The Casual Runner

When Course Design Goes Wrong

As Disney fans, we’ve heard the formula for building a great attraction plot: build the excitement, promise a grand payoff, and then something goes terribly, terribly wrong. Then hilarity ensues, you get a different grand payoff, and you walk off the attraction laughing and excited to get on and ride again.

Unfortunately, it seems like runDisney is following the first half of this plot device to plan the 2016 Wine and Dine Half Marathon, and we, along with many other runners, are not happy about it. While we are quick to praise runDisney and other race directors when they doing things right, fairness demands that we do not gloss over when they do something wrong.

Look, we love runDisney. We really do. But we cannot help but be disappointed by the recently-unveiled 2016 Wine and Dine Weekend race courses. While we have no doubt that runDisney works hard, we just can’t help but escape the conclusion that they missed from a guest-service perspective on this one.

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Recently, we wrote about how race directors owe it to their customers to, not only deliver a great race product, but to treat all runners equally and give them the same opportunities to have successful race experiences. When it comes to designing this year’s Wine and Dine event, it appears that something went terribly, terribly wrong.

As you could tell from Candace’s 2016 Wine and Dine Half Marathon Event Preview & Tips, she could not come up with many positive things to say about this year’s re-designed half marathon course. To be honest, it seems that runDisney focused too much on getting to 13.1 miles, and missed out on creating a course containing as many magical miles as possible. Before you think that I am asking too much, keep in mind, these races are among the most expensive races in the industry. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at this closer and you can decide.

Night Into Day.

Ok, reasonable minds can differ about whether changing this from a night to a day race is good or bad. Count me amongst those who believe it was a bad move. In short, it changes the DNA of what was a spectacular race event and makes it just like every other race in the runDisney calendar. Now, I was willing to cut runDisney some slack, chalking these changes up to construction around the Walt Disney World Resort, BUT, and this is a big BUT, I would very much like to see them move back to the night race format as soon as possible. Not only that, but they really should move the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon to a night race as well as it would further the event’s theming and deliver a better race experience for all runners. There are already so many morning races on the runDisney Calendar for those who enjoy them (as in, ALL of them), can’t we night-preference runners have just this one? Please runDisney, going forward, return this race to its roots as a nighttime event.

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Special Ticket Event or Extra Magic Hours?

Changing the time of the half marathon means that it no longer ends at the post-race party in Epcot, which was one of the hallmark aspects of this event, and one that many runners enjoyed immensely. It was a truly spectacular finish line party.

Now, the special ticketed post-race party event, which takes place 12 hours after most runners will finish, is only a mere 3 hours (starting at 10 pm and closing at 1 am) and is essentially high-priced extra magic hours. In fact, back in our August Mailbag, when asked by a reader, we recommended that the post-race party just is not worth the price if you are considering buying extra tickets for family and friends.

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Ok, fine. These are annoying, but are not deal breakers for just this year, and we can put up with them for a year until runDisney (hopefully) moves this back to a night race. But, now for the real crux of the matter…

A Course! A Course! My (Magic) Kingdom for a Decent Course!

Honestly, when I saw the design of this year’s Wine and Dine Half Marathon course, I thought that it was an early April Fool’s joke. Seriously, my first reaction was that someone had taken the worst parts of other runDisney courses and sandwiched them together. Literally, the WORST parts. Before you think I am exaggerating, we already heard from several Casual Runners who shared this exact sentiment. Here is a quick breakdown of the course and what we mean:

ESPN & Osceola Parkway: the start of the course is just like previous years, and I have zero problem with this. The truth is, there is a lot of highway to traverse between Disney theme parks so you have to expect some highway time in every race, and it is good to have it front-loaded in the beginning when it is still dark (for morning races) and to give the field a chance to thin out somewhat. However, this is provided that the highway time is front-loaded, which, in this newly re-designed course, it is not. There is just SO much of it.

– No More Studios, No More Lights: One of the highlights of this race was always running through the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights in Hollywood Studios. Sadly, the lights are gone, as is most of Hollywood Studios due to ongoing construction in the park. While we are excited for the coming improvements to the park, for reasons we don’t understand, runDisney decided to eliminate the park entirely, which is disappointing on many fronts.

IMG_20151108_242920170It is always sad to lose park-time during a race as running in the Disney parks is always a major reason why we runDisney. We strain to see why runDisney eliminated Hollywood Studios completely when the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon incorporated an abbreviated, yet enjoyable, run through the park. Additionally, this means runners will not be running through the Epcot area resorts, which is always an enjoyable section as it is one of the few spots on the course that allows easy access for spectators to cheer everyone on.  Even if construction made it so that Studios is off-limits for this year, runners would have been satisfied by an equal substitute, such as by running in the nearby Blizzard Beach water park.

If you think its just me being greedy for park time, Paul Morris had this to say: “Runners just love to run inside our Parks…There’s no other experience like it. That’s why they come.” Who is Paul Morris? I’m glad you asked. He is runDisney’s event manager, who, according to a recent runDisney blog on course design, is responsible for designing courses. So, if Paul Morris agrees that in-park time is a premium at these events, why is there so little park time for this course?

But, alas, the loss of Studios made room for, well, this…

– Western Way & Bear Island Road: Ask anyone who has ever run the WDW Marathon and they will tell you that the absolute least magical part of the race is the not-at-all memorable stretches along Western Way & Bear Island Road, and that is even before we mention the noxious smells from the waste water treatment plant. Runners accept this course feature during the WDW Marathon as it is necessary to get you where you need to go (i.e., to all 4 theme parks) and to get the miles to add up to 26.2, but why would runDisney go out of their way to add this section into another race? Not only that, but they did so at the expense of so many other great on-property options (water parks, resort areas, even mini-golf courses would be decidedly more enjoyable and magical. Seriously, how much fun would a Blizzard Beach-Winter & Summer Land Miniature Golf Course race section be?).

We can only hope that runDisney is setting us up for some spectacular surprise on this stretch of the course that will absolutely blow our socks off. If not, then they still have a few weeks to put something together and pretend like it was their plan the entire time.

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Are you kidding me?: So, if the course is going to take us on sections of WDW property that are decidedly un-magical, there must be some great pay-off, right? Right? Please tell me there is! Sadly, there is not.

The reward runners receive for this decidedly dull stretch of race will be to go near, but not quite to, Magic Kingdom, before turning around. That’s right, you know all those bad jokes about parents driving their kids to the gates of Disneyland and then turning around without letting their kids go inside? This is the course design equivalent of that.

The course runs north just to grab miles, then turns south of the Magic Kingdom itself to, wait for it…follow the IDENTICAL last 5k or so finish of the Princess Half Marathon and Donald Duck Half Marathon courses. Le Sigh.

Look, those who are running the Princess Half Marathon and/or the Donald Duck Half Marathon in the next few months, they really do not want to run the same 5k+ section of course a second or even third time. They enter these different races for variety, not the same experience again and again (and, evidently, again!).

One aspect that may have gone overlooked is that, since runDisney moved this from a night race to a morning race, it means that runners will yet again be running directly into the morning sun, which is the #1 complaint we’ve heard from readers about this section of the course in the other 2 races. This is especially true for slower runners at the back of the field. This tells me that runDisney did not adequately take into account any runner feedback from the many runnings of those races.

The racing industry is becoming increasingly focused on delivering what their customers want. We recently heard from the race directors at the Run and Ride Series, the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame Half Marathon, and the RnR Las Vegas Marathon, all of whom detailed the specific event changes they implemented in response to customer concerns and wishes. This design seems contrary to such efforts.

– Watch your ankles, folks: The course incorporates the dreaded exit-ramp hill to transition from World Drive to Epcot Center Drive. I normally will not take issue with hills on race courses, but I do take issue with this particular feature as it is at such a severe grade and angle, a tricky combination that it makes it very taxing on runners’ ankles and makes footing difficult. This feature should be eliminated from races, not added into more races. I have literally seen several runners fall on this climb due to the awkward and uneven footing. It is not good, especially if you should find yourself running in a congested field at this point.

IMG_0021If runDisney really did listen to guest feedback in designing this course, I am at a loss for just who it was that they listened to. Literally the only explanation I can offer is that this course design lends itself to be a fast course (aside from the 2 180-degree turns), however, this only benefits a small portion of the field and takes away from the enjoyment of the vast majority of runners who will be toeing the line on race day.

Its like deja vu…all over again.

Sadly, the half marathon entrants aren’t the only ones to get slighted in the course design. As Candace pointed out in her Event Preview & Tips, the 10k course is exactly the same as the Enchanted 10k course during Princess Weekend and Minnie Mouse’s 10k during WDW Marathon Weekend. Exactly the same! I am face palming on this one.

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Given how much runners pay for these races (runDisney races are among the most expensive races in the United States annually) and given how many runners run multiple runDisney race weekends, why would they repeat courses so blatantly? Is it too much to ask for a different course for different races? With 42 square miles, there are so many great options that can be explored. But sadly, the runners are the once who suffer with expensive re-retreaded courses.

The Takeaway

At the end of the day, I am still going to show up for this race weekend, toe the line at both races, and have the best time I can. However, I would be remiss if I did not use this platform to send a message to runDisney to let them know that we are disappointed by these course designs.

runDisney, we love your races, and you have certainly built up a lot of goodwill over the years. We will join with our family and friends and have a magical race weekend, but please, in the future, take these concerns we raised here into account when designing your courses and events, and you will truly deliver the magical race day experiences we all know you can!

Want even more information on this race? We have you covered. Check out our hints & tips for enjoying the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival during your visit to Walt Disney World:
Picks for the Top Festival Desserts
Picks for the Top Festival Drinks & Adult Beverages
Picks for the Top Festival Entrees (COMING SOON!)
Picks for the Top Festival Food Kiosks (COMING SOON!)

Check out our coverage of past runDisney Wine & Dine Race Events: 
Wine & Dine Weekend: 2016 Event Changes
The spectacular 2013 half marathon race (Race Review: Part 1 & Part 2)
The rain soaked 2014 “Splash & Dash” (Race Review: Part 1 & Part 2)
The weather-shortened 2015 half marathon wherein we praised runDisney for putting runner safety first and foremost.

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Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!

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Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!

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