Florida

Florida was my gateway marathon to my 50 states goal. It was not until Florida that I realized I could and wanted to visit all 50 states. And like some heroin addicts I at times curse that fated gateway trip to Florida (they curse marijuana apparently) where I got addicted to the running bug and decided it would be a good idea to visit the states and run at the same time. The funny part? I suspect Disney is where the process starts for many a runner that wants to complete such an insane goal as 50 states.

The set up for Florida was pretty easy. I had just completed Des Moines and set a PR. The goal of Boston was still an impossibility but after a year of taking marathons off, I was again hooked. I will never understand how one can get hooked on running marathons? But it does happen. Yes, I feel awful, am shaking from the cold even though it is relatively warm, was scared to death I was going to go in my pants for the past hour, and beer tastes like the contaminated water it is but when can we do this again? My aunt Ginger really wanted to run Disney and well, my mother was on board so she could take my nephew. This run was decided before I had ever pretended to make up my mind.

The trip was fine and we were smart enough to stay in Disney housing. Seriously I have no idea how people get to some of these races if they aren’t bussed in. I remember once missing the bus for Dam to Dam in Des Moines and having to walk 2 miles to get to the beginning and having to run 2 minutes after getting in place. I guess the morale of the story – if there is a bus just make it easy on yourself and stay in a spot close to a bus stop. Disney is so much worse though. There are over 12,000 runners at Disney! 12,000! This is not a run where you tell people you were surprised you didn’t run into them – you likely won’t run into anyone you know. Furthermore, if you have run a marathon before – make sure you get your time in or you will be fighting a lot of runners from the get go! I was lucky enough to place in A and it truly went just fine.

However, you do have to get up at 3 in the morning to get to the site by 4 and you do quite a bit of standing around before anything starts and there really is so many people you better have drained all the fluid from your body before you get in the “Corral” (for non-runners Corrals are what runners go into when there are so many they want to keep us separated so the start can go smoother. One group starts and then another group goes 5 minutes later. Typically speaking if you have a sub 3:30 marathon you can get into A. This may not sound like a large deal but it can help with not having to move up through slower or less experienced runners. This can help you set a PR (personal record) and also can boost your confidence in the get go as well. I tend to also think it helps slower runners not worry about getting out of the way and just start out at their own pace.

The allure of the Disney Marathon is what you would expect of it – it goes through all four of the Orlando, Florida parks and you pretty much see every minor and major Disney character along the way. They also have a Goofy challenge where some people run the half marathon the day before and complete their weekend on Sunday with a full marathon – not necessarily recommended. I am sure you can understand that some of the larger marathons try to maximize their dollars by calling it a challenge to run both races – pretty smart really – still kicking myself I didn’t do the Goofy Challenge.

Officially the course is a blast but the middle can be a lot of running around in what seems like a forest with no real sites and down a road that leads into the park. There are some cool parts that are easy to notice such as running through Epcot, Downtown Disney is a blast, and running through the Cinderella Castle will not be forgotten anytime soon. And the real kicker is the last 4 miles goes through the Studio area (whatever they are calling it now) and it really is a great way to end the race – great sites and plenty of entertainment.

Overall it is one of the most entertaining runs I will ever do and they will always get their money at over $150 a head but it is pretty much the most expensive marathon out there and though I wanted to repeat it a month after? Not really worth it when there are so many things out there to see.

However one factor that can never be forgotten about Disney? The people. Before the Disney marathon I never wore my shirt after a race – how uncouth! But Disney almost makes you proud to be a runner! Everyone everywhere has those long sleeved shirts on showing off their accomplishment (most before they have even finished) and I felt out of place not having one on! The night before my aunt (wearing her shirt) was going around chatting up everyone and their dog with a shirt on and here I was with a Woot! shirt on? She said I was running to them but I kinda got the feeling they were thinking why isn’t he wearing his shirt? And heck the day after? Fine, I wore my shirt but instead I felt naked without my medal hanging around my neck!

The day after the races everyone goes everywhere with their medals! I saw people at the airport, in the hotel lobby and my aunt saw people at rest stops and restaurants the next day not wearing their t-shirts but with their medals slung over their necks as well! The first time I saw it I explained it off as an amateur but after my fourth siting I felt like the amateur. My aunt got in the medal slinging habit. However, I found it more than a little odd and when we went to our next marathon a couple months later I suggested against this practice to my aunt in Fargo. She held back be grudgingly and told me afterwards that I was right “it was just a Disney thing.” It was true – only a couple medal sitings in Fargo and since then? None – in over 6 other marathons. Medal slinging seems to be unique to Disney.

Florida is a very large state and there are plenty of great places to visit in the state but I suspect any runner would feel a little incomplete if they were trying to run 50 states, many marathons or any goal and skipped the Disney Marathon. The cost outweighs almost any other run and the sights are impressive. But what really counts at Disney is the feeling of being extremely proud of what you have accomplished. No other run creates such a community or makes you feel so righteous wearing that big gold medal.

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