I CAN and will GO THE DISTANCE

Hey gang!

     This past November 3rd, I completed my 4th runDisney Half Marathon, and I'd like to share my adventure and experience with you. That sounds like I'm asking permission. Which I'm not. It's happening.
Below you will find my account specifically surrounding the runDisney portion of my most recent trip to Walt Disney World. For a more in depth account of the trip overall, head on over to the Gays Do the D podcast and listen to episode 61. Or don't. Maybe that's not your thing. Live your life. It just might be a little less complete without Gays do the D.

     Friday, 11/1 - 11:30am EST:
     My flight from Minneapolis lands at the Orlando airport. I've checked a bag, using the Disney Magical Express service (which sends your bag directly from the airport to your resort room), so I bypass luggage pickup. I head directly to the All Star Sports resort, check-in, drop off my run gear (I pack all of my running gear in my carry-on, just in case my checked bag gets lost) and head over to ESPN Wide World of Sports for the runDisney Expo. This is where all runners need to check-in for the event, pick up their bib and commemorative shirt...and spend silly amounts of money on merch.
     The expo is a full on extravaganza of all things runDisney. There are multiple photo opportunities with step-and-repeats, selfie-spots, and character photo spots. Disney also gives you many, many, many opportunities to spend money on runDisney branded merchandise. It's very generous of them to do so. You can find branded wine glasses, jackets, shirts, hats, ornaments, headbands, and jewelry. Just to name a bunch. There is also a vendor area where outside vendors and sponsors are happy to help you spend more money on their products. Again...so generous. This can actually be very convenient if you've forgotten or lost an item you need for the run (socks, shoes, water-bottle, headphones, energy gummies or powders). The entire expo is pretty similar from year to year and from event to event, so I didn't spend much time there. I grabbed my bib and shirt, made a sensible purchase of a runDisney Spirit Jersey, and headed back to the resort.

     Sunday, 11/3 - 2:00am EST:
     Yes, you read the date and time stamp above, correctly. No I didn't fall into a coma or get trapped under a rock for a full day. Between Friday night and early Sunday morning, I was in the parks, hanging out with friends and having a casual time. But you'll have to check out GDTD Podcast to hear all about that. In a nutshell, I had food, I had some drinks, I purchased an unnecessary amount of Disney merch and I was in bed early on Saturday night. When the alarm went off at 2am on Sunday, for a hot second I contemplated throwing the clock against the wall or maybe setting the room on fire to avoid heading to the event at this rude hour. But I overcame my irrational rage and got out of bed.      In my opinion the most difficult part of a runDisney event, is the early wake up it requires. Clearly the run itself is no joke, but for me, motivation can make or break my running experience. If my heart isn't in it, then what's the point? Physical fitness?  No thank you. Okay, okay, being healthy is a good goal to have...but I'm in it for the mental stimulation. And lets be clear, 2am is not prime mental clarity time. I can see how it would be VERY easy to just sleep in and let the moment pass you by. This may not be your experience. I'm sure plenty of people can leap out of bed at 2am with a song...I would be interested in slapping those people. Just kidding, just kidding, jk.
     If you are staying at a Disney resort for the event, Disney opens their cafeterias early for the runners. This seems small, but it is a huge deal to be able to grab a bagel and a coffee first thing in the morning. Many people (including this guy) forget to plan a meal or even just a snack in the morning. Disney has your back. It is part of their philosophy that they want to set each runner up for success. Another perk for staying on property is that Disney will provide transportation to and from the run from each of the resorts. I can't think of anything worse than worrying about parking, or when a Lyft will be available for pick-up, while I'm mentally preparing for a long run.

     Sunday, 11/3 - 3:15am EST:
     I board the bus. I've got my running shorts and shirt, (those tend to be necessary) Body Glide on my feet and toes, my toe socks, shoes, and running belt stuffed with a credit card and my ID. Fun fact, I forgot to grab safety pins at the Expo, so I used Gays Do the D promotional buttons to attach my runner's bib to my shirt. I simply can't leave the house without forgetting something. It's just not something that's in the cards for me.
     The bus is filled with a variety of people from all walks of life. All nervous. All excited. All tired as hell. I can overhear conversations between people who have been running for decades (not continuously, that would be exhausting) and people who will be tackling their first half-marathon that morning. People were sharing war stories from previous runs, tips and tricks, and honest moments about being scared. There is something truly lovely and magical about being on a bus full of strangers, who are all there to support each other. I fully knew that if I needed to ask a question or talk to someone, I had a bus full of people eager to engage.

