So no, I didn’t run the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon on Sunday, January 12, 2014. And man oh man, I so should have. Really. You can take a gander at my experience during the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon to see what that incredible ordeal was like. Or, for the elevator pitch version: I had an amazing adventure that ran the gamut of emotions from joy and elation to pain and agony to a crisis of conscience and a burst of self-confident can-do’ism that pushed me across that Finish Line despite scorching heat and what turned out to be a rather painful IT band injury.
Then I wussed out and decided to stick to Halfs for the 2013-2014 race season.
Nonetheless, the Marathon was Day 4 of the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, and I had proudly run the first three days’ events: the 5K, the 10K, and the Half Marathon. I wasn’t doing the Dopey Challenge (running all 4 events) but many friends of mine were, which meant I really needed Boots’s expertise. You see, Boots is a Jedi freakin’ Master when it comes to spectating at Run Disney events. Since I started running we’ve now covered nine races over six event weekends, so between Disneyland and Walt Disney World she’s pretty much seen it all. She knows where to go, when to leave, how to get the best spot, and the easiest way to do all of the above.
So that Sunday was my day to learn how to become a Disney race spectator with style and verve the likes of which would make Oscar Wilde blush. Or something.
This meant getting up at 3 AM again, for the fourth morning in a row! Not how I usually enjoy my vacations, but we were on a mission… It was easy to do, though. We had spent the previous night having an early dinner at The California Grill (review coming soon) and were able to retire for the evening fairly early. When we woke the next morning, we had showered, dressed, packed, and checked out of the Wilderness Lodge by around 3:45. I still miss the Lodge. Not for nothing but that is probably the most comfortable, quiet, and serene time I’ve ever spent at a Disney resort. I’ll gladly return there when I can get enough cash for my other kidney to pay for it.
Just kidding! Maybe…
We drove to Epcot to meet our friends at the Start Area. Again, while Run Disney highly stresses that runners take the buses instead of their own transportation, it took us no time at all to leave the resort, park the car, and get to where we needed to be. Your mileage may vary, of course. Anyway our goal was to meet up with our buddies at the F-H Flag around 4:15. It was a cold morning, by this South Florida kid’s standards. Felt like upper 40s to me, but it was probably in the low 50s. I was in jeans and a hoodie and I still felt a little frozen. There was an endless amount of shivering runners around me. Still, there was a palpable sense of excitement, anxiousness, and energy in the air. And of course the usual crowded Start Area chaos.
Rosa and her entourage arrived first, where we got to meet several of her family members, including the “Team Jose” namesake. I wish I could explain this reference, but no dice. The rest of our Friends In Training crew was supposed to be arriving shortly, so there was a lot of standing around. Soon afterward I spotted my buddy Sarah from Sparkly Runner heading our way, along with her boyfriend Matthew and their friend Andrea. Sarah and I met in California last August at the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend, and we kept “just missin'” each other all weekend, so it was good to finally catch up. Matthew was feeling pretty sick but was determined to run the full 26.2 and complete the Dopey Challenge, which quite frankly I couldn’t imagine doing, so more power to him for that.
Anyway after chatting away for awhile, they left to make their way to their corrals. Meanwhile, Kristi and Ines had arrived, looking about as chipper and ready as anyone could be after having previously run 22.4 miles over the past three days. Troopers, the two of them. By then it was almost time for them to head to the corrals with the rest of “Team Jose”, so I captured this picture of the proud ladies before they took off:
By this time, I was utterly enjoying the no-pressure, all-fun “Run Disney Spectator” role, but I was also looking at all the runners leaving for their corrals with more than a tinge of envy and regret. Even though I hadn’t trained for a full, I still could have done it. I even had an opportunity to by a bib the week before the race, but turned it down. Gah. Strike when the iron is hot, people.
Boots and I were still a little shivery, so we stopped for some coffee and then made our way to the Epcot Monorail station to begin our voyage to the Magic Kingdom. Have you ever taken a Monorail voyage at 5:30 in the morning from Epcot? It’s quite refreshing! OK but seriously, while it was very crowded we had almost no wait times, and there was a real sense of excitement in the cabin. I tried to take in as much of the view as I could, but it was so dark out you really couldn’t see much. More fun was the Monorail trip around Seven Seas Lagoon, where you could see everything lit up in the dark morning sky.
We arrived at the Magic Kingdom around 5:35ish and it was pretty much explosively energetic. Brightly lit up with music blaring away, there was excitement pretty much at every corner. Spectators had already lined up in preparation for the first athletes to pass through, while coffee, hot cocoa, popcorn, and other snacks and amenities were readily available. And of course the Castle itself was shining proudly, adorned in icicle lights that looked pretty goshdarn swell. Instead of my yakkin’ I’ll let the pics do the talking:
As you can see it was plenty dark, but with Main Street all lit up it you hardly realized it. It was also plenty cold (for me, anyhow) but we’re talking low 50s. Boots was in charge, and led us to the hub area towards the entrance to Tomorrowland. We basically hung out until the first athletes came in: first the disabled participants, followed soon afterward by the elite runners. I have to say, it’s something pretty cool to hear the wave of cheers coming towards you down Main Street as they came in. These runners make it look so easy, too. My Half Marathon PR is what they use to do a full. Jerks.
