Event: 2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon (the “Donald”)
Event Date: January 10, 2015
Event Location: Walt Disney World Resort, Florida
Jennifer and Mike recently traveled to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida with nearly 60,000 other runners to participate in the 2015 runDisney Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. Jennifer completed the 5k and half marathon events, and Mike conquered the Dopey and Goofy Challenges, completing the 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon events in 4 consecutive days. We will be bringing you complete coverage, including YouTube videos, of all of the Marathon Weekend events:
– Goofy’s “Race and a Half” Challenge (half marathon & full marathon)
– The Dopey Challenge (5k + 10k + half marathon + full marathon)
Why I decided to run this race/Getting there/The lead-up to the race/The race Expo
The half marathon is the third leg of the Dopey Challenge, and the opening event of the Goofy Challenge. As I entered both challenges, this was my third consecutive day of running. For more information on the expo and pre-race fun, please check out my reviews of the Walt Disney World 5k and 10k events.
Once again we received a good quality Champion long sleeve tech shirt featuring the event logo and host – Donald Duck. I like the shirt, but would have liked to have seen a mix of short and long sleeve shirts as Dopey Challenge participants received 5 long sleeve tech shirts, which are not as useful for walking around Disney parks in the heat.
This race day would be the warmest so far (high 40s at the start – heat wave!). I opted to return to my traditional race kit which included Layer 8 running shorts, a SweatVac race hat, Adidas Climalite compression shorts, and a Reebok dry fit tank top. I grabbed my Yurbud triathlon series headphones and my IPhone 5S, and a Ziplock bag to protect them.
So my Iphone battery life has been complete rubbish lately, so while I would be listening to music during the race, I opted not to use my Map My Run app, and instead would be relying on the on-course clocks to measure my pacing.
Once again the runDisney event transportation worked perfectly for us and, while there was more traffic than the previous two mornings, it moved quickly and we were at the race start in plenty of time. Once again I sported the ever-sexy trash bag for the pre-race area. Once again the DJ’s were pumping music trying to get the runners pumped up. (Are you starting to get the idea that the consecutive days of running the Dopey Challenge is kind of like Groundhog Day? Its ok, because it is enjoyable).
There were two noticeable differences between this morning and the prior two days. First, this race (26,000 runners) is much larger so the pre-race area was packed and the lines for the bathrooms were much longer, but they were not nearly as bad as I have seen at prior runDisney events. Second, the walk to the corrals is long, so you want to make sure you leave yourself plenty of time.
Unexpected Magic. We had been hearing about the delay of a rocket launch all week, but frankly, I had forgotten about it. While walking to the corrals, someone shouted “Look at that!” I looked up to see the brilliant light of a rocket ascending into the sky. It was a pretty awesome way to kick off this event.
The coral area was well-managed by the runDisney staff and volunteers, though the lines for the bathrooms were much longer here. Before every runDisney event there is a great deal of discussion about coral assignments, and many people try to move forward to earlier corrals, which is against runDisney rules. On this morning, I was standing in the back of my assigned corral, and I knelt down to tie my shoes a few minutes before the race was set to start. When I stood back up I noticed that suddenly there were 200+ people standing behind me in the coral. A quick look at the bibs showed that these runners were from later corrals, but had somehow snuck into my corral at the last minute. I am not sure how this happen, but I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Soon it was time for the national anthem and the customary fireworks start. We waited for the corrals before us to take their turns, and then we were ready to go. With the countdown and fireworks, we were off!
Along the course
The WDW Half Marathon shares the same course as the Princess Half Marathon and the first quarter of the WDW Marathon. We started out on Epcot Center Drive and spectators lined the far left of the course, though they were a little too far away for our liking. The first mile affords you an opportunity to settle in before the real entertainment and excitement begins. In the second mile we were treated to stilt walkers from one of the Disney parade units and there was a marching band! (I may have a thing for marching bands as on-course entertainment, just saying). We could see the monorail beams in the distance, which signals it is time for a right hand turn onto World Drive, where the party begins.
