“I would like… if I may… to take you… on a strange journey…”
That’s a pretty good Charles Gray impression, isn’t it? I mean, it WOULD be, if you could hear me right now. But given that the previous proclamation was deliver as the written word and not in fact audio, this is entirely a rather moot endeavor. Suffice to say, my review today of the 2014 Walt Disney World Half Marathon will remain an entirely heartfelt one for me. One that I hope you will enjoy reading as much as I will enjoy typing it up. Which I’m hoping will be absolute buttloads of joy!
But make no mistake: this event was nothing less than a full circle journey for your intrepid narrator. Indulge me for a moment while I share this picture with you…
You see that kid? He– wait, “kid”? I was 40 in that picture. Schnikies. Anyway, yes that was a middle-aged dude reaching the culmination of his early-onset midlife crisis. Eleven months earlier, he turned 40 years old and took stock of his health. He was extremely overweight — technically obese although, due to being 6’2″ with a large frame, he didn’t look it — anemic, lethargic, and in just plain pathetic health. So in late January 2011 he kicked in with a diet and fitness regimen, and set a goal to run the 2012 Walt Disney World Half Marathon the following year. Bear in mind, he had never, ever run a race in his life. Not even a 5K. He had casually jogged before but wasn’t a “runner”.
Cut to January 7th, 2012, and there he was: completing his first Half Marathon at Walt Disney World. If he were a blogger during that time, he probably would have exploded all over the written page with effusive sentiments and gosh-darn humility and oh-shucks self-fulfillment and all sorts of magical derring-do. He just loves the phrase ‘derring-do’. Regardless, when he got home from Disney he signed up for his next half marathon. And another. And another. All the while planning to take another year to train for his first FULL marathon… which he did, a year later.
The 2012 Walt Disney World Half Marathon was the end of my transformation from out-of-shape blobule to a real runner, but it was also only the beginning. The beginning of my journey from real runner to really experienced runner. A journey that has neither destination nor end point, but rather is comprised of a series of transformative adventures and experiences. All of which brought me back to Lake Buena Vista on the morning of January 11th, 2014. Since that very first race, I had completed a full marathon, 12 halfs, a 10-miler, a 100-mile team relay, a 12-mile Tough Mudder obstacle course, 5Ks, 10Ks, and endless amounts of training miles.
My 13th Half was taking me back to where it all started.
And by God, I wanted that race to be celebratory. Not ultra competitive, not overwrought with crazed determination, and definitely not with any delusions whatsoever of trying to get a PR. None of that nonsense. I wanted to have fun; no not just fun — a freakin blast.
And boy howdy, did we ever!
As usual, let’s set up the stage for our little presentation by dialing it back a bit…
Cut to the day before the Half; January 10th. I had just run the Walt Disney World 10K that morning, and the Disney Family Fun Run 5K the morning before that. I was looking forward to the third (and final) day of racing, with a fourth day of being a race spectator to come.
After meeting Jeff for breakfast at the Polynesian, we hit the Monorail over to the Magic Kingdom where, thanks to the magic of FastPass+, we already had front-of-the-line reservations for Space Mountain, The Haunted Mansion, and Big Thunder Mountain. We casually strolled about the park, taking our time. I was hoping to find a pair of Goofy ears to run with, but no such luck. No matter, though. After a few easygoing hours we made our dinner reservation over at the Liberty Tree Tavern to “carb up” (Boots’s favorite race tradition) and headed back to our resort at the Wilderness Lodge in the late afternoon. I had a poor night’s sleep the night before, and was determined to be out cold by 8PM so I could be up at 3AM with no issues. Whatever I did, it worked. I slept like an absolute rock.
The next morning we bounced out of bed, got dressed, and lickity-split we were in our car by 3:40 AM and on our way to Epcot. Traffic wasn’t anything major; we were parked by just after 4 and at our designated meeting point (the F-H flag) by 4:15, where we were to hook up our buddies. My partners in crime that morning, as they were during the 5K, were the inimitable Kristi and Ines. Both of them were running the Dopey, so they were planning on going at it easy and having fun, a philosophy I wholeheartedly endorsed as well. I wanted the works: pictures, enjoyment, easygoing fun, and no stresses or worries about “performance” whatsoever.
Kristi showed up first, followed Jeff, but no Ines… again! She was wandering about elsewhere. We caught up with her by the water table in the runners-only area, thanks to me being so tall with a freakishly-oblong alien-shaped head. I’m easy to spot in a crowd that way. Finally reunited, we bid Jeff goodbye and made our way down that endless walk to the corrals. The weather was definitely cooperating. While it wasn’t cold like I hoped, it was certainly cool and considerably less humid than the day before, with a nice cold breeze blowing through. Weather-wise, the planet was cooperating a whole lot more that day.
