Walt Disney World

Three in the Morning is a Lie

Patt Sheahan


Marathon by Patt SheahanThree 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. on January 7, 2006, I think it was in the low 30s with a breeze.

The night before the half-marathon, we went to bed before 10 p.m. 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 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. Would be bad to be taken out prior to your walk!!

Once we got through the baggage tents we found ourselves in another huge parking lot ringed with walls of porta-potties. Here's another thing: outside people were lined up at the porta-potties - seems someone could have told them there were many, many more here.

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!

Lots of loud, dance mix music. Glad we weren't directly by a speaker. Could hear a man and woman DJ-types, but not really what they were saying. Occasionally we'd hear "Just 45 more minutes!"

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!

Marathon to the ContemporaryMy 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 less layers so he was glad to get moving and once the sun came up, he was perfectly dressed.

The first mile or two were pretty thick with participants, but I never had trouble passing or getting around people. Even though race etiquette is to stay to the right unless you are passing, I found it easier to pass either on the far left or right.

Let's talk about on-off ramps and WDW. You've driven them many, many times. I had too - but walking them was a totally different experience. They are huge. They are slanted. And the pavement on them isn't in very good shape -- it's very rutted (which I noticed more coming back, around the 10 mile mark!)

It was starting to get a little light by the time I reached the toll plaza area.

Mile 2 to 3 seemed distorted to me. Seemed longer than a mile. I don't know if they fudged the first mile, then lengthened the second or what, but it took a long time before that 3 mile marker came up. The Disney Cruise Line was set up somewhere around there and I remember hearing the Wonder's horn blaring 'When You Wish Upon a Star' -- I thought I was starting to hallucinate!

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 wheel chair 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 MK.

I ditched my windbreaker and gloves outside the MK. Going behind Tony's the smell of bacon pervaded the air and people were laughing. "Hey, they're going to give us BACON at our next stop!" Up Main Street USA, friend and families cheering from the sidelines. I caught sight of a friend's husband and yelled his name, high-fived him before he even knew who I was.

Turned right to Tomorrowland -- I had heard hints of taking a potty break there -- went in, lines were too long. I decided I wasn't wasting minutes to stand in line. No pee stops for me! Sat down, pulled off my sweat pants. So, now I'm down to running tights, race shirt and sweat shirt.

Patt with Tweedle DeeI did, however, stop to have my picture taken with Tweedle-Dee. I have my priorities! How did I know it was Tweedle-Dee? Because I concluded I was definitely Tweedle-DUMB.

Castle looming ahead. "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi blaring on my MP3 player. This is the only song I can line up with where I was because it echoed how I was feeling right then "It's my life -- it's now or never. I ain't gonna live forever -- I just wanna live while I'm alive!" I thought the smile on my face was going to split my head in two.

Through the castle. I was hoping people would be running with their arms up, going "WOOOO!" but it didn't happen. Maybe the real runners do this. Bottleneck outside -- photographers taking pictures of racers.

Through Frontierland -- I vaguely remember two big Country Bears dancing on the sideline... and maybe Baloo… again, I may be hallucinating.

Out the gates and through the area where I assume they keep parade floats, because we saw a lot of floats back there. Chernabog was asleep on the top of his, however, so we had safe passage.

This was about 6.5 miles, almost half way … and the only nutrition we saw on the race. Bananas, half or whole .. take your pick. And a street littered with banana peels. How bad and how much of a cliché it would be to slip on a banana peel and ruin your race! I took a whole one. I paid big bucks for this race, I'm taking anything I can get.

Somewhere before the Grand Floridian, the battery on my MP3 player died, so I tried to change it while walking. Dropped it -- battery and back went flying. Luckily, got the back, left the old battery and on I went. Frankly, the MP3 player was my salvation. I had taped all up-tempo songs, songs I really, really like, and they kept my pace up.

Brides and grooms along the side of the road.

Uh-oh. Mile 9 ….. I notice the bottom of my right foot starting to hurt. I'm developing a blister. Same shoes I've trained in, never had a problem. Mile 10, I know I'm in trouble. The jogging portion of my race is done. No way in the world I want to skid that sucker open. I make it up the on ramp, feeling every little hard groove in it. Stop at the railing on the overpass (and finally take a look at the crowd still behind me -- I never looked before!). Take my shoe off, jimmy my sock around.

Mile 11 to 12 pretty nondescript. Just keep checking my stopwatch to see if I'm walking under 16 minutes per mile. Miles 10-13 were all over 16 minutes, due to the fact my right foot was burning and I was walking to accommodate it. It was nice to see the behemoth Swans and Dolphins because you knew you were close.

Up another ramp and overpass (where the heck did THAT come from???) into Epcot, behind Living Seas. Gospel group singing "America," decked out in gold. Up under Spaceship Earth, down to the lake, back again… heading towards glory. I knew I had a little reserve left, so I jogged over the finish line. I could see the clock ticking towards 3:45…. I wanted to get there before it hit that point and I did.

My hubby and I had agreed to meet at the family meet tent. I grabbed a mylar blanket, got my medal, bypassed the official photo, took whatever they'd give me at the food tent (banana!). Got to the "S" tent and didn't see hubby. Up he walks finally, eating a banana. We looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, "Never again!" Turns out he had finished 4 minutes before me.

He, too, stated that around mile 10 his feet turned to mush. Being the self-help dude that he is, he picked up a pair of socks that had been thrown along the road-side and put them on over his other socks. Whoever threw away the nice pair of Nike socks, we thank you. (We were later told that most likely at that point in the race, they were probably thrown away by a fast runner that had been using them for gloves!)

We hobbled to find where our bus would be (again, this wasn't clear). Hubby had gotten an official photo taken, so it'll be interesting to see what photos, if any, were taken along the race way, etc.

The blister is popped and drained. The muscles that hurt on Saturday were replaced with new muscles that hurt on Sunday. Sunday, I heard my hubby say, "IF we do this again …" Monday, the aches and pains had changed locations again. By Tuesday, I was pain free.

My left big toenail may be leaving me. I feel like it's a badge of honor, though. Finding a pair of shoes I could wear to work this morning was impossible. Tomorrow it'll be open-toed sandals and socks. But I'm happy -- now I've got a big gold Donald-head bling thing going on!

So, advice from a 53-year old race newbie:

* Train. Make sure you can do at least a 16-minute mile.

* Make friends, real-life or internet and talk during training. Lots of support, suggestions, and some good people to drink with when it's all over.

* Get good shoes. Be fitted for proper shoes. What felt good (New Balance 480s) and worked well for our training sessions failed me at the real deal.

* Decide if you can do it on your own or not. An MP3 player was imperative for me on my own as it kept me at a good pace and entertained.

* Set your goal. Whether it's to get through the Magic Kingdom (which really was the highlight for me) or whether it's to finish -- set that goal.

* Know your warning signs. Carry nutrition with you. You know yourself better than anyone else, so LISTEN.

* And… enjoy it. Realize you're doing something that's pretty remarkable.

See you in Corral G or H, January 2007.