Presumably Disney starts its popular beginning-of-the-year marathon, likely run by myriad folks honoring New Year's resolutions about which they'll soon forget, at 5:40 am because of the usual heat in Florida this time of year.
Yeah. ... Cue heat? ........... Hello? Okay, okay. Forget heat. How about just warmth? ............... anything?
This year the first wave of the marathon again began at 5:40, though at the time of the early start it was 29 degrees with winds of 12 to 15 miles per hour. All week long Florida has been experiencing record lows, with lizards falling out of trees as their bodies simply shut down from the cold (I swear I am not making that up. It was on the local Orlando news) and turtles being rescued from the lagoons, whose water has become too cold to sustain their lives. I didn't hear anything about snake rescues, thank goodness. Let 'em die, I say. Useless maniacal creatures...
Months ago when my company picked Orlando as the sight of our sales meeting I thought hey! While I'm down there there's a marathon. I should run the marathon, I brilliantly deduced, since I'm already down there!
Little did I know it would be colder in FLORIDA than it was in Massachusetts for my last marathon in October.
I considered throwing in the towel, being a wuss, and skipping this one, but then I pulled myself together and reminded myself that I’m a marathoner. We deal. We suck it up and run. We're the idiots who actually listen when Nike says Just Do It.
The alarm went off at 3:30 am so that I could get up and out to check my bag by the required time of 4:30 am. (Really, Disney? 4:30?) When I arrived late in the bag check tent there were plenty of other late runners checking gear, so I breathed a little sigh of relief that I could still check my warm sweatshirt to replace my wet running tops at the finish. Like an experienced marathoner, I had already expertly safety pinned my bag check tag to my bag to identify it readily; however, the bag check volunteer took a look at it and frowned. “Um, can you take that off?” she politely asked. “We need to secure it with these white ties.” I thought that was a bit anal retentive, but hey... any way that I can get a warm sweatshirt while I'm soaking wet in 30-degree temperatures works for me. The rules said any checked gear/baggage must be in the drawstring bag that Disney provided at the Expo; there was nothing about attaching your ID number to it in the most proper way possible. Heck, when the 13-year-old and I volunteered at the half marathon bag check at the Baltimore marathon, people threw cell phones at us with a tag wrapped around it as they huffed to the start in a panic. One person gave us his keys, no ID. I'm like, hey buddy. You're gonna want at least a tag around them, huh? I can just imagine the scorn those folks would feel from the Disney marathon volunteers/employees in the land of the organized, anal retention (actually I would probably fit right in).
It was then time to schlep the 20-minute walk in the dark to the starting corrals. Unfortunately, though, the race wasn't due to start for another hour and ten minutes, so I took my time, figuring as long as I kept moving maybe I wouldn't notice the 15-mph 29-degree wind in my face. The conversation buzz among runners making their way to the start line, very pied piper-esque, was, without exception, about how freaking cold it was. Every few feet there were energetic Disney volunteers or employees directing runners toward the starting area. “We’re trying out a new concept,” one sprightly Disney employee said to us as we passed, “the Disney Freeze – what do you think?” It was universally agreed among those of us who passed that the Disney Freeze idea sucked.
The journey to the start area was well lit using generators, and, as I passed said generators, I noticed groups of runners congregated around them. At first I thought it was to enjoy or utilize the light; I soon discovered that the generators were throwing off some delightfully hot air as an added bonus to their lighting capabilities. I sauntered over to a generator surrounded by about 5 runners and asked whether I could join the group. “Sure!” exclaimed my fellow marathoner, “share our warm dirty air!” During the time I stayed around the generator sucking in the delightfully dirty hot air, about 25 minutes, we all compared notes on how many marathons we had run and where we hailed from. “I came from Canada, and it’s the same temperature here that it was there,” he lamented. Another told me that yesterday’s temperature in Denver was warmer than the Orlando’s. heh heh. funny.
One of the things that a marathoner treasures about running the distance is the camaraderie of your fellow nuts who are out here running 26.2 miles with you. There are always characters certain to entertain, whether by chatting or by clothing. Notwithstanding the 29-degree dark morning, there were folks in short-sleeved shirts and shirts; there were Elvises, there were men in kilts. There was also a runner I’ll call Happy Charlie, who cracked jokes for quite a few miles, telling us “I’ll be here all day, folks.” I actually wanted to take him out.
I think the thing that most amused me was the kid-like exuberance with which the runners ran up to have their pictures taken with the Disney characters along the marathon route. “Oh, HOOK!” one 45-year-old cried excitedly; he ran over, put an arm around his idol and had his picture taken, a silly grin from ear to ear.
All in all, the Disney marathon didn’t disappoint. Experts at crowd control, their management of the marathon proved no exception. Water, Powerade, and other snacks were animatedly offered, announcers and DJs who had clearly had too much caffeine energized runners, the finish line activities were well organized, and the employees and volunteers were extremely helpful and friendly, regardless of their frozen fingers.
I finished in the time I thought I would (just a slow training marathon for fun for me), found my warm sweatshirt, and got out alive.
Later that day I flew home. When I arrived at the Philly airport and made my way onto the frozen jetway I said: "ah. Feels like Florida."