Event: 2014 runDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon
Event Date: November 8-9, 2014
Event Location: Walt Disney World, Florida
Why I decided to run this race
Without a question, this was my favorite race from my first year of running races. It was also the only night race I ran. I loved everything about this race and the event that surrounded it. When my friend Jenny asked me to run it with her, I did not hesitate. Add to it that I get to visit Walt Disney World during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, and I may be making this an annual adventure.
Getting there/the lead-up to the race
As you saw from my review of the Castaway Cay 5k, I sailed on the Disney Dream for 4 nights prior to Wine & Dine weekend. We arrived back in Port Canaveral early on Friday morning and I immediately went to check into my resort, Pop Century.
A quick note about host resorts, I honestly did not look at the list of host resorts for this event, I picked Pop Century because I’ve enjoyed staying there before. I just happened to get lucky that it was a host resort. I spoke with Casual Runners who stayed at Art of Animation, which is not a host resort, and they did not like that they had to walk across the lake to Pop to take the busses. Additionally, when Jenny and I were travelling from the Magic Kingdom to the expo, I just assumed that all of the deluxe monorail resorts would have shuttle transportation. I was wrong. Again, got lucky that we chose to get off the monorail at the Polynesian Village Resort to catch a shuttle, as neither the Contemporary nor the Grand Floridian had race weekend shuttle service. Thus, take heed, a little bit of advance research can help increase your enjoyment of your runDisney weekend.
The day before the race, in addition to the expo, I spent some time at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival and at Hollywood Studios where I remain undefeated at Toy Story Midway Mania and saw the first public lighting of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. If you’ve never seen this, you should, but more on that later. On race day, we were at Magic Kingdom for rope drop, rode the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and the newly-rechristened Jingle Cruise, and took it easy so as not to over-do it. We tried napping before the race itself, but that didn’t happen as neither one of us could sleep. So we just enjoyed the time off of our feet.
We went to the food court at Pop and grabbed some mac and Cheese, pizza, coffee, and Powerade. This wasn’t nearly as good as last year’s treat, Earl of Sandwich, but it got the job done. We went back to our room to change and head out to the race.
The race Expo
I went to the expo twice. The first time was on Friday, and I arrived at 10:20 am. The shuttles from Pop were easy and efficient. However, the lines for bib pickup were looooong. I clocked it (its what I do, and it took me 35 minutes from the time I entered the line until when I received my bib). Jenny and I also went Saturday afternoon at 2:00 to get her bib, and, despite smaller lines, we still waited in line for about 20 minutes to get her bib. The problem was that they only had one volunteer for every set of numbers, and that person was responsible for checking IDs and waivers, locating the runner’s name in the signature book, finding and handing out the bib, and explaining the entire contents of the runner’s packet. This latter responsibility was what really slowed things down. At past expos I’ve seen them explain the packet contents (in lesser detail) to several runners at once to speed things up, or use multiple volunteers to do so. But that was not happening at this expo and the wait times suffered because of it.
Additionally, please note, that this was the last expo that runDisney will allow runners to pick up bibs for other runners. Going forward, each runner will need to pick up his or her own bib personally. So please, plan accordingly.
The rest of the expo was fairly standard for runDisney, though I found it to be very, very crowded on both days. runDisney does a great job of creating a festive atmosphere, but it seems as though they are too successful and have outgrown their location at the Wide World of Sports complex. They do not have any room to expand and there are a lot of people for the allotted space. As a result, we chose to pick up our bibs and shirts and leave rather than wait in lines.
This is where runDisney drops the microphone and walks off stage triumphantly yet again. The race shirt was a very nice maroon Champion tech long sleeved t-shirt. We later found out that some of the writing glows. Why? Because they are runDisney and they can! Runners also receive a wristband for admission to the post-race party in Epcot (did someone say Food & Wine Festival?) and a $10 gift card for use anywhere on Disney property. Finally, we received a Cliff bar. Overall, this assortment wins for quality.
Alright, its time to pay the piper. This was to be my 12th half marathon. During each of those previous races, plus my 2 full marathons, 3 10ks, 2 5ks, and 1 race relay, I have been lucky to have great weather each and every time. But that was all to come to an end. We started watching the forecast, which seemed to change every hour, but 2 things were certain: we were going to get rain, and a lot of it. The only questions were when and how much.
Thus, I opted for a kit that included Layer 8 running shorts, a SweatVac race hat, Adidas Climalite compression shorts, a Reebok dry fit tank top, C9 wristbands, and Saucony natural series running shoes. Again I grabbed my Yurbud triathlon series headphones and my IPhone 5S, and a Ziplock bag to protect them.
Two additional notes. First, even though it was supposed to be cooler (low 60s, high 50s), I still opted for a tank top, figuring that sleeves would only get soaked in the rain and be worse. Second, while we had ponchos, we wanted to save them for the after party (it was a point to point race, and placing them in our checked bags would have meant that we wouldn’t have any rain gear for the pre-race area). We returned to our resort and tracked down a custodial cast member, who happily gave us two large plastic bin liners that Jenny and I could wear as disposable ponchos. Yes, I broke down and did the trash bag thing, but we’d be glad that we did.
We boarded our shuttle at Pop Century. As Pop and Art of Animation were sharing busses, the line was quite long, however they had a good number of buses, so it only took us about 10 minutes to board. As we exited our resort we immediately entered a line of traffic as the entrance to Wide World of Sports is reduced to 1 lane (the starting area takes up 2 of the 4 lanes). It honestly would have been quicker to walk, but runDisney does NOT want you walking, so please, do not try it. Just take the busses and enjoy some time off your feet.
