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After more than a year of re-educating both my mind and body towards exercise it was time to put it all to the test. It was time for me to finally run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. The road I took to get to this point was purely my own. It was paved with the support and love of friends, family, and a community of people online who have been there for me throughout. Running has gone from something that I fought with myself over to the point of making me cry (C25K week 4 was the worst) to something I love and well… still makes me cry.
One thing I felt I never had a complete picture of was the race itself – the journey I had been looking forward to for so long. I’d heard about it from so many others, but it was something I was craving by the time it finally came around. And so it was that on the morning of January 7, 2012, I traveled along with more than 26,000 others from one end of Walt Disney World to the other and back again. It went something like this…
When I checked the clock I realized it was 15 minutes before my alarm was supposed to wake me. The rooms in Kidani Village at Animal Kingdom Lodge gets so dark at night you can easily lose your bearings. The pre-race meal of a Burger & Fries at the Turf Club Bar & Grill I’d had the night before was, as planned, ready to be burned off. Getting out of bed I stretched a bit and felt like I’d gotten plenty of sleep. Doing my best not to wake my wife, Cheryl, I put on a pot of coffee and then woke up our friend Dana. She was coming with me to the start of the race in Epcot, and the coffee was for her.
Grabbing my race clothes, which I’d known enough to lay out the night before, I went into the bathroom, washed up, and got ready. After running the Expedition Everest Challenge, I’d learned to lay out my race clothes the day before planning to use them. No one wants to futz with safety pins and a race bib last minute, especially in the dark. Cheryl decided to get up earlier than she had originally planned and go with us.
We met Jackie and Lindsay in the Kidani lobby – our rooms were just down the hall from each other. Together, we headed out to catch one of the special event buses to Epcot. We had to wait about 10 minutes before one arrived. The morning was a little bit chilly and the bus was nice and warm when we got on. I took a moment to text our friend Cliff that we were on our way. Minutes later the driver tells us that World Drive is already incredibly backed up and he’d do his best to get us all there quickly. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it had looked, but we did plan to adjust the following morning to leave at 3:00 am for the Full Marathon as a result.
Finally arriving at Epcot, I gave Cheryl a hug and a kiss good-bye; she was planning to see me run in Magic Kingdom and then back at Epcot. While we walked over to the pre-race area over in the Wonder parking lot, I got a text from Shalon that she was tied up on World Drive. Jackie, Lindsay, Dana and I hung out for a bit, as I needed to wait for Cliff. He and I were planning to start the race together in Corral E. Eventually as time wore on a bit, Jackie and Lindsay decided to make their way to the starting line. Dana and I gave them big hugs, we wished each other luck, and for the second year in a row I watched my two “cousins” head off to go run a race.
About 10 minutes later Cliff showed up with our friend Kelly who was planning to hang out with Shalon and Dana and cheer for everyone. After making introductions, I made sure that Shalon and Dana could contact each other. Then Cliff and I headed off. We waited about 10 minutes to use the bathroom, and then started the long walk to the corrals. Let me tell you this walk is insane. You walk along the backstage road at Epcot. At one point you’re literally walking toward a barbed wire fence and I’m thinking that Disney is planning to weed out some of the runners early. After surviving, we turned out onto Overpass Road and then again down a ramp, and we were on Epcot Center drive – the corrals were right in front of us.
We made our way into Corral E, which was really easy to get into as you just had to walk into the back of it. We joked a bit, and got ourselves ready to run. This was the first Half Marathon for both of us, and we’d spent a lot of time “training” together long distance. And we were both very excited. Preparing, I loaded up the RunKeeper app on my iPhone and set myself up to listen to a shuffle of Disney movie soundtracks. Taking a moment, I call into the Be Our Guest Podcast live show to say, “Hi!” – I can barely hear them, but it was fun to do anyway. Next thing we know the Star Spangled Banner is being played. We hear the wheelchair racers get their start.
The initial barrage of fireworks go off, and the race is officially underway. As we’re in corral E we have to wait almost 30 minutes to even cross the start line. Slowly we move up chatting a bit more and trying to get a glance of what might be going on. Somewhere along the way I hear my name and my friend Dan is there in the corral. We say hello and wish each other luck. Then just beyond him I hear my name again and there’s another friend, Moms Panelist Erin. This was totally cool, I remember when Erin first started running; now she’s a fellow blogger at TouringPlans.com and a fellow runner.
Crossing the start line finally, it’s wild – there’s fire spewing out above me, and I can see people in front of me finally starting to run. I hit “Start” on RunKeeper, flash Cliff a thumbs up and we’re off. We know to stick to the left as there’s a spot right near the beginning where I know Dana, Shalon, and Kelly will be cheering for us. I stop a second at the spot and manage to see the sign they’ve made for me, pointing them out to Cliff. We took a moment to jump up and down a bit, and scream back at them and then we headed off.
We were running a bit more than I was planning originally, so I have us slow down a second so I can pop a Clif Blok in my mouth and swig some water. The course took us past some guys on stilts, and down the off ramp from Epcot Center Drive to World Drive. Spotting our first character, we stopped for a picture with Ludwig Von Drake and then one in front of a hot air balloon. Finally, after stopping for a school band, and before the gate to the Magic Kingdom parking lot, Cliff and I split up. We sort of knew this would happen, but kept in touch via texting for the rest of the race.
After running through the parking lot gate, I stop in a line for a pic at mile marker 3. This is just before the 5K point in the race. Not far after that point, past the 5K marker, and over the music in already in my ears I hear the Darkwing Duck theme song. About a quarter mile later (no joke the music was that loud) there he is, the “dangerous” one himself. Of course, I stopped for a picture.
Winding my way through the Magic Kingdom Parking Lot with the other runners, I came upon a screen playing Chip and Dale cartoons, with a row of classic cars lined up in front of it. Stopping for a picture of them, I shook the hand of one of the owners, thanking him for bringing the cars out. They were a super treat to see. Then it was out through the parking lot, through the Transportation and Ticket Center, and then back onto World Drive again.
Continued next week. Don’t touch that dial. Stay tuned.