Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Disney Winter Racing Part Five - WDW Mickey Mouse Marathon

Today's blog will be about the last race of the WDW Marathon weekend.  It will be long, contain many photos, and will hopefully describe the joy one can have running 26.2 miles.  Now on to the fun!  

Today was a big day for Sallie Gibbs and Jenna Johnson.  Expo day is always an exiting day for the first time marathon runner, and today was no exception.  After I returned to the hotel from the Disney Minnie Mouse Half Marathon, showered, and checked my email, Sallie and I jumped into the car and headed over to the Wide World of Sports park.

Expo Mark II

With the Expo opening at 10am, we expected a bit of a crowd, but were pleasantly surprised to see a light number of runners.  We went straight to registration to gather Sallie's bib, runDisney Running Jacket, accessories, and a Dooney Burke bag.  We wandered the outside vendors and then wandered inside the main Expo area to meet Jenna and her friend Rob.  Sallie, Jenna, and Rob would all be running together for the marathon, and it was time to get them all introduced.  We met at the t-shirt pickup area, discussed the plan for tomorrow, and I delivered the runDisney Marathon swag I grabbed for Jenna on Wednesday.

Now that we had a plan and a meetup time, Sallie and I wandered through the Expo, grabbed a few additional things, and then headed out.  I had booked lunch at Downtown Disney to get our big meal in.  With an hour before lunch, we wandered the stores, I grabbed some additional GUs from Fit2Run, and we headed to T-Rex for lunch.  They had a good pasta selection, and a great theme.

With our bellies filled, we headed back to the hotel to rest, get our gear together, and talk about tomorrows race.  It is always recommended to put out everything for the next day, otherwise you will freak out trying to find that last GU you think you need.  Stress is not something you need the morning of the race.  As the night crept in, we decided to hit the hay at 7pm.  This would give us the most time resting and possibly sleeping.  Surprisingly, Sallie got more sleep then expected for a first time marathoner.

The Big Day - Morning Race Retreat

The morning screamed it at a bright and shiny 3 am.  Sallie and I got into running gear, grabbed our racing belts with bibs, dry clothes, and headed off to the race.  Today we needed to take a different path to Epcot due to road closures.  Since it was a bit early in the morning, I used the wrong exit and we had to take a longer path to park, which did not help Sallies nerves.  Both Sallie and I had purchased the Race Retreat for this race, so we headed over there for Sallie to eat her breakfast and relax, as we had over an hour before Corral A released, and almost two hours before Sallie crossed the start line.

The race retreat had more then just food.  It had the toys from Toy Story.  One of the Army Men came over to greet us at our table, and helped root Sallie on for her race.  We had several first time marathoners at our table, and Todd joined us for a snack and the final walk to the corrals.

After a few trips to the bathrooms, more chatting, and some caffeine in the form of a Diet Coke, the three of us headed off to the corrals.

Queuing in the Corrals

With 27k runners, we wanted to make sure that we got there with as little stress as possible, so we gave ourselves a good chunk of time to walk to the corrals.  Even this walk had entertainment, as Sarge was out and passing out his form of encouragement.
Todd was again in E, while Sallie was in O.  Sallie had made arrangements to meet Jenna and Rob at the very front of the corral, so she wandered off in the opposite direction as Todd an I.
Todd stopped at the porta-potties en route to his corral, so I wished him good luck on his goal time of 3:50 and headed to Corral C.   I did some dynamic stretching to give me a good understanding of how sore my legs were.  They seemed fine, so I set a goal of 9 minute miles and headed into the corral.

As we got closer to the release time of 5:30, we were treated with the National Anthem, some uplifting speeches, and then the release of the wheelchair racers.  At this point, each corral will be released 3 minutes after the one ahead of them, which would be the fastest release for any recent Disney Marathon.  At 5:30, the wheelchair racers were released, almost immediately followed by Corral A.  After 6 minutes, we where release.

Off to Park One - The Magic Kingdom

I started off slow, wanted to keep a 9 minute a mile pace, with the intent of a sub-4 hour finish.  It was cool out, around 55F, which was a bit warmer then yesterdays half marathon.  The route used the same path as the half marathon through the Magic Kingdom and out around the golf course.  It took about 30 minutes to reach the main road entrance to the park, and with Sallie and Jenna back in corral O, they were about to cross the line.  They had hung out at the front of the corral, slowly moving forward and trying to keep their nerves under control.  This was a big day for them, a big distance, and an amazing challenge.  They were excited and nervous.

