The last few days have been a roller coaster of emotions. As I headed out on Thursday for my big Disney half marathon, the weather was in flux, would it be cold, rainy, or hot? – no one knew. Then the thunderstorms appeared on the radar, not a good thing. This race was both a bucket list item and my last half marathon. It had a lot of build up for me, and a lot of meaning.
Side note: Floridians take their thunderstorms seriously, I have learned they are some of the worst in the US. Dangerous to say the least – did you know lightning can travel about 6 miles horizontally when it strikes? Neither did I.
By Friday there was high likelihood of lightning according to local forecasts. runDisney was providing updates while they tried to decide what to do. There were 26000+ runners, plus staff and volunteers working the 12 hours prior to make things run smoothly.
At 7pm their call was to cancel – I found out on Facebook, I wanted to cry. Later, I did cry a little on a dark bus on the way home. The first thing I did after finding out (and telling my wife) was post to Facebook for people following my updates would know not to get up early. I then put away my phone and watched an amazing fireworks/laser/can’t describe show based on Star Wars.
After my quiet cry on the bus I needed to regroup. Around 10:00pm runDisney came out with the options for runners: run the full in 2 days, get a refund, or transfer to another race in the next 24 months. Option 3 was tempting, but I wasn’t sure I could swing another trip. I honestly considered option 1 long and hard – I knew my body wasn’t up for it, no matter how slow I ran.
I went with option 2, but I also decided that I was here for a half marathon, I was going to run one. I talked it over with my wife; her crazy alarm didn’t go off and she did ask me to be careful with storms. It was decided. I was up way too late at this point, but I set my alarm for 3:30 am and got to bed. I was woken up by a wicked thunderstorm at midnight, right when the crews would have been out setting things up in wide open places, glad they weren’t out there.
I woke up again to my alarm at 3:30, had a Picky Bar (which I *wish* I could get in Canada, they are amazing!), checked the weather again, and had some water. The weather was still not great, but there appeared to be a rain free, and potentially storm free time between 4 – 6 AM. It was a little close to eating for me, but I couldn’t pass up a window like that.
I set up my gels and water on my room table (4 flights up, but right next to my route so it would do), put on my running gear, and started my run. I wasn’t aiming for a PB but I still wanted a respectable time. I was ready to run my 21.1K on a 2K loop at my hotel, every 4K I would run the stairs to my room, hydrate, and potentially take a gel if needed.
There were 3 other people out with me (I had read the night before that a lot of people had the same idea). I passed them on my loops, round and round. As my run went on, more and more people joined. It was hot, it was sticky, and I was unhappy. Around 4:30 AM the sky all around started lighting up with storms, though nothing too close by. I kept running, knowing if things shifted I had potential buildings to shelter in ever 1KM on my route.
Twenty one point one Km is a long run to do in 2K loops. I bargained with myself to keep running, it also gave me a lot of time to think and process what was going on. One of these revelations was that I was being sulky and not wearing my costume because it wasn’t the “real” race. I (and others) spent a lot of time on that costume. It was a waste not to wear it, and I knew it. I decided that for the last 5K I would wear my costume. I already needed to pop in my room for my last fuel and water stop, so it was perfect. I also needed a boost, I was starting to drag.
It was perfect timing really, around 6:00AM the course started to fill up, there were at least 50 people out by this point, there were cheering hotel guests (I assume other runners), even people who were bringing out water and gatorade for the runners. You would think that would make the last 5K a little easier, you would be wrong. It was the worst, it took everything in me, physically and mentally, to get through it. In the end, I did it on my terms.
One of the other thoughts I came to was that this was the race that wasn’t, I built it up for myself and it didn’t deliver. But it did. I chose to do it, even when I didn’t have to. I cheered on other runners doing the same thing. I needed to run. I will get my tattoo to celebrate the run, I will make a shadow box, I will tell the story. It is what it is, maybe I didn’t get the full experience of characters, and fireworks, and Cinderella’s Castle. But I will never have that, I have my own experience. I have the story of the only WDW Marathon weekend race cancellation in 25 years. And I have stories of runners, so many runners, all shapes, skills, and sizes who went out and did it anyway.
The running community came together (and Disney really). There were runners running at all the resorts (and around Orlando I learned), even some in the parks. At my resort I mentioned that guests were handing out drinks they paid for to the runners and cheering, but the resort staff stepped up and came out with trays of little water cups and handed those out to the runners as well. There had to be over 200 runners at the busiest, and probably 300-400 total as they were constantly coming on and off the course.
It warmed my heart, and it is something I will never forget, and that is exactly what I needed, that is what I came for. I didn’t realize when I arrived that I wouldn’t get what I expected, but how often do things go as planned?