January 2015 I saw a Reddit post about a guy's mother who ran the Goofy Challenge at Walt Disney World. For those unaquainted, the Disney theme parks host a variety of runs throughout the year. Many are themed (Tinkerbell Half Marathon, Star Wars Half, etc etc) but once each year both Disney World and Disney Land do an unthemed series of runs. Disneyland does a 5k, 10k, and half marathon in November while Disney World does a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon in January. The Goofy Challenge consists of running the Disney World Half Marathon on Saturday and the Disney World Marathon the next day on Sunday.
I saw the picture of this woman holding up three large medals and thought to myself "I want those medals!" I'd never run anything longer than a 5k but Chris Peterson's journey from no running to Boston Marathon convinced me that I could train and pull it off. I started doing my research. I looked up the Goofy Challenge and discovered that there was also a Dopey Challenge. A successful completion of the Dopey Challenge requires running a 5k on Thursday, a 10k on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday, and a full marathon on Sunday. "Perfect!" I thought to myself, "I did MIT, I can do this! Besides, I get 6 medals if I do this one!"
I registered in April and began my training. I won't bore you with the nitty gritty of training but gradually I increased my distances until I was ready to run my first half marathon. In order to register for the Dopey Challenge you have to prove that you're even remotely qualified, which means submitting a "proof of time" for a race that's 10 miles or longer in length. In a fit of madness I registered for a whole host of half marathons that summer. The first one was in June - video of my misery below (I ran this race using run/walk intervals so you'll hear me referring to run portions and walk portions):
My next half marathon was in Seattle and was called "Beat the Blerch" - a race sponsored and created by Matthew Inman (creator of The Oatmeal). I got an awesome time at that one, around 1 hour 50 minutes, which is what I used for my proof of time for Disney.
Next was a half marathon in Mt. Angel, Oregon - an Oktoberfest run, which was fun BUT ultimately led to a lot of frustration because that's when I got a stress fracture in my left foot. I had to completely stop running from October until the races in January which definitely sucked but it was much more important to heal than to try to train and re-injure myself.
December 31st of 2015 was my last day of work at Triad Speakers in Portland (I had submitted my 2 weeks notice 2 weeks prior). I had a few days to chillax and then it was off to Disney World with Bianca (who registered for the half marathon). Bianca had also left her job and we had a sale pending on my house so we were really looking forward to our trip - there's nothing quite like a week long trip to Disney World with no work hanging over your head and no financial burden (due to the equity we were going to get from the house).
Oh, also, this happened a few months before the trip, which also made it a bunch more fun.
So off we went!
We had an entire day in the Magic Kingdom before the first race so we went nuts - we ate everything, we bought everything, we took pictures with all the characters, it was awesome! It was my first time in Disney World and I loved it :)
The next day was the 5k and my first time at Epcot. Let me tell you, running through Epcot in the early morning with no crowds, in the dark, with all the torches blazing, and music blasting, was BEAUTIFUL. It was incredible, I highly recommend! During my training I would typically run 5 miles during my lunch break, 4-5 times a week, so a 5k was definitely more of a fun run. I made sure to stop for pictures with characters and take it a bit easy so I could enjoy a full day of Epcot afterwards.
About a half hour later I was done!
That day we pooped around Epcot and met lots more characters. I also had a chance to wear the AWESOME hat that I bought the day before. When you squeeze a spot on the brim all the stars start glowing and lighting up.
Have I mentioned that these races start really early in the morning? 6AM. That means I'm up at 4AM every morning, so please excuse the "I'm exhausted" look I have in many of these park pictures :) I didn't take hardly any naps so I was definitely sleep-deprived.
The next morning was the 10k (or about 6 miles). It was raining but there were lots more characters to geek out with.
Day 3 in the parks, after I showered and changed from the 10k, was spent at Hollywood Studios. Let me tell you something - as much as people rave about Space Mountain and the Tower of Terror, the BEST ride in all of Disney World was the Aerosmith roller coaster. Supremely underrated!
And, of course, more character pictures. I spent quite a bit of money to purchase a photo package that allowed us to keep every single photo that was taken of us in the parks. As such, I was determined to get photos with every single character I saw. No regrets! Also, now you'll start to notice the appearance of my awesome big white Mickey glove. It also lights up :)
We also met Darth Vader but he was kinda a dick (either a method actor or a disgruntled actor, not sure which) so none of our pictures turned out incredibly well with him.
The next morning was the half marathon! Bianca ran this one as well so we both had to get up early and put our running clothes on. I wasn't incredibly worried about this race because it was a distance I'd run many times and I knew that I'd be stopping a bunch for character photos. Unfortunately there weren't that many characters that I hadn't already had pictures with :(
We both knocked out the half and wandered back to the hotel in order to change, shower, and hit the parks again! In an effort to not overly-exert myself to before the marathon the next day we decided to do the Magic Kingdom again. We figured since we'd done many of the rides and activities already we could spend more time sitting and casually taking in the experience.
We went to bed a little bit earlier this night, Saturday night, so that I could get enough sleep before the marathon. I felt . . . ok. My legs/feet were definitely feeling the abuse I'd been putting them through but I felt well enough that I thought the marathon would be possible. Granted, I'd never run a marathon before (or anything longer than a half) so I really had no idea what to expect.
During our first day in the parks I'd walked 22k steps. The next day, the day of the 5k, I had 30k steps. The day of the 10k I had 33k steps. The day of the half I had 45k steps. I don't know how many of you all wear fitbits or step trackers but these are some serious numbers. Most people shoot for 10k a day. 20k means you did something out of the ordinary. I'd had 4 consecutive days of 20k+, 3 consecutive days of 30k+, and was about to run a marathon the day after putting in 45k steps.
This is the part where I say to Chris Peterson "Damn you for being so inspiring, you're going to get me killed."
The next morning I woke up early but Bianca didn't. It was going to take between 5-6 hours for me to run the marathon and there was no reason for her to just sit around that whole time. We agreed that she'd head over to the Animal Kingdom (halfway point) and cheer for me when I got there. I turned my Garmin watch's GPS so she could follow along and plan for when I'd arrive.
These are my "Oh boy, here we go" pictures. See how awake my eyes look?!
The marathon started great! It was really humid (Florida) but I made sure to drink TONS of water and powerade at the stops. God bless the people at the drink stations who got the ratios wrong and used way too much powerade concentrate, it was like drinking syrup and it was heavenly.
About 6 miles into the run we passed through Cinderella's Castle and I was in great spirits!
I also saw some of my favorite characters of all time!
Around mile 9 or 10 I saw a bunch more awesome characters.
As it got lighter it started to get warmer. As it got warmer it got a bit less fun. The first half of the race, however, was almost entirely pleasant. There were enough people cheering, enough music playing, and enough stuff to look at that I didn't put my headphones on even once. In fact, when I saw Bianca at mile 13, I gave them to her so I wouldn't have to bother anymore.
Also, a quick note about people cheering - they're the best! Many bring candy, pretzels, snacks, and other things for the runners to grab on their way by. They also hold awesome signs that say things like "If I see you pass out and collapse I'll run over and pause your Garmin for you!" Thank you to everybody who comes out and cheers and feeds the runners :)
The water stops at Disney races are awesome because it's not always just water. Every once in a while you get banana stops (good lord those taste good) and chocolate stops (heaven). There was even a wet sponge stop, which was one of the coolest things ever!
Ok, so, like I said, the first half of the marathon was fine. I hit 13 miles and did some mental gymnastics in order to avoid reminding myself that I was only halfway done. I trucked onward.
Not too long after mile 13 I started to realize that this wasn't necessarily going to be fun for the rest of the race. It started to get hard. Not helping were the giant green army man characters berating us and yelling at us to "Toughen up, soldier! Run up that hill! Quit walking and run!" I almost lunged at him to beat his stupid green face with my shaking fists.
