Thursday, February 5, 2015

Disney Pt. 5: 26.2 Magical Miles

At long last! The post we have all been waiting for: the Marathon recap! Naturally, I asked Eric to write up the actual marathon from his point of view, because obviously he knows how it all went down far better than I do. Without further ado, I give you Eric's marathon experience (with my own take to follow after):

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I am now a marathoner. However, as long as it sounds, the last 26.2 miles were just barely the icing on a life-long running cake, so to speak. Prior to college, I had been running my whole life, peaking in high school where I ran sub-5 minute miles and helped set a school record in the 4x800 meter relay. During college, I played a lot of intramural sports but all but stopped running during law school. When I tried to pick it back up in New York to train for the NYC Half Marathon in 2009, my training pace was almost double what it would have been seven years earlier. My reduced speed has taken a lot of getting used to, and although I have seen decent improvement this year over shorter distances, it is probably a big reason I haven't kept up as much as I should have given how much I actually enjoy running.

In any event, I enjoyed the first half marathon and ran two more while we were in New York. I actually like that distance a lot and would probably prefer to run a few each year to stay in shape while focusing on racing even shorter distances. However, I always felt like I had to complete a marathon. It seemed like plenty of other people were doing it and I knew I could accomplish it as well, so I had to actually do it. Since I added it to my formal bucket list, Meghan understood how serious I was, but she has not-so-secretly hoped that it would be a one-time thing. She is probably concerned most with injury, but it also requires a much greater time commitment to train properly. We'll see what happens, but I have no immediate plans to run another.

Before I talk about the race itself, I want to also mention that, in addition to all of this backstory, the 26.2 also fails to reflect the 450 miles I ran in 2014, the 18 audio books I "read" during those miles, the two pairs of shoes it took and the pre-6:00 wakeups every third Sunday. I also want to make it clear that none of this would have been possible without the love, patience, belief and support of my lovely wife. Seriously.

My alarm was set for 2:50 a.m. (yes, with a 2!) and I actually slept better than I expected to, especially after some pre-race meal difficulties, including forgotten seasoning and a ruined sauce pan. When I first arrived at Epcot, I was very excited to see the ball, knowing that the next time I saw it would be around mile 26. I took a quick picture and headed into the staging area. There was an entertaining DJ who played a lot of great dance music. I spent about an hour shivering on some bleachers and watching people of all ages do the Cuban Shuffle and the Wobble. I waited until 5:00 or so, took a "before" picture and headed to the starting line.

The parking lot was a bit less crowded than usual at 4:00 a.m.

Official start photo

The walk to the corrals was almost a full mile from the staging area. On top of that, I ended up making a wrong turn and had to backtrack a good bit to get into my actual corral, which I did just in time to watch the last bit of the pre-race program.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who waited until the last minute to head over

At the start, runners were divided into 16 different groups, based on previous race times. The official start time was 5:30 a.m., and each subsequent group was sent off approximately three minutes after the previous one. Each group had its own countdown and fireworks, which was very cool. It was right around 6:00 when my group was sent off.

Let's do this!

The Course
The marathon starts outside of Epcot and the first five miles head straight for the Magic Kingdom. It was still really dark and the anticipation (and perhaps the fact that these were the first five miles) made this stretch feel really easy. There were a few impressive character set-ups (a pirate ship with Jack Sparrow and a graveyard scene with the guy from The Nightmare Before Christmas) and some high school bands, and the crowds outside the ticket and transportation center were notably great. It was around this time that I received my first text message from Meghan (just before the five-mile marker to be exact). I should clarify that this does not include the messages waiting for me on the insides of my wristbands and on my snack bags, or the "You're Awesome" reminder she set on my phone for 3:10 a.m. I loved messaging her during the long training runs and loved it even more during the race.

All the booths were manned with people warning runners about a tiny speed bump.

This picture is actually from Tommorwland, where it was still very much nighttime.

I loved that every mile was different and that there was matching music. I even smiled at the horse being included on 2 and the little guy on 3.

Shortly after receiving Meghan's text, we entered the Magic Kingdom and began with a memorable run down a packed Main Street. The course then wound through Tomorrowland and back towards Cinderella Castle before we headed west to exit in Frontierland. It was here that I took my first picture with a character, even though I had already taken pictures of several others. Running under the castle and through the park gave me the biggest smile I would have for another 21 miles.

My pictures from earlier on Main Street were very blurry due to a mixture darkness and adrenaline.

Running by the castle

After exiting the Magic Kingdom, there is a two-mile stretch running by some really nice resorts, including the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian, some famous characters and one of the golf courses, before entering the Walt Disney World Speedway. I was actually excited about the speedway and stopped to take a panoramic picture, which I didn't think was working so I stopped. There were rows of cars lined along the track and random car noises being played when you first start running. My enthusiasm dwindled somewhat by the time I left, given how long it took to actually complete the lap.

It's probably against the rules to run a Disney race and not take pictures with some of the characters. I just wish some of the lines were not too long to get even more.

1/4 of what would have been a pretty sweet panorama

Can you guess which mile marker was inside the race track?

From there, it was a very long three-mile run to Animal Kingdom and the halfway point. Most notably, this stretch passes the Disney World waste treatment facility, which features sign after sign touting the important work being done. Regardless, it smelled exactly like what it is. Shortly after, we passed the groundskeeping facility, which featured a cool topiary in front.

Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the treatment plant or the signs. Fortunately, there are no pictures of the smells.

The road into Animal Kingdom included live petting zoo animals with species-appropriate signs. I don't remember any of them and I probably should have taken some pictures. My two takeaways were that the Mount Everest ride looked very cool and that Dinoland USA seems like something Ellie will love when we actually make it there. The park wasn't open when I ran through it, but there was an enthusiastic queue of people lining the parking lot on my way out. Shortly after exiting, I passed the 13.1 marker (which happened less than 10 minutes before I received another pre-set message from Meghan congratulating me on making it halfway).

She's a psychic.


iPhone didn't exactly nail the lighting, but you get the idea.

This began what, to me, felt like the longest and slowest stretch. Other than a group of entertaining undertakers dragging shovels across the pavement and posing for menacing pictures, it was really just highway for three plus miles, and not close enough to the start or finish to be excited about anything in particular. It didn't help that this was also when I started noticing a little bit of left knee pain, including what felt like a minor crack that I hadn't experienced before. I decided not to really push it this far from the finish and began walking more frequently and for longer stretches. This portion of the race also messed with my head because around mile 16 you can see runners on the other side of the road heading the other way towards mile 21. There was also a DJ talking about these runners looking so strong at 20.4 miles, which made me quite angry/jealous.

I liked the sign choices, at least.

Just out of earshot from the DJ, we entered the ESPN Wide World of Sports, which included a cool, wet towel that felt amazing. I actually enjoyed winding all over the complex. I received some pictures from Meghan but wouldn't let myself look until I hit mile 20. The highlight here was definitely Champion Stadium (the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves), which had a very vocal crowd and a couple of bands.

I'm making a deja vu face, but I would have liked to caption this along the lines of following in Ellie's footsteps.

The crowd looks much smaller than it felt.

Checking off another 4 miles

It was much nicer seeing the DJ this time and the road to mile 21 was really easy. I stopped to take a picture with the Green Army Man who was shouting encouragement at passing runners and then realized why they put him where they did. The worst climb of the entire marathon was directly behind him. It wasn't as bad as the bridges in Jacksonville, but after entering uncharted territory (my longest run had been 21 miles), it wasn't great. If that wasn't fun enough on its own, it actually started raining. I stopped at the first aid tent at the top of the hill and put some BioFreeze on my left calf and knee.

I'm actually smiling at some jokes Meghan told when I mentioned entering into uncharted territory.

The hill and the army man are actually after the right hand turn hidden by Aurora.

From the top it was onwards to Hollywood Studios and then Epcot and then the finish! I knew all along that once I got to Hollywood Studios, I would be golden. I also knew there was candy at mile 22 just inside the park, which ended up being a single fun size Hershey bar. Not sure what I expected or if I was really thinking straight by then, but I was fairly disappointed. On the way in, I really liked running through some tunnel which passed glass-windowed rooms where all of the costumes are made and maintained.

The bottom of the now-defunct sorcerer's hat is behind me.

Two more down!

From Hollywood Studios we ran towards the Boardwalk resort area, which I really liked. It took longer than I expected to get to Epcot, but once I was in, I felt so thrilled. I kept looking over my shoulder to find the ball and when I finally saw it, I felt a wave of emotion. I stopped to take a picture with Jasmine from Aladdin, made my way around the world showcase, took a picture with the ball and then finally ran past the gospel choir at the mile 26 marker and then headed out of the park.

I'm much happier than I look here.

I was very relieved running around Epcot knowing I was going to do it.  

Last mile!

As I was getting close to the exit, the rain picked back up again. Thanks to technology, I had no problem spotting Meghan and Co. and stopped to say a quick hello and take their picture. They were huddled together and the kids were over it by the time I got there in the rain, but it was still so great to know they were there for so long and then to see them and then to get real hugs at the finish.

