Hi gang! The following race review was brought to you by our latest guest-reviewer at Hokeyblog, Steve. Steve hails all the way from the wacky wistful wilds of The Left Coast, he enjoys long walks on the beach, painting lurid sunsets, analyzing linguistic practices of those who opt-out of Myers-Briggs examinations, zestful morning showers, cuts a mean cabbage patch, and may or may not be entirely fictitious, but never mind that because he’s going to share with us his views on the 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon. So without further burgeoning banter, let’s give a great, big, Andy’s Room welcome to Steve and everything he has to say in today’s race review! Take it away, Esteban!
Hello. I’m Steve. Yes, that will do nicely…
So anyway, the 2016 Walt Disney World Half Marathon took place on the somewhat Florida-cool but very Florida-humid morning of Sunday, January 10th, 2016, and it was a quick infiltration/extraction exercise for us. As much as we usually enjoy making a long weekend out of the January races at Walt Disney World, time, work, and stupid adult responsibility stuff preempted such happy funtime frivolities. Oh well. So it was literally arrive in Orlando at 9AM Saturday morning and leave to go home 6:30PM Sunday night. Such is the nature of things.
I won’t go into too much detail about our Saturday. It basically started with heading over to Epcot at around 9:15 in the morning, to cheer on our friends running that day’s Half Marathon. We parked ourselves just past the 12-mile marker (next to the WDW Radio Run Team cheer squad), and celebrated our buddies as they were making their way through that heavily foggy morning to enter Epcot for that last mile of the day. Kudos to these fine folk:
Then we hit the Expo to pick up and shop for all sorts of interesting race stuff. I didn’t go too crazy with race swag (for me, anyhow): I “only” picked up two shirts and a 2016 Run Disney Vinylmation, plus a magnet I purchased from my buddy Ann. Other than that, it was your typical Run Disney expo experience. Plenty of guest lecturers, vendors, product demos, KT taping, pretty much everything you’d want or need from a race expo.
Completely Unsolicited Endorsement: I was particularly pleased with the Smuggbuds SB-X Fabric headset I bought at the Expo. This was the most perfect headset I’ve ever run with. I love my Bluetooth Jaybirds but they never sat in my ears properly; this new headset, while wired, came with a tangle-proof cord, and the silicone ear-gels formed a nice tight seal and never popped out of my ears. Not from wind, not from sweat, nothing. Plus they sound great and, while not noise-canceling, did a great job in reducing unwanted background nose. Consider this a hearty endorsement from your pals at Hokeyblog.
After the Expo, we hit up Disney Springs for lunch, and ended up settling down at Paradiso 37, which is a “tapas-oriented”, “Taste of the Americas”-styled restaurant right on the lake. I’d heard mixed reviews about the place but we were pretty happy with our lunch (granted it was pretty empty at about 11AM, so we got plenty of attention). There was a decent beer selection, and while our nachos were just OK, the I really, really enjoyed the P37 Steak Burrito. Made with mango-barbecue sauce and sautéed seasonal vegetables, they really knocked it out of the park.
We attempted an early check-in to our extremely disappointing hotel (avoid the Lake Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa, it’s a Hilton hotel but it lacks anything in the level of quality and service you’d expect from a Hilton) and then hit a meet-up over at The Wave at Disney’s Contemporary Hotel at 3PM. It was a fun time with the Mickey Milers crew, and the cocktails were flowing aplenty (just one beer for me, I consider that my carb load). Dinner was early at around 4:45, up on the fourth-floor concourse where we enjoyed the Contempo Cafe counter service. I’ve had a few pre-marathon meals there, and it always hits the spot perfectly.
The day wrapped with us returning to our room (where our card keys didn’t work, of course, because the Lake Buena Vista Palace Hotel & Spa is a horrible, horrible place), laying out my gear for the next day, pinning my bib on (crooked), taping up my ankles and right quad, and passing out right around the 8:45 PM mark. I had to be up at 3AM the next morning, and a good six hours is all I need.
