It’s time for the second installment of Running Coast to Coast! This month Joe is here to share his experience as a new Disney runner, a first time marathoner and of course a first time Coast to Coaster! Congrats on an awesome finish!
Hey guys. My name is Joe Quattrocchi and I wanted to share with everyone my experience with completing the 2014 runDisney Coast to Coast challenge.
This was my first year “Running at Disney” and the reason why I decided to start running at the Disney theme parks was to become a healthier person. I am a reformed cigarette smoker and quit smoking about four years ago. When I quit smoking, like most people who quit smoking, I gained some weight (about 25 pounds or so). I did not feel good about myself and for the first time in my life, I hit the 200 pound mark. This is when I decided to make a lifestyle change for the better and as someone who grew up going to Walt Disney World twice a year, what better place to sign up for a marathon and to get in shape and lose the weight than at Walt Disney World! So I decided to take the plunge, sign up, and start training for the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon. Not only did my journey to better health begin there, but also my passion for runDisney began.
I started my 19 week marathon training program that would lead me up to the WDW Marathon. Before I knew it, January 2014 was here, I was twenty five pounds lighter, and in the best shape I have been in a long time. I was ready. I had studied the course map, read every runDisney blog imaginable (Thanks RAD!), ordered books on Disney Marathons, listened to the Mickey Miles Podcast (Thanks Mike and Michelle!) for tips on Marathon weekend etc. I then arrived in Orlando and was ready to hit the expo. I was excited to pick up my race materials, marathon bib, take photos, and walk around the expo and take in all that marathon weekend had to offer. When I arrived at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, a feeling of excitement had overcome me that I had not experienced ever. I felt elite, like I was part of an exclusive club that I was going to have the privilege and honor of running in the Walt Disney World Marathon. This was a race that sells out so quickly and I was going to be a part of it. At the same time, immense jealousy plagued me as I saw the booths at the expo for the “Dopey” and “Coast to Coast” challenges. Thinking about how excited I was, I thought to myself, oh I got to do that next time!
Marathon morning came and you could not ask for better weather! It was a nice and cool 55 degrees with little humidity. I was in corral “E” and ready to take on 26.2 miles of magic that were in front of me. The countdown for the race started and one by one, each corral was released with a spectacular fireworks display. For lack of a better phrase, it was awesome, and I got Goosebumps as my corral was released. The miles ticked away quickly and before I knew it, I had arrived at the TTC and the first real sign of spectators. Then, we headed past the Contemporary Resort and hit the Magic Kingdom and Main Street U.S.A. Main Street was packed with spectators and as a Disney fan, it was everything you could imagine it could be.
The miles ticked away as we passed the Grand Floridian, Polynesian (where I got my picture with Lilo and Stitch), and headed to the rear of the Animal Kingdom. Running through Animal Kingdom was pretty cool and I was very tempted to jump on Expedition Everest for a quick ride, but decided against it! However, I did see a few runners take advantage of this perk! At this point, we were at the half marathon point (about 2 hours or so) and the crowds started to build everywhere. We then headed down Osceola Parkway which was probably the worst part of the race. This road was just extremely straight and just boring, but once we hit ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, I knew we were starting to make some head way towards the finish. A few miles in ESPN and back out to the roads and headed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This was another favorite part of the race for me as by the time we hit the studios, it was open to the public for the day. It was amazing to run through the park as it was functioning at the same time. Some of my fondest memories of that race day was random guests cheering my name telling me to “keep going” and that “You (I) could do it!” Just amazing!
Lastly, we exited the studios, ran past the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts and entered EPCOT where we were down the home stretch. Many things were going through my mind at this time. I could not believe that I actually made it this far and that I was about to cross that finish line and complete a marathon. Secondly, I couldn’t believe that something that I had thought about as a kid, thinking it would be cool to run the Walt Disney World Marathon and not knowing anything about long distance running at all, was actually going to happen. Lastly, I didn’t want this journey to end. It was a year long journey from deciding to run the race, to signing up for the race, to training for the race, and then actually running the race. I didn’t want my runDisney journey to end.
Well, I finally saw Spaceship Earth and made that right turn and crossed the finish line in 4:56:19. It was an awesome feeling having that marathon medal put around my neck knowing I completed a goal I had set for myself. I wore that medal proudly for the rest of my trip. When I returned home, there was one thought I could not get out of my mind. That thought was, “I gotta go Coast to Coast!”
