the "World Showcase" area of Epcot, which is where it got better. 

For those who have not been, the World showcase is where Disney have built a small area of a few different countries (10 or 11) in the world around a lake. You have the likes of Mexico, Norway, China, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Morocco, England (with red phone boxes, post boxes, pub and chippy) and each area has a shop, restaurants and other activities. Disney actually hire people from that country to work there. We basically ran round the lake, through each "country" and were greeted by the likes of Pinocchio in Germany, Mickey and Minnie Mouse in Japan, Chip and Dale and some other characters.... this took about another mile around the lake and then we ran back in to the Epcot park, and back past iconic the Epcot "Golf Ball". After the first mile it was a really nice, fun, and interesting run, and I felt comfortable coming in at 27:53 to collect my rubber Buzz and Woody medal. As we were already at the park, we went to Epcot that day and went on a few rides, but we didn't want to stay up past our 6PM bedtime! 

The day of the half we had to get up earlier. We had not fibbed about our predicted times, although my PB is some 25 mins quicker, I had put 2:15 down as a predicted time for the half, not sure what Lee had put but we had both been allocated in to the first start pen, "A". Not sure what this says about the standards of running out there in the USA. We were to start running about 5.35AM, and had to be in the pens by 5AM. I had heard stories about road gridlock the year before going in to Epcot, so we left at 3AM. We were there by 3.30AM, and had enough time to relax and sort ourselves out before checking our bags in and walking to the start pens (which were a 10 minute walk away themselves). A point I must make here is that although entering the Disney Marathon is expensive, it was all incredibly well organized, even the 5k. On a par with the London Marathon I would say, if not better. It was always clear what we needed to do, everything was clearly signed and there were plenty of folks around to help you. AND.... I have never seen so many Porta-loos in my life. Oh joy! No queues and the cubicles even smelled relatively sweet! 

Before the start, Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy came out on to the stage, all in matching tracksuits (apart from Donald who was running around half naked as his rear end is too big to fit in to tracksuit bottoms :-D ), again the race was started with fireworks. The second and subsequent waves are staggered and held back for a few mins, and looking back each start had a fireworks display. The route went out of Epcot, mainly on access roads. This sounds grim but in this case it was not too bad: A) it was still dark B) Disney property is very well kept, and is actually quite scenic with its grass, trees and lakes - a lot of animals hang out there because I think they know they won't get shot... it is not unusual to see Deer running around, Otters, Possums and other critters. I was amazed at how much crowd support here was. I suppose with 10,000+ runners in the half there must have been a few families supporting their loved ones out there, but Disney had got in high school bands, cheerleaders, and Disney characters out on the course, there was something to see all the way. As it was getting light we approached the Magic Kingdom park, ran up Main Street and looped round to run straight through the middle of the Magic Castle. That was pretty cool. We then worked our way down past the golf course and Wedding resort (complete with cheesy wedding singer crooning away "The Love Boat") and back in to Epcot. Whilst the half was good, most of it was on the interconnecting roads between the parks, and probably only 4-5 miles within parks themselves. We did a very easy 2:11 at a nice even pace, and picked up the big bling medal of Donald Duck. We decided it was probably best not to go on any roller coasters the day before a Marathon, so headed off home for a rest before the big one on the Sunday. We had a chance to sit down, eat, have a massage and there were still lots of people coming in at the 3:50 mark as we were leaving. Amazing to see so many runners who all appeared to be having fun. 

Sunday I was very nervous. I felt I had done the training well, but never had to resort to treadmill running before and wasn't sure if it would cut it. We went through the same routine as Saturday, up at 2AM and out at 3. The Goofy runners had different coloured bibs to the Marathon runners, so we got people in the start area asking about why we had done the half already. My response was “you gotta while you're out here” ...Well it was seeming less and less like a good idea as the start got closer. As we shuffled to the start pens, I was practically vomiting, a mixture of nerves and being pushed up behind someone who had REALLY bad personal hygiene. I really didn't feel that up for the run, although my legs felt ok from the day before, so I must have paced the 1/2 right as I felt no fatigue at all. This time I was in start pen C, and Lee was in A. We were off again with a firework display, and after a slow first mile due to congestion I settled in to a comfortable pace. In fairness to Disney, we went out to the Magic Kingdom AGAIN but the route was different so although we ran through the magic castle again, we got there in different scenery. Rather than heading back to Epcot, we went down to the Animal Kingdom, through some quite nice forest countryside. The support was even better than the day before, and again, characters were out, I even got waved at by a trained sheep in the Animal Kingdom at about 16 miles although I'm not sure if that was a hallucination! It was fabulous... so much to see.

