Race Review: 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon (1/11/2015), or: “And the world shines for me today…”

blgwdwmarlogThe 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon was Day 2 of the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge and Day 4 of the Dopey Challenge and Day 1 of the Holy Crap I’m Running A Freakin’ MARATHON Challenge for those who eschew the fancy crap and would prefer to just put their head down and run 26.2 miles because it’s “fun”. Or something. Any way you attempt running a marathon — and this was my third marathon — it’s still a lot of time pounding pavement on tired legs, and that’s assuredly something to celebrate no matter what piece of colorful Disneyfied tin you place around your neck after crossing the Finish Line.

But they are such SWEET lookin’ pieces of colorful Disneyfied tin…

Now as far as your humble narrator is concerned, I was running the Goofy Challenge for the very first time. The day before I ran the 2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon, which meant I was only 1/3rd of my way through this entirely Goofy ordeal. After the Half, Boots and I returned to Port Orleans French Quarter. I was still quite shivery and easily welcomed a hearty breakfast at the Sassagoula Food Court. We made our way back to our room, showered, changed… and then I promptly napped for a good two hours. This nap was so needed, it hardly abides the telling. Afterward I was feeling a little excitable and with some time to kill before our group dinner, so I took an easy stroll around the Port Orleans property (both French Quarter and Riverside).

Nothing like the cool, calm, serenity of Port Orleans to put my frenzied mind at ease. This is my favorite resort on-property, just for strolling the grounds alone:

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After about 90 minutes, I returned back to the room. Boots and I got ready and left to the Contemporary Hotel for our 5PM group dinner at the Contempo Cafe. We managed to get a good assortment of our FIT running folk there; besides myself and Boots, we had Cassandra, Kristi, Kari, Yasmin, Michele, Aaron, Nick, and various family members/entourage in tow. I carbed up with a turkey club and cup of chicken corn chowder. I don’t like to go too crazy the night before a race; the “HUGE! PASTA! DINNER!!” is, to me, a recipe for gastronomical disaster on race day.

Team dinner at the Contempo Cafe

Team dinner at the Contempo Cafe

After dinner we bid everyone adieu and made our way back to our resort. Then it was the usual laying out of race gear, popping sleep meds, and being out by 9PM for a 2:30AM wake-up call…

Race Day

The next morning was routine enough. I woke quickly, ate a peanut butter and jelly bagel (plus mini-CLIF bar) for breakfast, dressed, and we were out the door and over at Epcot by 4AM, after picking up Yasmin over at Port Orleans Riverside. Similarly to the day before, I first hit the Mickey Milers team meet-up at 4:15 AM, where Boots snapped this fetching team photo:


Mickey Milers at the 2015 WDW Marathon

This was followed by our Friends In Training team meet-up at 4:30 AM. Several runners like Cassandra, Rosa, Francesca, Nicole, and Jordan were on the fouth and final leg of their Dopey Challenge. Others, like myself, Kristi, and Yasmin were braving day 2 of the Goofy. And still others were running “just” the Marathon; it was Robyn’s first full. I distinctly remember that feeling two years earlier, when I ran the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon — my first marathon as well. Yet there still was a lot of excitement (and perhaps a tinge of nervousness) in the air. We posed for a ton of self-indulgent pics and then chatted for awhile, killing time until that inevitable 4:45 AM dirge-like march to the corral began.

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Nothing like a good 15 minutes of extra walking before your race. And apropos of nothing, but what is UP with that woman on the microphone about halfway through the corral march? Does she know of ANYTHING ELSE to say other than, “Good morning runners… good morning… have a good morning everyone… good morning… runners, hope you have a good morning… good morning…” It was about 4 minutes of that, non-stop, as you’re passing by her area. It sounded weird, man. Get some new material, lady!

As another aside, my early-morning brain-to-mouth filtering system went kaput for a spell when, as Kristi and I were walking to the corral, I overheard some runners behind me (male runners, this ties in…) talking aloud. The following exchange occurred:

Male Runner #1: “Hey, I forgot, where are we meeting up after the race?”

Me (without a moment’s hesitation): “AT THE NUDIE BAR!!!”

Boisterous laughter followed, from almost everyone around us. Kristi looked bemused but entertained. When I suddenly realized what I had done, I was mortified. This is what constant waking up before 3 in the morning for several days will do to one’s sensibilities…

AHEM anyway, it was another cool early morning in the dark at Disney, although it wasn’t quite as frigid as the previous mornings had been. The Half Marathon started in the low-to-mid 40s, but this morning was about ten degrees warmer. It felt like the low 50s to me, and I (being a South Florida sub-tropical reptile) was freezing. I was wearing CW-X compression tights to keep the lower body warm (and trust me, the stability they provide on a marathon for someone of my size is much needed), but I was only wearing a short-sleeved tech shirt on my torso. Starting in corral K meant nearly 90 minutes of waiting around, which also meant a lot of shiver-time. Bah.

Something like this...

Something like this…

Anyway, enough of my complaining. The race started at 5:30 AM on the dot, and Kristi and I crossed the Start Line at 6:36 to begin our 26.2 mile voyage. We were racing for fun, not time, which meant a slow, easy pace of 3:1 intervals. All we needed and wanted to do was finish. We had nothing to prove. I was embarking on my 3rd marathon (on top of 23 halfs) and Kristi was starting her 9th (with countless halfs behind her as well). So our entire goal was just to do the race and have a great time doing it, period.

Here’s a look at the race course, (say it with me now) courtesy of my Garmin 220 and Google Maps:

As you can see it’s pretty much the standard Disney Marathon course they’ve been running for the past 3 years. The first 8 or so miles are exactly the same as the Half Marathon: you take off running from Epcot on Epcot Center Drive, heading in a westbound manner until you hit World Drive, which takes you north through the Transportation & Ticket Center, past the Contemporary Hotel and to the Magic Kingdom. The MK is the money shot, up Main Street, around Tomorrowland, through the Castle, and across New Orleans Square and Frontierland. Exiting through Frontierland, you putz around in the backstage area until you reach Cone Alley and head south on World Drive. The course deviates as you run a near full-mile on the Richard Petty Driving Experience speedway, followed by an excursion down Bear Island Road to Animal Kingdom.

Through Animal Kingdom, you have the option of taking a free ride on the Expedition: Everest roller coaster. Then it’s out backstage, around the parking lot, and fully out of AK by mile 14. Now you’re heading eastbound on the Osceola Parkway, a roughly 3 mile excursion to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. There it’s once around the 400m track, past winding walkways, around the baseball diamond and exiting back onto Osceola, heading westbound. You exit onto World Drive heading north for about a mile until you reach World Drive. Turning east and then south again, you enter Disney’s Hollywood Studios (just behind the Tower of Terror). A short bit backstage empties you onto the backlot of New York St., then past the soon-to-be-gone-forever Sorcerer’s Hat, and finally exiting the Studios by running down Hollywood Boulevard.

The marathon concludes with about a mile-and-a-half of running down the breezy walkways and paths connecting the Studios to Epcot via the Swan, Boardwalk, Yacht, and Beach Club resorts. You re-enter Epcot just before Mile 25, and make the final loop around World Showcase and into Future World, moving backstage just after Spaceship Earth for that final 0.2 miles to the Finish Line in the Epcot parking lot.


This is your flagship Disney race, and needless to say there was a lot of scenery, environment, theming, and entertainment going on during the race. Every mile of the race had something to offer: character stops, photo ops, water stations, entertainment, loud cheers from spectators, high-fives, enthusiastic cast members, medical aid tents, towels, chocolate, candy, fruit… if you wanted or needed something to keep you going, you were pretty much covered.

Since Kristi and I were running pretty slowly (by our usual pace standards, anyhow), we took enough time to enjoy our surroundings while still remaining steady. The race up to the Magic Kingdom was cool and pleasant; we even managed to bump into Robyn, Michele, and Aaron on World Drive and cheered each other on before they took off ahead of us. I also found some fellow Mickey Milers by Mile 3 and chatted briefly before proceeding on our merry way.

