You step off the shuttle trying to avoid a puddle. The ground is wet from the overnight rain and you wonder where you are possibly going to find a dry spot to nap until you are called through the Gear Check tent to the Starting Area. As you walk the red carpet (yes, red carpet here at the Disney Marathon) into the Staging Area you notice that the ground appears drier. Could it be that the water has been vacuumed up or blown away? Only at Disney would the Staging Area be dry for the athletes. You stake out a piece of pavement with the rest of your group: “Team Tally” from the North Florida Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training. You lean and prop against each other or curl up on the ground with your gear bag for a pillow. It will be about two hours before “The Mouse King” starts the race. All too soon the announcement comes to pass through the Gear Check tent into the Starting Area. You find “your letter,” leave your dry and extra gear with an exceptionally perky and chipper race volunteer. You meet your group on the other side and now the anxiety starts to build. The lines at the hundreds of porta potties are long, but you find one that seems short and moving with a purpose. Then, with that taken care of, you move with your partners to the corrals near the actual starting line. At the corrals you are checked into the corral by another race volunteer to make sure that you are in the correct place for a safe start and strong finish. There is music blaring and jumbo-TRON screens showing music videos; people doing the “Soldja Boy” all around you; and you can see the starting line from your place in the corral. Wow! Will this start be as sensational and exciting as for the Half?
The half marathon has “wave” starts: one for the wheelchairs; one for the elite runners; one for the faster runners; and then a last (C) wave for the first-timers and walkers. There is a countdown and fireworks for each wave. Can the Full Marathon possibly compare? In one word – YES! There is only one start at the Full, but it is a staged start: The elites and faster runners on one side, and all the rest on another to merge about three or four miles along the course near EPCOT. There is a “Perfect 15” countdown because this is the 15th Anniversary running of the Disney World Marathon. Everyone counts. Then the fireworks explode and the flames from the starting line erupt! They go and go and go! It is spectacular and awesome and beyond description, but you eat it up and love every single second of it. It is now 6:00 a.m. You are moved by the crowd to the starting line and it takes about 7 minutes to get there. You can feel the heat from the flame throwers as you approach. Then you're off: you are running your first marathon: The 2008 Disney World Marathon!
You may not ever be able to recall every detail of every mile of the 26.2 Marathon course. You will remember highlights. You will remember the fireworks at the start. Running through one part of EPCOT while it is still dark and all of the “twinkle lights” are still gaily shining down upon you. Passing by the Richard Petty race track at the Wide World of Sports. You will easily think about running under the Monorail and getting to the Contemporary Resort where all of the trees are trimmed like miniature topiaries. Then, arriving at The Magic Kingdom through a backstage door where cast members and volunteers “Welcome” you to Main Street, USA. You will remember Tomorrow Land and running between the Winnie the Pooh attraction and Dumbo’s flying elephant ride. You will never forget seeing Prince Charming and Cinderella and the trumpets announcing your arrival at Cinderella's Castle and then running through the castle to be greeted on the other side by hundreds of cheering fans and photographers.
You will NEVER forget looking over at the other Team in Training participants and seeing the smiles and glow upon their faces as they keep going knowing that there is only more wonder and Disney magic ahead. You will remember leaving the Magic Kingdom by way of Frontier Land, through to back stage past the Pirates of the Caribbean ship complete with Johnny Depp look-a-like and making your way past the 11-mile mark. Soon after this you might think about the Penguins from Mary Poppins just hanging out and waiting for you to have your pictured snapped as you take a quick breather. Then it's off and “around the bend” to Disney's Animal Kingdom (miles 11-16).
On the way to Animal Kingdom you pass the half way point. Wow! A marathon already if you count yesterday's stroll with about 18,000 friends and family. There are more cast members and volunteers at the backstage door with parrots and other animals for Photo Ops. Carefully, for the pathway is still slick from the night's rain you wander through about half of Animal Kingdom and then out the front gates right in front of a bunch of your team mates who ran the Half Marathon yesterday. They are waiting for you; searching to find you in the sea of people. Thank goodness you remembered to wear your BRIGHT Purple “People Eater” Team in Training singlet, you should be easy to spot. Then you move on towards MGM/Hollywood Studios.
This stretch is long (miles 18-22), and a lot of road with not much to really look at. But, there is a lot to listen to: DJ’s and bands and crowds of people cheering just for you, AGAIN! Listen to them: “Way to go Team!” “Thank you, Team in Training!” “Go Tiffany!” “You're doing great, Michael!” “Carrie, there is water just up there. Keep up the good work!” And it just goes on and on. You speed up just a little if for no other reason than you keep hearing your name over and over and over. Those people there, the ones cheering and thanking you for being a part of Team in Training, this is why you are here. This is why you continue to smile, and cheer back at them, and give the two-handed Thumbs up. This is the best part – hands down!
You spend a lot of time here in MGM, as the route seems to take you through much of the theme park. You see a scene from somewhere near Times Square, the Tower of Terror, the Betty Grable-type models on the streets. You pick out the evening's clothes while you run through the costuming department, and ‘Mater – Tow-Mater to some of you – is right there for yet another golden photographic opportunity. Leaving MGM by way of the front gates – classy you must admit – takes you down to the Boardwalk Inn and Yacht Club Resort. The path around the lagoon is beautiful and you know, having just passed mile 24, the finish line is coming up fast. You enter EPCOT via an entrance you really didn't know existed and the crowds are larger and louder now than the first time you were here this morning. There goes mile 25! Around the World Showcase: past France and Japan, breezing by the USA and Norway, leaving Mexico and those margaritas in your dust, you skip past Spaceship Earth and out a side gate. You are now .2 miles from the finish! Just you wait…
You can hear the crowds before you see them. And, they are lined up several rows deep all the way to the finish line where there are grandstands filled with cheering people. The finish line official announces you by name and the jumbo-TRON screen shows YOU as your Team in Training partner takes your hand and holds it high for the crowds to see as you cross the finish line! This is your time in the spotlight! You have done it! You have finished your first marathon! What a magical experience! No one can take that away from you – EVER.
You have to keep moving after the finish line. There is still a lot to do and see. You take the mylar blanket because already your body is starting to shut down. You pause briefly to have yet another wonderfully chipper race volunteer remove your ChampionChip timing piece. Then you get to the medal station: The medal this year is like no other. It will not be produced again. To some it seems as big as a dinner plate. A volunteer places the medal around your neck congratulating you at the same time. It is an awesome feeling. Then you get water, PowerAde, bananas, oranges, bagels, and chocolate. Before you go through to the Gear Check tent to reclaim your things, you stop at the Victory Photo Station. You reach for your running partner and smile like never before. It's Disney and you have just finished your first Marathon. You have everything in the world to smile about. Everything.
You get your gear, and you find your family. You hug and kiss and begin to babble incoherently about the run. You can't help it. Then you make your way to the Team in Training tent where someone is waiting to lay eyes on your healthy finisher face. Once you have signed in, you are handed yet another memento: Your TNT 26.2 lapel pin. This will be a medal that you can wear nearly everywhere you go. Wow! Then you see what must be the most awesome post-run snack ever: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They rock. Add some chocolate milk and you can't lose.
You've done it. Your coaches knew you could. Your Team Leaders knew you could. And, now YOU know you can. You are awesome!
I hope that you will never forget any of your first marathon experience. I know I won't. I think I can truly say that I loved every minute of every mile – well except where the lines for the porta potties were simply too long…But, that's another story.
I Corinthians 9:24-25
Please visit my web site and learn how to meet me at the finish line. Donate today to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society!
Team In Training: Saving lives one mile at a time for 20 Years in 2008!
You guessed it! I went back to Disney for the 15th Anniversary of "Marathon Weekend" and it rocked my world!