     Sunday, 11/3 - 3:45am EST:
     We all disembark the bus and head to the waiting area, before the holding corrals at the starting line. As soon I stepped off the bus I was greeted by cast members and volunteers, smiling and wishing everyone a good-morning and a successful run. From this moment on, every cast member and volunteer would give me the genuine impression that they were happy I was there, and that they were rooting for me. runDisney provides this feeling like no other.
     The first thing I do, is make a bee-line to grab a picture with my #1 duck, Donald. As people are arriving and waiting for the corrals to open, Disney keeps you occupied with multiple character photo spots and a DJ. It truly feels like a celebration before you even start the run. There's also a tent to purchase coffee, water, fruit and select breakfast sandwiches. There's a place to check your bag, which will then be waiting for you at the finish line. (I don't bring a bag with me...but MANY do.) And there are literally hundreds of portable restrooms available. It's kind of amazing. I've never had to wait longer than 3 or 4 minutes in line to use the restroom prior to a runDisney event. This is NOT the case at most other runs I've been to.
     Once I had taken some photos, chatted with some people I knew were going to be there, had some more coffee and a banana and used one of the hundreds and hundreds of restrooms available to me, it was time to move into my corral.
     Because there are so many runners (just under 13,000 this year) everyone is divided into holding corrals while you wait for your start time. The corrals are listed A through H. The A corral will hold people who are expected to have the fastest finish times. Prior to the event you can submit a previous run time from another event, and depending on your time you will be divided into a corral. I was in corral F. Corrals, F, G and H tend to hold the most people, as there are far fewer people who will qualify for the other corrals...so F is right in the middle of experience and speed...which is right where I prefer to be.

     Sunday, 11/3 - 5:30am EST:
     Let's back up just a few minutes. Just before the first runners begin, Mickey and Minnie come on stage to do the countdown. Mouse that is. Just in case you weren't sure who I was referencing. This moment is always that extra little bit of magic that everyone needs to get them ready for the run. The countdown begins...3...2...1...and fireworks explode in the sky as the first wave of runners are released.  In total, I believe there are around 20 different waves of runners who will begin at different times...each wave starting with a countdown and fireworks, symbolizing that no matter where you are in the pack, everyone there is to be celebrated.
     At around 5:45am, my wave is ready to go. I set my Nike Run Club app to pace out my run...the countdown begins...the fireworks explode, and I'm off! The start of a run is always funny to me. Unless you are in front of the pack to start, you don't actually start moving faster than a mall-walk for at least a few minutes. Your energy is high, your endorphins are spiking, you hear "GO", and....you slowly walk for a few minutes at a casual pace, until the pack spreads out and you can start to run.
     The first few miles are fairly on par with what I'm used to. Mostly running on closed roads, in the dark. There are a few character photo spots, there are people on the side of the road cheering you on.  There are water stations about every 1.5 miles. Everyone is feeling good. At around the 4 mile mark is when you get to the first park, Animal Kingdom. Running through Animal Kingdom is one of my favorite moments of the run. The sun is just barely starting to come up, the park is empty and quiet, and beautiful. You make your way through Africa and into Pandora the World of Avatar...which...in the morning is absolutely breathtaking. The mental juxtaposition of running a half-marathon through a land with floating mountains and waterfalls is very surreal. I fully recommend turning off the music in your headphones for this part, and take it all in...get present and appreciate what you're doing.
     After you leave Animal Kingdom...I won't lie to you...there's a lot of highway running. You still have that Disney feel, with character photo stops, djs, high-school bands playing, and thousands of volunteers ready to give you water, first-aide and moral support. This stretch, for me, is where things get mentally tricky. While there are distractions for you, you are still very aware of moments like, "okay that was 5 miles and I've still got...over 8 miles to go!" There's a certain mix of just zoning out and of taking some emotional and physical assessments that help me get through those middle miles. Around the 6 mile mark, my knee (which had been giving me some issues a few days prior) started to give me a little trouble. I slowed down a little a this point, and started taking more frequent walk breaks. I knew it wasn't anything serious, but I also didn't want to push it. So for the rest of the run, I only did what felt comfortable.
     Finally at mile 10, you get to the next park, Hollywood Studios. Reaching this milestone feels amazing because, A) you've just run 10 miles! B) you're running through Hollywood Studios while it's empty! and C) you only have about 3 miles to go! That last one, is what helps me the most. Though three miles is no joke, if you can mentally get yourself to think...it's just a 5k. In training, I've done tons of 5ks. I CAN DO THIS...then you are golden. I don't have a ton to say about the Hollywood Studios portion. You're in and out of it in less than a mile. It's roughly about 6 mins of time spent there. It's beautiful, but it's very short lived.
     Once you exit that park you run the last path, through the Boardwalk area (which is gorgeous at this time of day, into Epcot. At this point, a lot more people are out and cheering you on from the side. There are people holding up fun signs, and ringing bells. I've even seen people handing out cookies, which is adorable, and potentially frightening. It's an incredibly motivating portion of the run and it makes me cry every time, to see all those people supporting the runners. Strangers, taking time out of their day to motivate you. Well done, humans. Well done.
     The last leg of the race is Epcot. Mile 12. One..more...mile...to...go. The World Showcase in general, is one of my favorite places to be in all of Walt Disney World. Running around The World Showcase, with the torches burning, the music playing and cast members from around the world cheering you on, makes me fully burst into tears. It's overwhelming. It is the best grand finale of a run that I can think of. For me, this moment is worth all the training and the planning. As you round out of the World Showcase and into the finish line, you are greeted by bleachers of people screaming and cheering, and ringing bells. Music is playing, and announcers are reading off names of people as they cross the finish line. Crossing that line for the first time was one of the most rewarding things I had ever done. Crossing the finish line on November 3rd 2019 was still one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. My sense of accomplishment and a rare feeling of self-pride are enough to make me keep coming back to these half-marathons. And of course the bling. Getting that beautiful medal and knowing that you've truly earned it is a moment I wish everyone could have.
     There are so few moments in life when you do something out of the ordinary. When you push yourself to do something that challenges you physically and emotionally. For me it becomes a moment of alignment. A glimpse at what makes me happy and proud and excited to be alive. It gives me a sense of clarity...a realization that there are far too many things that are unimportant, taking up space in my mind and in my life. There are people and relationships and jobs and vices that aren't giving me back, what I'm putting in...and yet they are hard to identify until I am pushed into being emotionally and physically vulnerable.
     Speaking of...after I get my medal, I grabbed my snack box and water that Disney provides, and I slowly wobbled my way to the bus to take me back to the resort. This is another beautiful moment of the experience. On the way back, people are sharing their experience from the run, calling loved ones on the phone, crying and laughing and generally sharing in the joy and the accomplishment of the day. Once I got back to my room, I took a shower and the longest nap in all the land. I made an attempt to hit the parks, with high hopes of staying up late and partying with my fellow runners. However, my legs and knee had other plans. Around 9pm, I knew I was done for the night. I didn't want to risk injuring myself, and frankly I wasn't having a great time anymore. So I headed back to the room and turned in early.
     I felt really good about this decision. The next day, I woke up feeling rested. I met a friend at Epcot and we hung out there for a bit, and went to Magic Kingdom, where I spent my last few hours in the park. Because I listened to my body, I was able to walk around the parks with minimal stiffness in my legs. I was able to enjoy my last day, pain free. And I'm happy to report that my knee is feeling much better...and I'm training again for the January run-Disney Half-Marathon!

     The achievement of completing a long distance run helps me sort things out in my life. And doing it at Disney adds a level of joy that other runs don't provide for me. Documenting my experience with running is beginning to unlock things for me. Like, how to spell the word 'beginning' correctly. But also it's starting to push me to discover how to be comfortable in my mind and body for. I may never be the most rational person in the world, or even in the room...but I'm learning to make decisions that are healthy for me, and to eliminate or remove myself from situations that can be toxic. I may never be the most physically fit, or slim or trim or cut person...but I know that I can wake up tomorrow and run 13.1 miles.
     Thank you, as always, for going on this journey with me. I hope this post, and this blog in general is giving you a glimpse into what I love and value about running and specifically about participating in runDisney events. If nothing else, I hope this helped you to lull yourself to sleep. In which case, you likely aren't reading this last part...unless you are a sleep-reader...in which case, that's pretty awesome.

     Thanks again everyone. I believe in you.

-PK
   
   

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