Thursday, January 12, 2012

Walt Disney World Marathon Review

Michael on the way to completing her first marathon!!!
Walt Disney World Marathon
January 8, 2012
Orlando, Florida
18th Marathon Completed
(First one completed with my wife!!!)
Overall Experience ... 5 out of 5

Spoiler Alert ...
  • Maybe the best overall marathon experience ever
  • Had the honor of running with my wife, Michael, in her first marathon ... she was AWESOME!!!
  • Took pictures and video of Michael as she ran and just tried to stay out of her way
  • Perfect weather ... 60's, sun, no wind
  • Super-flat course
  • Very well organized marathon from start to finish 
  • Registered for the VIP Tent ... well worth the additional $100
  • Stayed in an awesome Condo just a few miles from the Disney properties
  • Early 5:30 AM start ... woke up at 1:30 AM to get ready for the race
  • Only 4 out of 5 because the course got a little boring when not running in the Disney Parks
  • Finishing a marathon with someone  you love is an unforgettable experience

Finisher Medal & Race Shirt...

Orlando, Florida ...
Central Florida is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world.  It's home to all of the Walt Disney World properties located in Kissimmee, Florida including Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, Animal Kingdom, ESPN Wide World of Sports, and Sea World - as well as the Universal Studios properties in downtown Orlando. It is also within driving distances of  both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and also the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Michael and I went to Universal Studios on Tuesday after the race and it seemed like we were be the only English speaking patrons in the park.  Orlando is definitively a world destination for vacations and holidays.  It was really cool seeing all of the different countries and regions of the world represented, although it made it tough at times to ask for a photo - but sign language usually sufficed.

The weather was perfect in Florida - about 60 degrees in the mornings, climbing to 75-80 in the afternoons.  It was a stark contrast to the 14 degrees that greeted us in Kansas City on Thursday morning back at home.  Overall, the city and weather could not have been more perfect.
Two idiots at ESPN Wide World of Sports
Michael & Mickey
Packet Pickup & Expo ...
Michelle,  Michael & me at packet pickup
We flew to Orlando on Saturday and weren't sure if we would land on time to pick up our race packets.  But two of Michael's friends - Michelle and Meredith - were also on the trip.  All three girls were running their first full marathons.  Michelle traveled with us, but  Meredith had made the trip a few days before with her family and did us a HUGE favor by picking our packets up for us .. a very kind and helpful gesture!  But once we landed, we had just enough time to head over to the Disney properties and check out the Expo for ourselves.  It was amazing!

This was probably the second biggest Race Expo I had ever been to.  It was held at ESPN Wide World of Sports and was awesome.  The ESPN grounds are home to several shops, conventional halls, sports fields, and the Atlanta Braves Spring Training complex.  I'm a huge sports nut - so I was in heaven. Michael couldn't have cared less about the sports, but she was walking on air at her first full marathon Expo!  She checked out pretty much every single item available for purchase before deciding on an "I DID IT!" t-shirt.  We joked later that the "I DID IT" logo looked like "IDIOT" ... which we we figured was applicable for someone who was running a marathon and putting their body through the torture!  Michael was a little hesitant to buy the t-shirt before the race.  She briefly tried it on, but took it off as quickly as possible so she didn't jinx her finish ... not a chance.  This girl was in it to win it!!!

All runners got a very high quality long-sleeve red technical t-shirt and a commemorative pin.  I'm not really a "wear a picture of Mickey Mouse on your t-shirt" guy, but the shirt was really cool - probably one of the best I've received.  Michelle, Michael and I spent time walking around the ESPN grounds and of course took several cheesy pictures.  It's what we do best!
The perfect dress rehearsal for the race ... Michael flying!!!  Me just trying to keep up!!! 
Beautiful girl with her "I Did It!" t-shirt
Two idiots and a giant lizard!!!
Travel, Lodging, and Meals ...
Our amazing Condo for the weekend
Orlando International Airport seemed very easy to navigate.  It was fairly small and an easy in and out upon arrival and departure.  I think we literally only stood in security for about 10 minutes total.  We rented a car and headed to one of the best things about the trip ... our friggin' free Condo!!!

