I’m not in the business of writing race recaps (heck, in not in any sort of business at all) because that’s something better left to fitness/running bloggers… of which I am certainly not. HOWEVER, I’m pretty darn proud of myself for running this race, so humor me while I blog the experience so I can always and forever remember just how awesome it felt to set a HUGE goal, accomplish it, and then celebrate by riding roller coasters and watching live musical performances in my happy place: Disney World!
Dear Diary, Just kidding. Everyone knows that the Internet isn’t a place for your deepest, darkest, dirty details…
… unless you’re me, and you’re about to drop some serious detail about how your first – and hopefully not last – half marathon went down.
Ahem. Back to it. We (my mom and I) arrived in Orlando the day before the race. This decision alone caused me great anguish. Was I giving myself enough time to do everything? Would flying leave me tired and unable to give it my best on race day? If I flew down on Thursday, would I regret spending a whole day in Disney World with no actual park visitation (sacrilege!)… the obsessing went on, and on, and on.
Turns out, I didn’t really have to worry about any of that because my nasty stomach problem reared its ugly head the Monday before race day, and by the time I was ready to get on the plane, I was just hoping for a calm stomach and the ability to actually make it to the starting line on Saturday. It was during that week that I truly understood the phrase: I run because I can. I wanted NOTHING more than to run the race I’d been training for, and I wasn’t about to let a measly stomach ulcer (I know, I know… third ulcer in six months) stop me.
Moral of the story: Priorities can, and will, change. Roll with it.
Back on point… we arrive in Orlando. The weather is glorious. The Disney Magical Express is even more glorious. Talk about service… It was such a treat to not have to worry about my luggage (the Disney folks pick it up and deliver it to the hotel for you) and instead just go from airplane to bus to hotel. Smooth like butter. Mickey Mouse butter. And yes mom – I packed all my running stuff in my carry-on JUSTINCASE the luggage got lost. Spoiler alert: it didn’t get lost.
It’s safe to say that the hotel we chose to stay in, the Disney Yacht Club, was perfection. I won’t get into it all because, let’s face it, you don’t care, but I’m soooo glad that this is where we stayed, and I will definitely be back. (Next year when I run the half marathon again?? Internets! Who’s with me?!?!?)
From the hotel, we freshened up (translation: took off our heavy coats and put on our short sleeves) and hopped a bus to go to the Expo where I took my picture in front of packet pick-up:
… and then tried to blend in with the runners.
Turns out, with a bazillion runners showing up for a 5k, half marathon, marathon, or the Goofy Challenege (wherein seven thousand goofy individuals run the half and full marathons BACKTOBACK), blending in is as easy as purchasing the last minute part of my costume. It was easy.
From the packet-pickup, we hightailed it (not really – preserving the legs) to the Expo to pick up my “goodie bag” (not the official name), and to buy more stuff. But first, I had to take a picture of Cinderella’s glass slipper:
You’ll note the rubber on the bottom of the “slipper.” Look, you and I both know that Cinderella ain’t no fool. She wasn’t fleeing to be home by midnight, she was going on a 10-mile tempo run. OBVIOUSLY. Did I mention I love Disney World? It’s allllllll in the details, and the Cinderella slipper/sneaker was an adorable detail.
This is what happened next: I bought lots of things (like nuun, Gu Chomps (watermelon represent), an official half marathon tech shirt, etc.), but nothing thrilled me more than my purchase of USA! Zensah calf sleeves:
These babies would become very important to my post-race recovery.
By then, it was 5 pm, I was starving (having only eaten approximately 2 pieces of toast in the past four days) and I knew it was time to carb up, chow on some protein, and try to not upset the ulcer. This is more difficult than it sounds. After much (MUCH!) debate, I went with an iced tea, grilled chicken sandwich, and french fries at the totally adorable Beaches and Cream – conveniently located in our hotel (or the hotel next door – it was hard to tell).
Then, my mom made me go to bed. I’m 31 years old and my mom made me go to bed. I could have said no and ignored her (she’s sooooo unfair!), but she’s my mom and she was right. I had a 2:45 AM wake-up call in my future, and I knew it would take me about three hours just to get to sleep so I took my mom’s advice… after I laid out my outfit for the next day OMGIMGOINGTORUNAHALFMARATHONINTHEMORNINGWHODOITHINKIAM??????
Ok, fine… I tried it all on first… just to make sure I looked like
a tool Snow White:
Yup. Mission accomplished. (I already regret posting that.)
Why 2:45 AM? Wasn’t that a tad early? The answer is yes. It was insanely early. I barely had time to enter a nice REM sleep. But I had to be on a bus to get to the race (walking there was not allowed) by 4 AM, and I figured everyone would wait until the last minute (they did), so I wanted to be out there by 3:30 AM. Also, I’m always running late. So I had to build in time for that.
Naturally, my eyes flew open at 2:44 AM – beating the sound of my multiple alarms I had set – so I could get my routine on. My mom must have asked me eighty-bazillion times, “Are you sure you want to run this thing? Are you sure? MOLLY – are you sure? Don’t do anything stupid.” Thanks for your support, Mom. Yes, I’m sure and I could use a bit more positive affirmation as I devour my “breakfast:”
By the time I forced the aforementioned breakfast down and got dressed in near-darkness as to not bother the sleeping mother, I checked the weather and saw it was a balmy 48 degrees. I was stoked – perfect running weather.
I WAS READY TO RUN A HALF MARATHON. No really, I was. I felt totally in control.
So much face.
So early in the morning.
C’mon y’all. I had on a sparkle skirt!, Snow White sleeves, and neon yellow laces on my trusty Brooks Adrenelines (love those shoes). What else did I need?
(If we’re being honest, I would have appreciated some QT in the bathroom but it just wasn’t happening. And now you know.)
So off to the bus I went. It was 3:30 AM, and this faux Snow White had a
chariot bus to catch! I was so excited, I actually had to run to the bus because walking just wasn’t fast enough. I think, my Internet friends, that’s when I realized I was ready – and able – to do this.
LET’S PAUSE A MOMENT – This is already the longest blog post I’ve ever written (definitely, probably) and we haven’t even gotten me to the starting line yet. Do you need a bathroom break? Go ahead, I’ll wait.
The line for the bus was long, but I built in an extra half-hour of travel time so I wasn’t concerned.
Good thing I got there before last call because the line was long, the line wasn’t moving, and I was beginning to question my every decision: What I ate for breakfast, lack of time in the bathroom, my running belt, my fuel, my braid in my ponytail, my socks, my lack-of-jacket… EVERYTHING.
Then I started talking to a woman, Laura, who said that I looked calm and in control and would I talk to her? Oh Laura. Silly Laura. I had you fooled. I had me fooled. But I would be happy to talk to you. She was really nice and we found out that we both were about to run our very first half marathons, that we were both concerned that our family wouldn’t actually make it to any of the spectating locations, and we both really just wanted to take it slow. So we decided to run the first few miles together. This was both a good and bad decision.
It took eleventy-million minutes (chip time <– runner’s joke) to get from where the bus dropped us off to the actual starting corals. In between, we walked about a mile to the first porta-potties, the bag check (where I checked nothing since my mom had my bag of stuff for post-race), and then about eleven more sets of porta-potties until FINALLY THE STARTING CORALS.
That’s when it got real. Sh*t got real. This half marathon was actually going to happen. Yippee?
Here are the people I had in front of me (and the fireworks for the elite runners’ start):
… and here are the people I had to stay ahead of (piece of cake):
Because it was a Disney race, everything started right on time. I appreciated this because it made predicting my finishing time pretty easy. Too bad it didn’t actually matter, but more on that in a following post (this one is long enough!).
At roughly 5:55 AM, a good twenty minutes after the wheelchair racers (amazing) and elite runners started (also amazing), Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Goofy fired the start-gun, fireworks went off, and I crossed the starting line and got my half-marathon on. Everyone should start their day with fireworks and Disney characters.
Mile 1 was easy – too easy. I was going too slow, and I knew it. My kick-ass online running coach Marc advised me to go slow at the start. He said something like, “Go slow. So slow you will think it’s too slow… but once you hit miles 9 and 10, your legs will thank you.” He was more eloquent about it… but Marc is smart. He knew (obviously) that this was my first half and that my goal was simply to finish. He also knew that I’m neurotic, so he had to be specific with me. So, I kept it slow for nearly two miles for the sake of my legs, my ulcer, and Marc’s advice. And when my new friend Laura told me I ran to fast (ha! not today, lady) and that she had to slow down, I wished her well and took off at a slightly-faster-but-not-fast pace.
Miles 1 – 4.5 were mostly highway. The race started in Epcot but then we had to run to the Magic Kingdom so we could run THROUGH it, so it was your basic flat highway running. But! It’s a Disney affair, so there were high-school bands, hot air balloons, Disney Characters, performers on stilts and unicycles, and all sorts of fun novelties to watch en route to the Magic Kingdom. Chip and Dale, Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey, and Louis. Hi boys!
I never ended up stopping for pictures with characters (that’s why I have no more to add in here), but many (most?) people did and I sort of wish that maybe I did. I just felt so good running, and all the time pressure was off, so I was just enjoying this incredible thing that I was doing. And that was – and still is – enough for me.
I can remember running the first 5k of the race and thinking – I barely remember those miles! I can’t believe I have so much more to go and that in September of 2011, when I ran my very first 5k, that would have been the end of me… but now I was running and thinking BRING IT ON Disney!
And then we got to the Magic Kingdom.
