Training for your first full marathon is a commitment that almost goes beyond description, it’s like a relationship that takes up all of your spare time and requires months of physical and mental preparation. Yet, even with the best training plan, pre-race practice and support you can’t prepare for everything on race day, so what happens when something out of your control gets in the way and you don’t finish?
Marathon Training Plans
My marathon training began 10 months before the Walt Disney World Marathon, which takes place in January. At this point I had run more than 10 half-marathons, weekend challenges and countless 5 and 10ks and I really felt up to the challenge of going for the full marathon.
Training started with developing a plan, building my running mileage up, adding speed work, cross training with swimming and biking and finding a group to train with and a running buddy to help keep me accountable. I did everything the way that I was supposed to, woke up early for those 20+ mile runs in the Florida heat, bought a new bike to cross train on and trained and trained and trained.
Everything I did helped me prepare for the big day, that first Sunday in January when I came together with thousands of my closest friends to run 26.2 miles through all 4 parks at Walt Disney World and Wide World of Sports.
The weather starting wasn’t ideal, for January it was pretty warm and humid with a cold front forecaste to come through.
But of course, the best made plans can always have a hiccup. Paying careful attention to my pace and fueling throughout the race I was on track to finish with a nice cushion within the allowed time. That is until that cold front came in.
Beginning around mile 16 or 17 the wind picked up and the temperature started dropping. By this point, I had made it to Magic Kingdom, through the back roads to Animal Kingdom and was getting to Wide World of Sports. I just had to exit Wide World of Sports, go through Hollywood Studios run by the Yacht and Beach clubs and then finish the loop around World Showcase to the finish line in the EPCOT parking lot.
However, my lungs had something else in mind because around mile 18 my asthma started to flare up. Going into mile 19 I was still looping around Wide World of Sports but my pace was slowing, I told my running friend to leave me because I didn’t want to hold her back. At mile 20 a bike medic started pacing me and just around mile 21 they insisted I stop at the medical tent. And that was it.
I would not be finishing my first marathon.
Not Finishing my Marathon
At the time I was devastated, in addition to not being able to breathe because of the asthma I was ugly crying because all that training and preparation had been for nothing. Well, at least that’s what I thought.
I was taken to the big medical tent in the EPCOT parking lot and evaluated. My blood pressure was through the roof and my oxygen levels were very low. They were threatening to take me to the hospital but all I could think about was that I didn’t finish, in my mind that was the phrase going over and over again.
I felt like a failure.
The Disney Marathon Weekend Medical Tent
They did stabilize me in the tent and sent me back to my hotel once a friend picked me up. They gave me a bag with my things in it, one of which was the race medal.
Once we were back at the hotel and I saw that medal I honestly wanted nothing to do with it, I didn’t earn it, I only made it to mile 21, I didn’t finish. Thankfully I have friends who said don’t think about it, rest, recover and we’ll deal with it later.
That night at dinner I had a hard time balancing celebrating my friends who did finish with the voice in my head that kept saying I was a failure. I wanted to focus on them and their finish and not on what I didn’t do, but it was hard. On top of that, I was still overcoming the effects of a pretty severe asthma attack.
I Didn’t Finish my Disney Marathon | Now What?
A New Day, A New Start
The next morning my wonderful friend and I had a discussion. I had a few choices:
- I could just forget the whole thing give the medal away and move on
- I could train for next year’s marathon
- I could finish those last 5.2 miles that Monday and make my own challenge.
After a lot of thought, I decided on choice 3 and we named it the “Sneezy – Doc Challenge”. Starting at the entrance to EPCOT, my plan was to walk around the park back to the international Gateway, then from there walk to Hollywood Studios and walk all the way through the park and then back to EPCOT passing Yacht and Beach Club. At the end I would meet her at the entrance to the Character Spot in EPCOT and she would give me the medal.
I’m really glad that I did this because I felt that I earned the medal in my own way, we also got a Sneezy and a Doc pin to put on the medal ribbon and wrote my challenge information on the back of the medal. During my 5.2 mile walk I stopped and took photos, saw a few characters out at Hollywood Studios and then had my picture taken with Mickey after I was done.
The next few weeks and months I had to really cope with the grief of not finishing. So much was invested in preparing for this race I felt that I had lost something huge, but slowly I was able to get back. I kept racing, did a Challenge Weekend, a few 5ks and 10ks and the Inaugural Disneyland Paris runs. All of this helped me to move on and someday I will try the marathon again, but I’m not in a rush and I have to remember: Dead last is better than did not finish, and did not finish is better than did not start.
Currently, I am recovering from a total knee replacement and am already training for an upcoming runDisney 5k race to get me back in the game. Check out my 5k Training Schedule with a knee injury, I am not going to let anything get in my way.
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