Monday, January 12, 2015

The Disney Marathon

I was in my assigned corral at 5:30 AM to watch the race start. The Black Eyed Peas pumped up the crowd and fireworks exploded overhead as the wheelchair athletes took off. Three minutes later this was repeated for the elite runners in runner corral A. And then B. And C. D followed. And so on. This went on for an hour. About 6:30 AM, my corral, corral P, the corral with all the first time marathoners and other assorted slow people, reached the starting line. The announcers led us all in rousing renditions of Don't Stop Believing and Let It Go, and then the starting gun went off for the 16th time and the race was on!

A video posted by Angelo Taotaotasi (@sharkdefenders) on

Kevin and Mom, my two superfans, didn't see me as I passed them in the dark. I tried to get their attention, but to them the mass of runners must have looked like the early hours of the zombie apocalypse (funny enough, miles down the road many of the runners looked like zombies).

That was the last I saw of them, god bless their patient souls. They had to leave the house with me at 3 AM and then spent the entire morning sleeping in the car. The only thing Kevin got out of the whole affair was a breakfast sandwich and a photo with me.

When I ran the Richmond half marathon in November I limped away with the goal of running a four hour marathon. My training runs over Christmas told me otherwise, so going into the race my goal was to simply finish. With that said, I thought 10 minute miles was doable. I should also note that until the marathon, my longest run ever was the half marathon, so I was literally going to have to run twice as far as I have ever run (more on my training ups and downs later).

People starting dropping out right away. I saw the first person walking about half a mile in. A mile in, it seemed like half the runners were actually walking. The single lane paved road we were on was not wide enough and those of us still running were forced to weave between the hoards of walkers. So this is why they put the runners in corrals!

I ran on the wet grass to the side of the road. And like that, suddenly I felt like I had to pee.

There were port-o-potties all along the course. The first set came right after the start. Unfortunately the line was 40 runners deep. I was on a mission to finish a marathon, so I wasn't about to stop. Down the road I noticed a lot of the male runners scurrying over to the woods. I had two choices: wait for a toilet and lose time or pee in front of thousands of runners. I decided to keep on running, but with every toilet and secluded tree I considered my options.

At about Mile 2, Captains Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa were the first Disney characters signing autographs and taking selfies along the course. Once upon a time that was my summer job, dressing up in hot costumes in the Magic Kingdom and taking pictures with overly aggressive Brazilians, but I digress. All along the race course characters lined up to take photos with the runners. Meeting them was not my top priority, but it was fun to see all of them.

The marathon course weaves itself across the entire Disney property and goes right through all of the parks, a few hotels, and the sports complex. The sun was just beginning to rise as I passed the 3 mile marker and entered the Magic Kingdom parking lot.

The first group of spectators since the start line greeted us at the Ticket and Transportation Center, which is where the monorail takes you from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom. Marathon fans always carry signs that reference pooping, farting, not wearing underwear, bad parades, and bananas in funny and amusing ways. Disney marathon signs take those classics and mix in some Disney, such as "Is this the 3:00 parade?" I wish I had taken some photos of the signs.

Mile 5, the length of my typical training runs, was right in front of the Contemporary Resort. The course took us through a side entrance of the Magic Kingdom and dumped us right onto Main Street U.S.A.

We took a hard right at the center of the park, ran through Tomorrowland, and up through Fantasyland. It was snowing (Disney snow) as we ran through Cinderella Castle, which has apparently been taken over by Princess Elsa as she was on one of the ramparts waving down to the runners. I stopped in front of the castle stage to have my photo taken, then jogged through Liberty Square, down to Frontier Land, and as I exited the gate where the day parade starts and the night parade ends, I remembered my other life making $6.10/hour as a Disney parade character in college.

I passed the six mile mark at just over an hour, so I was still making great time. Only 20 miles to go. We ran down past the Grand Floridian Hotel and back towards the parking lot and then through a service tunnel that opened onto the Walt Disney World Speedway and Kenny Loggins belting out Danger Zone. Right actor, wrong movie. I stopped for a selfie, and a friendly runner offered to take my photo.

The next couple of miles went through some service areas that I've never seen. On the map it looked like enchanted forest, but it was really water treatment facilities and greenhouses. Of note along this section was the gigantic invisible mental and physical wall at about the 10 mile mark. Up until this point the race had been a breeze. All of a sudden I noticed I was tired. And covered in sweat. And cramping. Thirsty. Also, tired.

Just past mile 12 was the entrance to Disney's Animal Kingdom, where I found a line of runners taking a short break to ride Expedition Everest. It's been over a decade since I've been to this park so I was a little disoriented. I think we came in through Africa, ran over to Asia, and then exited over by Dinoland USA. I kept trying to get a glimpse of the big tree, but somehow missed it.

I missed my split at the halfway point, but after 13 miles my time was 2:14:03, which is a solid 10:20 pace. It's worth pointing out that at this point I was now running my longest distance ever. The finish line was a mere 13.1 miles away -- only as far as I had ever run at one time in my entire life. I didn't understand at the time, but I know now that I was about to endure the most painful experience of my life -- and I've run for political office.

