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Not long after welcoming Harper into the world, I came across the Disney Marathon. Not giving it serious consideration, yet, I thought it sounded really cool to complete a marathon at Disney. That idea progressed when I learned about the Dopey Challenge. 4 days. 4 races. 6 medals. Not sure I could physically do it, but I was excited. I mentioned it to Adam and we knew it wouldn’t be any time soon as I would need at least at year to train, possibly longer. Fast forward to 2019 and the Disney discussions were more serious, but also filled with a bit of doubt. Could I prepare my body to run 48.6 miles over 4 days? Are we ready to take our 2-year old to Disney? Will any of our family members be joining us? There was a lot of uncertainty, and as much as I knew I wanted to give it a shot, I didn’t know how we would finally decide. I knew the date registration was going to open and sometimes these races sell out very quickly. Registration snuck up upon us and we still didn’t have a decision. I remember standing in our kitchen and bringing it up to Adam, knowing I could not have it sell out. Adam was incredibly supportive and he encouraged me to go for it. He reiterated how much work it would be, how much running I would be doing, but reminded me that we could figure out the logistical items. I had that gut feeling and had to go for it. So, I did. I pulled out my phone, completed registration and officially signed up as a Dopey Challenge Competitor! I called my parents in excitement and then it was time to run, run, and run some more!
My goal during training was to remain consistent, even when some runs were shorter than they probably should have been. There were runs early in the morning, at night, in the rain (a 10-miler), and in 90-degrees weather. I told myself I wanted to have 3 20-mile runs in the final two months of training, and despite getting sick twice, I was able to accomplish these. This was the best way for me to convince myself I was prepared… well, as much as I could be while trying to be a present mother and wife.
As you will see below, our families were unable to accompany us. We would have loved for them to come along, but looking back on it now, Adam and I feel so grateful we were able to have Harper all to ourselves for our first family trip to Disney! We constantly talk about this being the best trip, and it truly was!!
It was a Monday morning and our car was packed with many bags, food, books, stuffed animals, and the most creative travel activity book for Harper (thank you, Mimi)! We decided splitting the trip would be best, so we were headed to our first destination, Savannah. We loved every minute of our time in Savannah, and can’t wait to go back! We arrived at night and grabbed a quick dinner after checking in at the hotel – The Kimpton Brice. Thanks to our room being upgraded to a suite, Harper had a bed to herself. We started off the next day by grabbing breakfast at Little Duck Diner (we may have also stopped again on our way back home). It was delicious! We then took a few hours to explore Savannah since Adam and I had never visited. It was perfect – exploring River Street, admiring the live oaks covered in Spanish Moss, and watching a horse-drawn carriage take the streets.
As much as we hated to leave Savannah after a quick visit, we knew arriving at Disney was going to be filled with excitement. Harper was finally able to get a good nap in the car, despite getting unhappy because Adam and I couldn’t walk/rock/hold her. It felt quite surreal arriving and seeing the sign, “Walt Disney World, Where Dreams Come True.” There was much anticipation and excitement, and I was still trying to grasp being at Disney with Adam and Harper. Definitely a dream come true!
We got checked in, bought a few items at the gift shop, and grabbed a bite from the on-site restaurant. We had a chill night getting settled in. It was my last chance to sleep in past 3am for a few days so I was definitely trying to take advantage of some rest.
Our first full day at Disney kicked off with the race expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. I had to pick up my race packet, as well as Harper’s (more on this later). We even stood in line to grab pictures with a Dopey display before grabbing a tasty lunch and letting Harper eat her first Mickey ice cream. Next up was some other areas of the expo with lots of marathon merchandise. Thoughtful as always, Adam surprised me by picking out a t-shirt. The crazy story we have regarding the expo is losing Harper’s MagicBand. I was wearing hers, trying to ensure we wouldn’t lose it, and we think it may have popped off while I was carrying her. Once I noticed it was missing, we traced our steps, searching the floor constantly. No luck, so we went to customer relations and told them what happened. They asked what color and who’s name is on it. It was pulled from behind the counter and we are so thankful for whomever found it and turned it in. Harper still wears hers occasionally. We continued on walking through the expo and found ourselves waiting in line once again, but this time it was for a picture with Mickey. Definitely worth it!
We headed back to the hotel after the expo and took it easy for a little bit, aka, me trying to stay off my feet as much as possible. We got ready for dinner and headed out for The Grand Floridian. Somebody got a sleepy on the ride over to the Magic Kingdom bus stop. We took a boat ride to get to dinner, with a snoozing Harper on Adam’s shoulder and an amazing sunset. Dinner was fantastic, and although Harper wasn’t sure what to think, it was a lot of fun meeting Cinderella, Prince Charming and several other characters. We headed back to our room for the night and my time to participate in the Dopey Challenge was upon us!
3am came quick, but I was excited to get the running started! I took a bus over to the race area, stood in line for a picture with Minnie, and knocked out the 5K (3.1 miles). I headed back to the hotel and hopped back in bed. Thankfully Harper was still asleep. This was our day to visit Magic Kingdom (my favorite park) and I couldn’t wait! I’ll let the pictures speak for how great our day was, which was perfect. For me, the highlights of the day were riding Dumbo with Harper, hearing Harper yell “Pooh Bear” and “Tigger” right before meeting them, riding Space Mountain, eating dinner with Pooh and his friends, watching Harper light up when we bought her a Pooh stuffed animal, and then watching (and stealing a kiss) the most magical fireworks show with Adam, while Harper slept on his shoulder. The MOST magical day!
The 10K (6.1 miles) run day arrived and I was still feeling pretty good. The early mornings weren’t too bad and I was still holding onto a good bit of excitement and confidence. I completed the race in about an hour or so and like the previous day, I headed back to the hotel to grab some sleep before we adventured to Epcot (Adam’s favorite park). We began with the aquarium and rode our first attraction as a family. I grabbed an iced chai latter and Adam snagged a beer as we headed to get a few pictures with Goofy. Before grabbing some lunch in Germany, we made our way through several countries as I was alternating tennis shoes. The soreness was kicking in and I had a lot of running to come. We continued to explore, coming across a photo opportunity with Donald Duck in Mexico, which was Harper’s favorite so far. Dinner was delicious, as we ate the presence of several princesses. The funniest moment came when we received a visit from Cinderella and Harper thought it would be fun to stick her tongue out at her. Silly girl. We made our way back to the aquarium, after grabbing some pictures with Minnie and before I rode Soarin’ Around the World. Adam insisted I ride it since it would be my first time and I loved it! We couldn’t leave without buying Harper another stuffed animal and she had the BEST smile as we rode back to the hotel!
Saturday came and it was time for the half marathon (13.1 miles). I managed to wake up around 2am once again and Adam and Harper were such troopers to walk me to the bus. I rode the charter bus over to the start, which was in a different area (with a much longer walk) than the previous two days. It was quite the sight seeing hundreds of charter buses bringing thousands of runners each day. I had a tough time shaking the initial soreness in my feet, but eventually that settled and I had a good run. It was a slower run for me as I was trying to not overexert myself. While I was finishing up the half marathon, Adam was getting Harper ready for her first race, the Goofy 100-meter Dash. As much as I was trying to make this run a slower one, I had to hustle at the end in order to meet them at ESPN. I finished my race, took a bus to our hotel, took a bus to ESPN, and made it in time to “run” with her. It was a lot of fun to walk around with her, sporting our race bibs and medals!
We decided not to visit a park this day. It was definitely the right choice to have a relaxing afternoon by the pool, with a nap just before. Harper was in her stroller, all ready for the pool, and then we noticed she was asleep. It became a much needed family nap. After our time at the pool, we headed back to our room for showers and then off to dinner at the Contemporary Resort. My nerves about the marathon were really ramping up by this time, especially seeing how hot it was going to be for race day. Dinner ran a bit late so we got back to our hotel much later than expected. Sleep was going to be minimal, and we also had to get all of our stuff packed up since checkout was during my race.
Marathon race day was here! The final piece to completing the Dopey Challenge. The tiredness. The sore feet. The nerves. The heat. The remaining 26.2 miles to run. When I woke up, from my less than 3 hours sleep, I felt like I couldn’t do it. Adam will even now admit there was a moment when he thought I wasn’t going to go. All I wanted to do was sleep. That’s it. I just wanted to lay back down and sleep. Somehow, I found just enough energy and motivation to leave the our room and catch the bus. I had to give myself pep talks, knowing I was so close to achieving all that I trained for over the last year.
I showed up to the start line, feeling so nervous. The high was predicted to be at least 80 degrees, with very high humidity. The first 8 miles of the race went pretty well because the sun wasn’t up yet. The heat climbed quickly and it got hot fast. I made sure to take multiple cups of water and gatorade at each station. It was so sweet to receive encouraging messages from my family throughout the race.
The course of the marathon was going to run through all four Disney parks; Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. It was a really neat experience to have the opportunity to enter and leave the parks in areas that are usually off limits. During the earlier part of the race, I was given a wet towel that I kept around my neck to help stay cool. Water was poured on this numerous times, and I was also given two sponges that I tucked in the front and back of my shirt. The heat was something else. I had never ran this long of a distance in such hot weather. I even had a bag of ice that helped me power through the last two miles of the race. I was so determined to finish the race, but tried to do all I could to stay healthy and safe.
The last mile of the race was came back through Epcot and it was so special. There were so many people cheering for us and I could feel like the excitement! I checked in with Adam, who had to get our car packed and checked out of the hotel without any help from me (rockstar dad), as I was getting closer to the finish line. There was some talk about him and Harper not being there when I crossed the finish line due to waiting on buses. They made it JUST in time, with maybe a minute or two to spare, and saw me cross the finish line!! I did it! I couldn’t believe it, but I became a Dopey Challenge finisher! It was amazing, and I got to talk with my mom right after finishing.
Adam offered to let us hang around the post-race area and take pictures with characters, but I was done. I was done with the heat. I was done with standing. I leaned against Adam as we waited for a bus and couldn’t wait to sit and enjoy some AC. We were off to grab some food with Mickey and his friends!
We headed back to the Contemporary Resort for lunch at Chef Mickey’s. I didn’t have too much of an appetite, which is usual for me after a long run, but I knew it was important to get some calories in, and the food was delicious. It was a lot of fun to visit with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald, and to show them my medals too! Walking around the hotel, there were several people who congratulated me and it was really enjoyable to hear such nice compliments from complete strangers. Other than lunch, there wasn’t much resting time until we began our trip back to Savannah, which was a couple of hours later. Despite what I was feeling, I think having to do some more walking and not becoming sedentary really helped in my recovery. We finished up by going to the arcade and finding a massage chair. We got to our car and I was so excited to take off my shoes and finally sit. I felt SO tired. I felt pain. I felt sunburnt. I felt exhausted. Most importantly, I felt accomplished and happy. Our Disney trip was absolutely magical, and it will always be one of our favorite memories!!