Event: 2013 runDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon
Event Date: November 9 (and 10th) 2013)
Event Location: Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Picking up where we left off at the end of Part One of the race review…
Along the course
After waiting, it was our turn. And we were off. Well, Andy was off. That guy has a fast start, he left me in the dust. But that’s ok, I run my own race and I was glad to see him having fun. I felt great, my legs felt strong, and I was soon passing a lot of people in my corral, so I moved to the far left of the course and at times was running on the grass to have clear running and passing lanes. We exited the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and turned left out onto Osceola Parkway. By the time I got to the first mile marker, I could not believe how fast I was going, but I was feeling good and having a great time.
Unexpected magic. I had never run a night race before, but when I ran the Princess Half Marathon, my favorite parts were while it was still dark as it made the on-course entertainment that much more magical and “big.” When the sun came up, some of that magic was lost. That would not be a problem in this race as all of the on-course characters, signs, and decorations were lit up and spectacular.
This is a good time to point out how awesome the runDisney logistics and volunteers were. Every water stop was efficient, fast, and all of the volunteers were having a great time, and their efforts and enthusiasm were certainly appreciated.
We continued our way down Osceola Parkway towards Disney’s Animal Kingdom, when we heard the roar of the crowd coming from the runners up ahead, which proceeded as a wave in our direction. The elite runners were making their way east on the other side of the road, and everyone started to cheer for them. We passed the Animal Kingdom tollbooths and snaked our way towards the park entrance, the excitement building. The entrance was lined with a series of large glowing teeth. Although a seemingly simple addition to the course, they were very cool. And before we knew it, we were inside of our first park. We caught a glimpse of the Tree of Life which was lit up spectacularly.
Normally, Animal Kingdom is the first park to close, and so being inside the park at night is a real treat. We turned left towards (what was at the time) Camp Minnie Mickey and made our way towards Africa. It is a shame that this park is not open at night more often, because it is gorgeous lit in the nighttime. Unexpected magic. As we passed the entrance to Expedition Everest, I saw a cast member standing and waving to us. Without thinking, I shouted out “how long is the standby wait time?” Without missing a beat, he called back “8 hours!” Well played sir, well played indeed.
We made our way past the Theater in the Wild, and, since I am a park veteran, I knew there were some great restrooms just beyond it. I stopped in for a quick pit stop with no waiting before resuming along my way. Now, Dinoland USA has always been my least favorite part of this park, BUT, lit up at night with runners passing through and themed character stops (I believe it was Goofy and Minnie) made me a fan on this occasion. It was very cool. We exited into a backstage entrance where we were greeted by a water station and a nice smooth downhill transition.
Unexpected magic. There are some moments where course designers really earn their paychecks, and this was it. We emerged from the backstage area to an amazing view: looking across the parking lot we could see the line of runners passing through the tollbooths, then snaking back around in front, and then two rows of runners snaking out of the parking lot. I did not get a good picture of this, but the rivers of runners snaking back and forth was a pretty awesome sight to behold, you will have to trust me. At the bottom of the slope, Mickey Mouse himself was there to greet us with Jammin Jungle Parade units, all lit up of course.
We made our way back onto Osceola Parkway and headed towards Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But first, we would be treated to some more unexpected magic. As we were heading east, we saw the balloon ladies making their way west. We saw a handful of runners desperately trying to keep ahead of them and not be swept. Myself and the rest of the crowd burst into spontaneous cheers for these proud runners, and I swear the cheers were louder than what we had given to the elite runners earlier in the race. This, folks, is what Casual Running is all about: we support every runner and will do what we can to make sure they achieve their goals.
We turned left onto World Drive and were cheered on by members of the Cheer Squad before turning right onto Buena Vista Drive. I have no explanation why, but for some reason this stretch seemed to bring out the best in my fellow runners, as everyone seemed to be having a good time and it turned into one great big party. There was lots of conversation and joking back and forth, and a group even broke out into song and were soon joined by everyone around them. There is just something special about a runDisney event!
Race icon. We entered the backstage area of Hollywood Studios near the Hollywood Tower of Terror Hotel, which gave us a vantage point of the structure that I had never seen before, which was pretty cool. We turned to go down Sunset Boulevard, then turned right onto Hollywood Boulevard, where we got our first look at the Sorcerer’s Hat. I will probably get email about this, but I LOVE the Sorcerer’s Hat as the park icon. There, I said it. Let the emails commence, I’m not changing my opinion.
We ran through Pixar Place, and past Toy Story Midway Mania, which sadly was closed. We turned right and then made another immediate right and entered the tunnel from the (now closed) Backlot Tour, which had been outfitted with disco balls and strobe lights. The hooting and hollering of the other runners made this one of the most fun parts of the course. We exited onto the backstage area, which was my first time ever in this backstage area, and it really does look like the pictures I have seen of the Walt Disney Studios in California. They had Wreck it Ralph posing for photos, but as this was between miles 9 and 10, I think they missed a great opportunity to tie it in with a pun about breaking through the “proverbial wall.” (Dear runDisney, I give you my permission to use that in future races).
Race icon. If there were ever a point in any race to take a moment, slow down, and just soak up the atmosphere, this is it: the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Wow, and I mean wow. Every year Disney decorates the Streets of American with more than 5 million lights choreographed to music and filled with fake falling snow. Usually this is enjoyed while standing shoulder to shoulder with huge crowds, but for this race, you get to run right through nearly empty streets. Sure, it kills your chip time, but who cares? It is AWESOME.
We exited near Star Tours where Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers were taking pictures, and went to the backside of the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. For a kid who group up in the 1980s, this stretch was amazing. Not only did they have props from the Indiana Jones show set up, but they were blasting the iconic John Williams fanfare. I could not help but have a huge smile on my face as I ran through this stretch.
They snaked us around the main gates so we could exit to the side, and then we wrapped around the waterway where the friendship boats are located. I had walked this stretch earlier in the week so I knew what to expect as far as footing and distance, which I think helped. The water station along this stretch was especially noteworthy because they did not have a whole lot of space to work with, but were extremely efficient and did not create any bottlenecks…it was a job well done.
A good race includes some unexpected surprises (that may not necessarily rise to the level of unexpected magic), and for this race, it was the part of the course that ran through the Epcot area resorts (Boardwalk and the Yacht and Beach Clubs). It was after midnight when I made it here, and the course was lined with vacationers who had obviously been enjoying themselves at the Food and Wine Festival and at the bars afterwards. They could not have been more enthusiastic or entertaining. I loved it. When you are starting to drag near the end of the race, having an energetic crowd to feed off of is always welcome.
As we approached Epcot, instead of entering through the International Gateway, we took a left and headed into the backstage area and popped out onstage near Journey Into Imagination (I am a HUGE Figment fan, no one shall speak ill of this purple dragon-thing). The lawn in front of the Land was filled with large glowing – things? No idea what they were, but it was a very cool effect. As we approached Innoventions West, a large crowd of people and runners attending the after-party had gathered and were cheering loudly, which added a bit of pep to my step. We passed by the large Fountain of Nations, but when we reached Innoventions East, the large crowd standing there was largely silent. Without thinking, I threw up my arms and yelled out “Come on everyone! Let’s hear you!” I have no idea why I did this, I just did. To my surprise, the crowd erupted in large cheers. The runner next to me turned to me and said “I can’t believe that worked!” In surprise, I responded, “I know, right?”
Race Icon. I have always been a big fan of Epcot’s park icon, Spaceship Earth (the large geodesic dome people refer to as a golf ball), especially when it is lit up beautifully at night. Running past it in all of its glory at night in the last mile of a half marathon is a pretty special experience.
The last thing I remember before we exited off-stage, off to my left, was a young man wearing the event shirt while propped up on crutches and wearing a walking boot cast. My heart went out for him, as I assume that he had trained for this event, but was prevented from running it because of injury. But I give him credit for coming out and supporting his fellow Casual Runners.
The course ducked into the backstage area, which allowed us to catch our breath, because the big finish awaited. Just like with the Princess Half Marathon, we exited out into the Epcot parking lots to large crowds of cheering fans and into the finish chute. The energy was so infectious you couldn’t help but sprint to the end. I received a high-four from Mickey Mouse himself as I crossed. I pumped my fists in the air, it was a truly memorable race experience. And, to my surprise, when I looked at the clock, I had set a new PR! I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t just set a new PR, I had crushed my old one. I wasn’t trying to do so, but I was just enjoying myself on the course so much that I didn’t think about speed or pacing and my legs just kind of kept going faster. What a great feeling it was.
I am on the record as being a huge fan of the bling that runDisney hands out, and this one was no exception. The medal was, as always, of great quality with a very nice custom ribbon. It was a substantial size for a half marathon and the design was great. It even included a hidden Spaceship Earth! Needless to say, I love this medal and it still stands as one of my favorites.
The post-race experience
This event has the best post-race experience I have encountered yet. First, after you get through the finisher’s chute and collect your SMO, runDisney gives you the standard box of snack foods (seriously runDisney, I love you, but you really need to do better with these). They have large tents set up for changing areas (they do have a boys tent and a girls tent) after you go through bag check, so you can change for the after party. When you exit these tents, volunteers are there to hand out your choice of an adult beverage – they had individual servings of red and white wine, and your choice of beer (I can’t remember what all they had, but I did opt for a Yuengling and it tasted amazing!).
We walked to the after-party at Epcot. Part of the reason that this event is so expensive is you get to attend a private party at Epcot until 4 am. This is awesome. The park is not as crowded as it is on a normal park day and they have all of the Food and Wine Festival booths open with very little waiting. Andy and I road Soarin (which is now a post-runDisney race tradition for me) before meeting up with Jake and Jennifer. We of course grabbed some food at the Food and Wine Festival, and I gorged myself on the beer cheese soup from Canada and the Greek cheese (with honey and pistachios) from the Greece kiosk. I can’t remember what else we had, but we were well-satisfied.
I loved the party, the atmosphere was wonderful, everyone was having a great time, and there were character photo opportunities where runners could show off their bling. There were even surreal moments. At one point, just before closing, Andy and I were strolling along the promenade in front of the China pavilion, and we heard, playing from the loudspeakers, Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA. Ok, this is not something you would ever normally see or hear in a Disney park, but, for at least that evening, it worked perfectly.
Now, there is one less than ideal part about this post-race event. You may look at it and think “wow, 4 a.m., that is awesome!” You may also look at the 10pm start time and think that 6 hours in Epcot is a great deal. However, if you are running, you will not get to experience the park for this entire time. The race itself does not begin until 10 p.m. If you run, for example, a 2:30 half marathon, given the staggered starts, you will not finish until just before 1 a.m. By the time you change/clean up, and make your way into the park (even though you just left the runDisney bag check, your bags will again be subject to search before you enter Epcot), it most likely will be after 1:30 a.m., leaving you with just over 2 hours to enjoy the party. If you run at a slower pace and/or start farther back in the corrals, you will have even less time. This is by no means to suggest that the party isn’t a great time, because it is, but you need to adjust your expectations accordingly in terms of how long you will actually get to spend in Epcot after the race.
Because this was a night race, I added the soundtracks to several Walt Disney World nighttime spectaculars into my playlist, including the Electric Light Parade, the (retired) Spectromagic Parade, Fantasmic, Wishes, and Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. These songs were perfectly suited for this event, plus during distance races, I prefer to have longer songs. I may even have plugged them in at specific spots on my playlist so they would be matched to the appropriate places on Disney property (I listened to Fantasmic as I approached Hollywood Studios and Illuminations as I approached Epcot).
Looking back now
Did I mention that I loved this event? Because I did. I knew soon after finishing that I would run it again the following year. My friend and I are booked and ready to go for the 2014 event, and can hardly wait to Wine AND DINE again!
Have you experienced the Wine and Dine Half Marathon or the Food and Wine Festival? Would you like to? Please leave us a comment below or contact us via email or Facebook using the links below. Please be sure to like us on Facebook and Twitter using the links below to receive updates on all of our great content, and subscribe to our YouTube channel as we are always adding new videos from a variety of events. See you out on the running trails.