2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend - The Dopey Challenge Part 2: 13.1, 26.2, Family, Friends and Food

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You can read Part 1 of my WDW Marathon Weekend experience here

2014 WDW Marathon Weekend Part 1

Our Journey is Now Resuming

As you can imagine, my legs were pretty sore as Saturday morning crept into my eyes. This was the now the third consecutive day of racing and with it, the third day of my alarm jarring me out of my sleep at a mind-numbing 2:45am. Today was the day of the first of the big races, the half marathon.  The past two days races, the 5k and 10k respectively, had been fun and I had approached them with the intention of saving all my juice for Sunday’s marathon. But, 9.3 miles are still 9.3 miles no matter how fast you run, and my legs were stiff and achy from the mileage.

Today’s half marathon would be a little different. I would be rabbiting my wife since this was her last run of the weekend. Now, before you guys get all dirty-minded, let me explain what the term rabbiting is. When you rabbit someone, it’s essentially playing the role of pacemaker, where the person you are rabbiting sets a goal and it’s up to you to maintain that pace so the runner can achieve it.  My wife wanted to keep to an 11:30 pace per mile, so she could PR her time, which worked well for me given I didn’t want to succumb to the chance of wasting too much energy in today’s race. 

We started in Corral J, which would be the farthest corral I’ve experienced in my runDisney tenure. First thing I noticed was how much more social and easygoing everyone was.  Not to say the higher corrals aren’t social and fun, it just seemed it was more wide scale in this corral. The other thing I noticed was the amount of patter the MC’s had to do as each corral set off. I give them credit for trying to keep everyone enthused, but my God, it’s okay to have some dead time on the mic.  I put my headphones on and zoned out.

"J" for just let us go already!

Finally crossing the Start line, we headed out on Epcot Resorts Boulevard towards World Drive and the Magic Kingdom. My wife had jumped out to an 11:00 per mile pace and I had to corral her back to our schedule pace to conserve energy. As we headed towards the Ticket and Transportation Center, the weather started to get really muggy with the humidity becoming quite heavy; I immediately knew this was going to be bad for the rest of the run.

Passing through the Magic Kingdom and out towards the Grand Floridian, the sun was now making its way over the horizon but neglecting to burn off the now, blanket-like moisture hanging in the air. This was a little too much for my wife and we had to slow it down. Throughout the rest of the race, we took it easy with some walk breaks, a smart approach on an unseasonably gross day.  Sadly, no PR, but this won’t be her last race. 

You're really earned your ears. They look swell.

You're really earned your ears. They look swell.

Total medal tease

After collecting my medal and yet another wristband, we headed back to the resort to clean up and then over to the Grand Floridian Café for breakfast with my mom and my wife’s parents.

In becoming what seems to be a new trend with my family, having reservations doesn’t necessarily mean getting seated anywhere near your time. I’m only reminded of this recently, having to wait an hour after our reservations for dinner at a Boston restaurant.  Anyway, we waited for nearly 30 minutes past our reservation at the GFC, narrowly missing the breakfast cutoff. It didn’t seem the cast was that apologetic and having just completed a half marathon, my patience was less than thin. Thankfully, our server diffused the situation with her tremendous service. I really enjoy the Grand Floridian café, their lunch menu has some of the best fare in town (their lobster burger is ridiculous), but the breakfast was a little lacking. I had the waffles and they were cooked almost to the point of being stale. I’ll chalk it up to maybe the chef was just having a bad day and look forward to my next visit.

After getting much needed rest, my wife and I headed back to Epcot to have a highly anticipated lunch date with some runners, many of whom I’ve conversed a lot via Twitter, but never met in person. In attendance were, Karen (karenlovestorun), Kristin (bamagirlRUNS), Cyanne (cldem), Crystal (RunDisneyDork), Sasha (Runningbratt), Adrea (OnceUponARun1) and Leigh (MsPrincessLeigh). We all connected like we’ve been friends for years and all had a great time. Via Napoli is always a good time, and this one was one of the best! Our server was, um, animated to say the least, which heightened the experience. We all swapped running and Twitter stories over delicious pizza and drinks. Some of the gang were first-time marathoners, so we pumped them up with race day strategies to get them through the 26.2 miles alive. After a group shot, we all broke. Most, to their hotels for an early bedtime, while my wife and hit some rides. 

A terrific group of people. Photo Credit: bamagirlRUNS

We didn’t stay out long as I had to a radio remote interview to do. Orlando sports radio station 740am TheGame had asked if they could do a live interview on my running/runDisney experiences and I gladly obliged. They asked me the usual running related questions: what’s it like to run a marathon, how often do I train, what’s it like to run at Disney, etc. I feel like I’ve answered enough of these questions in the past to provide sage advice for those interested in the sport and enjoyed the banter with the DJ’s.

That night my wife decided to stay with her folks in their hotel since she would be spectating the following day’s marathon. So, after her dad picked her up, I spent the evening walking around the Wilderness Lodge to calm my nerves, and may have made a small stop at the bar for an additional way to relax. In the preceding days/weeks, I was really worried about how my marathon was going to turn out, but that evening I felt centered and ready to run. I gave a final word of encouragement to my Team runDisney friends, set my alarm for 2:30a and drifted off to a surprisingly deep sleep.

Another race?

