Saturday, January 14, 2017

Walt Disney World Marathon 2017 Race Recap

Well, I did it.  I ran a full marathon!!!!  Until about the final 2 miles of the race, I truly didn't know if it was something I could physically and mentally do.  But I did it.  And it was tough, and grueling, and painful, and exhausting, and absolutely amazing.  I knew that it would feel incredible to cross that finish line but I didn't expect the inspiration to start so far before that or to last so long after.  So here it is, the race recap of a lifetime for me.  My Walt Disney World Marathon experience (warning: long post and lots of pics ahead). ;)

My Disney World Marathon weekend began on Friday afternoon with the Kellsie's Hope Foundation Luncheon.  If you've read my blog before, you know that this is now my second time fundraising for a RunDisney race with them (the first being the Star Wars: Dark Side Challenge in April 2016).  Kellsie's Hope Foundation provides trips and gifts to children with cancer, especially those who have recurring cancers.  They also provide scholarships to nursing students and funds for osteosarcoma research.  They provide a luncheon for Kellsie's Krew runners at every RunDisney race where all the foundation's runners get to meet each other, share stories, inspire each other, and receive Kellsie's Hope bags and medals.

This particular luncheon was extra special for me because I ended up getting to know one of the most inspirational, brave, strong, and positive people I've ever met in my life.  Not only did Kimber pump me up for my upcoming race, but she would unknowingly help me finish running one of my final and most difficult miles two days later.

Next up was the RunDisney Expo.  These expos are no joke!  There was a live DJ, huge numbers of people milling about, and a general feeling of excitement and wonder.  I got my race bag and bib in one building and then headed to another for my tech shirt.  Then it was time to shop.  A lot of merchandise sells out quickly so I had asked my dear friend to pick up my race weekend t-shirt and car magnet while she was there the day before... thanks Ashlyn!!  There were countless booths at the expo selling everything from sparkle skirts and race fuel, to running shirts and medal racks.  I spent over an hour looking around and could have spent even longer, but my sister-in-law and nephew were waiting to have dinner with me in Disney Springs and I was excited to see them. :)

Saturday ended up being pretty yucky weather wise... i.e. wet and cold.  Unfortunately, runDisney had to cancel the half marathon for that morning due to thunderstorms, but most runners who were signed up for that race ran their own 13.1 in the Disney resorts and surrounding areas after the rain passed.  All day long, I kept seeing pictures on social media of people running, handing out water, creating toilet paper finish lines, and even dressing up their kids as Disney characters to create photo opps for runners.  I just love the running community, don't you?!?

Saturday night after dinner, I made my way to The Art of Animation Resort.  It was my first time staying in a Disney resort and it was SO much fun!!!  I was in the Little Mermaid Suite and the whole room looked like a scene straight out of the movie.  There was even a framed picture of my childhood crush right over my bed... haha!

Sunday morning was windy and COLD!!!  The wind chills were as low as 20 and the actual temperature was barely over freezing.  But that didn't stop me or anyone else from taking the shuttles over to the staging area at 3:00 AM.  When I got off the shuttle at Epcot, a kind runDisney volunteer wearing about 4 layers of clothing shouted "Welcome to beautiful, sunny Florida!"  Laughing seemed to warm me up just a bit for a few seconds so I was grateful.  The staging area was amazing as always, complete with a live DJ on stage, a huge screen playing Disney clips, and character photo opps.  I actually got there early enough this time to get pics with Chip and Dale and Daisy Duck before they cut off the lines.  After pictures, I huddled behind the bleachers and befriended a few guys who were also using the bleachers as a wind breaker.

Finally it was time to head to the start line, nearly a full mile away!  The walk felt good since it was a chance to move and warm up a bit.  The starting line itself was as exciting as always.  I listened, while ducked over and using other people in my corral as wind blockers, to Mickey Mouse and the RunDisney announcers release each corral with a countdown and fireworks.  And then it was my turn.  For a brief moment, I actually wondered if it was even worth starting.  I had been shivering for three hours and my legs were already tired.  I was so worried about being able to finish the race, that I almost didn't start.  But then I heard Mickey count us down "3-2-1-GO!" and I was off and smiling as I ran under the fireworks and the runDisney arch.  It only took about a mile and a half to warm up enough to ditch my hoodie and while I was still nervous about being able to finish, I felt better about my prospects.