Not too long after Animal Kingdom we ended up in the ESPN sports complex. Screw. This. Place. The only reason this leg of the race exists is because Disney needed to eat up some miles (the course was too short without this leg) so they have you run serpentine paths all over these random sports fields for 45 minutes. It's terrible! It's also right around mile 18 or 19, which are the worst miles EVER. Mile 19 is where your body starts to actively protest against what you're doing to it and when you have to just tell it to shut up and keep moving. I put on a happy face for the pictures but inside I was most decidedly unhappy. Everybody running in that complex was complaining the entire time.
After the sports complex we "ran" (read, shuffled and limped) to Hollywood Studios. This was about mile 22ish (can't totally remember). This seems like it'd be far enough that you could tell yourself "You've run 22 miles out of 26! You're so close! It's no big deal, just finish it!" when in reality, if you do the math, 4 more miles at the reduced pace you've been beaten down to is actually another HOUR of running. Running through Hollywood Studios was when my emotional wiring short circuited. My body was so tired, running hurt just as much as walking, and my body was running out of things to do to convince me to stop running so it just started making me cry. I wasn't sad, I wasn't in so much pain that I would normally cry, but my body was like "F- it, if he won't listen to pain or exhaustion, maybe crying will work."
The pictures of me in Hollywood Studios (and Epcot immediately thereafter) are magnificent in their portrayal of my misery. I mean, come on, look at these!
I kept going, though, and eventually I was seeing the signs for mile 24, then 25, and then 26. That last 0.2 miles felt like an eternity but at least it was an eternity with an ending.
My face when I laid eyes on the finish line:
No magestic finish line photo for me! When I crossed the finish line I got this awesome picture of me desperately trying to avoid throwing up and sobbing my soul out
I saw Bianca cheering just past the finish line so I walked over and leaned against the railing and just started sobbing. We're talking ugly cry supreme. My body just gave up and the only outlet it had was to bend me over and give me a complete emotional breakdown. Medics literally ran over to try to help me because they thought I'd injured myself.
"Nope, just suck at running, thanks!"
But! In just over 6 hours, I'd done it! 4 days, 4 runs, 6 medals, and one happy picture with Dopey at the very end
Bianca helped me limp back to the shuttle to take us to our hotel, where I showered and changed. Then what'd we do? GO TO THE PARKS OF COURSE, LIKE A COUPLE OF IDIOTS WITH A DEATH WISH AND NO REGARD FOR THE PHYSICAL CONSEQUENCES OF OUR ACTIONS!
Look at that thousand yard stare
In this picture I am jealous of Tinkerbell because she is sitting and I want to be.
We did the safari and rode Expedition Everest before I just couldn't take it anymore. We went back to the hotel, ordered copious amounts of pizza, and then I slept the sleep of the dead.
Final step count for Sunday? 63,552.
The next morning was our last day at the parks. Bianca and I did Magic Kingdom for the third and final time. We ate sugary things, we rode rides, got more character photos (I'll spare you, you've probably seen enough) and we capped off the evening with dinner at Be Our Guest restaurant (a restaurant themed to match the ballroom from Beauty and the Beast). It was awesome! It's the only restaurant in the Magic Kingdom that serves alcohol so we ordered a bottle of the "Enchantee Rose"
Every once in a while the Beast would walk through the dining room and check on his guests. We all clapped with gratitude at the Master's hospitality and generosity.
We also made sure to try the gray stuff (it was delicious).
And we said goodbye to the Master of the castle before we departed
It was a wonderful dinner to cap off a wonderful trip. The next morning we took a shuttle to the airport and returned to real life back in Oregon.
For those of you wondering if you could/should do this? Yes, you can. Yes, you should. It sucks. Running is dumb. But it was awesome and I'll remember this trip forever.