 

I wasn't too worried about times but after the slow start, I was ticking along quite happily at what would have been a PB pace, until about 22 miles. It would not have been a PB, but close. This 22 mile mark I suppose is when it traditionally gets a bit tough, and by this time the sun had been up for a while so it was getting warm - not massively hot but compared to -10 in the UK for the whole of December it felt warm. I was also aware of a bit of pain in my left leg, but nothing too bad. There was a small section of road where you could see runners on the way back, and I actually saw Lee so I was aware I had caught him up a bit. Miles 22 and 23 were hard, and I slowed to a shuffle but at about 24 miles you go through the Hollywood studios, through the streets of New York, and the costume department. By this time the parks were starting to open, and the crowds were massive. The Disney Marathon have your name printed on your number so people were yelling and shouting at you, or even just shouting "go Goofy!!" having seen the blue bib, which was really lifting. I wasn't quite sure where I was in relation to the finish, we ran through the Grand Floridian hotel grounds which has its own beach, and all of a sudden we did a turn... I was back in good old England (in the Epcot world showcase!) I was really happy about this as I knew now that the end was literally in sight. The crowds were going absolutely nuts. We ran back round the Lake and towards the Epcot Golfball, and this is when I looked at my watch to see 26.2 in 4:20 - but I had not kept to the racing line so it was going to clock as longer than 26.2, that’s just the way it is sometimes. I turned the corner and saw the finish clocks, and as a space appeared I managed to high five Goofy and Donald Duck, and that was that, it was over - official time was 4:23, my 2nd fastest Marathon ever. I was over the moon with this time considering the previous 2 days efforts. Strangely I had done almost the same time as Lee even though we had started 8 mins apart. I think he did well on the "no training" approach J 

It was just after I crossed the line I saw Lee in the finish area, and we got our Mickey Mouse Marathon medals together. We then got shepherded through a 2nd funnel to get the Goofy medal. These medals are some of the best I have ever had, some seriously chunky, weighty shiny bling. My legs felt ok, but we went off and got a quick massage and had something to eat, I couldn't quite believe I had done it. On the way back we were watching, eating the free food and drink (they give away some good stuff at the end) and there were still people streaming in at 6+ hours. I was pleased with my combined 39.3 time of 6:35:05. It is fair to say we were pretty knackered, and despite me saying I was going to find the most unhealthy food I could stuff my face with, I think we ended up at the restaurant across the road from the Hotel having some Chicken spinach salad, before going to sleep at the usual 6pm again - only this time slept right through to 6am! A lie in J  

On the Monday after the Marathon we had a free entry to Disney for "Marathon Monday", which is a nice gesture but if you have come over from the UK you are likely to have a pass to cover your entire time there anyway. It's a strange thing, I was wearing my Marathon T-shirt, but everyone else was walking around the park with their medals on - I don't recall seeing people walking round London on the Monday after FLM/VLM with their medals on. The park was full of funny walking people patting each other on the back. I say walking, Disney has complimentary wheelchairs for the “Elderly, Disabled and Infirm” and there were a few people being wheeled around in these by friends and family, wearing their medal and but seemingly able to brave the pain and hobble on to a ride - so not sure if they were genuinely unwell or have just not heard the term "active recovery"!! 

We spent the rest of the week going to Disney and Universal parks, and at this time of year these parks were pretty empty, we managed to get on to most of the rides either instantly or with a 10 minute wait. We must have gone on every ride. We also went to some of the Malls, just as well I didn't have much suitcase room as there were lots of bargains. 

I would recommend doing this event, or any event over the Disney Marathon Weekend, to anyone. It is expensive, and requires a bit of pre-planning but the Disney organization is superb, and the atmosphere is great, everyone is nice to each other. There is so much out on the course that makes you smile, laugh or rub your eyes and wonder if you have actually seen what you've just seen. The support is great, they keep you supplied with drinks, gels, and we even had mini chocolate bars at mile 22/23... a Marathon that gives away chocolate, what more could you ask!

 

A truly amazing experience.

 

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Site Last modified: January 29, 2016