Thursday, January 14, 2010

EPiC at EpCoT

So my first half-marathon is in the books. And to say that the experience was totally surreal is a vast understatement!

I don't remember ever being so nervous leading up to an athletic event of any kind. As the day of the race drew nearer, the whole idea of a half-marathon - let alone a half-marathon at Disney World - seemed so BIG to me. Yet, there was my race number, staring me in the face...definitely with my name on it. Though I could hardly visualize standing at the Start, this was really going to happen! Thankfully, my college roommate, Shelly, had agreed to take on this crazy adventure with me. And I'll say right now that the entire experience - start to finish and all in between - would never have been the same without her. She was the difference in my race.

I'm pretty sure I saw the clock change to the 1am hour before I finally drifted off for a 'nap' on the Friday night before the race. And it may seem funny, but I think I was actually relieved when my alarm went off at 3:10am...because the day was finally here, and it was time to just go big or go home. No more anticipation. I still felt some uncertainty as to how to dress for the run, especially with the forecast being so nebulous. We'd received special updates until late in the evening on Friday from the Race Director, warning of unprecedented cold temperatures and precipitation chances. I decided to take lots of layers and make the final call when I parked at Epcot, so off I went with my classic Peanut Butter Cookie Luna bar in hand. Can't beat it on Race Day!

The drive to Epcot was really easy with no traffic issues. Countless people making their way through the night to the same crazy adventure as me. And Coldplay on the radio made a good trip that much better. Once there, I regretfully parted ways with my NorthFace shell and fleece, settling for a technical short-sleeve, a technical hoody, and tights with gloves and ear warmers. That should have been more than enough to keep me warm - and it was...for at least 10 minutes. The problem is that we were instructed to arrive at Epcot no later than 4am...and our Wave didn't go off until after 6am. I'm guessing the temperatures were in the mid 30s when I found Shelly at the Bag Claim tents. And as you can see, it took us very little time to get super cold. Unbelievably, as we walked with the other 23,998 people to the Start Line, we noticed snowflakes starting to fall under the lights. Unreal! The snow and sleet traded on and off as Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy joined us at the Start. I remember hearing the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling"'s funny - I've heard it since, and I think I'll probably always associate that song with this race. Strange how that works. Mercifully, they combined Waves and let us proceed to the Start a few minutes earlier than planned. And so after 9 months of planning, 4 months of training, 10 days of stressing, and 2.3 hours of shivering, we were off!

Miles 1 and 2 passed quickly, and by Miles 3 and 4, I was starting to feel my hands and feet again. Shelly and I had agreed to start together, and more importantly, we agreed to start slowly. So we were actually warming up and feeling 'comfortable' as we saw Space Mountain in the distance. I'd rather be too cool than too warm on any run, so I wrapped my hoody around my waist as we arrived at the entrance of Main Street USA. And suddenly, Cinderella's Castle was right in front of us. What a sight! The course wound through TomorrowLand, past the Dumbo ride, and toward the back of the castle. Guards stood poised with trumpets as we approached - what a fun run! We allowed ourselves short breaks for pictures - I couldn't justify trading lifelong memories for 2 or 3 minutes of my overall time, and for me, that was definitely the right decision. Running through the Magic Kingdom was something I'll remember for a long, long time.As we left the Magic Kingdom, we passed the 10K point. Unfortunately, there's only a long, flat road that stretches out as far as the eye can see, so Miles 7, 8, and 9 seemed particularly hard to come by. And keep in mind, it was still sleeting with freezing rain mixed in. In true Disney form, however, there were characters, bands, cheerleaders, and even horn-blowing Monorails to power us through. By this time, Shelly and I realized we would finish together. We agreed to take a couple of short walking breaks after Mile 9. My hands started feeling cold again at that point, but I realized as I reached for my gloves that I no longer had the dexterity to take them out of my tights and put them back on - my fingers were that frozen! As I said hundreds of times during the run, thank God for Shelly! She literally grabbed my gloves so I could somehow pull them back on. The longest 'hill' of the course came in the form of a slow, grinding entrance ramp during Mile 10. Suddenly, there were tons of people lining the course when we reached Mile 11, and I remember hearing horns blowing as people entered the park, cheering us on. It was as if it suddenly dawned on us that we were going to finish - and in plenty of time to earn the coveted medal. I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I had wondered if it would even be possible - you never know if something crazy will happen, maybe even keeping you from the Finish Line. I guess fears like that aren't too uncommon, especially in a first race of this distance. But finally, finally, we could see Epcot again in the distance. What a beautiful sight!Miles 12 and 13 were certainly not 'easy,' but seemed to pass more quickly with everything going on around us. As we rounded the corner to start our last 0.1 miles, a gospel choir serenaded us - in the freezing rain! I had long since turned off my iPod, just to be sure I absorbed all the sights and sounds completely. Shelly had only one request, and that was that we kill it going into the Finish. I usually finish any race at a steady pace, mainly to ensure that the hype and nausea don't combine for an unsightly result. But this race was different, and I'd have done just about anything for Shelly at that point, as she'd encouraged me faithfully throughout each of the 13.1 miles. So we grabbed hands, choked back the anticipated emotions, and crossed the Finish Line. What a high!

The mylar blankets warmed us briefly, but we were almost instantly cold again. I pulled my hoody back on, but we were totally soaked. Ironically, a sweet old man in a Canada hat presented us with our medals. We told him of our dear friend from Ontario, and we laughed about how cold it was in Florida compared to his former home in Alberta. But most importantly, he put a Donald Duck medal around my neck. And that completed my journey. An epic journey, at that.
It seemed to take an extraordinarily long time to wind our way through lines for pictures, food, and bags - but I imagine the surreal freezing cold was mostly to blame. I don't remember ever being that cold before, probably because we'd been outside for so long by that time, and we were totally soaking wet. I was literally sore from shivering so much. But it's hard to kill that kind of high! When we finally rejoined Erich and started the car (especially the heat), I felt like I was coming back to life. And after a loooonnnggg, hot shower and even longer nap, I felt like a new woman. Erich and I enjoyed a fantastic dinner that night on Pleasure Island at Paradiso 37, then we joined Shelly later for celebratory drinks. There's nothing quite like wearing a Donald Duck half-marathon jacket, toasting the Finish Line, and drinking a mudslide with some of your best friends in the world. Nothing like it. For me, it was easily worth everything it took to get there...


  1. Woooo HOOOO!!!!! Great job ladies!!!!

  2. Thanks, Cam! We had a blast! :)

  3. It was worth everything. Reading your blog now, I can REALLY see what it means to you.