But now that I have blogged about the training (kind of) and the expo (in detail), it's time to actually talk about the marathon itself.
This marathon had an early start - the first wave started at 5:30 am. The race instructions stated that you needed to be in your corral by 5:00 am or you would not be allowed to run. Since I wanted to have a little something to eat before I left my apartment, and I wanted a good parking spot once I got to Epcot, I knew I needed to leave crazy early. I ended up setting my alarm for 2 am, which was revolting. But it gets worse - I was really anxious and had trouble sleeping, and for some reason, I was wide awake at 1:20 am. So I got an extra early start!
Because there was so much time before I got up and when I was actually going to start running (my wave was set to start at 6:10 am), I knew my typical routine of getting out of bed, taking one Clif Shot gel with some water, getting dressed and getting out the door was not going to work. So a good four hours before the race even started, I was breaking one of the big rules - I was trying something new on race day. I made myself an egg and an English muffin and hoped for the best.
I went through several wardrobe options before I finally settled on a suitable marathon outfit. I had actually gone to Lululemon the day before the marathon (read: Jamie, the nicest boyfriend ever, had taken me because I was having a fit about needing a new marathon outfit) and ended up not actually wearing the outfit that I had bought (Jamie and I aren't talking about it), but of course I was all decked out in Lululemon because I have an obsession. I ended up wearing these crops, which had gotten me through my 22-miler, because I was hoping that they would give my still-slightly-unhappy right knee some extra support. I also wore this top because it's cute, it's not super hot, it protects my skin from the evil chafing seams of my Camelbak, and unlike many of my running tops right now, it doesn't make me feel like a stuffed sausage.
I took the first couple miles VERY slowly. I was trying to avoid going out too fast, and I was trying to gauge how my right knee was going to hold up. Honestly, I was afraid I was not going to be able to finish the race, and I have to admit that I was terrified of that possibility. I really wanted to finish, even if my time was terrible, because I had worked so hard and told everyone for so long that I was running the marathon and I didn't want to give up now.
I had trained for the marathon using a 2:1 interval, where I ran for two minutes and then walked for one minute. I had used that interval for the 17, 20, and 22 miler runs, so I knew I could do it. But when I tried to do that in mile two of the marathon, my knee pain flared up. I dropped down to a 1:1 interval of running for one minute and walking for one minute, and the pain let up. I realized at that point that if I wanted to finish the marathon, I was going to have to throw my pace out the window and just try to keep my knee happy. I was hoping that if I went slow and easy for the first half of the marathon, I might be able to pick it up to the 2:1 interval for the second half. I realize now that this was adorably ignorant, but it was still absolutely the right idea to cut the intervals and throw my time goal out the window.
The first four miles of the course were along Epcot Center Drive and World Drive, which means that they were on boring streets. I don't remember if there were any characters along that stretch because I was mostly focused on my knee and keeping my pace down. But soon we were getting to the Magic Kingdom!
I loved getting to the Magic Kingdom for two reasons - one was that it was fun to be in the park, especially Magic Kingdom, because I knew I was going to get to run through Cinderella's Castle. The second reason is because I saw one of my fellow Cast Members just as I was turning towards the Magic Kingdom. I yelled out her name and she seemed so genuinely excited to see me that I got a little bit of a push to keep going. Running through the Magic Kingdom was way too fun. I know I work there and I've been there a million times, but I have never gotten to run through Cinderella's Castle! I even stopped and had a Cast Member take a picture of me in front of the castle :)
After Animal Kingdom was a tough stretch of parkway. Several miles of tedious running, and it was VERY exposed to the sun. We were past the halfway mark, but I didn't realize how hard it would be for me mentally to get over the fact that at the halfway mark, I still had a half marathon left. That sounds so stupid, but it boggled my mind. I got caught up in the numbers, and by mile 16, much earlier than I had expected, I hit a wall.
I was struggling and crashing hard. The sun was getting to me, the heat was getting to me, and the fact that I still had 10 miles to go was completely overwhelming. In desperation, I texted my mom and Jamie. Both of them sent words of encouragement that helped for a little while, but I was still suffering. One of my friends who was also running the marathon, Michael, texted me at that moment - he had finished already, but wanted to send me some motivation. I texted back that I was crashing and he, too, sent me words of encouragement. I was very grateful to have people sending me kind words, but it just wasn't enough.
That's when I got a great reminder of how awesome fellow runners can be. A man running close by started asking if I was okay... I believe I had just finished an interval and muttered to myself "Oh dear God, I'm going to die" so I can understand why he was concerned. I learned that it was his third Walt Disney World marathon, and he told me to remember that we were in single digits now - we were reaching the 17 mile mark, which meant only 9 more miles. We were done with having double digit miles left. Another man suggested that I get something in my stomach, so I took a few extra Shot Blox and drank some more water.
