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Running In Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon

Running in Disney's Inaugural Wine & Dine Half Marathon on Saturday October 2nd was an incredible experience.  It was Disney World's first night time Half Marathon and it was my first Half Marathon as a runner.  Like many people, I specifically chose Disney World to be the place to run my first Half Marathon and there is a reason for that.  The running events at Disney World are like no other.  The location and atmosphere during the runs here make them an unbelievable time to remember.

Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon

The experience for me started on Saturday afternoon as I went to the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex to pick up my race packet.  This is a beautiful sports facility that few Disney World visitors ever venture into.  Not only does it serves as the Spring Training home for the Atlanta Braves, it hosts numerous sporting events year round for thousands of athletes.

During the weekend, in addition to packet pick-up runDisney conducted many informational seminars and had a number of running, fitness, and nutrition related vendors on hand to visit.

About 7:00 pm my family and I drove from the Animal Kingdom Lodge to Epcot to catch a bus to the start of the race back at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.  If you stayed at one of the host hotels, you could take Disney Transportation directly from your hotel to the start, but the rest of us had to drive to Epcot.  Luckily Epcot can handle a lot of traffic because around 7:30 pm it was very congested from all of the runners arriving.

Disney brought in extra non-Disney buses to shuttle all of the people.  Considering the number of people they transported it happened relatively smoothly.

Once we arrived at WWOS there was a large field where people where mingling, visiting, stretching, and relaxing until race time.  In addition to the roughly 100 port a johns that were there, there was also a DJ entertaining the crowd and encouraging some large scale group dancing.

At 9:15 pm it was time for the runners to head to their corrals.  There were nearly 11,000 runners participating in all.  I was fortunate enough to be seeded in corral B where I could barely have sight of the starting line.  There were probably 2,000 - 3,000 in front of me and 8,000 - 9,000 behind me.

The course we ran went from the Wide World Of Sports to Disney's Animal Kingdom then to Disney's Hollywood Studios, and finally ended just outside of Epcot's World Showcase.
It is hard to describe the number of people crowded together awaiting the start of the race.  We were literally shoulder to shoulder packed into our corrals.  Disney attempted to place the faster people near the front and the slower towards the back to avoid as much conflict as possible. 

The starting gate is pictured above.  Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse joined them to send us off in style.

At the start there was a brief, but impressive fireworks display that let us know that our wait was over and the time we had been training for had begun.  For me it still took about 3 minutes to make my way to the official starting line and get my race underway.

I never considered myself a runner.  I detested running when training for baseball and other sports while growing up and considered it as a form of punishment.  A couple of years ago my kids had a program at their elementary school called "Go Far".  This program allowed 4th and 5th graders to training for 6 to 10 weeks to prepare for a 5K run.  At the end of their training they held a 5K and invited parents to participate.  It was more about completing the journey than training to be future Olympians.  I thought it was a great program and I "ran" worth my children to support them and encourage them.

A couple years later I hear about the "Race For The Taste 10K" at Disney World during the Food & Wine Festival.  I was planning on being at Disney World during the 2009 Race For The Taste 10K, so I decided to sign up and a haphazardly trained for it and ran it last year.  I completed the race totally exhausted, but came away from it enthused by the wonderful experience of running a race at Disney World.

When they announced that they were no longer going to have the Race For The Taste 10K, I was disappointed, but I became intrigued when the new Wine & Dine Half Marathon was announced.

I took comfort from a number of sources of people that started running and were now successfully completing Half and even Full Marathons.  I decided to make a New Year's Resolution to start running regularly so that I could complete the Wine & Dine Half Marathon.  I logged nearly 500 miles in preparing for this day.

The Race
This brings us back to the race.  The first mile and a half was like negotiating a big city traffic jam at rush hour, speed up, slow down, pass the slower traffic, try not to get in a fender bender.  My first mile ended up being the slowest mile of the race.  The second mile was closer to my normal pace and afterward I slowly started to make up for the lost time during the first mile.

The fact that the race started at 10:00 pm certainly added some interesting elements.  Disney did a great job lighting up the course, although there were still some areas that were rather dark and could have stood to have additional lighting.

For those of you that have never competed in a large running race, it is unlike other sporting events.  It is unique because of the lack of noise.  You hear the pounding of the feet and some breathing, but mostly it is quiet except for the occasional supporter adding words of encouragement to the strangers running by.

After we exited the WWOS we turned left and made the 3 mile trek to Disney's Animal Kingdom.  Along the road there was various entertainment provided by Disney.  We saw stilt walkers, and Disney Characters.  We saw floats from the Spectromagic Parade.  We also saw live bands complete with stage, drum kits, and electric guitars, singing as the runners streamed by.

I think that running through Animal Kingdom at night in the near dark was the most interesting.  It was a totally different experience that visiting the park during the day.  It was tempting to veer off the course to run into the empty queue for Expedition Everest to see if they would take me for one quick ride.

After leaving the Animal Kingdom there was a long segment to get to our next destination - Hollywood Studios.  The frequent entertainment and water stops every 1 1/2 miles helped pass the time through this stretch.  Unlike some small town local race, you were never running alone, there were always people running around you and you could get strength from seeing all of the others continuing on also.

Finally after mile 9 we made our way into Disney's Hollywood Studios.  We came in a back entrance behind the Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror and started our way through the park.  We got to go past many of my favorite attractions.  Again the park takes on a totally different look in the dimly lit night when none of the attractions are open.

One part of the race that deserves note are the great volunteers and Disney Cast Members.  Whether they worked the water stations or just stood along the race course to tell the runners that they were doing a great job and they could make it.  We may not have been able to say it while we were running, but we most definitely appreciated your effort and support.  THANK YOU!!!

After leaving Disney's Hollywood Studios, it was certainly the home stretch.  This is where your body gets tired, but you know the end is near, so you just keep running.  The number of spectators during this stretch increased as curious on-lookers from the Boardwalk Area Resorts came out to watch and cheer.

Finally the Finish Line was near the International Gateway Entrance to Epcot.  After making it through the Finish Line I made my way to collect my water and get the medal that I definitely earned.

I was then able to be reunited with my family that came to support me and was able to see me Finish.  I was able to finish with a time of 1:57:21 and finished 644th out of the 11,000 who started the race.  Not bad for my first Half Marathon!

The After Party
I cannot think of a better place for a party than at Epcot and there is no better time to be at Epcot than during the Food & Wine Festival.  The after party lasted until 3:00 AM it gave the runners a chance to wind down and enjoy the festivities.

I also got to see my favorite Disney band - Mulch, Sweat, 'n Shears perform awesomely in the America Gardens Theater.

My only complaint about the After Party was that it was too crowed, either too many tickets were sold or Disney World needed to open up ALL of Epcot to spread out the crowds better.  By keeping everyone in the World Showcase and not even opening up the shops and attractions, it made it much too crowded and diminished what was otherwise a great party.

Here is a picture of race winner Anton Van Zyl collecting his trophy during the awards ceremony.

Finally here is a picture of my family and I at 3:00 AM heading out of Epcot after a wonderful runDisney Event that I hope will be repeated again next year!

1 comments to "Running In Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon"

  1. wow wonderful!! thanks for sharing it...

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