The marching band in the Animal Kingdom parking lot started playing the Avengers theme song as I ran towards them. I'd like to think it was for me.

It started raining at mile 16.

Agony set in at mile 18. Muscles in my legs started to twitch in ways I've never experienced. I tried lifting my knee to my chest and alternatively my heel to my butt, but instead of relief I got protest. Stretching may have made it worse.

I finally peed at mile 19. We ran right by a bathroom and there was no line. Ah, relief.

The rest of the race was a slog. There are days where my typical walking pace is faster than my running was at that point. The spectators helped, though. We entered the Disney Hollywood Studios in the 22nd mile and their encouragement, especially people calling out my name (it was printed on my bib), really helped.

The last two miles went through the Yacht and Beach Club and then entered Epcot behind England. I texted Mom as I crossed into France to let her know I was closing in on the finish. We circled the World Showcase (the long way) and then down through the center of Future World. Mile 26 was by the exit. An entire choir was there -- an entire choir! And then the finish line was right around the corner. It starting raining again as I plucked my way to the end

A video posted by Angelo Taotaotasi (@sharkdefenders) on

I was delirious and don't really remember the home stretch. I know I had my phone out and was filming a video, but everything else was a blur. I must have looked terrible, because the guy at the end asked me if I needed assistance. I asked for a wheelbarrow, and he countered with an offer for a stretcher. I said I'd be fine.

In the finish shoot runners received their medals, then a towel, banana, water, Powerade, commemorative photo shoot, and finally more bananas and a snack box. Mom and Kevin were nowhere to be found, so I staggered over to our prearranged meeting point. They were looking, but didn't see me finish. Kevin saw my video on Instagram and that's how they figured out I was done.

My official time was 5:06:04. Other than the triathlon I ran three years ago, this was my greatest feat of physical endurance ever. The five mile races I ran in college were nowhere near as painful.

My favorite parts of the race were running on the speedway and the baseball field, followed by the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. I also like the idea of being able to say that I ran through all four parks -- RAN -- in a single day.

I probably could have done better, ran a little faster if I had trained longer, but considering where I started I look at this race as a stepping stone on my way to a new chapter in my life. If you remember, only five months ago I was that fat dude.

Then sometime in the middle of August I decided I'd start running again. At the time I couldn't run far or fast, but I would spend an hour on the treadmill even if my pace was a brisk walk. Slowly I was able to increase the speed and before long I started running outside. By the end of September I had lost 20 lbs and could run 9 minute miles.

That's when I decided I wanted to run a marathon. I'm always looking for an excuse to visit my family in Orlando, so I signed up for Disney.

In October I set about making some training goals. I figured if I could run 500 miles in the three months between signing up and race day that I would be able to make a solid showing. The training went so well in October that I signed up for a half marathon on November 15, too.

Long story short, I missed my training goals. I managed to run 300 of the planned 500 miles, most of which occurred in the early weeks of training. I've got plenty of excuses, including work trips to the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Samoa. It also took me longer to physically and mentally recover from the half, plus it was cold outside.

So while I fell short, 300 miles isn't that bad. It's more than 200 miles, and a hell of a lot more than the 0 miles I ran the year before. I think I also ran about 250 miles from August to September, and as a result I'm in much better shape than I was when I started training. Overall I've lost 30 lbs, and I've had to buy all new clothes. My underwear was the first thing that needed replacing. My fat ass stretched out the elastics and they literally fell off when I put them on.

I haven't identified my next race, but I think I want to run the Marine Corp Marathon in DC in November. That's a long ways off and I'll train a proper full 6 months and maybe even try some truly long distance runs on the weekends.

But first I'm going to wait for my blisters to heal.

And if you are interested, I've pasted my mile splits below. The two walls were at miles 10 and 18, and my mile splits mostly reflect that. I've also posted some photos to Facebook of the race. I'm probably going to buy the expensive professional photo package, too, and will post those photos later.

Mile Split Overall
1 9:58 9:58
2 9:27 19:26
3 9:46 29:13
4 9:52 39:05
5 9:43 48:48
6 13:12* 1:02:01
7 8:52 1:10:53
8 9:23 1:20:16
9 10:16 1:30:33
10 9:44 1:40:18
11 10:30 1:50:11
12 12:16** 2:03:04
13 10:58 2:14:03
14 10:30 2:24:33
15 10:57 2:35:31
16 10:57 2:46:28
17 11:09 2:57:38
18 11:21 3:08:59
19 14:12 3:23:12
20 13:12 3:36:25
21 15:03 3:51:29
22 15:01 4:06:30
23 15:26 4:21:57
24 14:42 4:36:39
25 14:34 4:51:13
26 12:37 5:03:51
Stretch 2:13 5:06:04

*Had to stand in line to take my photo in front of the castle.
**Waiting in line to take my photo with the pig.

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