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You're going to do WHAT!? Starting down the Road to the WDW Marathon

You're going to do WHAT!? Starting down the Road to the WDW Marathon

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I think it started the first time I saw The Medallion. My fiancee and I were on vacation at Walt Disney World last January. And -- as we walked back to our room -- I saw an average looking couple both wearing what looked like a really cool pin lanyard. I'd just gotten into pin trading, so I had to go up to have a closer look. It turned out that they weren't wearing lanyards, but ribbons with a large medallion in the shape of the head of a certain famous Mouse.

We started talking. And I learned that they got the medals they were wearing for finishing the Walt Disney World Marathon, which they had run earlier that day. They told me about how fun it had been, and how they planned on doing it again next year.

The thing that struck me was that these folks didn't look like the kind of people I would have thought of as marathon runners. The couple was older and in average physical shape -- not young and impossibly thin, like I was sure all marathoners had to be. Yet they'd run a marathon, and the proof was hanging around their necks.

My fiancee thanked them for putting up with my stares and my annoying questions, and I remember thinking to myself that it'd be really neat be to run a marathon. Yep, I'd definitely have to do that ... someday. Hey, honey, a piece of chocolate cake sounds good. Let's go to the food court!

Skip ahead a couple of months. I was taking a break at work catching up on the latest Disney dish on the Internet when I saw a link to a page on the Walt Disney World website. Registration was now open for the 2004 WDW Marathon, the website said. But I'd have to hurry , because there were only a limited number of slots.

I mentioned seeing the website to a friend of mine who had just finished running the Los Angeles Marathon. She said it sounded like a lot of fun, and that I should sign up. It was tempting, but I couldn't see myself running a marathon... Or could I?

I talked about it later that day with my beloved fiancée. Telling her how much fun running a marathon sounded and how I would like to do it, but that I was sure that I could never run a marathon because... Well, for a whole laundry list of reasons. After listening to me come up with every excuse for not running a marathon except the moon being out of alignment with Mars, my fiancee said something to me that started me down a road I never really expected to be on. "Look, you're interested in doing it," she said. "You should either sign up for it or you should stop taking about it." (Looking back, I think she was probably hoping that I'd chicken out and be quiet. Funny how these things work out, isn't it?)

I had an epiphany. As usual, my fiancee was right. I could spend the rest of my life making excuses. Or I could put the excuses aside and give it a try. I might fail or I might even succeed, but either way I wouldn't spend the rest of my life wondering. It was at that moment I decided I was done making excuses. I registered for the Walt Disney World Marathon a few hours later.

Why WDW?
At this point, I imagine some of you are asking yourselves: Why the Walt Disney World Marathon? What is it about this event that would compel a (supposedly) sane person who had never gone farther than five miles at a stretch without the aid of wheels to sign up to run 26.2 miles?

Well, first off, it's held at Walt Disney World. Specifically, on a course that takes you all over the property, including all four theme parks. Some of you out there have probably traveled around WDW on your vacation and wondered to yourself what it'd be like to go around the Disney property on your own and have a good look around. Well, participants in the Walt Disney World Marathon get to do just that.

How could a certified Disney geek pass up on the opportunity to literally walk around the World?

The Walt Disney World Marathon has a reputation that makes it less intimidating than other such events. The WDW Marathon has a reputation as a "fun" event. Most people don't run in the WDW Marathon to set a world record or with the goal of beating the running shorts off as many of their fellow competitors as possible. But because they get to run in a fun and exciting place with very supportive and enthusiastic people (and more than a few Disney characters) cheering them on all the way. The course is relatively flat, except for a few roadway bridges, and is held in nice weather (in January, during central Florida's not-so-humid season).

The main thing you have to worry about if you want to complete the marathon is, well, you. Finally, everyone who finishes the WDW Marathon gets the previously mentioned Mickey medallion - not just the top finishers or even just the top finishers in each category, which is the case at some events. Add all that up and you have a lot of incentives for the first-time marathoner to give the WDW Marathon a try.

I'm Registered -- Now What?
It wasn't long after I registered that some slight doubts began to creep into my mind. Well, let's be honest -- they weren't slight at all. HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?, I thought to myself. YOU'RE NOT A MARATHONER! YOU DON'T EVEN LIKE TO RUN!!!

Now, I had to admit the doubter in my mind had a point here. If the couple with the medallions didn't fit my image of people who ran the marathon, I certainly didn't. I'm 34, overweight (but losing it gradually), and although I do more than reach for the remote and a bag of Doritos as exercise, I wasn't in anything close to peak physical condition. And I don't much like to run -- I prefer to walk, although I can and I do walk pretty fast when I exercise.

I decided that I was going to walk the marathon, since I enjoyed walking more than running anyway. But that still left a burning question - how in the heck was I going to walk 26.2 miles? The two things I knew I had in my favor were time to prepare and a strong desire to participate, but I was surely going to need more than that. I decided that if I was serious about this, I'd better learn about how to prepare for a marathon.

There are a lot of books on running the marathon and running in general at a typical chain bookstore. Most of the books on the marathon lean toward runners who have run for quite some time and are looking to improve their performance. These books weren't going to do me much good -- my idea of the best performance that I could achieve in the marathon was finishing and/or not dying in the process.

Fortunately, this is when I became acquainted with the books of John Bingham. For those of you that haven't heard of him, John was an overweight couch potato who had long forgotten the joy of running until at 43, he decided to start running again. When he saw himself running one day, he decided he looked round, small, and slow, and didn't so much run as waddle. In other words, like a penguin. But he kept going, and eventually, after a few misadventures and a lot of running mixed with equal parts determination and courage, John "The Penguin" Bingham ran and completed several marathons and numerous road races.

John's a great believer in the idea that anyone can learn to enjoy running as something that enhances your life. And anyone can become a long-distance athlete if they have the courage, tenacity, willpower, and the knowledge to succeed. I read John's story in his book "The Courage to Start" and I saw myself in his running shoes. After reading his story, I knew that my dream wasn't an impossible one. Armed with this book and another book he wrote with Jenny Hadfield called "Marathoning for Mortals," a training guide for the average person who wants to become a long-distance athlete, I felt that I had the knowledge I would need to prepare for the WDW Marathon.

Let's Go Shopping!
Now that I felt I had what I needed to prepare mentally for the Marathon, now I had to get a few things to become physically prepared. If (like me) your experience with walking and running has been minimal, you'd think that you wouldn't need much in the way of clothing and gear to take up running and walking. Just throw on an old T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants and you're all set, right? Well, not exactly.

First off, unless you want to get hurt, you're not going to walk or run a marathon in that ratty old pair of sneakers you have in the closet. You need to find a running shoe that will help you run more efficiently and will prevent injuries. That means looking at a lot of shoes, hopefully with the help of someone that knows about running and running shoes, until you find the pair you need. And -- trust me -- when you find them, they aren't gonna be cheap.

In my case, they cost about $90. Easily the most I ever paid for a pair of sneakers. After I had the shoes, I noticed that the shorts I walked in were getting way too baggy. I decided I needed shorts that had a good fit and that were made of material that was cooler and easier to move in. I found 2 great pairs of running shorts - for $15-20 each.

Once you start going any distance at a good pace, you start noticing that it doesn't take long for you become drenched in sweat. The reason for that is cotton, which most t-shirts are made out of, absorbs moisture. Shirts and shorts drenched in sweat get really uncomfortable after 4 miles. So there's no way you'll be comfortable walking or running in them for 26.

Fortunately, there are shirts and socks made of material that material that breathes better than cotton and doesn't suck up sweat like a sponge. Unfortunately -- say it with me now, folks -- they don't come cheap. Add $25 for a shirt and $4-$8 for each pair of socks.

Now you 're dressed like a runner, which is good until you realize that most running clothes don't have much storage space. There's a pocket in most running shorts that's just about big enough to carry a little spare change or one key. And that isn't going to work after you step out the door, never mind for a long walk or run.

The solution for this problem is a runner's pack -- back to the sporting goods store, everybody, and have $15 -$20 in your pocket! Then there are other things that, as you continue and you get more serious about running or walking you think would be nice to have. Like heart monitors, pedometers, speed distance monitors... Okay, so maybe running and walking isn't all that inexpensive a sport after all. At least I'm not spending as much as the average person who takes up golf!

How To Injure Yourself In One Easy Lesson
Having the knowledge, a plan, and the gear to become a marathoner was all very well and good. But all the stuff in the world wasn't going to get me any closer to the starting line of the WDW Marathon if I didn't get my feet involved at some point.

Fortunately, I wasn't going into this cold. As part of my efforts to lose weight, I'd been walking for almost a year and a half, and by the time I registered for the WDW Marathon, I was walking 4 1/2 miles a day, 5 days a week on a treadmill. I figured that was be a good start. But marathons aren't held on treadmills. I needed to get out on the pavement as soon as possible and start to do walk and jog. So I knew I could walk fast enough and be in good enough shape to cross the finish line.

On a beautiful Saturday morning, I decided to go for a long walk /run (more than an hour) at the beach. Even though all I had done until then was walk on a treadmill, and I'd never gone for more than an hour. In deciding to do this, I ignored two very important facts:

1. Walking and running on roads is much more punishing to your body than running on a treadmill.

2. Wherever you're walking and running, it's never a good idea to force your body to do a lot more than it's used to doing.

I walked and ran for more than an hour and felt great - for about fifteen minutes. Then I noticed my knees getting sore. Really sore. No problem, I thought; an ice pack and some ibuprofen, and tomorrow I'll be good as new.

Except that the next day, I wasn't good as new. My knees were even more sore. Still not a problem, I thought. I'll rest for a couple of days like the book says to, and then I'll be good as new.

Six days later, I was walking around slower and more cautiously than the senior citizens I work with at the office. And my knees were as sore as they had been at the start. I finally went to see the doctor, and he said that I'd hurt the cartilage between my knees and lower legs.

Thanks to my ignorance and my over-eagerness, I was unable to exercise for three weeks, and I was taking pain medication that made me positively loopy for several hours a day. It frustrated me to watch the days until the Marathon ticking away knowing that I'd lost precious time that I could have spent preparing. (I never thought I'd see the day that I'd be upset that I couldn't exercise!)

The Road to WDW Detours Through LA
John Lennon sang that "life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." So it was with me. I'd been keeping up my walking schedule and regularly reviewing my training books when I got a bit of bad news from my fiancee. Thanks to some issues with her family that had called her away to Oregon and some financial problems that had suddenly come up, there was no way she would be able to come with me to Florida in January.

I couldn't see going to WDW and not having the person I love more than anyone in the world and my source of inspiration for trying this whole crazy thing there to share it with me. So -- after some soul searching -- I cancelled my registration for the 2004 Walt Disney World Marathon.

But I wasn't about to give up my dream of doing a marathon, or of eventually running around the World. I decided that I'd just have to find a race that was closer, so my fiancee could be there when I crossed the finish line.

After (hopefully) completing this first marathon, I could start preparing for the 2005 WDW Marathon -- which I would now be automatically registered for by canceling my 2004 race registration far enough in advance. But what race would I run?

Fortunately, my marathon-running friend at work came through for me. "Hey, Paul," she said one day, "I'm part of a group in town that has a training program for the Los Angeles Marathon, and they'll be starting up soon. Why don't you join me?" Next thing I knew, I was signed up with a group called the Ventura Roadrunners, and I was registered to participate in the LA Marathon.

Granted, this change of plans was going to mean that it'd take me a little while longer to get my Mickey medallion. But overall, it made sense. I'd have a group of people to train with and to support me and I'd be in a race that was close to home. And the change of venues for my first marathon would be an advantage in another respect.

You see, the Walt Disney World marathon requires you to complete the course at no slower a pace 16 minutes per mile, so you finish in 7 hours or less. If it doesn't look like you're going to make it, you're taken off the course. And if you don't finish, no Mickey medallion.

I was getting more and more nervous about this possibility, since at my walking pace at that time, I had little girls on tricycles passing me. The LA Marathon doesn't have a time cutoff -- you finish when you finish -- so it's probably a better race for a rookie marathoner like me anyway. (A minor gripe here: Why does a race where people mainly run for the fun of it like the WDW Marathon have a strict time cutoff anyway? Are they afraid there'll still be someone running through Epcot at midnight on race day? But I digress.)

Every Day Is a Winding Road
So, that brings me to here and now. I'm in my third week of training with the Ventura Roadrunners (maybe I should call myself a RoadWALKER). I've got 25 more weeks of training until I get to the starting line of the Los Angeles Marathon, and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that I make it there and make it to the finish line as well.

No matter what happens at Los Angeles, I'm going to keep training and keep trying, and in January 2005, I'm going to be at the starting line of the Walt Disney World Marathon, and I'm determined that the end of that day, I'll have a Mickey medallion and a big smile on my face because I'll have done something that I once thought I'd never be able to do.

Over the next 15 months, I'll be telling you about my experiences, and in January 2005, I'll tell you about what it's like to participate in the Walt Disney World Marathon.

Join me on my journey, won't you? I have to warn you, though. There will be some walking involved.

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