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A Runner’s Diary: The Disney Half Marathon

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The morning of our flight out of JFK Airport to Orlando, Florida, for the Disney Half Marathon did not start off promising. I was sick with a violent cough and my shins were still bothering me even after taking three weeks off from training. I got a text message from Marti DiPaola, my running partner that said she didn’t feel well and was going to the doctor.

About an hour later, I got a text from Marti saying that “it was really bad.” I went into panic mode. I couldn’t believe how many obstacles were against us. First, she got sick with bronchitis, and then I got sick with bronchitis. She had to have minor surgery, and I developed shin splints. I got sick and then she got sick.

“Maybe it’s a sign,” I said to my mother on the phone that morning.

“If it snows hard and your flight is canceled, don’t go,” she said.

It snowed, but our flight wasn’t canceled or delayed. Marti called me and said that she had to go for some tests but that she was willing and ready to go to Disney.

We got to the airport with no hassles and we both told each other that we would play it by ear. I kept coughing and could hardly breathe, and she was worried about the tests that she had to take.

On the plane, we met a man, Tom, who was also running the half marathon. “Hey, why don’t you guys catch a ride with my parents and me,” he said. “We’re going directly to the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney to pick up our numbers and t-shirts.”

Marti and I looked at each other and jumped in the back of his van. Tom and his parents were really nice people. They were very friendly and made us feel comfortable.

When we got to the sports complex, we took out our luggage and went our separate ways.

As Marti and I schlepped our luggage—and I totally over packed taking three pairs of sneakers with me—we both were getting very tired and worn out. We asked all the Disney folks to help see if there was a place to check the luggage so that we didn’t have to walk up and down the stairs and around the convention floor with them, but they all told us “NO.”

We even asked an elderly lady who was directing traffic down the stairs if we could leave it with her and she said that we could, but that she would not be responsible if they were missing. So, we walked around the convention floor with the luggage. I can’t tell you how many times people tripped over them, and we would say it’s Disney’s fault for not having a place to check luggage!

The convention was great. There were all these different booths with vendors selling items for runners. We really enjoyed walking around, except for the heavy luggage that totally weighted us down.

When we walked outside, we asked the Disney representatives where we could get a bus. They told us that we would have to switch at one of the other hotels and wait for another bus that would take us to the Yacht Club, where we were staying. We were so exhausted that we decided to take a cab. I couldn’t imagine lifting the luggage up and down the stairs on the bus and transferring to get to our hotel.

We got to the Disney Yacht Club at 7:30 pm. We checked in and were told that our room was not ready.

“How could it not be ready?” Marti asked. We didn’t get a sufficient answer. We sat exhausted in the lobby waiting to get into the room. I started to cough and felt nauseous. I ran into the ladies’ room and threw up in the toilet. My diamond earring fell into the vomit. I was so disgusted at this point that I just stuck my hand in and pulled it out. I went back to the seat feeling worn out.

When the front desk clerk came back to us, I said that Disney should at least buy us dinner. We were starving, feeling ill and just wanted to go to bed. He came back to us and told us that he would take $50 off the bill.

I wasn’t satisfied. Both Marti and I were angry but we just waited. About 45 minutes later, our room at the Disney Yacht Club was ready. It was now after 8 p.m.!

When we got to the room, I dialed the concierge and asked about the half marathon. “Where do we get the bus? What time do we need to be there? Will there be breakfast? Where can we get breakfast?”

And you know what? She didn’t know the answer. She knew that the bus would pick us up between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. and that if we didn’t catch the bus by 4 that we would be blocked out of the race.

I couldn’t believe it! Before we got to Disney there were so many obstacles working against us and then when we got there, no one was helpful. Yes, everyone had a big smile and kept telling us to have a “Magical Day,” but no one was helpful.

Marti and I looked at each other. We set our alarm for 3 a.m. and figured that there would be no food at the race. There was no room service and nothing was open, so when we started the race, we wouldn’t eat until a food stop after mile three.

We were both frustrated and upset. We fell asleep. I continued having coughing fits throughout the night. When 3 a.m. came, the alarm went off and Marti said, “I don’t think we should do this. I’m not feeling well, and you’re certainly not feeling well. There will be other races. Let’s just get better.”

As I laid in the dark, I struggled with my options. This wasn’t an easy decision to make. If Marti said she felt up to the challenge, I would have gone along with her despite my illness and injury. But, I knew in my heart that she was right and I had to agree. We reluctantly went back to sleep.

The next day, we were both disappointed when we saw people walking around the hotel with medals and race t-shirts. We decided to get our massages and go to the outlet mall.

My client and friend, Donna Ceravolo, wrote on my Facebook wall, “It’s always about the journey, not the destination.”

And you know what? She’s right. While this experience may have gotten me down, I am now more determined then ever. I’m looking forward to doing my first half marathon in March in New York City running for Team for Kids, a charity that helps inner city kids learn about nutrition and sports. I may even do a full marathon toward the end of the year! Stay tuned.

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About Hilary Topper

  • Lily Zajc

    Bummer, Hilary…but I would look at this as a learning experience. Have you written or contacted the race organizers to let them know of your difficulties, so they could possible improve matters in the future? Feel better and look forward to your next race!

  • Hilary Topper

    Thanks Lily!

  • http://www.frontwave.eu Birgit Nazarian

    Ohhhh Hillary, I am so sorry! That is a huge disappointment. I have run a lot of races and it’s no fun running a half or a full when you are sick and stressed out. Your first one will be really special and it should be fun! Good luck!

  • http://www.runwithnoah.com Noah

    FYI, My wife and I have run with Team for Kids for the past 3 year in the NYC Marathon. How did the 1/2 go this weekend!

    I too was sick on my Disney Marathon!

    Do you plan on running the Full with Team for Kids? Maybe I will see you at the long training runs!

    Noah

  • Hilary Topper

    Hey Noah, I did the NYC Half. It was incredible. I’m not sure about the Marathon. I need to recover first… Thanks for your comments…