Thursday, October 6, 2011

2011 Wine & Dine Half Marathon Race Recap - Part 3

Quick Correction - In Part 2, I mentioned the awful drinks as GU Gels. Actually, it was Cliff Shots and they were still terrible. On to the final chapter.

When I last left you I was in severe pain, miserable, and ready to start a fight with any costumed character that got in my way. There, did I miss anything? I had just passed  Mile 9 and was entering a lengthy zigzagging run through the Studios.

Mile 9 (continued):
I had just passed behind the Great Movie Ride onto Mickey Avenue and things were looking grim. I was doing everything I could do to keep my legs moving at my current pace, including talking out loud, pleading with them not to stop. Passing Toy Story Mania and a costumed Woody with a goofy grin I clearly would be happy to wipe off if asked, the inevitable happened, my legs stopped. My legs, after 9.8 miles, said no more and all forward locomotion all but seized. I was reduced to a brisk (meh) walk. With every bit of energy I could muster, I screamed at the top of my lungs in frustration (which I’m sure surprised runners in my proximity) and watched a bevy of runners I had passed now fly by me at exponentially faster pace. The wave of grief I experienced was humbling to my very core. Now, I understand never running a half marathon before, there would be points of the race where my body, under tremendous stress, would want to quit (even involuntarily), but not here. Not at the park where I spent so many days working as a gangster, a bandit, and multitude of other roles. I looked at the facades and soundstages, areas where I once used to be able to navigate nimbly at 3:00 in the morning for Super Soap Weekend, were now brick walls destined to keep me from finishing. I was heart broken, I was no longer a runner, I was dead.  Worse yet, I knew what a battle it would be to get back up to pace after such an intense pressure on my legs. But, I had to muster on, it wasn’t like this was my first long run. So, after about 45 seconds of walking I began chugging back up to pace. We still had a lot of Studios to go, but I just didn’t care. I wanted out of that place ASAP. The rest of Mile 9 took us through the Costuming Tunnel and backstage past my old production office.

Mile 10:
Mile 10 kept us backtracking to Perimeter Road nearly where we entered, which I thought was kind of ridiculous.  We continued down Perimeter Road until we hit Lights, Motor, Action where we ran through the show area. They had a stationary camera set up so we could see ourselves on the big screen which was a nice touch. We then headed up New York Street where many of the Osborne lights were illuminated. If I were in a better frame of mind, I may have enjoyed them, but really I was feeling pretty low. My legs were still burning and my heart just wasn’t in it.  We cut through the Star Tours gate and ran past Darth Vader who looked how I was feeling.

Mile 11:
This mile took us back onto Perimeter Road, past the castmember costuming building, back onstage, and then out the park through the overflow gate near Theater of the Stars (Beauty & Beast Stage Show). Thank God! I was out of the Studios and headed towards the Epcot resorts, the end was in sight. We followed the narrow walkway towards the Boardwalk which was tight, but not horrible. I was starting to feel a bit better, but still pretty down. The music on my iPhone just wasn’t doing it, even the Power songs I had put in there. In fact,  it turns out the volume was as high as it could go and I couldn’t even tell (which now leads me to believe I may have been experiencing some kind of weird fatigue condition). Not to mention, the same songs which I found so powerful before just sounded like garbage. There were 1 or 2 songs that were still working and I just kept playing them over and over again. Unfortunately, at this mile, I passed a runner who was hobbling so badly, it was clear there was serious damage. But, the person refused any help and just wanted to finish. I commend that.

Mile 12:
Mile 12 took us behind the Boardwalk and in front of Yacht & Beach. The course was littered with onlookers cheering us on which gave me a new burst of energy and positive spirit. I dug in just a little harder and upped my pace a bit. While feeling better, I was surprised to find myself feeling an odd kind of sad. Even though, this race completely kicked me around and spit me out, I was sad it was ending soon. All this work, dedication, broken bones, rehab, early mornings, late nights; it was all ending in 1 mile. I started to hyperventilate and needed to physically control myself so as not to let my emotions overtake me. I headed over the last incline to International Gateway and readied myself for the home stretch.

Mile 13:
The finale mile put us backstage adjacent to the rear of The Land. On the side of the road was a huge hot air balloon lying on its side. The pilot was firing flames into the canvas and I could feel the heat. Also, there were a ton of castmembers with signs that said “400 Yards to Go” and “One More Turn for Beer”.  My prerace concerns of no straightway finish were realized as we made a few cuts to a clearing where the Finish line lay. I closed my eyes, dug in for a weak mad dash for the finish, and then it was all over.

I had just run my first marathon in a respectable 2:11, 11 minutes over my goal time. It was okay, though. I did it. I was now member of a new club, the 13.1 mile club and it felt good. I walked over to the bag pickup and got my stuff (it was a breeze), then checked my phone to see if I could tell when Devin would be finishing. From the text alerts it looked as though she had about another 45 minutes to go. She came in at a 2:57 time. I was so proud of her. Turns out, she and Eileen stayed together the whole time, propping each other up when one would fall behind. I thought that was awesome.

We didn’t do much of the after party since it was freezing (even with our change of clothes) and Devin wasn’t feeling that great. We ended up walking back to the Beach Club and much needed sleep.

There you have it, my race recap. Overall, I was super happy with this race. With it being my first half, and being able to do it at Disney was just amazing. The course was good, not great. I wish there was a better way to get to the parks without the barren Osceola Parkway, but it’s not a deal breaker.

Good Points:
-  The Weather: It was perfect! Low humidity, and low temps, perfect running weather! So glad the cold front came in.
- The Course: I should caveat this with, “to a certain extent”. Wide World of Sports is a great place to start a race and Animal Kingdom at night was unbelievable.
- Bag check and pickup: Easy breezy
- The Expo: Well planned out (plus, we got to meet Jeff Galloway)
- RunDisney Merch
- Meeting a great group of ROTErs. Thanks guys!!!!!
- Cheddar Cheese Soup in Canada (of course!)
- Watching your wife cross the Finish Line in her first half-marathon (she liked it so much, she’s running the half in January!).

Areas to Focus On:
- The Course: There was just too much of the Studios. All that back and forth was kind of ridiculous
- Entertainment: I know there’s only so much Disney can do, so not too miffed.
- Cliff Shots: Please. Never. Again.

Did you run the W&D Half this year? Let me know about your experience.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

2011 Wine & Dine Half Marathon Race Recap Part 2

 Yesterday, I shared my recap of Disney’s Halloween 5K at Animal Kingdom and left you on all the edge of your seats for the half marathon recap. Well, wait no longer….

At 7:00 we boarded a bus from the Beach Club to ESPN Wide World of Sports. Our wait was about 5 seconds and the bus wasn’t even that full, which was a nice surprise since I’ve heard other folks had terrible experiences. Upon arriving at WWoS we immediately ran into a group of ROTErs who were amassed in the field. Since I had not met them in person before, I introduced myself and we all talked a bit. They were all very helpful in delivering points of advice based on past W&D experience that helped me navigate the evening (both running and non). After bidding a fond adieu to the ROTE running crew, we met up with Eileen who I used to work with at the Great Movie Ride. 

Off to the Race!

 Calm Before the Storm

Eileen runs an amazing blog dedicated to smart & healthy eating and is a must read for those who are interested in weight management (Hello Skinny). We found Eileen and her boyfriend, Kyle and settled in for the 3 hour wait for the race to start. During the pre-race, we saw quite a cast of characters (no, not Disney ones) in crazy costumes, including a girl who looked about 8 months pregnant in nothing but a sports bra and shorts dancing around. Yikes! Also, during this time I ran into another fellow Movie Rider, Randy.  He and I were at about the same pace so we decided to start together (as we were both in Corral A), but agreed to keep going if one of us faltered.

Finally, the time came when the DJ asked folks to start queuing up. Randy and I headed into Corral A and tried to stay in the back, but were ushered up to the very near front due to the sheer influx of fellow Corral A runners, which intimidated me a bit. Once were all corralled, they started the Star Spangled Banner. Whoever sang it was terrible. Seriously, it was like Mariah Carey but ultra intensified. Heck, it wasn’t even in the right key! Certainly, not a fan but I had more pressing matters to attend to; I was about to put my body through excruciating paces. After the lone wheelchair competitor took off, it was our turn. I could feel every fiber of my being trying to propel me forward while I was standing motionless.


The view from the Back of Corral A. We moved up right behind the Start Line

Everyone else

BOOM! The fireworks exploded over our heads and we inched closer to the Start line. Crossing the Start line, I could hear the beeps of all the running watches (including my own) signaling the wait was over. I fired up the playlist of Hip Hop, Rock, Drum n Bass, and a few choice Disney Parks tracks on my Nike Plus GPS program on my iPhone and headed out the gate.

Mile 1:
The first mile was really only one of the very few places we runners were bunched, but it wasn’t horrible. Randy and I headed down Victory Way (main thoroughfare of WWoS) for about 3/4 mile and made a left turn onto Osceola Parkway. My pace was slow and steady at about 9:45 p/mile. Typically, my pace for shorter races is about 7:50-8:00, but since this was my first half marathon and I had that pesky lingering stress fracture I didn’t want to overdo it early. “Run your own race.” I kept telling myself, expecting to be passed up. But, here’s something I didn’t expect; I was holding my own against all the other racers. It felt great!

Mile 2:
Mile 2 was still on Osceola Parkway, adjacent to Blizzard Beach, and headed towards Animal Kingdom. There was a little bit of entertainment along the way including some glowing stilt walkers and some cheesy band that was a DJ, singer, and drum set player. Since I also play drums, I popped out my ear buds to listen to what they were playing which turned out to be some Taio Cruz song. I just chuckled it off and kept running. This was where Randy and I broke off and I was on my own. I still felt great physically, but a little bored of the scenery. Luckily, I could see the Animal Kingdom parking gates ahead me. I was about to enter the first theme park of the race.

Mile 3:
Mile 3 put me past the parking gates and headed towards the cast parking/Animal Kingdom Lodge access road.  But, instead of going straight, we turned right towards the parking lot. There was a lot of energy here with some folks cheering and a few Spectromagic floats/characters. This was also an area that we would be covering again on the way out of AK, I didn’t see anyone at that point yet, so I new I was still pretty close to the front. We headed into AK through the front turnstiles and up through the path that leads you towards the Tree of Life (similar to the 5K course we ran previously that morning). Here is where I ran into a little bottleneck. I had caught up with the wheelchair competitor and the security bike behind her and got stuck in the tight pathways. Finally, I was able to pass her just as we came to the clearing and what I saw was unbelievable. Standing, majestically in front of me was the Tree of Life lit up perfectly with a dark night sky behind it. This was a rare occurrence as AK is seldom open past when the sun goes down. I was so inspired I almost stopped to take a picture with my phone. Instead, I agreed a picture would not do justice to what I just saw, so I kept on my brisk pace.

Mile 4:
Mile 4 put me over the bridge and right in front of Harambe village (again, the same path from the 5K) with a right turn towards Asia. Along the dark path, Disney had set out these football sized glowing pebbles that looked really cool in the jungle atmosphere. We then cut around Expedition Everest, up towards Finding Nemo: The Musical and into DinoLand. This is where the course differed from the morning’s run, as instead of going straight past Countdown to Extinction and backstage, the evening’s run took us into Chester & Hester’s area of the park, past Primeval Whirl and backstage behind the Countdown to Extinction show building. From there, we headed out to the parking lot and on to Mile 5.

Mile 5:
The end of Mile 4 was the hand off point for the relay teams which was somewhat bittersweet. On one hand it was great to see so many people cheering for you, on the other hand it was tough to watch all the fresh legs take off and sprint past. However, I wasn’t that upset as I was feeling great and hadn’t given much thought to the distance still ahead of me. I will say, though this included one of the mentally toughest point of the races as we had to backtrack a bit around the entire parking lot to exit AK. I had to watch all the people ahead of me and for some reason was very depressing and my positive attitude started to wane a bit. As we left the parking gates of AK, there were these giant, bright LED boards that kept changing colors which made me nauseous to the point of where I needed to look down and cup my hands in order to not vomit.

Mile 6:
Mile 6 put me back on Osceola Parkway and to one of my first points of mental exhaustion. Halfway through the mile, my legs began to ache terribly and I started focusing on the race, specifically, the mileage. Aside from the few folks cheering on the side of the road this area was barren. I couldn’t help but start to think about my stride and my time, so I tried to figure out how to optimize my run by trying some asinine running stride that felt like ice skating. I probably looked like an idiot, but at least it kept me busy and refrained from walking. I would just like to forget about this mile as soon as possible.

Mile 7:
Mile 7 was really no different from Mile 6, except looking across Osceola Parkway I was able to see the “cleanup crew”, which was the group of Disney race officials that picked up runners who couldn’t keep a 16 minute mile. It consisted of 2 motorcycle cops, a Disney van, a Track Shack van, and a bunch of street cleaners. To be quite honest, the whole thing looked quite ominous and worse yet, I could see a few runners in its path fighting in vain not to be gobbled up by the machine. This was inspiration enough for me to drop it into an extra gear and keep up the fight. Mile 7 is also where we turned from Osceola Parkway onto World Drive. Here, Disney had more Spectro floats and music which was nice. Coming around the turn I was stuck in a horrible mental hole where all I wanted to do was stop (still had yet to walk), and then I ran into the Toy Story Army Man on a hill. Now, some people say he inspired them; all I wanted to do is punch him in the face as hard as possible. Yeah, I wasn’t doing so well.

Mile 8:
On World Drive for a bit was nice and flat. I was looking forward to running through the Studios which I could see was coming up. Unfortunately, there were two obstacles in the way: An on ramp, and GU gels. As I mentioned during Mile 7 I was in a really bad place mentally and my calves were on fire, but I wasn’t ready to quit. I could see the hill coming up and also most people were stopping to walk it. Right before the hill, volunteers were handing out GU gels which I had never tried before. Now, throughout the whole race I was sucking down Jelly Belly Energy Beans but they were no longer doing the trick so I grabbed some gel and muscled it down. Oh my God, it was the absolute worst stuff in the world! I thought I was going to vomit, so I grabbed a cup of water but that just made the gel feel like a big loogey in my mouth. Worst of all, I was approaching “Das Hill”. I did everything I could to overcome it all, kept up my pace, and enjoyed my prize of a downhill run following the battle.

Mile 9:
That victory was short lived as I entered the Studios through the old castmember parking area and behind Tower of Terror. My legs were screaming at me to stop and I couldn’t get the taste of GU crap out of my mouth. Just a few hours earlier I was so excited to cover over the Studios reminiscing of my Movie Ride days, but here I was entering the park and lamenting the sheer amount of land I needed to cover in this hell hole of dreams. Through the Rock n Rollercoaster courtyard, to left of the Tower bathrooms and into the Fantasmic queue for about 100 feet (which was odd), we headed out onto Sunset Blvd (one of my favorite areas). From there we headed onto Mickey Avenue and Pixar Place. As I ran by the Great Movie Ride I showed her some love and gave a quick smile. Unfortunately, my grin turned to immediate grief as I was about to go to serious war with MGM Studios…and it was about to make me it’s bitch…..

End of Part 2

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

2011 Wine & Dine Half Marathon Race Recap Part 1

Last weekend my wife and I headed down to Orlando to visit family, friends and of course, participate in Disney’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon. We have run in Disney 5Ks before but this would be our first half marathon, so we weren’t sure what to expect. I was excited to be able to run through MGM Studios since I spent such a large part of my Disney tenure at that park, but equally nervous as I was recovering from a serious stress fracture in my leg. Overall, the entire weekend was amazing and we are both pretty sad to be back in Chicago after such a great weekend. Luckily, the WDW Marathon is right around the corner (with plenty of 5Ks & 8Ks in between).

We got in Thursday and visited with my wife’s parents for a bit and dropped off our dog (we tend to travel with our pup a lot. He’s a good traveler on the plane) to be babysat for the weekend. We were concerned the weather hadn’t cooled down yet like predicted and heard horror stories of last year’s race where it was so hot and humid people dropped like flies. Luckily, the cold front showed up and made the night perfect for running.

