Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon race recap - Part 2

Continuing from here. (Get ready for a gazillion pictures in this part of the recap!)

The course departed from ESPN and started out along the roadways in between the parks. Our first theme park destination was the Animal Kingdom around mile 3.5, but I knew that there would be plenty of entertainment along the way. I decided to keep my phone out and run with it in my hand the whole time so that I would be immediately ready for any picture opportunities.

At the start, there were several deejays spaced out along the course playing a great selection of music with lots of neon lights. Here is one of the deejay vans:

Then, I saw the first of many Disney characters along the course that were available for photos. Each set of characters had official race photographers to take pictures. Additionally, a cast member was available to use your personal camera to take your picture if you liked.

We came across a giant TV screen broadcasting a variety of Disney cartoons (unfortunately the TV didn't photograph well in the darkness):

There were aid stations approximately every 1.5 miles with plenty of enthusiastic volunteers handing out water and Powerade. There were also portapotties available at every aid station.

Here is something I've never seen before at a race. Each of the portapotties had big numbers on them, and volunteers were stationed nearby with flashlights. The volunteers helped direct runners to any open portapotties by number. That was very well-appreciated. What great customer service!

Check out the awesome mile markers - each one had a different travel destination pictured on it:

Then I came upon the next set of characters available for photos:

Many of the volunteers along the course were wearing Mickey Mouse gloves and giving high fives and course directions with those gloves. It was cute and they were very informative, e.g. "Watch out for the speed bump coming up ahead!" or "There's a sharp right turn coming up!"

There were also several people wearing "Coach" shirts stationed along the course, encouraging runners and offering running advice as needed. Nice!

The miles flew by and I arrived at the Animal Kingdom. It was such a surreal experience running through the park at night. All the lights and decorations were on, but other than the runners and the course marshalls, it was completely empty. Quite a change from the usual mobs of park-goers that I am used to seeing!

Here are some pictures from the Animal Kingdom:

Animal Kingdom's main gate
Holiday tree near the Animal Kingdom entrance
The Tree of Life
Mount Everest
Holiday-decorated buildings
Festive animal-themed lights

I saw at least six different sets of characters available for photos around the Animal Kingdom:

We didn't get to see any of the animals, given that it was nighttime and they were probably all sleeping. However, I loved seeing the gorgeous African-inspired backdrops and scenery along the course.

The course exited the Animal Kingdom around mile 4.5. Next stop: Disney's Hollywood Studios near mile 9.5.

Somewhere around mile 6.5, another giant TV screen was set up. This one was broadcasting footage of various spectators from the post-race party back at Epcot. The spectators being filmed were saying things like:

"Can't wait to see you back at the finish line!" 
"We've got a big celebration waiting for you when you get here!"
"We are so proud of you! Keep it up!" 

It was so uplifting. I loved it.

At the mile 8.4 aid station, volunteers handed out Clif Shots in an assortment of flavors.

Near the 9-mile marker, there was someone from one of the U.S. military units taking pictures with runners. Someone (not sure if it was the military person or another person I didn't see) broadcasted humorous remarks over a loudspeaker while playing Yankee Doodle Dandee. I remember one thing in particular that he said, which was:

"Runners, after you have finished this race, you have earned the right to indulge yourself. When you get home, it'll be time to have some deep-fried Cocoa Puffs with rainbow sprinkles covered in Alfredo sauce!" 

I literally laughed out loud.

There were more deejays along the course playing different varieties of music. I started hearing the twang of Elvis Presley. My ears perked up, as I knew this might mean a photo opportunity with one of my very favorite Disney characters - Stitch!!! Sure enough, there he was with Lilo! I immediately got in line to have my own picture taken with them.

From left to right: Stitch, me, and Lilo

This was actually the only character photo I chose to take of myself along the entire course. I immediately texted it to Adam, who was waiting for me at the post-race party. This photo was too key not to share immediately. (Adam told me later that when he first saw my text come through, he got nervous since I'd never texted him while in the midst of a race. But then when he saw the photo, he understood its magnitude. =D )

I got back on course. The mileage continued to fly by. All of a sudden, the course made a turn, heading through one of the back entrances to Disney's Hollywood Studios with the Tower of Terror arising in the background.

The Tower of Terror
Wow!!! So cool!

Here are more pictures from Hollywood Studios:

Sunset Boulevard
Rock N Roller Coaster
Mickey's Sorcerer Hat
Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights
Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights from a different angle
Disco lights set up in the Studio Backlot Tour path

Running through the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights was an especially magical experience. I haven't started getting into the holiday spirit just yet, but seeing those beautiful lights put an enormous smile on my face. There were many, many other runners stopped during that portion of the course to take pictures.

