Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Magical Run

When I took up running, I wanted my first big race to be a marathon.  When May began running last year, she wanted her first big race to be a half marathon.  And that’s how it starts, a grandiose goal to run a race that dreams are made of. For many runners there’s that one special race that makes all the training worthwhile.  The cold mornings, the rain, the heat, oh the oppressive heat, and injury, yet they all press on to live a dream. There is something “magical” about finding that race that captivates your spirit as nothing else can do.  For some it’s the New York Marathon, for others it’s the Chicago Marathon and for many local runners, well their race of choice takes place in a “Kingdom”, in a land not so far away.
The 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon weekend held on January 12-13 turned dreams into reality for nine Blythewood residents.  Cinderella may have a castle, but Mickey, Donald and Goofy showed true hospitality, turning over the keys to the Kingdom for over 46,000 runners for the 20th running of the Disney World Donald Duck Half Marathon, Mickey’s Marathon and the Goofy Challenge.  Keeping with Disney’s tradition of creating an awesome and unforgettable experience, Mother Nature was equally kind providing race time temps in the sixties under clear and calm skies.

Chris and May visiting Cinderella

This was my third marathon weekend running the marathon three times and the Goofy Challenge twice and Mays first experience running the Half Marathon.  For Blythewood Resident Jimmy Sauls he too has completed three Disney Marathons and two Goofy Challenges. Brenda and Paul Pepin also participated in the events by running the half marathon. Other Blythewood residents that ran include Carla Young, Tracy Corson, Stacy Mandrell and Stephanie Nace-Smith.

So what is a “Goofy Challenge?” If running the marathon wasn’t enough, you also run the half marathon the day before so you can see it is adequately named.  Yep, 39.3 miles in two days, but it’s the Magic Kingdom where anything’s possible.

Brenda and May Celebrating Donald Duck

Donald Duck started the main events with the half marathon on Saturday morning with 25,000 runners setting off on an unforgettable venture at 5:30 am to bursts of fireworks and rock and roll music that would make even the best of the fourth of July celebrations pale with envy.  Runners started on the roads near Epcot and headed towards the Magic Kingdom. “I thoroughly enjoy running up Main Street USA during both races as you really feel the crowd support” said Jimmy Sauls.  May and I entered at just the right time, getting to experience a beautiful sunrise as we ran through Cinderella’s castle. 

After departing the Magic Kingdom, runners made their way towards Epcot where they enjoyed the Showcase of Nations, a gospel choir and thousands of screaming fans brining runners’ home to the finish line.  For me the best part of the half marathon was being able to watch May cross the finish line to make her dream come true. We had some excellent company the entire race and Paul and Brenda in their adorable Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes ran with us.  Paul Pepin summed it up best saying “This was the most fun I've had running in years! The Disney people know how to put on an event and they spared no expense or effort. I'll look forward to this again next year!”

For most it was time to celebrate and party, but for Jimmy, Stacie, Stephanie and me, the party was short lived as we had the marathon the following day. Sounds, Goofy right? 

Sunday morning came very early for the marathon runners yet again. With a 5:30 am start most runners have to get up around 2:00 am to make their way to the staging area near Epcot and then make the 25 minute walk to the staging corrals. Leave it to Disney to flawlessly moved 25,000 people without much effort.

This is where it all began

The weather was equally as beautiful on Sunday as it was on Saturday, making for a magical 20th anniversary event.  The course would take runner through the Magic Kingdom, around the speedway then down to the Animal Kingdom where we were treated to a behind the scenes look at the various animal housing facilities.  Upon exiting Animal Kingdom, we made our way to ESPNS’ Wide World of Sports and took a lap around the warning track inside Champion Stadium before making our way to Hollywood Studios and ending our adventure where it all started at EPCOT.

During both days runner were treated to cheers from a host of Disney characters including Captain Jack Sparrow, Cinderella, Chip and Dale, Peter Pan among others.  Equally impressive was the thousands of volunteers that lined the course for the entire race and cheered for  you by name and always made you feel like a welcome guest, even at the toughest moments of the race. 

For me, the 2013 marathon was incredibly special. I had trained all year for this race and was looking to set a personal record.  In my first year I completed the marathon in 3:59:37 last year I finished in 3:57:37 with my goal for this year being 3:55.  With nearly perfect conditions and raw determination, I finished in 3:26:29, besting my PR by 22 minutes! I finished 11:29 shy of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, something that prior to the race was beyond my wildest dreams.   I guess dreams do come true even for the Goofiest of people at Disney World.
Ahhh Relief - 3:33 - New PR

If you are considering running a half or full marathon and want to take a family vacation, I strongly recommend the Disney World events.  The pageantry, friendliness, attention to detail and loads of fun make this race a definite must do.
Jimmy Sauls sums it up perfectly. “My kids are eight and five and they are already looking forward to the day that they can run a Disney race with me. The annual trip has become a fun family tradition for us because we can include time at all of the Disney parks before and after the races.”  

If you are competitive or simply want to have a good time, the Disney World Marathon weekend has something for everyone.  For May and me, we will be back in Orlando next January looking to have even more fun and celebrate with Donald, Mickey, Minnie and Goofy.  As for me, next year my goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon at Disney and hope there is one more dream left to come true!

Congratulations to all the Blythewood runners.  Hope to see you next year!
Here is to being fit for a lifetime!

Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer, exercise and endurance enthusiast.  He competes yearly in numerous running races, marathons, ultra marathons, triathlons and other endurance events.