Sunday, January 7th, my mother and I participated in the 25th Running of the Walt Disney World Marathon – our first, and last, full marathon together. I had always dreamed of running a full Marathon with my mom. To my surprise, when I asked my mother if would she come be my ChEAR-leader her response was “how about I run it with you?” In her mind, she ran a marathon on her 40th and 45th birthday year and, now that she was turning 50, it was time to do another.
I soon learned that training for your second marathon is WAAAAYYYY worse than your first. Now that my body mentally knew it could run 26.2 miles, the motivation I had with the first marathon simply vanished. It also didn’t help that this winter was not runner friendly. I had to use a treadmill and indoor track for my last 3 long runs (including the 20mi) because of the amount of snowfall and the -20-degree wind chill. Thankfully, for those runs, I had my mother in town. It is a lot easier to run 4 hours indoors when you have the support of someone else with you.
We flew into Orlando the Friday before the race. My mother and I each brought a checked bag. The benefit of staying at a Disney Resort is that Disney will collect your checked bags from the airport. That way, we didn’t have to lug them around with us when we landed. However, in case of any emergencies (eg. lost luggage), we did pack a carry-on bag to hold all of our race attire. I was going to be dressing up like Judy Hopps, from Zootopia, and my mom was dressing up as Tinkerbell. The Disney’s Magical Express (busing from the airport to your hotel) was easy to locate at MCO and the transition to the resort was a breeze. After checking into Pop Century, we left our carry-on bags with the steward and hopped directly on the bus to the Expo.
The Walt Disney World Expo was held at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. The first thing we did was head into the main convention room to pick up our bid numbers and race shirts. Thankfully, my mother and I were both placed into corral E since we each submitted a time between 05:00:00 and 5:30:00 to qualify. Next, we headed over to the HP convention floor to shop for the exclusive runDisney apparel. My mom had her sights on a getting a sweatshirt and rose gold Minnie Ears. However, since we arrived on Friday (aka the 3rd day of the Expo) they were all sold out. Never-the-less, we still went crazy and bought a plethora of shirts and accessories. Our favorite item we got was matching 25th Running Tervis Wine Glasses.
The day of the big race we woke up at 2:30am. Grumpy and shy on sleep, we stumbled to get ready and hopped on the runDisney bus at 3:00am. As soon as we arrived at the race, around 3:40am, we got in the port-o-potty line. We began talking to a couple who were running their first marathon together (also dressed as Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde) and met with one of the charities you could run for – Kellsie’s Hope. Then, came the worst part. We had a little over an hour and a half until the first corral start at 5:30am. We found our way over to corral E and huddled up near the start of the corral. The temperature was 47-degrees out and windy and I could feel my muscles freezing up. At fifteen til, my mom and I began shedding some of our layers and mentally prepared for the race.
As this was the 25th running, there were 25 different corral starts with each start playing a different Disney song from the year it corresponds too – begging in 1994 (when the first marathon was held) and going until 2018. Mickey began the countdown and at 5:30am “The Circle of Life” began to pore over the speakers. “Colours of the Wind”, “Out There”, “Go the Distance”, “I’ll Make a Man out of You”, “Strangers Like You”, “Perfect World”, “Monster’s Inc Jazz Theme”, “He Mele No Lilo”, “Beyond the Sea” followed until finally, we got to the year of our start- 2004. At this point, we were right in the front of corral E1 and watched as Mickey gave us our magical countdown. The Incredibles Theme Song played over the speakers and my mother and I took off. It was my job to be our pace bunny and I was asked to stay around an 11:00min mile pace.
The first character we stumbled upon was Lightning McQueen and Tow-Mater. I was non-stop talking about how excited I was to get my photo with McQueen, but the line already had 50 people in it. I read a review online about the Disney Princess Half Marathon which stated that one of their regrets was stopping for all of the earlier pictures as it didn’t allow their bodies anytime to warm up. My mother and I shared a look that it wasn’t worth it and continued our way. We ended up taking our first walk break at the 2-mile marker. This was also when I decided to ditch my sweatshirt as I was now warmed up and ready to go.
Right before the “Mile 5” my mother and I both needed to use the washroom (too much water during the waiting period). Thankfully, we were at the entrance of Magic Kingdom so when we saw the “real” bathroom instead of port-o-potties we joined the line of fellow racers. Once we collected ourselves we crossed the 5-mile marker and continued into the Magic Kingdom. The last time my mom ran the marathon, the participants had to enter MK through a side door (where the Dapper Dan’s normally are). This year, we got to run up the main entrance and straight down Main Street USA. It was beautiful! To quote the man running next to my mom, “well this doesn’t suck.” The trail then looped through Tomorrowland and into Fantasyland. We then ran through Cinderella’s Castle and finally stopped for our first photo. Running wise, these first couples of miles felt great. However, there was a mass amount of people (more than I am used to running with) which caused me to excessively weave through the various paces. My Garmin had me clocked as being 0.27miles ahead of the course markings.