There were at least four different character photo stops at Hollywood Studios:

The music was also really great at Hollywood Studios, since it was all movie-based. I remember hearing the themes to Rocky and to Star Wars, among many others. What a great way to keep all the runners pumped up!

We exited Hollywood Studios close to Mile 11. Next on the course: running through Disney's Boardwalk during miles 11 and 12, then entering Epcot around mile 12.5 to head to the finish line.

Normally miles 10 or 11 are where I start breaking down both mentally and physically. However, this evening I was so fired up and exhilarated from all the sights and sounds that I barely felt the mileage at all. I seriously couldn't believe how quickly the miles had flown by.

I only took one picture along the Boardwalk:

However, since we were now running past several of the Disney resorts, there were a growing number of spectators camped out along the course. They had lots of signs and were giving us high-fives while cheering everyone on. I enjoyed seeing the diversity of college- and professional sports-team gear that I saw amongst the spectators. Truly the spectators represented travelers from all over North America.

After entering Epcot around mile 12.5, I finally reached the point where I was ready to cross the finish line. I stopped to take these few photos within Epcot, then tried to complete the remainder of the course without stopping.

Mouse-ear lights!
Aladdin (sorry for the blurry picture, you can tell it was taken close to the end of the race)

There were so many spectators along the final stretch at Epcot. It was awesome!

We went through a big curve underneath some colorful spotlights. (In my rush to finish, I didn't stop to photograph the spotlights, but now wish that I had since it was really cool.) There was the finish line!

I actually took this photograph of the finish line much later after the race had concluded, hence why there are no runners pictured.
My finishing time was pretty much irrelevant for this race, given all the photo stops and other pauses I had taken, etc. However, my official time was 2:35:21.

There were volunteers stationed past the finish line handing out the medals (here is a picture of the medal), bananas, bottles of water and Powerade, and individual boxes of food that held quinoa chips, hummus, graham crackers, Clif bar sample, fruit puree, almond pops, and a moist towelette. Excellent.

I retrieved my bag from gear check. Gender-specific tents were provided for runners to change their clothing, if they desired, prior to attending the post-race party. It was crowded inside but I found an open patch and changed as quickly as possible into a warmer set of clothing.

Back outside, I followed the crowd towards the race exit. I skipped the beer line, but volunteers and cast members were handing out individually-sealed glasses of either white or red wine so I took a red wine. Then, time to re-enter Epcot for the post-race party!

Spaceship Earth (aka the giant golf ball) at Epcot

Adam and I had picked a hierarchy of three post-race meet-up spots. However, given the crowds and the distances involved, we ended up just coordinating our reunite location via cell phone communication.

We checked out a couple of the rides that were open for the post-race party (Spaceship Earth and Soarin'). There were almost no lines for any of the rides or activities, which was nice.

Unfortunately, at Soarin', we saw one runner exit the ride and then nearly collapse along the wall. Another runner apparently passed out while on the ride. The cast members halted operations for a few minutes while they contacted medical personnel for assistance. (I have to imagine that the cast members that work the Wine and Dine post-race party are accustomed to seeing a higher-than-usual number of health incidents due to runner exertion.)

After Soarin', we went to the World Showcase. In conjunction with the International Food and Wine Festival, there was a wide variety of booths offering tapas-sized food and beverage tastings from all over the world (above and beyond the usual countries represented at the World Showcase). It was packed.

Approaching England
In England
Approaching France
View of the Epcot lagoon with Japan in the background

By this point, it was after 3 AM. Adam was fading rapidly due to the late hour. My race adrenaline was also starting to dissipate and I was starting to get tired as well. At that point, we called it a night; however, the party was still going VERY strong when we departed!

The next day was definitely a bit rough with the whole self-induced jetlag factor, LOL. But it was well worth it!

In summary...
The Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon was an incredibly magical and exhilarating experience that was unparalleled in so many different ways. I loved the energy, the entertainment, the camaraderie, the music, the lights, the attention to all the little details, everything. If time and resources permitted, I would run this and any other Disney race again in a heartbeat!!!

When can I come back for my next Disney race!?!?!?

