Saturday, January 23, 2010

WDW Half Marathon Race Report (finally!)

Let me remind you what exactly I had on at the start of the WDW Half Marathon: a jog bra, a short-sleeved top, a long-sleeved top, a lightweight fleece jacket, a heavy fleece jacket, a thin rain shell, running tights, heavy fleece trousers, an ear-warmer headband, a hat, and big gloves. Oh, and a black garbage bag on over all that. And I was still cold.

Our plan for the race was to conserve energy for the marathon, but to finish in the allotted 3.5 hours. As such, I printed out pace bands for a 3:25 finish so that we could easily track our progress. Let me just say that pace bands are the best thing ever. No thinking, no wondering "Am I on pace?". You just start your watch as you cross the start, and then, at each mile marker, check your watch and your pace band. Fantastic.

So we set off -- oddly enough, with some other Goofy challengers -- at a brisk walk. Wil had his Garmin on, so could see our pace as we walked. And we walked ... but pretty fast. We were near a woman who was, shall we say, oddly shaped. Unfortunately shaped. She was running... at the same pace we were walking. We spent almost the entire race near her.

The course took us around the outside of Epcot and then north towards the Magic Kingdom. Somewhere between Mile 3 and Mile 4, when we were near the Richard Petty Driving Experience track, we glimpsed the first of the "wheelers" zipping along in the other direction... 4 or 5 miles ahead of us. Ouch. We ran through that weird parking area, where, instead of the "choose your music" paths from last year, we had "a tribute to Goofy" with lots of big pictures of Goofy in his athletic endeavors and jazzy swing music.

Then we approached the Ticket and Transportation center, and the screaming crowds, which I always enjoy. A little weird this year, given that we were walking, rather than running, which felt odd. But lots of cheering, lots of cowbells, lots of nice signs. Some more quiet roads, and then we headed down into the tunnel under the canal between Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. Every time I see the map of the course it surprises me that we go underwater.

Then out of the tunnel and past the Contemporary -- now joined by the new tower, which I frankly don't remember from last year. That's when I had my first glimpse of Space Mountain and the spires of Cinderella Castle. We entered Magic Kingdom backstage, and then went through the gates and onto Main Street USA -- which was, I was happy to see, still decorated for Christmas.

It was funny to be at the Magic Kingdom at only mile 6 -- it's around mile 10 during the full, so it was disorienting. It felt as if there were fewer characters out, though we did see Lady Tremain and the ugly stepsisters near the castle, along with the castle heralds. And once through the castle and across the bridge to Frontierland, we saw Donald, Mickey, and Goofy in their wild west gear. Oh! And we saw Princess Tiana, which was nice. WDW did not, however, put princesses out on the carousel, which would have been a very nice touch. (Perhaps the only thing Disneyland does better in their race...)

We crossed the train tracks and went backstage behind Splash Mountain, going past the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow, and a lot of singing and dancing pirates. Best sighting backstage: two "hippos" from the Jungle Cruise out of the water for cleaning and restoration. Very nice.

Then all too quickly back onto Floridian Way and the backroads towards Epcot. The Sharpie signs were funny again -- lots of new sayings, some I remembered from last year. No characters, I don't think. That felt strange. And very little music for a long while. But on we trudged.

Wil was keeping us at a very good pace -- we were gaining a minute or so per mile. I kept my garbage bag on for miles and miles.... though I can't remember when I finally tore it off. But I didn't discard anything else... and I'm not sure I ever felt "warm".

We hit the 10-mile marker and could see Epcot in the distance -- hooray! At this point we started chatting to other people. We saw a group of Goofy challengers, one of whom said he was just conserving his energy -- that he wasn't even waving. (Oddly enough, we saw him days later -- he saw our medals and said "I've got those, too" and Wil recognized him, said, "Yeah, we saw you out there both days -- you were conserving your energy" and he laughed.)

Even though Disney had made a point of brining the water stops so they wouldn't freeze in the cold weather, they started to get slippery. Not very fun. But we did make a point of drinking a small cup of powerade at each one. Also, I had started to get a sharp pain on the front of my left shin. See, walking and running use very different muscle sets. And the constant toe-lift required to walk briskly wasn't something I was really prepared for. So by about mile 11 or 12, I was limping. This didn't bode well for the next day, but, hey, one day at a time, right?

The closer we got to Epcot, the noisier it was. People lined both sides of the course, cheering and shouting our names, willing us to finish. We entered Epcot and did a strange little loop around Spaceship Earth and out-and-back to the lake. As we approached a photographer, a guy came sprinting past us and stopped directly in front of us -- thus stealing our picture. The photographer was waving him off, but the guy just stood there posing. Weird. We moved around Mr. Inconsiderate, and kept going... only to have him replicate this act two more times as we ran out to the lake. Very, very odd.

Then back under Spaceship Earth, backstage, past the ecstatic dancing of the gospel choir, and around the corner to the finish. I think I gave Donald Duck a high five as we strolled across the line in a very slow 3:12. But, hey, all we needed was 3:30. And we had a lot of miles ahead of us the next day!

Got our medals, mylar blankets (which we clutched desperately around us in the cold and drizzle), and then headed to the Goofy Challenge tent to exchange our silver band for a blue one. It all felt a little surreal. We grabbed some food -- bananas, a bagel, some drinks -- and then made a beeline for the buses. Unsurprisingly, very few people were standing around -- everyone was just trying to get on a bus. We waited while three buses filled up in front of us, but then we were on, out of the cold, and headed home.

Once back at the resort, we got some ice, took hot showers, and then had a little nap icing our various sore spots. Later that day we went out to Epcot for a little walk, decided to cancel our dinner reservations and just eat at the hotel, and basically tried to balance the need to walk the stiffness out with our desire to stay off our feet. Sunday was going to be an even longer day...

When I think back to the half, I almost draw a blank. I remember the other Goofy challengers; a guy with a shirt that said "Disney Hates Me -- I ran the half, I ran the full, but I didn't get the Goofy"; the big "moon" lamps along the highways; the steeply cambered on- and off-ramps; the vanilla Clif Shot at mile 8; high-fiving the suffragettes on Main Street USA; and having lots of opportunities to thank the volunteers, and being thanked in return. Most of all, I remember the relief I felt when we crossed the finish line without all that much trouble. Not fast, but finished.

And here's a link to the course map.

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