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Disney Marathon Race Report - Surviving the Humidity - 3:29:09
South Park Blue Suit
As I lay in bed still recovering from Sunday's Disney marathon, I figure I'd pen the requisite race report. Coming off of a 1:32 half marathon and 40 minute 10k in the past two months, I had been eyeing a performance that squeezed under the Boston qualifier mark (3:10), or at least the Chicago guaranteed entry mark (of 3:15), but things didn't go as planned and I'll have to wait until my next race to reach either.

I'm still not sure what to make of the race, as I didn't do a great job with some elements I could control (pacing, weight), nor did the weather cooperate much. Regardless, my finish time of 3:29:09 was a personal record, knocking about 15 minutes off my Pittsburgh marathon performance from last May, and I finished 221st out of a field of 20,000 finishers who had to deal with the same elements.


Going into the race, my training had peaked at about 60 miles/week, although I had only run two 20-mile training runs vs. my usual 4. Still, my plan involved 2 days/week of speedwork which helped me get faster. From my training, I had been running most runs about 1-1.5 minutes/mile faster at the same heart rate as last year, so I was pretty optimistic about my improving fitness. Unfortunately, despite wanting to get down to 155lb for the race, too many holiday meals with friends reeked havoc on that goal, and by the time I finished my pre-race carb & liquid plan, I was weighing in before the race at 165lb, almost 4lb above my last half marathon & 10K weights.


After finally getting up at 4AM in my hotel room in Orlando from an abbreviated prior night's sleep (due to some football playoff watching), I drove to the course, arriving in the Epcot lot at 4:45, and made it to corral B up front about 20 minutes before the anthem after a 30 minute slow saunter with fellow marathoners.

Having checked the forecast, I noticed that the race morning was supposed to be unseasonably warm (65-70 degrees vs. averages of 50), and pretty humid (95% for the first 2 hours of race), with a light wind. From this forecast and all of my Florida running, I knew I'd needed to adjust my pace, and pay more attention to how I was reacting. Still, I didn't quite know how much, but had mentally erased the possibility of qualifying for Boston, and built a heart rate plan for my garmin watch to help notify me if I was pushing too hard. According to weather data, at the actual start, it was 70 degrees with 99% humidity. Luckily, it didn't get warmer as the race progressed, and although it didn't rain, by the last hour, the humidity had dropped to 95%.

The start

When my corral (B) was released 2 minutes after the first around 5:30AM, I took off for my 26.5 mile trek through the happiest place on earth. Despite having cruised to a 7:00/mile pace at a 170 heart rate (90% of my max) at my half marathon in November, after a few minutes of slogging through the 99% humidity, I found that the same level of exertion was leaving me at a 7:40 pace by the end of my first mile. It was at that point I decided against my better judgement to just try to hold on and hope that I'd magically become more fit and would be able to sustain that pace for 26.2 miles. For reference, I ran the first half of my prior marathon (Pittsburgh from May 2015) at 160 BPM and completed it with even splits and a barely sustainable pace by the end.

Mile 1 - 7:38, avg HR 160 BPM (started at 60, crept up to 170)

Miles 2-6 - Road to the Magical Kingdom

Although the marathon wound its way through all 5 parks (Disney, Animal Kingdom, Wild World of Sports, Hollywood Studios, then Epcot), surprisingly about 2/3 of the mileage is just on roads between each park, as the parks themselves are relatively compact. As a result, it was roughly mile 5 by the time I entered the Magic Kingdom. I didn't do too much passing as Disney is pretty good with corral management, but I noticed that my shirt was drenched by the mile 3 marker from the humid air and my heart rate at my continued pace wasn't going down. Still, like the first 6 miles of any marathon, they felt pretty easy so I decided against pulling back on my 7:40/mile pace.

Once I reached the magic kingdom a bit after 6AM, my bib got me in the door without needing pay $120 for a 1 day pass, and I wove for about a mile through the illuminated park, including the middle of the well lit iconic Sleeping Beauty castle while resisting the opportunity to jump off course for pictures with all of the characters cheering us on.

2 - 7:34 169 HR
3 - 7:44 167 HR
4 - 7:44 169 HR
5 - 7:38 171 HR
6 - 7:33 172 HR

Miles 7-11 - Back on the road

By mile 7, we were back out of the park, heading down to the Animal Kingdom along the winding roads. Still, the organizers were nice enough to put in more character photo opportunities along the way and a quick chat with a fellow runner revealed a potential training buddy who lives about 2 miles from me. The pace still felt pretty easy at that point, but I noticed I was working a touch harder. The sun finally made its way up around mile 10, as we wound our way through a few steeply banked roads and highway exits towards Animal Kingdom.

7 - 7:40 170 HR
8 - 7:35 170 HR
9 - 7:49 168 HR
10 - 7:34 170 HR
11 - 7:27 172 HR

Miles 12-16 - Animal Kingdom and Beyond

Upon being greeted at the back entry to Animal Kingdom by a bunch of roadside sheep on leashes around mile 12, we entered the park, and did a very short tour up and down a few small artificial rolling grades. Unfortunately, as I was focused on running the tangents along the small rolling grades and narrow turns, I didn't observe a single animal despite the obvious odor.

It was probably around this point that I noticed I was straddling the level of effort where I get side stitch/stomach area cramps, compounded by my ingestion of gu gels every 3-4 miles.

As we exited the park after half a mile, I passed the half-marathon marker feeling ok, crossing it at a 1:40:25 split, but definitely wasn't as fresh as I had felt at my prior marathon's halfway mark in May.

As I continued down the inter-park highway towards the wide world of sports along miles 13-16 the dreaded mid/late marathon sensation kicked in as time passed much more slowly, and my legs started getting sore. Still, I pushed at the same pace knowing what was coming up even though I was reaching my lactic threshold heart rate.

12 - 7:29 173 HR
13 - 7:42 172 HR
14 - 7:32 173 HR
15 - 7:38 173 HR
16 - 7:45 174 HR

Miles 17-20 - Wide World of Sports

I'm not sure how to best describe the Wide World of Sports complex other than that it is filled with sports fields, tracks, lots of baseball training diamonds (Braves sprint training/minor leagues), and a great baseball stadium. The path wove us through all of it, as we finally got to do a reasonable chunk of non-road running both around a track, around the baseball stadium field (with a grandstand filled with bands & fans) and along the facility. Although the crowd support here was great, it was in this complex of athleticism that I started to get punished for my too-fast start.

I managed to hold my pace for mile 17, but it slowly crept up to an 8 minute/mile at mile 18, which I was able to hold on to for three miles. Still, at this point, although I didn't muscularly bonk, my energy output just wasn't getting me as far, and as I exited the park back onto the road at mile 20, I noticed I was running out of gas with 10K of racing to go. Also, at this point, I must have stopped running the tangents as well, as the mile markers seemed to instantly move further and further away from where my watch said they should be.

17 - 7:48 172 HR
18 - 8:00 172 HR
19 - 7:58 173 HR
20 - 8:07 172 HR

Final Fight - Hollywood Studios and Epcot - Miles 21-26

It was around mile 21, that back on the intra-park highways my body started revolting, as I was both running out of steam, my legs started tensing up, and the daylight started to take its toll on my body. As the pain settled in, my body just couldn't maintain its pace, and I had to fight like crazy to keep up an 8:30 pace as I wound through Hollywood Studios then the final mile through Epcot. Unlike my last marathon where I had enough in the tank to sustain my pace as my heart rate creeped up to 95% of its max over my last few miles, I just ran out of steam and started to crash here. Still, I was getting closer to the end, and survived these miles without totally blowing up as I passed a bunch of faster runners who were cramping up and walking their last few miles.

As the finish line snuck up on me as I wound through the end of epcot, I pushed my last 1/2 mile at an 8 pace, and paid the price as my legs totally gave out after crossing the finish. I managed to waive off 4 different medical personnel who came up to help at various points as I hobbled through the chute back to the meeting point, during which muscles in my legs cramped up that I didn't know existed. Luckily, I found a place to sit for a few minutes, then met up with a neighbor who drove me home in my car, and I've been spending the rest of the day in bed recovering.

21 - 8:30 170 HR
22 - 8:31 168 HR
23 - 8:31 168 HR
24 - 8:37 166 HR
25 - 8:46 167 HR
26 - 8:39 168 HR
26.48 - 7:51 172 HR

Total time: 3:29:09, 7:54/mile (watch), 7:59/mile (official - dividing by 26.2 miles)
Finish: 221/19,838 overall, 190/9,523 males, 36/1,637 in men 35-39

All in all, Disney wasn't a bad marathon as I didn't completely blow up in the end, I PRed by 15 minutes, but I definitely learned where not to over-push my pacing, and probably suffered much more than I needed to given the result. If I want to make it down to 3:13 to qualify for Boston after I move to the 40-44 age group in October, I think the 16 minutes can realistically be saved with a cooler race (as last year's 221st place finisher was 12 minutes faster), smarter pacing, a few more 20 mile training runs, and a few more pounds off my mid-section.

Overall, the crowd support was OK, and it was nice running in a full marathon with 20,000 participants, but the park rules & layout led to some pretty long stretches without support, and the course was more oriented towards runners who wanted to pose for pictures with their favorite Disney characters.

Next races:
Ironman 70.3 Florida - April
Pittsburgh Marathon - May
Ironman 70.3 Augusta - September
Ironman Florida - November