race recap: 2011 Walt Disney World Half Marathon

On Saturday, January 8th, 2011, I did something that I would have thought to be impossible a decade ago. Very early that morning, I ran my first 13.1 mile race: the 2011 Walt Disney World Half Marathon. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

3:10AM: First alarm goes off. UGH.

3:15AM: Second alarm goes off with the wake up phone call from the hotel. This was the first thought that came to mind:

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You know it’s early when I can’t spell “coffee” correctly.

Put coffee on. Showered. Dressed. Gathered everything and worried about what I was forgetting.

3:55AM: Left our hotel room for the main lobby area of the Port Orleans resort on the Disney campus.

3:58AM: Meet Angelic and Mary from the Arthritis Foundation’s Joints in Motion team in the hotel lobby. Quick check in with them, along with getting some needed extra encouragement.

4:00AM: Jump on bus for Epcot parking lot and checked out my Twitter feed:

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4:20AM: Made myself eat first banana. Wasn’t nauseous, just wasn’t hungry. I knew I needed it though.

4:40AM: Get off of bus, but not before a quick “check in”:

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After tracking down some safety pins, the hubby insisted in a pre-race photo. I insisted on trying not to freak out – you can tell by the forced smile on my face:

Remember: I’m a freeze baby. It was probably around 45 degrees when we took this photo. I’ve got on:

  • Lululemon stir up pants – don’t judge. I love those damn pants, stirrups and all.
  • Puma crew socks
  • Nike long sleeve dri-fit top
  • Joints in Motion singlet
  • Joints in Motion zip up hoodie
  • random Nike sweatshirt
  • random pair of gloves
  • Summit Athletic Running Club hat – gotta represent NEOhio right!

4:45AM: Said goodbye to Hans, wishing him luck on his own spectating journey. Before entering the area restricted for runners, I hit up the port-a-potties for restroom break one. Since I only got down 1/2 a cup of coffee before the race, this probably could have waited.

5:00AM: Start the walk to the corrals with 27,000 of my closest friends.

5:15AM: On the 1/2 mile walk to the corrals, my stomach started grumbling for fuel. Ate second banana.

5:20AM: Restroom break two – just in case. I’m pretty sure Disney rented every port-a-potty in the entire state of Florida.

5:30AM: Found my way to my corral: Corral E. There were nine total: the wheelchair start was scheduled first, then corrals A through H.

5:30AM: THE OFFICIAL START OF THE 2011 WALT DISNEY WORLD HALF MARATHON. Wheelchair participants start with fireworks abound!

5:35AM: Corral A starts. More fireworks.

(picture source: @DisneySports on twitter)

As corrals continue to start, there was more of me getting nervous while stretching out my legs in every way possible. I noticed that I was close to the Clif Bar 2:45 pace team member. He was holding a stick that had several white and red balloons attached to it. I quickly named him “Balloon Man”. You’ll see why later.

6:00AM: As Disney donated any dumped clothing during the race, I purposefully got rid of my extra sweatshirt. At the same time, I accidently got rid of my gloves. Luckily, I was okay with cold fingers for a bit.

6:07AM: CORRAL E START! We were supposed to start at 5:59AM. Whatever.

Mile 1: I started my Garmin as I crossed the starting line. My legs didn’t feel heavy like in previous races. Instead, they felt tight. I took an early walk break to shake them out a bit, then got into my “plan”: run three-tenths of a mile, then walk one-tenth of a mile. Remember: fail to plan, plan to fail. That wasn’t going to happen today.

Mile 2: As I crossed the first mile marker, I was feeling good – nicely warmed up and getting into a groove. I quickly was amused by the amount of people stopping to take photos with the Disney characters along the path. This amusement would continue throughout the race.

Mile 3: At the beginning of this mile, I took off my hoodie and wrapped it around my waist. As I had my fueling plan in place, I ate two cranberry-apple Gu Chomps at mile 3.5. Note: this flavor has caffeine. Probably a good choice for a 6:00AM race. We started to enter the early areas of the Magic Kingdom in this section. As I tried to snap some photos, I realized it was a lost cause and planned to get rid of it quick.

Mile 4: As he had he own path to follow, I was expecting to see Hans early on in this mile. Unfortunately, I saw him on the opposite side of the road than planned. After I darted over four car lanes of traffic, yelling “SORRY!” numerous times, I yelled to Hans, “take these – I gotta go!” and dropped my camera during my handoff of it and my Joints in Motion hoodie. No worries – the camera was fine!

Mile 5: We were solidly in the Magic Kingdom by this point. Unfortunately, the “Balloon Man” was solidly on my tail at this point as well. As my first goal was to “finish strong”, I was really hoping for a 2:30 time. That wasn’t going to happen if I was hanging out with “balloon man”, so it was time to make my move.

As we entered Main Street, the spectators were on the left side sidewalk and the majority of runners stayed in the street. This left the right side sidewalk wide open so I took advantage. I booked it down Main Street and suddenly found myself at Cinderella’s castle. I thought about stopping for a formal photo in front of the castle, but kept moving when I saw the line was easily 40 people long.

Mile 6: Out of the castle, we were taken “backstage” and then onto a back road area to get us back to the main highway to run back to Epcot. I remember seeing a pirate ship with a bunch of characters from The Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as Mary Poppins in this stretch. Otherwise, I remember it being a one-lane road with too many runners crammed on it. I was surprised I managed to keep running at a decent clip.

Mile 7: Back on the fueling plan: as I started to eat two Gu Chomps at the beginning of mile seven, I saw a familiar neon green hoodie. Turns out it was my running coach Mary. As I was fueling and hydrating, we walked a bit together. She got the text updates with my splits, noting I was right on pace. We chatted for about a quarter of a mile before she headed back towards the castle to find more Joints in Motion racers.

Shortly after leaving Mary, I found Hans, who was placed a bit earlier than our planned 8 mile marker meetup. As I yelled “I love you”, he snapped a few photos:

After running by Hans, I started seeing signs being held by friends of the American Liver Foundation race participants. I quickly thought of my friend Rachael – the Events Manager of the foundation for the Cleveland area. THEN I SAW RACHAEL! We both freaked out when we saw each other – it was such a surprise to see yet another friendly face!

Mile 8: ..and then that’s when things got interesting. An achy feeling turned into pain as both my ankles started screaming at me. It felt like someone put a pain wrap around the outsides of my ankles from the joint up about a 1/3 of my leg. I focused on my race mantra: STICK WITH THE PLAN. FINISH STRONG.

Mile 9: With my ankles uber pissed, I started mentally prepping myself for mile ten, which was supposedly the hardest part of the course according to several previous year race recaps. I kept with my run .3 miles/walk .1 miles plan, although it wasn’t easy.

Mile 10: I was ready for this mile to be hard, which made it a lot easier. At 10.5, I ate my final two Gu Chomps and let myself enjoy a speed walk for the rest of the mile. Also during this mile, “Balloon Man” and his 2:45 posse solidly passed me and started to fade away in front of me. I accepted that goal of 2:30 wasn’t going to happen that day, but I could still finish strong.

Mile 11: I was ready to run again after my extended break. After being forced to walk through the narrowest water stop possible (on a one lane bridge – seriously?!), I got back to jogging. This stretch included all of the highway on ramps, but I just kept telling myself “finish strong – stick with the plan” over and over again.

Mile 12: Then POOF! We were suddenly back at the Epcot parking lot. Hans and I had planned for one final meet up at this mile marker. Unfortunately, the monorail was so backed up, he didn’t make it in time. But just the potential of seeing him one last time gave me a boost. As I eagerly looked for him, I found the eagerness flowing through my legs. We continued into the park, circling the infamous Epcot “ball” and then exiting out a random service door back toward the parking lot.

Mile 13: When I saw the final mile marker, I did my best to hold back my emotions. Oh my God, I am doing this. After passing by a gospel choir on a final bend in the road, the finish line appeared. That’s when the tears started flowing. I worked too hard to have a crappy finishing photo, so I threw my hands in the air Dynamite-style and smiled as big as I could as I finished the 2011 Walt Disney World half-marathon.

I crossed the finish line with an official time of 2:45:05. Here’s what my Garmin reported. Note: I hit the “lap” button at every mile marker.

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While everyone else was ready to drop to the ground, I still needed to walk at a decent clip to keep my legs from freaking out. Instead, I lined up with my fellow finishers to receive (in order) my run Disney Mylar “blanket”, my medal and refreshments.

Side note: As I waited to take my official finishers photo, this song came on my iPod:

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Post photo and loading up on the refreshments, I ran to the spot where Hans and I planned to meet up – one of the tents in the parking lot. Somehow though, I beat him there! I was I glad to see him within about a minute of my arrival at the tent. I practically ran him over and jumped in his arms!

He started snapping photos immediately, first starting with the assortment of goodies I grabbed:

As I HAD to get my legs stretched out, I used my “blanket” and dropped to the parking lot. While in a full pigeon pose, I got my social media fix:

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I have to admit, it wasn’t the most comfortable place to stretch out, but it would do!

After some stretching and celebrating, we jumped on our bus for Port Orleans. Turns out, so did “Balloon Man”!  His real name was Mike. We chatted the entire ride back to the hotel on how he got involved with the Clif Team as a pace team member. He happily obliged my request for a photo – he was a big inspiration for me to keep moving during those 13.1 miles!

SUPER LONG STORY SHORT: When getting my medal, I broke down into a full blown sob. The kind woman handing out medals in my line said, “congrats darling, you truly earned this.” If she only knew the girl I used to be. The girl who weighed 250 pounds. The girl who could out eat her uncles. The girl who refused to take her dog for a walk. The girl that knew she could be so much more if she wasn’t so overweight. I forget that I am no longer that girl some days.

…but then my “blend” Jess over at EatDrinkBreatheSweat wrote some fantastically kind words about me that set me straight: [Alicia] has an incredible weight loss story to tell, yet that doesn’t define her. It’s not all that she is, it’s just another part of who she is that makes her an inspiration.

I am more than all of it. I’m more than 110 pounds lost. I’m more just another weight loss story. I’m more than just another proud Clevelander. And as of Saturday, I’m more than just a runner: I’M A HALF-MARATHONER.

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65 comments

  1. @irun2befit says:

    Congratulations!! Quite the accomplishment, quite the journey! Wow, I can’t believe they start that race so early in the morning! You’re a champ just to show up that early!

  2. tx_FaithRider says:

    I read every word of your WDhalf journey! And you are So much more! Congratulations
    And hopefully this Nov I’ll follow the plan and finish Strong!

  3. Heather @ Not a DIY Life says:

    Congratulations!! What a fantastic experience!

    I cried as I read this – I want to be there. Not at Disney, but at that point of my journey. I know it will come in time and that running will help me get there. THANK YOU for being such a big inspiration!!!

  4. Heather says:

    Congratulations, Alicia. I knew you could do it!! And that picture Hans took of you running with your arms in the air is PRICELESS.
    Now where are you going to display that medal??? 🙂

  5. Kelsey says:

    We have a lot in common! I’m also from NE Ohio and I also ran on Saturday morning, my first half as well. I almost started crying while reading your blog. I am so proud of you, of myself, and everyone else who was out there Saturday morning!!! (wether it was their first or fiftieth).

  6. Jolene says:

    Wow. I almost cried reading this post! So happy and proud of you! Blown away by your story (btw, I am Jess’s sister!), and reading your recap, I was right there with you. I had a tough half marathon (that Jess did awesome in, so proud of her!), and could feel the pain with you! But you are so motivating, it makes me want to try again. And um, running coach? I didn’t know they existed, but I’d love to hear more as I think it might help me too (haven’t had a good run SINCE the half in September. Mental block mostly). Congrats!!

