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Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Walt Disney World Marathon

This morning, I ran my most recent marathon one of the happiest of places -- Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida!

This being Florida, and this being run through a theme park that usually opens at 9am, the marathon was scheduled to begin at 5:30 am under cover of darkness.  So at 3:15 am, there I was, in the Epcot parking lot, with several thousand other runners, and several porto-johnnies, attempting to stay warm in the 50-degree chill that Florida was stuck with until dawn.

I was armed with my bib, which had a B-Tag securely attached (every race should have them, and not those lame-o D-Tags that nobody knows how to use), and a fuel belt containing one flask of Gatorade and one flask of Powerade, as well as three Gu's just in case Popeye needed his spinach.  I was sporting the pair of black-and-orange Gel Nimbus 12 sneakers I'd bought six weeks earlier to "break in" for this event, since it was designed for my pronation.

As we approached the starting line, I assembled in Corral B, and got myself ready as Mickey, Goofy, and Donald took the stage next to the starting line, addressed us with a few jokes through animatronic masks, and gave the ready-set-go start to each wave of runners.  My Garmin was on, I was receiving perfect GPS signals (for a change), and I depressed the start/stop button as I proceeded over the starting line.

I was on my way!  I had shed the old long-sleeve tee from the 2005 Long Beach Snowflake Run and the old sweatpants that I'd worn prior to the start, and saw the fireworks and pyrotechnics overhead as I began my run.  I enjoyed the brief moment of warmth the flames provided, and then proceeded to warm myself up.

I had sworn that I would not commit the ultimate runner faux pas, and "go out too fast."  My sole intention was to take it nice, easy, slow, and comfortable for at least the first half of this race, and then turn on the juice for the second half.  A glance at my Garmin, however, confirmed that my slow and comfortable pace was ranging anywhere between 8:54 and 9:14, when I intended to run a 9:30 or slower.  I would later discover that the reason for this unexpected display may have been my consumption of Powerade instead of Gatorade.  Apparently, it really does have more carbohydrates and electrolytes, etc.  Next time, better switch flasks, ha ha!

Still, it felt good sticking to this pace.  We would run through some of the back roads of the park, encountered by Disney characters near almost every mile marker.  We saw Peter Pan and Wendy, Captain Jack Sparrow, the Jungle Book characters, and many others!  I especially got a kick out of two characters who were meant to be vacationers who had gotten hopelessly lost, and were consulting an old fashioned map.  One of them warned us that we were all running the wrong way!

Also for nearly the entire course were speakers blaring songs designed to keep people moving -- "Every Day I'm Shuffelin'," "Hey-Yo, Baby Let's Go," and "Don't Stop Believin'!"  There were also tons of volunteers handing out Powerade (figures) and water, but I saw that as an opportunity to run with a little elbow room, since I'd brought my hydration with me.

As dawn broke, we journeyed through Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.  I marveled to myself how Spaceship Earth and Cinderella's Castle seemed much smaller than expected -- the fact that I was no longer a child may have also had something to do with that.  We also journeyed through the Disney's Animal Kingdom and Beach Resorts -- it was not unlike crossing bridges between boroughs at the NYC Marathon.

On I pressed through the highways, back roads, and sometimes narrow trails.  Between miles 12 and 18, I listened to a few war stories from the 4-hour pace-keeper, designated to run even splits so that everyone near him could go at the same pace.  I got a chuckle at Mile 21 when one of the green toy soldiers from Toy Story exhorted us runners to "mooooove it, mooooove it, take that hill!"  He wasn't kidding, since he was placed right before a really steep one!  Good thing I'd taken that Gu first!

Somewhere between Mile 23 and 24, I felt myself slipping a little.  Ran out of both Gatorade and Powerade, and my legs began to question whether just running this far was "good enough."  I swore that I'd force them to go all 26.2 miles whether they wanted to make it or not, and that I would not permit them to walk under any circumstances, no matter what Jeff Galloway said!

The question was, exactly when did I reach 26.2 miles?  Towards the end of the race, the mile markers detected by my Garmin were exactly halfway between the mile markers on the course.  Another runner asked me if I though the course was somehow longer than it was really supposed to be.  I disregarded that remark, since everyone thinks the finish line is too far away at this point in the race.  Still, it was not clear why my Garmin's mile markers did not match.

So as a compromise, I stopped the clock once my Garmin showed 26.2 miles, and just kept plowing away until I reached the finish line.  Although my Garmin would indicate a hard-earned time of 3:56:36, my official chip time for the race would be a slightly frustrating 4:00:38.  I've got no reason to complain to Disney and demand that those four unsightly minutes be reduced from my chip time, but I am now considering an upgrade in my own personal timekeeping equipment.

Obviously, making it under the 4-hour mark would have been a real win.  But even though that didn't happen, it was a real treat running through Disney World.  In fact, I will most likely do this race again in the near future -- or several options that Disney provides.  I might try the Goofy Challenge, and do the Half Marathon on Saturday and the full Marathon on Sunday, like many people did this weekend.  Or if I have a willing partner, do the Chip & Dale Marathon Relay!

Either way, I had a great time at this race, and I'd recommend it to anyone else who wants to run a unique out-of-town marathon.  It's even better if you make a whole Disney vacation out of it, since the resort hotels have shuttles taking everyone to the race and back!  Not to mention, after the race, you have the whole day to go on rides, etc.

So now to treat myself to a week of cheat meals, and to attempt to avoid running for the next several weeks.  And to attempt the feat of walking up and down stairs tomorrow!  :)

A good night all -- don't forget to comment!