This was the day that all of the hard work, perseverance, and training I had put in was preparing me for: my first half marathon! Sit tight, because a short recap wouldn’t have done justice for this race!
Despite how excited I was, I actually slept pretty well the night before. Pure exhaustion from early mornings for the 5k and 10k caused me to go to sleep pretty quickly once my head hit the pillow. Our alarm went off at 2:15am, and like clockwork Preston and I got ready for the race. Most people usually think I’m crazy when I tell them this, but I actually showered before the race. Why? For one, showers usually help me wake up, which was especially important that morning since I didn’t have any caffeine prior to the race (I didn’t need any extra potential for dehydration – it was already hot enough!). Also, I hate running with a dirty face. Weird, I know, but everybody has their race morning preferences.
We went through the same routine we had the morning prior. We got ready, ate our preferred pre race breakfast (a peanut butter sandwich for me and a peanut butter and jelly one for Preston), and met my parents outside our rooms (our rooms were next door to each other) at 3:15am, ready to get on the bus and head to Epcot.
We arrived at Epcot a bit later than we had hoped. We had just missed the Team #runDisney meetup, but still had plenty of time to take advantage of Race Retreat. After nothing but a great Race Retreat experience in 2013 when Preston ran his first marathon, we decided to splurge on Race Retreat again, and took full advantage of the private bag check, pre race snacks, and private porta potties. The shorter line for the porta potties was the perfect extra addition for me (I actually utilized them twice before the race – gotta love pre race jitters!). Just before starting the long walk to the corrals, we met up with Preston’s cousin, Craig, and his friend Gene, who were also running the half marathon. Before we knew it, it was just after 5:00am and time to say goodbye to my parents and start making the trek out to the corrals.
For the 5k and the 10k, the corrals were also in the Epcot parking lot, just past the staging area and the start line for those races. However, there were only 10,000 participants in each of those races versus over 23,000 in the half marathon. There were also only five corrals for the 5k and 10k, while there were 16 corrals for the half and full marathons. I had heard about how long the walk was from the staging area to the corrals lined up on Epcot Center Drive, but didn’t really process just how far the walk was until I experienced it myself. You just feel like you keep walking and walking and walking! During our walk out, I kept telling Preston that I’d use the next porta potty because of how long the lines were for them. Then I told him I’d use the first one on the course. By the time we finally made it to Corral I (Preston and Gene were both placed in Corral C and Craig in Corral H but they opted to bump back to my corral assignment so that we could all start together), I realized that holding it was going to prevent me from running the first part of the race. It was off to the woods on the side of Epcot Center Drive I went, and it was my squatting in the woods that allowed me to earn my “real runner” status as Preston puts it.
At 5:30am, the first set of fireworks went off and the wheelchair participants and elite runners started the race. Each corral was started between two and five minutes apart, and we slowly shuffled along Epcot Center Drive towards the start line. As we slowly made our way towards the start line, I took my first Gu Energy Gel. After the first couple of corrals, I lost track of which corral was starting, but at 6:02am Corral I finally started and I was finally starting my first half marathon!
Preston, Craig, Gene, and I had planned to run the race together. We agreed upon 2:1 run-walk intervals, and Preston served as our pacer, keeping track of our intervals. Because we had waited pretty late to start the walk to our corral, we wound up towards the back of Corral I. As a result, the first half mile or so of the course was quite packed, and we realized that we couldn’t safely start our intervals until the crowd started to thin out. We jogged, then eventually ran, the first five minutes of the race, after which we started our intervals.
We started the half marathon running on Epcot Center Drive and in the middle of the second mile turned onto World Drive. We slowly made our way towards the entrance to the Magic Kingdom Parking Lot and the Transportation Ticket Center. Prior to getting to the Transportation Ticket Center, we only stopped for a quick photo in front of the Magic Kingdom toll booth, and passed up the first character stop with Jack Sparrow in front of his ship. We knew that if we stopped for every character we’d risk being swept, and we knew that the majority of the characters that I would want to see would be at Magic Kingdom. (Character stops weren’t a priority during this race for Preston, Craig, or Gene.)
After passing the 5k point of the course inside of the Magic Kingdom parking lot, I took my second Gu Energy Gel of the morning. I also eventually received the text alert with our pace and estimated finish time (for some reason they were delayed in sending out the texts), which at that point was 2:47:53. I was pretty proud of the pace that I had been able to maintain during the first 3.1 miles, especially since I had been maintaining sub 13:00 min/mile paces during my most recent long training runs. But I knew that we’d be slowing down once we entered Magic Kingdom.
Upon entering the Transportation Ticket Center, the heat and humidity really started to take their toll on me. At that point, I knew it would be difficult for me to maintain 2:1 intervals throughout the entire race, and Craig and Gene were having difficulty switching back and forth between running and walking. We encouraged them to run ahead of us, but they said they were going to stick with us for a little while longer.
Once we passed through the Transportation Ticket Center at mile 4 and started running towards the Contemporary Resort, we started to feel very crowded on the course. The course narrowed significantly onto one lane of the road, and in order to keep running we often had to run on the grass, which wasn’t ideal. Just after passing mile 5 we entered the backstage area of Magic Kingdom, and Preston told me that I had to run down Main Street without stopping to walk, despite how hot and tired I was starting to feel.
Running down Main Street was one of the best parts of the race. Seeing Main Street all lit up, with Cinderella’s Castle in the background, and having the support of the crowd, was unbelievable. There are no words to describe this experience during the race other than unbelievable. We saw Craig’s wife Sara and Gene’s wife Cristi at the end of Main Street, but because of the narrow course and how crowded it was, it was too unsafe to stop and say hi to them. We ran into Tomorrowland, and immediately made a beeline for the first real bathroom along the course. I also texted Dad and told him that we were in Magic Kingdom and that we’d be to the castle shortly.
Stopping in the bathroom in Tomorrowland was just what I needed at this point in the race. After washing my hands, I wiped down my face with a cold paper towel, which felt amazing. This quick stop helped me to feel rejuvenated. Preston and I knew we’d be stopping for lots of photos with characters while at Magic Kingdom, and encouraged Craig and Gene to run ahead of us, and they did.
Our first character stop was with Winnie the Pooh in Fantasyland. We then stopped for a quick picture of Preston with Dopey, and slowly made our way towards Cinderella’s Castle. We opted to pass up seeing Royal Donald and Daisy right outside the castle due to the long line, and ran our way through the castle. Other than running down Main Street, running through the castle was the best part of the entire race!
As we exited the castle, we spotted Mom and Dad, who were in the ChEAR Squad viewing area at the foot of the castle. Mom was cheering very loudly for us – it would have been impossible for us to miss seeing them. They told us that they had seen Craig run through the castle a few minutes prior to us, and were afraid that they had missed us. After a quick stop to see them, we made our way towards Liberty Square and Frontierland, passed up seeing Tigger and Woody because of their long lines, and as we exited Frontierland made stops to see the Magic Kingdom train engineer and conductor, as well as Cinderella and Prince Charming.
All of our photo stops at Magic Kingdom slowed our pace way down. We passed the 10k point on the course in the backstage area of Magic Kingdom, and I received the text update about our pace on my phone. We had gone from a 12:49 min/mile pace at the 5k mark (just past the Magic Kingdom Toll Booth) to a 15:43 min/mile pace at 10k mark and an estimated finish time of 3:25:57. Anything much past a 3:30 finish time and we’d be in jeopardy of being swept and not being able to finish the race. We knew that stopping to see characters inside of Magic Kingdom would slow us down, but I didn’t realize how much they’d actually slowed us down until I got that text. Oops!
There was a water stop just past the 10k point, where I took yet another Gu Energy Gel. However, this gel never seemed to kick in, but maybe that was because of the race conditions that we faced just outside of Magic Kingdom.
The course narrowed significantly just outside of Magic Kingdom, and just as we tried to restart our 2:1 intervals on Floridian Way we became quite frustrated by the number of walkers walking multiple people across. Having walked the 10k the day before, Preston and I knew of the importance of staying to the side of the course in order to leave room for runners. It didn’t seem that race etiquette was of much importance to many people at this point in the race, and we spent quite a good bit of time and energy trying to weave through people, which also resulted in having to run on the grass, which was less than ideal.
Because of how much our paced slowed while at Magic Kingdom and our frustration from weaving during mile 7 of the race, we passed up several character greetings, including Lilo and Stitch and Golfing Goofy and Mickey. We did, however, see Kimberly from Maker Mother Marathoner, who we had met during the 10k. During such a frustrating point in the race it was a welcome relief to see a familiar face.
Between the heat, humidity, and frustration from weaving, I was starting to loose energy. By this point in the race, I was also in significant pain from chaffing on my left thigh and my left calf was starting to scream at me. Its funny how parts of your body that have never bothered you during training decide to start bothering you during a race! My right ankle had been bothering me in the days leading up to us leaving for Disney World, but during the race my ankle felt perfectly fine!
We passed the 15k mark, and received another alert by text, which told me that we’d made up some time. We were now running a 15:08 min/mile pace and our estimated finish time was now 3:18:21. This was better, but definitely not what I wanted.
Preston and I maintained 2:1 intervals until mile 10 when my body started telling me that enough was enough. I told Preston that we needed to slow down to a 1:1 run-walk interval, and since he was trying to conserve as much energy as possible for the full marathon the next morning, he said he was okay running whatever pace and interval I needed to. My focus at this point was just to make it to the finish line, no matter what that took. Just past mile 11 we stopped at the last medical tent on the course so I could get some Vaseline for my chaffing. This helped temporarily, but eventually I sweated it all off. Just past the tent, Preston stopped to use a porta potty, but I kept going in fear of how slow my pace might eventually become. Thankfully, Preston was feeling good and a couple of minutes later he caught up to me.
In the middle of our 12th mile we reentered the parking lot at Epcot and started to pass faster runners who were honking from their cars as they were leaving the staging area. It was motivating to see them supporting us, but at the same time all I wanted to do at this point was finish the race.
We entered Epcot just past the 12 mile marker, and used a real bathroom for the last time right next to Spaceship Earth. We knew that if we didn’t take advantage of it that that our next opportunity for a real toilet wouldn’t be until we got back to our hotel. We ran past the new Starbucks, where we saw all of the Starbucks employees out on the steps waving and cheering on runners. We rounded the loop just in front of the fountain separating Future World East and West, and made our way back towards Spaceship Earth and the main entrance of Epcot. I was so focused on finishing the race that while I heard the gospel choir I somehow missed seeing it. We stopped for a photo at the mile 13 marker, and then made our way towards the finish line!
According to runDisney, we ran the race in 3:15:58 (14:57 min/mile pace). However, according to RunKeeper we ran 13.84 miles (mind you, there was lots of weaving, stopping at bathrooms, etc) and completed the race in 3:02:56 with a 13:13 min/mile pace. RunKeeper also automatically pauses each time you stop, but its amazing to see the mileage difference between the course and the path that we actually completed during the race.
I couldn’t believe it! I had finished my first half marathon! While I was still in significant pain, nobody could take away the honor and pride I had from running my first half!
We slowly made our way through the finisher’s chute, getting our medals, Powerade, and water. Just before the finisher’s photo area Preston got his third and final Dopey Challenge finisher’s bracelet, we got our food box, and made our way to the Family Reunion Area.
I quickly sat down on the pavement to ice my calf while I snacked on the items in my food box. Whoever at runDisney decided to include chips, cheese, and Skittles in the food boxes was a genius because those hit the spot! We chatted with Craig, Sara, Gene, Cristi, and Mom and Dad for awhile before we parted ways and headed to Race Retreat to grab brunch just before the tent closed down.
Despite the pain I experienced during the race, the Disney World Half Marathon was one of the best experiences of my life. I remember telling Dad at one point while icing my calf that this had been the most physically challenging thing I’d ever done, but the pain didn’t compare to the pride that my parents and Preston could see beaming through my face. I had set out to run a half marathon, and despite the doubts that many people had, I did it!
I’m so glad that I chose to complete my first half marathon at Disney World. Although parts of the course were very narrow, there are so many things that runDisney did so well:
- There were nine water and Powerade stops along the course. Although I also had my hydration belt on, we stopped at every hydration stop. I actually only finished the water in one of the two water bottles on my belt during the race!
- The Clif stop at mile 8.7 was perfectly located! Although I had been taking Gu Energy Gels, the Clif Vanilla Shot that I took at almost the 15k mark was a welcomed change of taste and gave me the boost of energy I needed to help combat the pain I was in.
- There were so many characters, too many in fact, to be able to stop and visit with each and every one of them. Since the race I’ve read many other bloggers’ posts about a lack of characters compared to past races, but given our pace and inability to stop at all of the ones that they did have this year, I was pleased with the number and variety of characters that were present during the race.
- My one and only complaint about how runDisney put on this race has to do with Race Retreat, but I’ll save my review of Race Retreat for a later date.
Although many people told me not to have a goal time for my first half marathon, I had secretly hoped that we could have finished the race in under three hours. If we hadn’t stopped for character photos, we probably could have completed the race in under three hours. I’m not disappointed that I didn’t reach this goal, but when I run my next half marathon, Rock ‘n’ Roll USA, on March 15th I will definitely be striving to complete it in under three hours.
January 11, 2014 will be a date that I’ll never forget. I’m so proud of myself for running my first half marathon. I’m so glad that Mom and Dad were at Disney World with us to share in the festivities. And I’m beyond thankful that Preston ran the race with me and that we crossed the finish line together. We had a lot to celebrate, but I’ll hold you in suspense for now just how it was that we celebrated!