At mile 17, we entered the Wide World of Sports complex where the expo was held. I hadn't realized that we would be spending 3 miles there, but it was a nice break from the parkway. My favorite part of that stretch was when we were running on the stadium where the Atlanta Braves train. It reminded me of doing the Colorado Rockies Home Run for the Homeless and running in Coors Field. More of my fellow runners were supportive during this stretch - I talked with several women who encouraged and motivated me to keep going. At the end of the Wide World of Sports complex, we had the "mile 20 spectacular" - since it was the 20th anniversary of the marathon, one of the big things happening was a celebration at mile 20. Maybe it was the fact that I was hot, tired, and bitter, but I have to admit that I wasn't super impressed with the mile 20 spectacular. I did get a picture with a crazy big Mike Wazowski, though!
I have to admit that this is where things get a little hazy. I was mostly just trying to keep going. I had dropped even the 1:1 interval and was now running for 30 seconds and then walking for 30 seconds. Sometimes I was walking much more. My legs were fighting me and I was very overheated. I did drink water, but was getting scared that I was drinking too much water. There was one point at which I got a little disoriented and thought I was going to faint. I remember getting to Hollywood Studios at around mile 22ish. There was a water station right when we entered where they were handing out mini chocolate bars as well. I grabbed some and ate two immediately - they tasted fantastic and for about two minutes, they were the best decision ever. Then after about 20 more minutes, they were the worst decision ever. I had not experimented with anything other than Shot Blox during my runs, and I should not have started at mile 23. Luckily, it didn't turn into a huge issue, but it made me very glad that I had also passed on the bananas being handed out earlier.
After Hollywood Studios, we ran along the Boardwalk and by the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts. This was a stretch that I definitely remembered from Wine & Dine, and while I knew we were getting close, I was still struggling. Lucky for me, I have amazing people in my life. As I finished the stretch on the Boardwalk and came up towards Epcot, a familiar face was on the horizon - my friend Michael who had texted me much earlier with encouragement was there. He jumped in and walked with me for a minute with his arm around my shoulder, just talking to me. I still can't believe that he had waited for me after he'd already finished the marathon himself, but he made all the difference in the world for me. And just after he'd left, I came around the corner, got into the World Showcase in Epcot and saw Jamie. He later told me that he'd gotten choked up seeing me come around that corner because he was so proud of me. I was so excited to see him and to be in Epcot because I knew I had almost made it! I wanted to get back to 1:1 intervals, but I knew my legs wouldn't let me, so I stuck to the 30 seconds of running and 30 seconds of walking all through World Showcase and towards the finish line. One awesome surprise came just before the finish line - a whole gospel choir was singing for us! That was easily one of the best things ever.
This point was just about mile 26, which meant that I was SO CLOSE TO THE FINISH LINE! I made a couple turns and then I could see the finish line! I wanted desperately to sprint towards it, but I knew I wouldn't make it, so I just tried to keep trucking. I saw Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse near the end and I won't even lie - I started crying. I ran across the finish line, threw my hands in the air, and then tried to just keep hobbling forward. I got my medal and cried again. It hadn't really sunk in that I had just successfully run the marathon - I mostly just felt tired and hot. I really wanted to lay down. I found Emily, my Weight Watchers buddy, who had ice strapped to her knees. Smart lady, that one. Then I found Jamie, who was incredibly nice and hugged me even though I was sweaty and disgusting, and let me cry onto his shoulder because I was an emotional wreck about having just finished this crazy ordeal. He walked Emily and I to my car so that I could give her a ride back to her hotel, and then I drove home to meet him. And because he's the best boyfriend ever, he came over to my apartment with chocolate milk and donuts.
After icing a little, I let Jamie be a real functional person and I passed out completely for about an hour and a half. Then I ate more donuts, chips, and a massive burrito and passed out again.
My official time was 6:36:40. I really wanted to finish in under 6 hours, but I knew that when I dropped my intervals down, I was going to slow my pace down a lot. Am I disappointed in my time? A little bit. I was really beating myself up for it, but again, I have the best boyfriend of all time and he talked some sense into me. So what if it took me longer than I expected it to? I finished a marathon! It was my first marathon and I finished it with no injuries, no health issues, no real problems at all. I didn't stop at a single medical tent or a single Porta Potty (I avoid them like the plague). I hadn't pooped my pants, I hadn't thrown up, and I was still able to walk afterwards.
So now I am just insanely proud of myself. As my Facebook status said immediately following the event: "I ran a marathon and did not die!" It was a pretty awesome weekend.