After a year of training, my husband was finally ready for the big event — the 2011 Walt Disney World Marathon. It’s been a long, arduous year of training, with long runs through the sweltering Florida summer and 20-mile training runs during freezing temperatures during our recent cold snap.
But other than a few week period where he had to rest after tearing his calf muscle during a pick-up soccer game (his triumphant return to the game of his youth began and ended that day), DadJovi has been very committed to his training.
He’s had a couple half-marathons to warm up, one in Daytona Beach on Halloween and the OUC Half Marathon in Orlando in early December.
So he went into Sunday feeling really good, well-trained and with one goal in mind — qualifying for Boston. Hey, I didn’t say it was a small goal.
He left the house at about 4 a.m. to head out to Disney for his 5:35 a.m. start (as if running 26.2 miles isn’t torture enough, they wake these masochistic runners up in the middle of the night?!).
My plan was to try and catch him as he left Animal Kingdom at mile 18, then head to Epcot for the finish. I knew I wanted to be in place at AK by 7:30 if we wanted to see him. So I grabbed E. out of her bed (I had dressed her the night before) and headed straight to the car with her, hoping she’d stay asleep since it was 6:20 a.m. No luck. She was up and slightly confused why we were up before the sun. “Is it wake-up time Mommy? Why is it dark?” I had no good explanation, other than to blame Mickey.
We headed toward Animal Kingdom, and Disney thwarted our plans — all the main roads into AK were closed because it was part of the course. I knew I didn’t have enough time to try and get off the main roads and manaveur my way back there, so we just headed for Epcot. Some of us still weren’t ready to be out of bed.
I thought we could use our season passes to get into Epcot and watch him run around the countries where it would be less crowded than the finish line. Wrong again. No one was allowed in before 9. Where’s the magic, Disney??
Since we were so early (it was about 7:30 by this point), we got a great spot right up against the railings where we could see the runners as they made their final approach toward the finish line. We even had some entertainment: a gospel choir.
Again, some of us were dreaming of our bed and wondering what we had done wrong to be punished like this.
— At Mile 5 in 00:37:05. Pace: 7:25
— At Mile 10 in 01:14:36. Pace: 7:27.6
— At Half in 01:39:26. Pace: 7:35:11. Predicted 3:18:52
That meant he should be crossing by us around 8:53. In the meantime, we made friends with the people around us and even got to see the winners cross the finish line. The top man finished in a ridiculous 2:21:15. E. got really excited when we saw the female winner, who was dressed as Tinker Bell! I tweeted her to tell her how magical she made the race for E., who, as you may recall, is a Tink fanatic. @RunLeah was sweet enough to tweet back — on race night! — with a thank you.
As we started seeing finishers cross the line, I was starting to get nervous that I hadn’t received a text update since Mile 13. Surely he should be to the next marker. I wasn’t sure what that would be, but I was guessing Mile 20. I was concerned, but again, considering how strong his first 13 seemed to be going, I just thought maybe the updates were done.
But then I looked down at my phone around 8:25 and saw that I had missed a call at 8:22 — from an unknown Canadian number. Uh oh. And there was a voicemail. Double uh oh.
“Hey, it’s me. I had to stop the race. Come get me as soon as you can at the All-Star Resort McDonald’s.”
Oh, eff. So, I said good-bye to our new friends and gave up our prime real estate to some of the vultures eager race fans behind us.
We started the long trek to our car. Oh crap. I missed another call. This time from an unknown Tampa number. And another voicemail. It said pretty much the same thing, but with more urgency. This time, I called the number back and thankfully a very nice woman answered the phone and went back into the McDonald’s so I could talk to DadJovi. He didn’t want to talk about it — he just wanted me there. Like 5 minutes ago.
After a lot of walking and a lot of traffic, we finally made our way to the McDonald’s — only there was nowhere to park because it was packed with race spectators. After circling 5 (yes, 5!) times, I finally did something I’d normally never do — I pulled into a handicap space, locked E. in the car and ran to the door and yelled to my husband, who was across the restaurant. When I saw his face, I instantly saw his pain and disappointment.
He hobbled to the car and turned the heat on full blast. He told me that around mile 16 he started getting really bad leg cramps. He kept trying to run them out, but they were getting worse. So he tried walking for awhile, but he got so cold (since he had shed all his outer layers and temperatures were still in the 40s) he started shivering and couldn’t stop. The poor thing said all he was trying to do was make it to Mile 18 where he thought he’d see us waiting. When we weren’t there, he said he just lost it. A mile later, he saw the Golden Arches and knew he couldn’t go on.
He described staggering in and instantly being surrounded by people. They bought him sodas and offered him food and a lot of encouragement. He said one couple in particular sat with him for a while and told him that they knew he could finish.
So he asked me what I thought he should do. I know him and I knew that he had trained too hard and too long to quit. At this point, he was only 6 (well 6.2) miles from the finish. After his months and months of 6, 7, 12, 18, and 20-mile runs, I KNEW he could do it. After a lot of thought (and some quality time with a full-blast heater) he decided that yes, he did want to finish.
He climbed out of the car and back up the long hill to the course.
As he climbed, the spectators started to cheer for him, shouting “You can do it!” and “Way to go! Keep going!” It was, well, awesome. It was one of the most determined and courageous things I’ve ever seen him do, and I was so proud of his will to just finish. He knew his Boston dreams were dashed and that his time would be nowhere near where he wanted it to be. But he wanted to finish what he started.
So, once again, E. and I made our way back to the finish line. This time, it was much more packed.
And some of us STILL weren’t happy to be out in the cold. Instead we found interesting ways to play with our Go Daddy sign:
I really had no idea what kind of pace he would keep up for the rest of the race, so I scanned the face of each man in black shorts and white shirt (gee, there weren’t that many of them) until we finally spotted him. I missed taking a picture because E. and I were too busy waving at him and cheering as loudly as we could in the crowd. I could see his eyes scanning the crowd but unfortunately he never saw us.
Luckily, the Disney cameras saw him (a note to Disney: please don’t yell at me for swiping the pic. We just haven’t gotten around to buying them yet, and it’s too great not to share):
He ended up finishing it in 4:42:10, a 10:45 pace. Unfreakinbelieavable. Afterwards, we calculated that he lost about 50 minutes due to his McD’s run and a later stop at a medic’s tent so they could work on his legs when they started to cramp again at Mile 22.
It took awhile, but we finally caught up to him in the parking lot and found him like this:
I have no idea how he did it, but DadJovi walked around Epcot for about 3 hours (well, there was a lot of sleeping and there may or may not have been a small catnap in a dark corner of the Living Seas) until it was time for our reservations at Le Cellier in Canada.
So, that was the race. As a running newbie, I can’t imagine ever training for and FINISHING such a grueling event. I’m so proud of DadJovi and I was so inspired I’ve even signed up for my very first race — the Princess 5K at Disney next month. I have a friend who’s already signed up for it, so I figured the peer pressure would do me good. Besides, by this point, E. won’t believe it’s an actual race unless Disney characters are involved.
It’s time to get off the couch!