walt disney world half marathon recap

January 9, 2012

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” — Walt Disney

Well said by Disney many years ago, it describes exactly how I feel about the entire whirlwind of a weekend I just went through. Going into the race on Saturday, I couldn’t believe it was actually here. In fact, I feel like I trained for so long for this race, put so many hard hours into it, and was so excited for the actual outcome of it all.

Saturday morning started bright an early at 2:30 in the morning. In fact, I couldn’t even believe I had to wake up at such an ungodly hour to run 13 miles — runners are quite a strange breed, don’t you think? Despite the early time, I made a point to have my usual oatmeal and coffee breakfast. If I know one thing, I know not to mess with food choices on the day of a race. Thankfully, my mom and I had a full kitchen in our hotel suite, which made it quite easy to prepare food for the morning.

Disney was by far the most organized race experience I have ever had. They had buses running from each resort to the actual race, and I have to say even if I lived in Orlando, I would have stayed in one of the Disney resorts just for the night so I wouldn’t have to think about transportation the day of the race. The buses started running at 3:00 and the last bus to arrive at resorts was at 4:00 in the morning. I was nervous we wouldn’t get a bus, so we left our hotel room around 3:30 or so, and I was more than surprised to see more than one bus lined up and ready for runners and spectators. It took a while to get to the actual location of the race, but again — I couldn’t believe how organized it all was.

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We were dropped off and had about a five minute walk to the main tents where runners could check their gear based on last names. The night before, Katy and I had discussed our goals for the race, so we both agreed it would be a good idea to find each other and stick together during the morning. After a few text messages and a phone call, we found each other, said goodbye to our moms, and headed to the gear check area. After Katy checked her gear, we had quite a trek ahead of us. It was a 15-20 minute walk to the actual race start, and there were portables lining the streets for runners to use before the race. Katy and I stopped twice (just to be on the safe side — ha!) and made our way to the A corral, where we were both placed.


photo courtesy of Katy

Once we got to our corral, I started to get pretty anxious and nervous. I’m the kind of person who “doesn’t think about it” — like literally, at all. In order for me to stay calm, I just get out there and, as Nike says – just does it. Yes, I have goals in mind, and yes I push myself, but if I sit there and think about the “what if’s”, I can drive myself crazy. Katy and I found our “goal pace” group — the 1:50 group. It was quite a stretch for me, as my best half time was 1:58, but I have gotten faster since then so I wanted to set the bar high. All or nothing!

After some stretching and keeping ourselves busy by chatting, it was finally time for the 5:30 start time. We both ditched our “throw away” warm gear, and got ready to go. After the national anthem, the fireworks finally went off and it was go time!

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Since Katy and I were in the first corral, we crossed the start line fairly quickly. I believe it only took us about two minutes to really get going. We started out with a really good pace, and despite my irresponsible three days of walking around Disney parks, my legs felt fresh and strong. For the first few miles, Katy and I talked, but quickly lost the 1:50 pace runner. Since it was fairly crowded, it was hard for us to keep up with him without barreling through other runners. He was in my sight for the first few miles, which was all I cared about. After I lost sight of him, I told myself as long as I finished in between 1:50 and 1:55, I would be more than happy.

The first three miles went by so quickly (they were all highway running), and they really are more of a blur than anything. Right before we got to the Magic Kingdom, Katy and I were separated when she was having breathing difficulties.

I’m a runner who really enjoys taking short walking breaks when my legs get tired, and I was more than ready for one by the 5th or 6th mile marker. However, I wouldn’t let myself stop, especially since I was in sight of Cinderella’s castle. The course took us through a back entrance, and up and down Magic Kingdom’s Main Street. At this point when I rounded the corner and was greeted by a Disney “cast member”, I saw the crowds cheering on the runners, and I thought “this is what I was training for”. I felt so much gratitude for my body allowing me to run, and running down Main Street almost brought tears to my eyes as I ran towards Cinderella’s castle (is that so totally weird?).

