Initial Writing: March 23, 2014
That picture above sums it all up – I finished the second half marathon in my lifetime! When all was said and done, the feeling of getting that medal more than made up for the pain and other various issues that brought me Sunday, February 23, 2014 at nearly 6am in the morning for a 13.1 mile trek from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom and back again (kind of like a Disney version of the Hobbit). Looking back a month later, it’s amazing how much I put into that day, and how much I still have to work to get better for myself. That’s what this stuff is all about – bettering yourself. It might be lower blood pressure, lower weight, better cardiovascular fitness, or just clarity of mind, but it’s something unique to each of us that gets us past those mental and physical aches and pains to push though when (not if) the going gets tough. Here then is my story from that amazing weekend!
This race trip was actually backended by a business trip to my company’s office in Sarasota, Florida. I would fly to Orlando on Saturday, do the race Sunday morning, spend some time in the park, and then drive to Sarasota for work Monday, coming back home Tuesday. The flight down would have been great, being able to leave out of the Allentown airport (only 5 mins from my house) except that our plane was delayed for about an hour. Then, upon arriving at Sanford airport, I find out my rental car reservation got screwed up due to confusion with the NASCAR race that same weekend. Luckily, they had a Chrysler 200 for me to drive (not a fan of that car – won’t ever buy one). As I’m about to get on my way to Disney World, it starts raining… yep, another one of THOSE trips. (Seems like every business trip I take, something happens – power failure for Amtrak, delayed flight, turnpike accident, etc.)
About 45 minutes later, I crossed through the “Welcome to Walt Disney World” sign. I can honestly say even though I’m not a kid anymore, going through that sign into “the world” makes me feel like a kid again, and it’s a good feeling. For the personal/race part of this trip, I opted to stay at the All Star Sports Resort (read: cheap resort). But first, a stop off at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports for bib pickup and perusing the merchandise. (This was Saturday afternoon around 3pm at this point, so I was expecting most of the stuff to be cleaned out. For bib pickup, it was, but the main expo had a surprisingly large number of people.)
runDisney had a blue-screen set up where you could get your photo taken and then super-imposed with a prince placing a tiara on your head. The thought did cross my mind to go for it, but I wanted to get in and out pretty quick. After picking up my bib at the HP Fieldhouse, I strolled over to the main expo at the Jostens Center. Suffice it to say, and as I had expected, most of the merchandise at bib pickup was pretty much gone, and the leftovers were at the expo. Even at this point, nearly 4pm in the afternoon, it was still pretty crowded. I walked through the aisles, but ultimately gave up as a majority of the stuff was geared towards female runners. A quick walk back to the car, with a stop for free Oikos Greek Yogurt samples (full-size samples) and I headed off to the resort.
Checked into All Star Sports, got my MagicBand all straightened out, dumped all my stuff off in the room, and headed back out. Prior to arriving, I had met some folks on the #TeamRunDisney Facebook page, which led to an informal meetup that turned into dinner at Ohana’s. I must admit a bit of skepticism at having a “heavy” meal before a morning half, but it’s Ohana’s! I also wish Disney would put up some better signage when going through the toll booths at Magic Kingdom/TTC. There is a quick turn for the resort areas, and I missed it twice. To top it all off, for some stupid reason, I kept going back to the same guy to check my annual pass. I never did make it to the Polynesian Resort by car, and instead opted to park at Epcot and take the monorail over. (Why I didn’t just park at the TTC I don’t know… probably hoped I could get on a few rides before dinner!)
Dinner turned out to be fantastic. I ended up being the only guy with a bunch of women, but we had a lot of fun. I won’t forget anytime soon commiserating over some of the online group conversations (running without underwear, times of the month, etc.). Can’t say enough about the food, wings, noodles, pork pot stickers, steak, shrimp, chicken, pineapple bread, and an awesome dessert! Best part of the night came when the shrimp skewers came out, the guy gives each of the ladies about 3-4 shrimp, then proceeds to dump about a dozen shrimp on my plate. I finished them all off, as they were that good.
