By: Trey Brush
Since 2007 I have been lucky enough to only miss the Disney Marathon Weekend twice. I have had a lot of people over the years ask me my favorite marathon and the answer is always really easy. There are others I have not done and I hope to do so soon, but by far, Disney is always my favorite. There are a few things that you have to accept and there are big reasons why that is my answer. In a marathon, I like a good crowd. I don’t really enjoy small marathons. When I am hurting, I like company. I also like distractions during the race. Disney does an amazing job of giving you plenty to look at.
Understand that Disney does throw some things at you that you need to learn to accept. It is crowded, it is early, the weather is unpredictable and because you are in Disney you will probably have put some miles on your legs before the race.
Let’s dive into race week.
I arrived for the expo on Thursday afternoon. It seemed to be a really good time to arrive. I heard that on Wednesday it had been a madhouse so I was thankful for what we experienced. A big change this year that I noticed was more room to get around in the Expo. This year they moved some vendors into different areas of the ESPN sports complex and they used that opportunity to free up space in the main area of the expo. The feel of the expo was much different from the past. It seemed gone were many of the booths with races, some of the products you are used to seeing. It just felt much different. I actually enjoyed not feeling so cramped and we probably spent more time in the expo than we have before. I am sure others might have a different view but I liked what they did.
Let’s jump to race day.
The day before the marathon I got up with my family to cheer on runners and my parents in the 13.1. In fact I was up at 2:20AM! Yep, you read that right. That did pay off quite nicely the next night as it made getting to sleep the night before my marathon very easy. I was up at 2:30am and getting ready for all 26.2 miles. The night before, I packed and laid out everything. I do mean everything and I even had my number attached to my outfit. I don’t trust my brain at 2:30am so I do it all the night before. With the race not starting until 5:30AM, I do like to eat something about 3 hours before the race. I threw down a protein bar and we were off to the Epcot parking lot. We always get there early just to set my mind at ease. Some people hate getting some place and waiting, but I hate not being there. It gives me a chance to relax and rest before we get going. Honestly it was no time at all and I was out of the car to head to the start area. They assemble you in an area that is about a 20 minute walk from the start line.
By the time I made the walk and did a little warm up it was 5:05 and I decided to hop in my corral. I was in Corral B and we would be just 3-4 minutes behind Corral A. It always humors me in the morning listening to the Emcee’s. They do an amazing job, but each year they come up on stage and give us runners a hard time for not acting like we are at a rock concert when they try to get us to make some noise. It is 5:00 in the morning guys! Not only that, depending on your pace we have 3-6 hours of hard work in front of us. So excuse us not for screaming!
The start of the race is pretty amazing. After the National Anthem, they let the wheelchair division go and then Corral A. Each time a corral goes they set off fireworks and it does get you pretty amped up! As we took off you really have to be smart and not go crazy. I saw plenty of crazies who think they need to dodge and weave their way to the front. I am pretty certain this is a marathon. It is not a 13.1, it is not the 10k, it is not the 5K nor is it a 100 meter race. You have to be patient.I have been coached time and time again to make those first 3-5 miles very conservative. I really had it pounded into me ahead of time.
I thought it would be a good idea to divide up the race into sections. I try to do that when I run so I thought I would do it again here. I do 5 miles at a time until I have 6.2 miles to go. It is a race of 5 segments. My goal for the race was to be somewhere in the 3:20-3:25 range for the finish. I would try to stay somewhere in between the 3:15 and the 3:25 pace group and see what happened late in the race. I felt like my training set me up perfectly to run this race.
My goal in this first 5 miles was just a tick under 40 minutes. I thought I started out really smart. You start out first on Epcot Drive and before you know it a mile is done. I wish all miles went as fast as the first 1. You pass some good crowds and a marching band. You end up taking a right onto World Drive and this is a nice long stretch on this road. You hit mile 2 and your next landmark is the entrance to the Magic Kingdom parking lot and that gets you 3 miles into the race. As you pass the entrance you take a left next to the speedway which you will be back to visit soon enough. You now begin your trek through the Magic Kingdom parking lot.