The course then took us around into Tomorrowland (where Space Mountain is) and through Cinderella’s castle. After running through a bit more of Magic Kingdom, the course took runners out of the park and onto more road to run past Disney’s Polynesian and Grand Floridian Resort. When I got to Mile 7 or 8, I took my first walk break through the water station. I also ate a few of my energy jelly beans that I had stashed in my shirt. My legs felt really good, but I knew I would be able to keep my pace up if I took a few breaks as well. I was averaging about a 8:30 pace, which wasn’t necessarily a 1:50 finish pace, but it was strong, and I was pushing myself pretty hard.

During halfs, I always start to hit a wall around mile 9 or 10. It’s probably all mental on my part, but I always just want it to be over once those miles start to hit. To help myself combat this, I made sure to listen to some music that would carry me through the roughest parts of the race. It would be a lie if I told you that Justin Bieber did not have a part in my running pace during those miles. A few other things helped me run through those miles — one thing that helped was actually singing out loud during the chorus of a song. Weird? Yes, but I figured so many people were hyper focused on themselves and on their own music that no one would mind and/or notice if I was singing out loud. So there I was singing “I will never say never” out loud to myself, but I swear singing made my legs move faster. I also picked someone in front of me to catch up to and eventually pass. If I gave myself a goal to focus on, I was less apt to focus on the fact that I had just run 10 miles and still had 3 miles to go. It worked!

At mile 11, I took my last walking break. I grabbed a cup of water, looked about 1/2 mile ahead, and cursed (not so softly) because there was quite an incline to run up. The last portion of our highway running was up an overpass so we could enter into Epcot. There was someone on the side, holding a sign with a button that said, “push for power” — you better believe I pushed the crap out of that poster as I began to run by it.

January 7, 2011 151 goofy and donald waiting for me at the finish line!

When I got to mile 12, I saw the clock read 1:44, and I knew I could make my goal. I think I even screamed “yes!” when I ran past it. All that was left was the run around a large Christmas tree in Epcot and make my way back into the parking lot for the finish line. All I wanted to do was be done with the race, but I knew I had to push it to the finish. I was in my own world, and the only thing I focused on was finishing hard. My mom got a great shot, which makes me look like I’m in intense pain, but in reality, I am running as fast as I possibly can (which wasn’t too fast at this point).

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I crossed the finish line when the clock read 1:56, but I knew since I started two or so minutes after the clock started, I had reached my goal. I couldn’t wait to see what my official time actually was. After grabbing a water, a blanket, and thanking some volunteers for being there, I made my way out of the way of other finishers and headed to the food area to grab another water and some fruit. After I made my way out of the tents, I immediately found my mom since we were actually smart enough to talk about a meeting place once I was finished.

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After talking with my mom for a few minutes, she showed me the texts she received about my pace — the same ones that were tweeted at my 5k, 10k, and finish time (all with expected finish times). My official finish time was 1:54:08 — a whole four minutes better than my last half time! If I could have jumped up and down, I would have at that point. Instead, I sat down to stretch and meet back up with Katy to congratulate her on her finish and make sure she was okay.

My mom and I quickly made our way to another shuttle bus to take us back to our hotel, and once we got back, I started to feel really sick. I had drank two bottles of water already and had eaten some fruit, but a wave of nausea hit me like a tons of bricks after I got out of the shower. Despite it only being 10:00, my mom and I were making lunch, but food was repulsing me at the moment. I laid in bed, tweeted about how horrible I felt, and the consensus was I needed to get hydrated and eat some more food. I forced down some food, and my mom made me drink something with electrolytes, and within a half an hour after, I felt almost normal — still queasy, but okay to keep going for the day.

Saturday is one of those days that I will truly never forget. Disney World totally gets to me. Even though it is viewed as a place for children, it represents so much more to me. Walt Disney was someone who believed in dreams, believed in making yourself into something more than you could even imagine, and even more than that, believed in success and the future. Just thinking about it gives me goose bumps, and I am always inspired after a trip to Disney.

All in all, I would definitely do another Disney race again. Even though the price tag is pretty hefty, it was the most well organized and inspiring race I have ever ran. And more than that, it was pretty fun to have an excuse to take a vacation. Hey, I will travel to run!

“A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there. With enough effort, he may achieve it. Or he may find something that is even more rewarding. But in the end, no matter what the outcome, he will know he has been alive.” — Walt Disney

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