The first 5 miles were mostly highway as we headed toward The Magic Kingdom.  There were plenty of spectators and lots of characters and entertainment along the way to keep me distracted and moving.  I had to make a quick pit-stop at the first mile marker since I had been sipping water all morning before the race but otherwise, my pace was right on target.  Running through The Magic Kingdom itself was nothing short of spectacular.  Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff even greeted us as we ran through Cinderella's castle!

The next six miles were all highway and it was the longest portion of the race for me.  I just turned on my music and tried to enjoy the consistency of the pavement while people-watching other runners and their costumes.  Around mile 7, a sweet girl tapped me on the shoulder and whispered to me "I just thought you'd like to know, your skirt is tucked into your tights in the back."  WHAT?!?  I used the port-a-potty at mile 1 and it's only NOW that someone was telling me this?  That means I ran around 6 miles with my skirt tucked in!!  God bless that young lady for finally letting me know.  I pulled my skirt out and smiled because well, it just wouldn't be a typical race for me without a story like that to tell. :)

A few miles later, we finally entered Animal Kingdom, one of my favorite parts of the course.  We passed the Tree of Life, Expedition Everest, and many other characters and attractions while running through the park.  And just after exiting the park, we hit the halfway point of the marathon... the point where I had to drop out due my ankle injury last year.  I ran past the medical tent I stopped at last year and thanked God that I was still running this time even though my left ankle and right knee were starting to complain a bit.

After a few more highway miles and a looooong out and back, we got to ESPN's Wide World of Sports.  This was surprisingly the most boring part of the course.  There were a few characters out but not many spectators and it felt like it was taking forever to get through this section.  This was also the point where my ankle started to really scream at me.  I had 8 miles left to run and I seriously questioned if I would be able to finish.  I slowed to a walk and tried to put as little weight as I could on the side until the pain subsided a bit.  But what really got me through was remembering why I was doing this... for all of those who can't.  I decided to dedicate each of my remaining 8 miles to a person who had in the past or was currently battling cancer.  At mile 18, I told myself "If (co-worker) can come to work each day with a pretty head wrap on her head and a smile on her face, then I can run one more mile".  At mile 19, "If (4 yr old child) can continue smiling and fighting until the day he passed away, then I can run one more mile".  At mile 20 "If (new friend) can run this marathon after getting a cancer treatment 6 days ago, then I can run one more mile!".  This continued for each remaining mile and gave me the strength I needed to keep going despite the pain and exhaustion I was feeling.

Finally, I reached Hollywood Studios/Disney Boardwalk/Epcot and the final 3 miles of the race.  There were spectators several people deep lining the running paths through the parks complete with signs, bells, and posters stating "touch here to power up".  Some volunteers and spectators were even handing out Twizzlers, Dove chocolates, Skittles, pretzels, and Swedish Fish!  I saw a few runners jump out of line in Epcot to buy turkey legs, churros, beers, and more to cross the finish line with... hilarious!

Do you remember when I said it just wouldn't be a race for me without a funny story to tell?  Well I actually have a second one for this race.  At about mile 24, I was heading out of Hollywood Studios when a suicidal squirrel suddenly jumped out in front of me, hit my right foot, got accidentally kicked by my left foot, and then ran off!  I heard the collective gasp of about 30 people as I stumbled several feet, yet miraculously kept my balance.  It took me a second to figure out what had even happened and several runners and spectators stopped to ask me if I was ok.  I just laughed out loud and said "I'm fine, but I don't know if I can say the same for the squirrel!"... haha!

Finally, several hours after crossing that start line, I saw the finish line just ahead of me.  I was already crying because I knew it was within reach.  I high-fived Minnie Mouse and then ran, smiling and sobbing, across the most special finish line I've ever crossed.  I continued to cry as I received my medal, got my snack box and water, and took my medal picture.

I did it!  I finished a full marathon and crossed that finish line not only upright, but running and smiling.  I can't thank my family and friends enough for their support before and during the race.  The texts I got from people as I ran were so inspiring and motivational and I will never forget them.  I am also incredibly thankful for all of those who donated to my RunDisney/Kellsie's Hope Foundation fundraiser.  Remembering that I was running for those who can't is the biggest reason I was able to finish.  Will I run another full marathon?  I'm not sure yet.  But I will remember and cherish this day for the rest of my life and of course, I will keep on running, racing, and fundraising.  Thanks for reading and happy running!!

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