Next is probably one of my favorite places on the course. It is the TTC (Ticket and Transportation Center). There is always a nice size crowd and some really solid cheering during this area. You have to watch your pace, I always tend to fly through here. Right after you pass the TTC you hit mile 4. This is a tricky section because it gets dark really quick through here. I started just after 5:30 so it gives me almost 2 hours before sunrise. You run down a hill and back up passing under a waterway and then the Contemporary Resort and you hit mile marker #5.
I felt really good and executed just what I wanted.
Mile 1- 7:59 Mile 2- 7:42 Mile 3-7:35 Mile 4- 7:34 Mile 5- 7:43
This next mile is probably the mile we all run this race for. After you pass the contemporary you take a left to head to the Magic Kingdom. You take a right and another left and find yourself backstage. When you glance to your right you can see the top part of the castle lit up in all of its glory. Straight ahead of you, are the crowds of people screaming for you as you enter onto Main Street. You come in the park on the right hand side of Main Street and take a quick right and straight ahead of you is the castle. It feels like the crowd is about 8-10 deep. All I know is that it is loud and pretty emotional. At the end of Main Street you take a right into Tomorrowland and work your way through Fantasyland and back through the front of the castle. You then head through Liberty Square and Frontierland going straight to exit the park backstage. Before you know it, the Magic Kingdom is gone. You exit the park and take a left on Grand Floridian Way (Cone Alley).
You then head towards the Grand Floridian and Polynesian Resorts. This is another very dark section so mind your footing through here. This also is a very tight area on the course. You pass mile 7 and as you approach mile 8 you are almost to the speedway. There is a cruel trick to enter the speedway. There is a very steep downhill and uphill to enter inside. Once inside this is an awesome mile. They have classic car and muscle cars parked on the race track as you make your way around. You pass mile 9 inside the speedway. After you exit the track, you run across the grass and head towards the Animal Kingdom on Bear Island Rd. Bear Island is a road that many runners struggle with because there is not much to see on this road. Unfortunately there is something to smell. However, it was not bad this year. Soon after getting on Bear Island you pass mile 10.
I still felt great and I am happy with my execution to this point.
Mile 6- 7:51 Mile 7- 7:47 Mile 8- 7:43 Mile 9- 7:45 Mile 10- 7:39
Your concentration at this point is getting to the Animal Kingdom. You realize just how far you have to go once you understand you still have 3 theme parks to run through as well as the ESPN sports complex. You hit miles 11 and 12 before you get inside the Animal Kingdom. You enter into a backstage area of the Animal Kingdom. You eventually enter in the back of the park around the Kali River Rapids ride and take a left towards Expedition Everest roller coaster. You go straight through Dino-Land and you begin to exit the park as you hit the 13.1 mark in the race. You exit out of a side backstage and run by the front entrance of the park into the parking lot. As you exit the parking lot you arrive at mile 14 and get a chance to see Mickey on the right hand side.
You now go to another tough section of the race on Osceola Parkway. The sun is up at this point and with about 12 miles to go this part is tough. One of my highlights is on this section when you pass the grave diggers from the haunted mansion. Better look alive! You must go over an overpass before you hit mile 15.
I still feel good during this section but I made my first mistake. I ate calories that I don’t usually try. I have never eaten a banana during training and I ate a banana at mile 12. I wished I had not soon after doing so. A second mistake I made was overreacted to a pace group that was quick. The 3:25 pace group caught me, but I later realized they were 2 minutes ahead of pace. I spent miles 13 and 14 going a tad quicker than I should have.
