This story begins back in October. When I registered for the WDW half marathon back in March (Okay, maybe it begins in March), the only qualifying proof of time I had for my corral placement was my 5:27 ish marathon time from January 2008. This was going to put me pretty far back in the pack, behind a lot of slower runners. I submitted that time anyway, then put Disney’s Race for the Taste 10K on my calendar. The goal was to run the 10K fast enough to get me to the front of the pack at the start of the half marathon. I achieved that goal, running Disney’s Race for the Taste 10K in 44:55 in October.
I emailed my new proof of time and hopefully waited. I arrived at the race expo on Friday afternoon, fingers crossed. When I received my corral assignment, I was happy to see that it said “corral A, wave 1”. Right behind the elite runners.
Saturday morning started at 3:00 am. As is my custom, I set the alarm and scheduled a wake up call. I got both. After gathering my things together, I zipped my jacket over my sleeveless tee and headed for the bus. I was the last person on the first bus to the start and I arrived with plenty of time to spare. The start was pretty cold. An 80’s band played as I consumed one of my homemade energy bars and an orange juice from the Wilderness Lodge general store. Once I was finished, I walked around for a while. I needed to pin my number to my shirt, but it was so cold that I didn’t want to remove my jacket. So, I slipped into the merchandise tent (with a lot of other people hiding from the cold) and pinned the number. Then, I slipped my jacket back on, headed back outside and attached my timing chip to my shoe.
Now that my standard issue clear plastic bag was nearly empty, I wadded it up in my hand and began warming up by jogging around the staging area. The announcer was calling for everyone to check their bags and move into the holding pin, but I kept warming up, waiting as long as possible with my jacket on. Finally, I headed through baggage claim at about 4:50 am, removed my jacket, put it in the plastic bag and checked it. On the other side of the tent, I found the shortest port a potty line I could and waited. I was cold. I spent about a half hour in line rubbing my arms trying to stay warm.
My trip to the port a potty didn’t yield as much as I hoped and despite the smell, I wanted to stay inside because I was cold, but I exited and started headed toward my corral. I arrived at the corral with 10 minutes to spare, then worked my way through the crowd until I found the 1:40:00 pace group.
I spot the balloons and a sign and pull as close as I can to Dave, the leader of the group. I’m about 15 feet behind him, but I figure that as long as I’ve got him in sight at the start, I can work my way up. We listen to the National Anthem, watch the wheelchair start, the countdown to our own start. Before I know it, we’re off.
I cross the start line 13 seconds after the gun and I keep my eyes plastered on Dave. About 50 feet up the road, he uncomfortably fiddles with his 1:40 sign, then chucks it into the woods. All that’s left are his 3 “1:40” balloons bobbing up and down. The sad image of Marie and her “5:00” balloons bobbing off into the distance leaving me behind at the 16 mile mark of last year’s marathon enters my head. I vow not to let that happen again, focus intently on Dave’s balloons and work my way through the crowd.
The pace is comfortable and I’m breathing with a 3-3 pattern. Somewhere just before the 1 mile mark, I pull onto Dave’s shoulder, tuck into the rest of the group and hit a solid rhythm like I have never hit before. We pass the 1 mile mark a few seconds off the pace, but Dave is checking his own Garmin religiously and I’m confident I’ll beat my goal time if I can only stick with him. We head down an exit ramp and we’re at the 2 mile mark before I know it.
I’m floating. I’ve just run 2 miles at near 7:30 pace and my body feels like it’s never left the hotel room. Deep down, I already know I’ve got my goal. The plan is to stay with the pace group until at least 10 miles, so I stay tucked in behind Dave as we approach the transportation and ticket center.
We run through the Magic Kingdom main gate, pass the 3 mile mark, then over the mat that indicates the 5K mark. My 5K split is 23:44. We’re still a few seconds off our pace, but the group is solid. We’re all in a rhythm. We move as an amorphous blob, each aware of the everyone else’s movement. There is movement around within the group, but the whole moves steadily forward – now past the 4 mile mark.
