Date & Time: Sunday, January 8, 2023 at 5 a.m.
At last we come to the final race of Walt Disney World’s 2023 runDisney Marathon Weekend – the marathon itself.
Because so many runners do the Goofy Challenge (the half marathon and full marathon – 39.3 total miles) or the Dopey Challenge (the 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon – 48.6 total miles), runDisney’s Marathon Weekend might be the only time when you’ll hear someone saying they’re “just” running a full marathon.
While I’m not sure exactly how many people ran the full this year, it’s usually somewhere in the range of 20,000-25,000 people – and we’d heard that about 8,000 of those runners were doing it as a part of Dopey this year. So likely upwards of a third of the runners at this year’s marathon were doing it as a final race of their Dopey Challenge. This alone might have explained some of the incredible energy on the course. We’d all been in the metaphorical trenches for a while with each other at this point.
This year was the 30th anniversary of the runDisney marathon and the 10th anniversary of the Dopey Challenge. There were 59 runners at this year’s race that have done every single one of those marathons. Can you even imagine? Absolutely incredible.
Buses started running from the resorts at 2:30 a.m. and I had a feeling there’d be some good characters in the stage area pre-race (the character lists were sort of floating around online), so I was aiming to get to the EPCOT parking lot by around that time. And I certainly wasn’t the only person with that plan, because people were pouring in right along with me – but everything worked out just fine.
The pre-race characters were Esme trading with Clopin, Aladdin trading with Jasmine, Hercules trading with Meg, and Tarzan trading with Jane.
Before the race we met Meg (my #1 priority – love her) and Clopin (so cool to see him!!).
After the long walk to corrals, and a beautiful performance of the National Anthem, we got moving. Even from the start, it was almost 10 degrees warmer than it had been on Saturday. I dropped my jacket after less than 2 miles – and eventually tossed even my gloves, which I’d kept in my pants pocket well into the race for fear of being stuck with frozen fingers like I had been the morning before at the half.
From just a practical crowd control and race organization perspective, this race was really well done. Several characters were stacked in the first mile or two – and most of them were repeats from prior races that weekend. So you effectively separated out the people doing just the marathon who prioritized meet and greets from the start, thinning the crowd a bit. In the meantime, people running Dopey, who probably all wanted to get their sore muscles warmed up for a bit, could move on.
Also there were some places where the course doubled back on itself, so you had people running in both directions on either side of a road at various points and separated only by orange cones. Along those sections, I noticed that if there were porta-potties on one side of the road, there were also portapotties on the other side of the road. Similarly with water stops. In other words, they never made it necessary for you to cross the line for anything – likely eliminating some confusion…and any temptation to try to cut the course.
There were also a ton of characters along the way but a surprisingly large number of them were repeats from the 5K, 10K, or half. While I know this bothered some people, I’ll admit to being absolutely fine with it. While I’m generally never trying to PR at a runDisney event, after taking my time and enjoying the 5K, 10K and half marathon, I had no desire to be on that marathon course for much longer than I needed to be.
Also, on more personal front, I’d finished the half feeling great *except* that my left knee, which had been a little off since the Space Coast full marathon after Thanksgiving, had started to act up again. When my alarm went off at 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, I limped out of bed. But once I got moving and my knee had warmed up, I was more or less okay – so long as I KEPT moving. Every time I stopped for a character or anything else, it hurt all over again. So I was picking my meet & greets and other opportunities to stop along the way very carefully.
All in all, I ended up doing 14 character stops along the way (more than I realized once I went back and counted!) in addition to having said hello to Meg and Clopin before the race – Sebastian, Esmeralda, Flick & Atta, Oogie Boogie, Pooh & Piglet, Monterey Jack, Launchpad, Jack Sparrow, Beast, Woody & Bo Peep, Buzz & Jackie, Rafiki, Goofy & Max, and (of course!!) Dopey. Most of what I skipped were repeats or characters that aren’t particularly rare on a normal day.
This is also why, after about 40 miles together, I finally parted ways with my friend Michael – with whom I’d done the entire Dopey challenge up until we entered Disney’s Animal Kingdom during the full, at around mile 16-17. I knew I wanted a quick bathroom stop and Michael wanted to ride Expedition Everest. I was SO tempted to ride but didn’t want to do anything that might ruin my knee for the rest of the race – so I hit the bathroom and he went on to Everest, thinking we’d catch each other after. But at that point we were sort of in our own heads and fell into our own rhythms, with Michael opting for intervals and me opting for a steady-moving, comfortably paced run that kept me from stiffening up. So we wished each other luck and found each other again at the end!!
This is why I think it’s so important to run with someone who meshes well with your running style. Some people love to run in large groups – some people prefer a single running partner or to get lost in their own thoughts or music. Somewhere along the way, especially during a full marathon, it’s going to get really important that the people that you’re with accept you for whatever you prefer and it’s going to get really important that you do the same for them.
And on that note, I want to thank the incredible people that cheered along the way. Hearing your cheers was everything!! And seeing not only my amazing running team but also my own family on the course was so so special – at that point we were close to mile 25 and it was just the final push I needed to get me over the finish line.
I was very happy to be doing that on the early side, too, because temps were rising quickly. I know the race got very hot for many of you that were on the course until early afternoon – kudos for getting it done with that sun beating down on you!!
* * * * * * * * * *
I also don’t want to end this without acknowledging that this race was really special to me for more reasons that I made public (or even really discussed privately) before or during it. If you’ve been reading here for a long time, you know that I started running to deal with life when my father got sick. When I was 35 years old, 4 months after having my youngest son, my father was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and – while I could write a book about those 10 months of my life – suffice for now to say that I started running because I didn’t know what else to do. Running was the only thing that got me equal parts through my thoughts and away from them.
We lost him the next year and I just kept running and I still am today because I still haven’t found a better tool, for me, to keep doing life the way that I want to do life.
On January 8, 2023, the day of the full, my dad would have turned 75. And this isn’t the post to dive too deeply into where my head is with all of that (that will come soon, I promise) – but I do just want to acknowledge that I have no doubt that he was on the course with me. When I tell you I was limping when I woke up Sunday morning… I was limping when I woke up on Sunday morning. It was SO aggravating because I otherwise felt totally fine. I’d been watching my sleep and nutrition really carefully all weekend and was well trained even if the Space Coast full had disrupted my usual pre-Dopey training schedule. I had no muscle soreness. My exhaustion was manageable. I was decently hydrated. We’d even been really good about keeping our salt levels high enough all weekend. But my left knee was shot – and no matter how good you feel, it sucks to run a marathon on a shot knee.
I know I ran a smart race. It was stopping that was causing it to act up, so I minimized stops and just moved slow and steady when it got rougher. But I also know that I asked my dad, before we started running, to help me out if he had any pull up there on his big birthday. And I know that he came through. I know that there’s no way I would have been tearing through the last few miles at a killer pace with no knee pain if he hadn’t been there. I know I wouldn’t have seen nearly as much good as I did that day. And so, while you probably aren’t here to read this personal of an account…my dad deserved a shout out here before I closed this out.
* * * * * * * * * *
If you ran this weekend, I hope you had the most wonderful time. It really was a special set of races, and I’m so glad that you got to be out there. It was so great meeting so many of you!!
And so, until next time, cheers to another Dopey in the books.
* * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * *
If you’re missing home (or love someone who is) and are looking for a way to bring the magic home, I’d love for you to check out my Core Memory collection right HERE. And as always, stay safe and be kind, my friend.