Sunday, August 28, 2011

Champion 5K at ESPN the Weekend

When I last left you I had just run my first Disney race, the B&B 5k fun run at Epcot. As I mentioned, the course around World Showcase was awesome (especially as a former Epcot cast member). But, after a week of relaxation it was time for the real race, the Champion 5k at ESPN the Weekend at Disney MGM (I will NEVER say Hollywood) Studios. This race was especially special for me since the majority of my Disney career was spent at this park (most of which at The Great Movie Ride). Not to mention, this race was actually timed so there was more incentive to give it my all.

We arrived at the parking lot to the Studios early and made our way to the prep area. I was surprised to see the running field as light as it was than the 5k a week earlier (most likely due to the B&B happening during half marathon weekend).

The fanfare was the same as other Disney races, a DJ played upbeat music and tried to motivate the tired masses (it was early), while Disney characters milled around for pictures. What I liked about this race was since it was ESPN the Weekend, where many professional athletes attend, some NFL players were in attendance and interacted with us runners. Greg Jennings, a wide receiver from the Green Bay Packers and Deangelo Williams from the Carolina Panthers MC’d and kept us in good spirits. I even ran into some old friends at the race who I hadn’t seen in a long time so that kept us busy until we queued up.

Once we were lined up to go, Disney played the national anthem, fireworks exploded and off we went. The course started out down the main entrance access road through the toll booths and then looped back towards the park. However, before we hit back where we started, the course shifted through a gate and onto Perimeter Road (the backstage access road that nearly encircles the park). From there we jumped onto the Backstage Pass tour road and to Lights, Motor, Action. This section of the race was really cool as we cut right across the front of the stage area where our faces were broadcast on the show’s large screens (I kept looking for my friend who is a tech there, but couldn’t find him). We ran a little farther up the tram tour road and around the Pearl Harbor airplane props (this area used to have the tank-like car from Armageddon). Next, we passed through the Costuming Tunnel and briefly through New York Street over to Muppetvision, past Indiana Jones and onto Echo Lake. Next, was my favorite part of the run as we went right past the Great Movie Ride and I felt a bit sad while remembering the amazing times working at that attraction. Unfortunately, there weren’t any GMR cast members out there when I ran past, but that’s okay GMR, I still love you. Heading past GMR, down Hollywood Blvd we turned onto Sunset towards the Tower of Terror, through the Rock n Rollercoaster courtyard and backstage.

Now, I should mention that when I run in races it’s always nice to find a person who runs at relatively the same pace and keep stride which is a good way to stay motivated throughout the race. Well, rounding the backstage area of Tower of Terror, I noticed there was someone pacing with me, who appeared to be Elizabeth Hasselbeck (talent from The View & QB Matt Hasselbeck’s wife). We paced for awhile together and then broke right before the finish.

After Sunset Blvd, we headed towards the entrance of the park but turned immediately right just before Sid Cahuengas’s and back onto Perimeter Road. It was fun to see all the long faces from tourists waiting for the park to open, as they had no idea what we were all doing. The final stretch put us back out into the parking lot where we had started. The one part I did not like was the finish line. It was super tight and appeared immediately after a blind curve. Since I always sprint the finish, I had to dodge slower runners (people, run THROUGH the finish, don’t just stop) and nearly ran into the stone wall that was Greg Jennings greeting finishers.

The medal was cool. I think it's supposed to be a ticket or something similar. At any rate, it's meaty and heavy, but cool since the race is now retired.

This was a very good race as it was somewhat sentimental to me, and I’m sad to see it go. I think the Studios is one of the best parks to just explore all the great Disney nooks & crannies, and hope they decide to hold another individual race there again soon (currently, the Studio is part of the Wine & Dine Half Marathon and Disney Marathon courses) outside the bigger races.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

First Disney 5K

Last February, we decided to run head down to Disney World to run our first race, the Beauty & Beast 5k and decided to also hit the Champion 5k at “ESPN the Weekend”, and had a great time. Here’s a bit of race recap (forewarning, I run to run, not to take pictures so not picture heavy. Sorry).

First up was the B&B 5k at Epcot. Since we’ve never done a Disney race before we weren’t sure what to expect. First, this was a fun run. A fun run? Really? What the Hell is a fun run? Sorry, but I need that urgency of a clock to really get moving, so kind of bummed that it was all in fun. Also, the medallion? C’mon! I felt it was pretty weak to give you a glorified key chain for the price of entry, but I digress.

We got to the Epcot parking lot relatively early and met up with some local friends from my cast member days who were running as well. It’s great to know people before a race to keep you occupied while waiting (read: Join - they are a great group of folks). If one were to go there alone Disney does a good job of keeping you occupied with a DJ playing upbeat music. Overall, he wasn’t bad for how early it was. One thing I have to mention is since this was a fun run there were a ton of costumes, from princesses to Disney characters. I always wondered how someone would run in all that getup.

The DJ made an announcement to get ready, so off we went to the corrals. I went up to my position just outside the first few people and my wife and friends back to their respective pace times. With a fireworks salute we were off!

The race took us through the parking lot towards an access road that led from the parking lot back to the cast member parking lot (I was familiar with this route as I spent about 2 years as an attractions CM at Epcot in my early years and then 2 more years as a Millennium Drummer in the Tapestry of Nations parade). After traipsing the access and backstage parking, we headed into the park right behind Test Track. Running through, I gave a one fingered salute to Mission Space on my right to represent my Horizons respect. Next, we cut through the access path just to the right of Mexico (from the World Showcase side). This brought back old Tapestry memories as all the drummers wanted a Mexico slot so we could get out the door as fast as possible at the conclusion of the parade. From Mexico we traveled through the World Showcase (with folks making the occasional stops to see costumed entertainment along the way). It actually was a nice course, since the WS paths are so wide you can really get into a groove without having to dodge slower traffic (p.s. walkers, please stay to the right!). I cruised along a good pace until the UK pavilion where the course directs to the International Gateway and back up the back way through UK only to come out at the entrance to the old Millennium Village. From there, it’s a straight shot up to Future World, around Spaceship Earth (wave hi to the tourists waiting to enter the park) and backstage behind Universe of Energy. The finish line is directly ahead back in the parking lot. I motored through the finish, got my PowerAde and muffin and waited for my wife and friends to finish.

This was an enjoyable race if you are interested in an easy, no stress run. At first, I was a bit peeved, but ended up enjoying it quite a bit (except for the medallion). This is a great starter race for families or anyone interested in running without the pressure of time.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Always On the Run

Recently, I mentioned I have really gotten into running. Well, “gotten” into running is an understatement, I have really made it a near daily activity. It’s really one of the last ways to unwind from the fast paced day to day activities and an opportune time to clear my head of all things work and just run. I will admit though, there is more of an incentive than just the “me” time. This October my wife and I will be running our first half marathon at the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon in Florida. Secondly, I will be participating in the full marathon at Disney World in January. What other place would be better for your long run firsts than Disney? Needless to say, I’ve been training hard.

But that’s getting ahead of myself, maybe I should start at the beginning…..

Last October, my client at the time, sponsored a 5k in one of the Chicago neighborhoods. As a sponsor we received free entry to the run and thought it would be fun for the team to participate. So, I started running to get in shape, but not giving it that much effort since, when I was younger I was always the one of (if not the) fastest in sports, so I felt like I had an edge. Boy was I about to get an unbelievably rude awakening.

So race day is upon us. It’s a crisp, clear fall day with the temperature around 55 degrees (perfect running weather). The group meets up and sets off to the corral to start. Headphones in my ear with the quintessential running mix of perfectly cut motivational music to put me in the lead, I was confident, conditioned. I was ready.

Off goes the starting gun and we are underway. We started mid-pack, but quickly I was moving up the ranks, easily overtaking groups of runners at a time. 1 mile down, no worries, I had this thing licked. About 10 minutes into the race I started seeing runners coming back towards me on the other side of the street, to which I thought to myself, “The turnaround is just around the bend, making pretty good time.” Unfortunately, the turnaround was nowhere in sight and for quite awhile. Then it hit me, I was nowhere near the leaders of the pack.

“I must be near the turnaround since I’m getting so tired.” I pleaded to myself. All of a sudden, my chest started to feel like my heart was trying to escape, much like a person buried alive grasps at the coffin, and my legs started to act as if they were being possessed. I thought I was going to die. “Ugh, something must be terribly wrong with me!” I had to slow down to a walk losing precious spots against the runners and walkers I easily surpassed just moments earlier. There was a lump in my throat that made me gag every time I tried anything more than a brisk walk. This was embarrassing. All of the symptoms could have illustrated some type of injury – a pulled muscle, a broken bone, a stroke! Yep, it was none of those. Turns out I was severely out of shape and my ego just defaulted on a check that body certainly could not cash. So there I was stuck in neutral, feeling sorry for myself while falling deeper down the results page. I decided to walk just a little bit more and muster up whatever energy I had left to finish this sad 3.14 mile journey strong. I began to jog, which turned into a healthy run. I started feeling better. At the 2.75 mile mark I could see the finish and with all the energy I could summon in my worn out body, sprinted like a demon towards the end.

When the results were posted I viewed my time with a timid one eye open. 27:53. “Not bad. Not great, but not bad,” I thought to myself. Then I saw the winning time which was just a shade under 16 minutes. Bah! To get anywhere near that I was going to have to get serious, but it wasn’t the winning time that set me ablaze. TWO, yes, two of my colleagues finished ahead of me!!!! “No, no, this is all wrong,” I exclaimed, “I’m the fast one!” I was mortified. Here I was a shell of the athlete I was once fading into running obscurity even against my office mates. Granted, I have about 4 years on both of those guys and their times were marginally faster than mine, but I couldn’t let this happen. Call it ego or call it fear of becoming irrelevant, but right then is when I decided to get serious.

Post race.

Getting up and running (no pun intended) was actually pretty easy, staying motivated was the tough part. But after a few steady runs I saw the benefit of getting out and putting some miles behind me. What also helped was having a specialty running store near me to get the proper setup (yes, you should really get fitted for the proper shoes) and discuss best practices to running.

I’ve been consistently running for about a year now, except for 8 weeks off due to a stress fracture (which is being stubborn), and even my wife caught the bug. I highly recommend it as a good way to stay in shape and clear the cobwebs.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

An Update......

I haven't had much time to update the ole blog, but plan to get back to it (nice to see some new followers). Since my last post I've really gotten back into running, so much so that it's consumed a very large amount of my time. I'm currently gearing up for the 2011 Wine & Dine Half Marathon and then the full in 2012. I will definitely add more in the near future (typing this post from an iPad) and a lot will be towards running + Disney. Look for more soon!