  7. Mom says:

    Yes Alicia…I stand corrected…you are more than a runner…you are a 1/2 marathoner! Be proud and be healthy…only hoping for the best for you today and always!

  8. Hungry In Cleveland says:

    Great post Alicia! I think I did start to tear up a bit while reading it. Very inspirational. Can’t wait to meet up at the blogger meet up this month and at various races in CLE this year 🙂

  9. melissa says:

    Congratulations!! This post brought a tear to my eye too! You are an inspiration, and Jess is right your weight loss doesn’t define you. Your continuous journey for happiness does.

  10. Alicia says:

    Truly amazing! I was tearing up as I was reading your story. You have really inspired me to move forward and train for a half! Thanks, Alicia! CONGRATS!!!

    Btw…will we receive a recap of your trip to the Lulu outlet? 🙂

  11. Katy says:

    I am so proud of you! I had to laugh, because I have the same picture of me running through the cones, frantically waving at Lucas. And because I ran it in the sleet in 2010, I spent the first 4 miles stripping off my layers and throwing them on the side of the road 🙂

  12. Naomi says:

    Isn’t Jess awesome?! I found your blog through her post. Congratulations on an awesome race! Sounds like you might be a running addict now 🙂

  13. Michelle says:

    I’m totally balling reading this. Congratulations on all of your accomplishments! It’s so inspiring to me to see how far you’ve come and know that someday I might be able to run a 1/2 too 🙂

  14. Renee says:

    What a great recap. Thanks for sharing it. Like all of the others, I was also tearing up as I read the last few paragraphs. I’m so glad this was such a positive experience for you!

  15. Jess says:

    Girl, you have me holding back tears of joy and pride for how incredibly inspiring you are!! You did an incredible job!! I soooob wish I’d been there to cheer you onto that finish, I wouldve cried with you, I’m sure!! You truly are a runner annnd an awesome half marathoner!! You’ve confirmed for me that I will be running at least one more half this year, thank you for once again instilling such inspiration in me! You are the best!! Hugs!

  16. Aunt Kat says:

    Great job Alicia. I’m so proud of you. It’s funny cus the first thing I did when I woke up on Sunday was turn on the computer to see how you did. And in your usual style, YOU DID GREAT! I had no doubt about you finishing. You’ve come along way. You should be proud. I think you should wear your medal around your neck any time you are frustrated, filled with self-doubt, having a bad day, unsure, etc. It’d be a HUGE reminder on wht you can do when you put your mind to it, make a plan and put one foot in front of the other each step of the way. You go away girl!

  17. Morgan @ Becoming Rooks says:

    I finally got around to reading this and the memories FLOODED back! If you had added in 30 degree temps and freezing rain this could have been MY WDW race report. I had goals of 2:30 but incurred a pulled tendon in my ankle around mile 7.

    You are so inspiring, Alicia. I understand “that girl”. The fat girl, the one who couldn’t run and never dreamed of ever accomplishing anything like this. I only hope to one be as inspirational!

  18. Elina (Healthy and Sane) says:

    Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You’ve definitely earned this. I know the mental struggles that start around mile 8/9 and it really takes a lot to finish. But you did it. Disney sounds like an amazing race. Maybe one day I’ll do it too 🙂

  19. Angie says:

    Congratulations Alicia, wow what a story. You are such an inspiration you should be very proud of yourself. It is a pleasure knowing you and working with you. You are amazing.

  20. JaNelle says:

    WOW Alicia! I seriously got choked up reading your recap. It really oozed the joy and excitement you felt. This is an amazing accomplishment! You are a half-marathon runner!! I’m so happy for you! Thanks for sharing this with us!

  21. Katy (The Singing Runner) says:

    Congratulations on finishing! It is so nice to read someone else’s race recap of the same race I did! Great time!!! 😀

    P.S- I didn’t even know they were going to have pace leaders until I saw the 1:45 pacer pass me at around mile 8! I was surprised! I didn’t see any pace leaders in Corral A!

  22. Ryan (CLECraftBeer Run on Twitter) says:

    So very happy for you, Alicia. I hope you do a local Cleveland one in the spring or fall!

