If you count the actual races, then the Goofy Challenges is made up of two parts: the half marathon and the full marathon. But if you count in terms of distance, then the Challenge is really three parts: the half marathon, the first half of the full marathon, and the last 13.1 miles.
I met D____ on marathon day, around mile 14.
So like I said: talented people. Fast people.
It crossed my mind that, having just raced the day before, maybe I shouldn't be trying to keep up with these fast people, but the fact was that I felt pretty good, and my goal was to run this race by feel. So when I settled in with the 3:15 pace group, I figured I'd just hang there until it felt too tiring to keep up, and then I'd fall back. Plus, I was going to stop for photo ops, so surely the group would eventually get too far away. When that happened, I would just look for the next pace group to come along and fall in with them.
What actually happened was that the photo ops ended up being more like accidental pick-ups. First, I'd see a Disney character in the distance. Because I was running with a pace group, I was among people who were racing for a time, and therefore unwilling to stop for a photo with Snow White or Jafar or Pumba. As a result, no one was ever in my way, taking their picture with Snow White or Jafar or Pumba. So I'd just run off the course, straight for to the character; pose; wait until the photographer's flash went off; and then sprint back onto the course to catch up with the pace group.
In the Magic Kingdom alone--the first park we ran through--I must have done this with at least 6-8 characters. It got to the point where, as I was running back onto the course after posing with a Johnny Depp lookalike, one man called out, "Jesus, how many times do I have to get passed by the same girl? I think she's stopped at every one of those cartoons, and she's still in front of me!" Words cannot describe how good that comment made me feel. I must have been grinning my head off.
Now, fast forward to mile 12. We were just about to enter the Animal Kingdom when a girl came cruising up to the pace group.
"I'm just taking the first half easy," I heard her tell the man beside her, whom at the time I assumed she knew, since they appeared to be running together. "I want to hold back, because you never know how it's going to go."
Hold back? I remember thinking. If that's the case, this chick's going to be blowing by us any minute.
However, she stuck with the group for another few miles, by which point the characters were appearing fewer and farther between, and I was beginning to trip on the heels of the runners in front of me.
Should I really get in front of these people? I wondered. I'm not trying to run a sub-3:15!
Ultimately, the annoyance of having to shorten my stride to keep from stepping on people won out, and I darted through until I was out in front of the pack. I found myself running beside two girls, one of whom was the "I'm taking the first half easy" girl. She'd either dropped her guy or he'd dropped her, because she was alone and trying in vain to strike up a conversation with the other girl beside her.
"Hi! I'm Allison. I heard you back there when you caught up with the group. You're looking really strong!"
The rest, as they say, is history.
It turned out that D____ was running her very first marathon. She'd run a number of half marathons (her PR, if I remember correctly, was around 1:24), and her husband ran lots of marathons, so she'd decided to do this one as her first. Needless to say, I was extremely impressed. We were already ahead of the 3:15 pace group, and D____ wasn't even breathing heavily!
When we reached mile 16, just outside ESPN Wide World of Sports, I took stock of how I was feeling. I was breathing and talking without much effort, my legs felt reasonably loose, and I wasn't feeling hungry or thirsty.
I'll stick with this girl for a few miles, I decided. I didn't know how long I'd be able to keep it up--we were running in the low 7's now--but I figured I'd just hang on as long as I could, for the companionship if for nothing else, and then cheer her on if/when she decided to pick things up.
Two miles later, we hit mile 18 rounding the baseball field inside ESPN, and I could hear her starting to breathe. Meanwhile, I could breathe just fine, but the bottoms of my feet felt like someone was hitting them with a sledgehammer every step I took.
"This point in the marathon's always the worst," I told her. "It's the next few miles that you really just have to get through. Then it's all guts and inertia to the end."
"I'm so glad you're here!" she replied. And that's all I needed. I can do this, I told myself. It's hurting, but I can totally pace this girl to a great first marathon. She can do this. And I can help.
And thus began the part of the race I'm most proud of: the part where I tucked into myself, set my legs to what I felt confident they could do, and pep talked D____ at every mile.
"We just ran 7:10!" Mile 20.
"We're at 7:08!" Mile 21.
"Oh my god you're amazing! 7:06! I cannot believe this is your first marathon." Mile 22.
"How are we still dropping time?" she gasped.
How indeed? I wondered, looking at my watch in shock.
When we hit mile 23 in 7:03, I calculated the rest of the race. If I could run the last three miles at just around 7 min/mile, I could break 3:10! But how did I feel?
Breathing was definitely labored, but not panting. Legs were supremely tired, but turnover still felt ok. Feet were hurting a lot, but I figured if I was getting blisters, they were there already, and slowing down wasn't going to help. Mouth felt a little thirsty, stomach a little unsettled, but nothing I hadn't run through before.
"I'm going to pick it up a little bit," I told D____.
"I'm dying," she told me. "You go ahead."
"Aw, come on, you are doing great. You can do this!"
Between miles 23 and 24 she fell off, but then I saw the Genie up ahead. As I posed, I looked back and saw her rounding the bend.
"Come on!" I mouthed, waving my arm and sprinting back onto the course. We'd made it to Epcot, the final park. I cruised through France, Morroco, Japan, China. At one point, I stopped for one last picture with Aladdin and Jasmine, but D____ never appeared, so I hunkered down and started choosing men to try and pass.
This one with the neon calf sleeves.
That one, who looks like he just got out of the shower.
At mile 25, I knew it was going to hurt, but I knew I had it. And when I crossed the finish line, it was glorious. Another first in the books. And man, how I love my firsts.
Walt Disney World Marathon 2016 race results:
Age Group Place
71 / 19,851
9 / 10,327
3 / 1,796
And now, for those of you who have managed to read this far, here's a fun slideshow I made of my Goofy Challenge race pics!