.…3.…2….1 Followed by a fireworks display, and then nothing…..
As per usual, with about 5 thousand people trying to get over the start line it takes a while. After the elite runners had gone with the wheelchairs we were allowed out and it took over 7 minutes to get to the official start line. This worked out OK though, as it allowed me to get my fleece off as I had warmed up nicely on my sprint to the line. I also got my iPod sorted out so I had the right tunes on to get me through it. I am not sure there is a better song to be listening to than She Sells Sanctuary by the Cult to start a race to. The guitar at the start is great when it is all dark as you set off on your adventure. More on the music later.
The plan was to take it easy and run a couple of 10 minute miles to get into the swing of things and see how I felt (I had trained with 8:49 as my goal pace to get me home about 3:51 to break the 4hr mark which was the main goal). I figured that being surrounded by so many other people I wouldn’t be able to go that fast anyway, this didn’t quite work out as planned though and I went under 9 for both the first 2 miles. Having said that, there was a bit of an issue with the distance and my GPS watch, according to my watch it said the first mile was actually 1.1 miles, and by the end was out by .25 not sure how it happened as it was perfectly reliable in Cayman and the first mile was pretty much dead straight!
Anyway, I was into my running by then and absolutely loving it, the music was good, being surrounded by so many people was brilliant, and finally being able to do the run after 51 weeks of preparation. It was actually over 2 years since my previous marathon after which I had been told I would never run again, so this was just a fantastic feeling to be out there running in a race again. The first couple of miles took you around the car park of Epcot and into the behind the scenes bit, and then you pop out in the UK part of World Showcase and get to run round to I think it was Germany, then back out into the access roads, and finally joining up with the other runners who had started on the Red Start.
With Epcot done after about 4 miles it was time to head off towards Magic Kingdom and the first real experience of off and on ramps from the main roads. Probably not a big deal for most people, but living on a vertically challenged island like Cayman meant they looked like the alps to me. By the time we came down the ramp onto the road into MK I had just about overtaken the rest of the people who had started on the Red side, so was running with more people around my own speed. Going up this bit of road there were some High School bands playing which was great to see, and lots of people out cheering, despite the weather and the fact it was still dark.
This point is where I had my first problem though: I am used to getting up having something to eat and then be running 20 minutes later, this morning I had eaten 2.5 hours before the start so by mile 5 I was starting to get hungry. Luckily I had taken some food with me, so had a couple of Cliff Bloks and some Stretch Fruit strip and hoped it would be enough to get to the food stations later on.
By the time we had made it to the 8 mile point the first rays of sun were lighting up the sky behind the Walt Disney World Raceway, which was cool, until you saw the runners leaving MK on the other road already 4+ miles ahead of us! Admittedly they were the elite athletes, but it is still a shock! The next mile or so was probably the highlight of the whole run for me, and it wasn’t even in the park. By the time we had made it around the raceway and across the mammoth car-park the sun was pretty much up. We then had to get through the ticket and transportation centre which first involves going under a roadway. This whole section was absolutely packed with people, all the way from the edge of the car park up to the tunnel under the lagoon heading to the MK entrance. It was absolutely fantastic. Sudz saw me at this point, but there was no way I could make anyone out in the crowd, it was just amazing. Added to that I had some really good trance tunes on at the time:
- Find Yourself – John O’Calaghan
- He’s A Pirate – Tiesto
- Lost Angeles – DJ Eco
MK was great, running down Main Street and then looping around the back to come through Cinderella’s castle and then following the parade route out to the back of Splash Mountain, it was over a bit soon, but then it kind of has to be as they don’t want to have a water station in the park as it will make a hell of a mess!
The road out of MK to the half-marathon point was a bit narrow as we only had a single carriageway, so I felt like I was going slowly, however, looking at my watch I was still averaging at the time 8:31 per mile, so had a chance of 3:45 overall and possibly even a top 1000 finish which was kind of what I had hopped to do. Once the road widened out we came towards the half-way point, and again Sudz saw me, but I was too busy looking at Goofy and Minnie playing golf and missed her. I was still feeling great at this point and really enjoying my running, I was also running within myself as the previous marathons I have run I have hit the wall quite badly on or before 20 miles.
The half-way point was also our chance to see the runners streaming into MK, 4 miles behind us, and knowing exactly what they were thinking!
The next few miles were quite boring to be honest as they were the drag to Animal Kingdom, it was quite nice and tree-lined, but you also know that the real pain and hard part is about to come. It was still below freezing at this point, as evidenced by the salt being put down at the water stops as people were slipping on the frozen water that was being spilt. I also took a cup of Powerade and it turned out to be a lump of ice which whacked me in the face!
There was a banana stop on the way to Animal Kingdom and just as we went in there was a station with Cliff-Shots, which themselves had started to solidify in the cold making them very difficult to eat.
We went through Animal Kingdom, although didn’t really see much to be honest other than Everest, and there were some hot air balloons being readied as we ran past, but it made a nice change from the roads.
It was about this point I started to have my second and slightly more serious problem, well actually it was two problems, on the way out of AK I had a pretty bad stomach cramp which I thought was actually going to be worse than it turned out, the second problem and the more serious of the two was the fact that we had been running into the wind for a while, so the sweat in my triathlon shorts was actually beginning to freeze and in turn was making my quads incredibly cold. The evidence of this is in my mile times, before this point I was happily bowling along about 8:15-8:25 and afterwards I was doing 8:35-8:40, which was enough to scupper any realistic chance of a < 3:45 and top 1000 finish. It was also at this point that more people began to overtake me instead of the other way around. Looking at my finishing place, at the point my legs froze I was probably in the top 1000, as at least a couple of hundred people overtook me from there to the finish.
If the miles to AK were boring the next ones were easily worse. From AK to MGM is all on the big roads, and lots of ramps over other roads. Having said that though I was actually sad to hit 20 miles as it meant there was only 6.2 miles or less than an hour of the adventure I had trained a year for left! The 20 mile point is on an uphill section which is then followed by the bit where you get to run next to the runners who are about a mile ahead of you going in the opposite direction. This is then followed by a wickedly steep ramp (well it feels that steep when you have 21 miles in your legs), and then a long downhill until you hit MGM, it was on this downhill I realised my legs had gone into ‘Safe Mode’ where I only had one pace that would get me home. It wasn’t quite as bad as hitting the wall like I have before, but it cost me another 20 sec/mile over the last 4 miles. Going through MGM was nice after all of the road sections, although it was a bit short, a lot of running in the backlot area and then a quick squirt through the main park.
This is where there was another problem, but nothing to do with me this time, the Disney staff were trying to do their best to hold people back who were wanting to cross over the course as we ran (the parks had been open for about half an hour at this point), but when they tried to let 3-4 people do it 30 people would decide they could make it across too, none of which realise that when you are 23+ miles into a marathon you can’t get out of the way, dodge move, stop or do anything otherwise, so I am sure there were a lot of angry runners at that point. I put on my “angry eyes” and everyone got out of the way as I came through.
Once through this park there are only a couple of miles to go, down and around the Boardwalk where there were lots of people cheering, but the pathways were quite narrow, and then through the back of Epcot (some viscous ramps too!) over some of the same roads as earlier in the race. Popping out once more in the UK and running the complete loop of World Showcase before heading up through the main part of the park past Spaceship earth and out the front of the park, at which point you can see the finish a few hundred metres ahead of you. A quick sprint and I was “high-fiving” Minnie Mouse on the finish line in an official time of 3hr48min12secs, to finish 1022 male and 1276 overall!
Being quite early to finish (there were another 15,700 out on the course at this point) Sudz found me quite quickly once I had my medal, she took my photo with Mushu and then I had to go grab some food and meet her in the re-union area. So I wandered through the refuelling station to find her, and then tried to sit down to put my trousers on…..