In January 2011, I made the decision to train for something huge in my life. For years, I have wished I had followed up on my college running activity and ran a marathon. When he told me of the Catalina Marathon, good friend Ray painted a picture that was hard to turn away from. I committed to run the marathon with him but I was in no shape to do it at that time. So, I decided to train for 15 months, running my first marathon on March 10, 2012.
During my training, I have carefully planned a number of stages including other races. It just so happened that the 2011 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon fell at the right time for me to make it my last race before my full marathon training.
The first thing I did was find out the best way to get back in shape for a guy who is currently 45 years old and out of shape. The best thing I found was a few books by Olympian Jeff Galloway (See him on Facebook, too). I read three of his books before this race; Marathon (original edition), Galloway's book on Running and Marathon, You can Do It.
The biggest thing Jeff Galloway does is help people get active at any stage of health. His run walk method entitles the laziest person to take things at his or her own pace and never experience pain, puking or any other side effects we are always told are required to get and stay 'in shape'.
Jeff Galloway is the official consultant for runDisney and their program for running and staying healthy. He made a number of appearances at the runDisney booth and held several classes at the fitness expo that coincided with the run. He signed two books for me, too!
The expo was the first of it's kind I have ever attended. It was great to see and try all the new products they had on display. All in all, there were over 40 exhibitors.
Now, the race itself is a night race. It starts at 10:00 PM in the large field in front of the ESPN Wide World of Sports site at Disney World, Kissimmee, Florida. Even though this field is a huge 3/4 mile around, only those that are in the race were allowed to go to the 'Start Line Party'. In fact, we could not even park at the location, we had to park at Epcot, but there were ample and frequent buses taking racers to the start line from the east side of the parking lots. I arrived early, but never saw a line for a bus at all. It was quick and smooth and required no thought on our part to figure anything out. This left our minds clear for starting the race!
The race started in five corrals on six different start times. The first was for one wheel chair athlete at 9:58. Then, starting at 10:00 PM each of the five corrals started at five minute intervals. I was in Corral B. Everyone's corral is labeled on the upper left corner of their bib.
When each start gun went off, there was a series of fireworks that went off... it is, after all, Disney. They always have fireworks whenever they can! As we left the start line Mickey and Minnie waved us off and wished us, "Good luck!"
This being my first huge race, I was not prepared for the pandemonium of the first mile. The biggest race I have ever been in only had 200 people in it, this crowd was 12,500 strong! It was a very friendly crowd and for the most part thinned out nicely. I nearly tripped and fell on a couple of ladies as I tried to pass them... "Ooops... so sorry! My Bad!"
By the first water/Powerade tables after mile 1 we were starting to thin out. I bypassed this table and took a hit from my CamelBak AquaPak. It was a bit of a slow down with the crowds, so I pushed forward. There were nine breaks like this. Long lines of tables, the beginning filled with Powerade and the end filled with water. The people passing out water were very vocal announcing what they had in their hands. It was obvious when I passed from one table to the next what to expect.
There was also a place where the people from Clif were passing out gel paks. I heard Raspberry and jumped on it and stuck it in my pocket. Very good!
The Characters and Parks
Throughout the race, there was all kinds of diversions to keep you focused on your pace AND distract you from the race. From time to time we passed someone DJing a band stand and playing up-beat music. Other times we passed various Disney Characters. We saw Buzz Lightyear, Darth Vader, the ferry Godmothers and many more. In all, we passed SOMETHING nearly every half mile. Many people stopped for pictures, others, like myself, just shot on the run!
We left the start area, proceeded north to the first intersection then turn left toward Animal Kingdom. That was just plain cool! Running through the dimly lit park I could feel the animals (even though there were none around) peering out through the brush getting ready to pounce. It was quite magical!
The part that made me most excited in Animal Kingdom was when we rounded the corner and first saw the Tree of Life all lit up in the night! It made me catch my breath and skip a few beats. We ran around the Tree and meandered through the park, out the eastern gate.
It was obvious that animals were about, the smell hit every once in a while from the animal waste, especially as we ran past bodies of water out of Animal Kingdom, but by mile 6 we were past it all, including the end of the first of two relay legs.
Back out on the road, there was seldom any 'dead' spots all the way to the back entrance of Hollywood Studios behind the Tower of Terror. We got to view a lot of back stage areas through this park as well as public areas.
Like the Tree of Life, coming around the corner for the first view of the Magicians Hat was exciting. Also, running through the empty park had a much lighter feel than Animal Kingdom as we passed well lit buildings, Pixar displays and more. Just like Animal Kingdom, there were cast members all along the route cheering you on, some even call out your name if they can see it. My concern of loosing the path disappeared early as we were never out of site of a cast member through the parks.
After Hollywood Studios, we went out another back exit and ran past the windows for the Disney cabinet shop, seam makers shops and hat and wig shop. Of course they were empty, but seeing things in there was fun! See part II of the accompanied video.
We exited through to Buena Vista and the Boardwalk on our final leg around Epcot. Those last few miles were tough, but with late night guests cheering us through the resorts the adrenalin flowed.
The race ended in the Taxi and Resort bus lot in front of Epcot. The whole area was roped off for runners only, like the start area. We were escorted through the Medal Pickup area, then to get a snack bag and a large bottle of Powerade. Eventually, we meandered past the popular medical tent then over a large yard to the exit into Epcot itself. It was not at all crowded in the finish area. Some people were crashing on the grass. I kneeled down at one point to get out my arm band to get me into Epcot but could not get up afterwards! I had to crawl on my hands and knees about eight feet to a sign post and pull myself up.
Overall, the whole event was flawless. I think Disney even ordered up the lower 60s temperatures and perfectly clear skies we had as a cool front blew through just hours before the race started. There were gentle breezes on occasion and the tour of the parks was hard to beat! I plan to do this race again, no question about it!
Disney World Orlando
Date taken: 2011 10 01
Jeff Galloway on Facebook
Jeff Galloway's Web Site
Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon