I wound up sleeping straight through to my 3 am wake up the morning of the full marathon. I showered, gathered up my gear and hurried off to the marathon bus stop at Saratoga Springs. Good thing I got to the line up when I did as the line got a lot longer behind me. I boarded the fancy motor coach and settled in for the ride to Epcot. There was a clock on the front of the bus that was also flashing the temperature on and off....70 deg F (21 deg C)...and the humidity was insane at close to 100%. Just as we arrived at Epcot I realized I'd left my bagel with peanut butter back at the hotel. Thankfully I had opted to go in for the Runner's Retreat package that morning - access to a special tent with food and beverages, separate porta-potties, its own bag check and special character greetings. I headed straight for the Retreat tent, grabbed a bagel and then saw that Mickey and Minnie were available for pictures.
Angry was also supposed to be at the Retreat tent but we didn't spot each other. After grabbing a few photos I checked my bag and decided to head through to the staging area to hit the bathroom a few times before leaving for the starting line. The marathon is broken into two starts, the blue and red start. Coral C was in the blue start - we got to run through Epcot and World Showcase while the red start ran mostly on the highway until we merged around 3 miles just outside of Epcot. This was one of my favorite parts of the whole course - it was amazing to run around World Showcase in the dark. The lights on all of the pavilions were flashing, disco lights were flashing and dance music was blaring out of the speakers. There were a few picture opportunities along the way as well with Cinderella and Belle hanging out in France and Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco. The courses merged and we were back out on the highway. Around mile 5 my parents were out there cheering for me and it was a great boost to see them along the way. From there it was on towards the TTC again. Just before we hit TTC the courses split again as we were able to choose our entertainment for a short section. The choices today were 80s or country. I opted for 80s and truthfully I can't remember what song was playing. Again the energy at TTC was amazing. My parents were there cheering which I didn't expect. From there it was past the Contemporary Resort and into the Magic Kingdom. This time I called my dad just before entering MK to give him a warning for a picture opportunity.
The run along Main Street went by really quickly, and from there it was in to Tomorrowland where I ran into Chip and Dale.In Frontierland I ran into Woody, Annie and Bullseye.
There were a ton of other characters along the way and I stopped for pictures all of them. After exiting the Magic Kingdom you are running on highway for a really long stretch. This is a pretty common spot for emotions to start flagging. I noticed a ton of runners from Canada so when I caught up to them we would chat so I could find out where they were from. I ran into a couple of other Goofy runners from Calgary as well. Next time I run this race I'll try to wear a shirt that shows where I'm from as I loved all the cheers of "Go Canada" that these folks were getting. Another great thing that Disney does is they print your first name on your bib so people can cheer you on personally. I only counted three folks that actually pronounced my name correctly, but it was great to get cheered on regardless. (It is pronounced like Leigh-Anna by the way...)
Around the half-way point my feet started screaming at me and my legs were having a tough time getting into running mode after the walk breaks. I should probably also mention that the humidity was still oppressive and the sun was coming out and heating things up. I was feeling like I did at the 17 mile point of my 20 mile run, except I still had half the race to go. I wasn't entirely sure that if I kept up with running that I'd be able to finish the race so I took stock of my pace and decided that I was still in fine shape to finish if I at least walked the rest of the way to Animal Kingdom around the 16 mile mark. Looking around me it appeared that I was hanging out with a bunch of people that were probably coming to the same conclusion as I was. Slowly but surely people started walking around me, or I would notice the same folks run past me but would be stopped on the side of the road a ways later trying to stretch out a cramp or taking their shoes off to inspect their blisters.
The engineering geek in me came out when we passed through the waste water treatment plant. I actually got my degree in Civil Environmental engineering and had a pretty big interest in waste water treatment (but then somehow or other wound up in oil and gas....long story). In university I wrote a research paper on biological nutrient removal (BNR) and even visited my school's own on site pilot BNR plant. Going past Disney World's own BNR tanks was a big of a highlight for me!
When we got to Animal Kingdom things got a bit more interesting as cast members had a few animals out to say hi to us - a sheep, goat, a few donkeys, an owl. Donald and Daisy were also at the entrance to Animal Kingdom as well.I hit the medical tent for the first time ever at the 16 mile mark. Mike had sung the praises of Biofreeze the day before so I opted to give it a try for my quads that were starting to ache. This was an interesting sight....runners were in the tent sitting down and getting their blood pressure checked or were trying to get their breath back. I was happy that I wasn't in that state, that's for sure. I got my legs back under me and ran through the park. There weren't the cheer squads through the park, but there were a bunch of confused tourists trying to dodge runners to get into the line for Everest by that point in time. I ran into one fellow from Abbotsford, BC so we chit chatted for a bit. He ran the Calgary Marathon in July so he talked about how much he enjoyed that race. Once outside of the park it was on to another long stretch on the highway - miles 18 to 22.5. I thought of trying to keep up the running and walking thing but the sun was beating down and it was insanely hot, not to mention the feet were still hurting. I asked myself whether I would be upset with myself if I kept walking and didn't try to finish this thing out by running more. As I said all along, I didn't have a time goal. While I certainly knew I could do better than a near 6.5 hour marathon my main goals were to have fun and to finish upright. I wasn't sure that would be possible if I tried to push running more. I stopped for a picture at mile 20 - one guy commented that he couldn't believe that I was able to pull off a pose standing one foot at the 20 mile mark.
I called my dad to give him a heads up that I was pretty well walking from here on out, so to not worry that it was taking me longer than he might have figured. I also saw that at some point Angry had texted me to tell me he was done. I let him know that I was at the 20 mile mark and he wrote me back to tell me that I should be sure to drink like it was my job out there. Finally we hit the Hollywood Studios where there were tons of characters out to cheer us on and to take pictures with.
By this point in time my feet were really aching so I hobbled through until I hit the Sorcerer's hat. I pulled out my best running form and smile for one of the big picture spots along the way. After that we were out of the park and on Disney's Boardwalk heading back towards Epcot and the World Showcase. There were quite a few folks cheering along the way and I got a sneak peek of the medal that was awaiting me as a few runners were heading back to their hotel along the walkway. I thought about texting Angry to look out for me as I crossed Germany since I was getting there right around his lunch reservation, but by that point I was ready to finish this thing up. My parents were waiting for me at Norway for a picture. My mom asked if I was okay and if I needed water but since I was so close to the finish I figured I'd be alright. Once I had Spaceship Earth in my sight I decided to bring it on home and started running again. As I crossed the finish line I high-fived Chip and the feeling was out of this world. I got my Mickey Mouse medal and headed over to the Goofy Challenge tent to claim my Goofy medal. I teared up when I had it placed around my neck and I'm a bit surprised that I didn't all out start bawling. I hit the refreshment tent, then made a beeline for the Runner's Retreat tent. Inside Goofy was hanging out so of course I grabbed a picture...Ah, so now that is all done. Now comes the inevitable question of "what next?" I've been thinking about it quite a bit, so I'll be sure to post once I finally decide sometime soon.