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Every January I try and make a stop down in Florida around my Mom’s birthday to get some one-on-one time with her. This year, I timed it so that I would also be running the Disney World Marathon, my second marathon. My mom has never seen me run a race so I wanted her and to be able to cheer me on for once.
Normally in Florida around this time, the mornings are mid-forties and the high gets upwards of 65. This seemed like perfect running weather. Little did I know that the greatest cold front Florida had ever seen was descending upon the race.
We drove up to Orlando from Tampa Saturday afternoon. We stopped off at the Disney Wide World of Sports Expo to pick up my race number and goodies. It was insanely crowded. We then checked into the Old Key West Resort suite I had booked. I picked it because it seemed to be within walking distance of the start line. It was a great little place that might even be bigger then my manhattan apartment.
At 7PM we went north to a restaurant my mom found called Fresco (by Universal Studios). It was perfect. I had my pasta fix, some red wine and we were off. I think we all got to bed just after 10 with the intention of waking up at 4:15AM. Yikes.
My iphone alarm calmly woke me up at the slotted time. Was I tired? No. I need roughly 6 hours of sleep to be on my A game and I was on target. Brewed up some Cafe Bustelo that I brought with me (yes, Im that crazy about it and god help me if they ever ban it from racing). Ate a banana. Got geared up in my arctic attire… Track pants, Nike Dry fit top, Adidas track top, gloves and hat. The temperature was 28 degrees + windchill with a predicted high of 35. I mean, I’m from NYC and run in the cold, but not a whole 26 miles in sub freezing! Come on, give me a break Florida!
My stepfather Richard drove me (no way you can get my mom out of bed early- she’s like a college student) to the end of our resort entrance which is where the start was. I hopped out and ran across to the empty corrals.
I made pals with this guy Michael and we decided to hop the gates and get to our start. You’re supposed to go all the way around to the parking lots of Epcot but that takes 20 minutes.
TIME: 4:50AM… 50 minutes to start. Michael and I just bounced around in our corral trying to stay warm BSing about running until the rest of the group came. We were both in Corral A which was the lead group of 500 or so faster runners. It was still cold but now we had some protection from the wind. Seriously, not a fun time. For the first time ever I was upset that my sneakers had ventilation slots. SIDENOTE: Props to the volunteers who were out there since 1:30AM setting up.
A minute or two before gun time they had us scoot up. My right foot was ON the start line! Never before in a race of this caliber (17,000 runners) had I ever been first off! It was quite exciting.
National Anthem, fireworks, a fist bump to all my friends I had made and then we were off!
I started ballin’ down the highway in hot pursuit of the pack. Remember, its 5:40AM, pitch black, 28 degrees plus windchill and 26.2 miles to go. My main concern was to get my blood flowing and my body heat started, I could care less about silly things like ‘pacing’ or ‘taking it easy’ in the beginning. Thats also not my style.
The first 4 miles we looped into Epcot. It was very cool and I was in a line of runners watching the lead man slowly pull away. I had no intention of going after him, there were many more faster runners than me, I just wanted to break my own personal record and qualify for Boston. As the 4 miles finished we came back around to where we started but in a different chute. Now we were running up the highway with the rest of the runners to our right just getting going.
After we made it past the crowds it got real dark, real quiet, and real cold out on the highway. I switched on my ipod to keep me company. The guy in front of me was 40 yards ahead and the guy behind me the same. I started to fall into my rhythm and really get excited just to be there running a marathon. The last big race I had was the Ultra in November so I was itching for some time out on the road. I was in my head and running, just running, nothing else in the world to worry or think about but that moment.
As we hit mile 8 and 9 we started coming up to the Magic Kingdom… you know, Cinderella’s Castle, Frontier Land, Space Mountain. The crowds were back and my spirits soared. I made it a point to throw my hands up at the crowds in either the bull horns gesture or the love sign, instigating them to freak out! I wanted to have as much fun as I could on this and also wanted to show the people standing around in sub-freezing weather that we needed and appreciated them.
This next part may have been the most amazing experience of the whole race. When we think of Disney World we think of crowds, of lines, whiney kids, and chaos. I was now running through the Magic Kingdom BY MYSELF! there was no one around! Occasionally, a Disney character like Dopey or Cinderella would be sidelined, but other than that it was a ghost town. Because it was a winding path you couldn’t see the runner ahead or behind you. It was actually pretty creepy at times, until I ran right through the middle of the Castle! Unreal. I also blew a kiss at Minnie… sorry Mickey.
Departing the Magic Kingdom we were nearing mile 11 and I was looking forward to the Half-Marathon line as I set that to be snack time.
As soon as I crossed over the line I pulled over and ate the 3 Clif Shot Blocks I had in my pocket. I was starving and needed sustenance. During my last race, I had a few mini rice and bean burritos that I ate which worked phenomenally! I didn’t think I would need them on this run and I would later find out I was very wrong.
It was at this point people started catching up and passing me. It was also at this point I noticed that at all the water stations our drinks were more slushy/sno-cone like than liquid.
Back on the move through miles 14 and 15, feeling good but getting hungry again. My knees and toes were also numb from the cold. My timing was on par and at at this rate I would finish in 2:50 which was one of my goals (Sub 3 that is). I stopped and wolfed down another banana. Mmmmm.
Miles 17-19 we went through The Animal Kingdom and once again it was totally cool. It was like running through a man made jungle. Tiki Huts, Reggae Bands, the works.
Of course, as soon as we left the Animal Kingdom and got on to mile 20 I felt horrible. I was hungry again and not interested in bananas for once in my life. My pace was slowing and the cold was taking its toll on my body. I believe ‘bone cold’ would be a good term to describe it.
At mile 21 I realized my pace had slowed enough that in order to make sub 3 I would have to continue with a 6:20 pace. That was not going to happen and now I was just content with finishing as long as I broke my last marathon’s time of 3:15:51.
As we entered mile 24 we were brought full circle back into Epcot and I found myself running ‘Around the World.’ Runners were passing me now and on a normal day I would take offense to this and step it up, but I was a mess.
As I neared the finish line I knew my Mom and stepfather Richard would be watching. I would try and find them but I more importantly needed to get this race done! As I rounded the corner and saw the immense crowds I knew I would never spot them. Then, out of the roar of the crowd I heard this unforgettable sound, it was the sound of my Mother’s voice, “Chris!” I turned and smiled, waving as I went on to the finish line knowing they had seen me.
At my Ultra Marathon I sprinted to the finish giddy with excitement, not today. As soon as I crossed, my body was like “Get me food now or its over buddy!” My time was 3:13:13 which is a bit odd (numerically) I would say. I broke my personal record but did not qualify for Boston. I got my medal (super awesome gold Mickey Mouse head) my aluminum blanket and walked on to the food area. I heard a few other runners saying how they were unhappy with their times too. I grabbed a bagel and blueberry muffin and devoured them in record time.
My Mom and Richard came running over and gave me a big hug. They were really excited by the whole thing which was cool to see.
Back at the Resort my Mom whipped together a delicious breakfast. I took a hot shower and we headed back to Tampa.
I was supposed to be meeting my friend Morgan and 4-5 other run-bloggers who were there running but I just couldn’t stay out in the cold any longer. Sorry guys!
All in all it was a good race and I made great time. Its hard to stay upbeat though when you know what you are capable of and let it fall apart. Like I always tell people, you never whats going to happen on race day!
Congrats to all 17,000 Marathoners!
This is what I walk away with…
1- I didn’t train for this race at all. I ran maybe two 5 mile runs since November. I’m running the NJ Marathon and the NYC Marathon and I will train very hard to achieve my goals.
2- If rice and bean burritos work on a race, why leave them out for no logical reason? Bring my burritos to all distance races.
3- Eat a bigger breakfast before a marathon, maybe oatmeal (like I did for the Ultra which worked great).
It’s funny, on the Ultra I learned a great deal about distance running… food, etc. Then, I get to this marathon and I throw it all out the window!