This year, Disney World celebrated the 20th anniversary of the always exciting (and exhausting) Marathon Weekend. Many events were held over the course of four days that drew in people from all over the world. It was a great weekend for the motivated runners and supporters.
Back in August, I made the decision to not only attend Marathon Weekend for the first time, but actually participate in a race. For months, I had been seeing my friends train for and successfully complete races that they never thought that they would be doing. I wanted that accomplishment for myself! My husband, Matt, and I decided to train to run 3.1 miles in the Family Fun Run 5K event. We started the training with an 8 week Couch to 5K program. Never running more than a mile in my life (and never willingly), I was absolutely petrified at what I was going to be doing.
Before I knew it, my husband I arrived in Disney World just days before our big run. We chose to stay at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort, which was also a big hit with other runners. Immediately, we were surround by “real runners” which only made me feel like more of an amateur. Here I was, nervous to run 3 miles, and others were preparing themselves for a race far more challenging. What was I so afraid of?
A big part of Marathon Weekend was Disney’s Health and Fitness Expo, held at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The Expo was where runners picked up their race packets, as well as any merchandise or gear. In order to get to the Expo from Magic Kingdom, my husband and I had to hop a bus to the Contemporary, and then get on a different bus to get to the Wide World of Sports Complex. Once at the Expo, we discovered a lot of people, all wanting to do the same thing as us. While there was seemingly a lot of chaos, the volunteers placed throughout the field house helped us find our way. Luckily, going at mid-day seemed to work well in terms of packet pick-up lines. We did not have to wait at all, and within minutes of arriving in the packet pick-up area, we were free to go. However, we could not leave without seeing running guru Jeff Galloway speak. It was really exciting for us to see an Olympian talk about his passion for running.
The night before our race, I was a nervous wreck. I kept reminding myself that it was just a “fun run” and I should not be taking it so seriously. It was overwhelming for me, a girl who has always despised running, to know that I was going to accomplish a race with other runners, and in the end someone was going to give me a medal. Despite a relatively sleepless night, my alarm went off at 3:30 a.m., and I felt ready to get on with it.
By 5:00 a.m., my husband and I were on a bus, headed to the starting line. Through all of my anxiety, I could not help but be really excited to run through my favorite theme park in the entire world… Epcot. With loads of Porta Potties lined up and big white bag check tents in our sights, we knew we were in the right place. We quickly got through bag check and made our way to the corrals. I felt like all of the runners were cattle. The fast cows went to corral A, and the rest of us fell behind in corrals B, C, and D. Disney provided everyone with some pre-race entertainment, lots of group dances, and appearances by Mickey and Minnie.
In about an hour, all the cows filed into their proper corrals, and the real fun started to begin. The first runners in the Family Fun Run, the wheelchair division, got a glorious firework filled send-off. Corral A started a few minutes after to the same exciting start. Then it was our turn, corral B. It was getting real now, and I was just ready for it to be over with. Fireworks filled the air in front of us, and we were on our way!
Our goal was to just keep running and not get trampled in the sea of people. A lot of people in our corral seemed to be going the same general speed, save for the usual speed demons, which made it easier for us to run together and push on. About a half mile in we encountered our first characters… Chip and Dale! I was bound and determined to get my photos with characters on this journey, so we waited in about a five minute line and posed quickly with our furry friends. This line really seemed to move quickly despite how long it was. At this point, I realized that the fastest runners were probably finishing the entire race already. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t running for them; I was running myself. Once I let that go, I started to actually have fun.
After entering Epcot, we encountered lots of characters in fun outfits, all themed to the countries where you could greet them. Daisy looked adorable in Norway, so we had to get a photo with her. Once we made our way to America, we saw Goofy in cute colonial garb. Matt and I entered this line only to realize it was not moving at all. I figured we should probably keep running and leave Goofy in our dust. Of course, I had to stop and take a quick photo in Morocco, one of my favorite pavilions. The sun was shining by the time we came upon Pluto, sporting a beret in France. The absolute cuteness of his outfit required us to stop for another photo opportunity, no matter how long the line was. A long stretch of the course was around mile 2. I started to get tired and just wanted to finish this thing. Coming up on Canada was so exciting once I saw Donald Duck! We entered his very long line, only for his greeter to tell us he had to step away for a few minutes. Once again, we did not want to wait and just moved on.
Trust me folks, at this point, I was zonked. I knew the end was so close, and there was no stopping me now. I found myself passing people left and right. With only a few short walk breaks in Future World, my husband and I made our way to the front gates of Epcot when we started to hear some blaring music in the distance. A cast member cheering us on said loudly, “That music that you hear is the finish line!” I gasped out loud and thought to myself, “You have got this!” Upon turning a corner, we could see the finish line in the distance. Matt took my picture by the 3 mile sign, and then it was time for the big finish. We held hands and slowly jogged over the finish line, enjoying every bit of the accomplishment we felt. I was absolutely giddy and so proud of everyone around us finishing. After about 30 seconds, I let out a huge sigh, and then started crying tears of joy. We kept walking on down the pathway and proudly received our super cool rubber medals. Realizing it was the first time I had ever gotten a medal put around my neck, Matt snapped a picture to capture my happiness.
After runners were finished, Disney volunteers handed out water, sports drinks, and snack boxes. We also had the opportunity to get our photo taken in front of a finisher sign with our medals. I swear, I could not stop smiling. I wanted to go up and hug everyone and congratulate them. I finally understood why so many people sign up to run at Disney races! All of the hard work pays off the second that you complete that race. No one cares how fast you ran or if you have the hottest running shoes. The only thing the people around you care about is if you had an absolute blast.
The next day I saw so many different people of all shapes and sizes wearing the Half Marathon medal around proudly. It was truly inspiring to see so many people doing something that benefited their health and self-confidence. The vibe was so positive and uplifting! Then on Sunday, I was able to root for my friends who ran the full Disney Marathon via Twitter. I cannot tell you how proud I am of everyone for accomplishing something that so many people will never even think of doing. When you combine the joyful feeling of the Disney parks and the endorphins created by accomplished runners and their proud families, you get a vibe that cannot be shaken.
Before the 5K, I had told myself that I would never run another race again. I believed that the training runs in 20 degree weather were not worth it. I believed that the stress I put on myself was not worth it. However, after seeing so many other people kick so much tail during Marathon Weekend, I started to get a crazy idea in my head. I just might want to run again. Not only do I want to run again, but I want to train for my first Half Marathon. I am sure I will regret my decision many times during my upcoming training, and I am sure I will want to give up. Still, I just cannot seem to shake that desire to feel accomplishment on an even bigger scale.
If you have ever considered signing up for a Disney race, I whole-heartedly encourage you to do it. While running is not exactly fun for most people (like me), getting to complete a run with other Disney fans just like you seems to make it all worth it.
Did you participate in Marathon Weekend? Are you interested in maybe running a race at Disney World someday and have questions? Drop me a line in the comment section so we can talk about it!