It’s marathon #9 for me, “the first marathon of the new millennium” as the saying would go I suppose. Training has been solo this year, in near perfect weather of temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s. I’ve not run in heat for three months! The day before the race I hook up with my former Vero Beach training buddy, Ted Twitchell, who refuses to move to Tallahassee to train with me! We set our game plan for the next day of “Meeting at the T family reunion tent at 4:30 a.m.” to meet up and run together. (NOTE TO NON RUNNERS: yes, meet at 4:30 in the morning to run 26.2 miles together.) After my 3 a.m. rise and shine I down my bagel and Power Bar (NOTE TO NON RUNNERS: Power Bar is a food bar that looks, smells and tastes like dog food, except on race day when it magically takes on wonderful qualities) I head out and meet up with Ted. Also present were Mike and Patty, folks from Vero Beach and Keith, a friend from Tallahassee. We swap plans and head out for the start, at 6:00 a.m. promptly.
Ted and I run together and at about the 1 mile mark we see two ambulances, two fire trucks, a state patrol car, and a sheriff’s car with lights flashing. The fog amplifies them greatly and as we pass Ted and I say, “I wonder what happened there.” The newspaper the next day tells us that tragically a 56-year-old guy from Canada dropped dead and the trooper who was doing CPR on him passed out. The runner had a large chest scar and was carrying nitro tablets in his butt pack – obviously a prior history of heart problems. His wife was running the race too and she was not told until she crossed the finish line.
Ted and I continue and at about the 2 mile mark we pass “The Coatman.” He shows up every year, dressed this year in street shoes, knee-high neon yellow socks, long stringy hair painted red, carrying a pizza box with a bottle of Coke on top, and wearing a long denim jacket with “C-O-A-T-M-A-N” on the back. Ted asks, “How many does this make Coatman?” He replies “Seventy five.” The Coatman is a few slices short of a full pizza, and we leave him behind, entering EPCOT.
Just shy of EPCOT we see a gal in front of us wearing what first looked like roller blades. As we got closer we saw that they were some fancy shoes/boots with “springs” on them. I am not sure of the purpose as it looked very difficult to run in. Ted remarked, “Man, would you look at the perfectly sculptured body on her.” I didn’t notice, preferring instead to focus on my race. (NOTE TO NON RUNNERS: The last statement was a lie!) As we pass under what I call “The Golf Ball” at EPCOT Ted says, “I love EPCOT.” I reply with, “I’ll love it a lot more the next time I see it” referring to the 26 mile point on the course when we pass back through. At the first water point we grab water and Powerade and drink that. I double, to four cups, my usual drinking in anticipation of the heat. My plan was to walk 45 seconds at each water point but Ted wants to begin sooner so I kick in, wondering if that will come back to haunt me later.
At the six-mile mark Ted says, “we are right on track for four and a half hours.” I ask, “Want to hear my prediction?” He does and I say, “4:42.” Ted says, “I can live with that. After all, what we are going to do today is relax and be patient.” It sounds good to me so we keep plugging away.
As we pass the 9-mile mark and approach the Magic Kingdom I tell Ted, “I’m sorry but when we get into the Magic Kingdom I’ve got to find a bathroom.” For the first time in 25 years of running I have to stop for a bathroom break requiring one to be seated to accomplish the needed activity. (NOTE TO NON RUNNERS: I apologize for providing more detail that may have been desired.) After one minute and 50 seconds (Yeah, runners even time THOSE stops!) we head out and I hear someone yelling, “DAVID.” I look left and it’s my wife with her friend and friend’s kids at the monorail. They were there waiting for me and Bill (friend’s husband) to pass by. I wave, yell, and head for the Magic Kingdom.
Miles 11 to 12 are inside the Magic Kingdom where there is the most music and hype. If the whole race were like that it would be great! We look left and see the gal with the “spring shoes” on. Ted notices the body, I do not! Shortly we pass two ladies who must be pushing 70 plugging along. Ted says, “Look at them.” I say, “Yeah, it took us 12 miles to catch them too.” Talk about feeling humbled!
We exit the park and head to the finish line for the half-marathoners, realizing we are now half way completed. I use this location as my “judge point” to see how I feel, and I feel good, not tired, and ready for 13.1 more. Off to the Animal Kingdom it is then! As we near that park, about mile 17, Ted says, “Man, can you ever smell those animals.” That generates an immediate need for bathroom break #2. I tell Ted of the need and suggest he go on, but he says, “Nah, we’re just out here to relax and have patience so go on and I’ll wait.” A minute and 50 seconds later we’re off again with the lion’s share (get it —- Lion — Animal Kingdom!!!) of the day behind us. The fog is still out and I remark to Ted, “Fog is good Ted, fog is good. The heat will be here soon though.” Ted says, “Relax and be patient.” OK, Ted, whatever you say — you’re the man today.
As we pass the 20-mile mark we look left at runners coming back our way and we see Mike and Patty. We swap yells, jealous that they are a mile or so ahead of us and we continue towards the Disney Wide World of Sports complex. At that spot is a high school band and cheerleaders (the age of my kid) and they are playing Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” That was THE SONG for high school bands when I was in high school, close to ten years before these kids were even born. It was a great flashback and gave me a shot of energy.
Shortly after the band and our turnaround we had the defining moment of he race. As we passed runners going the opposite direction we saw The Coatman. Ted and I high five each other and shout out “We’re beating The Coatman!!!” In years past the Coatman (street shoes, pizza, red hair, and all) had beaten us and Ted’s daughter would rub his face in it. “Look dad, The Coatman beat you.” “Hot damn” —we’re beating the dude this year. And then out comes the sun so “the heat is on” to quote the Eddie Murphy movie.
At mile 22 we hit a water point where we grab water and walk for maybe 30 seconds. I have two cups of water and Ted says, “you ready to run?” I spot a parked bus ahead and say, “Front of the bus.” Ted says, “OK” and we keep walking. We get to the back of the bus and Ted says, “You ready?” I say, “I SAID THE FRONT OF THE BUS!!!” We get there and I start running. I want to tell Ted, “Come on man, just relax and be patient” but I keep my mouth shut.
Into MGM we go, and the park is full of people. It’s fun running down “Hollywood Blvd” there looking at the people looking at us. They are probably saying to themselves, “They are stupid.” We are!
We exit MGM just shy of the 24-mile mark, the spot where two year earlier I had left Ted. He was sucking gas then and said “Go on man, you got it today.” Well, this year it was Ted’s year. At the exact same spot on the ground, I hit “the wall” and pulled way back. I saw Ted pull away and could see him glancing over his shoulder looking for me, nowhere to be found. I was happy for him because it was his day. I had left him 2 or 3 times in earlier marathons and it did my heart good to see him pull away. I decided to walk about 200 yards — sort of relax and be patient. I walked to the next water point, 24 miles, and grabbed two cups of PowerAde and sucked them down. Off I went heading for mile 25, EPCOT, and the race cameras.
In EPCOT, about 500 yards shy of the 26-mile mark I decide to take one final walk break of 20 seconds so I’ll “look good at the finish.” I pull up to a walk and this guy is next to me walking. He looks over and says, “Helluva day for me. I started to cramp at 15.” I wanted to say, “Well I have no excuse — I’m just slow.” I also wanted to say, “Look Bud, just relax and be patient” but I simply said, “Well, just around this corner and we’re home free.”
The most magnificent site of the day is coming out of EPCOT and seeing the finish banner 200 yards away. There are thousands of people there watching and as I approach the finish line the announcer shouts out, “David Thompson from Tallahassee Florida is crossing the finish line.” I slow down to enjoy the moment of the last 100 yards, aware that four months of training have paid off for this specific moment. It’s a great feeling to know I’ve endured heat, fog, cold, sickness, darkness, and loads of other factors and yet have managed to run 26 miles, 385 yards and not wind up in the back of an ambulance. I look at the watch and see 4:43:43. Not bad for a prediction of 4:42 some 20 miles ago. I hook up with Ted who has run 4:39 and Mike & Patty who were around 4:20. It’s marathon number 9 for me. Not my fastest, nor my slowest. Not my best, not my worst. It is however another life experience, one that not many folks attempt.
It’s three days after the race as I type this and I did take two days off from running. I’ll do an easy 4 miler tonight and call it a year for hard training. And in case you’re wondering (like my wife) “Is this your last one?” Well, just moments ago I sent an e-mail to Disney asking when I can get the application for the 2001 race. I’ll be there next year . My game plan? Relax —— and be patient! Here’s to you Ted!