The walk from the drop-off area to the security check was pleasant and festive, all of the runners seemed to be in great spirits as the forecasted rain had not started…yet. The Security lines were efficient as were the bag check areas. We waited in line to get pictures with Mickey Mouse himself and some of the runDisney set pieces while the DJ played a nice selection of music. All in all, it was a pretty ideal pre-race setup, though admittedly the lines for bathrooms and character photos were long. One just has to pack his or her patience.
I was assigned to corral E and Jenny was assigned to corral L. I debated moving back to run with her, however, as we knew we were in for a lot of rain, I opted to try and get off the course as quickly as possible, which meant starting in my assigned corral. We wished each other luck and promised to meet up at the finish line.
When I entered my corral (in the back, as I always do), I heard my name being yelled. Who was it? Gayle and Kim of course! These ladies (gratuitous plug for their awesome website) are two of my favorite Casual Runners, and they have a knack for finding me at races. They were at the front of Corral F, so I stood there in my trash bag and talked with them while awaiting our start. We discussed strategy, the post-race party at Epcot, and of course, the weather.
Before we knew it, the fireworks signaled the start of the elite runners. Unfortunately, the speakers for the sound system cut out in our area (most likely due to the weather), but no one seemed to mind, we were just ready to get going. As we crept towards the starting line, I continued to hang out in the back of the corral and chat with Gayle and Kim. I took a picture of the starting line just prior to getting underway…just as the clouds opened up. This was going to be a wet one, the 2014 Wine & Dine Swim Meet and Wet T-Shirt Contest would be memorable.
Along the course
Please allow me a moment from the top to say this: runDisney…you are amazing. Your team is usually exemplary, but the way you responded to the weather conditions was nothing short of spectacular. It poured, and I mean poured, buckets. There were parts of the course where entire lanes of the road had standing water, but the runDisney team accepted, adapted, and advanced. Yes, they had to rearrange or even cancel much of the on-course entertainment, but they did the best that they could and we all understood.
The volunteers? Wow, what can I say? Phenomenal. The fact that they stood out in the rain, cold and miserable, and to a person every one of them was smiling, energetic, and encouraging. You were inspirational and your efforts and commitment were truly appreciated. Now, back to the course…
The race begins at Wide World of Sports and turns left on Osceola. This is a fairly straight and fast section of the course. Despite the rain (or perhaps because of it?) I felt amazing. I was strong, I was fast, my conditioning was the best it has ever been (I had 2 weeks off since the Marine Corps Marathon – Part 1 and Part 2 – and managed it well). I knew that because of the rain I could not stop and take pictures as I had intended, and in the first mile I saw that some of the entertainment was cancelled anyway and the mile markers were often in standing water, so I decided to just keep swimming, just keep swimming (which was very apt for this night!).
After 2 miles, I was crushing my PR, I mean absolutely crushing it. I ran the 5k several minutes FASTER than I had at Castaway Cay earlier that week, and I showed no signs of exhaustion or slowing down. I fed off of my success and grew stronger and stronger.
Given that much of the entertainment was cancelled, there was not much to see and not very many spectators along Osceola, but I did wave to the Country Bears and the Fairies (glowing with pixie dust of course) as I passed by. When we entered the parking lot for Animal Kingdom, we had to dodge a lot of standing water, but it was manageable. I stopped at the aid station to ask for band aids (I was concerned about chafing). Because of the rain they had packed/covered much of their items, and said they had to find them. Since I was keep such a great pace, I didn’t want to wait, so I thanked them and continued on. The water stations were efficient and cheerful (didn’t I say that those volunteers were amazing?).
As we entered Animal Kingdom, the course was flanked by large, glowing animal tusks. This is such a cool effect at night, which was made even more impressive by the weather conditions. Race Icon. I said about last year’s race, and it bears repeating: running through Animal Kingdom at night is a real treat. The park is gorgeous. Despite the rain, I didn’t find the footing in the park to be at all problematic, and I actually picked up my pace a bit. I could not get enough of this experience, it was wonderful.
We exited out through Dinoland USA, and down a gentle grade. Unfortunately, because the rain had grown heavier, I could not see the parking lots and the impressive rows of runners as well as I had last year. But I pushed on. TMI Alert. Right after the 5 mile mark I spotted a row of port-of-potties with no waiting, and decided that a pit stop was in order. Soon after re-entering the course, I realized that I needed to go again, but it would be 2 more miles until I saw the next set of bathrooms. This caused me some distress and slowed me down, but I was still far ahead of PR pace.
They had removed or relocated all of the entertainment on this part of the course. Some of the Festival of the Lion King cast were stationed under the relative safety of the toll booths, so large props to them for toughing it out as best they could.
After 7 miles and 2 pit stops, I was still several minutes ahead of PR pace and feeling great. This race was coming to me, I was not chasing it. Nothing could be better, it was awesome, it was amazing! And then….
Now that I left you hanging, please check back for part 2 of my review.
(UPDATE: The exciting conclusion to this review is now available, please be sure to check it out).
Casual Runner has plenty of more coverage of runDisney race events, including the Castaway Cay 5k and Mike’s 2-part review of the 2013 Wine & Dine Half Marathon (Part 1 and Part 2). Stay tuned to this page and our YouTube Channel. So you do not miss this and other great content from Casual Runner, please be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. The Casual Runner Team wants to hear from you. If you liked Mike’s review, have any questions, or want to share your story, please leave a comment below or email us using the link below. See you out on the running trails!