26 weeks from yesterday, the 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon will get underway at 5:30am. I’ll foolishly or triumphantly be among the participants. Our shared goal: Run 26.2 miles through the four theme parks and the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex without collapsing from heat exhaustion.
I can still recall watching the Boston marathon runners along Comm. Ave. in my freshman year at Boston College. Obviously, it’s just another excuse for college kids to drink (non-alcoholic beverages, of course, I was only 18), but I couldn’t help taking a moment of clarity to scoff at anyone who would willingly subject his or her body to such torture for bragging rights. I was a little shit of a kid. Thousands of athletic, strong-willed people passed by and my only answer was derision. I’ve come a long way.
Disney bills their marathon as “The most magical race on Earth.” The starting line is on the road outside of Epcot. The route starts north towards Magic Kingdom. Parts of Miles 6 and 7 are inside the park. You pass the main entrance, down Main Street USA, turn right into Tomorrowland, swing around to Fantasyland, through Cinderella’s Castle, then out a side exit near Frontierland. The route then turns back south for the longest stretch between park encounters. During Mile 13, the race enters the rear of Animal Kingdom, ventures past Africa, through Asia and Dinoland USA, then exits the main entrance and begins heading east towards Wide World of Sports. This is the second long lull of the race, but also prefaces what I’m expecting to be the most motivating section.
The Wide World of Sports Complex hosts major collegiate, amateur and professional events. It’s also the Spring Training home of the Atlanta Braves. I’ve never been, but photos reveal a sprawling expanse packed with pitches and fields. The circuitous route hits miles 18, 19 and 20 all inside its confines. A highlight is doing a lap around Champion Stadium, where the Braves play.
At Mile 23, the race enters Disney’s Hollywood Studios through the side entrance, doing a loop past most attractions and then exiting out the front. From here to the finish, the route never leaves major guest walkways, so I’m counting on the familiarity to keep me moving. There is a lakeside path between the Studios and Epcot area resorts, which is a little over a mile. Then comes the comforting visages of the Swan, Dolphin, Yacht and Beach Club resorts, as well as the Disney Boardwalk. We’ll reach the 25 Mile marker just inside Epcot’s International Gateway, journey past every country in the World Showcase, hit the 26 Mile marker in the shadow of Spaceship Earth, then it’s just two tenths of a mile to paydirt just outside the park’s main entrance.
The appeal of Disney for the first marathon attempt, as I’ve tried to describe, is always having that next magical landmark to reach. My Disney fandom might just propel me to finish the feat I mocked ten years ago. The beacon of Epcot, my favorite park and Spaceship Earth, my favorite ride, can’t be overstated. Armed with this (and a little bit of training), I finally believe I can complete this thing.
There are varying opinions on how long to train, especially for a first marathon. Having run fairly consistently for a year, a four month plan would probably suit me fine. I’m electing to do six, however, so I can feel confident in my level of fitness prior to the race. And so the half year commitment begins today. Weeks and weeks of long runs to look forward to, all culminating in a breathless finish outside the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow..
Wish me luck.