OK so, surprising absolutely no one at all, but I’m like a massive wuss when it comes to cold, rainy weather. I’m not even kidding. I spent most of the first half of 1997 working as a consultant in the Bay Area — San Ramon, to be specific. All I remember of January through March was constant weather in the 50s, windy, rainy, wet, soggy, grey, and miserable.
It was an introverts paradise, as it were. I got a lot of reading done. I traveled up and down the coast every weekend and stopped at every Used Bookstore off PCH. But run around outside in it, I did not, mainly because I had a perpetual cold/flu/gunk of some kind for most of that entire winter.
(Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore Northern California… from, say, April to December.)
All of this brings us to the morning of Sunday January 29th, 2017, in the tiny picturesque village of Celebration, Florida. It was on that morning that the 2017 Town Of Celebration Half Marathon took place, and your pals from Hokeyblog were there to cover it all. And as the vagaries of providence would provide, it was 46 degrees, wet, rainy, cold, soggy, and entirely blecchy out.
But let’s back up a bit and briefly touch upon:
The Day Before…
Can I say that the Saturday before the race was a stunning day up in the Lake Buena Vista/Celebration/Kissimmee area? Boots and I drove up from Ft. Lauderdale on Friday night, and Saturday morning we met our pals Rebekah, Dale, Teri Jo, and Jackie at Epcot to participate in the Pro Bowl 5K. By the time the race started at 7:00 AM, it was clear, cool, sunny, and 50 degrees out.
I planned to run the Full Marathon the next morning in Celebration and didn’t want to push things too hard, so I walked the 5K with the group. We had a pretty great time of it all, goofing around, stopping for a ton of pics, and ended up being the last people to cross the Finish Line.
Holy crap. I’m not even kidding, we were stalked by annoyed-looking Epcot employees in golf carts just DYING for us to finish already. The kind of pace we were keeping would have put us in the upper echelon of any Run Disney 5K. The Pro Bowl 5K doesn’t mess around. Lesson learned.
Afterward we shifted over to Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Village Resort for breakfast, where we regaled and toasted our 5K “victory”, and I engaged in all things Tonga Toast, because Tonga Toast.
Boots and I returned to our hotel to shower and change, and went over to the Magic Kingdom for some fun. And of course, the park was insanely crowded. We took some pics, had some BBQ chicken mac-n-cheese at the Friar’s Nook, and skidaddled. After all, we had an expo to hit!
The Expo took place at Celerbation Town Hall and was an easy, nondescript time. Bib pickup was located in tents outside the entrance, whereas the rest of the expo (vendors, shirt pickup, etc.) occurred indoors. I will go on record saying the Raw Threads race shirt is one of THE most comfortable race shirts I’ve ever worn. I need more of these things in my life.
And hell, since it was free, I took one of them cheeseball greenscreen photos. Because free.We had dinner at our hotel, in the Lake Buena Vista Hilton’s Andiamo Italian Bistro & Grille. I wanted to keep things simple by eating early and getting a good night’s rest, so eating at the hotel seemed to make sense. Boy howdy did it. That place is amazing. Some of the best lasagna I’ve had in a long time. Consider this a hearty endorsement from your Uncle Hokeydude.
Anyway, I had a marathon the next morning and a 5 AM alarm scheduled. I hoped to be asleep by 9 PM. I was successful…
After showering, shaving, taping up the ankles and hamstring, and dressing in my race regalia, I was ready to tackle the Marathon.
I knew it was going to be cold and wet, so I wore the usual compression gear to keep warm and as dry as possible. Plus that cool Iron Man shirt, because cool Iron Man shirt.
And then one look outside… and I was crestfallen. The parking lot was slick, wet, and littered with puddles. The rain was coming down steadily. And the temperature was in the mid-40s. Cold and wet was a given, but I gave in to the hope that the precipitation would be a sporadic, light drizzle, at best. No dice. Yuck.
Boots drove us to Celebration, found a most buttkickin’ parking spot near the Staging Area, and we waited in the car for awhile, trying to take advantange of staying warm and dry as long as possible. As the minutes crept on, we finally stepped out and braved the elements, walking to the Start Line in the cold, wet morning.
After a short wait in line for the porto-potties and ceremonial PRP, I kissed Boots for luck and, more decisively, called an audible and decided to switch to the Half Marathon instead of the Full. I could go on and on about how it was the right move because the roads were to wet, the conditions were too slippery, and how I didn’t want to risk illness by suppressing my immune system for 5 hours while running in cold, wet weather. I mean, all of that is true, don’t get me wrong. The truth of the matter was, I simply didn’t feel like running a marathon that morning.
I made the right decision.
Here are some pics of the Start Line area:
And of course the selfie pic:
I would have taken more pics, but it was plenty dark and rainy, and I didn’t want to risk my iPhone getting cruddy. Oh well. The race started on time, but I started near the rear and crossed the Start Line at 7:04 AM. My slip-n-slidey race had begun!
The 2017 Celebration Half Marathon!
Let’s take a look at the race course, courtesy of my Garmin 920XT watch and Google Maps:
Normally at this point, in my race review, I’d give a turn-by-turn recap of the race course. But in all honesty, the course can be summed up as a 13-mile loop around the entire town of Celebration. The race started in the “downtown” area on Front and Sycamore and then took us past various residential neighborhoods, parks, golf courses, corporate areas (including a jaunt through the Florida Hospital Celebration Health property) and over boardwalks through the swamp and wilderness. The Marathon route was, for the most part, two loops of the half course.
I can honestly say that the race organizers definitely put on a high-quality event. The Start Area felt alive with music and excitement, the hydration stops were packed with volunteers and plenty of water, electrolyte drinks, gels, and fruit for runners. The streets were clear and open, with traffic being halted for all runners. There was entertainment on the course as well, mostly from announcers, DJs, and even a band. And the town residents were out in full force, cheering us on as we ran past their homes.
It was a smaller-sized race but it had all the accouterments of a larger one with none of the drawbacks. Except for the opening mile, the course never felt too crowded. The only narrow portions were on the three boardwalk segments and walkways throughout the park sections of the race. Celebration radiates a “quaint, picturesque, safe small-town” vibe that made the course feel scenic and enjoyable. I really enjoyed everything the race organizers put together for this event.
But that weather… yeesh. It didn’t rain the entire race — it actually disappeared for a little while — but we were in for a wet, drizzly, slippery time for most of the half. And that of course can’t be helped or controlled, so there’s no use complaining about it. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t impact my overall enjoyment of the half.
As far as my race experience, I didn’t feel my running best at all, so I just settled into my “run a mile, walk a minute” intervals and just soldiered on. My pace was markedly slower than usual, but conditions were not exactly conducive for speedy sprinting, and I didn’t want to face-plant onto asphalt either. I was cool with it. I was also especially cool with not running the marathon. I can’t remember wanting a mug of hot coffee so badly at Mile 4 of a half before.
My race highlight was running into my awesome pal Haley just after Mile 10!
Haley’s also a fellow Best Damn Race ambassador and she’s cool people too. She and her Pickle Patrol girls were handing out pickles, candy, and/or beers to runners. When you see a buddy during a race offering beer, there’s few things more uplifting, enlightening, and buttkickingly awesome. So yay! After chatting for a few minutes, I drank my beer with aplomb, and we bid each other a fond farewell. So please go check out Haley’s blog when you get a chance.
Anyway, I think my second favorite part of the race was the Boardwalk running. I found that section of the course utterly beautiful in its serenity, even if it was the narrowest and most crowded part of the race. Not TOO crowded, of course, just understandably more crowded than the usual expanses of road running. But I loved it. It kind of reminded me of running through the Alaskan wilderness at the 2015 Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage.
The course split for Marathoners and Half-Marathoners occurred just past Mile 12. “Full to the left, Half to the right,” droned the volunteer, who had obviously been repeating that line for what I’m sure felt like hours. Me and my marathon bib took a sharp right hand turn.
“You’re going the wrong way!” he suddenly shrieked in alarm!
“Sir, I am most assuredly not!” I responded. “I am a gutless, soggy cur and I am OUT of this sojourn forthwith!” I said these exact words. I said them in my best John Hillerman cadence. I swear.
The last mile took us down a walkway around Lake Rianhard, emptying us onto Front Street for that last dash to the Finish Line. Boots got this pic of me rounding the lake:
I spotted her by the time I got to Front Street, where I had to dash in front of some guy in order to get a clean line-of-sight for her:
The Finish Line was lined with cheering spectators braving the elements. It was raining again, and the cold hadn’t gone anywhere, but there they were, and kudos to them for sticking it out. I think I heard my name called out as I crossed the Finish Line at 2:16, but I was so wrapped-up in my mission to get something hot to drink and some food in my belly. Cold runs make me hungry, it seems.
I was quickly knighted with the amazingly designed race medal , featuring a vintage jalopy in front of a picket white fence and a pair of palm trees, with a big orange Florida sun in the background. Ironic on a day like that? Maybe. But a cool medal regardless. After receiving my medal, a race volunteer not only offered me a free poncho to wear, she helped put the durn thing on. Awesome.
I met up with Boots and we walked over to the post-race area for some hot food and beverages. Runners are given a punch card to sample the various delights from local restaurant sponsors. The beer was, sadly, Michelob Ultra, but they were also offering mimosas. We had two of each. I also had some rice and beans, pizza, and garlic knots, but by then it was still cold, windy, and rainy, and I just wanted to get out of the elements.
As you can see it was still plenty wet and cold. We left soon after, driving back to the hotel to shower, change, and hit the hot breakfast buffet. Who says you need to book dining at a Disney resort or park to get a character interaction? This crap was complimentary at the Hilton!
So there you have it, my take on the 2017 Town Of Celebration Half Marathon. Would I run that race again? Definitely. I really liked the event; everything about it, from the course, the scenery, the volunteers, the support, the after-party, etc. was high-quality and enjoyable. The weather was a bummer, but that’s Mother Nature for you. Running in cold, wet conditions is never fun, but the quality of the race made a huge difference. I can’t wait for a rematch. And here’s the video: