Friday, January 23, 2009

Disney Marathon 2006.

Sarah and I had decided sometime in 2005 I would run the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando in January 2006 and Sarah would possibly run the half-marathon, which is held the day before the marathon. (Yes, some runners do both, but not us!) Approximately 3-4 months before the marathon, we learned that Sarah was pregnant with our first child, our angel Abigail. With Sarah's pregnancy, it was an easy decision for Sarah - she would not be able to train for, nor run the half, but we would make the trip and I would run the 26.2, as planned.

As things would go, my mother was planning to arrive in Florida that week for her annual three month stay in St. Petersburg. She told me she would like to come to see me run the marathon. In addition, two of my sisters, a nephew and a niece were going to make a little vacation of it also. Pretty cool - trip to sunny Florida to breakup the winter months.

The marathon started at @6:00 am on Saturday if my memory serves me correct. The reason for the early start was two-fold: (1) so runners would not be running in the afternoon sun and (2) not to disrupt the theme parks; i.e. Disney doesn't want to close the parks and lose out on revenues! The suggested arrival time for runners was @4:30am! I do remember setting my alarm for 3:30 am. I also remember thinking it would be a killer to get up so early and run a marathon. BUT, assuming nothing went terribly wrong, I would be done running 26.2 miles before 10:30 am!

Overnight before the race, the Orlando area had record low temperatures. I had brought a long-sleeve shirt too wear before the race and shed after I start running, but I realized the night before that I was going to need a little something more. So, I purchased an over-sized hooded sweatshirt at a local drugstore for short money.

What I remember about the morning of the race was waking up and having that sick stomach feeling one gets from insufficient sleep coupled with nerves. I would have had to have fallen asleep at 7:30 the night before to get 8 hours of z's. I awoke wth the alarm and got ready to leave. Sarah gave me a kiss and wished me luck. She, of course, went back to sleep and made the drive to WDW with my family a few hours later. Off to the race I went, under the still dark skies of Orlando.

Being an experienced runner, I know it is better to get to a race early, rather than late so I arrived a bit early and rested in the heated rental car. Anything to avoid standing outdoors in running shorts with the temperature somewhere in the 30's. I took my time getting to the start line and ended up taking a spot toward the back of the 10,000+ runners. Starting at the back of the back didn't bother me . After starting too quick in my previous marathons, I was determined to do a better job at pacing myself the first half of this 26.2 miles. Besides, I had several thousand runners packed together in front of me, so I had no choice but to go slow!

After some celebrity sang the national anthem, the race was under way and, after a couple of miles, the cold dark sky started to brighten thorough the morning fog.
It was definitely a slow start as the runners weaved to the start in a funnel-like fashion. The sun had yet to rise, it was still cold, but the energy level was high. Everyone was pumped. The Disney marathon is a popular "first-timers" marathon so there are a number of excited runners who have not before felt the pains of miles 19-26.

It should be said that my original goal, before I started training for the WDW Marathon, was to attempt to qualify for Boston in 2006 by running Disney. However, at some point in my training I resigned to the fact that qualifying for Boston this time around was not realistic.

The race winded through all four theme parks - Disney, Epcot, MGM(?) and Wild Kingdom and I started to understand the two things I had read about the WDW Marathon. The first thing I realized was that it is a good race to qualify for Boston because it is almost completely flat. And the second thing that became clear to me as we ran through the parks was that there were definitely a huge amount of runners not concerned about their finishing time. I could not believe the number of runners who carried cameras with them so that they could stop along the route and pose with a Disney character! "Look, there's Goofy, hey Goofy - wait, let me wrap me sweaty self around you so this other runner guy can take our picture!" Maybe I am a running purist, after all. I go to a race, I run with all my heart, concentrating on every breath and footstep, ever vigilant of the task at hand. I finish the race, THEN I let my guard down. There is plenty of time to give Cinderella a kiss AFTER the race!

Seriously though, it is a VERY fun marathon and I did enjoy the scenery. If you are thinking of the running the marathon you should know, however, that the entire race is not run in the theme parks. A numbers if miles are run outside the parks - on the roads outside the parks.

Around mile 13 I spotted my niece Jen, then my nephew Bobby, my wife Sarah, my mother, and my sisters Joan and Patrice. That was very nice. Runners, especially those who have run a long distance race, know how a familiar face in the crowd or a "way to go" can make the legs feel just a little bit lighter. Having them cheer me at mile 13 was nice.

I ended up doing a good job of pacing myself. And, at about mile 18-19, I realized I had some reserve left in the tank, so I increased my pace ever so slightly. At about mile 21-22 I increased it a little more and still felt good. Given the way I had finished Boston and the Marine Corps marathons in the past, I was almost sprinting at the finish. Apparently Sarah and my family saw me near the finish line, but all I heard was a crowd.

My net time was under 4:15 and I finished in the top 25% overall, 35% in gender and 38% in age division. Like I said previously, this marathon is considered good for first-time marathoners.
Sarah and I have plans to take the girls to Disney at least once, when they are older. Whether we go during marathon weekend and run, remains to be seen. This trip to Disney was my third - my sister Joan took me and my younger brothers Don and Chris when I was about 12. I went again when I was in my twenties. The memories I have of each trip is special.

Of course I cannot help but think of Abigail when I think of the race. One of the things I remember most vividly about the entire weekend was after the race when I met up with Sarah, and my family. We were taking pictures and hanging out and I remember thinking that I was so happy. Sarah being there with me, the thought of being a dad in a few months, etc. I started rubbing Sarah's tummy - displaying my excitement about us being parents-to-be. Not thinking for a moment that our first daughter would not take of breath of air outside of Sarah's womb.

Sometime after Abigail's headstone was erected in the summer of 2006, Sarah and I noticed someone had placed a toy Mickey Mouse "runner" at Abbey's grave site. Joan and Jen had bought Mickey while we were at Disney - they were going to give the stuffed toy to our baby when he/she was born. I told Sarah I wanted to take Mickey home so he wouldn't get weathered by the elements. I wanted to keep something as a memory - show our girls when they are older - tell them the story of the marathon weekend when Mommy was pregnant with their older sister.

The WDW Marathon 2006.


His Mom said...

What an amazing story, I love that they placed Mickey on Abigail's headstone fo ryou to find....just the thought of you findign that and bringing it home brought tears to my eyes. I love that you having something you can show the girls when they are older about their sister.

Rich said...

Thanks for reading the story. I, of course, did not plan on the post being that long but it just happened. Sarah and I always tell Abbey about her younger sisters and will, of course, tell Allie, Anna & Em about Abbey when they are old enough to understand. Sometimes Sarah & I feel like noone will ever understand what it feels like to not have Abbey here.