Michael's triathlon friend Michelle hooked us up with a great two bedroom Condo through her work that was only a few miles from the Disney Complex.  It was beautiful!  And it was great of Michelle to invite us to stay ... it made the trip a lot less expensive and really relaxing and enjoyable.  The Condo had an awesome pool and clubhouse area that we took advantage of on one of the 80 degree days while in Orlando.  It was located in a nice gated community that was very safe and easy to access.  This beat the heck out of Hampton Inn where I usually stay!  It was awesome, and just another thing that helped make the entire trip unforgettable.

But here is a public service announcement to those of you who travel with two chicks that aren't as serious about their diet as you are ... BE PREPARED TO EAT CHICK-FIL-A the day before a race!!!   That's not the worst of it!  If Michael had her way, we would have eaten McDonalds.  That's right ... I said McDonalds!!!  The friggin' day before a marathon!!!  Now I've been known to down a pizza or two for a pre-race carb meal, but it serves a purpose.  I probably only eat Mickey D's or Chick about once a month or less ... and never would I think about putting all of that grease on my stomach the day before a race.  But not good ol' Michael & Michelle ... oh no!  They had no problem hitting up the drive through at the local grease pit!  I begrudgingly went along with it and later regretted it during the first half of the marathon.  More on that later.

But our pre-race dinner was fantastic!  Meredith, who was back at the Condo with her family, made a full spaghetti dinner for all of us the night before the race!  Again, another incredibly kind thing to do for all of us!  It was amazing.  It was so nice to go back to your FREE Condo and have a wonderful spaghetti dinner the night before a race.  This was by far the best pre-race setup I've ever experienced.  Simply amazing!  We were very fortunate and we're both thankful for Michelle!

Race Day ...
World Famous Pre-Race Dance Party!!!
As we got ready for bed the night before the race after preparing our gear bags, I could tell Michael was nervous.  It was about 7 PM and we would be waking up in a few short hours to get ready for the early 5:30 AM start. I kissed Michael and told her to try and relax, secretly snickering to myself knowing that she would probably not sleep a wink.  But I was out like a light and woke up at 1:30 AM.

When Michael woke up I asked her if she was ready to run her first marathon.  Sleepily she replied "No!".  But she rolled out of bed just in time for the World Famous Pre-Race Dance Party!!!  After that, we got ready and then the four of us - Michael, Michelle, Meredith, and me - were off to the VIP Tent that we had shelled out an extra $100 for.  Michael and I have been extremely blessed in our careers and are at the point where it's nice to be able to afford stuff like this ... but $100 each is still a big deal for us.  So I was hoping the pre and post-race tent would be worth the money.  And as a matter of fact ... it was worth EVERY PENNY!  It was awesome!  It was another one of the things that made this trip unforgettable and special.

When we walked into the VIP Tent, volunteers greeted us and cheered like we were celebrities.  Pretty cool!  Once inside the enormous tent, we experienced huge video screens, linen table clothes, a padded stretching area, massage therapists for after the race, Disney characters for photo-ops, a Disney merchandise area, and pretty much anything you wanted for breakfast from fruit to eggs and hash browns.  But probably the best features of the VIP Tent were the gear check area and private port-o-potties!  No standing in line at either!!! When we had to pee ... we walked up and peed ... just like that!  And when it was time for the race, we just walked up and dropped our gear ... easy-peasy!  It was soooo relaxing and stress-free.  I would HIGHLY recommend it if the $Benjamin isn't too much to fork out.  It's well worth it!

Just chillin' before the race in the VIP Tent
As race time neared, we dropped our gear and started the 1/2 mile walk to the starting line.  The Boston Marathon had a lengthy walk like this one, but it didn't seem too bad - just really congested.  Michael and the girls had worn throw away sweatshirts that later would be picked up and given to Goodwill.  But I had opted for short sleeves and shorts.  But I started getting a little chilly, so I tried putting on a plastic bag to hold in some of my body heat.  Problem ... the bag I brought with me was closer to a Glad Sandwich bag than a trash bag.  When I put it on, I literally looked like a giant wearing a Saltine Cracker wrapper.  Michael thought it was the funniest thing she had ever seen, but I was still cold.  So I did my best Incredible Hulk impression and made the best of it.

