I started running in high school because I suck at sports and the cross country team didn’t make cuts. A few years later I ran the Disney Marathon for the first time, and did it nearly every year for over a decade. Why? There’s no why. There’s no reason in long distance running beyond a primal urge to just keep putting one foot in front of the other until the animal you’re chasing gives up or until a half-interested volunteer drapes a medal you won’t know what to do with around your neck before pushing your half-dead body in the direction of the biggest pile of Powerades you’ve ever seen in your life. You sign up for one race, and that didn’t kill you, so you sign up for another, longer race, and then another, and then you’re signed up for races you don’t even remember hearing about until you see the reminder email to go down to the local sneaker shop to get your bib and scratchy t-shirt, and then suddenly you’re thirty-two years old and using two extra thick mats to do yoga on because your knees have mostly been replaced with ground glass.
There’s another famous/infamous marathon at Disney World, one Disney doesn’t promote but doesn’t discourage, either: The International Pub Crawl at the Epcot Center. The World Showcase side of the park opens daily at eleven and starts selling alcohol immediately, giving you practically an entire day to casually drink in eleven different countries while wearing cargo shorts and fighting other families for spaces of shade. I’ve done both, but there was only one year I did them back to back.
You’re thinking now I ran the foot race in the morning and drank the beer race in the afternoon. You fool. You bulbous cretin. Do you have any idea how big Epcot is? It’s literally a mile from the back of the park to the front. Do you think I want to walk around that much after having already been in motion for twenty-six miles? Of course not. After twenty-six miles the only things I ever want to do is get in a hot tub and die. We did the only logical thing, and drank the day before the race.
We were not pussy-footing the drinking that day, either, oh fuck no. We were not sticking to beers and we were not splitting. For whatever reason that day we decided we were doing the whole thing on Friends of Bill Mode. We probably would have spent the day using our free hands to punch our livers if the force of the impacts wouldn’t make our drinks spill. We started off with beers in Canada, where they are Not Fucking Around with ABV, then it was off to England to get Guinness and make a mockery of ourselves in front of Mary Poppins.
Things started going sideways in France. France isn’t exactly known for their beers, and while some of the group were willing to chew their way through a Stella Artois I wanted something that didn’t have wood shavings in it. I don’t remember what I got except that it was hedonistically orange. Same thing happened in Italy, where instead of suffering through a Peroni I got a plastic wine glass of Chianti. So, you know, the mixing was going great. We did shots of Aquavit in Norway and then things get super hazy. The only concrete memory of the park I have after this is sitting in the tequila bar in Mexico and watching my uncle take a gentle sip of a tequila shot. I did my shot, called him a pussy, and drank his. I am a happy drunk.
The next thing I remember that doesn’t have Vaseline rubbed all over the memory is waking up at two-thirty because my brain was afraid I was dying and decided to crank up my heart rate to around 200 bpm. I was still drunk, so I thought, great! It’s almost time to get ready anyway!
See, the thing about the Disney marathon is, they still want to get as many regular people in the parks paying money that day as possible. So they start these things off at five in the morning and try to have it shut down by midday. Race day we’re waking up at three to just get there, fight the crowd to park, go through bag check, and walk the half a mile to the corrals before the starting gun. It was so early in the morning the hangover didn’t properly kick in until I had been running for three miles.
I was sweating alcohol. The rising sun hurt my eyes. My guts sounded like a creaking ship and I pitied anyone who needed to use the port-o-john after me. I was at every water station simultaneously, double fisting those little Dixie cups and screaming at the volunteers that I would tell them when I had had enough. Proud to say I never puked, but my stomach was also not accepting new submissions at this time unless it was water and nearly revolted the one time I accidentally grabbed a cup of Powerade. By the middle of the race I thought I’d gotten through the worst of it.
The 2oth mile marker is on this little stretch of highway leading to Hollywood Studios. You take a big, uneven overpass down onto this road and follow it up to this intersection where there’s a water station and a medical tent. I do these things so slow by the time I got to this point it was late morning. There was no shade. Mile 20 in the Boston Marathon is called ‘heartbreak hill,’ and I think as a tribute to that, all along this little stretch, squatting in the grass like musical toads, were huge speakers blaring “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond on repeat. Right as “Sweet Caroline” started up for the second time, my toes began to cramp. My stomach rejecting the Powerade meant I hadn’t gotten any salts or electrolytes all morning. With every step the cramps became deeper, and my toes hugged my feet tighter. By the time I had heard “Sweet Caroline” for the fourth time I was practically running on my toe nails. I almost stopped at the medical tent just to massage them, but I knew if I took off my sneakers I’d never put them back on.
There’s this mentality that kind of creeps up on you during long races like this. I had been training for months, spent many Sunday mornings going for runs as nearly as long as the actual marathon but without as many Disney characters or water breaks or things to distract me. No matter the pain, or the damage you think you’re doing to yourself, you put so much work into the race, you just think you’ll finish it and deal with it after and possibly never run again? But that’s fine, as long as you finish this race. My foot could have snapped at the ankle and I would have put it back on with duct tape and kept going. What was a little electrolyte imbalance among friends? What could it cause, a heart arrhythmia? Piss on that, my heart was already racing.
In another universe that race probably killed me. Here, it just taught me a very valuable lesson: foot race, then beer race.
My toes didn’t uncurl until around midnight.
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