My legs have finally recovered from race weekend at Disney World, so it seemed like a good time to capture some of my thoughts on the event. I had signed up for the Goofy Challenge – a half marathon on Saturday, and a full on Sunday – months ago, before I had even run my first full marathon. For some reason I thought this sounded like a good idea, but the sweet call of jingling medals has that pull on me. So I planned an epic weeklong family trip to Disney World for their marathon weekend.
We arrived in Disney World on Tuesday, January 3rd. For anyone who has planned a family trip to Disney, you probably know about the tons of prep work that goes into it. I’m a planner. And we’ve done Disneyland dozens of time… but nothing at this level, and with two toddlers. So let’s just say that there was a lot of planning that went in to this ahead of time. From hotel selection that best worked with our park plans as well as race logistics (you had to be on the monorail between 3-4am to make it to the race on time), to Fast Pass and dining selections. This day was a long time coming.
Our Tuesday arrival was pretty smooth, and once we got settled into our room, we took the time to check out the pool and then head out to Disney Springs for a casual dinner and some shopping. Disney Springs was a really cool outdoor shopping area with some very tempting and gluttonous food choices, but it was also crazy busy. We kept it to a healthy dinner (soup and salad) to off-set some of the food we’d be indulging in throughout the rest of the weekend. After that, we headed back to our hotel room to get away from the crowds and get some rest after our day of travel.
Wednesday morning we were up bright and early for breakfast with Mickey Mouse and friends. The boys were so excited when the first characters started strolling through. They were pretty star struck. And afterwards, we hopped on the monorail and headed over to the Magic Kingdom.
Being from California, we are very familiar with Disneyland, and before we had kids, we were regular season pass holders and knew every strategy to hit up the rides in the most efficient, line-free way possible. After kids, and being in the complex park of system of Disney World, was a whole ‘nother story. I read guide books, web pages, and Facebook groups with tips to prepare for our park. Waiting in line for 2 hours with 2 toddlers is not my idea of a good time. So we went in to the park with 3 fast passes booked at the start of each day, and a loose plan of attack in between those fast passes. I knew once we had a least one day in the park, I’d have a better idea of how things would play out and it was totally true. First things first, I could see which rides my kids could actually go on from a height requirement perspective. Second, I could see which they would actually try to ride. Thankfully, my oldest was so brave and excited to try out the roller coasters that he ‘qualified’ for. He loved the Barnstormer and the Seven Dwarves Mine Train. Our youngest loved Dumbo, the dark rides and It’s a Small World. And of course, they both loved the train. It was probably their favorite ride in the whole park.
We spent a full day in the Magic Kingdom for days 1, 3, and 4. We broke it up with a trip to Animal Kingdom for day 2. The boys loved the shows and the animal characters (from Jungle Book, the Lion King, etc) in AK. Overall it was a perfect plan, and perfect family trip.
On Friday night, I had been closely monitoring the weather for the half marathon the next day. The forecast was showing lightning storms in the early AM… exactly when we’d be lining up to race. I had picked up my race packet and expo goodies declaring my participation in the Goofy challenge on Thursday night, but by Friday evening, I knew that Goofy challenge was looking questionable. Sadly, the weather wasn’t letting up, so Disney made the call to cancel the race the next morning. I was thankful that they made the decision before an early night to get ready for the 2am alarm, though I was disappointed knowing that I wouldn’t get to complete the official challenge. The lightning storm started as we were going to bed, and I knew I wouldn’t be running in that weather. I can do the treadmill for a couple of miles, maybe 4 max, but I get antsy and knew I couldn’t run 13.1 on it. We had fast passes booked starting at 10am (when I knew I would be done with the race and back with my family), and paid reservations for the Hoop Dee Doo review for 4pm on Saturday night, so I couldn’t do a run during the day or afternoon without skipping out on my family – which just didn’t seem like the right thing to do when I wouldn’t even get to say it was the official run. The original race worked out perfectly because it happened while they were sleeping or just getting up in the morning and still allowed for a whole day at the park with them. My only option to run was going to be the evening and there was no way I was going to do that and then wake up 4 hours later for a marathon. I decided to save my muscles and energy for the full marathon on Sunday. I knew that no matter what, that’s an accomplishment in itself. I’ll just have to come back to double race another day!
Our decision to spend the full Saturday at the park was a good one. We arrived just as the lightning show was ending and the park was just opening. The weather was a little drizzly, but that only made the experience better as the park was quiet and we could practically walk on to every ride for the whole day. By the time we called it quits after dinner on Saturday night, we were all ready for an early bed time. The 2:45am alarm wake-up call was just a few hours away!
I woke up to my alarm – the fear of sleeping through it wasn’t necessary… I was ready to run! I had everything laid out for the race, so I got ready and snuck out while my family slept. I was on the first monorail out to the race meeting spot where the weather was in the chilly 30’s. This was not the 60 degree race I had packed for, so I only had shorts and a long-sleeve marathon shirt that Disney provided. Thank goodness for that shirt! I laughed when I picked it up because the weather had still been warm at that point, but now it was the warmed piece of clothing I had for the trip. Doubled up with my running sleeves kept me warm enough that I knew I’d be fine once I started moving.
I took my pictures with various characters in the meeting area: Daisy, Chip, and Dale were on display with the marathon signs, and Goofy for his challenge. I met up with my friend Mariah and her husband, Pat, who were also both running the race. We headed to the start line together – a long way from that meeting place! She had mentioned that she walked about 10k steps the last time she did this, before the race even started, and I realized she wasn’t exaggerating. Sadly, we parted ways at the corrals as we were in two different sections, but the atmosphere was filled with excitement as we joined our groups. We were just in time for the first corral to go, and I was so excited to see that every corral had a display of fireworks lit off as they left the starting line.
The race was pretty amazing. You really do run through the four parks, and there are characters and music spots at about every mile point. You could stop and take pictures with the characters (there was a line for pretty much every single one, but it was pretty fast-moving), and it was so much fun to run through the various park side entrances and trails. Around mile 16, just when I was getting really antsy, my girlfriends came to the rescue and hit me up with texts and phone calls. Yes, I was that person on the race chatting on the phone, but with my wireless headphones that seemed to conveniently have a speaker (I’d never tested this feature before). I felt like I was hanging out with them during our long runs at Umstead and before I knew it, they had entertained me to mile 22. From that point, I knew it was time to go it alone and finish out this run!
We entered Hollywood Studios and I had a sudden, huge desire to ride on Tower of Terror. Mariah had told me how she took a break at the 13.1 point to ride on Expedition Everest during her last Goofy experience, but sadly, it wasn’t open yet when I ran by. Tower of Terror was and I had a moment of excitement when I didn’t see a long line… only to see the stand-by wait time listed as a whopping 180 minutes. Ok, well, so much for that idea! It was for the best, I just need to get this race over with! So I plugged on through Hollywood Studios which was filled with people at that point. They cheered the whole time we ran through the streets and were almost instantly dropped off at the Swan and Dolphin hotel area. We ran through there, still surrounded by people cheering the runners on and handing out candy and sweets to keep us going.
Finally, I entered Epcot. I couldn’t see the globe, but knew that was our final stop. About a mile into it, I realized that the globe had just been to my side when I entered, thus not seeing it. So I now had to run around the entire lake (which had never felt so large before) to get to that point. It was painful, but seeing all of the runners surrounding me ploughing on gave me the final push and burst I needed to make it to the end.
I didn’t cry at the finish line, but the relief I felt was incredible. I had been so scared to run this race alone. My first ever solo marathon. But I did it and I proved to myself that I could do it. I collected my medals and headed to the bus area to get back to the hotel and my family.
While waiting for the bus, I found out from a series of texts from friends and validation emails, that Southwest had cancelled our flight home. That definitely made the ride home a little more entertaining while I tried to coordinate our alternate plans (we ended up renting a car and driving home) with my husband who was back at the hotel. Everything worked out for the best, and we were able to make it safely home. Sitting in a car for 9 hours after a marathon probably wasn’t the best decision, so I definitely had some soreness the next couple of days, but a week out and I’m back to normal.
I’m ready to start running again. I’m looking forward to cutting back on the mileage, and now concentrating on speed and injury prevention. I want to improve as a runner but also have some fun with it again. Long runs with friends for the sake of the time with them and getting in the exercise, versus being forced to run 18 miles because of another marathon in the books. You know there will be more marathons. I can only resist the allure of the medals for so long. But I’ll stick with some shorter distances for the time being. The Disney experience was incredible and I might just need to make it a point to do one of their half marathons next year… and maybe plan on a Dopey challenge in 2019?