The park was lit up in the Frozen theme, just like yesterdays half marathon.  The path through the park was the same, but this time, I wanted pictures, and first up was Buzz!  I quickly headed over for the photo, as there were no lines, a perk of starting in an early corral.  Then I was off.
Once we were out of the park, we headed down the service roads that followed the golf course.  The same characters were out there as were out there yesterday,  I was looking forward to getting a photo with Sallie and Jack, so I jumped in the grab a quick one.
Jack gave me a hug and said to run scary fast.  Now it was off the to race course and on to Animal Kingdom.  Running the race course is an interesting experience.  We utilized the inside service track, with a wide array of classic and super cars lining the main track.  The entrance is a very steep grade down and up, where we had a bit of fun leaning in, yelling "get out of the way" and charging down and up the entrance.
As we ran around the track, racers were stopping for photos with the cars and drivers, but the section was a bit boring, with little other entertainment or real music.  As we exited the track, I had finished one of my GUs and wanted to toss it in a trash bin, versus on the ground.  With a medical tent up ahead, I moved in that direction.  As I got closer, several of them asked if I needed lubricant or Biofreeze.  While not slowing down, I state "Trash" and toss the GU in their trash bin.  This gave them a good chuckle, minus the one that didn't look and almost slammed into me.  Off I went towards Animal Kingdom, as the Sun started to rise.

Park Two - The Animal Kingdom

The course between the race track and the next park was about 3 miles in length and all on service roads.  The surrounding area was mostly trees and swampland, with a few points where music was played.  About 2 miles in, we hit the main character section came up, and it was all of the villians in the classic animation movies.  I had to stop and get a shot with them, just for the sheer number of characters there.

I continued on, still keeping an overall 9 minute pace, enjoying the weather and the crowd.  The runners were thinning out at this point, so there was ample room to keep to the tangents, and the only people cheering were the employees, which was awesome.  One of the things I expected last year when we approached and entered the Animal Kingdom was to see animals, but instead we were presented the water treatment plant.  This treated us with a very nasty smell for about 10 minutes.  While the course was modified to only come near it for a shorter length then last year, you did get a bit of that nasty smell.  On the bright side, they had placed signs every 100 feet explaining how they recycled everything, including the water, grew their own produce, and were overall green.  Very interesting, and kept your mind off the fact that we were at 12 miles entering the park.

The turn into the park is a sharp right hand turn, and one of the only turns in which you will not hear the recorded phrase "Warning runners... sharp turn ahead!"  This was due to the array of animals they had brought out to line the service road into the park.  Goats, tortoises, opossums, pot belly pigs, birds, donkeys.  Some that could be petted, and all could be photographed.
On to the main park.  This would be the first time in which a park would have rides that could be open.  Specifically, Expedition Everest, a roller coaster.  While we were a bit early to get on the ride, the majority of the runners who would follow would have the option to ride the coast and get back on the course.  With the detour only taking 5 minutes, this is something I would love to try at a later race.  From here on out, many rides would be open for this option, but I was focused on photos and not rides.  Maybe that will be a goal for next year.  This year, the park was a bit bland, as they had more contruction then normal, so we got to see a great deal of walls with artwork displaying what would be there next year.
As we left the park, we hit the next big mark for the race, the halfway point.  This is the only section that have more then one mile marker.  Specifically, the 13 mile  marker and the 13.1 mile mark.  As you would expect, many runners took a quick selfie with the 13.1 marker and headed out.  The next stop was WWoS.

Park Three - The Wide World of Sports.

From here the runners would be facing the long dark of the course.  The next part of the course would be over 4 miles in length and include several highways.  This would also be the start of the Florida "hills", also known as overpasses.  This part of the course contained DJs with good music, and the return of the crowds of spectators.  Since this was on public roads, the cheering became strong.  As we crossed over World Dr., we reached the first easy section where we started to see cheaters.  On the other side of the highway was the 21st mile marker, and a turn back towards the Boardwalk and Hollywood Studios.  If you wanted, you could just cross the median, skip 5 miles, and finish with a better time.  It was sad to see several runners jump the shark, but there will always be some that are not up for the challenge.  Cheating is thier loss, and they will need to live with it.  About a mile further down the highway, we took a sharp left towards the WWoS.  They had big screens and a DJ here, playing music, chatting up the runners, and trying to get them over the last 4 miles.

The Wide World of Sports park is less of a park and more of a sporting complex.  It contains tracks, sports fields, and baseball stadiums.  We would spend the next 3 miles weaving through them.  The sections were tight and mostly concrete, but the continuous changing of direction did break up the last 5+ miles of highway running.  They also gave out cold, wet sponges as we entered into the park.  This was a nice refreshing treat that I held onto until we entered the stadium.  They also offered bananas, which helped settle the stomach.  At this point, I repeated the same mental mistake I make during almost every marathon.  I miss count the miles and think the 30k marker is the 20 mile marker.  This leads to me yelling that we only have a 10k left, and then feeling like a fool as we pass the 19 mile mark.

On we went into the stadium where the Atlanta Braves hold spring training, running around the warning track and out the other side.  The stands were full, all cheering for the runners, with a DJ picking out different runners for cheering, and a live stream of the runners on the big screen.
Once out of the stadium, we headed back out of the park.  The streets were lined with spectators, all cheering and yelling inspirational phrases.  We passed the DJ and headed to the left turn and back to the highway.  As I made the turn, I saw Sean Astin make the turn towards WWoS.  I yelled some encouragement, thought about turning around and trying to grab a selfie with him, but decided to keep going.  Running is a solitary experience, and it would be disrespectful to interrupt that for a photo.  On to mile 21 and the last part of the race.

Park Four - Hollywood Studios

As I turned left after mile 21, which was an on ramp to the next highway, I rechecked my pace.  I saw that I was still at the 9 minute average and one pace to hit 3:55.  At this point, I thought about the next two parks and all of the characters they would offer.  Once most runners reach Hollywood Studios, they stop caring about the characters and focus on finishing.  This meant that there would be zero lines.  At mile 22, I decided to drop the 9 minute pace in favor for characters.  If I came in under 4 hours, that would be great, but from here on in, I wanted to get each character I could find.  Within a quarter of a mile of the first on ramp, we hit another on ramp, the third "hill".  More runners had started walking at this point, and traffic for park guests had already started to back up.  This offered a unique cheering experience, as people in the cars would start cheering, honking horns, or playing music to help the runners.

A half mile after mile 22, we entered Hollywood Studios via the back lot entrance.  We were greeted by a food station giving out candy.  They offered chocolate, gummies, Twizzlers.  After grabbing a few, we headed through the back lots of the park.  Mr. Incredible and ElastaGirl were waiting for us around the bend.  I had received a high five from them while walking the parks, so I had to grab a photo with them.
 Done with the photo shoot, I joined the runners back on the course and eventually through a tunnel the leads into the park.  As we approached the tunnel area, I saw Sully and Mikey is one of the best costumes I had seen to this point.  Jumping in between them, I grabbed a pick and got back to running.
The tunnel was a mass of lights and fog, encased in the costume department, which was the building the tunnel was made to pass through.  Exiting the tunnel brought us to the Magic Hat in the middle of the park.  Unlike last year, Dopey was not waiting for the runners.  Instead there was just the Fairy Godmother.  I had no urge to get a photo with her, so I continued on to the hat.
From here on to the finish line, we would be inside one or more parks and would never see road again.  Once outside of the park, we ran down the canal that lead to Disney's Boardwalk.  The trail was lined with spectators with food, signs, and loud voices, all pushing the runners to finish strong.

Park Five - Epcot

We crossed onto the boardwalk at the far side, which would be the exit path from the 10k a few days before.  We crossed the bridge into Epcot and turned right, meaning that we would again skip Canada and the U.K.  We had a mile left, but many characters to go.  The first up was Morocco, where Aladdin and Jasmin were waiting.  I spent a bit of time here getting a few pictures, as they seemed bored.
I jumped back out onto the course, until I got to China, where Mulan and Mushu were waiting.  I can never pass up a photo with a dragon, so I stopped for a few shots and then back to the course.
These were the last of the characters that I saw, so it was off for the last mile, Starship: Earth, and the finish line.  The rest of the race followed the World Stage area of Epcot, passing all the way to Norway.
Here we take a right towards Starship: Earth and on to the finish line, using service paths to the right.  Since I stopped in front of Starship: Earth during the half marathon, I skipped it this time and headed towards the finish line.  As we passed the bathrooms onto the service paths, we reached the last of the entertainment in the form of the Gospel Choir.
On to the finish, I followed the familiar path to a finish line I have crossed 3 times int he last 3 days.  As I do at the end of every race, I kicked the pace up to a decent clip to the finish line.
I saw off to the right side Pluto, giving out high fives, and I couldn't resist.  Everyone needs a high five at the end of a race.
I crossed the finish line at 4:02:11, 2 minutes slower then I planned, but with a large supply of photos and fun experiences.  The last part of any marathon is the long march to the exit.
Most races setup a miles worth of walking, to make sure each runner is truly healthy and stable after the run.  Here is also where we got our medals, in my case all four of them.
From here I headed off to the race retreat to food, a change of clothes, and to see where Sallie and Jenna were.  It was time for some cheering!

The Cheer Squad!

After cleaning up and donning my post race kilt,  I headed out to Hollywood Studio.  Based on Sallies pace, I should easily be able to make it there in time to see her and Jenna pass.  Sallie had enabled Garmin's Live Tracking so that I knew where she was at any point on the course, as Disney's tracking system was unpredictable.  They had buses to Hollywood, so I grabbed one of those and entered the park, as we purchased 4-day passes just for this reason.  As I passed baggage check, the greeter made a point to comment that I was already in the parks after the marathon and that she thought that was amazing.  I shrugged and headed to the Magic hat.  Here is where I would sit for the next few hours, cheering every runner that passed, until Sallie finally came up.  Until that point, I got to experience rain, humidity, and the most amazing group of runners, all kicking ass on the last 2.3 miles of the race.

While standing there, I had the joy of cheering each runner on, pointing out the great costumes, and thanking those that liked my legs, and kilt.  I had my Dopey medal on, and while a few heckled me for "showing off", most just used it as inspiration to finish strong and get one of their own.  Every few minutes I would point out the park restrooms next to me, stating that they have to be cleaner then the porta-potties on the course.  I also gave out some of my finishers box of food to runners, and some of my water, all the while glancing at my phone, watching Sallie get every closer to me and the last few miles to the finish.

I also got a chance to talk to the sweepers.  They were bikers in orange jackets that would ride to each mark at a 16 minute a mile "pace" and place a red flag on the marker.  If a runner got to that marker with a red flag, they would most likely get swept, which was a cart that followed well behind the bikers.  At this point, they had stopped sweeping, as all of the runners had entered the park, so they could start opening the roads.  After they headed off, Sallie came around the bend in a delirious smile.  I pulled her aside for a photo and sent her on to the finish.
I stayed until the last runner passed by, including Jenna, who was a few minutes behind Sallie.  Then I was back on the bus to Epcot and the finish line.  I was worried that the buses may not be on a schedule that fit me getting to the finish line before Sallie, I decided to run from the Magic Hat to the bus stop to get the next bus.  The course actually ran right next to the bus stop, so I had to be careful where I ran, as I didn't have a bib and they were strict on not crossing the course.  This also confused a few of the runners, as I got to the stop before they arrived.  This made for an awkward reaction to me cheering for them as they passed by, again.

The Finish Line, Mark II

The bus came quickly after I got to the stop, with a few other finishers and spectators also heading to the finish line.  I ran from the bus stop to the finish line, as the drop-off point was further away from the pickup point, so I wasn't sure I had enough time.  Unbeknownst to me, Sallie had stopped at mile 24 and waited for Jenna.  They then both headed onto the Boardwalk and into Epcot.  When I got to the finish line, I waited at the last turn, about 100 feet from the finish line.  Here I kept up the cheering, waving at those that remembered me from earlier, and congratulating everyone on their amazing finish.  Then I saw Sallie and Jenna coming down the path to the turn, holding hands, one with a smile and the other with determination.
The finish line was 100 feet away.  All that training was paying off, and it was time to finish strong.  After hugging Sallie and waving to Jenna, I ran to the other side of the finish line to watch them cross the threshold of their 20 week adventure.  They crossed the line in 7:17:58, stopped, and embraced each other in a joyful, exhausted, hug.
After a medical assistant made sure they were fine to continue, both Jenna and Sallie started down the long walk to the medals, food, and family.  I met them near the the family meetup area, congratulated them and brought out the celebrator whiskey shot.  Each took the flask and downed a swig, Jenna lingering a bit longer before handing it back.  I grabbed a shot of the two with their medals, and Jenna headed off to meet her aunt and uncle.  
Sallie and I headed back to the Race Retreat to get Sallie into dry clothes, grab some food, and head back to the hotel before he hit Downtown Disney and dinner.  
The dinner was Sallies choice, the Crab House, where she had a large plate of lobsters, muscles, clams, and wine.  We wandered a bit more through the stores, picked up custom iPhone cases, dessert, and then headed home for much earned sleep.  
The next three days would be about the parks, relaxing, and enjoying a well earned cheat week.  Next up, the Rebel Challenge in DisneyLand.