My next race (and my final race of 2013): the PNC YMCA Turkey Trot 5-miler on November 28


  1. Wow! Sounds like quite an experience. Glad you enjoyed it!

    1. Thanks, Marcia! It was an awesome, albeit very expensive experience. There's more than one reason why the Disney races are so incredible! =D

  2. Looks like loads of fun. I like that they were showing cartoons, so someone could take a break there and have something to do! I like the port-a-potty system they had worked out, very efficient! Sounds like some runners pushed themselves a little too hard that night. The next day must have been pretty quiet at DW after all the partying! It seems like this would be an awesome first half marathon for a kid, but the race start time might be kind of late. However, someone coming from the Central time zone would have an hour "advantage" since their body clock is one hour behind!

    1. LOL, you are so right about runners wanting to take a break and having something to do! The portapotty system was AWESOME and so well appreciated - although I am sure it is not the most glamorous job to give to a cast member or a race volunteer. =D I thought about this race for families with children, myself. I think the adults would absolutely love it, but it's definitely WAY too late in the evening for children. Heck, it was too late in the evening for me! Even with me being on Central Time, it was still tough to run a half marathon starting at the equivalent of 9:12 PM! If I were on, say, Hawaii Standard Time, I think I would have been in perfect condition. That is some incentive to move to Hawaii, eh? ;-D

    2. Yes, it would be a perfect race if you had just flown in from Hawaii. Maybe plan your next Hawaiian vacation right before this race! :)

    3. Woo hoo! (As if I needed any convincing to plan a Hawaiian vacation, LOL) ALOHA!!!

  3. "Time to have some deep-fried Cocoa Puffs with rainbow sprinkles covered in Alfredo sauce!"

    I think I threw up in my mouth a little. LOL!

    1. Yeah, that recipe does sound pretty insane, doesn't it? It's remarkable the things that make you laugh hysterically when you're at mile 9 of a late-night half marathon. But you better believe that I will be referencing that recipe again in the future!!! =D

  4. Okay, I think you just sold me on this race. I love evening/night races and the idea of running and then getting to stay in the parks until 3AM intrigues me! I would totally go back and do this with you even though I'm not a total Dizgeek :-)

    1. WOO HOO!!! I think you would LOVE this race, and I bet you and Jason would have a total blast visiting Disney! Let's definitely keep an eye on the race date when they announce it for next year. =) Btw - the word on the street is that Disney is going to add some new races to their lineup next year. If so, who knows what kind of great offerings they may offer in addition to this one!?!?!? I'm so excited to find out!!!

  5. AHHHH! You got a Stitch pic! Schweet! I see you didn't stop for Darth though? LOL.

    Wow. It sounds like Disney really has their stuff down. What a class act! It sounds like the whole race is so well organized the the volunteers are awesome and so cheerful/helpful/motivating. That is great! And what a neat concept to have a few rides open for the post race party. Perfect for the night owls!

    1. YAY for STITCH!!!! Btw - I don't think I ever mentioned to you how much I love that Stitch hat that you have!!! Stitch is the bestest!!! And no, sadly no pictures with Darth this year, but maybe next year? He was around mile 11 and had a really long line of fans!!!

      I can't say enough about how amazing Disney's organization was when it came to this race. Incidentally, I read the bio of Disney's race director. He has some really incredible race organizing experience and is also a member of the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame. He certainly knows what runners look for in these races! What a great person to have on the team!

  6. This sounds like SUCH a cool race! The after-party and the festival itself sound really fun too, I didn't know Disney did anything like that (I guess I thought they were totally geared toward kids). I think being at Disney World after-hours is every kid's dream, so I imagine running through it would be really cool :) I'd probably stop to take tons of character pictures, so I admire your restraint there.

    1. Anne, the race was AWESOME. I think you would really have enjoyed all of the festivities if you'd participated in the race! Oh yes, Disney is totally appropriate for all ages - I think they do a really great job making sure that there is something for everyone to enjoy! =) And you better believe that next time I run this race (and there will be a next time), I will stop to take more character pictures! It's all about adjusting your race strategy after your first experience with that race, yes?!?!?!?

  7. Congrats! I'm glad that you had such a fun time! I gotta say, even though the Disney races don't appeal to me, it's hard to deny that they are a lot of fun when recap after recap is glowing. You are making me question why I'm not interested because it does sound like just a darn good time!

    1. Thanks so much, Amy! I happen to be a HUGE fan of all things Disney, so I might be just a little bit biased on this race. =) However, that aside, I do think that the race was extremely well organized and unique. So I definitely vote that you give a Disney race a try one of these days. =)

  8. That race sounds like so much fun! However, I am a bit nervous knowing it is so late at night. I go to sleep at 10pm. :-)

    1. Believe me, I was really nervous, too. I have enough trouble running a half marathon during my normal waking hours, let alone that hour of night. But the race adrenaline and all the entertainment and excitement really gets you through it!