Once inside the transportation and ticket center, the first real crowds appear. The cheering is loud and everyone’s pace picks up. Filled with the energy of the crowd, I pull ahead of Dave. Realizing I’ve got a long way to go, I slow again and tuck myself behind him. The excitement of the moment has messed up my breathing rhythm and I’ve developed a stitch on my right side. I focus on deep breaths over the next mile. We proceed toward the Contemporary resort, down a steep incline, under the water and up the other side. We pass one of the wheelchair athletes. He’s having a tough time with the steep incline. The hints of my own stitch are gone as we top the incline and pass the 5 miles mark. I check my watch. We’ve got 5 seconds in the bank now. Dave checks his own and proudly announces that we’re right on pace.
We enter the magic kingdom as memories of last year creep back into my head. I turn onto Main Street USA thinking about how I ran this section with my butt cheeks clenched as tight as could be last year. I’m still floating. My breathing is a steady 3-3 pattern. I’m feeling fantastic. I may as well be out for a walk in the park. This way is much better.
As the lead pace group, we’re getting quite a bit of encouragement from the crowd. We pass into Tomorrowland, round the Tea Cups into Fantasyland where we pass Winnie the Pooh and many other characters. We approach the castle where trumpeters are playing above us and Cinderella cheers with Prince Charming and the Fairie Godmother. The group breaks up a bit inside the castle – each of us preparing for the photo on the exit. We pass a videographer and several still photographers. I give double thumbs up to one of the photographers, mimicking a pose my daughter gave me when I photographed her in one of her races this fall.
The group quickly pulls back together and we cross the bridge into Liberty Square. Mickey and Minnie are there posing in their colonial garb. There aren’t many people getting pictures at this stage of the race. We’re all pretty serious about time, but someone behind me comments about how much fun this is. It truly is. I’m having a blast.
We exit the park through Frontierland and cross over another mat. Someone announces that it’s the 10K mark, but I don’t recall passing the 6 mile mark. I check my watch and they’re right. I guess I was having too much fun to notice the mile marker. We pass into the back stage area where I spilled my intestines last year. The port a potties aren’t even there this year. The group breaks up as we run through a water station. I follow Dave right through middle and the group reforms on the other side. I look back, having exorcised the demons of last year. We cross a bridge and we’re 6.55 miles in.
“Halfway to halfway,” Dave announces, “keep up the good work!” We’ve entered a lonely stretch of road as we pass the 7 mile mark. Dave encourages us to take some deep breaths and shake out our arms. I take his advice. My breathing is still 3-3 and I can’t believe it. I’m starting to feel the effort a little, but I”m easily keeping with the group and I’ve only got 5 miles left.
The road here is narrow and a few people pull up on us asking if we’re going for a certain goal. I tell them we’re shooting for 1:40 and they tack on to the back. Someone asks if there will be churros on the course and I joke that we won’t see them until we’re back in Epcot. Someone comments that the countries won’t be open when we get there and I complain that we won’t be able to get margaritas during the last mile.
The chatter dies down a bit as we hit the 8 mile mark near the Grand Floridian resort. Small crowds line the course here, but the cheering isn’t all that loud. Feeling the effort a little more now, I’ve finally fallen into a 3-2 breathing pattern and I’m starting to look for the mile markers now. I focus on the cadence of the rest of the group and remain tucked comfortably just behind Dave.
We’re well on our way back to Epcot as we pass the 9 mile mark. A high school marching band plays for us. We pass through another water station. It’s fun to watch the group break apart at the water station. Some run ahead, get water and fall back to the group. Others grab water, fall behind, then catch back up. I’ve hydrated well in the previous day and run several 13 mile training runs without water, so I stay tucked behind Dave through the middle of the station and (as always) the group quickly pulls together within 50 feet of the other side.
We pass the 15K mat, our chips beeping as emails and text messages get sent out across the globe. I’m focusing on deep breaths, but my breathing is starting to go to a 2-2 pattern now. We hit the 10 mile mark.
“5K to go!” Dave yells out to us. I’m thinking the same thing. We move forward to a circular highway entrance ramp. There’s and incline and a bank to the road here. We work our way up and I’m on the back of the group taking an inside line. After about a tenth of a mile I notice the guy I’m tailing has started to lose contact with the group. Dave is starting to pull off in the distance. I take a deep breath, pass the guy on the outside, then catch Dave. I tuck in behind him again and we crest the entrance ramp. The effort results in a stitch on my right side again. I focus on deep breaths as the road levels out. The stitch is still there, but it’s not getting any worse.
I see spaceship Earth in the distance. If I can manage this stitch, I’ve got this race. We hit another incline in the road through another water station.
“Just keep your cadence”, Dave urges us, “you don’t need to speed up”.
We methodically work our way up the incline and no one from the group takes water at this station. We reach the top and pass the 11 mile mark. We can see the entire Epcot parking lot laid out before us as we head back down the incline.
“We’re back at Epcot,” announces Dave, “we’ve got about 30 seconds in the bank. Time to push to the finish”.
My thoughts drift toward venturing past the group and finishing on my own, but the hint of the stitch prevents me from doing so. If it flares up too bad, I’ll lose a minute or two. I know I can stick with the group and hit my goal. We round a large curve into the Epcot parking lot, then pass the 12 mile mark. A guy in a purple tutu catches us, chats with Dave for a while, then surges ahead. We pass the Epcot bus stops and enter the park through a backstage area. I’m confident I can hold off the stitch now, so I pick up the pace a bit.
I hover just ahead of the group as one of the group members talks to Dave about tomorrow’s marathon (She’s running the Goofy). When we pass Spaceship Earth, she thanks Dave, a surges ahead. I follow her. Picking up speed, we pass the Future World fountain and make a hairpin turn at the World Showcase. Heading back toward the front of the park, I glance at my Garmin. I’m pushing sub 7:00 pace now and passing a few people who’ve bonked. The pavement turns downward as I pass Spaceship Earth and turn into a backstage area.
“Show me the 13 mile mark,” I think to myself. I make another turn, then pass the Gospel choir and spot the 13 mile mark. I’ve got plenty of time. As soon as I pass the 13 mile mark, I spot the finish. The pace has picked up and the crowd lines the route. I spot Chip, Dale, Lilo and Stitch ahead. I high five them all, cross the finish line in 1:38:57, hit the stop button my Garmin, then give myself a congratulatory clap.
Surprisingly, I get rapidly nauseous upon finishing. I hold back the puke for a series of four wretches. The fourth brings up a bit of bile, but I swallow it back down. One of the group members comes up behind me, slaps me on the back and gives me a handshake. He jogs ahead and does the same for the woman from the group who finished in front of me.
I grab a mylar blanket, get my chip removed, receive my medal, grab some water and powerade, then pass through the food tent without picking anything up. I actually remember to get my photo taken this time before heading to baggage claim. There’s nobody in the tent other than about 20 volounteers. This is the first indication that I’ve run this race kind of fast. I get my bag, then meet the family on the other side. They’re relieved to see that unlike last year, I can actually walk. We get a few pics taken before heading back to the Wilderness Lodge for a nap.
The whole experience was pretty cool. For the first time, I felt like I was running at a fast pace without much effort. I migh have left the group earlier and had a better time, but my goal was really to break 1:40:00 so I played it conservatively. Dave did a fantastic job of pacing us and the group as a whole was great. We didn’t talk much or know each other at all. I’m not sure I could pick any of the others out in a lineup, but it really felt like we worked as a team for 12 miles. We certainly got more cheers from the crowd than we would have on our own.
My 1:38:57 was good for 307th place out of 12,434 finishers. I believe there were an additional 3000 or so who started and did not finish. I was 37th out of 564 in my age group.
I’d like to congratulate Lindsay, who kicked my butt by running a 1:34:13 in the half and then ran a 4:04:something in the full marathon the next day. I’ll probably hit the stationary bike for some easy rides this week and do a few 2 or 3 mile easy runs. I’ll be focusing on short races this spring and then building a high base mileage over the summer. I’m about 90% sure I’ll be running the Disney half marathon again next year as a warm up for the Gasparilla marathon in February 2010. I’ll tentatively set 1:15:00 as my goal for next year, but we’ll see how the training goes. I’ll post pictures when they’re available.