Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend – Half Marathon Recap

Here it is: the much delayed and not at all ballyhooed race report for the Walt Disney World 20th Anniversary Weekend Half Marathon!

The coffee maker was prepped, the race outfits laid out, the multiple alarms were set.  We went to bed on Friday night after a surprisingly good meal at Carrabba’s. We’d never been before, and had low “Olive Garden” type expectations and those expectations were pleasantly exceeded. (I am a self-admitted ‘food-snob’, and I will admit to sending my food back to be reheated.  Tepid food is a pet peeve of mine, but I’m always happy enough to just have it thrown in a microwave if the kitchen has one.)
We got back to our lovely one bedroom villa at Saratoga Springs, and tucked in for the night later than we’d have liked, excited for the next morning but dreading the early wake-up.

There is nothing quite like the confusion you feel when your alarm goes off at an ungodly hour.

“What happened? Where am I? WHO am I?”

We scrambled some eggs, toasted some bread, slurped down some coffee and spooned up some yogurt, grabbed a banana for the road and headed out the door.  We got to the bus stop around 3:15, had less than 5 minutes to wait for a bus and watched as the line up suddenly mushroomed behind us.

Tip: Everyone and their mother plans to line up for the bus at 3:30. If you don’t like line-ups or stress on race morning, go earlier.

Our bus driver got a little confused and made a wrong turn, which lead to him dropping us off right at the Runner’s Village, as opposed to farther down the parking lot.  Score!  We hustled to the Race Retreat, but I saw the Pacebook Running Club Pace Group gathering, so I popped over to wave (They nicely waved back, but probably had no idea who I was considering how big the group is. Next time I’ll be more outgoing at the runDisney Meetup, and will try to get to at least one PbRC meet up!) and then we flashed our armbands to the Race Retreat bouncers and made our way inside.

We joined a quiet couple at a mostly empty table, grabbed coffee laced with hot chocolate and tried to relax (and snack) while we waited for the “get moving” announcement which came quickly enough.

Tip: When joining the ‘herd’ heading to the corrals, understand that you are heading into an inevitable gridlock. Keep your head on a swivel.

For some magical reason, runDisney ushers you past a huge bank of port-o-potties and through a teeny bottleneck on your way to the corrals. Be patient, but purposeful as you move along. You’re walking into a line of people facing the potties, and they aren’t going to move in the same direction as the corrals, so don’t be afraid to move forward. They aren’t stopped because there’s nowhere to go, they’re stopped because they’re criss-crossing a crazy-long line. We moved to the front of the potty-line and walked through the 6 foot space that people left in front of the potties to by-pass the worst of the blockage.

Tip: Do NOT succumb to the lure of these potties. They will waste your time. There are SO MANY more potties on the way to the corrals. More than you could ever dream of. Bide your time, clever runner.

We finally got to our corral (Greg and I moved back from B and C respectively to join Rachael in E) and settled in. We looked around, checked our phones, took photos, aimlessly stretched and then finally sat down to wait for the race to start. Before we knew it, we were listening to the National Anthem, and watching the sky erupt with fireworks as the wheelchair athletes were sent off.

Disney had the corrals starting every 7 minutes, like clockwork. That said, these corrals were the biggest I’d ever been a part of. Bigger than the Princess Half, bigger than the Disneyland Half, comically bigger than the Downsview Half. As a result the corrals seemed to start to bleed together, one corral was barely through before they’d have to start the next corral.  

We were pretty far up in our corral, and while we were waiting, Greg looked around and noticed Drew Carey hanging out and watching the monitor. He ran over to shake his hand, we got a quick photo, my sister shook his hand and he backed away, but soon called her back over to shake her hand again. It must have been her bad-ass Wonder Woman outfit.  He was super-nice.

As we were getting organized for our start, I realized that I had never reset my Garmin to our regular 2/1 intervals after my :30:30 practise run and I couldn’t program it on the fly. Greg quickly programmed his 310XT for our intervals and Rachael chose a 2/1 program on her 410 as well (this would later become significant). I opted for an open workout to track our splits. My Garmin is also set for the city-running, auto-pause option for stoplights and busy streets, so my perception of the actual time is a little off.

Soon enough it was time for Corral E to start. According to my Garmin, we started at 6:02am.   


We had another problem, immediately. I realized that I also had not tried on my Nathan hydration belt recently – meaning that it was sized for wearing over my thermal pants, coat and layers.  So… bounce, bounce, bounce. We switched to a walk interval and I started tugging and re-adjusting to get the belt tightened down to a less bouncy size. I finally got the straps re-attached when I got jostled from behind. My gel bottle went flying. I took 10 steps before I realized that this would not do. We hadn’t even gone a quarter of a mile. I needed that bottle. So I did the least safe or responsible thing I could have done. I went back for it.  I bobbed and weaved, arms in the air so people could see me, waved like a crazy person to alert the other runners that I was bending down, grabbed the bottle and hoofed it back in the right direction. I wish that was the only backtracking I would do that day. We’d been running less than 5 minutes, and it was already a shambles.

With the three of us running together (in a row, not side by side) it was very difficult to get into a groove at the same time. We’d be trucking along and one little thing or another would cause us to slow (foggy glasses, or side by side teams in training walking along) or stop (photos or potty breaks).

On top of this, I was moderately concerned about our pace. I knew we had a 21 minute buffer between us and the sweepers, but that did not give me ‘let’s take our time’ confidence. I was also concerned about the sun coming up and the unseasonably hot temperatures that would come with that.
Mile 1: 14:11
Mile 2: 14:41
Mile 3: 15:09

We bypassed the Black Pearl and Captain Jack Sparrow. It was still pretty dark, so we figured we’d take photos on the way back when it was lighter outside.
Before we knew it, we were heading to the Toll Plaza.

We made our way towards the Contemporary, and under the bridge where a DJ with giant Mickey hands Gangnam-styled us up the hill.

We made our way through the parking lots and encountered our first cheering spectators, and a group of cyclists on Pennyfarthing bicycles.
From there, it was a hop-skip-jump situation to the backstage area where we were dumped out onto Main Street, USA for arguably the best part of the race.
No left turn?  I LAUGH at your ‘no left turn’.
Great view, eh?  Enjoy my bouncy Nathan Hydration belt, and MY BUTT!
Best view, ever.
And with a sunrise?  Come ON!

We hadn’t yet had a chance to see the new Fantasyland expansion yet, so this was our first exposure to that beautiful bit of Imagineering. Looks great. And we stopped so Rachael could get this epically awesome photo. It was a long line, but worth it.

As we waited for Rachael to get this photo, I started worrying a bit more. Greg and I were noticing the uptick in the crowd, the pace of that crowd, and then finally the BIBs on that crowd.  There they were. Lots of bibs from corrals G and H. The back corrals. We’d lost some ground.

We trotted toward the castle.

You could not run through the castle if you wanted to. You could probably comfortably have crawled through… backwards… blindfolded… things had gotten pretty slow and crowded. Still, we had to have this photo:


Mile 4: 14:47
Mile 5: 14:53
Mile 6: 16:08 (actual 10K split 1:46:55 thanks to bathroom & photo stops)

From here, we tried to pick up the pace as much as possible. 
Look out! Train!

We hoofed it through Frontierland and out of the park, past the Grand Floridian, past the Wedding Chapel, past the golf course and past the Polynesian. I was focussed on keeping us moving.


Mile 7: 13:36
Mile 8: 15:00
Mile 9: 15:41

We made a restroom stop, paused briefly at the Medical Tent for some BioFreeze for Greg’s shoulder and made our way to the Clif Shot station.

Except the Clif Shots were all gone.  Bad sign.  Bad, bad sign. I’d noticed the water stations were getting more and more sparsely populated with cups, too. It was time to try a little harder, so we pushed on.

Or so I thought.

We started on another run interval, pushed it out, slowed to a walk and I did my customary shoulder check to see where Rachael was.

Except that she wasn’t.

Greg and I moved over to the side of the road and watched the runners go by.  We debated what to do, but we were both a little run-drunk at this point and not communicating at our best.  I suggested that he run on ahead and see if somehow she’d passed us and I would go backwards to see if she’d been sidelined, or had to stop for a medical reason – then we could call each other if we found her.

I kept checking her Facebook page to see if she’d crossed the 15K split mat, since we’d just hit it.

Nada.

Greg wouldn’t leave me alone – he knew that I would stop the race altogether if I couldn’t find her and he knew she wouldn’t want me to do that.  We opted to walk back towards the medical tent we’d just passed to see if she’d ended up there.  As we were walking that way, Greg said “There are the Balloon Ladies”.

“No, those are just ladies with balloons… oh, crap”.

Yes.  Yes, we had walked back to the VERY BACK of the race and the Balloon Ladies (aka, the sweepers) had just passed us.  Greg confirmed their identity with the bike cops right behind them.

Gut check time.  Greg HAD to go on.  He was doing the Goofy Challenge.  If he DNF the race, his Goofy medal was in jeopardy.
I did not feel right going on.  I was worried that Rachael had already been swept, even though I KNEW that wasn’t really possible.  We didn’t see her on the side of the road from where we were standing all the way back to the medical tent, and we didn’t think it was realistic that she would have been discovered, assessed and moved in the amount of time since we’d last seen her, so the only thing to do was continue on and hope that we could discover her fate from runner relations.

It didn’t make sense to me that she would have been swept – she was more than capable of making and keeping the pace. I called and left a message on her phone that we were moving on and that if she was at a medical tent, to have the staff call me.

And we moved on.

Moving time for Mile 10: 16:40. Real time: 26 minutes.
It was hot. I felt like a heel. The sweepers were right behind us. Mile 11 to the finish was not the most fun I’ve ever had at a race.

Mile 11: 12:54
Mile 12: 14:05
Mile 13: 14:14
Mile 14 (yes, our back-tracking added another .90 mile): 12:02
Official Finish Time: 3:47:20 (ouch). Moving time, per my Garmin: 3:24:07 (still, ouch)

We finished the race (we really did, despite the fact that there are NO official photos to prove this…) rushed through the chute, grabbed our medals, checked the self-treatment icing area for Rachael, took our food boxes and made our way to the Race Retreat tent.

We figured we could get information there on what happened with Rachael.

We entered the tent, were handed our commemorative socks and barely had a second to look around when we heard:

“TAAAAAB!  GRRRRREG!!”

There was Rachael!!

She learned that she had finished a good 17 minutes ahead of us.

She’d gotten a stitch as we started our last run interval together, wasn’t able to call our to us, and consequently lost us as we pushed on.  She hustled along, assuming that if she pushed, she could catch up to us… except she never saw us.

And in an effort to get around slower runners/walkers, she ended up on the grass a fair bit, missing the 15K split mat altogether.

She’d looked for us for a while, figured we’d just gone on ahead and so she just kept pushing long, listening to her Garmin beep out her intervals, and passing a ton of runners/walkers along the way.

She finished, headed to the tent to look for us, assuming that we’d finished well before her only to discover via the runner tracking that we had not finished yet.  For a while SHE started worrying about US, wondering the same things we’d been wondering about her.

TIP: If you’re running with others, talk about a “if we lose each other” strategy ahead of time, and HAVE A PHONE ON YOU! (hers was back at the hotel)

Once we were all together again, the situation quickly went from “stressful and guilt-ridden”, to “funny anecdote”. We laughed about it, teased each other (I still think she lost us on purpose so she could ‘beat’ us), and enjoyed our breakfast at the Race Retreat tent before heading out to take some more photos, and wait for an unreasonably long time for our bus back to the resort.

Once back at the resort, I filled up 5 grocery bags with ice, and took an ice bath to ease my legs – something I’d never done before, but I will ALWAYS do in the future.  My legs felt fresher the next day than they ever have before.

TIP: Have an ice bath. The 5 – 10 minutes of discomfort is well worth it, when you consider that you’ll be able to sit down AND get back up like a normal human being the next day.

Afterwards, Rachael and I went to Downtown Disney to meet up with our dad and step-mother to grab a bite to eat while Greg finished up his own ice bath and had a rest in order to prepare for the Marathon the next day.

All in all, it was a lesson in ‘running your own race’ and managing expectations. I was not thrilled with how incredibly full the course was, but it was something that I certainly expected. It probably would not have phased me if I hadn’t let myself stress about all the other shambley stuff going on.

But most importantly we all finished – maybe not together – but we finished! And it was an adventure. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

TIP: No matter what happens, have a GOOD TIME!

Sisters conquer Donald!

runDisney

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