The 2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon, which took place on Saturday, January 10, 2015, represented a lot of things to me: it was my 23rd half marathon, my third time running this particular race, and the first leg of the Goofy Challenge — a two day, 39.3 mile endurance thingamabob during which you run a half-marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday.
Re-reading that opening line, I’m probably infusing a TON more significance into the race than it probably deserves. Not that it wasn’t a fun, successful, enjoyable race — it most certainly was, by all accounts — but I also came to the conclusion that I can probably skip this event for the foreseeable future. They say familiarity breeds contempt, and while I’m light-years away from that (or any) particularly hostile emotion, I’m also locked into a governing mindset that if I have to run that course ONE MORE TIME, I might have to start banging my head soundly and forcefully against the wall, because it FEELS SO GOOD when you stop…
So let’s dial it back a bit and talk turkey, shall we? Boots and I left our home in Fort Lauderdale on the night of Thursday, January 8th and made the 3-hour trek up to Walt Disney World. I had spent most of the previous week battling a particularly brutal cold/flu thingy that left me mostly incapacitated and entirely glum for its entire duration. Given that most of the symptoms were above the neck — stuffy nose, sinus inflammation, sneezing/coughing — I was cleared to run, and by Thursday most of my symptoms were minimal and manageable. But I hadn’t run (or done ANY physical activity) since New Years Eve, so I was a little apprehensive about running 40 miles in two days.
We checked into our resort at Port Orleans French Quarter and I decided to wake up the next morning at 4:30 and do a shakedown run, a quick 3.1 miles around the resort to shake off the cobwebs and see how my legs felt. It was a nice, cold morning: 46 degrees, but felt like 43 with the breeze and condensation. Thankfully the run went very well. I was able to slip right back into my stride, pace, and cadence without issue, and running alongside the Sassagoula River (with several other runners out at the same time) made for a dark but still pleasantly scenic route.
After grabbing a coffee and muffin from the food court (having to wait until 6:00 AM for the darn place to open), I went back to the room and killed time until Boots awoke. After a shower and change, we headed over to the ESPN Wide World of Sports to pick up my registration materials and do the usual merch shopping. After parking and the usual photo ops at the banners and cardboard displays, we worked registration the same way as always. First stop was over at the HP Field House, where I grabbed my race bib and pins from the Goofy Challenge desks. After receiving my materials, I then needed to have my picture taken with my bib so that they could verify my physical identity upon completion of the challenge. This is a change from the plastic wristband they used to make you wear for 2 days (or more), which is fine by me. I’ve got enough aggravation.
Afterward we were jostled into the Jostens Center for part two of our journey: the ceremonial receiving of the race shirts, merch shopping, and vendor browsing. The shirts were fairly nice this year — red for Donald, black for Mickey, and orange for Goofy. As far as merch went, I bought two shirts, a car magnet, and two Run Disney Vinylmations (we managed to score a Mickey and a harder-to-find Minnie), but most of the “cool” stuff had long since been swallowed up when the expo opened on Wednesday. Again, the speculators had gotten the lion’s share of the more collectible, desirable items and had them up on eBay in no time at all. The Run Disney branded Magic Band that retailed for $25? They were already going for $75 online by the time I had arrived at the expo. No thank you. Aroysgevorfn di gelt!
Afterward it was a jaunt over to the Beach Club Resort, where after we bumped into our friends Mike and Michelle (co-hosts of the Mickey Miles Podcast) we hit up Beaches & Cream for lunch. Some carbing up was in order and our favorite ice cream/burger place on property certainly did the trick. Then it was back to the resort, a quick nap, and an early dinner at the Landscape of Flavors food court at the Art of Animation where we were joined by erstwhile training/running buddy Kristi. After a reasonable dinner of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans, we returned to our room where we killed time watching TV until I passed out some time around 9:00 PM.