Cheering squad

Speaking of finish, that's what I did next and it felt great. I gave an enthusiastic double fist pump (I had meant to plan something but never got around to it) and was pleased I could follow the line to medals and family meet-up and not to first aid or massage. My legs actually felt okay. I had another surge of emotion and may have cried if Meghan had gotten to me sooner. Guess I'll have to wait till next time. Just kidding. Probably.




* * * * *


I'm so proud of him. He really worked so hard and I'm so glad he was able to keep on going to reach this goal. It was not easy to carve out the time to train for this marathon this past year, considering right smack in the middle of it all we had a new baby, then that baby spent two weeks in the hospital, then we moved. Plus, you know, other life. I'm so proud of Eric for sticking with it and emerging victorious.

I also wanted to share the marathon experience from the point of view of the spectators, if you care to stick around for a little more marathon talk.

The night before the race, I tried to make sure Eric was all set to go. We prayed together before bed, then he went to sleep while I made sure his "costume" (Mickey-inspired running outfit) was ready to go. I also was in charge of making sure his phone was fully charged before bringing it in to him (as a backup alarm clock - no Seinfeld-esque marathon oversleeping was going to happen on my watch!), and before doing so I programmed a few encouraging message reminders to pop up at various points along the way. I also put some notes on the inside of his wristbands and on his little nutrition chews. By golly, I was not going to let him quit because he felt down, that's for sure!

Notes for Eric to find in the morning

I got up a little early (after, of course, waking up around when Eric was supposed to leave and wondering if he was on time and how he was feeling). I pulled up the live stream of the marathon on Eric's computer and went back to watch his corral start the race, though I didn't see him. My mom got up shortly thereafter and soon we roused the kids so we could get ready and go. We had tried to figure out approximately when Eric would be reaching the finish, and wanted to leave a couple hours before that to allow time for traffic (which we expected to be bad) and finding a spot. When Eric texted me that he was halfway done and we had yet to leave the house, I panicked a little!

In fact, we had plenty of time. Traffic was no trouble at all, and neither was parking or finding a spot. We snagged a spot right by the railing along a bend that would afford us a great view of Eric coming towards us with the Epcot ball behind him, so I had the camera ready. Then, it was just time to wait.

Hanging out in the crowd in our homemade t-shirts! They all say "Proud [x] of #4108!"

As we waited, both kids started to get a little over it. Ellie was spooked by all the crowds and E.J. desperately wanted to nap. We solved these problems by my mom holding Ellie for basically the whole time, and I eventually got E.J. to doze off in the carrier. Crises averted!

Entertaining herself with Grammy

I was texting with Eric here and there while he ran, and I was keeping tabs on him with the "Find My Friends" app on our phones. So, I knew when he was getting close. I was staring off at that bend, watching for him, camera at the ready.

At this point I texted to make sure he knew it was a marathon, not a triathlon. No swimming required.

Then, the rain picked up. I started fussing with my sweater, trying to pull it up over E.J.'s head to shield him, and then all of a sudden, Eric was standing in front of us! I was so mad that the rain had distracted me and after all that, I missed his approach. Luckily, he spotted us, and stopped to take a picture then continued on! He was looking strong!

Snapping our picture! What a cool guy move.

We left our spot and went to meet up with him past the finish line. Ellie was so excited by this point - she was dying to see Daddy!

Showing off our signage

At last, we found him! Ellie gave him a huge hug and the rest of us followed suit. I was so proud of him—we all were!


Checking out the hardware

"Thanks for running all those miles to get me this new teether, Dad!"

Celebratory dance party!

It meant so much to me to be able to be there to see Eric complete this goal. I'm so thankful my mom was able to come to town to help me with the kids so that would be possible. Thank you, Mom!

Eric and his proud mother-in-law

We then made our way back to the cars as the rain picked back up. We went back to the hotel where Eric relaxed as much as possible and I went to get us some lunch from Chili's. My mom stayed for lunch then left to go home.

That evening, we went back to Downtown Disney for the Cool Down Party. We didn't stay long, but it was nice to get out and walking around. I'm so proud of both my runners!

W. family medalists!

And that was it! The big event! Congratulations, Eric! We're so proud of you and we love you so much!

Coming up next: Our last day in Orlando, with breakfast at Chef Mickey's!

(If you'd like to see the rest of the marathon photos, you can see Eric's pictures here and my spectating pictures here.)

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