I initially made this one long blog post, but it ended up around 300% longer than my typical posts, so I went ahead and cut it up. There were more thoughts and moments in 26.2 miles going on than I ever thought possible. And considering I took about 300% more time doing this course than most people, it makes sense that the recap is long, right?
Okay- let’s do this bad boy! Come inside my head and see what a mess it is when doing something HARD.
If you are new here and looking for an inspiring story about someone racing through their first marathon and killing it on time, Hi, but, um, you might be disappointed. That’s NOT what this story is.
I’m a back of the pack turtle runner who thinks 26.2-miles is an achievement at any speed. I’m slow; I know it, and I’m ok with it. If you are only interested in speed and times, that’s cool. I love reading those race recaps too! But that’s NOT me.
However, if you want an honest story of how I finished my first marathon full of exciting topics like mental meltdowns (good times), sweeper buses, and Balloon Ladies, then read on!
Spoiler alert: I did it. I completed the 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon. All 26.2 miles of that bad boy.
And it was haaaarrrdddd.
And yes, oh so worth it.
In case you missed it, here’s the recap of how I decided to go for it.
It’s long so I’ll sum it up: basically, I had no real intention of doing this race. Running a marathon may be old hat to some, or just another race to others, but for me? It was a HUGE mental block that I had to get past even to decide to try. It took finishing the Avengers Half Marathon with a smile on my face to convince me to go forward with the training needed.
And so I did. The month of December was completely consumed with running, obsessing, and lining up my travel plans. It was intense.
But with the support of my family, some special friends, and a bunch of miles beneath my feet, I packed my bags and flew to Walt Disney World.
And I was cool. I was calm. I was going to do this very BIG thing, and that was that.
It wasn’t going to be a BIG thing until I finished, then, sure; I’d be THAT person and tell everyone how I ran a marathon and how life changing it was and blah blah blah. But I was going to wait until it was completely behind me before I talked about it.
That was the mental game plan. It mostly worked. I showed up at WDW looking forward to everything.
I felt good at the Expo. I didn’t pass out when I picked up my bib. Ha ha.
I was with friends in a friendly atmosphere, and it was going to be just fiiinnneee.
Oh, silly, silly Shenanigans. That feeling did not last.
There was nothing just fiiinnneee about this come Saturday.
I cheered the half, which was a ton of fun. Then I ate, ran a few errands (including picking up an emergency refill of medications- doh! Not a smooth move going two days without meds), and settled in for the night. I had everything prepped and ready to go early. My roommates and I turned off the lights at 9 pm, and I thought I was set.
But… I was not.
I did not sleep. At all.
Okay, exaggeration, but I ended up with a measly 2.5 hours of sleep before my alarm went off.
That should have been the first sign this was not going to be an easy day.
Once I hit Epcot’s parking lot, I started a slow decent into freakout mode.
I met up with my friends and took a few pre-marathon pics. Tania and I teamed up as McFarland, U.S.A. runners. We saw this movie together last year and loved it, so it felt like a low-key but meaningful costume to choose.
Uno, Dos, Tres… McFarland!
Let’s talk about goals. I had one big one: to finish.
That’s all I cared about. Ideally, I didn’t want to finish as the last person in this marathon. My training pace for my long runs gave me a steady 15:40-minute mile. With a J corral bib, I didn’t think there was an enormous concern about sweeping. This meant I had about a minute per mile cushion to get through Hollywood Studios ahead of the sweepers.
As I walked to the corral, I experienced what I guess was close to a panic attack. When I say I was freaking out, I am not exaggerating. I remember running into some friends and conversing a bit, but I have no idea what we talked about.
The start was a total blur, but I know the weather was the last thing I looked at on my phone before I shut it off and put it away. This is a screenshot I took before I put my headphones on and tried to zone out.
The weather was not my friend this day. Don’t get me wrong; it could have been much worse. And Floridians were like, wut, come at me, bro! It’s cold!
But I’m not a Floridian.
I live in Arizona. My training runs took place with temps in the 50s with 30% humidity at most. So this forecast, while not awful for most, was pretty crappy for me considering I had 26.2 miles to complete.
The Goldilocks of running, right here, folks. I admit it.
I tried to focus on the good parts of the forecast anyway: it was overcast, and it wouldn’t ever get higher than 72. Not bad, but still, not good.
The actual weather plus the mental aspect of the weather took an immediate toll on me.
For the record, during this whole fog of a start, I never thought about NOT starting. I knew I was going to do it. And somewhere deep in my heart, I knew I was going to finish. It was the in between I was completely unclear about.
I thought this would be the good part of the race. I know this part of the course from Princess Half and I am comfortable with the miles. I expected to make up time early on since I expected extra walking to happen toward the end. This was my race plan: run to the Magic Kingdom, take the castle picture, and get out as soon as I could.
But it was NOT good. It was the worst part of the race for me. See inner freak out & weather issues above.
The first 3 miles: I stopped to nervous pee twice. TWICE, yall. And those porta potty lines early on are not short. But it had to be done.
I was running 30/45 intervals and couldn’t seem to get my speed up at all. While I’m not a fast runner, I expected to run the first 3 miles about 2 minutes faster per mile than I was moving.
Seriously. I was moving 2 minutes slower than my training miles at home. I don’t care who you are, that kind of slowdown gets into your head, and the doubts take hold.
Plus I was sweating non-stop. It was just gross out there. I couldn’t breathe, I didn’t want to drink too much because of the peeing, and I couldn’t find anything positive about my situation.
(side note- I was relieved to learn I was not the only one who struggled the first half. Many runners- even the elites!- said the first hours of this race were terrible. I’m a big baby; I’ll admit it, but it helped to hear that I was not alone!)
Except that we were heading into the Magic Kingdom and, hello, distractions!
I’ve never had this view during a runDisney race, and I loved seeing the castle all lit up.
Even when I was miserable and freaking out and sweating like crazy, I smiled BIG when we hit Main Street. That Disney magic is real!
The course took us back into New Fantasyland, which was a change from 2015. I enjoyed seeing all the characters they brought out just for Marathon but knew standing in these early lines was not an option for me. I hoped that later the lines would thin, and I could make some stops (and I did!) but these I had to pass by.
I grabbed a few fly-by pics, though.
I also ran through the castle just as runDisney opened the overflow lane on the left side. After seeing the nightmare pictures from the half marathon of complete stand-still runners, I was thrilled that we were able to move (slowly) through without stopping.
Even though I was worried about my time, I knew I’d regret not stopping for this picture. It was a small wait, but…
I made another bathroom stop in Frontierland. No lines here and if you can wait until mile 6 for your first stop, you are in and out.
Overall I felt I had plenty of room to run when I was on my intervals and room to head to the sides when I was on my walks. Despite being smack in the middle of the pack at this point and somewhat struggling, I didn’t feel like people were blazing by me or anything. It wasn’t crazy crowded either, which I was surprised to see. Crowded: yes. But I could still work the intervals without interruption at this point.
Once we left the Magic Kingdom, I tried to settle down and make up some time. It did not work.
I couldn’t stop looking at my watch and trying to do marathon math. No matter how I added things up, I was getting slower, and we were only at mile 7.
Advice: DO NOT DO MARATHON MATH.
Sure, I expected to get slower as the race went on, but I expected that to happen after the half marathon mark. Before the race, I felt I had a 3:15 for the first half in me; but it was not happening.
Humidity? Lack of sleep? Medication issues? Nerves? Just not my day? All of the above?
Lesson learned in the first miles of my first marathon: throw out all those expectations. Things change.
By mile 8 I was at a full walk (NOT a good sign) and looking desperately around for The Cavalry to rescue me.
Patty Holliday is a Marvel loving, Disney obsessed wife, and mother of four. She’s a travel agent specializing in Disney & Universal vacations- and loves a candid confession. Find her in Virginia (or anywhere frequent flyer miles or her trusty minivan takes her.)