Boots was waiting for us at the hub, snapped some pics, and we continued through the castle and out of the Magic Kingdom. Here are a few highlights:

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Exiting Magic Kingdom, Cone Alley was its usual slow, congested self. It’s a narrow strip of road to begin with, and combined with wall-to-wall walkers you have to resign yourself to maintaining a slow jog/walk for most of that stretch of the race. Might as well just enjoy it; race etiquette barely exists during this weekend. People walk wherever and however they want, all over the course. It’s a Disney race, so you can either get annoyed by it or learn to accept it. I’m working on the second part.

Things opened up a bit as we passed the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and the golf courses. I even managed to score this pic with Donald and the Goofmeister:

With Donald and the Goofmeister

With Donald and the Goofmeister

Running around the racetrack was always good fun. There were plenty of vintage and antique cars stationed everywhere, along with their cheering owners and a VERY animated replica of old #53, Herbie himself. After leaving the track, a brief trespass over a grass median took us down Bear Island Road for a roughly 3+ mile trek through the wilderness to Animal Kingdom.

The high point of this leg was bumping into my friends Matt and Leon Mark, boyfriend and father (respectively) of my buddy Sarah (from Sparkly Runner). Randomly finding friends in the middle of a marathon is always a welcome surprise. Lots of high-fiving and encouragement to go around. The low point? The Waste Treatment Center. Now I had only run this marathon once before, but I never remembered it smelling that awful. To paraphrase George Carlin, the stank of that area was so powerful it could have knocked a buzzard off a s***wagon. Blecch!

On the plus side, entering Animal Kingdom was a load of fun, as I was able to meet a sweet little piggy named Emmy Lou and a spectacle owl who couldn’t have been less interested:

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We made a pit stop inside the Animal Kingdom to use the in-park facilities and then took a good ten minutes to stretch. I was feeling rather achey; my Achilles tendon, calves, and flexors were feeling sore. I did run a half-marathon the day before, so I chalked it all up to muscle fatigue. We quickly moved on, skipping a ride on Expedition: Everest in favor of just going forward. Around Animal Kingdom we went, exiting into the parking lot where I spotted my friends (and Mickey Miler teammates) Mike and Jennifer cheering racers on. With a quick thumbs-up from Mike and a hug from Jennifer (aka “Sister Muffy” for reasons only she and I will ever understand), we passed Mile 14 and found ourselves heading east on the Osceola Parkway.

The last time I ran this section of the marathon, it was 84 degrees out with no shade. This time, it was still very cool, cloudy, and breezy. In other words, it was a welcome respite. In fact, it was a little too welcome. Two miles into this journey, it started to rain pretty steadily. This was a cold, windy rain, which sure beat the alternative by far. But I’d be lying if I said I weren’t shivering more than a little bit.

No matter, though. The rain let up by the time we made it to ESPN Wide World of Sports. Sadly, the roughly 2.5 miles you spend running through ESPN are easily the worst, most trying, most obnoxious and most annoying portion of the race. It’s a narrow, winding, seemingly endless romp around the property with little to enjoy and lots to aggravate you. By this time my muscle pain was getting more pronounced, but that was the least of my worries. The pathways on which you run are sometimes little more than sidewalks, and the endless wall-of-walkers became that much more aggravating. At one point we were trapped behind a wall of SEVEN walkers, walking abreast, leaving nothing but a sliver of space about 7″ wide to work your way through in hopes of perhaps moving at more than a snail’s pace. The trail loops and curves and bends to the point where you’re beyond exasperated wondering when this portion will end. Not to mention running on the baseball diamond, with a surface that is soft, sometimes uneven, and very crowded.

OK… complaining is done. After exiting ESPN, we took another 6 minutes off to stretch again. My muscles were straining from the agony even more now, and I needed to take care of them as soon as possible. As soon as I felt ready, we moved on, back onto Osceola and north on World Drive heading to Hollywood Studios. I found a huge amount of Second Wind when entering the Studios. This was because (1) we changed up our intervals from 3:1’s to 2:2’s, and my body seemed to really enjoy that interval a lot; not only was I feeling less pain in my legs, we were able to keep up a steady, happy pace, and (2) they were handing out mini-chocolates and they had Mr. Goodbars!! I took three of them, inhaled them all, and burst forth with invigorated energy and confidence! I was back in my happy space!!



As we made our way through the Studios, I noticed that the Sorcerer’s Hat was still there. Rumors of its complete disappearance were unfounded; it’s still on its way out, but we were afforded one last look at the sucker. Meanwhile as we were running down Hollywood Boulevard I thought I heard my name being yelled out. I looked around and there was Jennifer again! She had made her way to the Studios since we last saw her at Animal Kingdom and was waving me to come over. I did and she handed me THIS particular piece of awesomeness:

Cookies. 'nuff said!

Cookies. ’nuff said!

How buttkickin’ was THIS? A COOKIE! I gobbled that sucker down when I got back to the room later, and it was freakin’ delicious. Jennifer is the resident Cookie Supplier for the Mickey Milers team, and she went above and beyond here. Cookie Delivery Service mid-marathon?? We live in amazing times. Is it any wonder I was looking this happy:



Yup I was in a great mood. And as we exited the Studios, we had less than a 5K to go to get to the Finish Line. Righteous! Around here we found our FIT buddies Rosa and Cassandra, and we decided to finish the rest of the race together. This was most awesome. Everyone was in various states of fatigue and/or elation, so it was good to have our little group together. I even managed to pass Mike again on the Epcot Resort walkways.

There was still a light rain coming down, but we were moving at a relaxed pace, dropping down to a 1:1 to accommodate everyone in our group. As we passed by the Boardwalk, Yacht, and Beach Club resorts, we found the pathways in those areas to be VERY slippery, so it wasn’t like we were tearing up the asphalt anyhow. I DID, however, want to punch the spectator who yelled out “WORST PARADE EVER!!!!” as we passed. Dude: I appreciate your support and enthusiasm. But “Worst Parade Ever!!” feels older and more played out than “Where’s The Beef?!!” at this point. It was clever and funny once…. ONCE. We as a culture need to retire this catchphrase, with a 21 gun salute from the Brothers of the Baltimore Gun Club.

OK… that was a strange reference. Moving on…. finally we entered Epcot just around Mile 25, and sure enough there was Boots waiting for us at the mile marker in France. She waved us over and captured these amazing action snapshots:

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After that it was just a quick jog around Epcot as we raced to the Finish Line. Before the race started I was heavily interested in stopping at Mexico for a margarita (with accompanying toast), but by now we were past the 6 hour mark and just wanted to finish… which is exactly what we did. It was a steady jaunt around World Showcase, through Future World, and finally backstage past the gospel choir as we reached Mile 26. With the end in clear sight, we buckled down and crossed the Finish Line with about as much style and aplomb as we could muster.

Once again, neither Rudy nor Carissa called my name out as I finished… BUT they called out Kristi’s! You know… by now I probably WOULD be disappointed if I actually heard them call out, “Matthew Millheiser from Sunrise, Florida!!” because it would kill what is otherwise a mildly amusing running gag about my Finish Line woes. So let’s consider it a blessing.

After finishing, we received our Marathon medal, took some pics, went over to the Goofy tent to receive our Goofy medal (a 10th Anniversary special edition and a spinner, no less!), took some more pics, grabbed our Powerade and snack box, and went to meet our friends by the F flag to stretch, cool down, and engage in excited tales from the road. All I know is that I just wanted a beer. A BIG beer. Badly. And this is exactly what we got, by grabbing a Pilsner draft from the concessions area and hanging out at the picnic benches by the stage, enjoying our well-earned libations!

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Overall I had a generally positive and happy experience running the 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon. The weather was agreeable, the organization, facilities, entertainment, and running support options were all spot-on, and I had a good time with great friends. My only suggestion to improve the race would be to eliminate the ESPN leg of the race entirely. That portion of the marathon is slow, crowded, unmemorable, unlikable, kind of obnoxious, and it seems to go on forever. They should go back to their previous marathon course, which took runners a few miles around (and through) Epcot before moving on to the Magic Kingdom. I would love that change to be made, but I doubt it’s going to happen anytime soon. Regardless, this was a positive experience and a fun race. If you’re looking to run a marathon, especially your first, you should make a beeline to this event. I know I did. And I’ll happily run it again… maybe not next year (I’m gunning for Star Wars Weekend in California in 2016) but most assuredly afterward. Anyway… here’s the video:

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