Walt Disney World

It'll Feel Better When It Stops Hurting

Laura Gilbreath

Sign during the MarathonLast 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 4 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 and 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 less than 14,000 people making their way to the start line rather than over 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 few 5-6 miles of the race.

Lights of Winter Arch at MarathonAround mile 2-1/2 we ran through Epcot's front gate and under Spaceship Earth, then out towards World Showcase where we ran under the brilliantly lit Lights of Winter arches, and 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. Where 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.

Not long after we passed the mile 10 sign we burst into the Magic Kingdom and onto Main Street, which was lined with cheering people. Chip and Dale were standing off to the side, and we stopped to get our picture taken with them - the first of MANY character photos throughout the day. Most people ran right by, so we rarely had to wait very long. And there was always an obliging Disney Cast Member available to snap the picture for us. They really did a wonderful job with that.


Posing with the Incredibles
Laura and Tweedles

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 next to Splash Mountain that the parades use. Several of the floats from the "Share a Dream Come True" parade were back there.

Along Grand Floridian Way there were lots of cheering spectators, and as we ran past the Wedding Pavilion the Cast Members were out in force - the women were wearing white with the Bride Minnie ears, and the men in black with the Groom ears.

When we'd reached this point last year we were almost done with the half marathon, but nooooo...we still had just over 13 miles to go! By now the sun had been up for an hour and it was a beautiful day - plenty of blue sky and sunshine but it was still chilly.

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 "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.

Laura with an Owl during the MarathonThere were lots of characters once we got closer to Animal Kingdom, and several of the floats and puppets and stiltwalkers from Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade were on display, with Mickey and Minnie themselves at one of them! There were even some keepers with a couple of *real* animals - I saw a goat and an owl.

We ran onstage into Harambe and then around into Asia past Flights of Wonder and towards Expedition Everest. One of the siamangs was perched waaay up high in the tower and even he was cheering us on with a series of "whoop...whoooop...WHOOP" calls. I'm sure it's not every day he sees thousands of silly people run by!

In Dinoland USA we ran past the scary looking dinosaur at the beginning of the Cretaceous Trail, and then backstage again. You do get some interesting looks at things backstage during the marathon - Animal Kingdom had recycling, composting, and sewage treatment facilities, and there was a lovely scum pond near the Studios. I enjoyed seeing the back side of Expedition Everest, though - just this flat wall with the outline of mountains above it.

I'd just like to say that miles 18-22 were pretty boring...though we did get another set of those Sharpie signs from 19-21. Including my very favorite: "Do radioactive cats have 18 half lives?"

Hercules and Meg at Marathon We were really getting to the "OK, I'm ready for this to be over!" stage by then. *Finally*, not long after the 22 mile mark, we entered the backstage area of Disney-MGM studios. And they really rolled out the red carpet for us. Literally! We ran on a red carpet for about 50 feet, and that felt *so* good to our tired feet - nice and soft! But all too soon we were pounding on asphalt again. The route took us past the old animation studios and the Earful Tower, and through the costuming area - though there was no one working on Sunday. Quite a few characters, too. Abby Mallard from Chicken Little was there and she was SO sweet -- she gave me a BIG hug when I posed with her. We came onstage at the end of New York Street, right at the Mile 23 sign. I think we saw more characters in the Studios than any other park...and quite a few of them were "face" characters, like Snow White, the Evil Queen, Jasmine and Aladdin, Hercules and Megara, Mulan, and Pocahontas. We ran past the Sorcerer's hat and down Hollywood Blvd, and out the main entrance where we took the walkway (or that day, a runway!) between the Studios and the Epcot Resort area.

We were staying at the Boardwalk, and the Mile 24 marker was less than 100' from our room - we could SEE our room from there! Oh so tempting, but we had only 2.2 miles left! And this part of the course, because it was very easily accessible, was full of people cheering us on, and encouraging us and telling us we were almost there, and that we could do it. That really helps when you're tired. Thank you to ALL of you who were out there cheering for any of the runners over the weekend - you really made a difference.

The route took us by the Yacht and Beach Clubs and then into the backstage area of Epcot near the International Gateway. We wound around back there a bit before entering World Showcase by the UK pavilion, and then ran counter-clockwise around World Showcase lagoon, passing the 25 mile sign in France. 1.2 miles...we can do this! At World Showcase Plaza we again ran past the Christmas tree, where a group of Cast Members from many of the different country pavilions were cheering us on. Then under the Lights of Winter...haven't we been here before? About 5 hours ago??? Less than half a mile to go!

Past the Fountain of Nations...Mousegear...Electric Umbrella...under Spaceship Earth, then backstage...and there was the 26 mile sign. We picked up the pace and turned the corner and we could see it. The FINISH LINE! About 50' from the line we all joined hands and crossed the finish line together, arms raised in triumph. WE DID IT!

Laura and Lee and the MedalsSomeone wrapped us in mylar blankets (oh look, it's a bunch of baked potatoes with legs!), cut the timing chips off our shoes, and hung that precious Mickey Medal around our necks.

After we went to the baggage tent and got our bags, and the food tent and got some food, we went to the Family Reunion area, where Tom (Sherry's fiance) and my Evil Twin Pam were waiting for us. And we hugged, and showed off our medals and posed for pictures.

All things considered we actually felt very good - really not particularly sore, and all of us were still walking pretty well. It had turned into a beautiful day with plenty of sunshine, and since we weren't waiting for anyone else, after a while it finally occurred to us that we could just leave, and go find a hot shower and a soft bed.

It was a great experience, and I'm glad we did it. Would I do it again? Wellll...Let's just say that at this point I have no plans to run another marathon...but that doesn't mean I couldn't be talked into it.

And of course the most important thing is that Donald now has Mickey to keep him company.

Laura's Disney Marathon Tips

1. Develop a training plan and stick to it - if you get off-schedule (and you will) just pick it back up as soon as you can. There are many books and on-line training programs available for both marathons and half marathons.

2. Don't let the setbacks discourage you. As Coach Dan told us many times: "Some days you're a diamond, some days you're a rock."

3. Realize that training for a marathon is a significant investment of time, and you're going to have to prioritize and possibly put other activities and interests on hold for a while.

4. Be extra-conscious about staying healthy in the weeks just before the race - wash your hands frequently, keep them away from your face, get plenty of sleep and stay away from sick people.

On marathon day...

5. Take a camera, and stop to take photos, and to have your photo taken.

6. Say thank you to all of the wonderful people who help make this race possible - from the indispensable volunteers who hand you food and water, to the cast members and characters who take pictures and pose for pictures.

7. Smile and wave to the spectators cheering you on, and high-5 the little kids who stand along the race course - they are adorable.

8. Enjoy the moment and have fun!

If you have any questions about the Disney marathon, send Laura an email: lgil at lgil dot net