My cell phone chirped out its usual Samsungy alarm at 2:30 AM. I was a bit groggy from my sleep meds, but I knew the excitement and adrenaline would take care of that in no time. After a quick breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter and jelly and a mini CLIF bar, I put on my running attire for the day. It was a COLD one that morning, like it was the day before. At race time it was 45 degrees but felt like 42, which is postively arctic to this Florida iguana. Being particularly sensitive to cold, I made sure I was bundled up as best as I could. My “Aquaman” costume consisted of an orange tech shirt and green cold-running tights, along with black, long-sleeved compression wear underneath the orange shirt. Throw in a pair of gloves and a cap, and I felt like I would be adequately equipped for the weather.
Nothing doing. Until I actually started running the half, I pretty much spent the entire time freezing my tuchas off.
We drove over to Epcot that morning with pretty much no traffic whatsoever, arriving just before 4:00 AM. Our first stop was meeting up with our good buddies Matt and Sarah (she of the inimitable Sparkly Runner blog, a Hokeyblog favorite!). Matt was doing the Goofy Challenge and Sarah was cheering, having recently recovered from a stress fracture in her foot. We chatted for a little bit and posed for this most buttkickin’ picture right here:
Our next stop was at the Mickey Milers team meet-up, where I met up with my fellow teammates and caught up with friends I hadn’t seen since our last Disney races (Avengers, Wine & Dine, or the Disneyland Half). Boots graciously took our team pic, which I think came out rather swimmingly:
Finally it was time to meet up with our Friends In Training group, my local buddies with whom I pretty much train constantly throughout the week and on Saturdays. Running that morning were Alan, Kari, Kristi, Yasmin, Rosa, Cassandra, Indira, Francesca, Nicole, Stephany, and John. Many of them were doing the Dopey Challenge and had already completed the 5K and 10K over the previous two days, where apparently it had been even colder. Yikes. I shivered like human icicle I had become while we took many of these awesome action snapshots which I’ll share with you now:
By 4:45 AM I kissed Boots goodbye and we were off on our way to the corrals. The schlep from the runners staging area to the corrals is a long, crowded, 15-minute walk (depending on where you’re stationed). Kristi and I motored our way over to Corral K, where we sat and froze half to death for nearly an hour until we were called to the plate by the race announcers. At 6:12 AM we crossed the Start Line mat and we were off and running on the 2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon!
As usual, here’s the race course, courtesy of my Garmin 220 watch and Google Maps:
For those of you keeping score, this is the same exact course as it’s been for years (and exactly the same as the Princess course). Out west from Epcot, up north to the Magic Kingdom, through MK, out the backstage area and then south past the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Richard Petty Experience racetrack as we head back to Epcot to finish the 13.1 mile loop.
Kristi and I had agreed to save our legs and energy for the Marathon the next day, so we ran 3:3 run/walk intervals the entire time. Our goal was to run a slow, easy 13 miles with no concern for pace or time, stopping for whichever photo ops that tickled our fancy… which is precisely what we did. We certainly weren’t running for time, which is why we finished in about 3:17.
The race itself was no different than it has been for the past several years. The first big character stop was the Pirates of the Caribbean/Jack Sparrow ship around Mile 2, and from then on there were a host of different characters, music, live entertainment, video screens, and so on. I even managed to meet up with friends in Team Shenanigans at the Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz photo area, and I “crashed” their picture even though Chris invited me to jump in anyhow.
Even though running easily warms the body up, it took a few miles before I started to feel less like a freakin’ snowman. It was still damn cold out for my blood — but I LOVED it. Since I don’t get to run in sub-60 degree temps all that often, this was a welcome change from the same-old. Simply put, these were optimal running conditions: cold yet sunny. Awesome.
Right past Mile 4, Kristi and I bumped into Rosa, Cassandra, and Francesca, and we ran most of the next 2+ miles together. As we passed the Contemporary Hotel near mile 5, we all were witness to a runner tripping and completely face-planting, and it was entirely her fault. The roads get very narrow, and some runners take it upon themselves to run on the narrow shoulder, in the grass, or even on gravel. NOT a good move. This particular runner wanted to shoot past the crowds and ended up shredding herself on gravel with a face-full of mud! She seemed physically fine, thankfully; she got up and kept going, although I’m sure the embarrassment factor had to be pretty high. But consider that a warning, guys: STAY ON THE COURSE.
Need I even mention the WALL OF WALKERS WALKING SIX ABREAST TAKING UP THE ENTIRE ROAD syndrome? I’m not even going to. I’ll save that for the Marathon review…
As usual, the course then took us into the Magic Kingdom, during which our nifty crew ran up Main Street right towards the twinkling castle itself. Boots was waiting for us in the hub and captured us in all our ridiculous glory. Speaking of ridiculous glory, why not take a look for yourself:
Clearly we were having a terrible time…
Afterward it was the usual: the usual run past Frontier Land into the backstage area, where the usual Royal Couple (a Disney Princess and cohort) is waiting at the photo op. Then there’s the usual turn down Cone Alley as we headed southbound on the way back to Epcot. At this point conditions were so entirely crowded that running became a problematic exercise (see The Wall pic up above…), so we just kept going with our relaxed pace and intervals. We were in zero danger of being swept and since we wanted to keep it low-impact in preparation for the next day’s marathon, the rest of the race was a piece of cake.
Except for one rather significant detail… I was so freakin’ bored.
Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing in and of the race itself that was boring, dull, unexciting, routine, mundane, drab. It was another successful running of the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, with all the music, characters, color and excitement that the magic of Disney, the organizational prowess of Run Disney, and a massively overpriced entry fee can bring. The weather was perfect, running conditions were optimal, and everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves.
I couldn’t wait for the darn thing to be over, and it was all because I’ve run this route four times now (six if you include the two marathons, which shares the first 8+ miles with the half marathon). I knew every step, every turn, every expected character stop and video screen and so forth. I found myself becoming less and less interested with the race itself, thinking that I wanted it to be done so I could start mentally and physically preparing for the next day’s marathon. It was probably the wrong attitude to have, but I found myself less and less enchanted by the race. It had become more of a chore.
Of course that still didn’t stop me from getting one of my best race pics ever taken:
I almost look like a real runner there… even Kristi seems pleased! Anyway, we looped back up and around on the ramp leading to Epcot, and by then our interest in the race came back a little bit. There was absolutely zero possibility of steadily running by then anyhow. It seems a HUGE swath of race participants had given up and were content on just walking — many abreast — up and down Epcot Drive on the way back to the Finish Line. It was either run around wall-to-wall walkers or join them in their march back. We did a little of both, since we had plenty of steam left in our afterburners. As we entered Epcot I said quick hellos to Lou and Beci who were cheering for the WDW Radio Running Team, as well as Eddie and Phill from the Mickey Milers Team. Yay teams!
From there it was just that last trip through Epcot: entering from backstage next to Innoventions, around the entrance to World Showcase, back down again past Spaceship Earth, into the backstage area behind the Camera Center where the waiting gospel choir sang for us, and then the final jaunt to the Finish Line. We crossed that mat happily, and no, STILL no call out of my name from Rudy or Carissa. We are 0 for ALWAYS on that particular count. After grabbing our medals, complimentary snack box, and bottle of Powerade, we met up with our crew at the F flag for some pics and camaraderie.
So in the end, was the 2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon worth it? For first timers, beginners, walkers, or those new to Disney races, without question it is. You can’t deny its charm, friendliness, magic, and entertainment value. But for me? I need a break. When something magical becomes routine, routine is quick to become mundane, and that means the entire affair becomes a chore. I had a good time, but the Disney Half has become too familiar for me. Will I ever do this half again? HECK YEAH, of course I will. But not for a few years, I think. There are still plenty of other mountains left to climb. Or something. Here’s the video: