Rep writer and mega marathoner Robert Wang explains why sometimes the journey really is more important than the destination.
After running more than 25 miles, there was less than a mile to go to the finish line of the 2016 Disney World Marathon and I was on the verge of setting a personal benchmark.
But instead of speeding up, I stopped for a quick picture with the Disney’s Aladdin in the Morocco pavilion at Epcot. And I took out my smartphone and checked the wait time for the ride Test Track. Thirty minutes, it said.
I estimated I had 30 to 50 minutes before race officials would close the course. If I made one more stop, I could jeopardize getting my finisher’s medal. But Test Track would be my eighth ride of the race. As I approached Spaceship Earth, I made my choice. I made a sharp right, left the course and ran as fast as I could toward Test Track.
A spectator yelled at me, “Hey, you’re going the wrong way!”
In college, I traveled to Europe for about seven months. Since then, I’ve been an enthusiastic traveler. Over the years, my destinations have included Greece, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Taiwan, Japan and South
As I got more into the marathoning lifestyle, my standard sight-seeing vacations became more like runcations. I was spending more of my vacation running through the streets of foreign cities or specifically visiting to run a race.
All told, from 2012 to this year, I’ve clocked 20 marathons in seven states—breaking four hours 10 times—along with five half marathons, one 17.75K, five 10Ks, two five-milers and at least eight 5Ks. That’s more than 795 miles (see sidebar).
All those miles and races began to take their toll. I developed pain in my right foot that lasted more than a year and a half.
That brings us back to Disney World, my foot still not totally healed, I was determined to take my third Dopey Challenge at the theme park this past January slowly.
The Dopey Challenge involves running a 5K family fun run at Epcot on Thursday, a 10K race around Epcot the next day, a half marathon going through Epcot and Magic Kingdom on Day 3 and the Disney World Marathon going through all four Disney theme parks—Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios—on Sunday.
Yes, it sounds crazy … crazy fun.
But Disney races are unlike other races. A large percentage of runners are not running for time but are there to soak in the experience. RunDisney arranges for a wide array of entertainment along the course, a multitude of Disney characters, music, DJs and elaborate sets. In the half and full marathons, a replica of a pirate ship from Pirates of the Caribbean was built right at the start of Mile 3. Runners regularly stop for pictures with characters. A key part of the experience is running up Main Street USA along cheering crowds in Magic Kingdom toward Cinderella Castle, through Tomorrowland and Fantasyland before emerging from the castle for a picture.
So I made as many character picture stops as I could for the 5K, 10K and half marathon, and I even snuck away from the half marathon course in Epcot to do Test Track and Mission Space. But I had entertained this goal for a year: to try to do as many rides as possible during the Disney World Marathon.
After veering off the course a few times and riding several rides with friends, I rushed back to the point I left the course, and after a selfie with Minnie Mouse, I crossed the finish line in the Epcot parking lot.
It was my slowest marathon time ever. Seven hours and 56 minutes. But it was the funnest race of my life.
Aug. 29-31 and Sept. 7, 2014
I made an 11-day trip to Los Angeles around Labor Day weekend to do the Disneyland 5K, Disneyland 10K, Disneyland Half Marathon and Ventura Marathon. I returned the following January to do the Star Wars 5K, Star Wars 10K and Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
Mar. 7, 2015
Met up with guys I knew from high school to do the Red Rock Canyon Half Marathon, which features a 900-foot climb the first five miles.
Dec. 13, 2015
The jet lag helps you get up to start the Honolulu Marathon at 5 a.m. near the Ala Moana shopping center amid a fireworks display. The race features some amazing views of the Pacific Ocean. I also got an encouraging hug from a woman I didn’t know a couple miles before the finish.
April 24, 2016
Six days after Boston, I ran the Big Sur International Marathon as part of the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. With more than 2,100 feet of elevation gain, I absolutely was not running for time, finishing just under 4:46. The strawberries they gave out around 23 miles were heavenly, and the race had bands playing along the course.
Jan. 27, 2013
Running a marathon along Ocean Drive by South Beach is lovely. Unfortunately, running the Miami Marathon in the heat and humidity and overly worn shoes broke me. I missed breaking four hours by nearly 45 minutes.
Jan. 9-12, 2014, Jan. 8-11, 2015 & Jan. 7-10, 2016
The most challenging part of the Dopey Challenge at Disney World were the 5:30 a.m. race starts, as Disney wants the bulk of the runners through the parks before park opening. That means waking at 3 a.m. and suffering major sleep deprivation, making it difficult to enjoy visits to the parks.
Feb. 21-22, 2015
The pirate-themed Gasparilla Distance Classic meant running a 15K and 5K on Saturday … in a pirate costume. Then a half marathon and 8K on Sunday. Running an 8K an hour after running a half marathon is hard. Let’s not do that again.
Nov. 29, 2015
Had to walk much of the second half of the Space Coast Marathon during Thanksgiving weekend.
Jun. 17, 2012 & Apr. 27, 2014
My first marathon was the now-defunct Canton Marathon (2012). I went out too fast and nearly didn’t finish. I qualified for Boston for the first time at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon (2014). The race’s football theme has attracted runcationers from around the country.
Oct. 21, 2012
I came agonizingly close to breaking four hours at the Columbus Marathon, but I got to run through Ohio Stadium.
May 19, 2013
The first time I broke four hours was at the Cleveland Marathon, and it was by more than 17 minutes. I was doing fine running on the West Shoreway and in Tremont, until the sun came out when I got to Progressive Field. Running in the intense heat the last few miles on St. Clair Avenue was a horrible experience.
Oct. 13, 2013 & Oct. 11, 2015
After some carboloading at an Italian restaurant near Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, I was with about 40,000 runners in Grant Park for the Chicago Marathon, amid a gorgeous view of the Chicago skyline. Running through dozens of the Windy City’s diverse neighborhoods, I smashed through three hours and 20 minutes. My second time, I was unable to train very much during the summer and just eked out a finish under four hours.
Oct. 26, 2014
By the time I had gotten to the National Mall and then the U.S. Capitol during the Marine Corps Marathon, I realized I had gone out too fast. I don’t know how I finished but somehow I set a personal record under 3 hours and 10 minutes. The flyover of Marine Osprey aircraft at the start was spectacular, followed by the firing of the howitzer. Marines manned the aid stations and cheered for the runners, and a newly commissioned Marine officer gave me my medal at the finish.
April 20, 2015 and April 18, 2016
Arguably the most prestigious race in the marathoning world, the Boston Marathon mainly features marathoners who are among the top 10 to 12 percent of times for their age group and gender. In 2015, the gorgeous weekend turned into a chilly, rainy and windy Marathon Monday, yet thousands were on the side of the course nearly from start to finish, cheering loudly and handing out towels, tissues and orange slices. While my time was more than 15 minutes slower than my best with a hilly, challenging course and the infamous Heartbreak Hill at Mile 21 and I thought I would succumb to hypothermia, it was definitely a world class experience. In 2016, the weather was the opposite, sunny and hotter. But I was still injured, so I took it easy, took tons of videos during the race and high-fived as many people as I could early on. I also kissed a couple of women at Wellesley College, the all-female school whose students each year create the scream tunnel and invite runners to kiss them. While my hamstring twinged with a mile to go, I made my victorious turn onto the final stretch on Boylston Street and still broke four hours.
May 2-3, 2015
I did the 10K and 5K on Saturday morning, and the Flying Pig Marathon on Sunday. The wheels came off in Mile 14 and while things were hellish the rest of the race, I still finished under 3:30 (probably not good for that injured foot). Amazing post-race food. I’m talking fresh fruit, soup and any energy bar you would ever want.
Nov. 15-24, 2014
I was in London for a few days, running the London Marathon course, but not the actual race which is in April. The last few miles of the course go by the Thames, the London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abby and Buckingham Palace. A few days later, while visiting my sister in Paris, I ran the Paris Marathon course, which starts and finishes near the Arc de Triomphe.
Dec. 1-11, 2012
I had a 10-day vacation in Hong Kong and was determined not to slack off on my training for the Miami Marathon. So fighting the jet lag, I spent several mornings running through the different areas of Hong Kong. Of course, I set aside plenty of time for eating tons of dim sum, congee rice porridge, egg noodle soup and other Cantonese staples—the best I’ve had.
—Stories & Photos by Robert Wang