I made my decision to sign up for the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend and the Dumbo Double Dare. (Actually signed up for the Disneyland 5K too!) As someone who had never been to Disneyland before, this was going to be exciting not only visiting the “Happiest place on Earth” for the first time, but also to get my coast to coast medal. It was a long trip across the country (from New Jersey) to Anaheim but it was totally worth it. Arriving at the Disneyland Hotel and entering the convention center, the excitement which I experienced in January was present again. I picked up my Dumbo race packet and got my Coast to Coast Challenge wristband, I was ready to go. I then proceeded upstairs to the expo and began to wait online for official race merchandise. While standing in line, I began to strike up conversations with others who were also attempting to complete their coast to coast challenge. Everyone started to share stories of which race they completed in Florida and how that experience was. It was almost a bonding experience you were sharing with other runners that you just met but running the coast to coast challenge, it felt like you were on a different level as a Disney fan!
The next few days passed very quickly as I completed the 5K on Friday and then the 10K race on Saturday. These races were a lot of fun, but I was looking forward to the Disneyland Half Marathon where I would not only complete my Coast to Coast Challenge, but also the Dumbo Double Dare as well.
Race day was finally here and I was all set to go. I started in the B Corral and was waiting for the start of the race. The command was given and we were off! One thing I was disappointed in was that there was no fireworks shot off at the start of the race ( I am sure it was because the hotel and neighborhoods are so close to the starting line). However, runDisney made up for it with lots of lights and lasers and goodies like that. The crowds were fairly good at the start and unlike Walt Disney World, we saw spectators right from the start of the race which was really a nice touch. We raced past the outer perimeter of the Disneyland and Paradise Pier Hotels and made a left hand turn into Disney’s California Adventure Park. Like Walt Disney World races, you get a lot of backstage time in the theme parks and Disneyland was no different. We entered the rear of DCA and then ended up in “Cars Land” which was probably one of the hi-lights of the race.
Now, unlike a Walt Disney World race experience where essentially you are running completely on the property and are surrounded by areas where characters and entertainment are set up for you, in Disneyland, about mile 4.5 or so, you exit and hit the streets of Anaheim and head towards the Honda Center and Angels Stadium. Even though you are not in the parks and are not seeing any character stops for 8 miles or so, Disney has done a great job of organizing local car clubs, ethnic group performers, cheerleaders, and local bands to help entertain you while you run outside of the Disneyland property. Its not quite the same experience as Walt Disney World, but Disneyland does the best they can with what they have. This is one of the main reasons I think that there is and won’t be a full marathon at Disneyland. Just not enough room. As the end of the race approached, it was a real treat to run through Angels stadium and see literally thousands of people that were outside and inside the stadium and to watch yourself on the jumbotron of a Major League Baseball stadium was pretty cool. In Walt Disney World for the marathon, you also run through the baseball stadium at Wide World of Sports, but this was just way better.
Coming to the finish, we ran around the parking lot of the Disneyland Hotel and finished beside the hotel. The finish was good but not as good as the finish in Walt Disney World where you see Spaceship earth and hang a right hand turn and head home with large grandstands on both sides of you. But don’t get me wrong, every finish at a runDisney race is Magical!
Finally, heading through the finisher corral and getting that Coast to Coast medal was an amazing feeling. After just completing the half marathon and Dumbo Double Dare, I wasn’t even looking forward to those medals. The one that I had my eyes on was that beautiful Black and Gold medal depicting the partners statue.
After receiving that medal, walking around the parks all day and striking up conversations not only with other Coast to Coast finishers but with other park guests in general comparing stories was a lot of fun. This experience is something that I definitely plan on doing again in the future and I hope that runDisney continues to grow this program!
Joe Quattrocchi is from Riverdale, NJ and is a proud member of the Essex Running Club. He has been visiting Walt Disney World for much of his life and has taken over 30 trips to the resort. Having recently caught the runDisney bug, Joe is the running correspondent for the ResortLoop.com Podcast and has recently joined the Mickey Milers. He is now registered for the 2015 Dopey Challenge and you can follow along with his racing adventures on Twitter and Instagram!
Have you completed the runDisney Coast to Coast Challenge? Want to share your experience? Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured on an upcoming Running Coast to Coast!!