Friday, June 22, 2012

Walt Disney World 1/2 Marathon Report

In January, my wife and I took part in the annual Walt Disney World 1/2 Marathon. I had run it last year as my first 1/2 marathon, and felt that it would be a cool experience to share together.

Whenever we race in Disney World, they always try and make it a family affair. We headed off to the Wide World of Sports on Friday for the kids races, where C was going to be racing. We had arrived almost 2 hours before her race, thinking that it'd be enough time to get our packets picked up along with hers. We got our packets rather quickly, and went outside to get C's packet at the separate kids races station. The line was huge, and not well organized. We finally manged to get her number picked up about 10 minutes before she had to get lined up for her race.

Before too long, the small kids were going, and then it was C's turn to run. She started toward the back of her pack, but managed to pass a lot of other kids before coming in towards the front of her heat.

She was interviewed by RunDisney TV while she was there. However, her interview didn't make it into the final cut.

We spent the rest of the day at Epcot, where we passed over the port-a-johns near where the starting line would be early the next morning:

We went back to our hotel, and got all of our race gear ready that night. We headed to bed at 8 pm, ready for a 2am wake up call.

We had our wake up call, alarm, and both phones set, so we awoke in plenty of time and attempted to go to the food court to grab a banana. However, we found that the food court was closed. (It had been open the previous year.) So, we decided to grab a bus and head to the athlete's area at Epcot.

One of the things that Disney neglects to tell you is that in addition to the race you are going to run, you are going to be doing a lot of walking to get from place to place you need to be. The buses dropped us off on the far end of the parking lot, a good half mile from the pre-race area. The walk was OK, because Becky was a bit chilly.

We arrived to the athlete's area over 2 hours before racetime, and with temperatures in the 40's, we did our best to keep warm. A DJ was playing techno music in an attempt to get the crowd warmed up. It wasn't my thing, because I like to try and conserve energy and get into the right place in my head to run.

It wasn't too long before they announced that Tony Horton, creator of P90X was going to be onhand to get all the runners warmed up. I couldn't pass up my opportunity to say that I had been warmed up by the guy who I had seen too many times on my TV at home.

Shortly after Tony was done, they asked that all runners report to their assigned corrals. It was time for our next walk. First, you have to go through a security point, that only runners are allowed through (showing their race bibs as proof). Then you had to get through the area where people were waiting to use the port-a-johns with lines 30-40 people deep. Then there is a walk of almost a mile to the starting corrals. The corrals was a much more focused place. People were stretching, and going about all their business to get themselves ready to run.

I'll say this for Disney. They kept us in the corrals for over an hour, and never failed to entertain. The hosts are always fantastic, keeping excitement high, and relaying information as needed. This was a wave start, with the wheelchair athletes going first, followed by a Corral every 5 or so minutes. Before too long, our corral was standing at the starting line.
With a burst of fire and fireworks, they sent our corral off onto the course. The field was shoulder to shoulder for the first mile or so as the crowd sorted themselves out. I always say I hate the first 2 miles of any half marathon, and this one was no different. I felt queasy almost immediately, and felt like I may throw up on the side of the road. By mile 2 I was feeling better, and started to get into a groove. The course turned onto World Drive, and widened out quite a bit. All along the route there was entertainment. The first couple miles featured area high school marching bands along with spectators who came out to encourage those they loved, and anybody else that passed by. Along World Drive, there were parade floats with characters. Runners were stopping to stand in line to get their pictures taken with their favorite characters.

Before we got to mile 3, we entered into the Magic Kingdom toll plaza, signaling that we were getting close to running through our first park.
We passed through the plaza, where a message blared "Caution runners, speed bumps ahead". There were also volunteers with flashlights pointing out the exact location of the speedbumps just on the other side of the toll booths. Despite all that, I still saw a young girl faceplant onto the concrete after tripping on one. After turning to make sure she was ok, we continued onward. The next stretch of the course is fantastic. After passing through the toll booths, you pass by the Disney Speedway, which utilizes a very wide stretch of road for a water stop. Those that need it can get to either side and slow down, while those that don't can stay in the middle without fear of running over those who do.

We then ran through the Ticket and Transportation Center Parking lot, which was one of the main spectator areas. There is also a ton of entertainment. We were maintaining a good pace through this point of the race, and we hadn't stopped to use the restroom yet. We finished with the TTC area and headed toward the contemporary resort, heading under the water bridge that connects Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon.
It's was a hard pitch down and another back up, but once you clear that rise, you can see the Contemporary Resort to your right, and the Magic Kingdom in the distance. We continued on, taking a sharp left onto an access road that led to the area behind Main Street USA. It wasn't long, and we were running through the theme park.

The runners were kept to the right hand side of the street, and the spectators along the left. As soon as we entered, you are overwhelmed by those spectators. It is a solid wall of people cheering for anybody with the guts to run. We went down Main Street, and turned left into Tomorrowland where we took our first bathroom break. We continued through the Magic Kingdom, following into Fantasyland, eventually running straight through Cinderella Castle.
Running through the castle still ranks as the highlight of any of the races I've done. Disney goes all out to make each runner feel special, regardless of ability, and they put this highlight before the halfway point. It ensures that even if something happens where a runner cannot finish, they can still have this highlight in their head. After the castle, we made a left hand turn into Liberty square, where mile 6 awaited. We continued through Liberty Square, into Frontierland, and left the Magic Kingdom through a back entrance just to the south of Splash Mountain. We then went through a backstage area where the floats were kept for storage and another water stop.

When the pack left the Magic Kingdom, the course narrowed and you could feel a little excitement leave the crowd. Miles 6.5-8 were very low energy and slow as the crowd as a whole was deflated. The course isn't very exciting in this part either. Eventually, a golf course appeared on the right side, and there was another character stop, and the road widened out. Clif was at mile 8 with Clif Energy Shots. I took a coffee one we kept on going, back toward Epcot. The sun was fully up, so we were finally getting a little bit of warmth in our run, although we were still very comfortable at this point.

After mile 10, we climbed a steep onramp back onto Epcot Center Drive and into the homestretch. About halfway up the onramp, the sergeant from Toy Story was commanding us to "take that hill!".

When you come to the top of the onramp, you can see Spaceship Earth looming closer, and after a crossing over a couple bridges, we were passing by the entrance toll plaza to Epcot, where I stopped to take another picture of Becky.

We passed mile 11, and made a quick turnaround to get onto the overpass going into the Epcot parking lot. The crowds immediately picked up, as we were in the home stretch. By this point, my ankle and knee was screaming at me. I sucked it up and dragged them both along for the ride. We went through the Epcot parking lot, and into a backstage area, right behind The Seas with Nemo and Friends, where we found our final water stop.

We turned into Epcot and ran through Future World going toward World Showcase doing a down and back right that stopped right by the Epcot Christmas Tree.
We went back down the other side of Future World, and out another backstage area where the finish line awaited.
Our official chip time was 2:50:11, which set a PR for both of us, and was almost 20 minutes faster than our time at the Wine and Dine half marathon 2 months prior.

One year ago, this race was my first half marathon, and I thought it was an accomplishment of a lifetime to just finish it. Running it with Becky was something different entirely - it was much better. As much as I wanted to tell her about what lied in store, I held back, and it was gratifying to watch another runner experience it all for the first time. We will be back for this race many times in the future, as nobody does races like Disney, and this is my favorite route to run.

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