The iPhone alarm chirped promptly at 3 AM. I enjoyed your typical runners breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter, banana, and granola bar with a bottle of water. I try not to eat too much before a race, and barely anything during. I’ve got enough GI issues as it is; the last thing I need is a grumpy stomach during a Marathon. I dressed quickly, donning my Mickey Milers jersey and a pair of purplish running shorts, along with my usual Batman wristband. I thought I looked pretty spiffy, as seen in this standard hotel room pre-race pic:
The drive over the Epcot was really quick; we left at around 4:00 AM and were parked by 4:20. I missed the team photo, but I slept an extra half hour, so there. At least I managed to grab a pic with my buddies Rob, Dave, and Kristen:
I didn’t really participate much in any of the pre-race festivities (dancing, socializing, kibbitzing, whatever). I hit the porto line and made my way down the roughly 37 mile sojourn between the race staging area and the start corrals. I was in Corral H, which meant a 6 AM start time. I think I made it to the corral by around 5:30. I was even able to sneak my way up to the very front. I’m crafty that way.
So as usual, here was the view ahead of me:
I’m going to skip the usual Start Area selfie, because we’ve all had enough of that. But I did manage to take one with Gail and Kimberley from Run All The Races, who happened to be standing right near me. These two turn Disney Racing into a freakin’ art form, man…
Anyway, enough of this faux-witty banter. Let’s get off to the races. Like literally. After the usual fanfare, my corral was called to the Start Line and with Rudy’s inimitable vocalizations and my perennial Disney tradition of beginning my race with Metallica’s Master Of Puppets on my headset, I crossed the Start at 5:58 AM. My Marathon experience had begun!
The 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon!
I love a good H1 moment…
First let’s take a look at the course, as always courtesy of Google Maps and my trusty dusty Garmin 920XT:
The course was slightly altered this year, mostly due to the closure of the race track. The first six miles took us out of Epcot, turning north onto World Drive for the early morning run to and through the Magic Kingdom. Miles 6 through 12 wound its way past the Shades of Green, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian Village resorts down Floridian Way, then heading west and south down Bear Island Road through mostly untouched wilderness and the lovely sights (and smells) of the Waste Treatment Plant. Miles 12 through 18 start in and through the scenic Animal Kingdom park, and then leave you heading eastbound on the slightly “less scenic” Osceola Parkway. Your mental game will be put to the test between miles 18 and 22, as the winding paths of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Zone end up seeming a lot longer and less interesting than you remember, and the route exiting there to Disney’s Hollywood Studios is right around when most runners hit the wall of physical and mental exhaustion. BUT! Mile 22ish brings back the fun with a sojourn through Hollywood Studios, moving on to a serene path that takes you to the Crescent Lake resort area, passing the Boardwalk, Yacht, and Beach club resorts into Epcot, where the last mile takes you through World Showcase and right to the Finish Line in the Epcot parking lot.
In other words… pretty much the same as it is every year. Mostly.
Let’s talk about the weather for a moment. It was a warm 70 degrees at race start and the weather was Florida. What exactly do we mean by that? Well let’s consider the previous three days’ climate. The 5K was super cold (40s), the 10K was completely rainy (soggy), and the Half-marathon was thick and foggy with very poor visibility. Temps for the Marathon were warmer than the previous three days, with nearly 100% humidity. By the end of the first mile, I was completely drenched. Soaked from head to toe with sweat, as it were. But bear in mind, I’ve been a South Floridian for all my life (save for a 4-year undergraduate stint in Boston many, MANY moons ago). I live, work, and most importantly TRAIN in oppressive humidity.
This was my wheelhouse.
And to be honest, while it was thick and warm, it was still cooler than most of my usual training run weather, so I was OK with it. Besides, I wasn’t out to PR or anything. This was just a long-distance training run for New Orleans in February. No pressure, right?
I made a conscious decision not to make stops for photos or entertainment or anything of that nature. I had my headset on, listening to the Zombies, Run! mission “Where’s Your Head At”, kept my head in the game, and just ran. Period. I wanted to see if I could keep a consistent pace throughout the entirety of the race. And with the exception of two much-needed bathroom breaks, that’s pretty much exactly what I did. For the time I was out there on the course, I was consistently running for all but two minutes and twenty-three seconds of my race time. Not too bad.
I made it to the Magic Kingdom, where Boots was waiting for me at her usual spot at the hub. I posed for a variety of pics, but I’m going to post this one, because I need to be even more self-effacing:
You can’t take me anywhere. I grabbed a quick hug and smooch and was on my way. Anyway, the Magic Kingdom was its usual gloriousness: running up Main Street towards the castle, with its frosty icicle lights a-shining, turning right into Tomorrowland, then curving west into Fantasyland. This time, the route took us on a detour through New Fantasyland, which was kind of cool. Then it was down through the castle, where for some reason I was suddenly and utterly consumed by existential angst and soul-destroying TERROR. You can see it on my face as I’m passing the Castle here:
No idea what was going through my mind there. I obviously blacked out the entire event…
Into Frontierland we went, where another detour took us a bit north past Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. After that, it was out into the backstage area and southbound onto the dreaded Cone Alley. Thankfully I was maintaining a steady marathon pace and was well ahead of the bottlenecks, so I was able to keep going without getting caught behind walls of walkers in that narrow stretch of the course.
The roughly three-mile stretch down Bear Island Road to Animal Kingdom was right around when the sun started rising… and that moment was sheer perfection. The warmth of the sun burnt off much of the oppressive humidity, which made temperatures cooler and the overall climate much more comfortable. I spent this stretch listening to the WDW Radio podcast, specifically the 2015 Disney In Review episode. Also of note was a new out-and-back stretch of the course on Western Way, where I saw the first of several race cheaters of the day crossing the median to cut a good 0.40 miles off their race distance. Stay classy, guys.
Oh, and did I mention that there was ABSOLUTELY ZERO NASTY STENCH coming from the Waste Treatment Plant this year? I guess somebody got the memo!
The section through Animal Kingdom was as fun as ever. It started out with several park animals out for photo opportunities. I noticed a boa, donkey, goat, and a good-sized tortoise with a bib taped to his shell. I also saw a very familiar looking piggy, one whom I shared a photo-op with last year. As I ran by, I asked her handler if she was indeed “Emmy Lu”. And she was! There’s NOTHING like seeing an old friend on the course 🙂
Otherwise, I ran straight through Animal Kingdom without stopping. Many took advantage of the opportunity to ride Expedition Everest, but not for this kid. It was business as usual.
One of the cool moments of running at Animal Kingdom is that you literally hit the halfway mark while on the property. I officially hit the 13.1 mile timing mat at 2:25:02, with an average pace of 11:04 minutes/mile and an estimated finish of 4:50:03. Not bad… but my PR was 4:52:24. I was feeling very good at that point, still strong and full of energy. I made the concerted effort to try for a new PR. Why not? I was in shooting distance… besides, just as I was leaving Animal Kingdom I bumped into my awesome friend (and sister from another mister) Jennifer, so that warm hug gave me a boost. Onto the Osceola Parkway I went, for 3+ miles of straight running. I was now listening to Spotify on “Running Mode”, which blasted 80s and 90s hits according to my pace. This was a real pick-me-up as well. I may have sung “just” a bit. My Michael Sambello needs some work…
Just as I was approaching the turn into the ESPN Wide World of Sports Zone, I saw my chicken-headed friend Laura and non-headwear-engaged friend Matt on the other side of the median, having set up their cheer station at Mile 20.5. I had just passed mile 17, so I still had ways to go before meeting them, but I called out a hello anyhow. But from then on, it was the dreaded, maligned, horrific, mind-crushing, soul-killing 2.5+ mile path throughout WWoS.
You can bitch and complain and whine and moan about that section of the race as much as you want. God knows, I have in the past. But this time around, I simply made my peace with WWoS. I do not like running through WWoS. Running through WWoS certainly has no use for me. But it has to happen. So I nodded, put my head down, and ran through it without muss or fuss. And that was that. After a twisting, turning, narrow trail throughout the complex, including a trip through the baseball stadium, I was out and free from any negativity. I was also now onto my second Zombies, Run! mission of the day “Submission” and not only was I maintaining pace, I was actually running just a little bit faster than earlier, and feeling pretty good about it too.
Back onto Osceola and heading towards World Drive, I finally got my pic with Laura (and Petunia):
I also high-fived my buddy Matt and then high-tailed it onto World Drive and into the third theme park of the day, Disney’s Hollywood Studios (or whatever they’re calling it this week). Maybe my pace had really picked up, maybe they had shortened the course somewhat because of construction, I couldn’t tell you… but this entire sequence was mostly a blur to me. It didn’t seem to take all that long. One second we were moving backstage on Cypress Drive and through the Disco Tunnel, then we’re suddenly heading straight down Hollywood Drive and heading out of the park via a backstage turn. Oh well. It certainly was fun while it lasted, and after WWoS I doubt anyone’s going to be in the mood for more twisty, turning trails that keep you in the same general area for an hour.
I also have to give a big shout-out to my buddy and Mickey Miler teammate Kelly, who was handing out cold towels on New York Street. It was absolutely needed and totally refreshing. Thanks bud!
After leaving Hollywood Studios, there is a roughly 1.5 mile path that takes you from the Studios exit to Epcot by way of the Crescent Lake resort area. This is a shaded, breezy walkway next to the water, and it is always one of the most serene, easygoing, reassuring sections of the race. At this point you have much less than a 5K to go, so put into that framework the final stretch seems like your proverbial (and then literal) walk in the park. While the sun was higher in the sky, it was still a slightly overcast day and it actually felt much cooler by the end of the race than it had at the beginning. Past the resorts I went, until I made it to the International Gateway. I got another high-five from my buddy Beci from MEI-Travel, and with that I made the turn into Epcot right at the UK Pavilion. Over the bridge I went until I hit Mile 25, otherwise known as…
The Last Mile!
Boots was waiting for me there, along with our friends (and Miler teammates) Ray and Anita. And here they are now!
And here I come approaching them off the bridge:
I already knew I had a PR in the bag, but I didn’t want to let up my pace just yet. I got my hug from Boots and high-fived my buddies. Anita was handing out apparently THE greatest salted caramel treats ever, but I didn’t try one until much later, and I have to say they were about 37 shades of awesomeness. But I continued onward, stopping almost immediately for this pic:
Look… it’s Belle. Who doesn’t adore a French girl? Especially when there was absolutely zero line whatsoever. Look at that poise and elegance! She doesn’t look half bad either.
Anyway around World Showcase I went, getting more high-fives from buddies (and teammates) Jen and Kim somewhere around Africa. I fought the urge to stop for a beer or margarita or any of that. There’d be beer at the Finish Line. I held out. Besides, look how happy I was already:
Finally I ran through the main corridor of Future World, past Spaceship Earth and into the backstage area where the gospel choir was… taking a break. No biggie. I rushed past that area and into the last stretch of 0.2 miles that takes you to the Finish Line. Huzzah! This was it! I didn’t sprint madly to the Finish Line; I just maintained pace with a big old dopey smile on my face. But before finishing, I first had to high-five Donald:
… and then raise my fingers to the sky as I crossed that Finish Line!
Official race finish time: 4:47:16.
In other words: that would be a freakin’ PR!
I was so elated, I couldn’t quite believe that had happened. Not only had I PR’ed, not only had I never, ever hit a wall once during the entire marathon, not only was I feeling healthy and pain-free and still full of energy, I had actually managed to maintain my pace throughout the entire race. I never flagged, never slowed down, but just kept going with the same energy and determination. To put it in perspective, I ran the first mile in 10:43 and the last mile in 10:23… and finished the second half three minutes faster than the first (although to be fair, just over two minutes of the first half was taken up with bathroom breaks). But either way, it was a strong, happy, successful race for me. I was happy.
After receiving my medal, I snuck into the Dopey/Goofy medal tent to hang just a bit with my buddies Mike and Michele (both of the co-hosts of the Mickey Miles and More podcast and co-captains of the Mickey Milers), as well as my fellow Miler Floridian pal Dale (NOT Jennifer!), all of whom were volunteering for the race that day, and after some hugs, and pics, and expressions of kudos I sauntered over to the Craft Beer truck, where I helped myself to two (count’em, TWO!) Xingu blacks. I never tried one before, but it was a quite refreshing, smooth, almost a porter taste. I was soon joined by Boots as well as friends/teammates Eddie (host of The Marathon Show podcast), Phill, and Rob. We enjoyed some happy post-race refreshments together for a while, but by then Boots and I had to return to the hotel to shower and check out. No rest for the wicked, as it were.
So as you have probably figured out, the 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon wound up as one heck of a fun and successful event for me. I’ve often said that you can’t PR at a Disney race because it’s either way too crowded, or because you don’t WANT to as there’s way too much entertainment going on to distract you, or because you’re running with a large group for fun rather than for time. And all of that may be true. But man, some days you just want to buckle down and challenge yourself and RUN… and that’s what I did, and this race supported my endeavors with abundance. Would I do it again? Most assuredly. Maybe I could get Hokeyboy to join me? Ahem… anyway here’s the video: