I woke up on race morning at 3:30 AM – sounds brutal, but I had stayed up late on Friday night and therefore been able to fall asleep fairly easily at 9:30 PM on Saturday, which made 3:30 not seem too bad. I had the faint sense of having had a bad dream – not a nightmare per se, but something stressful – but though I wracked my brain, I couldn’t figure out what it was.
I got myself dressed and together, eating a Peanut Butter Cookie Larabar as my standard race morning breakfast. I made it down to the hotel lobby just in time to catch the shuttle bus to the start, and quickly made friends with the couple sitting behind me. They were from New York City also (Upper East Side, just across the park from me), and it was the guy’s first marathon – his girlfriend was along to watch, cheer him on, and support him however she could. His time goal was to finish somewhere between 3 and 4 hours (kind of broad there!) and when I saw him at the pool after the race, I found out he had done 3:43 – incredible, especially for a first try!
Upon arriving at the park in the pitch dark (I tried to take a pic of the Epcot ball anyway), we embarked upon a long walk through several parking lots to get to baggage check, and then another long walk to the start. I was in the midst of some trouble at baggage check (I always put my stuff inside my own bag and then inside the provided plastic bag, because I don’t trust them not to break – but at Disney, you’re not allowed to do that for security reasons) when I heard someone calling my name… and turned around to see Betsy!! I said hi, but was so flustered with my baggage that I wasn’t very polite… and when I turned around, she was gone :( I dashed out of the tent trying to spot the bright yellow Marathon Maniacs jersey, but had no luck, and reluctantly followed the crowds on the long walk to the start.
In the midst of the walk, I actually bumped into Betsy and her husband! I was thrilled, and we chatted for a bit about her weekend, the other Maniacs she had met, and how the half had gone the day before (I won’t give it away in case she hasn’t written her race report yet, but let’s just say she rocked it!). We walked to the corrals and then went our separate ways.
Somehow I was seeded into corral A – the fastest of all the corrals. I really did not understand how that happened, but I took advantage of the opportunity to start near the front because I figured it would help my picture-taking goal. My reasoning: people who were fast would probably be trying for a PR and thinking it’s silly to take pictures, whereas walkers and others a bit slower would be more likely to be in it for the experience and not caring about time, and therefore more likely to take pictures. Because of this reasoning, I thought it would be best if I could go out fast and stay ahead of the other picture-takers and that would help me avoid lines for the characters. And it totally worked! There were only a few characters for which I had to wait for a picture, and the most I ever waited was a minute or so.
While in the corrals, they had a huge flat screen with live coverage of the race – interviews with runners, clips of past years, and some cool music videos. There was one in particular that I really loved – it had some song called “I Am a Runner” and was about striving to cross the line, and it was fantastically inspiring! I found myself getting super excited about the race.
I had opted not to use any of the PortaPotties, but about 15 minutes before the start, I realized that I needed just slightly to use the bathroom. It was not a dire emergency, but I didn’t want to stop during the race, and I figured it would only get worse. However, the PortaPotties were way back somewhere, and I didn’t want to head all that way back there. I found myself eyeing the men who were simply peeing into the woods on the side of the course, and debated whether I could pop a squat somewhere. Just then, I spotted some movement in the trees and realized that another girl was doing just that. As she came out of the woods, I took a cue from her and headed in. After all, I rationalized, if some endurance athletes can pee on themselves while they compete, then surely it wasn’t a big deal for me to go pee in the woods while using my space blanket to hide the view! It was a liberating moment :)
I made it back to my spot in the corral just a few minutes before the start. After some announcements by the head of Disney World and a bit of inspiration from a few characters on the stage, fireworks blasted through the sky and we were off!
I hit the first mile in about 8:20 and felt good… but I was also a bit worried. Last Sunday, I did my first mile in 8:10 and then bombed in mile 2. Bombing in mile 2 of a 26 mile run would not be good! However, I felt good, so I just kept pressing forward. We ran through Epcot, and as we came out of the cast-only area and into the public area, I gasped at the splendor of it all. (Remember that I have never been to Disney before). I had a huge grin on my face and an expression of awe and amazement as I joyfully ran through the darkened streets… and spotted my first character! Dodging off to the side, I had a quick pic snapped with Princess Aurora (aka Sleeping Beauty). I jumped back into the crowd to continue running, and just as I spotted my friend John and said hi to him (he told me he was already struggling due to the heat), I spotted more characters. I had vowed not to let a single character go unphotographed, so off I darted again to the opposite side of the road to get pictures with the Aladdin cast. Unfortunately, they were one of the few character groups that didn’t have a handler, so Aladdin graciously offered to take the picture of Princess Jasmine and the Genie… and then I asked if he would mind taking one with me as well (remember, no characters would go unphotographed!). His reply? “Of course, Princess!” And just like that, I became a five year old, giggling and shy and thrilled that I had been called a princess by Aladdin!
Continuing through Epcot, I took a few shots of the countries (China was incredible in the dark because of the torches that made it look beautiful), and found one more set of characters before leaving: Snow White and Dopey! This picture was one of my favorites because of how fun and goofy Dopey looked :)
Mile 3, 4, and 5 took us back to the start and then on some access roads so we could head to Magic Kingdom. It wasn’t quite as boring as you might think though: Disney had gotten plenty of high school bands to come play for us and cheerleaders to cheer for us, and the water stations were frequent enough that there was always something (water, music, cheerleaders, or a mile marker) to break up the monotony.
By mile 8, the sun was coming up, and there was a short stretch leading into Magic Kingdom where we saw runners coming out, and got to cheer on the leaders! Fun. Even more fun was the awesome “choose your music” section just before you got into Magic Kingdom. Basically, it was a fork in the road (that only lasted about 500 feet) with a sign that said you could get disco to the left or head banging rock to the right. I headed left to pick disco, and found that in the middle divider, they just had rows of speakers facing opposite directions, so if you were on the left, all you heard was disco, and if you were on the right, all you heard was rock! I was super impressed with that idea, especially since I would have thought the music would bleed to the other side – but it worked perfectly, and I did a little dance as “Burn Baby Burn” played :)
We headed into Magic Kingdom, and all of a sudden, there were crowds completely lining the sides. Like Epcot, I was completely in awe at the sights, and just looked at everything with my mouth literally hanging open as I ran. I tried to snap as many pictures as I could, but I was running fast enough that a lot of the shots came out blurry because they were to the sides of me. However, I got a fabulous picture of us running toward Cinderella’s castle, and that was where I really got the best runner’s high I’ve ever gotten. My mouth was open, my cheeks hurt from grinning (yes, with my mouth open), and I had tears in my eyes that I was trying to keep back. I already looked crazy enough – I didn’t need to be kicked out of the race for crying and seeming completely deranged!
We didn’t head into Cinderella’s castle just yet – instead, we detoured through Tomorrowland, where I got a picture with Stitch of Lilo and Stitch, and Alice, Tweedledee, and Tweedledum from Alice in Wodnerland. I also snapped a picture of the Tomorrowland Speedway, simply because I thought the “speedy racing” theme was particularly appropriate :)
Now circling back toward Cinderella’s Castle, I snapped a quick pic with Winnie the Pooh and also some of the cool rides (flying Dumbos and a carousel). Finally I was close to the Castle, and I hoped to see Cinderella herself, but instead saw her evil stepmother and stepsisters! I jumped in for a pic, and just before the picture was snapped, the totally-in-character stepmother goes, “isn’t it a bit INAPPROPRIATE to wear a skirt while running?” I burst out laughing as the stepsisters chimed in to raucously tease me, and the picture came out awesome, with me laughing hysterically as the stepsisters mock me and the stepmother looks on sourly. Fabulous! I then snapped a picture with the mice that are Cinderella’s friends in the movie (when I was little, I always loved that scene where they help her clean), and just as I was about to head into the Castle, I saw the Fairy Godmother across the way! Dodging other runners, I crossed the road, but found that she had no handler, so I snapped the picture myself in one of those awful bar-style shots where you never come out looking good and always have a squished face and big nose. Or maybe that’s just me? :)
Regardless, I headed into the Castle, marveling at the cool architecture on the inside (but forgetting to take a picture of it). I also forgot that there would probably be an official photographer snapping a shot of me as I exited the Castle, so I didn’t have my smiley face on and it will probably turn out to be a shot of me looking down and fiddling with my camera. Oops! I stopped at the end of the Castle and took a picture looking back at the other runners coming out, thinking I could at least get the cool shot vicariously.
Next up were Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Goofy all dressed up like early American colonists – cute! I tried to snap a pic of the country western crowd and their lassoing, but it came out a bit blurry. Just after them were two bears – I have no idea who they are. I took the picture anyway, but someone will have to give me a heads up on their claim to fame. The final characters in Magic Kingdom were Captain Jack Sparrow and his crew – and I was totally shocked to see just how much the guy looked like Johnny Depp! I’m not a huge Pirates fan (I like it just fine, but I’m not psycho about it like my Johnny Depp-obsessed girlfriends are), but I still got really excited about the picture.
At mile 11, we started heading out of Magic Kingdom, but just before going back to the access roads, I saw a train that was waiting for us, and what I thought was a Casey Jones character standing next to it. I asked for a picture, and Casey Jones and his accomplice tried to flee so I could get a pic with the train – and I realized they weren’t characters at all but just regular employees who happened to work on the train and whose uniforms were costume-like! I got them to get in the picture with me and gave them a little bit of celebrity fame :)
On the access roads, I spotted a fellow Marathon Maniac, Erica, introduced myself, and snapped her picture as she ran. Not a celebrity, but so what? :)
Further on down the access road was apparently a wedding chapel. I say “apparently” because I didn’t see it or even get that there was a wedding chapel nearby until John pointed it out to me after the race. But I did get a picture with the bride and groom (who I totally thought were just old-time socialites going to the Kentucky Derby or something) before hitting mile 12.
Miles 13-15 were fairly unremarkable, aside from hitting the halfway point of the race (official time: 2:06:16). We took some back access roads to get to the Animal Kingdom, and pretty much the only thing we saw in this part were some back buildings and the waste treatment plant. Woo! I did spot Donald Duck and the pilot duck from Ducktails (I forget his name), and snapped a quick pic with them.
Mile 16 brought us into the Animal Kingdom, and our entrance was heralded by a park employee who was holding a live owl. Though she wasn’t a character, I stopped for a picture, and she told me that it was actually a Tawny Owl. You learn something everyday!
Going into Animal Kingdom, there were tons of characters all dressed like they were going on safari. First up were Donald and Daisy Duck in what was probably my favorite picture of the race – something about the combination of my leaning-to-one-side posture and D&D’s super round bellies made me look really skinny and in-shape :) Donald made a big kissy noise as I left, and I made a mental note to tell Boyfriend that he had some competition.
Around the next corner was Rafiki from the Lion King. I was thrilled to see a Lion King character, as my old dog was named Nala, and I planned to send the picture to my mom, who misses Nala terribly. Rafiki gave me a big hug and I had a huge smile on my face as I left that corner. Next up were the two bears from The Jungle Book – I hadn’t seen the movie but at least recognized them. While waiting to take a picture with them, I got recognized – by Chloe! I gave her a big sweaty hug and urged her to keep going, though it would have been fun to stop and chat.
We passed two consecutive sets of African drummers, and I gave them a huge smile which they gladly returned as I snapped their pictures (no stopping though, which is why they came out a bit blurry). As we ran through Animal Kingdom, I kept that huge smile on my face. I had no idea the sights I was seeing, but they were just so cool, and I tried to snap as many pictures as possible. There was a giant treehouse, a huge replica of Mount Everest, and some fun looking rides. As we headed along some back roads, there was a woman in some sort of historical costume (a hippie of some sort? I couldn’t quite place her, though I think she was someone famous like Cher or something) yelling something about alcohol, so I yelled back “I could sure go for some vodka right about now!” That got some laughs from both her and my fellow runners, most of whom were thinking the same thing.
Minnie on safari was my last stop before leaving Animal Kingdom and heading for the final stretch of access roads. Not only were these boring, but we were in the worst part of the marathon – the dreaded mile 18, where I stop caring about time and start half-assing my race. Unfortunately, Disney was no exception to this rule. There were a few characters to pass the time (that picture with Mickey is one of my absolute favorites of the whole race). In mile 19, I caught up to Pocahontas and her friends, but that was pretty much it for characters for a while. I saw a bunch of Marathon Maniacs on the brief 1/2 mile out-and-back segment, including Betsy, but I was really disappointed there weren’t any characters to give me a break from running!
Finally mile 22 brought us into “Hollywood,” where we saw all the cool animated characters. I was thrilled to see the Incredibles (less than thrilled later when I discovered I look horrible in my picture with them), and there were also these green soldier guys like the plastic toys my brothers used to play with when we were little. Shortly after seeing them, we went into this cool tunnel where on our left and on our right we could see costumes and costume designs – AWESOME! I don’t know how much I’ve talked about my theater background on this blog, but when I was at NYU as a drama major, we were required to learn a crew position, and I got REALLY into costuming. I debated switching focuses within my major and doing costumes instead of acting (decided to move to business at Cornell after all), and took a lot of jobs. Among the cooler ones were being a dresser for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, being a dresser for Bill Cosby and Wyclef Jean at a gala fundraiser, and assistant managing a summer stock costume shop where I was responsible for constructing/altering over 250 costumes in 4 weeks (yeah, talk about long hours). Anyway, suffice to say I was SUPER excited to see all the Disney costumes, and I took lots of (unfortunately blurry) pictures.