I beat my alarm just a wink before 2:30a and quickly hopped out of bed. Taking stock of my legs, they felt just a shade stiff but nothing too bad. I did have a little twinge in my heel, but nothing like the feeling of last year’s stress fracture, I felt good. In addition, the running gods delivered a cold front as we slept pulling down the temperature to the high 40’s and driving an optimism in me that today was going to be a good day.

I reviewed my race strategy while gulping down my breakfast of cereal, doughnuts, Starburst, orange juice and two bagels. Since running the previous three days, I was realistic about expectations. Today was not about time, it was about survival. My mantra today would be “Complete.” I also had a feeling the wall would show its ugly face much earlier than a usual marathon, so I had to be okay with myself slowing it all down. With all that said, I hoped to complete in under 4:45.

I met up with Andrea (OnceUponARun1) and her friends and spent the time chatting about the race until it was time to make the half-mile march to the corrals. I would be starting today’s race in Corral C since it sounded like that was the front corral for Dopey runners. Still not sure I agree with that decision. The weather was absolutely beautiful, with a crispness to air as my corral crossed the Start line. 

With the longer Disney races, the first few miles are uneventful, which is fine by me. It’s a good time to take stock of your body and race strategy without the outside stimuli of bands, balloons, and fans, so you can enjoy all that whole-heartedly when they approach. As we approached the Ticket Transportation Center around mile 4, I still felt great and had settled into a slow, but respectable, 9:55 per mile pace. That pace was slightly faster when I saw my wife and family in the crowd there. It’s such an amazing feeling to have family cheer you on, I hope you all get to experience that feeling. I headed towards the Magic Kingdom, headphones blaring of up-tempo, inspirational music.  Running down Main Street USA is transcendental, so I won’t go into any more detail, instead leaving the personal snapshot to those who have personally experienced it and pique the interest of those who have not yet.

I made a slight nod to the train in Frontierland since that spot is where my foot fracture drove me into the bushes to vomit just a year earlier. This time, however I felt like I could win the whole damn thing. With a smile on my face, I sped past the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian, through the Indy racecar track and settled back into a groove in “dead zone” of the race. All the while enjoying my run and very seldom checking my watch.

At just about the compost facility, I felt a tap on the back and it was my old friend, Seth. Seth is the kind of friend where you just know him for so long he becomes a member of the family. We hadn’t had a chance to connect so I was glad he found me. He looked in good shape so I told him not to slow down since I was “happy-go-lucky” racing, a first for me. Another first for me, I ate a banana. That’s right, strike up the marching band, Justin ate a banana! Why is this a big deal? I absolutely hate bananas. Hate them! If it was a choice between eating a banana and eating shards of broken glass laced with the Plague and Hep C, I ‘d need a minute to consider. But, since I felt so great, I decided to give it a shot. Oddly enough, it wasn’t that bad, but I think I’ll stick to eating bananas only on the course. Passing through Animal Kingdom, I saw my friend Jenn (DisRunner) which pepped me up for a second and then I relaxed back into an easy groove for that boring stretch down Osceola Parkway towards ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex.

At WWoS, I made a startling discovery that nearly stopped me in my tracks. For the past 18 miles I had yet to walk! That may not sound like much, but in every prior marathon to date, there had been a little walk break here and there. But, today was different. After realizing I had yet to stop, another old friend decided to make an appearance, the runner’s high! Are you kidding me? Is this heaven? I closed my eyes and picked up the pace,  then began to wave and high five spectators as I sped out of WWoS and towards the Studios. I continued my run of greatness through the Studios,  onto the Boardwalk and then kicked it into a higher gear upon entering World Showcase.

At Spaceship Earth, I saw my family one last time and then gunned it for home, feeling like the whole world was cheering me on. I crossed the Finish line in 4:13, a mere 10 minutes over my PR time. Even after the race I felt like I could put a few more miles in. Turns out I had run negative splits the whole race, averaging a 9:39 pace per mile. It was just a year earlier, I could barely walk with a broken foot, and now I had come back to conquer the course in a pretty decent time. All the while logging some pretty serious miles merely hours before this race.

The rest of the day you couldn’t peel the smile off of my face. 

Sweet runner's tan, kid.

We celebrated by hitting the 50’s Primetime Café and I helped myself to as much fried chicken, pot roast, meatloaf, potatoes and spinach as I could eat.

The following day, we met up with Jenn (DisRunner), Danielle (Dnardi710) and Daniel (DanielWanderman) at Epcot and celebrated our accomplishments by sampling the libations of the countries. Yes, we drank around the world. 

Cupping the ball?

We had dinner at Artist Point as a little gift ourselves. I enjoyed a fantastic salmon while my wife noshed on goat cheese pasta. We, then hit the Magic Kingdom to ride our favorite ride, Big Thunder Mountain in the cool, Florida night sky. We experienced the Jungle Cruise with the absolute craziest, skipper who delivered the show in his best “Eff Disney, I’m gonna give you a great show” approach. He rocked it.  Our final ride of the vacation was aboard the Pirates of Caribbean, and something amazing happened.

We made it through the entire ride without a single camera flash going off.

Of, course. Why not?

Well, that was easy.

My take on the inaugural Dopey Challenge is it was a lot of fun. Yes, there is a lot of running involved and the hours are a little nutty. However, if you frame the weekend up as a reason to see great people, ride some rides and sneak in a corndog (or two), you'll have a blast.

On to 2014!