Race Report

9 01 2010

My first thoughts after the Walt Disney World Half were quite literally:  (1) I’m hungry, (2) I’m cold, (3)I’m wet, and (4) Boy am I glad it’s over!

Don’t get me wrong.  It isn’t that I didn’t have fun, because I did.  Walt’s folks really know how to create an atmosphere of excitement.  But there’s not much in this world that’s exciting enough to have me rise from a warm bed at 2:45 a.m.to wait almost 3 hours (most lounging on a beanbag chair inside a heated tent but a full hour of it outside in the dark with little ice balls bouncing off my face) and then shuffle along with 17,000 other people.  I don’t know if this is the worst weather they’ve had for the WDW Marathon Weekend, but I’m sure it ranks pretty far up on the list.

But gripes about the weather aside, it was such a fun event.  Costumed characters from all the Disney eras were on hand in abundance to mingle and pose for photos with the runners (and believe me, if I’d had a camera I would certainly have posed with Captain Jack Sparrow).  There were marching bands and other live as well as recorded music at practically every mile.  The fairly flat and potentially-fast course, which wound through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, was incredibly charming and brought many a smile to my face.  Aid stations were more plentiful than I have ever seen (featuring water, Powerade, Clif products and even Tylenol), and the amenities in the Race Retreat tent were five-star.  Even the mile markers were almost billboard sized Disney-themed displays with digital splits clocks at each.  Many people stopped running to pose for photos by them!  I highly recommend a Disney event to all marathoners because it is an experience beyond any I’ve had in my brief span as an endurance athlete.  As for the details….

After arriving at Epcot before 4:00 a.m. (because that’s what we were told to do), we all waited for the start of the race and then lined up in Corrals A through G.  I was in G with the newbies and slow folks.  The start of the race was at 5:35 with the wheelchair racers first, followed by the elites, followed by the rest of us.  It took almost an hour from the starting gun for me to cross the starting line.  That’s a lot of runners!  Being in the final corral meant I was with many of the walkers and had to navigate my way through and around them so I could run.  .  At times it was impossible to pass anyone so I settled into an easy jog and stayed there. 

We started in the parking lot and wound our way through Epcot and then the Magic Kingdom.  And how magical it was!  My jaw dropped when I ran past the giant castle, just like the one I saw on Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color” when I was a kid watching TV on Sunday nights.  Two castle guards tooted those long ribbon-festooned horns as we crossed through the gates like we were returning royalty.  People were lined up at the sides of the streets shouting encouragement.  It was truly a trip through fantasy land.  Sharpie was once of the race’s sponsors and had posted little signs along the less-interesting parts of the course featuring amusing commentary like “Einstein never learned to drive,” “If an ant gets intoxicated it always falls to the right,” and my favorite “I almost had a psychic girlfriend but she broke up with me before we met.”  It was all very entertaining.  Even observing the discarded clothing that littered the entire distance was amusing.

So how did I do?  Well, I’m glad I was not trying to set any particular pace because I found the sheer number of runners slowed everything down.  There were lines for the porta-potties, lines at some water stations and mobs of people 5- 6 abreast all going at random paces.  I don’t know my official time yet but I’ll bet it was around 3:00 plus whatever extra time I spent waiting for bathrooms, etc. along the course.  And that’s okay because the sole focus of my first full year as a runner has been to achieve distance goals and not PRs.  Having completed two half-marathons in the past 3 weeks, I’d say my ability to do 13.1 miles is a beyond doubt.

Whoever said the best way to break down a half marathon into manageable pieces is to think “5 miles, then 5 more, and then a 5-K” is truly brilliant.  The first 5 miles go by fairly quickly because of the training, and they seem like no big deal.  The next 5 may require a bit of positive self-talk toward the end but by the time you’ve done all 10, it’s a no-brainer to tack on that final 5-K.  My mantras when I began to feel the strain were “trust the training,” “your body knows what to do” and “5….5….5-K”.

Honestly, if the weather had been better and there had been fewer people, I would have had a blast.  There were a lot of event photographers around the course and I’m sure any pictures of me will likely show me smiling because I did smile and laugh a lot, despite the cold and the wind and the sleet.

So now I’m down the coast a bit in Cocoa Beach with my husband (who flew in after the end of the race) and I’ve already had an excellent broiled fish dinner, some rum punch and a nap.  The Disney Half was a great way to close my first year as a runner, and now it’s on to the next phase.