The story of this blog starts just over a year ago when I was cruelly robbed of the Run Disney magic when the 2017 Disneyworld half marathon was cancelled due to the risk of lightning striking runners and marshals as a storm system moved through central Florida. In the end, I ran 13.1 miles around the Disney Port Orleans hotel complex in the pouring rain along with a few other diehards, punctuated every few minutes by rumbles of thunder, and every so often I would see Vicky in a shelter and have a swig of water before squelching on. It didn’t help that the day after, Vicky ran the marathon and subsequently regaled me with stories of how bloody marvellous it was…
Forward to the summer, and I embarked on a training programme to run the Dopey Challenge at the 2018 Disney Marathon weekend, having previously decided that Vicky shouldn’t get all the fun, and certainly having some unfinished business with the Mouse. I found that I was able to increase my long run distance fairly quickly, as I already had legs quite used to half marathons, and although it took some concerted effort to slow my training pace, all went well. I ended up running three 20 mile long runs, two with Vicky doing run/walk and one with Cath Powell where we ran at a slow pace most of the way, stopping for the obligatory Lucozade and crisps at the Spar in Tongwynlais. For two of these runs I had done 5k, 10k and 10 miles in the previous days, so was simulating the kind of running that I was going to have to produce in Florida. By the end of the last long run, I was quite confident that I was going to be able to do it, although unsure about the times for the half and full marathon. That was before Ponty parkrun two weeks before Christmas, where coming off the final bend at the top of the hill, I accelerated towards the finish and then pulled up in pain as my right hamstring went ping.
This was a disaster. Months of training and a $500 non-refundable race entry all up the spout because in a moment of adrenaline my legs outran my brain. A couple of days of heat pads, Smarties*, Deep Heat and compression leggings and things were starting to feel a bit better and a visit to Kath Walker confirmed that it wasn’t too severe and that I might recover in time. I did active recovery exercises every day and just hoped for improvement. The Christmas Day parkrun in Cardiff was the first test, and I was able to run very slowly without pain, but I still fretted that the damage was only partially healed and I could easily make it worse if I did too much too soon. A PRR evening run later in the week where I ran at pace felt better and then a slightly quicker parkrun on the 30th Dec was successfully completed without any pain. New Years Day saw us on the plane and heading to Orlando.
*Smarties = Ibuprofen as any fule kno.
So the morning of the 5k arrived, and all felt as good as it could for a 5:30am start time in the dark and freezing cold. I had Nick Pounder and Mike Gwynne from the Pontypridd Roadents with me in corral A which helped to pass the time while we waited for the start. After the gun a short road section led through the back lot and into the World Showcase at Epcot. I was running slightly faster than target pace and I felt amazing as we entered by Mexico and ran around the lake to the famous sphere at the entrance to the park, exiting back to the race finish in one of the car parks. As I rounded the corner, I could see that the race clock was on 29:30, and stupidly I thought I would try and get under 30 minutes gun time. The burst of acceleration felt fine as I sprinted to the line although as I crossed, the clock was on 30:03, but in the following two hours, my hamstring started to hurt, and all I could think was ‘what an idiot’. Back to Smarties and Deep Heat, praying that it would be better for the 10k the following day.
I ran the 10k in a kind of trance, repeating a mantra to myself ‘don’t be stupid, take it easy’ and although I could feel a dull ache in the back of my right thigh, it all went surprisingly well, and I even felt good enough to stop for a photo with Marie from the Aristocats and another in front of the golf ball. OK, so far so good, but even though we were halfway through the races, we were only 20% through the total distance. I was still seriously worried that my hamstring was going to stop me at some point during the half or the full.
Vicky and I had previously agreed that we would run the two long races together, partly as a way to get me to slow down but mostly so that we could experience the Run Disney magic together, and this was certainly worthwhile the next day at the half marathon, which was the first time I ran up Main Street in the Magic Kingdom towards the castle. It was a truly amazing experience, with everything brightly lit, including the Christmas decorations that were all still up. Absolutely fabulous, and at the pace we were running, I wasn’t feeling Mr Hamstring at all. The run back to Epcot was a little more taxing, with Vicky not feeling well, and me starting to get a little frustrated at the pace which wasn’t allowing me to run comfortably. Still, we made it back to the now familiar golf ball and finish line followed by photos and a cooked breakfast.
Day 4 and the main event. My first marathon. This would be the furthest I had ever run, and even though I was quite confident I could do the distance, I was still bricking it that my hamstring would let me down and I wouldn’t complete the challenge. That was the issue, nothing to do with the distance, but my bloody hamstring. There was still a very dull ache down the back of my right thigh when I touched my toes and I knew that one false move would see me limping along trying to stay ahead of the sweepers. The route for the marathon goes through all four parks as well as ESPN Wide World of Sports and other highlights such as the sewage treatment works and a lot of running on roads that at times have quite a severe camber, making running more difficult.
First up after an hour is the Magic Kingdom, and the same route up Main Street and then back through the castle and out past Thunder Mountain Railroad. It was just as good as the day before, and this time we made sure that we stopped for a few photos, and even Buzz Lightyear having to disappear for a toilet break as we waited for our photo with him couldn’t diminish the joy. Down then to Animal Kingdom, which was a little disappointing – you don’t run through very much of it, and we were early by 8 minutes for the opening of Expedition Everest. I had made up my mind that if it was running when we got there, I was going to ride it, but 8 minutes seemed a lot of time to lose if my hamstring went, and I needed to walk.
Animal Kingdom is half distance, and from there it is a long slog down to ESPN. I think this was my lowest point. I was still anxious that I was going to get injured, I wasn’t comfortable running so much slower than my normal pace, and we were doing walk breaks more frequently than I thought we would. The reality was that Vicky still wasn’t feeling well, and she simply couldn’t do any better. It took a few miles for all this to resolve itself, but as we approached mile 18 and ESPN, I started to cheer up. My leg wasn’t any worse, in fact I was feeling fine. I was hungry and the banana that had been provided at Animal Kingdom seemed a long time ago, but otherwise all was good. I relaxed.
As we passed mile 20 that was on the perimeter track of the main baseball field, I decided that even if my hamstring went, I was still going to complete the race and the challenge, so just go for it. As we ran through the parking lot of ESPN, spectators were having tailgate parties, and offering all sorts of treats. I managed to blag a bag of pretzels and some M&Ms, but sadly no beer, and had a bit of fun with some DJs, trying to get a shout out for PRR. Hollywood Studios park was short but a lot of fun with great crowds and my kilt got a lot of attention from the ladies, and then it was through to Disney Boardwalk before getting back to Epcot for the final two miles around the World Showcase and the finish. A quick discussion with my wife led to a decision to pass on the Margaritas at Mexico as we ran by and we cruised round the rest of the countries, past the gospel choir who didn’t want to high five me and then through to the finish line for three medals – Marathon, Goofy Challenge (half and full marathon) and the Dopey Challenge. As it was the 25th year of the marathon we also received celebratory silver ears!!
Looking back on the race weekend, there was a lot of fun, enjoyment and achievement, tinged with anxiety and pressure brought about by carrying an injury that wouldn’t have happened if I had been more sensible with my 5k runs in the final stages of training. It wasn’t the time to run 24:18 at Porthcawl parkrun at the start of my last simulation, nor to push for the final 200m the following week at Pontypridd that ended with my hamstring crying enough. I’m pleased to have completed a marathon, although the runner in me says that it was more of a 26 mile fun run, and that really I should be aiming for sub 4:30 rather than the 5:47:41 that I actually ran, but I think this is me being my own worst critic as usual. Who knows, if my blood pressure allows, I may enter another marathon…