Getting Goofy (and a little Dopey) at Walt Disney World

Posted on February 21, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

It was approximately a year ago when a friend had the brilliant idea of meeting at Walt Disney World for marathon weekend.  I had known AnnMarie online for 1.5 years at this point, but we had not met in person.  It didn’t take long to discover that we had a lot in common and she quickly became my fitness soul mate.  Naturally when she suggested doing the Goofy Challenge (both the Half Marathon and the Full Marathon), I threw in that we should do the 5K as well.  I mean, what’s an extra 5K?  So I signed up for my races and got to training.

I took Jeff Galloway as my online coach.  He uses the run-walk-run method and I quickly realized how beneficial it was (for me at least) as opposed to just straight running.  Some of what he told me to do sounded crazy.  He wanted me to use a 15:45 ratio for my second half marathon.  My hip had been bothering me on my long runs, so I did.  Fifteen seconds of running followed by 45 seconds of walking.  I couldn’t believe I finished 30 seconds off my PR and I had no issues with my hip or legs afterwards.  As training progressed and my long runs got longer, I had issues with my hands swelling.  He told me to raise my hands when I walked and twist them like I was screwing in a light bulb.  I understood the reasoning behind it, but I couldn’t seem to put it in practice.  So I dealt with a lot of swollen hands and fingers.

My husband, Brandon, was very supportive at the beginning.  I guess he started getting worried that I was trying to get my body to do something it wasn’t ready for.  He began to throw around the idea of not racing the half and just focusing on the full marathon.  I hadn’t done a full marathon yet so I knew it was going to be a challenge.  I took his comments as fuel for my desire to accomplish this.  If nothing else, I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of dropping a race or getting a DNF.

I arrived in Orlando on Tuesday, January 8.  I was exhausted from having to be at the airport so early.  I finally got to meet AnnMarie in person, which was the highlight of my day.  We went to the hotel to unpack and then we were off to dinner.  We had decided that the best strategy was to save our legs as much as possible so we didn’t do as much park hopping as originally planned.  On Wednesday we went to Hollywood Studios where I got to be a pirate princess and we both auditioned for American Idol.  AnnMarie kept insisting that we go to Fantasmic and I’m glad she did.  It was pretty amazing.

Thursday we went to the Expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports.  This was by far the largest event I’ve ever been to. Up to this point the largest race I participated in was the Subaru Triathlon in Banff.  I could not get over the number of people that were milling around.  Christine, one of AnnMarie’s friends and now one of mine, was holding a place for us in line to sign up for the Dumbo Double Dare at Disney Land.  The line was moving so slowly I actually went to the KT Tape booth, which also had a slow moving line, to get my leg taped.  I made it back to the runDisney line with about 10 seconds to spare.  I’m so thankful that we signed up at the expo.  They opened registration to the public on January 22 and the Dumbo sold out in the first hour.  We then got our race packages and then went to grab a bite to eat.

Friday morning came super early.  We were up and out the door by 5:00am.  The 5K race started at 6:30am.  Once again my mind could not believe the number of people that my eyes kept trying to tell me were there.  There were 9,999 people running this race with me.  It was crazy – there was a stage with an emcee, music, and of course Mickey and his crew.  People were so creative in their costumes.  I saw one lady in a full-blown Cinderella costume – not the running skirt and tank top, but complete gown.  I felt sorry for her… it was quite hot and humid already.  My corral finally starts and we run around Epcot.  Disney definitely provides a lot of entertainment along the courses.  We had a great fun run.  I could not get over how much I was sweating.  At this point I started to worry about the heat and humidity for the next two races.

After the race we ate breakfast with a few princesses and then headed back to the expo.  Time for some retail therapy!  I needed a new hydration belt and iFitness was onsite.  I was concerned about running the races in a new belt that I hadn’t trained with, but I’m so glad I got one.  The belt felt extremely comfortable and had enough room for everything.  Visiting the runDisney booth was a bit of a let down.  They were almost out of all the Goofy Challenge stuff.  They had one style of shirt and some coffee mugs left.  I grabbed a Goofy shirt and got Zachary a “My Mom ran the Walt Disney World Marathon” shirt.  I purchased a marathon shirt for myself as well – after all, I was looking at completing my first full marathon.  I was finally able to meet Jeff Galloway.  This was a definite highlight.  I expressed my concerns about finishing the Goofy.  My nervousness was steadily escalating and I wished with all my might that I could do the Dumbo before the Goofy.  I knew how much better I would feel knowing that I had one back-to-back race in my pocket.  Jeff put his arm on my shoulder and spoke in one of the most reassuring voices I’ve ever heard.  I instantly felt better.  If Jeff believed in me that much, it was hard not to believe in myself.  He invited us to stop by his corral before the races to visit and relax.

I was in for a system shock when it was time to get up Saturday morning.  My mind had been racing the night before and it was so hard to get to sleep.  The last time I looked at the clock it was 11:26pm.  The alarm went off at 2:55am.  I got up and just went through the motions of getting dressed.  Christine was at our door at 3:25am and we went to get on the bus.  The bus dropped us off, but there was still a way to go to get to the start.  We stopped at Jeff Galloway’s area and got a quick word with him before making our way to the corrals.  I’m not sure what had happened, but getting to the corrals took forever.  I understand why they use the term “corral”…  I felt like I was just one of the livestock being herded down the path.  When the group did move, it went so slow.  Everyone was supposed to be in his or her corral by 5am.  That did not happen for us, nor did it happen for the thousand or so people behind us.  The nice thing about the traffic jam was that it significantly shortened the wait time in our corral.  At 6:30am corral G got the signal to start.  It was hard to hold back at the start when everyone was speeding around you.  If you slowed down too much you were likely to get ran over.  Once we got out of the congestion we slowed down to a walk.  Our plan was to walk as much as we could during the half.

I will say that Disney does a fantastic job of distracting you from the pain and agony and insanity by providing a lot of on course entertainment.  There were characters along the way where you could stop and get pictures made, DJ booths playing music, huge kites, high school marching bands, and even Jack Sparrow’s ship!  I was following my fitness soul mate’s lead and soaking up the sights, but soon found that I couldn’t walk fast enough.  She has a longer stride than I do and I found myself over striding to keep up.  This resulted in a lovely shin splint that barked louder and louder as the race went on.  It wasn’t too far into the race I told her to go without me.  Once on my own, my mind was racing and the nervous feeling I had quickly escalated to fear.  I went and got myself a shin splint the day before I was to do my first full marathon.  Tears trailed down my cheeks as I thought about the very real possibility that I wasn’t going to be able to finish the Goofy.

It was around Mile 5 that the Galloway pace group caught up with me (after I had spent time in line for the bathroom).  I fell in with them and my spirits lifted quickly.  The pace leader, Jill, did a fantastic job as a motivator, medical aide, and tour guide.  She was doing a 20:40 ratio (20 seconds running: 40 seconds walking), which was the ratio I used most often in my training.  I felt so much more at home doing this ratio and the miles started to fly by a little faster.  I’ve never had the chance to run with a partner or a group.  Running groups in Calgary meet in the evenings when I am chauffeuring the boys to wherever they need to be.  I loved running with them.  I loved the connection that we gained as we pounded the pavement.  Around Mile 8 I mentioned to Jill that I have issues with my hands swelling.  What do you think she suggested?  You got it… Raise my hands and screw in light bulbs.  I finally followed this advice and what do you know – it worked.  I should have listened to Jeff sooner.  At Mile 11, Jill had issues with her calf muscle and Jessie and I took over as pace leaders.  We proudly brought our group in strong.  My shin was still hollering at me, but the sight of the giant golf ball in Epcot helped me push the pain from my mind.  My favorite part of the race was the gospel choir at Mile 12.  Hearing them sing brought tears to my eyes and it gave me the boost I needed to forget about my shin.  I finished the half marathon in 3:34:55.  I thought it was 3:30, but I realized that my Garmin timer stopped when I was waiting in the potty line – too bad the official WDW timer didn’t stop as well.  I’m totally ok with the time; this race was all about finishing and taking it slow rather than getting a PR.

After the half marathon I got cleaned up, jumped in an ice bath, put on compression sleeves, and headed to Animal Kingdom to eat lunch with AnnMarie and Christine.  Donald was so excited to see our medals.  I would have to say that’s one of the coolest things about a Disney race – sporting the medal at the parks.  I informed Mickey and Goofy that I would be acquiring their medals the next day.  We didn’t stay long and spent most of the evening at the hotel.  I was trying to prep my mind, body, and soul for what was going to happen the next day.

Once again the alarm clock buzzed at some ungodly hour.   It’s safe to say I was a walking advertisement for KT Tape.  I also had my compression sleeves on to help with the shin splint.  This made me a little nervous (I’ve never run in my sleeves before), but a gazillion people do it so surely it will be ok.  I got to meet with Jeff again in his corral.  I expressed my fears of not finishing yet again.  In my mind there was so much stacked against me – physical and mental fatigue, heat, humidity, and a distance that has never been completed.  He told me to take little sips of water and when the sun got up, start dumping water on my head.  I’ll admit, it was odd to hear him say, “small sips of water” when everyone else was screaming, “Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!” because of the heat we will be facing.  After a reassuring hug, I left Jeff and headed to my corral.

The herd seemed to move a little easier and there wasn’t the stop/start/stop action of the day before.  I knew that I wasn’t going to stop and get my picture made with characters along the course, so I happily jumped in line to get my picture made with Fairy Godmother.  I asked her to grant me wings so that my feet could fly to finish line.  She laughed and said that she couldn’t do that, but she would grant me the strength to believe in myself and in my ability to finish.  I would have rather had the wings…

After waiting for an hour, corral G finally got the go ahead to start.  I had gone 1.5 miles and got lightheaded.  Panic was my first thought, but I decided that maybe I should eat something.  I had back-to-back training so everything had to be ok.  After downing some Honey Stingers, I felt better and kept plugging away.  At Mile 3, fear gripped me.  The light-headedness was back with a vengeance.  I’ve never passed out before so I wasn’t sure how much vertigo occurs before you hit the pavement.  So many thoughts ran through my mind: “What’s going on with me?” “It’s only mile 3, this isn’t right.” “Am I going to pass out if I keep going?” “Should I pull out of the race now?” “What will Brandon say if I drop out?” Taking deep breaths helped – with the nerves at least – and I decided to roll down my compression sleeves.  I felt a little better and decided to keep going.  The only thing I remember of Mile 4 was the broken record playing through my head. “I will not let Brandon have the satisfaction of knowing that I should have dropped a race.”  “I will finish this and prove to him that I can do this.”  “I refuse to let him ‘win’.”  Let me be clear.  I know that my husband loves me and did not want to see me fail.  I know that he was only concerned about my wellbeing. I know that dropping out of the race would not equal a “win” for him.  However, I also know that idea the broken record playing in my mind was conveying is what got me through that mile.  It wasn’t my confidence that I would do this.  It wasn’t the belief that I was ready.  It was my stubbornness.  I did not want Brandon to be able to say, “I told you so” when it was all over (not that he would).  I didn’t even want to give him the chance to think it.  At Mile 6 I felt great and felt like I was finally ready to do this.

The first 8 miles were the same as the half marathon, so I got to run by the same ship, enter the Magic Kingdom again, and run through the castle once again.  It was about this time the 7:00 pace group caught up with me and I fell in line with them.  I had already started doing the “light bulb dance” in an effort to keep my hands from swelling too much.  It was also around this time I started dumping water on my head.  Water got in my eyes and I was trying to continue running while wiping the water away.  My left contact shifted and I could feel it.  While keeping up with my pace group, I tried to maneuver it back into position.  No luck.  I should have just stopped to take it out, but I hoped that it would work itself back into place.  It wasn’t until after I got back to the hotel, I realized that the contact had gotten ripped.  Joy – I got to deal with conjunctivitis.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

After leaving Magic Kingdom, the course went around the speedway.  I loved this part.  They had various cars out on the track (from NASCAR style stock cars to classic mustangs).  As I went around the track my thoughts turned to my mom, a huge NASCAR fan, and I smiled.  She would have loved it – ok, maybe not the running part.  Once off the speedway, I made the long trek to Animal Kingdom.  You could tell we arrived simply by the smell.  I had to laugh at my fellow runners that turned up their noses.  It was quite a sight to see people trying to show their disgust while forcing their body to keep going.  Disney had a few animals out to greet us as we entered the gate, which this biologist appreciated.

The heat and the humidity were pretty bad – but even worse was the smack down the sun gave me whenever the shade disappeared.  There were a few clouds here and there, but it was pretty much bright sunshine the whole way.  Every water stop meant more water dumped on my head in an effort to cool down.  Thankfully the shin splint that plagued me during the half has kept quiet.  I just had to contend with the screaming from my feet.  It’s around Mile 17 and all I can focus on is the pain with every step.  The course wound through ESPN Wide World of Sports for what seemed like forever.  At one point we ran around a track and the moans and sighs of relief could be heard for miles.  The course also took us around the infield of Champion Stadium ballpark, spring training home of the Atlanta Braves.

