First-time Marathoner Explains It All: What’s It Like Running A Marathon?

What’s it like running a marathon? Long. I ran my first marathon on January 8, 2023 during the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and learned a lot about myself in the 26.2 (more like 26.93, according to my Garmin) miles. While the course took us through all four parks, past multiple resorts, and around some secret Disney passages (fancy way to “dumpsters” and “water treatment plants”), 26.2 miles are a lot to run and many, according to most of those I’ve spoken to about this race, don’t even drive that far. So, what is it like running a marathon? Let me tell you based on my experience with the WDW Marathon.

Pre-race and The Corrals

You have to be up early – I’m talking by 2:30 (yes, AM), depending on how many in your room (if you’re on property) are racing and how long you take to prepare for the race. I wanted to be at the beginning of my corral, as it was the last one for the race, since I did not provide proof of time (POT) and I wanted to get on the course as soon as possible. So, the earlier you rise, the sooner you get to the busses/race transportation, the closer to the front of your corral you can get.

You will also be waiting for a long time, so bring some throw away clothes (they will be donated) if it seems like it’ll be chilly, pull up some tar, and get to know your fellow runners. But don’t forget to use this time to fuel a little more and hydrate! While the wait is long, nothing hits like those fireworks that send you off.

Miles 1 – 4

Fireworks and fresh legs will make you want to fly out of the corrals and through these first miles – especially because they’re a little on the boring side. I don’t remember the beginning of this race, probably because it was all on the road. I do know that I forgot to take my first gel at mile 4 and really had to use the bathroom. So, after having my first gel (shout out to Maurtens), my bladder wore me down and I caved, using a porta potty for the first time. After all, I had another 22 miles to go.

Miles 5 – 9

I realized I was actually running at this point, meaning the legs were starting to feel a little less fresh and the slightest bit of fatigue was kicking in around mile 7. We made our way past some of the Magic Kingdom resorts and while there was some course entertainment and spots for spectators, my energy and willingness to pretend everything was fine was dwindling. This happened around mile 9, as I “enjoyed” another gel.

Miles 10 – 13.1

They say running through the Magic Kingdom is the reason to do these races and it did not disappoint. In my family, we call memories like running down Main Street with lines of cheering people, encouraging signs with bathroom humor, and the castle glistening in the humid morning sun “death bed memories” or DBMs. And this one sure will be. While these miles led to the halfway point, my legs were just starting to feel that fatigue, but not quite heavy. They knew they were working. But they knew they had a long way to go.

Miles 14 – 17

I checked in with myself at mile 14, after taking another gel – and my last bit of fuel for the rest of the race (due to – spoiler alert – a couple miles of nausea). I felt good, so I picked up the pace a tad. But these miles were long, lonely, and quiet as we ran behind Magic Kingdom and towards the next park. It was a hike to get to Animal Kingdom and by mile 16, I was beginning to regret not “just doing” the half marathon. Not to mention, we were running around the water treatment plant – no wonder I felt sick soon after.

Miles 18 – 23

I wanted to stop. I called my parents and we talked while I ran and they tracked me virtually. We ran past Coronado Springs (and yes, we), we reached mile 20 together, and they helped keep me from concentrating on the burning pain in the ball of my foot and blooming nausea. At mile 20, I texted my marketing family and they helped keep me going through to Hollywood Studios, where I met up with my friend (who ran the 5K with me two days prior and then travelled to meet me at the park so she would see me for literally 5 seconds). I struggled to keep my composure after I saw her – the support runners need through these later miles is incredible, so please keep this in mind when running or spectating.

Miles 24 – 25

The burning in my foot subsided enough to keep running and the nausea settled by the time I finished Hollywood Studios. All I had to do was make it through the biggest party I think I’ll ever attend: the final stretch through the Boardwalk and EPCOT. They aren’t kidding when runners stop for beer, boozy mixed drinks, and Mickey pretzels for an immediate finish line celebration.

By this point, the park was bubbling with guests – spectators who knew exactly what was going on, people prepped with more signs, runners who had completed races from the days before – and those who had absolutely no idea why thousands of people were running through the countries. At mile 25, my third wind kicked in and I enjoyed screaming back at the cheering spectators to get them riled up.

Mile 26

At mile 26, I had to blink back more tears – I was going to do it. I was going to become a marathoner. I rounded the corner behind EPCOT with other runners and could hear the commentators calling out some of the names of finishers, calling them “marathoners,” the roar of the hundreds of people lining the gates and sitting on the bleachers. I saw the finish line and flew down that last tenth, past the announcers, past a waving Mickey Mouse sporting his best track suit, and across that finish line.

Across The Finish Line

Completing the marathon was one of the most physically and emotionally demanding things I have done. Painful? Yes. Long? Heck yeah. Rewarding? 100% Do I plan to do it again? Keep the challenges coming, baby.

So, have you run a marathon? Maybe you’ve participated in a Disney race – or have a local race experience that really stuck with you? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that this is solely my experience completing the Walt Disney World Marathon and I am not a coach or professional athlete (obviously). I was lucky to have had a wonderful support system through the race as well as my training and had an all-around positive experience. Every athlete is different, and experiences during each race will be just as unique.

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