Date: January 8, 2012 Location: Walt Disney World, FL Start Time: 6:30 am
If any child was going to pick the ideal day at Disney World it would be one where you were able to go in and see the parks while they were empty, with no lines but with all the joy that being in Disney brings. That exact experience is the Walt Disney World Marathon. You are able to run through the parks when most of them are not yet even open to the public yet the rides are still going, the music is still on, the characters are still out taking photos, and smiles are still on everyone’s face.
In May of 2011 I made the decision that I was going to run a marathon. I just had to choose which marathon would be my first one. Picking my first marathon was a little more difficult than it was for most. I was a full time student finishing up my degree so I had to be cognizant of the fact that many marathons that required travelling during the school year were out of the question. The Disney Marathon was always on the list of best marathons for first timers, it was during the Christmas break from school, and it provided a great place for my girlfriend (now my wife) and I to vacation after the race so the decision became very easy.
After all the training was done and we headed down to Florida I could hardly hold in my excitement. The morning of the race I woke up at the same time that my friends were going home from the bar to shower, get dress and prepare for the race. We drove onto the grounds and although there was some traffic my wife was able to drop me off easily and head back to our hotel for her to get some more sleep and meet me at the finish line later.
The starting area was great. They had plenty of water, fruit and space to stretch out and have your own area to stretch. The gear check was easy to go through and had ample space for all the runners gear and plenty of volunteers to make sure that no line ever formed. On the other side was the only down side of the pre-race time. To get from the staging area to the starting corrals was a long walk. The walk itself took over 20 minutes. The large amounts of runners made for great conversation on the walk over and although you must assume there is no better way to set it up, it is a downer that the walk was so long and took so much time.
The opening segment of the race (miles 0-6) was obviously filled with lots of nerves for me. It was my first marathon, and my first race over 5K. You saw the Epcot ball when you pulled up to the pre-race area and as the race began you had the opportunity to run through an empty Epcot before dawn. The feeling was great running through the park during such a quiet and serene time. After running through Epcot I couldn’t help but think the next time I entered Epcot I would be past mile 25 heading, hopefully quickly, towards my first marathon finish.
The second section of the race (miles 7-12) included the most famous of all the parks, the Magic Kingdom. You enter the park around dawn and you turn a corner and see one of the most iconic views in America. You are looking down Main Street USA towards the Castle. After running around tomorrow land you get to do one of, what I believe is, the most iconic turns in American running. You get to run through Cinderellas castle and take an iconic photo oh the other side. After exiting the castle you run through Frontier land and out into the back roads of Disney that few get to see.
Section 3 (miles 12-17) consists of running between Magic and Animal Kingdoms. And although many have seen all the parks around Disney, they do not often see the area between these two parks. This area includes the golf courses of Disney, the firehouse that is one the grounds, and the infrastructure buildings including the recycling plant and the memorable water treatment plant, which you can smell for a mile.
After the, rather boring, section between the two parks you enter the back side of Animal Kingdom where Disney brings out some of the more interesting animals for the runners to look at. As you enter the park the guests are there to welcome you and the cheers were welcomed. You run right through the middle of the park, experiencing great views of the Everest ride and the large tree in the middle of the park. After exiting the park you enter the long road section between Animal Kingdom and MGM. This section is in the sun during the hottest park of the day and mentally the hardest part of the day. This section does not have many spectators and has the largest hill on the course when you have to run over an overpass.
Finally after 22 miles you are able to enter MGM. After touring the back drop sets and rides you enter the main park and experience the large crowds that are, by that time, all over the park. After running through the park and past the large Mickey Fantasia hat centerpiece you can only look forward to once again going to Epcot in a couple of miles. First though you get a close up tour of the Disney Yacht Club, I believe Disney’s nicest hotel on the property. You run by the lake, where many people watch and cheer for you, helping pushing you through the finally little bit.
After you exit the Yacht club you are go strait into the back end of Epcot. You go through the last water station and around the last corner and into Epcot you go for the last mile and a half. The crowds are huge, and you begin to see the runners who finished earlier watching you come in. Your mind wants to keep going but your legs are telling you that you must stop. This is the true battle of the whole race.
As you turn the last corner there are always tons of people and as you cross the line you get your medal and begin the slow walk through to get all your after race items. These items are the best after race items that I have ever gotten at a race. They give you drinks, foods, and any healing product that you would want. The race gear pick-up is easy to go through and you can leave knowing that the race was put on not only because of you but also for you.
This race is a great experience and I would recommend this race not only to all first time marathoners, but for all marathoners. The race has some of the best staff possible, it is not only a race, but a vacation and it is during one of the slowest times of the year for many people who are working.