Otherwise, it was basically a nice, pleasant wait for our friends to come around. I was tracking their times on my cellphone; we’d get alerts when they reached the five mile mark, which generally meant about 10 minutes or so until they’d reach us at the hub. As we waited the sun began to rise and a beautiful dawn was breaking over the Magic Kingdom. Stunning, really. It was a clear, very cool morning, that panoramic vista which included that first burst of light blue and pink rays in the east, with the last vestiges of nighttime still hovering above us elsewhere. Experiencing this kind of daybreak in the Magic Kingdom, right in the shadow of Cinderella’s Castle, was something else, I gotta tell you.
While we were waiting, I noticed that Team All-Ears was passing by. I had met the team’s co-captain Michelle Scribner-MacLean at Disneyland last summer; she is one of the hosts of the Mickey Miles Podcast (an absolute must-listen for Disney Running Obsessives everywhere) and I had attended one of the meetups (and even got record a show intro, thanks to the delicate dulcet tones of my “radio voice”) and met and spoke with both her and co-host Mike Scopa. Sure enough I saw her and started cheering her on by name. She looked over my way, smiled and waved, and for a second I think I saw a brief glimpse of recognition from her? Nah. Couldn’t be. But she seemed very thankful nonetheless.
Next up came our FIT buddies! Turning the corner here they came: Ines, Kristi, Cassandra, Shelia, Rosa, and two of Rosa’s relatives/entourage all running towards us. The look of excitement when they saw us cheering them on was really something. They told us later it was a real morale booster to see friendly faces in the crowd cheering them on. And man oh man did they look like they were having the time of their lives! We captured these photos, including one of them holding up the sign Boots made for the event:
Cass even managed to take this pic of me, from the course! I almost feel bad for including that animated pic up there. ALMOST.
We waited around a little bit to see them coming out through the castle and wave to them as they posed for their castle pics. Again, their faces totally said it all. Pure happiness. I always wonder if I look that happy when I’m running…? Usually I think I look like a lump of mashed potatoes loaded in a multicolored Hefty Bag and tossed down a faultily-wired escalator, but that’s clinical psychotherapy for you. *ahem* ANYWAY my phone told me that Matthew and Sarah were approaching so we waited a bit longer and managed to catch them making the turn off Main Street as well:
Well as they made their way off, Boots and I had agreed that we pretty much exhausted our supply of friends we wanted to see at the Magic Kingdom. Plus it was around 7:45 AM, we had been up since 3, and we were cold and HUNGRY! A tactical decision was made to hop onto the Monorail and ride over to the Contemporary Resort and have breakfast over at the Contempo Cafe. We folded up shop and made our way down Main Street towards the exit. Right then, I saw them again: Lou Mongello of WDW Radio and the rest of the WDW Radio Running Team supporters. If you’ve read my other reports from the weekend, you can see how I had been kinda, maybe, sort of stalking Lou all weekend. But not by choice, but rather through a serendipitous collection of coincidental circumstances! I swear!!
OK but seriously, I had run over to fist-bump him during the 10K and briefly (and excitedly) exchanged words with him and Beci Mahnken at the end of the Half Marathon, but this time I wanted to go over and give a brief but heartfelt testimonial. As I walked over to him, he looked my way and perhaps recognized my face and was probably thinking, “Oh dear Lord no, not THIS guy again!!” so I did my best to defuse the situation. I introduced myself to him, shook his hand, and said something along the lines of the following:
Hi Lou. I’ve been bumping into you all weekend. I’m not stalking you; I SWEAR! Anyway, yesterday I ran my thirteenth Half Marathon here. I ran my very first Half Marathon at Disney as well, two years ago. And I was inspired to do so after listening to your podcast back in 2008 when you talked about your experience doing a Half Marathon at Disney. I listened to your enthusiastic description of the event and thought to myself, “Hey, maybe that’s something *I* could do…” I was never a runner, ever. I was almost 300 pounds and far from an athlete. Your show helped inspire me to take up running to improve my health and save my life, and I really want to thank you, for everything you do with WDW Radio.
Lou looked really touched and moved by my testimonial, and thanked me profusely in return, and invited me to cheer with them next year. The invitation was utterly appreciated, but I told him next year I’d be running the Dopey. We parted ways and Boots told me she got so choked up by my sincerity that she almost was moved to tears. It was definitely A Moment.
Well look, I can get as sappy as the next guy, honest! But Sappyblog ain’t the name of the game, so with that behind us it’s back to the Yuks!
The Monorail ride to the Magic Kingdom took no time at all, and we find ourselves on the Concourse level heading for the Contempo Cafe, nestled snuggly between the Mary Blair mural and Chef Mickeys. For “food court”-style offerings, it was actually pretty decent. Plus you get to order on touch screens, and that’s always a hoot. While munching hungrily on our scrambled eggs, bacon, and Mickey waffles, the windows around the concourse offered up a really stunning view of the Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon in the clear morning sky. I’m not kidding you folks, it was kind of breathtaking out. And pretty much PERFECT running weather. This was nothing like last year’s sweltering heat monstrosity. This was clear and cool and nice. Sure the sun was rising and would heat things up a tad, but without the crushing humidity and higher temperatures of the previous days, and with a cold breeze blowing through, I doubt very many were complaining.
