“Caution, runners: speed bumps ahead. Caution, runners: speed bumps ahead. . . .” And so went one of several recordings over the PA system, at both the half marathon and full marathon. I first thought this was a joke, but it became obvious they were serious. This was just another example of the detail put into the planning for the Disney World Marathon weekend. (Yes, the crowds at times got so compact you really could use a warning that the terrain underfoot was going to change.)
Running the “Goofy,” the combo of a Saturday half and a Sunday full at WDW, is becoming a New Year’s rite of passage for thousands of runners like me. It’s a natural time for runners to assess their plans and goals for the coming seasons – how did my races last year go; am I over those injuries; should I go for shorter races in the spring and focus on a fall marathon; work in an ultra; or do more marathons and add a “Marathon Maniac” star or two – so why not start the year with something a little challenging but that’s also a lot of fun? Part of the reason you’re a runner is you really don’t want to grow up anyway (right?), so you might as well go run at the ultimate place for acting like a kid. Then you can see how the races go and narrow down your plans for the coming year.
This was to be my second WDW Goofy weekend, and third overall WDW marathon. My son Toby and I flew to Orland Friday morning, Jan. 6, and checked in at the Wilderness Lodge, a great resort environment that emulates a big lodge built in a western national park. He got out his laptop and went to work on some school assignments while I caught a bus down to the opposite end of the WDW complex to the expo to pick up my bib, shirts, and goody bag. I noted that one advantage of the Goofy seems to be shorter lines to pick up your packet, which is pre-assembled with the shirt for the half (Donald), for the full (Mickey), and for the Goofy. And yes, I like the way the shirt quality has been upgraded from two years ago, the first time I “went Goofy.” I’m walking around the expo wearing the t-shirt of the WDW Radio Running Team -- to which I pledged a little money for its campaign in support of the Make-a-Wish Foundation which grants seriously ill children their wishes to travel to some place fun, like WDW -- and the host of WDW Radio, Lou Mongello, spots me in the shirt and graciously comes over to chat. Eventually back at the hotel, I decided it was too late to take in a park (thanks Delta, for altering our reservations and getting us in an hour later than planned), but the priority was to get in a good dinner anyway. I order the bottomless skillet meal at the hotel’s Whispering Canyon restaurant, full of barbeque and cornbread and the like, something that should guarantee a slow time at the next day’s half-marathon. (And it does.) Well, come on. There’s just no way I’m going to eat sensibly at Disney World. The good food opportunities are way too abundant and an integral part of my pre-travel planning.
I leave the hotel at 3:30 a.m. for the next day’s race, which is to account for a bus ride to Epcot, loosening up at the runner’s village/family reunion area, and walking nearly a mile to the corrals for a 5:30-something start. I find that I’m placed about two corrals back from where I should have been, so I spent the first few miles (still dark, but with sufficient lights on the road) running on the grassy island to move ahead of the rather slow crowd. I convince myself to take it in stride, since there’s nothing I can do about it other than keep moving, at my still-slow pace. The roads open up as we get closer to Magic Kingdom, and I enjoy the sights of the castle and other attractions still in the pre-dawn light. I see Lou and the WDW Radio support team on Main Street cheering us on with some welcome high fives.
It is light by the time we leave Magic Kingdom at about the half-way point and turn back to Epcot. The race goes rather quickly. It has the usual variety of on-course entertainment, including numerous photo-ops with costumed characters, and to celebrate the 15th anniversary it includes roadside videos of old Donald Duck cartoons. I think I enjoy the audio stuff more than anything, including a nice variety of music over the PA systems, high school marching bands (mostly playing in the first hour just off the dark roads), and a lively Gospel choir just before the finish.
The full marathon is similar, but has less Donald Duck and the added routes through Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios with the related sights and sounds those provide, including some birds and animals brought out by their handlers, and additional in-theme characters (like Safari Mickey and Minnie). I find that I don’t mind the rather desolate road stretch from mile 18 to 22, because the course always offers something different, and you know that this is only a temporary segment since Hollywood Studios, shortly followed by a return to Epcot, will not be far away. In the “desolate” section I encounter Joe Taricani, the host of the Marathon Show podcast, and he comes over to interview me “on air” when he sees my Maniacs singlet. We chat a couple minutes into his microphone, and I move on. (Later I listen to his show about the marathon, and apparently my interview ended up on the cutting room floor. A good thing for the show, I’m sure.) Even at my slow pace I was passing people almost the entire full, but I found it less of a bother than in the previous day’s half. I found that I was telling myself to settle back and enjoy the last few miles for a change, because you seldom get to have an experience like this. I again pass the Gospel choir and run past the finish line, then suddenly find myself clapping, just for everything. I’m happy with about a 10-minute improvement over the last Goofy, and with the fact that I feel fine and perfectly able to walk around the parks without much post-marathon dragging.
I later enjoy a great post-marathon dinner with Toby and some new and old friends at Boma, Flavors of Africa (again, all you can eat), my third time for such a dinner so it’s now a solid post-marathon tradition. (Thanks, Rebecca!) Toby and I enjoy more of the parks (I think he likes Epcot the best, which I probably do, too), and then we head home Tuesday. I find that I have plenty of ideas going through my head for 2012 and 2013 races, mostly non-Disney, but there’s certainly more Disney in my crystal ball. This year I turn 60, but so far have no plans to grow up.