Walt Disney World Marathon 2017
Now, I'm not made for running, but I do it anyway because it's free and I like beer and chocolate, and the equilibrium must be maintained. My lunchtime comfort zone is 10km, but I'd run a half marathon before without too much strife. I decided that if I were to run a marathon anywhere, I'd do the one at Disney World, Orlando. The way I figured it, I'd need some manner of distraction to break up 23 miles of monotony.
So, fresh off the cruise, we picked up our rented Charger in Miami and growled our way to Orlando. This was December 31st, so we checking in to the resort in Universal Studios (we thought we'd spend a night there first) and pop into the parks for the festivities. It was good to see the newer Harry Potter bit of the park, with Gringott's and what not, but we've always found the atmosphere in Universal a bit lacking compared to Disney -and the Macy parade has never done anything for me - but it was fun all the same.
Following day we shifted over to Disney, where were staying in the Yacht Club resort. We're fans of the Epscot-area resorts in general as you can walk to two parks and catch a boat to the Magic Kingdom, which means you have other options when the buses are busy. We had reservations at Victoria and Albert's, the nicest restaurant WDW offers, so it was on with the glad rags. The menu there is of the tasting variety, so you're in for the long haul. The enthusiasm of the waiter describing each course would be best described as salacious in any other context, but the food is exceptional so we'll let it slide.
On the next day I popped off on my on to ESPN Wide World Of Sports to pick up my registration pack. It was one of the smaller queues you'll encounter in Disney. The coordination and routing of people to the right queues was like clockwork, and there was an impressive expo to spend some last-minute "these socks and this pouch of apple sauce will make this hurt less" money.
The marathon weekend is a four-day job, starting on Thursday, with each day holding the 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon respectively. For the pain enthusiasts there is also the Goofy Challenge (running the half and the full marathon) and the Dopey Challenge (running all four races). Unfortunately for these brave souls, the half marathon was cancelled at the last moment due to weather. I thought this was a bit risk averse until I witnessed what a storm looks like here - which is much like the hungover tantrum of an angry god. A fair number of the would-be Goofy/Dopey runners were not to be denied satisfaction, however. A number of groups organised themselves online into ad hoc half marathon runs, one of which was around the lake by our hotel, which was heartening to see.
Early the following day (like "3am sweet baby Jesus it's the middle of the night" early) I rose and joined the throngs waiting to start. It was absolutely Baltic. While I had been training in The british Winter, I was not prepared for such conditions here, and my lycra ensemble proved wanting while we waiting the 2 hours for the race to start. An older veteran runner gave me a spare Mylar blanket that he had, lest I expire. But eventually, after the fireworks and fanfare one expects from the Big Mouse, Mickey kicked the whole affair off and I was away.
The course runs around and between the four parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, for the uninitiated) and the ESPN sports complex. The sections between parks were predictably tedious, what with them being freeways and all, but the trackside entertainment was relentlessly upbeat and energetic, which took the edge off.
You'll read elsewhere that this isn't the course to run your Personal Best, as there are near perpetual distractions. There are Disney characters and photographers every mile or so, so you can get your photo op in while taking a breather. Round about mile twenty there's a photo of me more or less held upright by Joy and Sadness from Inside Out. There's a profound metaphor in there somewhere, I'm sure.
The attitude and enthusiasm of the volunteers and spectators was what really left me with a lasting positive impression of Americans, and I've traveled extensively in the US before and already have a fondness for the locals. We Brits tend to roll our collective eyes to the boundless, buoyant Yank cries of "You got this! Go team! Good job!", but when you're 23 miles deep and hanging onto your own chinstrap, the cheery encouragement of a total stranger is much welcomed. Perhaps I was emotionally compromised by this point, but that gentleman/lady in the Mickey ears, handing out Tootsie Rolls and platitudes really left their collective mark on my black soul.
As for me, I had every intention of keeping pace with the 4 hour pace lady and her platoon of acolytes, but after about 6 miles I had a word with myself and -wanting to maintain honesty and transparency with my ego- re-baselined realistic expectations to keeping my finish time under 5 hours. True to my word to myself I dragged myself in in 4:59:59.
Then it was just a case of limping out for lunch with the missus, smiling/grimacing at the choruses of "Good Job!"s from the other resort guests and park visitors. I'm not going to lie, it hurt like hell and is definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but it was certainly different.