Once on World Drive, runners are treated to Cheer Squads, a Captain Jack Sparrow character meet at the 2 mile mark, another marching band!, the Magic Kingdom toll booth (which is way more exciting than it sounds, and of course, monorails zipping back and forth on the side of the road. I really enjoy this stretch especially as it was still dark when I was there, so the excitement in the air was palpable.
We followed the curve around the Speedway, which took us over the 5k mark, and character stops with Wreck it Ralph, Venelope, and Jack Skellington. While these may not be my top characters, other runners went nuts for these stops. We took a left turn and were immediately greeted by a long line of spectators welcoming us to the Ticket and Transportation Center (mile 4). I love this stretch of the course, the spectators were great and there was yet another marching band that was playing the Rocky theme, which is just cruel as my race plan called for me to take it easy and conserve my legs, but how could I not feel the adrenaline and want to run faster? So cruel.
Race Icon. We stopped at one of the many well-run water stations (thank you volunteers for a job well done) and made our way up to the Contemporary Resort, which meant we got to pass under the water bridge. The DJ on top of the water bridge brought the energy (and the giant Mickey Mouse gloves) that day, and the sea of runners I was amongst all sang along to Livin’ on a Prayer in unison as we passed under just as a ferry boat was passing overhead. The timing could not have been more perfect.
We passed mile 5 across from Space Mountain, and made our way into the backstage area of Magic Kingdom as monorails passed overhead and honked their horns at us. This would be my third time running a race in the Magic Kingdom, and I designed my race plan specifically to allow myself to soak this one in.
Race Icon. Instead of running, as I entered Town Square, I slowed to a walk and just enjoyed the moment. The crowd stood shoulder to shoulder and 2-3 people deep, and they were loud and excited to cheer us on. I stopped to take pictures and videos, and to thank as many spectators as I could. As it was National Championship weekend, I threw in a few O-H’s and was rewarded with I-O’s from spectators wearing Ohio State gear. If you want to know what it is like to run down Main Street USA, you have to watch our all-along the course video.
In the hub, I heard my name shouted, and found my friend Ashley who had come out to cheer us on. We hugged and shared a few words and selfies, and I was soon on my way into Tomorrowland. There were several character stops in the parks as we passed into New Fantasyland, and then towards Cinderella’s Castle, where Queen Elsa and Princess Anna were greeting runners from the castle balcony. Then we proceeded INTO the castle and out into the Hub (seriously, just check out the course video where you can experience all of this for yourself).
We turned right into Liberty Square before exiting the park in Frontierland. The backside of the park (miles 6-8) is where most runners say that this course tends to lag and get congested, but I didn’t feel as though it was all that bad on this day. The DJ’s were fun and helped push us through cone ally, although one runner (we can go ahead and call him an idiot) decided to run on the outside of the cones – IN TRAFFIC – and did not heed the calls from the DJ or the police officer who told him he was running in a traffic lane. Its not that he didn’t hear them, he just clearly didn’t care.
As we made our way past the backside of the Speedway, the road turned so that we were staring directly into the early morning sun. This is where you want to make sure you have either sunglasses or a cap brim that you can pull down low over your eyes. Fortunately I had my SweatVac cap to help me out. This is also where many runners start hitting the wall, so you need to make sure to watch you hydration and nutrition and push on through.
After mile 10 comes the trickiest part of the course, the big exit ramp climb, which I knew from having run the Princess Half Marathon. Going into this, my race plan called for me to walk the entire ramp because the climb takes a lot out of you and the embankment can take a toll on your ankles and feet, and I wanted to avoid injury before the marathon. I saw a lot of runners struggling as I had done before on this stretch, so I was glad to be taking it easy. Unexpected Magical. Near the top of the climb an Army Man from Toy Story was there barking orders into a microphone. This guy was brilliantly entertaining. He openly encouraged runners who were struggling up the hill; he “forced” runners to do 3 pushups before he would pose for a picture with them; and even charged after them when they were done yelling at them to pick up the pace to make up the time they lost while stopping to take a picture with him. It was all very well-done and highly entertaining.
A little down the road and a small incline later and we could see Epcot in the distance as we were greeted to Let It Go blasting from a speaker system. We made the 180-degree turn, and then started to climb another banked ramp to get into the Epcot parking lots. Once there, we saw more character stops, a DJ, and the crowds started to pick up. To quote Star Wars: “almost there!”
Just outside of Epcot I stopped to give high-fives to several kids who had come out to watch the race, and was rewarded with priceless smiles. We entered Epcot backstage behind the Living Seas Pavilion where the last water stop was located, and then burst onstage where the Epcot background music created an exciting atmosphere. Race Icon. We made our way past the Fountain of Nations and out to the edge of World Showcase Lagoon, where we were instructed to do a 180-degree turn to squarely face Spaceship Earth…I will never get tired of that sight!
We passed under Spaceship Earth and ducked into the backstage area where we were greeted by the traditional gospel choir who were willing us to push on through. Then we burst into the finishers’ chute, which, unlike the day before, was packed with fans enjoying the sunshine and exciting atmosphere. I saw the finish line, and, frankly, race plan be damned, I sprinted towards the finish. I pumped my fist, enjoyed the moment, and then began the process of recovering for the marathon the next day.
Yet again runDisney rewarded our efforts with a nice medal (with an equally nice custom lanyard) featuring the event host, Donald Duck. I feel like we use so many superlatives to describe runDisney medals, so much so that they lose their effectiveness, but they are nonetheless well-deserved. The SMOs are a highlight of any runDisney event (of 10k or longer that is).
The post-race experience
The medals, drinks, and snack distribution were smooth and efficient. The volunteers could not have been more helpful, friendly, or encouraging. The only issue that arose (and that is saying something, because runDisney did such a great job), was that mylar blankets were not distributed after this race. I thought this was a peculiar decision as it was cold that day (low 50s at the finish), and I started to get uncomfortably cold almost immediately after I finished the half marathon. That being said, in the grand scheme of things, this did not diminish the experience for me, just something that would have been nice to have.
Again we were the beneficiaries of the great event transportation as I was on a bus with little waiting and back at my hotel and in a heavenly hot shower in no time. Jennifer and Jake (who PR’d at this race – congrats Jake!!!) soon joined me back at the resort and we headed out to meet up with the rest of our crew for a celebratory lunch at Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom.
I added some new Disney tunes for this race, but the best addition was Go the Distance from Hercules. Unexpected Magic. As I was passing by the Grand Floridian, this song came on my playlist. Just then I saw a young woman holding a sign telling us “You CAN go the distance!” I made a point to stop and tell her “I am listening to that song right now!” She was confused, and didn’t understand, so I pointed at my ear buds and told her again “I am listening to that song right now, thank you!” She and everyone around her understood it, and the woman next to her grabbed her by the arm and exclaimed “THAT was SO cool!” I tipped my cap and ran on, it was a fun moment.
Looking back now
I enjoyed this race immensely and I was glad that I did not take it out too fast so I could save my legs for the last – and longest – leg of the race challenge the next day. I will definitely run this course again, whether it be as the WDW Half Marathon or as the Princess Half Marathon. But, as I am thinking I will go Goofy again, you can expect to see me at this event again soon.
The Casual Runner Team wants to hear from you. If you have any questions about anything we cover here on Casual Runner, if you have any questions regarding running gear or training for your own Casual Running needs, or if there is anything that you would like us to cover on Casual Runner, please leave a comment or email us using the links below. To ensure that you do not miss all of the great content from Casual Runner, please be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. See you out on the running trails!