After dinner, we all said our goodbyes and headed off for hopefully a good night’s sleep. Wake-up call for the half marathon was 2:45am! Then it was two monorail trips back to the car, and off to the resort I went. It was still drizzling on and off, which made me wonder what the morning would be like. I did confirm the automated wake-up call, as I was planning to get on the 3am bus to the half marathon starting area. Once back in the room, I laid everything out for the morning race, and then tried to relax. I think I probably fell asleep closer to 11pm… yes, less than 4 hours of sleep if I can recall correctly.
I was thinking the wake-up call would be a classic Disney character – nope, I got woken up at 2:45am by OLAF, the damn snowman from Frozen! You would think I’d be half dazed on slightly under 4 hours of sleep, but I was wide awake and ready to go. Got dressed, made sure to apply liberal amounts of Vaseline to chafe-able areas, double-checked the camera and iPhone, then down to the bus. I can’t imagine being at a resort during race weekend and not doing the race. The noises happening at random hours of the night have to be annoying. But then again, runDisney has the dates set way in advance. Reminds me of the people who buy houses near an airport and then complete about the noise from jets flying overhead.
When I arrived at the race pickup area, a bus was already departing. I got on the next bus and within 10 minutes or so, we were off. The bus, as most of this race, was a tutu fest. I even saw some dudes running around with them (thankfully wearing shorts underneath). We arrived at the pre-race area, and I headed for the Race Retreat. This was a ticketed area that was climate controlled, with a hot breakfast, character photos, and a bunch of tables to sit at. I spent about a half hour here getting my normal pre-race breakfast of coffee and oatmeal, and then headed out for a #TrD group pic, and to meet up with Brandi and her mom. But not before the character pic.
I was never a big fan of Alice in Wonderland, but the line was short, so I obliged. Heading out into the main pre-race area, I met up with Brandi (@FunnerRunner13), took a photo together, and then made my way back for the group pictures, and by that time it was nearly ready for the corral march. I did get a chance to finally meet Heather (@HeathersLG). We had emailed and tweeted back and forth for a while, and I missed her at Wine & Dine, so was nice to finally meet in person. After all this was over, I headed into Corral I… again, not paying attention, I walked all the way down one side of the corrals, then realizing my corral was on the OTHER side. I swear I did a 5K before the race even started.
runDisney does a great job of keeping you occupied until the race starts. There’s always a DJ and music playing, but before you knew it, the elite runners started the 2014 Princess Half Marathon. Each corral started a few minutes after the previous, and it seemed like in no time, Corral I was next to start. This is the point where the adrenaline really kicks in, and you can literally feel all the energy of 20,000 people all aiming for the same goal – the finish line!
The Fairy Godmother was counting down each corral’s start, accompanied by the usual runDisney fireworks display. It really makes you feel like your corral is the best, and runDisney does it like no other. After the fireworks, we were off!
My original goal was to settle into a good rhythm and run as much as I could to start. It was still dark, but very humid and hazy. About a half-mile in, running down World Drive, I ditched that for a run/walk approach. I was hoping to beat my time from Wine & Dine, but with the higher temps and humidity, I wasn’t sure how that was going to turn out. I also should admit my training going into this was sub-par. I didn’t keep up the consistency that I should have, and I think that really contributed to some of my later struggles.
The entire race was an out-and-back course started at Epcot, out to the Magic Kingdom, and back. As much of that race was in darkness (with some fog thrown in for good measure), on one of the overpasses, they had cast members out with these neon-colored bird puppets flying high in the air. Not terribly amazing, but still cool to see. Somewhere after mile 2, the Black Pearl complete with Jack Sparrow was stationed in between the roadways. Seeing that we would pass by here again on the return trip from the Magic Kingdom, I opted to skip it due to a long line. Unfortunately, most of the characters had longer lines, and I decided to just focus on the running. I also remember passing another photo ops with the Disney princes or heroes. Another long line of tutus, so I kept going. Then came the Disney villians, and one of the longest lines so far. If I ever run this race again, hopefully my pacing will be better (and starting corral) so I’ll have more buffer time to stop for pictures. Somewhere in here, Disney set up a neat little floating princess banner… it was still too dark to get a good picture, but on the way back, it should be an easy (and quick) photo.
I always enjoyed the few times I’ve driven through the Magic Kingdom gates… never thought I’d be running through them, on my way towards the Ticket and Transportation Center. It was an interesting, almost surreal experience. The course took us near the Contemporary Resort, and under the water bridge, at which point I officially hated hills and overpasses. Even though for runDisney races, the definition of “hill” is much different than back home, it is still not a fun part of the race. We took a backstage route to get into the Magic Kingdom, but turning the corner onto Main Street USA was an amazing sight and an amazing feeling. I’ve read enough reports about all kinds of people, guys and girls, getting emotional at this point, and I must admit I did as well. People lined Main Street cheering us all on, as we raced towards Cinderella’s Castle!
The course took us directly towards the hub, where we hooked right and run through Tomorrowland. I recall Buzz Lightyear somewhere in there available for photos, followed by Alice and the Mad Hatter (already got that photo back at the Race Retreat). Another photo op with Belle and Gaston was nestled in the Fantasyland area. Next up was Mickey and Minnie dressed up in their finest regal attire by the castle. Needless to say, that was the longest line I’ve ever seen for a runDisney race character stop! We got to run through the castle from the back, coming out with an awesome view of the crowds lining Main Street. Somewhere in here was a photo op with Cinderella, but quite honestly the crowds (of runners) and congestion were so bad, I wanted to keep moving and keep my pace. A quick photo in front of the castle, as we were off to Liberty Square.
Going through Liberty Square, Tiana was waiting with yet another sizable line, followed by Frontierland, and the Woody and Jessie. I did stop for one photo of the WDW Steam Engine that was parked at the railroad crossing before we exited the park.
By this point, we were almost halfway through, but one thing that really bugged me – I realize that the girls outnumbered the guys by almost 20:1. However, when in-park restrooms are available, and the men’s room was overrun by women essentially forcing us to the porta-potties outside the park, that was not fun. With all of Disney’s resources, they need to figure out a better way to handle this.
Leaving the park, there was probably another character or two that I forgot about and just ran past. I recall Peter Pan and his gang somewhere in there, but again, the congestion was getting to me, as the sun was also coming up. Knowing we had a nice long highway run back to Epcot didn’t help much either.
On the return trip, there was a photo op and a chance to get your picture having a glass slipper presented by a bunch of Chippendale-looking characters (in full tuxedos). I much prefer the chipmunk versions myself, just saying. Along the way, the princess float was still there, so I figured why not grab a picture.
Photo ops with Lilo and Stitch, as well as Pocahontas came in the long stretch back to Epcot. There was also a particularly annoying section right at Mile 7, where “Let It Go” from Frozen was on endless repeat. I swear once I heard that, the song was stuck in my head for the rest of the race. To top it off, the course at this area is very narrow and congested making it virtually impossible to do anything more than a slow jog.
Another photo op with characters from A Bug’s Life, and a return visit with Jack Sparrow got us up to around Mile 10. At this point, my right foot was killing me again, and my pace slowed over the course of the last 2-3 miles. During the last half marathon, I never really hit a “wall” until about Mile 12, but this time, I honestly didn’t feel like continuing. I’m not sure why exactly, but I made sure to hydrate and get some fuel in me for the second time. I don’t enjoy morning runs all that much, and by now the temperature had risen considerably, the fog was burning off, and the sun was coming out.
In order to reach Epcot (and the finish line), you have to run up the on-ramp, which by this point is a chore. To help out, Sarge from Toy Story stations himself midway up loudly “encouraging” runners not to walk. I had to get my picture with him again, similar to Wine & Dine. At the top of the ramp, people were talking about the view from above, seeing all the runners BEHIND us, which of course led me to yet another picture.
Getting closer to Epcot, there were characters from Mulan (Mushu included) and the Incredibles. They had short lines, but honestly, I was just ready to be done. The running got really rough at this point, as my foot hurt a lot worse than before. Phineas and Ferb were stationed along the entrance to Epcot, leading us into a backstage route that came out right behind Journey into the Imagination.