Soon after our trek ended, the three of us piled into corral F… one way or another. After that it was little more than the waiting game for the race to start. In an almost STUNNING repeat of the 5K fiasco two days previous, Ines — unaware that the National Anthem was being sung — started laughing loudly at something Kristi had whispered to her. It was more like cackling, but at this point it didn’t matter. The damage was done. I pointed out the absurdity of her repeating an act of accidental defiance to moments of solemnity that — AGAIN — almost broke Kristi apart entirely with stifled, uncontrolled, silent, violent, shaking, suppressed laughing fits. It was a moment of sheer beauty. Wish I had a camera… well I mean, I did, but I had to be the serious one. MAN I hate being the serious one!!
Well anyway… soon the race began in proper with the requisite Run Disney fireworks and fanfare, with Donald Duck himself giving his usual “On your marks, get set, go!” pronouncements. Since Kristi and Ines were doing the Full Marathon the next day, they were planning on going on a super-easy pace. And do you know what? I was totally, absolutely cool with that. The chosen intervals were 3:3 — three minutes running, three minutes walking. My usual intervals are 10:1, which I use for training and racing, but today I threw that entirely out the window. Disney races are the most fun out there, but given how pricey they are you might as well get your money’s worth out of them. Stop for every picture. High-five and chat up your fellow runners. Sing out loud. Dance for no reason. Have ridiculous conversations with the volunteers. Keep yourself entertained and enjoy every last mile.
Which is precisely what we did.
Here’s a quick look at our half-marathon course, which takes us out of Epcot, into Magic Kingdom, out past the Grand Floridian and back to Epcot via World Drive:
It was awesome. Given our slow pace — we eventually finished somewhere in the 3:30 range, which, if you’re keeping score, is a good hour slower than my previous slowest time — the race never, ever felt like any kind of real effort. We kept each other entertained the entire time, either with the host of entertainment on the course or by making each other laugh. I can’t even begin to describe half of our conversations; some of them are entirely too filthy for such a PG rated blog as this one. (OK, PG-13, fine…) One of them involved monkey pee, another the proper technique for… you know what, let’s just leave it at that. But as we left Epcot and head north on World Drive, we were having the time of our lives.
It was right around this point when I started singing Yacht Rock songs…
I’m not sure if I started with Air Supply, but they featured very strongly in my early morning repertoire. Christopher Cross too. I’m sure Hall & Oates figured in there more than once. But the one that really cemented my Half Marathon Yacht Rocker supremacy? Nothing less than Peter Cetera’s “Glory Of Love”! Why as we were passing The Contemporary Resort, I was belting this one out with all the gusto I could muster…
Tonight it’s very clear
‘Cause we’re both lying here
There’s so many things I wanna say…
“Hey is that from The Karate Kid?” someone yelled out.
“The Karate Kid: Part TWO!!” I responded with gleeful exuberance.
“Who IS this guy??” Ines muttered out loud, jogging away from me…
The race proceeded as planned. We entered the Magic Kingdom through backstage area that led onto Main Street, right next to Tony’s Town Square restaurant. I knew the WDW Radio crowd would be right at the turn there, and sure enough they were. Per my usual tradition I ran over to Lou Mongello, said hi, and we fist-bumped. By this time I’m almost entirely sure he believed I was stalking him. Otherwise we had a splendid time jogging up Main Street, thanking everyone cheering on the sidelines as if we were freakin’ royalty. Boots had texted me her location by the turn into Tomorrowland, thus giving us prime positioning for these awesome action snapshots:
I’m almost entirely sure we were stuck in the park for a good 20 minutes posing for shots. The Buzz Lightyear and Woody lines certainly weren’t short by any means, sure, but we’re in the Magic Kingdom and paying for the opportunity to dash through it. Time to soak up the festivity! Here’s a look through some of our greatest hits:
There’s plenty more Magic Kingdom pics, but MarathonFoto is totally dragging their feet getting our photos identified. Pick up the pace, MarathonFoto. Just because I slacked that day doesn’t mean you can too.
The Half Marathon leaves the Magic Kingdom at around the 6 mile mark. This portion is viewed as the “Not So Fun” stretch of the race. You’re basically heading south on World Drive back to Epcot, more or less. Nonetheless, there remained plenty of on-course entertainment in terms of character photo-ops, bands, DJs, and so forth. At the halfway point of the race, Run Disney conducted an Internet poll to determine which song they would play: “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey (enough already), “Roar” by Katy Perry (ehh), and “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel from the movie Frozen. As we were passing, “Roar” was ending and “Let It Go” started up.
So I did what every red-blooded American heterosexual alpha-wannabe male does: I belted out a lavish musical showtune at the top of my lungs. Right around now is when I offer up the claim that I am in fact happily married to a beautiful supportive woman, but like that means ANYTHING in the face of an admission such as the one in the previous sentence.
