Today was the main event, the Walt Disney World Marathon. This was the last event of the Dopey Challenge and the culmination of 24 weeks of training. Did I mention that it was the last early wake up of the event too (score!!!) I guess with the excitement and adrenaline due to this being the big event I didn’t feel really tired despite all the previous days of running and park time. Also, with the thunderstorm the night before it cooled the temperatures quite a bit which would be great (as compared to the 2013 Marathon) So again today I dressed in my Team Up gear and coordinated my Pro Compression socks to match Dopey (you can see it was pretty close later in the recap) and headed out for another early arrival at EPCOT for the start of the race.
It was cool with a slight breeze as I walked towards the bag check area. After last year of bringing down throw away gear I got smarter thanks to a very helpful tip. I tend to keep those mylar blankets they give out after marathons and they are small and light enough to pack with no problem. I wore my blanket from essentially the time I got out of the car until the start of the race. It was easy to pack up in my gear back and doubled as something to sit on later in the corrals while we waited.
I didn’t see many familiar faces in the starting area this time around although I did bump into a new Facebook friend (Jennifer) who spotted me as I arrived. She was running her first marathon as part of the Goofy Challenge. I headed through the bag check very early as like the day before I wanted to get over to the corral and sit for as long as I could to rest up before the 26.2 miles which lay ahead. I will admit that this was probably the most calm I have ever felt during a marathon. This would be my 7th marathon so I knew I could do this but I think due to the continuous high from the weekend I was just relaxed. Anyone who knows me well (read ‘my wife’) will tell you I am always a little uptight before a big race. Today was just, in my head anyway, a long run and I was going to treat it that way and have fun. Time didn’t really matter to me much. It was day 4 of the Dopey Challenge and I was there to have fun and make it to the finish line.
As we all started the long walk to the corrals (via ‘Backstage Lane’) I started chatting to a few folks, some doing the Dopey, some Goofy and some running their first marathon. With words of encouragement being shared among us it really felt more of a communal long run than a big city race. People running a Disney race bring with them an expectation of fun and camaraderie that I have not experienced in many of my other races. Sure you say ‘hi’ to people but people just seem more open to chat about the events. It could be the nature of these multi-race events which is unique and everyone is checking to see how other people are doing and sharing thoughts. Just my opinion really.
As we approached the split between corrals A to H and I to P one of the people I was talking to suddenly said, “Hey, you’re Ian from ‘Philly2Goofy’. I thought you looked familiar”. I was totally taken by surprise, especially being as dark and so early in the morning. They said they had followed the blog and actually printed out the training plan I was following and stuck it up on their wall. I was flattered (although all the credit must go to Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway as I wouldn’t be here doing this without them). That totally lifted my spirits higher and I cheerfully headed to the corrals. I didn’t see Mark or Rob who I knew were supposed to be in my corral so I took a seat and waited while watching the pre-show. Various folks were brought up and interviewed including Dave McGillivray, race director of the Boston Marathon and Jeff Galloway. Both were running Dopey along with me and the other 6,999 folks.
During the pre-show one of the race announcers (or interviewers I forget which) ask who was ‘just doing the Marathon’. Let me say now for all readers and runners…THERE IS NO JUST…anyone out there running a Full Marathon is a champion and just because there are other challenges out there that runDisney has made popular should not in any way diminish the awesome experience and success of a person training, running and finishing a Marathon. I guess it is only at a Disney event when someone says of themselves I’m “just doing a Half or a Full” or even “I’m just doing Goofy”. Everyone is a runner and a champion for just toeing the line. There, I said it!!! I’m of my soapbox now. 🙂 Soon we would hear the ‘National Anthem’ and we knew we were ready for the start. Mickey (and even Dopey earlier before the race) was there to count us down and with fireworks shooting off we were starting. Yes, I got my fireworks today 🙂 All was good in the world. And then we were off.
Like yesterday, Bart Yasso was waiting on the left of the start line cheering everyone along on their way. I said a quick ‘Hi Bart’ and settled in for the first mile. Now at this point I want to do a little number crunching. At this point we had finished 3 of the 4 races that make up the Dopey Challenge which might sound like were 75% of the way there but in reality when you looked at the actual distance we had at this point run a 5K, a 10K and a Half Marathon which totaled 22.4 miles. As the Dopey Challenge would actually end up being 48.6 miles that mean we wouldn’t actually reach 50% or half way through the total mileage until we hit mile 1.9 in the Full Marathon. A little warped but, hey, we’re Dopey aren’t we 🙂
My strategy of stopping for photos early the day before worked well so I could maintain a steady pace going towards the Magic Kingdom where I knew I would be spending lots of time today. It wasn’t long before I saw that we were approaching the start of the way towards the Magic Kingdom and the Ticket and Transportation Center.
It was encouraging again to see so many folks out cheering the runners as we approached the Ticket and Transportation Center and as we moved onwards towards the side of the Contemporary Resort we got our first view of the day of the Magic Kingdom. You will know from my recap from the Half Marathon yesterday how much I enjoy running into the Magic Kingdom and up Main Street USA. It is always magical. Today was as magical but also special. As soon as I ran onto Main Street I bumped into Joe Taricani, the host of ‘The Marathon Show‘ podcast. Joe runs holding an ‘On Air’ sign and speaks to runners as they experience their journeys. Today I got to run up Main Street with Joe and even made it onto the podcast. Another great experience and one that adds to the memories of this weekend. Check out Episode 228 to hear the recap of the day. In all of this I still managed to get my Main Street USA photo to make the day complete.
I had a specific goal for the Marathon this year in terms of photos in the Magic Kingdom. For the last two years I never got a shot of Mickey at the Castle. This year no matter the lines I was going to do it.
Every race or trip or famous landmark that I go to with my wife she always takes a ‘jump shot’. I have albums from vacations where my wife is doing a jump shot on almost every page of the book. It has become her trademark and although I do participate in the fun from time to time I never do so during a race, especially a marathon. Well, I was having so much fun over the course of the last few days I threw caution to the wind and just went for it. I was at mile 6 of the Marathon (mile 28 of the Challenge) and while normally I would be anxious about my knees I was feeling good so it seemed a given that as my wife wasn’t here I needed to ‘represent’ 🙂
I did notice as I ran through Fantasyland and the New Fantasyland that there were less characters out this year. Last year it was all Princesses outside New Fantasyland but this year there were none. I ran through Frontierland but didn’t stop for photos this time but headed backstage to exit the park. I finally found a Princess and stopped for a quick photo.
Coming out of the Magic Kingdom we are around mile 6.5 and begin our little trip up Cone Alley past the Grand Floridian towards the Speedway at mile 8. Again, no Mary Poppins today. She was hanging out with the Penguins in Race Retreat. There were a couple of character stops along the way. I even stopped for the Villains this year which was a first for me.
We hit the Speedway just after mile 8. I remember last year the sun was up at this time and the heat was already up high. This year was much cooler but there were some wet patches under foot which wasn’t great around Cone Alley as you sometimes run along some grassy areas trying to get around other runners. As we approached the Speedway I noted there were no characters outside like there were last year. Again, less characters throughout the course this year. When entering the Speedway there is a really narrow and steep downslope and upslope onto the circuit. As it was still wet underfoot the runners ahead had slowed down and there was a slight bottleneck at this point but once out on the track it opens up. The trick is to stay on the inner circuit of the track as it is flat with no banking. As was the case last year there were car clubs represented as you ran around the circuit. Different from last year was that there were no ‘Cars’ characters out on the track. This was fine with me as it allowed me to just keep running. I had spent a lot of time in the Magic Kingdom and although I wasn’t going for a time goal at all it was nice to just get a nice rhythm going.
As we excited the Speedway there was a quick trek over a grass median and we were off towards the Animal Kingdom. This is the part of the race that takes us past the Water Treatment Center. Well, the good news with the cooler temperatures and the slight breeze, there was no smell when I ran past this year. BONUS!!! I’m usually taking an energy gel around mile 10 so glad I didn’t have to deal with any added ‘extras’.
As I approached the Animal Kingdom I heard my name being called. It was Mark my fellow Team Up teammate. I hadn’t seen him earlier in the day while waiting in the corrals so I actually headed back to catch up with him to check in. He was nursing a leg injury which he had coming into the Goofy Challenge but he looked strong and I know that he did finish as I saw his results later on. After saying good luck I headed into the Animal Kingdom just around mile 12.
As we entered the park we ran past a variety of animals with their handlers. I found out later that the animals were all wearing special Marathon bibs with their names on. Cute. At the time that I arrived in the Animal Kingdom the ‘Expedition Everest’ ride was not yet open for the day. Some of my fellow runners behind me took the opportunity to stop and ride ‘Everest’ on their way through the park. It’s a Disney race, when else would you stop mid marathon to ride a coaster? Awesome.
We were very close to the halfway point at this stage of the race and we cleared the Half Marathon timing mat just after the water stop leaving the park. This was also the location of the Autism Speaks cheering section today so I made sure to say a big thank you to everyone for coming out and supporting the team.
I hit the half way timing mat at a time of 2:27:55, this was 15 minutes quicker than I had actually run the Half Marathon the day previously including all the photo stops. It was a complete adrenaline rush. I don’t know where this energy was coming from especially 4 days and 35 miles in at this point but I felt really good.
For the last two years I have avoided a photo stop with the Gravediggers from the Haunted Mansion. Each year I have seen runners lay down and have their picture taken with them. Every year I have looked at these people and thought they were absolutely crazy. How could you get up off the ground having run 14 miles already. This year I was feeling good and became one of those crazy people…it was fun. Luckily the cast member helping out was a pretty strong guy. I guess he had to be for this particular stop. He pulled me up with zeal and I was grateful I didn’t have to try on my own to get up 😉
The next stop on our journey would be the ESPN Wide World of Sports it is a long stretch (well 4 miles) from the Animal Kingdom to ESPN and there isn’t much to see around here. It is pretty wide open at this point and runners spread out. It’s nice to have some space after running in some tight lanes through the parks. During these part of the race Scott who I had met at the 5K spotted me and we ran together for a couple of minutes. We are both Galloway runners and we were running different intervals so we said our goodbyes when the timers went off. Scott looked like he was doing fine. Glad to know that everyone I had met up with over the weekend seemed to be doing fine. The weather today was definitely a positive factor for everyone today.
The ESPN Wide World of Sports is the one part of the course that I just find takes too long. I know it sounds silly as it’s only 3 miles but with all the twists and turns we take, maybe it’s just psychological, but when you think you are close to leaving you hit another turn and it is not the way out. At least this year was cooler (I’ve said that before a few times). As I entered the ESPN Wide World of Sports I made sure to grab a wet towel that they were handing out. Last year I missed it and regretted it. This year the towels were ‘ice’ cold. I squeezed the towel over myself and immediately regretted it. There was still a slight breeze and I started to get the chills. Eek! I knew I would warm up but for the next mile I was shaking my shirt to try to dry it out a bit and warm up. Oh well, live and learn.
One of the cool things about running around this part of the course is that you get to see all the athletes getting on with their day of training and games. We ran past a soccer game in progress and there were many spectators on the course at this point. The ESPN Wide World of Sports also includes a lap around the outfield of Champions Stadium (spring training home to the Atlanta Braves).
Here I am going to share my biggest tip from running through the Wide World of Sports. As soon as you leave the stadium if you suspect at all that you have any gravel in your shoes stop and empty your shoes. You still have over 6 miles to go and you don’t need anything that will annoy you or irritate you. I’m talking from experience. This year I stopped and took out plenty of gravel. Phew.
Leaving the ESPN Wide World of Sports is just before mile 20. You’re beginning the home stretch. Mile 20 is usually where I slow down a bit but I was feeling fine so I knew now that I was going to make it. There is a 2 mile stretch back up towards Disney’s Hollywood Studios and there is not too much to see. They had the big screen out playing movies as they had during the 10K on Friday and all along the route back up (a very slight incline) they have motivational signs along the course. I had to stop for this one:
At the end of this 2 mile stretch there is the final ‘big hill’ of the course, the overpass to Hollywood Studios. Each year I have run this event they have had a toy soldier from Toy Story yelling out to runners to get up the hill. Again, this is one of those places that in previous years I have seen runners doing push ups with the drill sergeant (the crazy folks I liked to call them). Well, welcome me to the crazy club. I was feeling good and had the energy and I got down and did my requisite push ups to earn my photo opportunity.
At this point I know I’m 4 miles to the finish. I was getting very excited at this point. I knew the rest of the course from prior years and I knew I felt better than I had the last two years that I had run so I just went for it. I picked up the pace a little. We entered Hollywood Studios just behind Tower of Terror and rounded the corner to head through the tunnel alongside the costume department. Then you have the amazing view when you run up the Streets of New York and head towards the front of the park past the Sorcerer’s Hat. Other than Wreck-It Ralph as we entered the Studios there were no other character opportunities here. Last year there were three. A little disappointing but at this point in the race with only 5K to go you just want to keep going.
The parks were now open and guests as well as supporters were now cheering us on. I have heard many stories of guests being inspired by the runners to look into running a runDisney event in the future. I hope that we inspired one or two (or more) today. After the Studios we head along the Boardwalk through the International Gateway and head towards World Showcase.
Just outside of the entrance back into the United Kingdom Pavillion there was the main guy himself. Dopey. I stopped to say a quick hello and get my picture. Best photo of the week for me (can you say ‘Profile Picture’?)
When you hit the United Kingdom you are reaching mile 25. You are almost there. Essentially, barring a major disaster you can run, walk or crawl your way home. No one will take you off the course once you make it to here. 🙂 As I ran through the Magic Kingdom I heard my name being called out. I wasn’t sure from where but I later found out that it was Jill (one of my Facebook friends) who sent me a note later to confirm I wasn’t just imagining this.
I ran through World Showcase stopping for a photo with a couple of French-speaking ladies in the France Pavillion and then headed towards future world and the finish line.
I cannot tell you much about that last mile other than it being a blur of complete and utter happiness. I was doing it, completing the Dopey Challenge. Feeling great and realizing 9 months of fundraising and 6 months of training. In the process I recorded over 700 miles of training and raised over $3,800 for Autism Speaks.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!! I even ran the second half of the Marathon in around 2:12:30, 10 minutes faster than the first half for an overall time of 4:40:26.
I got my Marathon medal and headed over to the self-treatment area to ice down (I had a plane to catch in a few hours) before heading out to pick up my Goofy and Dopey medals.
Seeing as I had to leave later that evening I didn’t really have too much time to wait around after the race. I headed back to the hotel to shower and finish packing with the goal of spending as much time in EPCOT before I had to head to the airport.
My new ‘Ear Hat’ to celebrate my accomplishment.
I spent the next few hours stretching my legs walking around EPCOT. I went straight to Innoventions West to have my photos taken with Mickey, Goofy and Minnie with all my medals.
I walked around the park congratulating my fellow runners who were all proudly wearing their medals. It is a great feeling of camaraderie which is really only experienced at a runDisney race. People hang around after the races and enjoy their post Marathon time. It feels great. Congratulations to all my fellow runners.
In summary, would I do the Dopey Challenge again? Not sure. I enjoyed it but I have done it now. I’d love to run Goofy again as I really enjoy the atmosphere of the Half and the Full. Racing on 4 consecutive days with 4 early wake ups and early nights was tough. I travelled solo this year as 4 days of running would really have imposed on my family. I missed them greatly. This is the first year they haven’t been there for me at the finish and that is perhaps why I didn’t stick around too long once I finished. I love running at Disney and I love Disney Parks. It is better when my family is with me. That is probably my ultimate reason for not doing Dopey in the future for now (but never say never).
What a great week. I met so many good friends this week and had a really special time running with everyone. I want to thank runDisney, the volunteers and the cast members as well as my Team Up teammates and all my fellow runners for making this a week to remember.
So, my final Fitbit stats for the day. I ran 26.2 miles and ended up showing 34.68 miles. For the whole of the 5 days I ran 48.6 miles and ended up walking another 44 or so miles. I think I need another medal 😉
Thank you for sticking with me through what has been a ‘marathon’ recap. I hope you got a sense of how much fun I had during the Marathon and the whole weeks events.