Once out of the tunnel, it was time for… Mighty Morphin Power Rangers! (How I remembered their full name, I have no idea). I jumped in for a picture with them, and started by putting my arms around them as I’d done with most other characters. However, as the handler counted “1… 2…” they jumped into some superhero poses that I assume are from the show (which I never watched). I quickly moved my hands into the upside down “muscle man” pose just in time for the picture, but then immediately regretted looking stupid and not having a cooler pose. I ended up actually kind of liking the picture when I saw it, though I did wish my arms actually showed some muscle instead of just sort of being there :)
The next characters I saw were from Monsters Inc, but I’ve never seen that so I have no idea of their names. However, the big tall fuzzy blue guy was SO big and tall and fuzzy, and when I stood next to him, his big fuzzy blue fur just kind of enveloped me and I felt like I was safe in a cocoon. Sadly, I had to get out and keep running!
Mile 23 marked our entry into New York, New York, which was SO cool! Everything was really lifelike, and even the painted backdrops looked real. I loved running by the Plaza, as it’s right near Central Park where I normally run, and the replica just made me miss NYC :) As someone had said in the beginning of the race, where else do you get to run through a zillion countries and then through downtown New York with no traffic and not too much crowding?
Leaving New York, I saw a woman singing something against an American Idol backdrop – maybe someone who watches American Idol could look at my pic and figure out who exactly it was? I had no idea. Next up was Pooh again, but this time with Tigger and Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeyoooooooooooore :) So cute!
Just as we headed out of the park and through some resort areas, there was a spectator who had a sign that I loved. While it couldn’t really be used anywhere but Disney, it had a picture of Dumbo with words that said, “Use your magic feather!” Even thinking about it now I get a big smile on my face and a few happy tears in my eyes – so cute and inspirational :)
We passed the Swan resort, and on the river outside there was a ferryboat with passengers who were all yelling and cheering for us. The next few miles had a few more spectators – there seemed to be a lot of families waiting on the grass to cheer on their loved ones. Just after mile 24, I saw my favorite classic marathon sign, and took a picture even though I was a bit too far away to read it clearly: “Your feet hurt because you’re kicking ass.” Just after passing this sign, I got passed… by Betsy!!! I was thrilled, and tried to get a picture of her as she ran. Unfortunately, I only managed to snap a shot of her back – she was THAT speedy :)
By mile 25, we were back in Epcot, and I was just hoping to see some characters. No dice – they had all gone elsewhere, and I was annoyed. Usually mile 25 is where I rally and say “only one more mile ot the finish,” but I sulked that there were no more characters, and alternated walking and running to come out with probably one of my slowest miles of the race. Oh well – wasn’t running this one for time anyway! I really have no idea why Disney didn’t have any characters in the homestretch though. Maybe they didn’t want to distract anyone from the finish ahead?
We hit mile 26, and I put my camera away, but still no finish line in sight. After going around a series of turns, the finish was finally apparent – but it was just barely ahead. I really hate when races have a turn right before the end. If I get the finish in sight, I can usually sprint it to the end – so I wish more race directors would take advantage of that and make the finish able to be seen from a distance! The official race photographer did get what is probably one of my favorite running shots of all time – I’m smiling (not making a doofy face), I’m clearly running, and I just look fit and happy :)
However, when I finally saw the finish line, I panicked. Why? Because next to it (but just before the timing mats) were about 5 characters! Should I cross the line, or stop for pictures even though I was RIGHT there? I opted to cross the line, and didn’t go back after crossing both because I was afraid going back over the mats would mess up my time, and also because it was pretty crowded with runners and I didn’t want to get yelled at for going backwards. However, I later talked to spectators who said that plenty of people DID stop before the line for pictures. Darn it!
After collecting my medal, space blanket, and a poor excuse for post-race food (tons of energy bars, which I didn’t need after the race, thankyouverymuch), I went through bag check and was able to call John and meet up. We snapped a pic together, which was unfortunately into the sun, and I headed back to my hotel to go lie by the pool until my flight home. What a fantastic trip! And based on how much I was dreading it, who knew I’d be saying that at the end :)
A video that follows my run in chronological order follows (the pictures are actually better quality than they became when uploaded to YouTube). To see closeups of any shots, you can check out my Picasa album.
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 5122/14956
Gender place: 1744/7147
Age group place: 191/706