The course looped down all the way to the entrance into World Showcase, with a quick turnaround, heading towards Spaceship Earth. After passing the ball, you could hear the Gospel Choir signaling the end was near. Passing the choir, you came around a corner, and Princess Sophia was waiting for a last chance photo op, which again I passed up. Turning another corner, and the finish line was in sight.
Last time I did a runDisney half, I just ran through the finish without thinking much about anything. Even though I was in pain, I managed to run the last section of the race, veering over to the right to high-five Mickey Mouse, and then leaping over the finish line. As you can see from the picture that started this recap out, I was pretty much spent/exhausted, but oh so happy to get that medal around my neck.
Finish Time: 3:10! 7 minutes slower than my previous, but overall, given the foot pain issues, the humidity, the congestion, and my lack of consistent training, I’ll take it!
We got the obligatory runDisney post-race snack box, a bottle of PowerAde, and a pre-packaged cold, wet towelette. Took the finisher post-race picture, and then headed over to the Race Retreat. That place was a mob-scene, as now anyone who bought a ticket (runner or not) could get in. I grabbed a plate full of eggs, bacon, and potatoes, and was offered a seat with a couple of people. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that fast, but it tasted good. I brought a change of clothes thinking I could use the dedicated men’s changing area, but was really disappointed that unlike Wine & Dine, there was no tented area, only a small section of pavement ringed by port-a-potties. I opted to skip this and just get the bus back to the hotel.
The bus setup was very efficient and I only had to wait about 5 minutes till I was on my way back to All-Star Sports. The hotel gave me some extra time to check-out (I originally asked for late check-out, but they couldn’t accomodate – 11:30 was better than 11). I took a nice, relaxing shower, laid down for about an hour, then gathered my stuff and checked out.
My plan was to meet up with Brandi later in the day for a few rides, so I had time to kill before then. I parked in the Epcot lot, hoping to get on a few rides there. Lunch ended up being Mongolian beef stir-fry with noodles from The Land. I love the food court setup, and it was a change to rest my feet a bit. Afterwards, as I was walking towards the front of the park, I noticed the character spot had no wait… yes, you read that right… NO WAIT! So I hopped into the short line, and snagged all the important pics. I look horrible at this point, because my feet, legs, hips, back all hurt. But it was all worth it.
I headed back out to catch the monorail over to the Magic Kingdom, and did a few rides, but generally just enjoyed limping around. I finally ran into Kim Markey, had a chance to chat with her, and got a picture. Anyone who runs marathons during chemo treatment deserves a lot of praise, I can’t imagine what she all went through, but there isn’t a lot more in terms of motivation that you can get.
After chatting with Kim, I bumped into Brandi and her parents (her mom ran the half as well). Brandi had quite the medal collection, doing the whole trifecta of weekend races. We hopped on Journey of the Little Mermaid, and all I can say was I seriously acted like I was 5-years old again, but it was fun.
They had dinner reservations, and I had a date with a two-hour ride to Sarasota, so after two trips on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, we walked up towards the entrance to the park and said our goodbyes.
Walking out of the park, I looked back and realized what an amazing weekend this was. I wish my wife and kids were here with me. I completed my second half marathon, got to meet a bunch of new friends, and had an altogether great time. I’m sure I’ll feel it in the morning (and the next few days), but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
The trip down to Sarasota was uneventful (and dark), and I made it about halfway before hunger kicked in, and calf soreness. So I did what anyone who run a half would do, stopped at CVS for muscle rub, and followed that up with a Subway hoagie. Got in safely to the hotel in Sarasota, took a nice long shower, watched some TV, and then headed to bed.
The next day was spent working at the office in Florida. After work, due to some illnesses in the office, I ended up doing a solo dinner at Gecko’s, a pretty neat little bar and grill. Since I haven’t been to the movies in a while, I opted to see Robocop in IMAX for a relaxing evening. The trip back home on Tuesday was fairly uneventful. My favorite part of the drive to Tampa is going over to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. It’s an amazing sight, and a cool way to end the trip.
Don’t know when I’ll be back down here again, but what a couple of days it was. runDisney really does an amazing job with the race, the support and logistics, and making everyone feel special… whether it’s pixie dust, dollar signs, or a combination of them both, nobody does it better than Disney!