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
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.
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 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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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