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 IIWith 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 RetreatThe 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 CorralsWith 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.
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 KingdomI 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.
Park Two - The Animal KingdomThe 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.
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.
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.
Park Four - Hollywood StudiosAs 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.
Park Five - EpcotWe 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.
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.