After we left the Magic Kingdom, there were a few characters along the path. We ran past most of them, as the lines were still probably 5-10minute waits. At Mile 8, we took a Gu/BioFreeze/walk break and our first character photo. This one was with the Dancing Penguins from Mary Poppins. As we entered into the Mile 11 loop, I noticed that my mom and were ahead of the 05:15:00 pace bunny. We were making excellent time, almost too excellent. We entered the Animal Kingdom at mile 12 and passed the half-marathon marker. Finally, at 8:46am we were at Expedition Everest. I couldn’t wait to get on and ride the ride, since how many times can you say you rode a roller coaster during a marathon? But the ride didn’t open until 9:00am! My mom wanted to continue running, but I was determined so we entered the line of people waiting for Everest. We took a few selfies and had a conversation with the couple in front of us. The people behind us grabbed a beer and at 8:55am Disney opened the ride for us runners. In all, it added 20 minutes to our time; but was 100% worth it.
Now came the rough part of the race, miles 14-18 were nothing but highway and hills. The first two miles we maintained an 11:30 pace; but then my mom’s calf started acting up. We pulled over at mile 16 for more BioFreeze and Tylenol. We started taking walk breaks after every mile until we entered ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. I must say, mile 18 was when I was at my absolute low point. This had been my first race when my stomach was actually growling so I knew I probably should have eaten more food the night before. My mom was also feeling the same way. Thankfully, once we entered Wide World of Sports “Hail to the Victors” was blasting on the speakers. This gave me the added pep I needed and I began clapping and singing along to the fight song. I got a few “Go Blues!” and a lot of “how is she this peppy?” We continued around the track eventually passed mile 19, aka food heaven. Many generous ChEAR-leaders set up tables with all sorts of snacks. My mom grabbed a handful of potato chips and I sipped a glass of pickle juice. I will now always pack pickle juice in my race belt because it was a miracle worker. I instantly felt better and was ready to knock out these last 7 miles. On our way out of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, Sadness and Joy were waiting for a photo-op. Without saying anything my mom and I joined the line of five people for our photo.
Back on the highway, we were approaching mile 22 and the massive hill that came with it. We were not even going to attempt to run up it. Instead, we slathered some more BioFreeze on our bodies and began to walk. In the middle of the hill, there was a lone Army Man with a blow-horn providing motivation. I wanted to get my photo with him, but he was having everyone in line give him pushups to get the photo, so I stayed far away and continued walking. Once we got to the decline, we began running until we reached Hollywood Studios. We were only 3.2 miles away from our finish line but my mother’s foot really started to hurt. I maintained a running pace of 12:00 for us but whenever she needed a break to walk she would tap me on the back and I would stay with her. When we passed the mile 24 outside of the Boardwalk, my mom wanted to run but I asked her to walk the whole mile with me. That way we wouldn’t worry about her injuring herself with only 2.2 miles to go.
We began running as soon as we entered the World Showcase of Epcot, but my mom had to continue to tapping me to walk. We took this as an opportunity for us to grab a picture with Jasmine in Morroco and Mulan in China. Apparently, Belle was in France but neither of us noticed her so we must have been running at that point. As we rounded out of the World Showcase and headed closer to the Epcot Ball, we got one last picture of us together. I grabbed my mom’s hand and continued running to the finish line with the Hallelujah chorus cheering us on to the end. We crossed the finish line at 06:20:09 and received our 9oz medals. Disney was also handing out our own “25th Running Marathon” Mickey Mouse ears to all of the finishers. My mom and I later joked it was a marketing plan because they knew we would all want to pay the $7 dollars to get them embroidered, but it was still a nice touch to add for the anniversary.
Overall, I loved my experience at my first runDisney event. I had an incredible time running with my mother and pushing her to her full potential. The course was well thought out and the cast members did a phenomenal job cheering us on. I heard many a “Go Judy!” or “love the costume” as we would run through the parks. It may not seem like much, but it does wonders for your motivation. I would recommend this marathon to any runner, as it is “first-time marathon friendly” with the finish time as seven hours. Although, I won’t do the Disney marathon next year (because of cost); I am already thinking about running the 10th Anniversary of the Dopey Challenge in 5 years. That is when you run the 5K, 10K, Half, and Full back-to-back four days in a row. I will see how I feel about it then. As for now, I have my next marathon in May and my next half in one week. Happy running!