The Magic of My Marathon

My first marathon was the hardest thing I've ever done, but running the race through the four parks of Walt Disney World with my mom made the pain worth it.

As I posed between Sadness and Joy from Disney’s Inside Out at mile 20, I thought about the irony of taking a photograph with these two characters. The emotions from the movie were the same emotions I felt during the race. I felt sadness from the shooting pain in my knee that started around mile 18, the dehydration, and extreme exhaustion. But, I also felt an overwhelming amount of joy knowing that the finish line was 6.2 miles away. The camera shuttered, and I continued running.

When I read 10:47 a.m. was my estimated finish time, the marathon started to feel real.

At 2:45 a.m. I stumbled out of bed after sleeping less than four hours. As I shuffled around the hotel room looking for my running gear, my mom, who was already wide awake and dressed, told me to hurry. After a few panic attacks over missing items and Band-Aids that didn’t fit around our toes, we boarded the shuttle to the starting line of the 2017 Walt Disney World Marathon.

Although it was 3:15 a.m., the runners chatted about the morning’s 30-degree weather and compared the coldest temperatures they trained in. Some dressed as princesses with tutus and tiaras and another couple dressed as the Incredibles. I only sported a Minnie headband over my visor to show my Disney spirit. My mom and I sat quietly eating our protein bars, denying that we were being bussed to the race we spent four months training for.

At 5:15 a.m. we prepared to leave our tent for the cold by dressing in trash bags, which apparently protect runners from the wind. My mom wore one trash bag as a poncho and another as a skirt.

Volunteers herded the runners down a dark path surrounded by trees to the starting line, which was fifteen minutes away. I mumbled that I felt like the volunteers were bringing us somewhere to be slaughtered. But, once we reached the starting area, that’s when the “Disney magic” began. Music blared and Mickey Mouse called our corral and counted, “five, four, three, two, one,” as fireworks shot off. My mom kissed my forehead and we began the marathon.

At the first mile, high school bands played music. My headphones only played music out of one ear bud, but I was too occupied with my surroundings to care. Runners shed their extra layers littering the ground. I dodged most of the old sweatshirts and foil HeatSheets, but stumbled over a few items.

The sun started to rise around mile five as I entered Magic Kingdom. Lights adorned the shops on Main Street and fans crowded the sidewalks. Runners slowed down to take pictures when Cinderella’s castle appeared. The lights covering the castle illuminated dawn’s faint blue sky in the background.

While running through the park, one man cheered me on as he ran next to me. We high-fived each other and began talking. He explained how he was competing in the Dopey Challenge, which is a 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon within four days. We wished each other luck, and I ran ahead.

After being on a high while running through Magic Kingdom, the race became more taxing. I got mixed into the run/walk program, which is when runners travel in a pack with a guide telling them when to run and walk. They only run for about a minute at a time so they stop without warning. My mom and I stumbled into a few of them and fought our way out of their pack.

Once we reached Animal Kingdom, we completed half of the marathon. My friend texted me a picture of my race updates that were being sent to her phone. The update listed my start time, 10-mile time and projected finish time. When I read 10:47 a.m. was my estimated finish time, the marathon started to feel real. I realized I was on my way to finishing a marathon, and by 11 a.m. I’d be devouring brunch.

The next few miles seemed to slip by until mile 16. While there were water and Gatorade stops at every mile, I couldn’t drink enough water. My legs started feeling heavier and I couldn’t move them as fast. My mom began to slip away, but she waited at the water stations for me. We began taking selfies at the mile markers to document our progress. The markers became something I looked forward to because I knew the distance to the finish line was one mile less at each stop.

At mile 18, we entered Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The course led us to a track and baseball field. While we ran around the bases, announcers called runners’ names and cheered them on. “Suzanne Quigley from Massachusetts is with us today,” boomed from the speakers. While rounding the bases, we completed mile 20. I started to tear up because I felt so many different emotions: I was overwhelmed, I was in pain and I was proud. We stopped to take a picture with Inside Out’s Sadness and Joy, which described my own emotions, and then ran out of the sports complex.

Most of the course was flat until mile 22 when we were forced to run up an on-ramp on our way to Hollywood Studios. I put my head down to avoid looking at the hill until I heard someone screaming at people. “Hey, you in the blue shirt! Run faster! Don’t stop!” A Toy Story army man screamed at the runners while running next to them to push them harder. 

I didn’t have much left in me so I fell to a slow jog. I let my mom go ahead. My knee throbbed, but I couldn’t stop or else I wouldn’t start running again. I trotted to Hollywood Studios, where volunteers greeted runners with chocolate for some extra caffeine at mile 23. I saw the friend I had made in Magic Kingdom who was completing the Dopey Challenge. He was still energetic and cheering for the surrounding runners. Another wave of emotion came, and I forced myself to stop the tears.

At mile 25, I reached Epcot: the last park. I had nothing left to give. After what seemed much longer than a mile, I could see the finish line. Some runners ran through the finish line holding beer. But, I ran through the finish line sobbing with my hands thrown in the air. My mom was waiting for me at the end, and we received our medals together. Although I could barely walk, I limped back to our hotel, stopping at the bakery to order a brownie while my mom ordered margaritas at the drink hut.

Disney Marathon Results

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