Friday, we met up with my mom and went to the expo at the Wide World of Sports to pick up our race packets and some RunDisney merch I’ve had my eye on. It was pretty empty at the packet pickup area so no long waits. I picked up my packet quickly and headed over to the Runner’s Relations booth to see if I could get in the correct corral (my stress fracture prohibited me from qualifying races during the summer). I was finally able to get a qualifying race and the person behind the counter changed my “C” corral to the correct “A” corral no problem.

After the packet pickup, we headed over to the expo to get our shirts and look at all the other great running gear. I ran into fellow ROTE’r Heather from at the Running Skirts both and told her I enjoyed her blog. We also got to meet Jeff Galloway which was super awesome (in a nerdy running kinda way). Even though, we didn’t purchase a book at the expo (we already had some), he spent a good time prepping my wife about the half marathon. He was super genuine and all around a great guy. That night we had a great dinner at the restaurant we had our wedding rehearsal dinner at and reminisced about the night.

Jeff Galloway

Saturday morning was the Halloween 5K at Animal Kingdom. My wife requested we walk it since the half was a mere 15 hours away, so we hung out in the back (thankfully, I managed to get her to jog a bit since the back of the pack was something akin to water buffalo trying to all make a narrow water crossing. As per usual, the pre-race was chock full of DJ’s corny banter and a repertoire of songs typically found on a bride & groom’s ‘Do Not Play” list. There were also a lot of characters for pictures which was nice for those who are into that kind of thing. Since this was an “experience” run and not a “timed” one, I decided to bring the little camera. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a lot of pictures. Oh well.

One of the few photos

Once the race started, the herd started to move to a slow crawl and we were off. Later that night we learned many of the paths used in the 5K were re-appropriated for the half marathon so it was nice to somewhat know where we were headed when running that night in the dark. The 5K started taking us all the way around the AK parking lot and in through the front gate. We, then moved through the path which opened up to view the Tree of Life which I think is a very cool icon for the park (more on that later). Past Camp Minnie Mickey, we headed over the bridge to Harambe and made an immediate right towards Asia. However, before doing so, we cut through the back area to Conservation Station and the backstage area for the Kilimanjaro Safaris. During the backstage run, we ran past the hippo and elephant enclosures but didn’t see any animals. The only ones that were on the course were an owl, and tortoise, and a ferret. Really, Disney? Really?

After emerging from backstage, we turned into Asia, where in front of Expedition Everest there was Goofy dressed as Himalayan Sherpa. I found this to be pretty cool since I am completely enamored by the actual Mt. Everest. From there, we headed through Finding Nemo: The Musical queue, past Countdown to Extinction and backstage. Since we were nearing the end, I decided to do some actual running and took off a bit. I waited at the Finish line for my wife and we crossed together which I thought was nice.

C'mon Devin!

The medal (ahem…medallion) was another cheesy rubber keychain looking thing that is rather sad (certainly, the price to run warrants a real medal), but we expected nothing less. Even though, we didn’t really “run” this, it was still enjoyable to motor through a park we seldom visit. I’m really looking forward for an MK 5K. Hopefully, in January.

After the run, we had breakfast at Whispering Canyon in the Wilderness Lodge. I’ve been there before but my wife hadn’t so it was fun to see her reaction of all the debauchery that happens when the staff interacts with the guests. However, our experience there was a foreshadow of my overall experience at Disney during our weekend (that’s saved for another post).

It was about 11a and we decided to check in at our resort, the Beach Club, knowing full well our room wouldn’t be ready. Turns out, it was! Well, our king bed was not available so they upgraded us to a water view with two queen beds so the room was kind of ready.

We hung out at the resort a bit and walked around the lagoon. For old time sake, we had lunch at the little pizza counter over at the Boardwalk which was delicious as always and then headed back to the Beach Club. Upon arriving back at the hotel, my wife exclaimed she left her purse at the pizza place so I had to high tail it all the way back over to the counter to see if it was there, which luckily it was. We napped until about 6. I didn’t sleep well as my anticipation for what lay ahead of me in just a few short hours.

6:00 came, we donned our running apparel and headed out the door to the bus for Wide World of Sports. The next time we entered our room we would be half marathoners……

End of Part 1.