Every &*#@! Mile Is Magic: A Disney Marathon Recap

So this happened. photo 4

Along with copious amounts of sweat, dirt, hunger, fatigue, occasional gasping tears, and muscles wondering what they'd done to deserve such punishment... Haven't we been good to you for lo these 42 years?

Yes, the Disney Marathon: worst parade ever to hit Main Street USA.

Saturday night I got very little sleep. I was up until 11:00 working on my costume with my brother Luke. Costumes are abundant at Disney races, but I'd gone back and forth about whether to wear one. Early weather reports had highs in the 80s, and I was not going to wear anything that added to my discomfort. But I had an old Brooks tank top that's a fine mesh, cool and comfortable, and an old white running hat a friend gave me that she used when training for the Marine Corps Marathon several years ago. I decided we could work with those and some Sharpies:

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The finished product. I was the only R2D2 I saw. And I got lots of fun affirmation and cheers, most notably from the woman carrying the sign that said, "Would it help if I got out and pushed?"

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After I went to bed I had a hard time falling asleep... not unusual before a big race, but disconcerting when you know the alarm will be going off at 3 a.m. Disney races start early, and they put the fear of Cruella into you, what with traffic snarls, lines at the portapotties, and the congested 20-minute walk from the gathering area to the corrals.

But my alarm didn't go off at 3 after all, because by 2:10 I was wide awake and decided to get up and get ready. Don't I look rarin' to race? ~Yawn~

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My brother Matthew and I were out the door by 3:30 and in place in the Epcot parking lot by 4:00:

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I was in corral K, the middle of the pack, based on my time for the Rock and Roll Half Marathon. Matthew was in corral P. Because this was my first marathon, my goal was to finish, but I also hoped I could do it in less than 6 hours. The corral behind mine had the 5:30 pace group in it, so my plan was to run a manageable pace and at some point, that group would catch up to me. Then I hoped to run with them for a while, which is exactly what happened. More on that later.

This being Disney, everything was well run. People were in a great mood, even in the portapotty lines. Typically there were 12-20 in a row, with multiple lines feeding to them. While waiting in one line, two women behind me in dalmatian costumes got fake-upset that at some point we had lost a portapotty to the line next to us, so our line was only feeding to three of them. With the clock ticking down to race time, every time someone would exit PP#4 they would say to the person in our line, "Reclaim the portapotty! Go! Go!" We never did. But I guess that's why we're not in corral A, huh? No killer instinct.

Mickey himself did the countdown for each corral to start, and there were fireworks for each one. (I think I got this video uploaded right? You have to listen hard for Mickey. 30 seconds of video)

Corral Start

The first several miles are in the dark---my corral got going around 6:10 and sunrise was an hour later. Here's the first photo I took during the race:

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I don't know, it made me laugh at 6:20 in the morning, realizing I would have to hit every one of these landmarks and more over the next several hours.

Immediately after this photo, I stepped onto an uneven patch of ground. I caught myself before rolling my ankle, but this misstep would haunt me a bit later.

There are tons of character stops along the way---toward the beginning of the race, I estimated about three stops for every two miles. And each mile marker had a Disney character pictured on it. Getting photographed with characters is one of my least favorite things to do at Disney---big time investment, minimal payoff---so I didn't stop for these photo ops. But I loved looking at each one as I went by; it was a great way to pass the time. Many of the stops had lines, some of them long----Royal Mickey and Minnie at Magic Kingdom was the longest I saw.

But here are some photos.

The gate at Magic Kingdom:

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Main Street USA

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Cinderella's castle!


(You may be thinking, "Wow, MaryAnn is smiling pretty big to be running 26.2!" What can I say. If I've learned anything about running, it's how to look happy for the yellow vests.)

They'd brought out some animals as we approached Animal Kingdom. Couldn't resist this photo op. That's a vulture:

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The race itself was long, and fun, and long some more.

Mile 8 was the "Sweet Caroline" mile---they played the song and we all sang/panted along. Just as I was leaving earshot we heard it repeat, which made everyone laugh.

The 5:30 pace group caught up to me around mile 10, aka the long and boring part between Speedway and Animal Kingdom. Disney does their best during this straight non-shady stretch, with informative signs explaining about all the reclaimed water they use, and their efforts at composting. Yes, this is the water-treatment part of the route. It was fun to run with the pace team. My training was so solitary---I could see the appeal of running with a group.

The weather turned out to be cooler than expected, and running in the sunny 60s is better than the sunny 70s, but still, you get hot. I had read that in the latter miles of a race, you should put as much water on you as in you. So as we entered ESPN Zone, mile 17-ish, I starting taking three cups at each aid station: one Powerade, one water to drink, and one water to pour. (Protip: do not get the first and the last confused.)

I'd also read not to douse your front, otherwise the water drips into your shoes and you get blisters. So I poured it down my back, which felt great, until mile 18 when... how to put this... there began to be chafing in an uncomfortable place. I lost the 5:30 pace group when I ducked into a portapotty to try and dry off.

The marathon, she ain't pretty.

And my daughters can't get enough of that story.

Chafing problems aside, the weather actually got better as the race went on, because even though the temperature was rising, the humidity was dropping. That was a huge help in the latter miles. I remember learning about evaporative cooling in some science class as a kid, but I never understood it, growing up in Houston where sweat doesn't evaporate due to humidity that rivals Calcutta's. But on Sunday, I got it. Kudos to the Intelligent Designer for that one.

Reaching 20 miles was huge. You remember that my longest run was a 20 miler in the rain. And I LOVED the characters they picked for mile 20 and couldn't resist taking a picture. The Sisterhood!

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It's time to see what I can do To test the limits and break through No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I'm free!

Let it go, let it go I am one with the wind and sky...

Twenty miles is when I knew that, unless something very unexpected happened, I would finish. But it was a tough 10K left. Remember the weird pothole I stepped in at mile 3? I began to feel it at 20+. Those latter miles involve several on-ramps and turn-offs, some of which are at an angle. That's tough stuff. I felt it in the ankle, but also in the other foot since I was trying to compensate. Well, everything was in pain at that point. I was still running, though slower than before. I'm proud to say that aside from water stops and a few other times, I ran the whole 26.2. That's big for me. Three years ago, running for 30 seconds was a new and excruciating experience.

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I was tired and ready to be done. But I kept going, in part because I knew my family was watching and waiting for me up ahead.

That's a peculiar thing about a Disney race, by the way: a lot of the people cheering us on were Disney cast members. There are limited places where spectators can cheer. I have no doubts about the cast members' sincerity, but it felt kinda corporate rather than communal to have staff people encouraging us. It's so different from a typical road race, in which people line the sidewalks for miles, sit on their porches as you run by, hold up hilarious hand-made signs, and hand out candy (and beer).

There were spectators along the route, but they were clustered in 7-8 specific spots. Those spots were often in the parks, which are already motivating enough---where we needed spectators was in the middle of nowhere, but it's impossible for them to get there because of how Disney closes the roads. It's not a complaint per se, just a difference in the personality of the race.

Anyway, my brother Luke, his girlfriend and her family, and my niece and nephew were along the route at mile 23-ish, which is in Hollywood Studios. Here I am going by!


Robert, my mother, the kids, and several other family members were at mile 24, the Disney Boardwalk. That worked out perfectly---they had gone to a character breakfast at the Beach Club and finished just in time to come out and see me. Except Robert missed me as I ran by! I could've sworn he saw me---everyone else did, and as you can see, I got some high fives in---but now I wished I'd stopped. But I just wanted to be done.


Matthew had the good sense to stop when he ran by, and I love this picture of him and Mamala more than anything:

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Mile 25 is in the Epcot World Showcase. This had become a family joke because we all know just how freakin' huge that place is. (My sister, who lives in Orlando, said, "I'll never complain about having to walk from World Showcase to the parking lot again.")

Remember this scene from Holy Grail?


Like that.

But I finished, with "Eye of the Tiger" playing at the finish line. There was woohooing and fist pumping and a little crying and gasping too.


I finished in 5:47. Under 6 hours, just as I'd hoped...

Soon after I finished, I got a text from a member of Tiny, who'd snapped a picture of the folks at church giving me cheers and thumbs-up. I'd completed the race just as worship was ending.

(Actually, the social media part of this was strange, but wonderful. Pastor friends were tracking me via text and praying for me during their church services. Every few miles my iPhone dinged with supportive text messages. I didn't read them immediately, but each ding felt like a high five.)

I waited in the finish area for my family to arrive and for Matthew to finish. By the way, the kingdom of heaven is like the massage tent at a marathon.

Matthew crossed the finish line about an hour after me. I'm very proud of him. He hasn't been running for nearly as long as I have. As he got in the car he posted to Facebook: "Never again." But by the time he got home he was already thinking about the next one.

As for me, I was very sore for 2 days, but the soreness is gone, except for some aches in my feet and a weird butt muscle thing. (Again, the marathon ain't pretty.)

As to whether I will do another...

There is no doubt.


Like what you see here? I write other stuff too... entire posts in which the word "chafing" never appears.

It All Started with a Big Blob of Chocolate

My first race was two years ago: the Hot Chocolate 5K at the National Harbor. Hundreds of people had parking problems, the race started late as a result, and I'm told the 15K course was a disaster. But once we got started and my feet thawed, it all went beautifully for me and the friends I was with: Me, Erin and Leslie

As you can see, the Hot Chocolate 5K ended with hot cocoa and this... still the finest post-race party I've ever experienced:

It all started with a big blob of chocolate

There have been other races, including two 10Ks and two half marathons.

DC Rock and Roll Half, March 2013

Annapolis Half with Linda!

By the way.

To all you tiresome bores who drone on about how "everyone gets a trophy" is the downfall of society as we know it, and how we should give prizes to the fastest and the best and let all the mediocre people be content with the experience of playing: JUST TRY AND TAKE MY FINISHERS' MEDALS, you alpha-wannabe jerks.

Cough. As I was saying. Races:

It all started with a big blob of chocolate

I got to run a 10K with a handsome friend!

It all started with a big blob of chocolate

Along the way, there have been equipment fails:


During your times of trial and suffering, when you see one red line, it is then that I carried you. -RunKeeper Jesus

There have been trail fails:

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And there have been user errors, like when I forgot to turn off RunKeeper while walking the labyrinth at Mo-Ranch:



And for the last four months, there have been about 400 miles, as I get ready for this:


Here I am post-15 miles. There was woohooing.

There was woo-hooing.

Post-17 miles, when I fumble-fingered the picture. Epic:

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Post-18 miles, when I was a cold, wet, triumphant mess, and I got the dang picture right:

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Post-20 miles. It was 48 degrees and rainy the entire time.

How beautiful are the feet of those who just get the dang run done already. -Isaiah, sort of.


I started the Couch to 5K program three years ago. Before that, I had not run since sixth grade softball, and even then, I ran in short reluctant bursts. I took on C25K not because I wanted to run, or even because I wanted to lose weight or improve general fitness, but because I wanted to hike Mt. Washington in New Hampshire with family and I didn't know how else to train for it in flat suburban Northern Virginia. I made it up the mountain, barely. I made it up despite both of my boots failing and being woefully out of shape. (Running 5K and hiking for several hours aren't the same, go figure.)

I made it up the mountain...


...because the other options were to inconvenience a lot of people by requiring them to rescue me, and lying down to die. I'm enough of a good girl that the former was as unsavory an option as the latter.

I haven't done a hike like that since then. But I still run.

I remember attending Rice University's commencement at the end of my sophomore year, when lots of friends were graduating. I was captivated by the PhD hooding ceremony---all those relieved, resolute scholars, turning to face the audience as a professor draped the doctoral hood over their shoulders.

I knew that would be me someday. I remember thinking about the great human achievements, listing them in my head: Getting a PhD is one. Writing a book. Inventing something. Oh, and running a marathon, I suppose.

Now, getting a PhD is a multi-year process, which makes it much more a test of stamina than a marathon. Still, if you'd told me five years ago that someone would be hanging a marathon medal around my neck rather than an academic hood, I would have been shocked.

But with a little luck, a lot of tunes, proper hydration and no injuries, that will happen on Sunday.

You can do things you think you can't do.


By the way, you can still give to the American Heart Association in celebration of my Disney Marathon run.