After supporting Molly during her two previous marathons, I finally got the itch to do one of my own. It would have been easier to just do the famed Chicago Marathon, but I wanted something different.
Running through tall sky scrapers just didn’t excite me. I’ve never really been a big city person. I wanted to find an interesting marathon that would inspire me for my first one.
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Disney World. I have vague happy memories of going there when I was young to enjoy the nostalgia of main street, the imagination of fantasy land and the excitement of adventure land.
So when I heard that Disney World hosted a marathon where you get to run through all their parks — right through the castle no less — I knew that I had found the marathon for me. It also gave us the opportunity to have a family vacation that the kids would enjoy.
Once I picked out the marathon to run, I set out to find a training plan. I chose Hal Higdon’s beginner marathon course and told myself that I would stick to it as much as possible. It was great to have the structure and know what I needed to run each week to keep progressing toward my goal of the marathon.
Throughout the summer and fall, I ramped up my running. In the fall, I completed the Batavia Half Madness Half Marathon in a time of 1:51 in beautiful warm weather. I even sprinted the last mile.
But as the cold Chicago winter set in, it became harder and harder to do my long runs. I had to move more and more of my running indoors which I find to be boring. I love the fresh air and so I finally started doing my long runs outside even though it was freezing and there was a foot of snow on the ground.
On the day after Christmas, I finally did my 20 mile run (my longest scheduled training run before the marathon) outside on the country roads of springfield while visiting family. Molly ran 15 of the miles with me and I felt great during the run. I was really able to get into the the zone and just focus on running.
After that run went so well, I knew I was ready for the marathon. We flew down to orlando and spent the three wonderful days at the parks with the kids. I took the day before the marathon as a day of rest and a chance to enjoy the marathon expo. At the expo, I got to hear some great speakers including Jeff Galloway and John “The Penguin” Bingham. They were great for getting me pumped up to run the next day.
On the day of the marathon, my alarm rang at 3:15 am. I had set out my clothes and gear the night before so I jumped into them, grabbed some coffee, and hopped on the bus for the staging area. Disney wanted all runners on the buses by 4 am to be ready for a 5:50 am start.
When I arrived at the epcot parking lot that served as the staging area, there was a rock band playing and amazing amount of people. You don’t realize how many people 20,000 is until you’re sitting in a big parking lot with them. It was great to realize that we would soon all be running together.
After a quick bathroom break and bag check, we began the march to our starting corrals which were about half a mile away. I guess Disney assumes that if someone can run 26.2 miles, then having them walk 0.5 miles beforehand shouldn’t be a problem.
In the starting corrals, we were entertained by big screen videos and espn hosts. Finally Mickey arrived to kick off the start of the race with fireworks. At last, we were running!
It was surreal to see thousands of runners surging through the orlando highways on a moonlit morning. After about ten miles of running, we reached the Magic Kingdom as the sun was rising. It was very cool to run through the theme park without all the other tourists around and give high fives to characters along the way.
Some runners were even stopping to take pictures with the characters. I was sorely tempted to do the same, but I had a race to run and a time goal to keep. The highlight of the magic kingdom, had to be running through the castle. Soon afterwards we were back on the highway running towards animal kingdom.
Somewhere along this road, I began to worry that I was not running at the right pace. I had always assumed that I would see the four hour pace group because that was my goal pace and how fast I thought I was running. After about 16 miles, I still had not seen them and began to worry that I was going too slow and never would.
So I started to slow down, and all the sudden some guy holding balloons passed me. It was the four hour pace group leader! I had been running ahead of them the whole time!
That renewed my spirits for a while and I stuck with them as we ran through animal kingdom. Then we were back on the highway for a long stretch before hitting Hollywood Studios and the big finish at Epcot.
Through mile 20 I stayed on pace with the four hour group, but around mile 21 I started to hit the wall. The four hour pace group slipped away from me and for the last five miles I had to take it easy.
By the time we reached the Hollywood Studios, I was ready to be done. I told myself that I would put in a good run for the last mile though through the world showcase and epcot though. During the last mile, I saw Molly and the kids so I briefly stopped to give them a hug and then pushed on to the finish. I picked it up for the last minute so I was able to come in right at four hours and fifteen minutes — a nice round number.
I didn’t get the exact time I wanted, but, as all the running experts say, you shouldn’t try for a goal time on your first marathon. Just finishing is a good goal and I’m happy with 4:15.
The four hour pace leader put it in perspective for me. I saw him at the finish line and thanked him for volunteering his time to run as a pace leader. I told him that I had stuck with him for many miles but could not keep up in the end. He asked if I set a PR (personal record), and I told him that it was my first marathon. Well then, he said, you just set a PR!
Overall, it was a great marathon and Disney sure knows how to put on a fun race. There was no shortage of bathrooms, food, water, characters, and inspiring sights to run through. Heck, I’m already thinking about my training plan for my next marathon 😉
“If you can dream it, you can do it” -Walt Disney