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.

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