  23. Kristin says:

    Congratulations! What an awesome first half marathon experience for you! I didn’t see you out there but it feels great to know we shared this race. My post will be up soon! Way to go girl!

  24. Run.Give.Love says:

    CongraTs! How touching – This is why, I love reading race recap. Just FYI, you can set your garmin to lap every mile, this way you don’t have to hit the lap button every mile…

  25. Cate says:

    Congrats!! 🙂 I liked reading about your race experience. You did an awesome job – that time is great!
    Wasn’t that gospel choir in the perfect place?!

  26. kat says:

    Im pretty sure you already know how dam proud of you i am, just in case yo may have forgotten, you are the greatest. congrats to you again. now start driving and i will meet you for a celeb cocktail in like, 5 hours!!

  27. Vera says:

    Great recap Alicia! I am getting emotional just reading about your experience and remembering my first half marathon. I do highly recommend coming out in Sept for the DLand Half. It is just as fun and memorable as WDW. I am a Galloway Program Director here in the Los Angeles area, so if you want a Galloway pace group to run with during the race, please let me know so we can meet up beforehand! CONGRATULATIONS!!! You have SO much to be proud of AND to look forward to. 😉

  28. Shelli says:

    FABULOUS job Alicia!! I can’t wait for my first half (was supposed to be 2011 CLE…but a wedding for my cousins popped up after I signed up) so hey! Just registered for another sprint Tri (GC) and some endurance rides….and ANXIOUSLY awaiting the Mudathlon dates for NEOH. INTERESTED?
    and will hit up the half, in 2012 🙂
    CONGRATS GIRL!!!

  29. Jeffrey Reidy says:

    Great job, and great recap of the race! I’ll be coming back to this page for inspiration from time to time as I work towards my goal of running the 2012 Disney Half! 🙂

  30. Denise says:

    Inspirational! I have lost 65 pounds (still have a long ways to go) and plan to wog in the Disney Princess Half Marathon in a few weeks. Thanks for your inspiration

  31. Angelic says:

    Alicia, it was a pleasure working with you on your half marathon journey. I would have never guessed you were once a pound heavier than you are today. You have done a great job to get and stay fit. Congratulations on a well run half marathon! You are an inspiration to many.

  32. Tiffany says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! I just did my first half marathon at Disney too and I finished just 20 seconds before you! I too wanted a 2:30 finish, but ended up with the balloon man! I accidentally came across your blog while searching for Disney-related stuff to write up my own race report on my own blog.
    I don’t know you, but I can totally appreciate all of the hard work you’ve done. Congrats on the finish!

  33. alely says:

    Hi! I found your blog by typing in my first 13.1 miles on google looking for stories to inspire me as I am going to run my first half on Sunday. The Disney Princess one. I loved reading yours and it has truly inspired and motivated me! By looking through your pictures I never would have imagined you weighed 250 pounds! Congratulations on your first half and most of all for losing 110 pounds! That is inspirationa!

  34. Annie says:

    I read this post because I was searching for posts on people’s experiences in the disney half-marathon. I just registered for it today, and I’m super excited, and this post made me super excited as well. I have only run a 5k at this point, but am looking forward to training for this – something that at the beginning of this year I would never have thought of because then I was 270 pounds and I’m pretty sure had never run an entire mile in my life. This post is one I’m sure I’ll be returning to as I prepare for January!

  35. Joyce says:

    This story is exactly what I needed. I’m running my first half ever at Disneyland on Sunday and my nerves are making me crazy. You pushed through the pain and inspired me. I will think of you and , God willing, when I get my medal, I will be balling too as I am now just reading your story.

  36. Laura says:

    So I have to tell you, I’m a large woman and I’m doing the Princess Half Marathon next week. I’ve been training for a long time. Every time I think about crossing that finish line and getting a medal I get choked up. I just read what you wrote about sobbing when you got yours, I got choked up again. It makes me feel better knowing I may not be the only emotional one there! Thanks for your story!

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