Disney had several starting groups and Michael and I were in one of the later ones, so we didn't have to kill ourselves to get to the starting line.  One of the cool things that Disney does is recreate the start for each group.  So each corral gets to experience their own set of fireworks and a count-down from Mickey Mouse himself! (It was really just a guy in a costume, but it was still pretty cool)  We were in starting group "F", and as each group was released at the start I watched as Michael started acting weirder and weirder!  This girl was pretty nervous ... but really excited!  As we started walking toward the starting line, I told her, "This is what you've worked for and this is YOUR DAY ... enjoy it!  I love you!"  And just like that, the fireworks for group "F" went off and Michael was running her first marathon.
"What is this ... a trash bag for ants?"
Since we started the race at 5:30 AM, the first few miles were dark and a little chilly.  I had discarded my pre-race warm-ups back at the VIP Tent, as well as my gloves.  My hands were freezing!  I'm a border-line germaphobe, but when I saw a pair of previously worn gloves lying on the ground ... my fear of germs gave way to warmth for my fingers.  Pretty gross I know - but my little hands were now nice and toasty!  The other thing I seemed to be dealing with immediately was my upset stomach.  It was the curse of the CHICK-FIL-A!!!  I struggled with "purging it from my system" for about the first 8-9 miles, but after that I was fine.

Me, Some Horse, Michael, Michelle, Meredith, and Woody before the race ...
All of us acting like grown adults EXCEPT for Michael???
I usually run most marathons around a 7:40 to 8:00 pace, with a finish time somewhere under 3:30.  I knew today would be a little different.  Michael runs at a little bit different pace and I knew including all of the photo-ops, we would be on the course for almost 6 hours.  Frankly, I had never ran for that long before, and I wasn't sure I could even do it.  But Michael had developed a wonderful run/walk plan that kept our legs fresh and gave us a breather here and there and it never seemed to be a problem.

Michael and a bunch of fruit in the VIP Tent
After the incredible start, the first park we ran through was Epcot Center.  It was amazing in the dark!!!  It was beautifully lit as we made our way through the various countries of the world featured at Epcot Center.  We ran by a beautifully lit lake that is in the center of the park.  And we could see the miniature Eiffel Tower brilliantly lit in the distance.  And there were Disney characters all along the path to greet us.  It barely seemed like we were running at all as we made our way down the streets of sparkling world center.

Dawn broke somewhere between Epcot and our next stop ... Magic Kingdom!  And as the sun came up we got our first glimpse of the Disney Castle ... and it was incredible!  All along the way so far I had been stopping here and there to take pictures and video of Michael, but in front of the Castle, there were several race volunteers and Disney staff to take a pictures.  This was also the first place where the huge crowds were evident.  There were people everywhere!  There was Disney music everywhere!  And all of the cheers made every runner feel like superstars on their big day.  This was probably the most memorable stretch of the race.

Hey look at us ... running a race in Magic Kingdom!
As we exited Magic Kingdom, I asked Michael how she was feeling.  Like a champ, she said "Awesome!"  I knew she was well  trained and the marathon would be very doable for her.  But I tried to keep encouraging her and letting her know just how proud I was of her!  She was amazing!  At no point did she really struggle ... only the typical fatigue that every runner faces in the last few miles.  Later in the race I tried to crack a few jokes with her, but she answered, "I can't deal with 'Jim' right now babe!".  I took that as my cue to shut up and keep running and snapping pictures.

