So I did the unthinkable, I ran another marathon after running one 2 months prior. And I’m glad I did. But this wasn’t any ordinary street race, it was 26.2 miles throughout Disney World. Just take a look at the course route. But one doesn’t simply travel to Orlando to just run a marathon. You have to plan a vacation around the race. I suppose it was wise to run the marathon on the last day of the trip since Disney World requires 5K-10K of walking per day; something not so easy after running a marathon.
From the Polar Vortex to 70F Degree Disney World
The extreme cold cancelled our flight from NY to Orlando (never happened to me before) and I somehow managed to find a late flight. Marathon weekend is one of the best times to go to Disney World since there are fewer crowds. With 20,000 marathon runners around who tend to wear some previous race shirt, we all recognized who the awesome ones were.
Disney World is made up of 4 main parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Since the Magic Kingdom is mostly for the kids and Hollywood Studios is the smaller of the 4, we decided to just do both parks on Day 1. Even as an adult, you can still appreciate the Magic Kingdom with all its Disney character parades and shows. I recommend the Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor, a 10 minute comedy show that is never the same since it has real comics who interact with the audience. And as for thrill rides (nothing like 6 Flags), I recommend Big Thunder and Space Mountain, although it’s too dark in Space Mountain to see anything. Overall, if you are freaked out by animatronics, just avoid most of Magic Kingdom.
As for Hollywood Studios, I recommend the Tower of Terror, the Aerosmith coaster, and my new favorite, Toy Story Midway Mania which was like a big video game shooter. The Toy Story ride may have been the most demanded ride overall (in all 4 parks) based on the 40 minute wait times at 9AM and 90+ minute wait times throughout the day. Not even a “Fast Pass” could help you for this one. And of course, you have to watch the Fantasmic show at night.
Day 2 was dedicated to the Animal Kingdom. Its one big zoo and perhaps the only place that I know of where you can go on an African Safari without having to travel to Africa. And finally, tigers and gorillas that aren’t sleeping. I would recommend doing most of the things in this park; however, you can possibly bypass Dinoland. I personally enjoyed Rafiki’s Planet Watch and the Expedition Everest coaster. Yak and Yeti is a great place to eat.
Day 3 and 4 was left for Epcot and for any extras. Epcot is unique as it is the place that has the good restaurants, the World showcase (13 replicas of countries), plenty of attractions, and of course the big Epcot ball. What a great place for a finish line. I recommend the entire World showcase, the Soarin ride, Test Track, the classic Spaceship Earth (had an upgrade), China acrobat show, the coral reef restaurant, the 9PM Illumination show, and “sit-down” restaurants in any of the 13 countries. If you can, hunt down Mickey and friends for some rare shots. We were lucky to find a whole bunch surrounded by parents/kids and trapped in a small area. With all of the pasta spots booked for the pre-marathon, I dined Japanese hibachi style, 4 cups of rice please!
Marathon day was approaching and I had to wake up at 3:30AM but was trapped somewhere in Germany at 9PM while the clouds dumped oceans of rain. With less than 5 hours of sleep that night and a slight cold, I equipped myself with my running armor (race bib, sun cap) and weapons (sneakers, phone, garmin, spi-belt, ipod, 4 GU gels, salt) for the journey to the start line in the dark.
So much distance between the bus drop-off and the actual start line, like a 5K. After passing security (they check pouches and belts now, wow), and walking with the herd of runners for 30 minutes or so, we arrived at the start line where Mickey himself was launching 1000 runner waves every minute with fireworks, pretty cool. It feels like the moment when you rise on a roller coaster right before the first big drop. After 4 waves leave, my wave is next, BOOM, it’s run time!
The first hour was in the dark with hardly anyone around to cheer. It was a few miles until we reached a very lit up Magic Kingdom. But throughout the dark roads, we encountered Disney characters which had 1 minute or so waiting lines for photo ops. I decided to not care about my finish time and get in on these photos for fun. Somehow, I still managed to PR by 7 minutes even with all the photo stops throughout the race. Running through the Magic Kingdom at 6:30AM without any crowds was quite awesome.
The second hour started off with the Speedway Race Track, a mile circumference, and you could truly see the snake of thousands of runners. The sun then began to rise and that 80F degree heat started rolling in. I played it safe by drinking 2 cups of water at each water station during the entire race. I think there was a long stretch of road that went on for 2-3 miles without water stations or people in general, ugh. Anyway, we finally entered the Animal Kingdom. I started to feel some fatigue but hey it’s the halfway point.
The third hour was just tough. It took place out in the open roads and the ESPN zone. Maybe it was the heat, but at around mile 17, my legs were feeling it and my neck was sore too. I may have crossed the fun-torture line. I started doing my 30 second walk break routine every half mile. Water stations became the oasis in the desert. But unlike the NYC marathon, I had no doubts about finishing this race. This one thought was all I needed.
The fourth hour was painful, but a bit more hopeful. I still had the strength to smile for cameras, lol. Every muscle in my body was sore by this point. At mile 22, the biggest hill of the race approached. I decided to take a 2 minute walk stroll and give my wife a call for encouragement. Ok Jon, time to finish this. Hollywood Studios is coming up. Wow, people now started to come into the parks. But they had limited access since we runners hogged up the main lanes. The crowds finally started to look like the NYC marathon crowds for once.
The final 2 miles went in slow motion. I was counting seconds, footsteps, anything that could help me calculate how long until the finish. But once I entered Epcot and ran through the World showcase, it all didn’t matter. People were everywhere and cheering for us like we were all superstars. The Epcot ball never looked so epic. No pain, no worries, no walk breaks, just one thought… “I’m about to finish the Disney Marathon”! Words can’t express the joy of crossing that finish line and knowing that you can finally stop running.
My final time was 4:27:29 and I was satisfied with that. I was 3726/19198, within the top 20%. I’m pretty sure it was because thousands of runners were doing the Goofy or Dopey challenge which required that they run a Half marathon on the previous day. Crazy! The final day was spent at Downtown Disney for some good food (Fulton’s Crab House and Raglan Road) and celebration with all the runners rocking their medals.
So many marathons to run, which one next?