Mark Sutcliffe: My Running Life 21.1k, one duck medal

21.1k, one duck medal

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By 8:30 this morning, I was already having my picture taken with Mickey Mouse at an all-you-can-eat buffet, with a half-marathon behind me.

My friend Bob and I rose at 3:30 a.m. at Disney’s Polynesian Resort (Now with extra pineapple!), dressed in the dark, put on our extra layer of discardable Target clothing (gray hoodies and pajama pants — mine red with a snowflake motif, his blue with white wolves). We took the Monorail (Is there a chance the track will bend? Not on your life, my Hindu friend…) to Epcot, and for the next hour and 15 minutes hid from the wind and rain in a small tent where the Disney folks were cleverly selling gloves and hats.

At 5:25, 15 minutes before the start of Wave 1, we figured it was a comfortable time to find Corral A and wait for the race. We walked out of the tent and immediately heard an announcement saying it would take 20 minutes to reach the start line. Oops. A few minutes later we heard the national anthem (I think) and a few minutes after that, as Corral G came into view, we heard the start of the race.

The benefit of chip timing is you can start anytime up until they remove the mats from the start line and not really lose any time (I know someone who slept in and started the Ottawa Marathon 10 minutes late but still qualified for Boston after dodging a few dozen walkers), so we weren’t worried. But we wanted to get going before the next wave. So we ran to the corral, discarding our extra layers along the way, and crossed the start line with the last few runners from A.

Over the next 3k we passed a lot of runners who would have been behind us if not for our tardiness. We ran on the grass and on medians to get around congestion. My biggest surprise about the Disney race was that it was so dark. I guess they run the races super-early to minimize conflicts with theme-park hours and to avoid heat (not an issue this year), but the result is that instead of running in the Florida sunshine (not an issue this year), you’re running on pitch-black roads between theme parks, then briefly darting through Magic Kingdom and turning back toward Epcot.

Despite all the warnings, the weather wasn’t a factor. It was cold and rainy but there was only one stretch, at about 10.5 miles, where I felt the wind head on. 

Our goal was to get in under 1:40 so Bob would qualify for New York. He was running strong and at about 8 miles, I told him to go ahead if I fell behind. At that point, I was having some stomach issues and if you had asked me my chances of making my goal, I would have said 5 per cent. We stayed together until Mile 9 and then Bob started getting a little bit ahead.

I was a bit discouraged, but I started to focus on getting to the each subsequent mile without losing my pace. I got to Mile 10 and then Mile 11 and I started to feel better, well enough that it seemed possible to hit my goal. At the final turn around the Christmas tree in Epcot, I shouted to Bob and followed him in about 40 seconds later. He had a great race and finished in 1:39:11, I came in at 1:39:53.

Considering how I felt at 8 miles, I was pretty happy with that, almost as happy as I was to receive a foil blanket to warm me for the walk back to the Monorail. Oh, and to get my Donald Duck medal. And then, after a quick shower, it was off to the buffet for Mickey-Mouse-shaped waffles.