The ONLY downside to the Walt Disney World Marathon is how much time you spend running when you are not in a park.  The race basically makes its way through four parks ... Epcot Center, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.  However, very little time is actually spent in each one.  Most of the race is spent on the connecting roads and parking lots between each theme park.  And some of the time in each of the parks is spent behind buildings next to dumpsters and employees on smoke breaks.  Disney has held this marathon for 20 years and they obviously have a reason to route the race like this, but it would have been nice to spend a little more time running through the different parks with more visual stimulation to take your mind off of the marathon.  But this is literally the only semi-negative thing about the weekend ... the rest of it was magical!

It's no secret that Michael and I are hams for the camera.  And this was on huge display as we ran the Disney Marathon.  There were great photo-ops everywhere.  We really wanted to get more photos with Disney characters, but the lines were sometimes 25 or 30 runners long and it would have eaten up a lot of the clock, so most of the time we kept moving.  Plus, I decided to run with our camera and snap pictures of Michael along the way, so we got some pretty cool photos without stopping.
Beautiful girl at Epcot Center 

Michael, me, Cap'n Hook ... and Doc or someone - who knows?
Beautiful girl at a waterstop
Run for your lives!!!!!!!!!!
Almost there ...
As the bright morning Florida sun began to shine, it started getting a little warmer - but it never seemed unbearable.  I asked Michael repeatedly if she was okay, and she answered, "I got this!!!"  We made sure we stopped at every water stop and took enough fluids and hydration was never a problem.  She was unbelievably strong!

After running through a smelly Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, we finally made our way back into Epcot Center where the race began and finished.  I could tell she was ready to be done.  But also, there was a growing excitement as we neared the finish line.  I'm not sure who was more excited ... Michael or me!  I couldn't wait to experience the joy of the finish line of her first marathon with her.  And as we ran through the last .2 miles with the grandstands full of cheering people, I shouted to her again ...  "Enjoy this!  This is your day!!!"  ... and we raised our hands together as we crossed the finish line!

At the finish line Michael broke down in tears of joy and I hugged her and fought back tears of my own.  I was so proud of her.  She did it!  And I could tell that a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders.  She was finally a marathoner!
Beautiful girl after crossing the finish line of her first marathon!

A few more pictures from Michael's great day!
Two marathoners with their medals!!!
Two idiots with Buzz Lightyear ... and their marathon medals!!!
We finished in just under 6 hours - but it would have been much faster if we wouldn't have stopped for so many photos. But it was well worth it!  We have a ton of great photos and video from this great day.  I think Michael was a little disappointed with her time. But more than anything, she was thrilled that she had ran such a strong race and made it to the finish line to receive her coveted marathon medal!

After the race, we made our way back to the VIP Tent where Michelle and Meredith were waiting to give Michael a huge hug.  They had both ran great races too and finished their first marathons like champions!  The VIP Tent proved to be even more valuable after the race than it was before.  We quickly found a couple of chairs, a table, and chowed-down on a great post-race meal that was waiting for us.  We also got a great pair of red Disney Marathon socks that only VIP Tent guests were given ... pretty cool!  We all visited for a while trading stories from the race, and then made our way back to the Condo for some well deserved rest and relaxation.

I've ran several marathons. The 2012 Walt Disney World Marathon was my 18th overall.  And I'm hopefully on my way to running one in every state.  But I can tell you that out of all  my marathons, this was probably the most memorable because I got to experience it through the eyes of my lovely wife.  She will be the first to tell you that she's not a natural runner.  But she worked so hard for this day and I couldn't have been more proud of her.  She fought, and battled, and persevered to the finish ... and finish she did!  She is forever a marathoner, and no one can ever take that from her.  She will tell you that she felt like a hero on Sunday at the race ... but she seems like that every day to me.  I love you sweetie ... congratulations!
... be great today!


  1. YAYAYAYAYA I'd better go read her recap too! CONGRATS GIRL YOU RockED it!!!! and to fly /w buzz light year too yay!!!

    Great husband work Jim ;)

  2. Congrats on your 18th!

    You and your wife take awesome pics together. She did an awesome job!

  3. LOVE LOVE LOVE this! Love that you ran it WITH her!

    And I love that in your pre-race dance party photo you look like you are in full on ass-slapping mode! :)

  4. Great race recap with some great pictures. So cool of both of you to have not only the pictures but a well-written and descriptive race recap to recall the day.

    I'm a Disney nut so all of that sounds really awesome. Disneyland only has a half marathon and I've not run it but I'm kinda jealous there is no Disney full out here.

    The VIP tent sounds fantastic.

    How could Michael be disappointed with anything? Check out the big race bling around her neck. That's what should matter the most.

    Congrats to the both of you for powering through. A memorable day for certain.

  5. That is truly the most wonderful thing to do for your wife, I am in awe! Congratulation on #18 (my #18 is next weekend :)) and a huge congrats to your wife on finishing her first with a huge smile!

  6. Ok, so I cried just a little at the end. Took me back to the day when I finished my first marathon, actually I think I cried for the first 3. No lie. 26 miles is a long way no matter what and all those hours and times spent for Michael getting worked on makes it all the better and more memorable! What a freaking awesome day!! I think I might have to do this one next year!

  7. YAY! Congrats to both you on a great race experience!

    Great job Michael for conquering your first marathon!

  8. Oh dang! I think I am literally right behind your heads in that pic in front of the castle. I was on the sidelines right there and I swear that I saw you but never saw Michael...which I'm sure sounds super creepy coming from a stranger. :) I was also at the finish line when you crossed because my friend finished in 6:02. :) Congrats to you for having so much fun on your "longest" run ever!

  9. Congrats to Michael for becoming a marathoner!!!

    I love that you guys ran this together, y'all are just so schmoopy and you know I love some schmoop!

    *Le sigh* your recap with the condo pics make me miss my little Orlando so much! Glad you enjoyed your visit!

  10. I think you get hubs of the year award--what a sweet post! So glad you guys had this opportunity together. Very special.

    Congrats Michael!! (and you!)

  11. Awesome. Only word needed to describe this. Awesome.

  12. Very very cool to read. I am incredibly proud of Michael and just admire her so much. Great job at sticking by her side and making it such a memorable experience for her.

  13. Thanks for the review, especially the information on the VIP/Race Retreat. I am doing Disney Princess next month and I was having difficulty decided whether or not to sign up for it. You made up my mind!

  14. I love it! Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

  15. Jim, this is a fantastic recap of the trip! I'm so glad I got to share it with you both. It was a huge help having you along and getting tips and feedback from you. I'm super proud of all of us. Thanks for everything!

  16. Just read Michael's recap, and it's so cool to read your version of the race, as well. So great that you ran this with her. A day you both will never forget!

  17. Aweosme recap, I really liked all your pictures!! And laughing about the gloves, I am also a germaphobe, and I too, have picked up gloves on the ground to wear during a race.

  18. Great recap. And Buzz Lightyear is the best! The BEST!

    I've got to go read Michael's report.

  19. Congrats to Michael! I'm glad she had such a great experience. And your loving descriptions of your wife made me tear up! It takes me back to my first full with my husband.*

  20. Awesome! Love it! I'd go just for Buzz & cool is that!!!

  21. Looks like a lot of fun! Congrats to your marathoner wife! What a great way to start the new year!

  22. Your pics are always so great! They make me smile. :)

    CONGRATS to both of you!

  23. I can practically hear your excitement in the way you wrote this post! I love how you gush about your wife as well. Congrats to both of you.

  24. I love this! I already read Michael's report so I knew how it went from her perspective, but your write up was fabulous! Nothing better than crossing the finish line with your love! :)

  25. I had already read Michael's race report, but wanted to read yours too--catching up w/ blogs after Houston. Wow--what a great time! It seriously makes me want to do a race with my husband. We haven't done one together in a very long time, but you're right--it's such a high to finish with the one you love. And that's a great photo of Michael at the beginning of your post. Congrats to both of you! What an experience!

  26. WOO HOO Michael! LOVE the run for your lives picture. LOL funny.

  27. So sweet. Congratulations to the marathoner/ing couple!


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