January 9, 2011: Walt Disney World Full Marathon
...Didn't I just fall asleep? I knew from the first step I took out of bed that it was going to be a very challenging day. My knee hurt. A lot. So did my foot. While I once again tried to force down part of my breakfast before leaving the hotel, I was icing my knee and foot. I was also trying really hard not to cry. The Pilot went down to the food court to get coffee while I stayed in the room having a mild panic attack. I was tired and frustrated that I was hurting. A 1/2 marathon shouldn't have left me feeling like I was! That was my fifth 1/2 marathon. It wasn't like I was new at it!
Deja vous.... We boarded a bus at 3:30 am to head for Epcot. The bus ride wasn't the calm and quiet ride that I needed. There were some women sitting a few rows in front of us that had to have been the most obnoxious women in marathon history. Probably not but I was a little emotionally unstable at this point and I just wanted them to be quiet. Didn't they KNOW that I was doing Goofy and I HURT and I was FREAKING out?? Obviously not. I couldn't even talk to The Pilot because I knew I would start crying and that was the last thing I needed.
Once off the bus (and away from the most annoying women in marathon history), we headed back to the same place we started off on Saturday morning. Today though, Lisa and Mary met us there! Kindred spirits! They weren't annoying at all. They were just what I needed. They were a little nervous (especially Lisa), so I switched into "coach" mode and put on a strong face...at least I think I did. I shared with them what to expect once we headed over to the corrals. We took some photos where we all kind of look like homeless marathoners. It was really chilly so we had on our layers and the "throw away clothes." I opted for the trusty trash bag "shirt" and the Mylar blanket "skirt." At least we all looked that way! The object is to keep warm while you stand around and wait for your wave to start and then you start to shed the layers and throw them on the side of the road. At least, that is what you ideally want to do. I had every intention of ditching my trash bag and blanket before I even crossed the start line...more on that later.
I tried to eat the rest of my breakfast but my nerves were getting the best of me. We made the obligatory trips to the port-a-potties while The Pilot stayed with all of our gear. Before long it was time to start heading for the corrals. The Pilot was amazing and knew I was in a sensitive place so he just reminded me that I could do it and that he loved me. He wished us all good luck as we headed off in separate directions. I felt bad for him because being a "super spectator" is exponentially more difficult (and boring) for a full marathon than it is for a 1/2 marathon.
I was assigned to the last corral for the full marathon, which even as a walker, I was not happy about. I was at least hoping for the second to last so I would have a buffer in case things went awry. The time limit doesn't start until the LAST person crosses the start line. That means the further you are in front of that person, the more time you have. And Disney's corral system is never quite accurate so there are usually some walkers scattered around in the last couple corrals. As long as the slower moving people stick to one side of the road or the other, it's not usually a problem. Mary and Lisa were several corrals ahead of me so we went our separate ways with about 40 minutes to go before the first wave went off. Let's just say it was a LONG 40 minutes of trying not to cry and to not put all of my weight on my knee....but that meant putting more weight on my left foot. There just wasn't enough space in the corral for me to sit down.
The start was even longer than the day before since I was in the last corral. The fireworks would go off and we'd stand there. Eventually, they moved our corral into position and then it was time! About 30 minutes after the race officially started, it was time to go! I threw my Mylar blanket in a trash can right before I crossed the start line but I left my trash bag on.
The first 3 miles were cold and painful. Another thing that is noticeably different about the Disney races is that it's dark out. It's so early that the sun hasn't come up. The first couple miles are out on the highway so it's really dark out there when you happen to be in between street lights. The full marathon loops back around towards Epcot and you go right through the main entrance of the theme park. You head towards the Mexico pavilion in the World Showcase before heading backstage and back around the road that the race started on. As I approached mile 3, I still had my trash bag on and didn't want to take it off. It was cold and despite being 3 miles into the race, I hadn't warmed up much.