Mile 11-7:40 Mile 12-7:49 Mile 13-7:31 Mile 14-7:30 Mile 15- 7:49
As you start this fourth segment you continue down Osceola Parkway. There are some DJ’s, guys jumping on trampolines and others trying to distract you from the task at hand. You hit mile 16 on Osceola Parkway and you also start seeing some of the leaders of the race, realizing just how fast some of them are. You eventually take a right hand turn onto Victory Way and you head towards the ESPN sports complex. It was during this section I saw the first 4 female leaders. It was a very tight race at the time. You take a right hand turn to enter into the complex, run by soccer fields, football fields and baseball fields. We even took a lap on a nice soft track! Right after that we hit mile 18. Also through the complex you run through the Atlanta Braves spring training baseball stadium. Before you know it you run through the parking lot where you picked up your packet and pass mile 19. Mile 20 is back out on Victory Way.
Things have taken a turn for yours truly. Not a good turn. Another poor decision I made was in training I tried all sorts of nutrition options but I never finalized it and stuck with it. At mile 17 I took in some calories and it hit me right on the spot. At this point my stomach went south and it would never recover. During this time I was passed by the 3:25 pace group and began to lose hope in just getting to the finish line.
Mile 16- 7:53 Mile 17- 7:47 Mile 18- 8:09 Mile 19- 8:03 Mile 20- 9:24
After you leave the ESPN complex you get some air back in your balloon as you begin to see runners 3-5 miles behind you and you are just glad that is not where you are at. After you leave, you take a left back onto Osceola Parkway. You soon hit mile 21 before you take a hill to get back onto World Drive and run towards Hollywood Studios. You get a chance to salute a green army man and you better look good as he might make you drop and give him 20. Not good at mile 21! You take a short trek onto World Drive and exit right back off after you hit mile 22. Next, you take a couple of right hand turns and enter backstage into Hollywood studios. Run in the shadow of the Tower of Terror and through the studios passing mile 23 and straight through the middle of the park, taking a left and exiting out of the park.
After you exit you go straight ahead and you take the walkway alongside the waterway that goes to the Boardwalk area. After an overpass you reach mile 24. You head towards the Boardwalk area and make a turn towards the Swan and Dolphin making a right across the bridge and get closer as you pass by the Yacht Club and Beach Club resorts. As you approach the backstage area of Epcot and enter into the park you have a couple of insulting hills before you get to mile 25! You hit mile 25 around France and try to knock off one country at a time. It felt like they added a few countries since the last time I visited! That was a long mile!
The race has turned from thriving with confidence to just trying to make it to the finish line for me. As my stomach made a turn for the worst the last time I took in calories was at mile 17. That would doom me if nothing else would.
Mile 21- 8:17 Mile 22- 8:20 Mile 23- 8:41
At this point I still felt like I had held it in the road but I knew the lack of calories would catch up with me eventually.
And, here we go.
Mile 24- 10:14 Mile 25- 10:04
As we passed one country at a time I was digging as deep as I could. I had one more goal I was hoping for. I would miss the 3:20-3:25. I had shifted to hopes of getting in under 3:30 and I knew that was gone as well. My previous PR was 3:37 and I just wanted to press on and I knew I could make that.
After passing the countries, I would take a right hand turn towards Spaceship Earth and turn to the right once I got there to head to a backstage area. After a couple of turns you find yourself running into the Epcot Parking lot towards the finish line.
Finish lines are fantastic, a marathon finish line is unlike anything I know. It does not take long into a race to remember that anytime you get to the finish line of a marathon it is something to celebrate regardless of the expectations. As I crossed the line my time would be 3:33:45. It was good enough for me.
Even when crossing the finish line of 26.2 for the 16th time it is amazing to me that the emotions are still there. It is also amazing to me the silly mistakes I make along the way. I am hoping to get those corrected for #17 and another shot at that time. It has been an absolute blast talking and writing about the Disney Marathon weekend for the past 20+ weeks. I hope you have enjoyed following along as much as I have enjoyed talking about the experience. And when April gets here, don’t delay as it fills up quick! I hope to see you there in January of 2016.
Trey is a runner and coach with a desire to help create change in others. He lost 80 pounds on his journey from a watcher in life to a doer. His passion for running and creating change led him from the couch to marathons and ultramarathons. He is a husband and the father of 2 boys living in Jefferson GA. You can follow Trey on twitter @RunOnPurpose