We finished up our meal and decided to forego any other cheering spots like Animal Kingdom, the ESPN Wide World of Sports, or Hollywood Studios, and headed straight back to Epcot. Arriving with plenty of time to spare, we literally walked right on to Test Track and I watched as Boots designed THE. UGLIEST. AUTOMOBILE. IN. HISTORY. My god this thing looked like a Batmobile gone wrong, designed by a mentally challenged Project Runway reject. She squealed with delight over her horrific creation. I should have taken a picture. I think it’s saved on her Magic Band somewhere. Afterward, we headed over to the UK Pavilion, where the Marathon runners were entering the park maybe a tenth of a mile before the Mile 25 Marker:
The WDW Radio team (plus Lou, of course) were already stationed there, so I made a concerted effort not to bug the poor guy any more! After cheering on the runners for a bit, we casually strolled down to France to grab a pastry and a soda (Boots went with the chocolate croissant, while I tried their chocolate brioche — with DIET Cokes, of course!). We sat on a bench overlooking the water adjacent to the International Walkway and enjoyed the shade, sunshine, and view of all the runners as they made their way from the Beach Club into Epcot.
It was going to be awhile so we made ourselves comfortable. And oh, how we were. We had a FastPass+ reservation for Soarin’ but decided to forego it in favor of staking out a spectator spot right at the Mile 25 marker. I mean honestly: we’ve been on Soarin’ only a half-a-zillion times since it opened. What were we really gonna miss by staying where we were and enjoying a simply stunning day at Epcot, waiting for our friends to run by? I was happy with it.
I was also happy that I managed to snag a picture with Belle. Being French herself, it only made sense that she was welcoming runners into the France pavilion. Runners had instant priority for photographs, but since nobody was stopping I had no wait whatsoever in snagging this picture:
Seriously, if you want to grab no-wait pictures with Disney characters, head to Epcot on a race weekend and chill out in Future World. As long as no runners are stopping for photos, you can pretty much walk right in and get a photo with a top-tier character. And you know what, make all the “Beauty & The Beast” cracks you want. That’s a freakin’ compliment. Show me ONE PERSON who was more impressed when the Beast reverted back into “Prince” form. I’m waiting…
By around 12:20ish we witnessed the return of Team All-Ears as they made their way over the bridge towards France. I cheered them on as a group, and Michelle turned to me, smiled, and yelled out “Thanks Matthew!” HAH! She did recognize me! Even Boots was surprised, saying, “How did she know your name??” and I’m like, “EVERYONE knows the Hokey dude!!” My sense of ego knows no bounds…
After Michelle and Team All-Ears made their way to the Finish Line, friends kept showing up at regular 10-minute intervals. Next up came Jennifer and Debbie, who we weren’t able to catch at the Magic Kingdom. Jennifer was walking up to the Mile Marker to pose for a pic when I casually said, “Hey don’t I know you?” Both her and Debbie seemed absolutely delighted to see me and insisted I jump into the pic with them. Here was the result:
Next up came Matthew and Sarah again, who made their way down the bridge with fierce determination (although Sarah looked rather sunny and chipper here):
And finally our FIT ladies — Rosa, Ines, Cassandra, and Kristi — who were just utterly over the moon by this point, it was ridiculous. They were literally as happy as they looked!
And… that was that, really. We would have loved to stay another night at Disney and spend the afternoon and evening celebrating with our buddies, but it was time for our marathon weekend vacation to draw to a close. It was now almost 1:00 PM and we both had to make it home somewhat early, and we were pretty much exhausted as well. I soaked in the surroundings as much as I could as we slowly made our way out of Epcot. We missed a bunch of our favorite Epcot traditions — catching The British Revolution perform in the UK, shopping in Japan for cool knick-knacks, grabbing a Sultan’s Colada in Morocco, riding the Fiesta del Tempo boat attraction in Mexico, and so forth, but we’ll back in February for the Princess Half Marathon. It’s not like we don’t do all those things half a dozen times a year, anyhow.
As we bid farewell to Epcot and Walt Disney World, I took one last picture of Spaceship Earth shining proudly in the midday sun, as if to underscore what an amazing day, weekend, and experience the 2014 Walt Disney World Weekend was:
All in all, I can honestly say that, while nothing can compare to actually running a Disney race (Half or Full), being a spectator was almost entirely as fun. It was a really wonderful time: getting to hang with buddies before the race, experience some serious chill time in the Magic Kingdom with cold morning and a rising sun, cheering on all my running friends, spilling my guts to Lou Mongello, getting recognized by Michelle, pictures with Belle, and of course spending plenty of time with Boots on a beautiful day. If you can’t run the darn race, you can still have a great time with it regardless.
Of course, I’m still doing the Full next year. That hasn’t changed, natch! Here’s the video: