The sun rose slowly over a vast deserted parking lot, its rays timidly peeking through stoic willow trees whose branches dangled quietly amidst the early morning revelry. Humidity cloaked hundreds of runners as they shuffled along the road, their breath ever so slightly visible in the chill of the morning’s air. Just beyond the incline ahead, a mile marker comes into view: the halfway point.
I couldn’t help but marvel at the striking beauty of the scene before me earlier this month during the Walt Disney World Marathon. My husband and I had just settled into a steady groove following the fantasmic energy and excitement that was running up Main Street USA and through Cinderella Castle to this rare moment of marathon zen just before mile 13. Music and enthusiastic character abound during this annual 26.2 magical jaunt; they give the course life, both literally and figuratively.
Except there-–just beyond the Grand Floridian and parallel to the Magic Kingdom parking lot—and one other spot. A few miles up the road en route to Animal Kingdom sits the Reedy Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. Pockets of fog hovered over the circular clarifiers and, despite our seemingly shitty location, made for an oddly peaceful stretch of running. Even the memory makes me smile at the utter stillness–and absurdity–of it all. There were no cast members, no music, no characters—just a sea of (mostly) costumed runners who’d (mostly) been awake for 7+ hours and all (mostly) seemed to be enjoying themselves as they ran by a wastewater treatment plant in the middle of Central Florida on a Sunday morning.
I’ll be honest—I’m not always this perceptive during races.
Perhaps it was because my reasons for running this race were unique: I was supporting my husband on the final (and longest!) leg of the Dopey Challenge and my focus was on being the best hype-woman I could be (while running nearly 5 miles with a full banana in my pocket, I might add).
Perhaps it was because, while this was my third marathon, it was my first time running the WDW Marathon and this race was at the top of my marathon bucket list. You never forget your first time.
Or perhaps it was because I know Disney World is one of those places where magical-to-you moments are at the core of its being—no matter who or what creates them.
It may have taken us 5 hours and 21 minutes to cover 26.2 miles around Disney World, but I can honestly tell you that it felt much faster than that. Time was irrelevant. We both came away from the marathon tired and a little sore (did I mention my husband was doing the Dopey?) but immensely proud of our accomplishments. It’s amazing what can happen when you shift your goals and focus on…wait for it…just running. No frills, no pressure—just do the damn thing and have as much fun as you can along the way. What a concept.
In mid-December after a very difficult and trying 18 mile training run, I was convinced that this marathon would be my last. Training for a marathon is hard—it’s all-consuming. Add a full time job and grad school to that, plus Covid-positive diagnoses for us both along the way…let’s just say we had a challenging training cycle this fall. Following that 18-miler, which we completed through gritted teeth and pure stubborness, I posted on Instagram that I’d be ok if I never ran another marathon again and if Disney was to be my last one, then so be it (Side note: I don’t consider myself a super emotional person but damn, does marathon training fuck with your psyche on every level).
Not long after crossing the finish line in the Epcot parking lot and receiving my medal, I could feel the smile spreading across my face and thought of how much I loved how I was feeling in that moment—and what fun it would be to do it again someday.