The Pilot was waiting in the bushes near mile four. We were both excited to see each other! He was on the other side of the temporary fencing but the crowd had thinned out by then so we were able to walk side by side for a little while. I told him I was going to keep my trash bag because I was still a little chilled and knew once I turned back into the wind, I'd be freezing. I also told him that my knee and foot hurt a lot and I was really hoping it would work itself out. In just about every race, the first 3-4 miles are rough for me. I tend to get shins splints but usually after mile 4, all of the kinks are worked out and I can really focus on my form and pace. My fingers were crossed.
It paid off. Once I got to miles 5 and 6, I finally started to feel a little better. The pain didn't go away completely but I felt like my feet, knees and hips finally started to communicate with each other and work in a fluid movement.
I obviously don't sugarcoat my race experiences. They are very real and so I'll share that right near mile 8 is a row of port-a-potties. They are RIGHT on the side of the race course which is very usual for the Disney Marathon. They like to tuck the port-a-potties off the side of the road and sometimes they hide them behind some trees. I'm guessing this is so they don't completely ruin the show for the non-marathon guests but when you are IN the race, you really don't want to have to go running off the course very far. I know right where the 8 mile bathrooms are, so every year I make a point to use them! And so I did! I was really hoping that would be the one and only pit stop I would have to make.
I trucked along and started to get excited because I knew I would be seeing The Pilot soon. And there he was! Right before I got to mile 9, he was hopping along on the other side of the fence, taking pictures and video. "I'm still wearing this damn trash bag!" I called out to him. I gave him an update on my foot and knee (hurting, but working), yelled out that I'd see him in a couple miles and kept cruising along towards the Contemporary Resort and the Magic Kingdom.
(Note that the woman in white is wearing full disposable paper suit. You can buy these at marathon expos and are not really meant to wear for NINE MILES but it was cold!!)Once you get close to the Magic Kingdom, you go under the monorail and the train and head into a backstage area. It smells like rotting food...it's very magical. But just as soon as you notice that smell, you head into the park and are quickly greeted by cheering spectators, the smell of waffle cones and then BAM! You see Cinderella's Castle. I get chills every time! It's probably just me being a huge Disney fan but seeing the castle is still fun after all these years! And even more so now that The Pilot proposed in front of the castle just a few days earlier!
The course goes through Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, takes you through the castle, around through Liberty Square and out towards Frontierland, which is mile 11. Buzz Lightyear and Woody were near mile 11 and I REALLY wanted to get my picture taken with them because my nephew loves Toy Story but there was a line probably 20 people deep! As a race walker, I just don't have the luxury of waiting in line for anything during a race!
The next two miles were pretty boring because it is on a lonely road that goes around the Magic Kingdom but I was getting excited again because I knew The Pilot would be waiting for me just past mile 12 and he would have my pretzels. Mile 12 is the same as mile 8 of the 1/2 marathon but The Pilot found a way to get on the other side of the street so he was able to walk right next to me again and hand over the pretzels. I train and race with Shot Blocs but during a full marathon, there is usually a point where I want something salty. I also end up missing a meal because a full marathon takes me so long so it's nice to have something of substance. The Pilot and I chatted and I let him know that my knee was working but it was definitely angry. I'm pretty sure I also told him that the next day would probably be ugly. We had plans to hit the theme parks....and I might need a stroller (I have too much pride for a post-marathon wheelchair!).
While chatting with The Pilot, I realized that I had to pee again. I was so irritated! I blame the cold weather....and yes, I was STILL wearing the trash bag at mile 12. I didn't want The Pilot to leave. I wanted him to walk the rest of the race with me! We both knew that we wouldn't see each other again until the finish line. The Disney course is difficult for spectators to get from the middle of the course out to the end. I was also really worried about what was going to happen after mile 19. In my previous three full marathons, I hit the wall at mile 19. I hit it hard. Tears and cursing are usually involved. And here I was injured and hurting from the day before. The Pilot and I parted ways and I shifted my focus to finding a port-a-potty that wasn't 100 yards off the race course. I lucked out just past mile 13!
FINALLY! At mile 14 the course is in full sun. From experience, I knew that most of the rest of the course would be in the sun. I ripped off my trash bag and tossed it! I couldn't believe that I wore that thing for 14 miles! You'd think I'd be better prepared! Well, it's not that I wasn't prepared, it's just that I made a decision at 2:30 am that morning to not take a "throwaway" shirt or another layer other than the trash bag. Hindsight is 20/20. I also met up with some characters at mile 14. These guys aren't quite as popular and I was in the WAY back so there wasn't a line. I barely broke my stride as I jumped in front of the camera.
And then it all went to hell. I mentioned earlier that I tend to hit the wall at mile 19. At mile 15 though, I felt it coming on. I got emotional and the pain in my knee and foot suddenly came to the forefront. I think it had been hurting non-stop from the time I started the race and for whatever reason, I was able to just push it to the back of my mind. I tried to keep it together but 15-16 are reeeeeeeally boring. The course is on an access road behind the Animal Kingdom and right past the water treatment facility. And yes, it does smell. I was on the verge of tears for about a mile when we took a right turn and I saw a goat. No, I wasn't hallucinating, there really was a goat on the side of the road. The Animal Kingdom cast members had some of the animals out on the course. The goat happened to be right on the side of the road so I gave him a pat on the head and kept going. How can you cry when you just pet a goat? I've seen a lot of things during a marathon but never a goat!
Mile 17 goes right through the Animal Kingdom, and when you are as slow as I am, by the time you get there, the park is open to guests. And those guests just want to get to the next attraction so some of them glare at you when the cast members block them from crossing the marathon course. Of course many of them cheer for you and some don't even seem to notice there is a marathon going right through the middle of the park. As we made our way through Dinoland USA, a man was "running" next to me (as in I was race walking the same pace that he was running). He was also groaning. Loudly. I looked over at him to make sure he didn't need medical assistance. He grimaced at me and mumbled something about being miserable and dropped back a few steps. Under other circumstances (like if I had my TNT coach hat on), I'd give him some encouragement but today was different. I was miserable too and was in mile 30 out of 39.3 so in my head I was thinking: "Ha! Slacker. You're miserable?! You are only doing 26.2 miles. Try doing 39.3 miles buddy!" I walked faster so I could get away from his groaning. I also needed to get away from the spinning triceratops because they were making me dizzy.
As I headed toward mile 18, just outside of the Animal Kingdom, I was desperately trying to NOT think about what was coming. I knew the toughest part of the course for me (miles 19-22) were ahead. And so with that going on in my head, it became apparent that I was not going to make it to the finish line without peeing again. Son of a -----! I have never peed so much during one race. I had no choice, no matter how irritated I was. So right at the 18 mile marker, I hit up another port-a-potty. By this point, nearly 15,000 athletes had crossed this point before me. And I think they all must have used that port-a-potty. They were not as clean as the best port-a-potty ever. Yuck.
I couldn't possibly make this crap up. I ran out of the port-a-potty to make up for the lost time spent peeing (AGAIN!) and on the side of the course were grave diggers. No joke. I'm guessing they were from the Haunted Mansion attraction (?) but they actually had tombstones and graves set up. I looked at them but didn't see any with my name on them so I kept going. But really?? That's not something I want to see at mile 18. I need magic, pixie dust and rainbows at mile 18. I love Disney, but they missed the mark with that decision.
I staggered to mile 19. Yes, staggered. I was exhausted and hurting. Mile 18 is the start of a long, sunny, hot stretch of highway known as Osceola Parkway. It's awful. I give Disney credit because they had more entertainment out on this portion of the course than they have had in past years. But at that point, there wasn't much that could distract my mind and body. There are several overpasses that you have to get up and over (hills after mile 18 are just cruel) and there aren't any spectators to cheer for you. Occasionally a TNT coach would be running or walking backwards but I must have been hiding my pain well because they just cheered for me and kept making their way back on the course. As a coach, I knew I could do it and I didn't want to pull a coach away from getting to someone else that was a first timer or someone that really needed their help.
I honestly don't remember anything that happened from mile 19-20. I hope that means nothing memorable happened and not that I blacked out while still walking. When I got to the 20 mile marker, I wanted to be excited but I was emotionally spent at that point. I had no excitement to give. I glanced down at my Garmin when I got to mile 20. Crap. It said I was at 20.6. Either the course was off (somewhat likely), the Garmin was off (unlikely) or I was weaving around the course more than I thought (highly likely). I wasn't only spent emotionally but my brain function was even more shot. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what that meant in terms of my pace. While I did some mental gymnastics with the Garmin and my pace chart, I headed into miles 20 and 21. It is an out and back where you go out 1 mile out on the right side of the road and then turn around and go back the same mile on the left side of the road. The ONLY good thing about the out and back is that the athletes on both sides of the road cheer for each other as they pass by. The TNT coaches also had a heavy presence at this point. But as a coach, I know why they heavily cover that area. It is one of pick up locations. If you aren't maintaining pace at that point, they will make you quit and take a bus to the family reunion area. It's a miserable place to be when you are in the back. It doesn't matter if you are a participant or a coach, it's a very emotional place to be. That Garmin was a lifesaver though. I quickly saw that I was slowing down (Holy slow! That display actually read 18:15 at one point!). I dug in to pick up the pace again. I passed a lot of people in that mile. When I got to mile 21 and could see the people behind me, I cried again. I could see the end. I could see the bus. I didn't realize I was so close to the end. To make that particular moment even more difficult was the fact that I had to get up this steep hill:
During these difficult miles, my intention was to text The Pilot to let him know where I was. I had saved draft text message on my phone so that all I had to do was hit send when I got to the mile markers. I was losing my mind at that point so I went a LONG time without sending any updates. I was also afraid that if The Pilot responded with anything wonderful, I would start sobbing. And if I started sobbing, I wouldn't be able to breathe. Breathing is important during a marathon. I finally got a grip and slowly started increasing my pace again (when I say increase, I'm talking 5 second increments), I sent him an update. I later found out that he thought for sure I was dead on the side of the road.
At mile 22 there is another hill. Damn these people! But there was also a medical tent. My knee and foot were killing me and my gait was getting all wonky. I stepped up to the table and got a handful of BioFreeze. I was reluctant to use it since I never had before and I'm always telling people "nothing new on race day!" I was hurting bad though so I slathered it all over my right knee. I really wanted it on my foot but there was no way I was going to stop to take my shoe off at mile 22.
By mile 22.5 I was wishing that I would have started using the BioFreeze earlier. It was miraculous. I couldn't feel my knee at all. I was walking with a slight limp but I was still moving and was back up to a 15:15 pace. The course turned into the backstage area at the Disney Hollywood Studios, which is where I used to work. Going down Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom may be my favorite part of the race but the Studios will always have a special place in my heart since that is where my career got its start.
The course winds its way from the back of the park towards the front and like at Animal Kingdom, there are lots of park guests with reactions varying from "what are these people doing and why can't I jump out in front of them?" to "Go Team in Training!" I preferred the latter. This is also when I decided to "fake it until you make it." When I did the Disney full in 2009, my race photos for the last half of the race turned out horrible! In my head I thought I was smiling but I was staring at the ground in almost every picture. It was also a wake up call that my form goes to crap at the end of a race (I worked really hard on this!) As difficult as it was, I tried to keep my head up and I faked a smile for every camera I saw! I think this may have even been a genuine smile because what you can't see are some costumed "streetmosphere" characters that called out my name (from my jersey) and made a comment about me being Goofy.
Again, I went another mile without remembering much. I think I was alert at that point but there wasn't much going on. The race was winding down and so were the spectators. Mile 24 goes along the boardwalk by the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts as you make your way towards the back entrance of Epcot. It was kind of quiet and lonely but I do remember one spectator. It was an older woman in a motorized wheelchair. She had a small sign hanging around her neck that said "I don't know who you are, but you can do it! Thank you!" I thanked her right back because she was STILL out there cheering for the back of the pack.
I know this place! After a long and painful day, I finally made it back to Epcot. But I still had to walk around the world though. The 25 mile marker is right by France in the World Showcase. There were several photographers here and I gave them the fakest smile I could muster. I was so ready for the race to be over. I knew in my heart I could make it but at that point, I was in a lot of pain and felt it was safe to say that it was going to be an ugly finish. I sent one last text to The Pilot to let him know that I wasn't lying dead along Osceola Parkway and was in fact, on my way to the finish. I continued on for my tour of Morocco, Japan, the American Adventure, Italy, Germany, China, Norway and Mexico. Mexico being my favorite because that meant that I made it to the last country and just had to get up to the front of the park before I could collapse in a grand heap.
Right around the American Adventure, a TNT coach was walking backwards on the course, looking for stragglers. The pain must have been all over my face at this point. She started walking with me. I started crying. She didn't miss a beat and just started chattering away. She asked me random questions having nothing to do with the race. She was good! She did ask if I had anyone waiting for me at the finish line and that perked me up a little. I got to tell her all about how my brand new FIANCE was waiting for me. And before I knew it, I made it around the corner and was staring right at Spaceship Earth. I was so close! That TNT coach walked with me right until we got under the giant golf ball and then sent me on my way.
MILE 26! I had been walking for nearly 7 hours and I finally made it to the 26 mile marker. I barely glanced at it though. I wanted to be done so badly and was focused on making my feet go one in front of the other. I could hear the announcer at the finish line. I could hear cow bells and horns and people cheering. It was mostly a blur. I was trying to spot The Pilot but there was so much chaos and it felt like I was about to stumble and do a face plant at any moment. Out of no where though, I realized this was it and I better take it all in. I had received a text from a wonderful friend and fellow coach, Krista, before the race and she reminded me to take it all in and enjoy the experience. I thought of her in that moment. I started to run and focus on my surroundings. I looked up at the photographers and the finish line sign. I looked at the crowd up in the grandstands. As I was crossing the finish line, I spotted The Pilot who had his camera in hand and was grinning from ear to ear. While it still probably didn't look pretty, I made it across the finish line in 6:55:01! I was so happy....and hurting...and emotional. You can see for yourself:
As soon as those medals were around my neck, I headed right for the medical tent. I wanted to collapse in a grand fashion but I knew I wouldn't get back up for a really long time so I just got a handful of BioFreeze for my knee and followed the rest of the crowd.
Disney keeps their finish area fenced off from the spectators and you have to walk for what seems like 5 more miles to get through the picture area and the post-race snacks to get back out to the Family Reunion Area. I found The Pilot but much like the day before, I was in a bit of a haze.
We finally make it back to the hotel and I waddled my way to the shower. It's a miracle I didn't drown because I just wanted lay down right there in the bathtub. Eventually we did make it back to the food court for some dinner (there was no way I was going to make it any further than that and I especially didn't want to drive anywhere). So it was a quiet evening in the hotel room. I also enjoyed a celebratory "worms in dirt" while I iced my knee and foot. I'd much rather have worms in dirt than an adult beverage so it was the perfect end to a very difficult day.
I did it! It was YEARS in the making but I proved to myself that even though I'm slow, I'm still a marathoner. And a hard-core one at that! I think the only reason I make it is my stubborn attitude. I don't want to quit. I want to prove that "regular people" and even gym class dropouts can do what some say is impossible!
It's been nearly 7 weeks since I crossed the finish line and I can still honestly say that I don't think I'll ever do Goofy again. It was difficult both emotionally and physically. While I'm back to my normal emotional self, I'm still battling an angry knee. I took three whole weeks off. I'm still only working out 2-3 days a week and my longest mileage was an 8 miler last weekend. By mile 6, my knee was talking back. I've gotten through two 60-minute spinning classes but the knee hurts after 30-minutes. I'm not sure what to do from here other than take it easy....or I could just sign up for a triathlon and see what happens.