Running the Disney Marathon

Running the Disney Marathon 2010

When I registered for the January 10, 2010 Disney World Marathon, my thought process was that it would be my first marathon since my knee injury (Oct. 2008),  and the flat course would be a good test for my knee. It would give me a chance of qualifying for Boston.  The last time I ran Disney the temperature was in the 60′s at the start and in the 80′s by the finish with 88% humidity.   Little did I know that the temperature for 2010 would be 27 degrees at the start (a record low), and it warmed up to 35 degrees by noon time, which was the coldest temperature ever recorded at Orlando International Airport at noon time.

As a result, there were more obstacles to overcome than most race days.  One poor decision could mean not finishing or ending-up in the medical tent.  The following is a summery of my experience:

The first challenge was what to wear for running clothes.  My last two 20 mile training runs were in similar temperatures, but I had issues with sweating through my upper body base layers and then getting cold chills at the end of the run.  My solution was to wear a light water resistant windbreaker instead of my heavy windbreaker, under that an old long sleeve fleece that I would throw away after 5 or 6 miles, and 2 cool max shirts for a base layer.  For my lower body, I ran in compression shorts with a pair of full length running tights over them, which is what I normally wear in cold temperatures.  Lastly, I ran in my Worcester Fitness winter hat, a pair of thermal gloves (a second pair of lighter gloves in the windbreaker pockets), and a hydration belt that holds two 10 oz. bottles of my sports drink.

Next, I decided to get to the athlete staging area early.  As soon as I got off the bus at the staging area, I notice the 10-15 mph wind, which meant there was a windchill to deal with.  The staging area is simply a large open parking lot with port-a-potties, a medical tent, and baggage tents.  I found a protected spot from the wind near a baggage tent and the generator for the tent, and there was a concrete block to sit on.  I sat and watched all the late arriving runners trying to find a place to hide from the wind and stay warm.

Thankfully the race started on time.  The first 4 miles runs around and then through EPCOT.  The course was congested with runners to the point where I couldn’t see the ground in front of me, and two or three times runners just ahead of me started yelling: “ICE!” because the puddles on the course froze, so the pace was slower than normal.

After leaving EPCOT, the course runs on open highway to Magic Kingdom.  During this stretch, I realized three things:  a) I was so focused on watching my footing that I had not taken in any fluids  b) the pace was so slow that qualifying for Boston was in jeopardy  c) I was getting cold from the wind, which caused my knee to tighten-up a little.  I decided that my hydration was most important and my knee was not ready for a faster pace, so qualifying for Boston was off the table.

At 9.5 miles the course enters Magic Kingdom, and I was back on my normal hydration schedule.  I wasn’t cold from the wind anymore, but my knee was still tight.  As I entered Future World, I decided it was time for a bathroom stop, and I knew where the heated rest rooms were in Future World.  Just before leaving the rest room, the air hand dyer caught my eye.  I hit the button and pulled my knee up to it for 10-15 seconds, and then got back on the course.  The warm air helped loosen up my knee, and my pace improved.

As I left the park for the next long stretch of highway that lead to Animal Kingdom, the knee felt great, but my hands were cold from sweating through my gloves, so I changed gloves.  Up to this point, I had only been using my sports drink from the hydration belt, so I took my first cup of water from a water stop.  I had to take a glove off and scoop a hand full of ice out of the cup so I could drink it without choking on ice.

As I got to Animal Kingdom, I noticed that the sun had finally brought the temperature up (the marathon started in the dark at 5:40 am) and the wind had slowed to about 5 mph.  By the time the course left the park at 15 miles, I was overheating, so it was time to take off and throw away the old fleece.  As I unzipped my windbreaker to do so, I noticed that ice had accumulated on the right arm of the jack from drinking the cups of water with my right hand.  The water resistant material had prevented the water reaching the fleece layer.

As I reached the 18 mile mark before Disney’s Hollywood Studios park, I finished the last of my sports drink, and I was sick of dealing with the ice in the cups from the water stops, so I stopped and filled a bottle with water and ran with it in my bear hands for a mile to melt the ice.  Now my hands were cold from holding the bottle, so I switched back to the thermal gloves.

The last 3-4 miles of the course runs through Disney’s Hollywood Studios and finishes in Epcot next to Spaceship Earth (the big white ball).  During these last miles, my biggest obstacle was the runners around me as they cramp-up and started walking.  I even had one runner claps to the ground right in front of me with one mile to go, and I just barley missed going down with him.  This is when I realized how important my decision was to run with a hydration belt.  I think a lot of runners had trouble taking in the right amount of fluids due to the amount of ice in the water cups, and with the cold temperatures, I think runners were trying to be extra careful not to spill water on themselves, so they were not taking water as often.  With the hydration belt, I didn’t have to worry about any of that and stayed hydrated.

I finished in 3 hours 29 minutes, which is 14 minutes slower than the time I needed for Boston, but I finished feeling strong and healthy.  Overall it was a great challenge, and I was happy with performance.