Walk a Mile in Their Shoes:
Marathon Memories

by Debra Martin Koma, ALL EARS® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the January 24, 2006, Issue #331 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

A few weeks ago, Walt Disney World hosted its 13th annual Marathon Weekend, featuring a 13.1 mile half-marathon on January 7, and a full 26.2 mile marathon the next day, January 8. A number of ALL EARS(R) friends participated in these events, many for the first time. We'd like to share some of their insights on not only what they saw as they trekked through the parks during these events, but also what they learned and experienced internally as they prepared for and undertook this mental and physical challenge:

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Three in the Morning
Is a Lie
by Patt Sheahan
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Three in the morning is a lie. There is no "'morning" in 3:00 in the morning. It is night. It is the middle of the night. It is the middle of a deep, dark, cold night if you were getting up to do the WDW 2006 Half-Marathon. Same thing applies for 4:00 in the morning.

And it's also a mistake to think it's going to be warm in Florida, like there's a magic bubble over WDW property. At 4 a.m., January 7, 2006, I think it was in the low 30s with a breeze.

We went to bed before 10:00 and I was very surprised we could sleep. I remember waking up at 12:30 and then again at 2:30, then just watched the clock until it turned 3:00.

After eating half a bagel with peanut butter and banana (carbs, protein, potassium!) and dressing in layers, we went downstairs in the Dolphin to find our race bus. I assumed the buses would be picking up at the normal bus stop area, but my husband decided to ask at the front desk. The person didn't know, so disappeared for a few minutes. We found out there were special tour buses waiting right at the front door.

The bus left promptly and dropped us off WAY out in the Epcot parking lot. WAY out. This started a trend -- I guess it was part of the warm-up process for the big walk. Once we got to where the action was (a live band! What a crappy gig for a live band! "Would you like to play at Disney? Sure? OK, get your gear set up by 3 a.m.!") we milled around, trying to figure out where the heck we were supposed to go.

Finally, we found a race volunteer and asked where the corrals were. We were told to go through the baggage tents where people were dropping off their bags and to walk on through. Mayhem. Many of the bicycle rack guards they had put up to shuttle people in had bent supports and we saw walkers trip. It would be bad to be taken out prior to your walk!

We still didn't know where we were going, where the corrals were, whether we should go to the corrals, etc. Finally, there was an announcement that we'd start lining up. They removed the barriers at the end of Porta-potty City and the crowd started mooooving down a road. And it was a long walk. I think we walked 1-2 miles prior to the race! Once you saw your corral, you were to leave the main throng and get in the "chute."

We were in Corral G (next to last), but close to the front. We stayed in this corral for another hour. In mid-30 degree temps. At least there were more bodies around at that point in time. People were jumping the fence to use the "facilities" in the woods. A few porta-potties placed along this long stretch of road would make some sort of sense.

While in the corral we started talking to a mother and young daughter from Utah. The daughter was probably 10-12, short-brown hair with highlights and an angelic face. She had trained to run the race, but the mother was having knee problems and didn't know if she would be swept while walking or not. We then found out the daughter had had cancer twice. Throughout the walk and since, I've wondered whether that little girl made it. I sure hope she did!

Finally, it was time! With a small flourish of fireworks somewhere up ahead of us behind a very bright, cornea-searing light, we'd move 5 feet and stop. Move 10 feet and stop. Then, it was for real!

My husband and I had planned to do this separately -- I knew he walked faster than I did on average. He didn't want to walk and jog, so we were fine going our own way. I had dressed like the poor kid in "Christmas Story" -- so many layers I couldn't put my arms down. I was fat and happy, but most importantly, warm. Hubby had worn fewer layers so he was glad to get moving and once the sun came up, he was perfectly dressed...

It was starting to get a little light by the time I reached the toll plaza area... We looped around the Richard Petty Experience, through a parking lot and headed toward what I figured would be the hardest part of the half-marathon -- the "Dreaded Contemporary Hill." I jogged before I got there, figuring I'd lose time climbing it. On the way up, I noticed one of those selfless marathon acts. A woman in a wheelchair was having trouble -- not so much with her chair, but she had had her legs strapped at the ankles to keep them on the chair. Her binding was coming undone. She could get her chair over to the pylons, but was having trouble fixing it. Two men left the race and helped her.

The hill wasn't that bad! I was up it before I knew it and that put the Magic Kingdom in view. As a WDW Half-Marathon newbie, this was my goal. I thought I could finish the race, but I mainly wanted to get through the Magic Kingdom...

To read the rest of Patt's journey: http://allears.net/tp/marath_4.htm

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I Did It!
by Cathy Bock
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About a year ago, several friends and I made the commitment to enter the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. As die-hard Disney fans, and after reading our friends' 2005 reports, it seemed like the perfect place for our first half marathon attempt -- after all, we'd be going to Disney World!