Dear Disney World gods – thank you for keeping your Christmas/Holiday decorations up while I ran through your park. The beautiful Christmas tree brought tears to my eyes (not the first time that happened, nor was it the last). The crowds of people cheering us on up and down Main Street – AMAZING. I soaked it all up for little Molly who loved, loved, loved these magical streets as a kid. There really isn’t a good way to describe this. It was just – AWESOME.
Through Tomorrowland, Fantasyland (hello Alice in Wonderland, Belle, and Dumbo), the Cinderella Castle (wherein I missed the guy taking official pictures running through the castle- the one picture I wanted!), Adventureland, and out the park near Splash Mountain (yo ho ho Johnny Depp look-alike, pirate ship, train captain) to the golf course and the backside of the Grand Floridian (Mary Poppins sighting!). I have no words for how much fun it was running through there and I really wanted to just keep running loops through the Magic Kingdom and back. SO MUCH FUN.
This takes us to Mile 7, I think. I still felt great, but I was no dummy and knew it was only halfway over. Did I mention – I was running without music! I had it with me, but never once put the buds in my ear. This is big for me! But there was so much awesome going on around me, I didn’t need the music. Next time, I’ll leave the music at home. (Don’t you love how I keep writing “next time” as though multiple Disney half marathons are in my future? It’s cracking me up.)
Miles 7-9: These were probably the least entertaining miles. I can’t bring myself to say they were boring because… that’s just not true. RunDisney is anything but boring. If I remember correctly, this portion of the race featured Mickey Mouse (dressed for a round a golf as we were running by the golf course), some other characters (Buzz Lightyear, I think?), and a not-so-comfortable realization that Aunt Flo had come to visit two days earlier. TMI? You betcha. But part of my race experience so I gotta note it here.
Moving on… What felt like just after Mile 9, but really was just before Mile 9, there was a food station. I knew it was a Gu station, but I had hoped it was going to be something solid. I was out of luck. It was a Gu Energy Gel and up until a recent google search, I would swear it was “espresso mocha” flavored, but now I feel like maybe it was just espresso? Either way, I wasn’t a fan, but I had to take it in because I needed the energy. At this point, I’d been taking one Clif Shot Block every 2 miles (alternating margarita and cran-razz flavors) and while I’d always take them with water, my mouth still felt like it was laced with cotton candy. I would have killed for a jar of pickles. Killed.
So… the food station wasn’t what I’d hoped, but after I finally got down the gu, I was at Mile 10 and about to run up an exit ramp. Ordinarily, I hate hills, but at this point, I was really happy to use different muscles in my legs for a bit. So I barely noticed the incline and just focused on enjoying the last 5k. THE LAST 5K!
At this point, I knew that I was going to finish, and I was going to run it all. And then I couldn’t stop smiling.
I also couldn’t stop talking to everyone around me. This also never happens, and it speaks to the easy pace I was running. Still, I was having a good time before, but now is when I started really enjoy myself. I high-fived double amputees running with their partners and friends. I high-fived a million Disney Cast Members. (One particularly adorable man stuck his hand out and said, “Give me your tired, your weak. I’ve got energy and strength to spare. Here, take it!” Sounds not as cute as it was, but it was cute. Pinky.) I teared up, thinking (AGAIN) about how far I’d come. About that day on the beach just six months ago. About how cool it would be to see my mom at the finish line. About the pizza and beer I’d have at the finish. About how cute I thought my costume was. About life! And how awesome running is!
Mile 11 came and I could see Epcot ahead. My left calf was getting tired. This had never happened before. It was trying to spaz but I swear to goodness I said out loud, “Don’t you dare,” and it stopped until the finish line. Win.
At Mile 11.5, just as the runners ran around the bend, there was a huge jumbotron screen that showed the runners. As people ran by, the announcers would ask where people were from. When I ran by, I shouted “Baltimore!!!” which I know sounded more like “BAWL (breath) MORE” and a group of people cheered… because they were from Baltimore, too! REPRESENT! We exchanged a few “Go Ravens!” and “Hons” and then I scooted off. This was the home stretch. I just wanted to be in it, to be present, to drink it in, and to enjoy.
So that’s what I did.
Nothing beats the feeling of running by crowds of screaming people. I had my name on my costume, so I’d either hear people yell, “Go Molly!” or “You go, Snow White.” Both of these cheers made me feel like a million bucks. Still grinning, still happy, still loving it.
After blowing by Mile 12 and entering Epcot again, I was almost sad it was almost over. Almost. But not quite. Because I was tired.
I ran a loop through the park, around the Christmas tree, and back out to the finish line. I tried to look for my mom, but the stands were packed and I decided to just focus on the finish line… Which I blew through just shy of 9 am!
I did it! I ran a half marathon!
I was nearly delirious, but I got my Donald Duck medal, took my picture, and began thinking about my next race…
Ain’t no shame in my half marathon game!
Thank you, Disney World and RunDisney people. You made my first half marathon even greater than I could have hoped for.