This was the 20th anniversary of the full marathon so there was a surprise planned at Mile 20.  Huge puppets lined both sides of the street and Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto were there having a party.  I kept on plugging away with the pace group.  I kept dumping water on my head.  I could feel some chafing on my sides from my wet bra strap, but the choice was to either die from the heat or get a little chafed.  Only two more parks left – Hollywood Studios and then Epcot.  The course went through the back lot at Hollywood Studios and we got to run through the costume design tunnel.  The tunnel caused a bottleneck for three reasons:  1.  It was slightly narrower, 2.  It was pitch black and if you tripped and fell you might not get up, and 3.  They had the fans blowing.  I think I could have stayed in the tunnel for the rest of the day, but there was a race I had to finish.  Finally after hours and hours of constantly pounding the pavement in the hot sun, I see it.  I see the giant golf ball.  Whoever designed the course played a little trick on us.  I could see the big golf ball, but for the longest time, it wasn’t getting any bigger.  The course went around the lagoon and through the world showcase first.

Mile 24 was my magical mile – the mile when it finally hit me that I was going to finish.  As this realization was sinking in, tears welled up in my eyes.  I can’t believe that someone like me, who has always been the polar opposite of an “athlete”, was going to finish a full marathon.  We won’t even mention that this is after a 5K and a half marathon…  I kept running my intervals with tears running down my face.  A couple of girls I was running with asked if I was ok – they knew of my shin splint.  I turned to them with the biggest smile on my face.  They smiled at me and in that moment there was a deep connection with them.  It’s hard to explain.  We had been running together for 16 miles and had shared idle chitchat.  But this was something else.  We were connected as runners.  We accomplished something we didn’t think was possible and to share that with others is an experience that cannot be explained by words.

The golf ball is getting bigger and bigger now.  I round the corner at Mile 26 and there’s the gospel choir again.  The finish line is up ahead!  I can see it.  It’s not a mirage or a figment of my imagination.  It’s there.  It’s real.  There were times throughout the day that I thought I wouldn’t reach this point.  As I crossed the line, I was overcome by so many thoughts and emotions.  I wondered how my friends fared.  I thought how proud my family would be of me.  I thought of how proud I was of myself.  I felt strong and empowered, yet weak and humbled at the same time.  I did it.  I completed 42.4 miles in three days.  I found myself in a daze as my thoughts ricocheted around my mind, and once again was herded along with the rest of the livestock.  I got my marathon medal, briefly visited with those that crossed the line with me, and grabbed my post race snack and drink.  I headed to the Goofy tent to get my Goofy medal and ordered my “I Did It!” shirts for the marathon and the Goofy.  I tried to keep moving and dreaded getting on the bus.

While sitting on the bus and waiting for all the weary souls to get on, I realized that I never hit “The Wall”.  Did I get tired?  Yes.  Did I get hot?  Yes.  Did I want to quit?  You betcha’.  But I never got to the point that I couldn’t go on.  I never felt like I had to push through something to keep going.  I know that the only reason for this was that I took things slow.  I got back to the hotel and immediately jumped in an ice bath.  I removed all the KT tape and got cleaned up.  Remember the chafing I mentioned?  Turned out to be much worse than I thought.  Wet clothes combined with seven hours of constant moving left a chafed ring around my body.  It hurt to sleep or have anything touch it for about a week after the race.  After getting dressed I noticed the freaky tan lines on my legs left by the KT tape – talk about sexy…  I gingerly sat down at the computer and logged onto Facebook.  Much to my surprise there the following status from my husband:  “So proud of my wife, who in the past 3 days has run a 5k, a half marathon, and a full marathon”.  He had signed up for email updates of my progress through the race and already knew I had finished.  I sat there at my computer and let the tears flow.  He’s not one to post a lot on Facebook, so to see this status took me by surprise.  To know that he was so proud of me meant so much.

After the previous mornings, Monday felt like a blissful lazy day.  AnnMarie and I spent the day at Magic Kingdom and Epcot.  I loved being able to walk around with my Goofy medal on.  Everywhere you looked, there were medals.  It made it easy to strike up a conversation while waiting in line.  You started by saying “Congratulations” and ended up discussing how the race went, how hot it was, your favorite Disney distraction, etc.…  As we made our way around the parks, it was obvious who had been in the race.  There was a distinctive “marathon waddle” that numerous people exhibited.  As the enormity of what I had accomplished sank in, it dawned on me that I was physically doing better than a lot of people.  My legs didn’t bother me too much.  I was a little stiff, but really the only thing that gave me trouble was the chafed skin.  The key was that I wasn’t dead like I had imagined myself to be.

Tuesday morning I left Florida to make my way back to Calgary.  Numerous people on my flight from Orlando to Houston had been in the marathon.  They still had the waddle going on and many of them wore the medal.  As I made my way back across the country, I had time to reflect on what I had accomplished and what I learned.

I really enjoyed the Disney races.  All the on course entertainment made the miles less torturous than they could have been.  I wish that I would have stopped for more character pictures, but I was too afraid of being swept.  I did stop once on the course and got my picture made with the Disney Villains.  Maybe at the Dumbo Double Dare I’ll be able to stop a few more times.  One of the things I learned was that I don’t push myself enough when I’m training on my own.  I had watched my pace gradually decrease until I joined the pace group.  Then my pace quickened.  This means that in future training, I need to be harder on myself.  I learned that I could be in the heat and not die; I just had to take it slow.  Training in subfreezing temperatures and low humidity didn’t really prepare me for the race environment.  I was told that the heat index was 102°F around 1:00pm – yes, I was still out there at this time.  There were approximately 4,500 people that DNF’d the race.  Some people had to leave because they decided to do this on a whim and didn’t put the time in to train.  Majority of the ones that had to leave the race, had to do so because of the heat/humidity.  I believe that following Jeff’s advice, as well my desire to prove my husband wrong helped me accomplish what I once thought impossible.  Note to self:  When in doubt, trust your training and trust your coach.

As I sat in the airplane seat trying to will my ankles to stop swelling, I thought about all the people that got up just as early as I did, but not to run the race.  They watched it and cheered everyone on.  Once again the power of an encouraging word overwhelmed me.  There were so many spectators along the course (both in and outside of the parks) with cowbells and signs and silly outfits.  Some had their chairs and picnic blankets laid out.  Others had their RV’s parked on the side of the road.  To come running up a hill from an underpass and hearing and seeing all of these people cheering…  It brings tears to my eyes just reliving those moments in my mind.  So many times complete strangers hollered and yelled my name:  “You can do it, Dawn!”  “You got this, Dawn!”  “Dawn, you are amazing!”  The first time someone used my name I almost stopped.  I was trying to figure out how I knew them.  They were yelling someone else’s name and it clicked – they read my name on my bib.

My favorite story from the marathon doesn’t even involve me.  I was on the bus after the race and three older ladies got on.  One sat next to me (in the first seat), one sat a few rows back, and the third sat in the jump seat next to the driver.  I asked the lady next to me if everything was ok.  This was her story.

“The three of us were walking the marathon.  Sarah started feeling ill and we stopped at a medical tent.  She kept telling us to go, but we wouldn’t leave her.  The medics decided that she had low blood sugar, so once she got something to eat and drink she was feeling much better.  Once again she told us to go.  Anne and I told her that we started this together and we would end it together.  The medic cleared her to leave the tent, but she was still weak.  They let us take a wheelchair.  Thank goodness Anne was with us – usually she’s much farther ahead because she’s pretty fast.  Anne was running and pushing the wheelchair and I was the one having the asthma attack – I’m a walker, not a runner.  We crossed the finish line together.”

Tears pooled in my eyes as I listened to her story – something about the marathon must have had my emotions in overdrive.  I was so happy for them and in awe of what they accomplished.

The three ladies I met on the bus were good friends and had known each other for years.  But there’s a camaraderie that exists among runners regardless if you are seeing each other for the first time in the start corral or grew up together.  There were 65,000 people there for the three races.  I met some, but 99.983% of them I would never be able to pick out of a crowd.  Yet I saw them around the parks wearing their medals or I’ve read posts online from people who were there.  I feel a kinship with these people I’ve never met.  It’s like the secret ingredient for an instant friendship… “Oh, you were at Walt Disney World for the race?  Me too!”

I’m incredibly proud of my accomplishment.  I finished the 5K, the half marathon, and my very first full marathon.  I have an automatic PR for the full and it was so slow, that surely I can only get better from here.  There have been a few occasions when I think about how fast other people were and how fast I wasn’t.  I’ll admit, that I would feel like my accomplishment was less than theirs simply because it took me so long.  But then I look at my medals.  I think about how much harder it is (for some people) to be out in the heat for seven hours as opposed to running it faster and getting off the course sooner.  I had made my own “Dopey” medal.  At this point in time, Disney does not recognize the Dopey people that run all three races.  Even though it’s not “official”, it still marks a huge accomplishment for this tortoise.  My husband travels to San Francisco for work every week.  He was telling me about a guy he works with that also did the Goofy (although I think he finished as the sun was rising) and I realized I earned the exact same medal he did.  This makes me smile.

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