Disney's Goofy Challenge

        I have been looking forward to my trip to Disney World ever since I registered for the Goofy Challenge, almost a full year in advance.  Running Disney is a prime example of when you see something you think might be fun to do someday and then putting it in your goals and actually making it happen.   There were many last minute items I had to take care of before I left, which made the start of the trip quite stressful.  I was aware of the weather reports and the possibility of some cooler temperatures in Florida, but the true impact would not sink in until I after I arrived.  

The drive to the airport went well, making it to Detroit without delay.  The roads were clear all the way, until the outskirts of Detroit where it had started to snow.  As I waited in the airport, I witnessed the snow getting heavier and starting to accumulate.  Once I realized that it was midday, and I had hardly eaten, I splurged on a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich in the terminal.  While I was eating, I noticed a couple guys wearing Hansons-Brookes Marathon Team jackets at a table nearby.   I couldn’t help myself but to walk over and say hello.  I introduced myself and we had a short chat.  We exchanged stories of a couple past races and our plans for the weekend.  As I had assumed, they were also on their way to Disney, both hoping to win the Half-marathon.

Our plane was delayed by about an hour because of the snow.  Waiting was a pleasure, as I had the chance to spark up several different conversations with other runners that were also heading to Disney.  On the plane, there were two others running the Goofy Challenge in the seats around me.  We had a talkative flight to say the least.  The runner encounters became more common once we reached the airport in Orlando.  It seemed like everyone was there for the race.  Without even looking where I was going, I found myself standing in the line for Mickey’s Magical Express, which would take me to my hotel without getting lost or having to ask for directions.

While boarding the bus, I heard a soft voice mutter, “Hey, Brian.” It really is a small world after all, because the voice was coming from my friend Darcy Russel, whom I haven’t seen in over two years, since she had moved to the Yukon.  She was sitting two seats ahead of me on the bus.  She was also doing the Goofy, and by coincidence, had a room at the same resort, on the floor above mine.  

It was a great bonus to find out that my room had been upgraded when I checked in.  After I dropped my things in the room, I couldn’t resist going for a quick dip in the pool before calling it a night.  My hip was still not feeling well and I thought that moving around in the water might help it out.  The fog that came off the pool was really cool to see and the water was very warm compared to the unusual, near freezing, temperature of the air outside.

My first full day at Disney started with a short sleep in followed by an overpriced breakfast at the All Star Sports cafeteria.  I made plans to met up with Darcy and her friend Laura, then we all took the shuttle to the expo to pick up our race kits.  It was very well organized and we flowed through quite quickly.  It wasn’t until after meeting up with John Budway, who drove in from Miami for the race, that I realized I had been put into the last corral and would be starting 30 minutes after the official start of the race.  In order to run with John, I had to go back to the chip pickup counter and provide them with proof of a previous race time so that they would upgrade my corral placing. 

In the afternoon, I took a trip to Downtown Disney and then to the lululemon outlet store.  I introduced myself to a couple of the educators and tried some stuff on.  I wanted to buy several things but I limited myself to a red running jacket (that would come in handy with the colder than expected race conditions) and a pair of compression shorts that I have not seen before.  The girls at the store said that they had a group organized to be cheering near the finish line of the race. 

When I started the trip back towards Disney, I felt my hip becoming really sore and fragile.  I was getting a little worried.  I stopped on the way back at a Golden Corral for a pre-race buffet dinner.  For $13, I got way more than my money’s worth.  In hindsight, it was not the best choice before a big race.  After eating, I tried running a little bit and felt so full I almost had to vomit.  I was hoping that the big meal would keep me fuelled up for a couple days of running.  At the very least I would burn the calories gained through my gluttony. 

I made it back to my room by about 7:30pm and took some time to relax and rest while I prepared all my things for the next morning.  I planned to catch the bus from the hotel around 3 am.  It felt like the Great Wall Marathon all over again.  Just after 9 pm, I packed it in for the night.  I prayed that it would not be raining or snowing in the morning and that my hip would hold together to run the marathon on Sunday. 

 On Saturday morning, my alarm went off at 2:50am; I was up in a flash.  I had a quick breakfast consisting of a bagel, a couple granola bars and a banana.  I was grateful for the rain jacket and garbage bags I bought on Friday, as they came in handy for keeping warm in the unusually cold Florida weather.  It was hovering around the freezing mark with some mixed precipitation. 

I was on the shuttle bus by 3:15am and at EPCOT just before 4am.  I scoped out a warm corner beside the Race Retreat Tent where I had planned to meet John when he arrived, closer to 5am.  There were a few shrubs and a small fence, which blocked some of the wind.  I tried to trap as much heat as I could with the garbage bag.  I was kept company by an older couple, a Navy retiree, a Japanese woman and a young girl from Boston. 

As I was preparing to start walking to the corrals with no sign of John, I saw him in the crowd and we were on our way together.  We followed the massive crowd, which looked like a mass exodus of runners, towards the Disney Freeway where the corrals were lined up.  The ice pellets were turning to sleet and rain.  Just a minute into our walk, and we bumped into Darcy and Laura.  Imagine, with thousands of people all crowded around, what are the odds we would bump into one another?  We had to split up as we entered the corrals; John and I tucked our selves in towards the back of Corral B. 

Before long, the pre-race was started with the National Anthem being sung and fireworks shooting off into the dark sky.  Finally, there was a bit of warmth within the crowd, as we got moving.  The mile markers slowly passed by while John and I started catching up on our adventures of the past year since I stayed with him in Miami. 

It was still dark as we passed through Epcot and the Magic Kingdom.  The remainder of the course was mostly out on the highways and back roads of Disney before circling back towards Epcot for the big finish.  We came across the finish line in just over 2 hours.  We went through the standard finish line process of getting our space blankets, medals, pictures and food.  I headed over to say hello to Fred DeFina at the Team Diabetes finish line tent and John went to meet his wife at the family meeting area.   It had begun to rain and I was getting pretty cold so I said goodbye to Fred and was on my way to the shuttle to go back to the resort.  I soon realized the grim news of the line for the bus back to the All Star Resorts had a wait of about 40 minutes!  I could do nothing but wait patiently while chatting with a couple guys around me.  Finally, we got on the bus and were en route.   During the bus ride, my bladder started to scream at me.  It took all my strength to hold my pee until I dashed into my room a short time later.   

After one of the best hot showers I’ve ever had, I spent the remainder of the day resting and taking it easy.  The weather was fairly depressing all day long.  I went to bed early, preparing for the following day.  

I slept in until 3am since I had planned to meet Darcy at 3:45 to take the shuttle.  My breakfast and preparation was more relaxed, compared to the previous day.  I put on an extra layer of clothing in order to fight off the colder temperatures.  I brought two garbage bags that morning and cracked open my hand warmers before leaving to catch the bus.  Darcy bumped into me just as I was getting into line.  I met a nice guy on the bus, from Oscala, and we chatted on the way to EPCOT.  It was a bit busier than Saturday since we arrived later, but we still had some time to wait.  We went back to the same spot where I hid from the wind the day before.  

We walked together to the corrals and then split up into our respective areas.  I tucked in behind the 3:40’ pace runners.  It wasn’t long after the start that I had found a great running buddy named Scott, from Detroit.  He was running his first marathon and had a shirt his kids made for him that read, “GO DADDY GO!!” with painted handprints all over it.  We spent most of the first 17 miles together, only parting to take some pictures with some of the Disney characters along the route.  It was colder than Saturday, but clear skies made it much better for photos.  It was very strange to think that the Disney Marathon has been the coldest race I have ever run up until that point.  It was so cold that there was ice forming from the spilt water at the aid stations and the cups of Powerade were slushy.   

As we were leaving the Animal Kingdom, I left Scott and continued on at a slightly faster pace.  I made it to 22 miles and then started speeding up even more, in order to finish strong, with a negative split.  I had to take a leak at one of the water stations and then I started running with a woman in a blue dress from Albany, NY.  I really sped up after the 24 mile mark. 

I had a great finish and went through all the same post-race processes from the previous day, along with receiving the huge Goofy medal.  I said hello to Fred again and went to catch my bus.  This time I didn’t have to wait, and as soon as I got on the bus, they were ready to leave!  What spectacular timing!!!!  Another warm shower and then I had a delicious post race meal in my room.  After tidying up, I prepared myself to set out for the afternoon and enjoy some more of Florida before having to go home.   

I made it to the lulu outlet again to give a post-race report.  Then, I embarked on a wonderful adventure, taking the city bus back to Downtown Disney.  There was lots of waiting and a transfer involved, but I successfully save myself many steps by taking the bus instead of walking back, as I had done before.  I spent a couple hours walking around Downtown Disney, checking out the shops and enjoying the sunny day.  My eyes were starting to get heavy and I thought to call it a day and return to the resort.  I indulged in a Bacon Double Cheeseburger before heading back to the room to finally relax and get off my feet.  I was feeling pretty good afterwards, but went to bed early so I would be ready to leave the next morning at 5am.   It was so great to be meet so many people at Disney and it was so much fun to talk with other runners from all over the world.  Even in the airport on the way home I was finding runners all over the place.  

© Brian Groot 2020