My "athletic" days were over about 30 years ago, but I figured it wouldn't hurt me to start walking and to follow a training program -- maybe I'd lose some weight, and build some endurance. Due to some knee and back problems, I chose to follow a walking plan, and ended up adding some very short periods of running as the race drew closer.

We set out, each at our own pace, but with one goal -- to be at the start line on January 7. It seemed like such a long time to wait but by the time October rolled around, we were getting into the training program and the race was just around the corner. Occasionally, there would be e-mails from Disney with marathon weekend information, and finally the race information packets arrived! We constantly compared notes, offered advice, and encouraged each other as we began to crank up the training and preparation for the trip and the race.

Finally, it was time to head to Florida! It was one of the most exciting, yet frightening trips of my life. No matter how much I read about other racers' experiences, no matter how much I walked, I couldn't comprehend what I was about to experience. My husband, Bryant, went with me to provide moral support and capture photographic evidence.

Participants reported to the Wide World of Sports to pick up their race bibs, timing chips, race information booklets and race shirts. There was also an expo featuring athletic apparel and gadgets of all kinds, information about other marathon events, and a large area of WDW half-marathon, marathon, and Goofy Challenge merchandise.

I went on Friday morning to pick up my packet and the line was very short. By the time I got out my ID and signed my waiver, I was at the head of the line. When I left, the lines were much longer. It was interesting to see what people were buying -- lots of socks, gloves, and clothing for the predicted cold weather for the weekend! I spotted a half-marathon tee shirt with "I Did It!" written on it but didn't buy it. Didn't want to jinx myself, as I was indeed worried about not "doing it..."

Race Day at last! Boy, was it COLD! And early -- participants were encouraged to arrive by 4:00 a.m. Buses were running from the resorts beginning at 3:00 a.m. plus there was transportation from the Magic Kingdom resorts via monorail and parking available for those choosing to drive.

Even though my alarm was set and I had a wake-up call scheduled, I was wide awake at 2:35 a.m. It was finally here, and I wasn't sure if I was excited or afraid, or a little of both. Accompanied by our friend, Pam, we arrived at the Epcot parking lot around 4 a.m., but because it was so cold, we spent a long time sitting in the car. Finally, the time came that we needed to head out, so I shed the outer layer of sweat pants and we made our way towards the crowd. It took us a few minutes to figure out where we needed to go (probably because there was such a large crowd), but we finally found the baggage drop-off tent so that Pam would have her belongings after the race, then visited Portapotty Row, and headed toward the starting corrals. The walk to the corrals seemed to take a long time -- but it felt good to get the muscles warmed up a bit and to keep moving so we wouldn't freeze! Once we were in Corral G, I called Kerry, only to find he was a few feet in front of us. We spent some time talking and I also ran into Shontell (from DVCbyResale.com) and enjoyed talking with her for a few moments.

Finally, time to start! The "official" start time was 6:01 and a few seconds but it would take 19+ minutes for us to reach the start line. I was very antsy during that time, as I knew I'd need all the time I could get to finish. As we reached the start line, Pam took off like a shot (great finishing time!) and my friend Kerry reassured me that as long as I stayed in front of all those people behind me, I'd be OK...

To read Cathy's entire story: http://allears.net/tp/marath_5.htm

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It Will Feel Better
When It Stops Hurting
by Laura Gilbreath
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Last year my husband Lee and I ran the 2005 Walt Disney World Half Marathon, and had a great time. We were quite pleased with our beautiful Donald Duck finisher medals...but in the day or two following the half marathon we kept seeing all of these people walking around wearing their Mickey Mouse (full marathon) medals...and those looked really good. And surely we needed a matched set...wouldn't Donald be lonely without Mickey? So we signed up to run the full marathon in 2006.

We trained quite seriously for about four months before the race, and one of the best things we did was to hire a running coach. He designed a custom training program for us and we met with him weekly. I highly recommend working with a coach or some kind of a marathon training group to anyone training for their first marathon -- we learned SO much from Dan, and he answered our questions and helped us through a lot of different issues. Having a training schedule helped keep us motivated and disciplined, too. And of course it also helped that there were two of us doing it -- in addition to all of that "quality time" we spent running together, a little friendly competition kept us going.

Fast-forward to marathon weekend... we'd been watching the weather report, and by Saturday it was obvious that it was going to be COLD at the start of the race -- the forecast was 32 degrees! (Average at the start is more like 48 degrees, and it ended up being 35 -- a whole three degrees higher than predicted.) We had to scramble around a bit to figure out how we were going to stay warm -- the problem wasn't so much staying warm while we were running as staying warm while we were waiting around for over an hour for the race to START. We purchased some cheap throwaway gloves and Tyvek jackets at the marathon expo, and also gave Mickey some additional money for a couple of stocking caps to keep our heads and ears warm. And we'd both brought heavy shirts that we planned to discard along the course. We were planning to run with our friend Sherry, and her fiance came to the rescue -- he is a balloon pilot and had a bunch of those hand warmer packs in his car. Tucking those into our gloves really helped keep us warm!

We arrived at the start area on Sunday morning around 4:45, checked the WARM clothes we planned to have waiting for us at the end of the race, and then began the long walk from the staging area to the start line on Epcot Center Drive. That walk was actually quite a bit easier this year than last year -- since the marathon and half marathon were run on different days, there were fewer than 14,000 people making their way to the start line rather than more than 20,000!

The fireworks went off at 5:58 (two minutes early!) and we were off. We saw lots of trash bags with legs in the early going (it was a good day if you have stock in Hefty!), but as we kept going the clothes started coming off -- there was a variety of jackets, shirts, gloves, and hats discarded along the side of the course. (Disney picks up these items, cleans them, and donates them to charity.) Sunrise wasn't until 7:18, so it was still quite dark for the first 5-6 miles of the race.

Around mile 2-1/2 we ran through Epcot's front gate and under Spaceship Earth, then out toward World Showcase where we ran under the brilliantly lit Lights of Winter arches, past the Christmas tree (and the mile 3 marker!) and got our first glimpse of the World Showcase Lagoon. All of the torches were burning, the country pavilions were all lit up, and the globe was turning in the center of the lagoon. It's really quite a sight, and gave me chills that didn't come from the 35 degree temperature.

We ran into the backstage area of Epcot between Norway and China, and then back beside Test Track and Wonders of Life before exiting Epcot and getting back out onto Epcot Center Drive. There we got this strange sense of deja vu -- weren't we just here about 45 minutes ago?

On the way to Magic Kingdom we ran past many spectators who had braved the cold temperatures and the early hour to come out and cheer us on -- several cheerleading squads, a couple of high school bands, and even some "hula" dancers -- as well as family and friends of runners...

Sherry's fiance was waiting for us near the hub, and after she got a quick hug we continued into Tomorrowland. We of course HAD to get our photo taken with Stitch, who got a kick out of seeing the stuffed Tigger I was carrying around my waist and the stuffed Stitch that Lee had. Then it was around Tomorrowland and past the tea cups and into Fantasyland. Dumbo and the carousel were spinning away, though there were no riders. We ran through the castle and into Liberty Square and Frontierland, and out of the park via the gate that the parades use next to Splash Mountain. Several of the floats from the "Share a Dream Come True" parade were back there...

There wasn't much to see along the road to Animal Kingdom, but the Sharpie company had put up a bunch of signs along the side of the road, a la the classic Burma Shave signs, which helped keep our minds occupied. They had sayings like, "It will feel better when it stops hurting,""Why do we park on driveways and drive on parkways," and, one of my favorites, "Where are we going and why am I carrying this handbasket?" Really clever...

For Laura and Lee's complete marathon experience: http://allears.net/tp/marath_6.htm

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Going "Goofy"
by Lisa Lachance
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My husband and I had participated in the marathon a couple of years ago and when I saw the T-shirt for the half ("The duck stops here") I wanted to add that one to my collection. Since it wasn't on the agenda for 2005 we decided to enter the half in 2006. My friend Peggy (who hadn't done the marathon) decided that she wanted both medals (as long as we were traveling from California) and so we entered the Goofy Challenge!

Saturday morning was brisk (right above freezing), but once the race started things were fine. I think (and this event was my 14th full marathon) that Disney puts on a class act. More water stops than you need, character interaction throughout the course and such friendly people to cheer you on. Unlike two years ago, there seemed to be buses set up to move cheering sections around. It was great.

Sunday morning came a little sooner then we wanted it to. However, we had our mylar blankets that were given to us at the finish on Saturday so it didn't seem nearly as cold. They divided the start into two different groups and the fireworks started us off! It stayed a little cooler, I thought, because we had fog... the Disney Magic Horn sounded through it though and once again there were characters and water stops and oranges and bananas and the nicest people you could ever meet. Also, since we had a blue wristband (Goofy Challenge) we got lots of "high fives" from people who couldn't believe we were going to put so much mileage on our feet. At the finish line we got our Mickey Medal and our Goofy Medal -- and lots of admiration from those who understood what we had gone through.

For those who haven't done an endurance event, Disney puts on a class act. You see the back roads of the "World" as well as a good portion of all four parks! I don't think I would do the Goofy Challenge again but with the right incentive would probably return to the "world" to complete another half marathon at least!

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Related Links:

Wandering the World -- Photographic Glimpses of the Marathon through the Marathoners' Eyes: http://allears.net/tp/wander/wander15.htm

Walt Disney World Marathon, with links to 2005 Reports: http://allears.net/tp/marath.htm

Running Trails at Walt Disney World: http://allears.net/btp/running.htm

Inaugural Half-Marathon at Disneyland: http://allears.net/dlr/tp/marath.htm


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.