Well we continued on our happy merry way southbound, and managed to bump into Jeff again just before the 10 mile mark. He started the race a few corrals after us and, as it turns out, was quite a bit ahead. That screams volumes of how slow and easy we were going. We hung and ran together for a good mile and change before he found his second wind and took off ahead. No worries. We’d catch up with him later. Meanwhile I was continuing with the comedy schtick, trying to make people laugh and embarrass Ines as much as possible. I think I succeeded. As we curved eastbound on Epcot Center Drive past the Mile 11 marker, we passed a med tent that was offering up various first aid treatments to runners. One of the volunteers was holding out a large jar which looked like it was holding a generous portion of gelato.
I *love* gelato.
Furthermore, I *wanted* gelato.
As we passed the tent, I couldn’t contain myself.
“IS THAT GELATO???” I yelled out to him.
“No… it’s Vaseline,” he responded, with a rather bemused look on his face. Around me you could hear the sound of several runners snickering.
“Oh… WHAT FLAVOR???” I loudly asked him again. It *did* look rather tasty. Now people were laughing loudly at our exchange. Kristi was giggling and turning some kind of pinkish color. Ines suddenly found a sudden burst of speed and took off ahead of us rather suddenly. Well! Someone said he responded with “ORGANIC!!!” but I didn’t hear it. My job was already done there. In with the zinger and then THANK YOU! GOOD NIGHT!!
Soon after, for no reason, Kristi and I started singing the “Chicken Dance” song. Other runners around us joined in with the clapping parts. It was kind of this really nifty, totally awesome communal running moment. Later on we reached the big turnaround curve, where giant video screens were blasting DTV videos featuring classic animation set to music like The Beach Boys’s “Surfin’ Safari” and The Go-Go’s “We Got The Beat”. Kristi and I changed the lyrics to the latter in an entirely silly and utterly scatological manner. Classy, as always.
As we entered Epcot around Mile 12, I noticed the WDW Radio crew again. Lou was there, along with Beci Mahnken, owner of MEI Travel. This is an unsolicited endorsement, but holy crap, if you’re traveling to Disney, USE THEIR SERVICES. It costs nothing and you get insanely incredible deals. OK that said, I ran over to her (ignoring Lou, since I’ve already been stalking the heck out of him), asked if she was indeed Beci (she was), and then waxed poetically about my go-to travel agent, Brock Taylor. I think she really enjoyed the attention! After a few moments of fanboy appreciation, I bid her and Lou goodbye and ran back to my peeps to finish the race out.
The last mile of the course took us into Epcot just west of Spaceship Earth, then south down to the World Showcase entrance, and back north on our way to the Finish Line in incredibly silly spirits. The employees of the new Starbucks location were out in full force waving and cheering us on, and I yelled out my usual order to them in the vain hope they’d produce my drink of choice (quad venti vanilla soy latte, no-whip, no-foam). No dice. We passed the gospel choir at the 13 mile mark and decided to cross the Finish Line hand-in-hand with the requisite big happy Disney smiles on our faces. We also almost ended up clothes-lining this one idiot who came to a dead stop right in front of us to take a picture. Yikes! But we crossed that Finish line in 3:30, which would be an entirely disgraceful performance if we actually really gave a poop about pace/time/performance in the first place. Which we didn’t. We had nothing to prove. Mission accomplished.
Soon after we were knighted with our new, proudly earned Donald medals. Kristi and Ines went into the Dopey runners line to get their wristbands, while I caught up with Jeff and we chatted a bit before taking an awesome group photo:
After grabbing Powerade, a banana, and the standard Disney box we’ve been handed since the 5K, I bid the ladies farewell until tomorrow and walked with Jeff to the bus area. It was good to see an old friend, and we’re looking forward to running the Disneyland Half next summer (with our awesome buddy Suzanne as well, completing the Gulliver Trinity). Then I met up with Boots and we head back to the Lodge for the requisite shower, change of clothes, and nosh.
So yeah… overall we had a brilliant time with the 2014 Walt Disney World Half Marathon. I’ve never had more fun on a race. I’ve never had a slower pace/time in my life, and never cared one whit about it the entire time. This is how you should Run Disney, folks. Have fun, enjoy yourself, and live for every moment of it. Here it was, two years after my first Half, finishing my thirteenth, coming full circle and ready to attack my third year of racing with renewed enthusiasm. Don’t take yourself too seriously, Hokeyfolk. I’m the first one who’s guilty of this, and you need the total bucket of cold perspective thrown in your face to really drive the point home. There’s a time to be competitive, and a time to smile and engage your inner goofball. This race was my time to indulge the latter. And it was worth every second of it.
Thanks for reading gang. Here’s the video (like there was ANY doubt which song this might be):