Suddenly, race morning was here. Woke up at 2:40. Since when did that become a time to wake up and run rather than crawl home and go to bed? Ah, the life of a runner. As I get ready, the calm, cool, collectiveness, and business as usual attitude went completely out the window. I was hit was nausea and painful stomach cramps. As I met up with my running partners I loudly exclaimed that I was going to throw up. Fortunately, I never did, and while the stomach cramps came and went through most of the race, I never needed to make any emergency bathroom trips.
While no snow or sleet appeared like the previous day, race morning temps hovered in the upper 20s. Apparently weather like this is a sign for me - it was 26 degrees in February 2007 when I did my first ever 5K, and again at or near freezing in March 2009 for my first half marathon, complete with slush on the ground. It seems I truly am earning my "Hardcore" nickname. We all huddled together like penguins trying to stay warm in our multiple layers. Whoever invented hand warmers is a genius. They kept me comfortable for quite awhile.
I was fortunate to have many Disney marathon vets with me to help me navigate baggage check, the final porta potties, and make the long trek to the start and find our corral. Once we where there, time flew by. The National Anthem played and fireworks went off. I was happy to discover that we were in the second start wave, as I figured we were in the third and final. This would definitely help give us a buffer against any sweepers, not that I feared they would be a problem for us anyway. We crossed that start line around 5:55am.
A second set of fireworks went off to mark our start and we were on our way, looping around the roads surrounding Epcot before finally entering the park itself. As we ran through, Olympic music was playing over the speakers. We hit World Showcase, where I ditched the knit cap I had on over my running hat (the only one of my "throw aways" I actually gave up), merged with the other part of the course around mile 4, and headed our way towards the Magic Kingdom.
By the time we got to the Magic Kingdom, the sun was up. We had been doing a really strong and steady 15min/mile pace. We successfully avoided starting out too fast, and hoped this would help us stay strong in the later miles. We ran up Main Street and stopped for a quick picture with Buzz Lightyear before finding the bathrooms. Fortunately friends had tipped us off to one just a hop off the course that was near empty the previous day during the half. We were in and out in record time and continued on our way. Cinderella's castle awaited us before we turned back out onto the roads, this time towards Animal Kingdom.
The course narrowed a bit in places here, and it slowed us down slightly was we weaved around slower folks. We hit the half mark in at 3hrs 24min, a bit slower than the 15min pace we had been doing, but still strong. I couldn't believe how quickly the miles were going by. This definitely was in large part to the great company of Annette, Katie, and Margaret.
We had the pleasure of seeing ROTE friends and family members cheering along the course, and got another huge lift at the mile 13 water stop, where many were volunteering. The hugs and smiles kept us going. The water stops themselves became a little tricky as time went on - due to the cold temps and wind, the water and Powerade actually began freezing. You had to squeeze the cup a bit to break it up, and had to be careful how quickly you drank it in order to avoid a brain freeze. We also had to be careful where we stepped, as black ice began to coat the course.
The sites and sounds (I won't get into the smells) of Animal Kindgom were really enjoyable, as I had not been there before. As we entered the park, African drummers were playing. We turned another corner, and there was the tree of life looking over us. Another bathroom stop (aka hydration check), and we were back on our way. Sadly our stay in Animal Kindgom seemed very brief. We were around mile 18 at this point, less than 10 miles to go!
It was somewhere on the highway between Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios (about 4 miles total) that I felt us slowing down, and the aches and pains starting to set in. I knew we'd finish, I knew we'd never see any sweepers, but moving became difficult and painful, especially around mile 21. It's also around this point that a bone chilling wind hit, too. I had not planned on this, and should have worn a long sleeved tech shirt. Fortunately, while I had taken off the long sleeve "throw away" cotton tshirt earlier, I tied it around my waist in case I needed it again. My mittens though had gone into a hamper for ROTErs at the mile 13 water stop. It was getting to be a complete mental game at this point.
We entered Hollywood Studios, the final park. I only remember the first part of this. Somewhere after mile 23 it became a blur. Luckily, I knew what awaited us for these last miles, as it was the same course as the 10K I did in Disney back in October 2008. Not that that made it any easier.
I had tape wrapped on my foot to help support my arch and deal with some planter fasciitis issues I'd been having. This was the only physical worry I had going into the marathon. While the arch itself felt great, the tape began to curl at the edge and attach itself to my sock. It painfully tugged with each step. There was nothing I could do about it though, I wasn't going to stop and I wanted the arch support. My feet began to hurt, too. The running on lots of cement in the parks had taken its toll. My legs began to revolt when we did our transitions from our run to walk intervals. Once I was running, they wanted to keep going, but I wasn't going to leave my partners and our race strategy. We were a team and finishing this together.
Mile 25 and we were back at World Showcase. The end was less than 20 minutes away. I got discouraged seeing people walking around in medals and fresh clothes, clearly they had been done for quite awhile. Katie, Margaret, and I were all very quiet at this point, just mentally pushing ourselves along. Finally, we took one final walk break before deciding to run it in the rest of the way. One more turn and the spectator bleachers and finish line were in sight. We grabbed each others' hands, and suddenly it was all over. Our final time, 7:01:26.
We wrapped up in mylar blankets, got our medals and some refreshments, and quickly retreated to the car in search of warmth. We successfully finished the journey we started together months ago, and one I never could have envisioned doing without them.