The Walt Disney World Half Marathon in January is a strange one for me. Since I started running at Disney races, this particular race hasn’t always been…well, enjoyable. Until this year.
2017’s half was cancelled due to weather. 2018’s race was spent pre-occupied with finding friends on the course. In 2019, I ran on my own for time, but wasn’t feeling well. The 2020 race, though…much different. Six of us ran together in what is arguably one of my favorite runDisney races yet.
The whole thing was concocted by my friend and podcast co-host, Jen. Not only did she craft the idea, she coordinated efforts to make sure everyone had the pieces they needed for our run kits. I was happy to have that taken off my plate, actually. Costume planning can be time-consuming. As Donald Duck is the character representing the half marathon, we wanted something Duck themed, but something that would stand out in a sea of Donald’s and Daisy’s. With six of us doing the costume together we make up a full hockey line…so we went with The Mighty Ducks. (pic here)
Confession time: I haven’t seen The Mighty Ducks, but I’m pretty sure I get the premise. I didn’t understand many of the references at first, but I kind of picked up on it later. One of the funniest things that kind of stuck with us as a group happened before the race, we were going from the staging area to the corrals. Somehow, the rest of the group filed in behind me like baby ducks in a row. From that point on, I was “Mama Duck.” A moniker I will wear proudly forever.
My plan for race day
This would be my first race of two for the weekend, participating in the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge. I knew I needed to keep things easy for the next day’s marathon. Being in a group of runners of different abilities allowed me to keep in check throughout the race, never at any point overdoing it. So I started the Half Marathon with Jessica and an honorary Duck, Linda. We would start one wave ahead of the rest of the group, meet up in Magic Kingdom around mile 5, then finish the race together.
The first 5 miles of the race in the dark was probably the most fun I’ve had on that stretch of road. We stopped for one character, and I approached video much differently this time around. In fact, the whole weekend, I made very different decisions around getting video than I normally do, and I think that helped me survive 39.3 ish miles.
The three of us stopped for the Queen of Hearts as we waited for the rest of our team. Our “call” to each other was “Ducks Fly Together!” All six of us joined up from there, running this race as a team: Jen, Jessica, Juanita, Meredith, and Sheri, plus honorary Duck, Linda.
The Challenges and the Victories
The races this weekend had some crowding challenges, which is always apparent in “Cone Alley,” a section of road that narrows to one traffic lane lined on one side by Orange Construction Cones. As we ran through this area, sometimes it got quiet. Our team would then pipe up, say our chant, start quacking…whatever it took to rally and get people going. On several occasions, other runners would turn to us and thank us for the encouragement. So many people were having fun….and I’d like to think it was because WE were having fun.
Because the six of us each have different running abilities, I embraced the Mama Duck role — (appropriate being a coach) I was checking in on my Team. If someone was struggling, we’d stick together. If someone wanted to walk, we would walk. If one of us needed to run a bit harder for a short time, she’d do that…but we all came back together. Communication ended up being the real success of the day. A group of runners, having never run all together, were able to successfully navigate warm, humid conditions, enjoying every minute of the day, and in the end we truly enjoyed the company. Talking to each other and asking for what we needed was the victory.
As we went along though, our chant needed work. We weren’t getting it “right”. Someone was always the last to quack, or the call and response was mixed. We finally got it figured out, practiced it before Epcot, and nailed it. A spectator commented on how awesome that was. I turned to him, thanked him and chuckled, “it only took us eleven and a half miles to get it right.”
We stopped for several characters along the way, most of whom were stops I’d never made before. We chatted and chanted and did the Flying V. Spectators would see us coming and start Quack Chanting, which would get us going all over again. The crowd got into it right along with us! There isn’t a single photo, posed or candid where I’m not grinning ear to ear the whole race.
As we neared the end of the race, we set our plan to run the Flying V Formation and chant across the finish line. Every one of us smiling and happy for a truly amazing day.
In the end, I ran the way I needed to — nice and easy, with friends, keeping them safe and comfortable. All of us would run the marathon the next day, so our job was to have as much fun as possible. Mission Accomplished.
For someone who trains alone, and who rarely runs races with other people, let alone in a group of six, this was honestly the most fun I’ve had in a group of this size. We were a natural fit. We were easy on ourselves and each other, quacking our way through the day.
So this, the 2020 Walt Disney World Half Marathon was truly special from start to glorious finish. Team chemistry is a careful balance, sometimes elusive, but when you find it, it’s always magical. Ducks Fly Together!