Over the last weekend, my mom and I headed to Disney World for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon. Put “wine” in the title of anything and I am in, kids, even if I have to run a few races to get to my bottle, er, glass. I jest. In all seriousness, this was a race that I opted into when I deferred registration at the Disney World Marathon last January. Below are a few of my observations about this race.
Disney Races are really, really wonderful races for the first-timer. Communication is top-notch, volunteers are supportive, and the course is dependable in terms of hydration and medical access all of which are important to a first-time half-marathoner.
Even more important, though, is the make-up of the racing field. At Disney, the field is a nice mix of first-timers, serious runners, and serious runners who are looking to have a good time. The camaraderie is unique and special. I can’t tell you how many shouts of encouragement I heard from one runner to another along the course or how many people I heard tell their friends: “I’m just happy to run through the parks with you!” I ran both races by myself, and I didn’t feel alone at all.
…And Some Beginners Suck
(Calm down, everyone. It’s just a catchy way to set off a few thoughts on race etiquette.)
Race etiquette is not quite perfect. Don’t expect those who stop to get to the side immediately…and there will be people who stop (Jeff Galloway is a huge Disney training presence and his walk/run model seems to be in use widely even in the faster corrals). Also, friends are running together and some may tend to spread out to chat which makes some of the narrow pathways hard to navigate.
Finally, there are a ton of characters on the course and the decision to take pictures may occur last-minute and you just may end up getting tangled in the legs of someone who absolutely has to have a picture with the Pirates (it’s ok, buddy, I wasn’t hurt and I’m glad you stopped (again!) to ask me).
Disney does their best job of informing and educating people on race etiquette, but once on the course, it’s every runner for herself, so be aware of your surroundings.
Plan Your Nutrition Ahead of Time
The Wine and Dine is a night race. I am not a night runner. But, you know what? This race is run so late at night that I treated my lunch like I usually treat my dinner (plain and carby) for an early morning long run and I was perfectly fine.
But…my pre-race nutrition is nothing to blog about. (Seriously, I eat an Uncrustable. Of all of the nasty things to eat before a race…! Alas, I am superstitious and I cannot break my habit. I did so once and had the worst race ever of all time.)
Despite my Uncrustable habit, I am VERY picky about what I put into my body before a long run, and I do not like to take chances with what I eat. If you are the same, make sure you don’t leave yourself at the mercy of circumstance. I brought my Uncrustables with me and purchased microwaveable rice at my resort which was a vacation club resort with lots of make-it-yourself-choices.
Luckily, we did get to eat at Portobello the night before the races and they were happy to make me a custom dish of plain pasta. We also managed to snag a table at Chefs de France in EPCOT post 5K, but we also ate at odd hours and the Wine and Dine festival was in full swing so many people were dining at the booths along the park. Plan ahead!
I am one of the lucky runners who never, ever has an issue with chafing. Or, I never did until this race. Blame the humidity of Florida or my hydrated and swollen late-night body, I chafed during this race. Bring your glide or whatever chafing protection you prefer even if you never chafe. Ouch, people.
Run the 5K and the Big Race
Disney Race Weekends usually include a 5K “family fun” run. Do it. Even if you are running the big race, sign up for the 5K. Here are the advantages:
- The 5K isn’t timed! This makes it a perfect shake-out run in preparation for the longer event.
- The course is probably really, really amazing. Because of the shorter distance, a good portion of the course will likely be scenic and in some cases, may include parts of the parks that you may not see on the long run. The 2012 Tangled 5K (part of the Princess Half Marathon) ran through the World Showcase at EPCOT while the Princess didn’t.
- The 5K is excellent logistical practice for the long run. You can learn how to grab your shuttle, check your bags, etc. That’s less stress for the big race.
All that said, the Wine and Dine 5K is the morning of the half-marathon rather than the day before it, which means I was up at 4AM to run at 7AM and then back on a shuttle at 8PM to run at 10PM. This didn’t bother me at all, but know your own ability and choose accordingly.
Hurry Up and Wait, Thy Name is Disney
In terms of organization, I have little to complain about when it comes to Disney. Everything went very smoothly for me from packet pickup to making a corral change (moving on up!) to transportation between my hotel and the race festivities for both the 5K and the half-marathon. (Stay at a host resort to ensure that transportation is available.)
It is, of course, in the spirit of organization that Disney asks participants to do a lot of rushing to arrive and waiting to leave. Runners were asked to be on the buses to an event no later than 2 hours prior to the start of a race. We are asked to be in our corrals 30 minutes prior to the start of the 5K and 60 minutes prior to the official race start of the half marathon (bear in mind that the corrals start in waves, so some people were waiting 90 minutes in corrals).
Disney tries to keep the energy going with music and comedic emcees, but waiting 60 minutes in a corral with no access to a bathroom on when one is very, very hydrated is a beating. It is so unbearable, in fact, that upon starting I saw several runners – men and women – run off to unlit portions of the road to relieve themselves before Mile 1. I managed to make it to the porta-potties at Mile 1, but the run was exceptionally uncomfortable. And, yes, I hit the bathroom before I entered my corral as everyone else did judging by the lines for the bathrooms before the corrals opened.
Good news is that there are plenty of bathrooms along the race course, so be sure to hydrate appropriately. See? Here’s me hydrating during the day of the race in my cute Run Disney tech shirt:
You Will Run More Than 13.1 Miles
I have a theory that the more crowded a race field is, the less accurate my Garmin becomes. I also have a theory that the more drastically a course moves from wide to narrow, the less accurate my Garmin becomes. Add both of these conditions together and VOILA! Disney.
During the Wine and Dine, you will spend lots of time weaving around other runners not only in the first few miles but during other parts of the race as people leave the course for pictures or join up with their friends to run together. You will also spend lots of time getting to know your neighboring runners really well as you rub sweaty arms together during the narrow parts of the course near Animal Kingdom and along the entrance to the Boardwalk.
When I finished, my Garmin registered 13.6 miles. Not a huge deal at all in terms of distance, BUT really annoying in the later miles as the calibration became more and more inaccurate.
PS. You will also have to run with a lot of stuff on your wrists if you run without anyone at the finish. Magic Band? Check. Wine and Dine Wristband? Check. Garmin? Check. Enough stuff on my arms to annoy me? Check!
The Balloon Ladies Will Get You One Way or the Other
The best runners I know always tell me that running is a mental challenge…to which I cock the that’s-easy-for-you-to-say-ms-always-trained-and-ready eyebrow. But you know what? They’re right. Yes, you have to be in the right physical shape to run, but I learned at Disney that a mental lapse can impact my game.
If you run the Wine and Dine on the course that I ran, you will want to know this: At the 10K mark for those of you running about a 9:35 mile, you will see the sweepers and the Balloon ladies across the road a little past the 5K mark. This is painful.
Not familiar with the sweepers or the Balloon ladies? Well, let me tell you what I know.
Disney requires that runners maintain a 16-minute-per-mile pace on the course. If you fall below that pace for too many miles, you will be swept off the course as they close the course from the start to the finish. The Balloon ladies (real ladies with real balloons) are the last to cross the start and they are the sweeper mark: stay in front of them to avoid being swept. Behind the ladies are the people on bikes who will ride up and patrol the course and behind them are the vans that take swept runners to the finish.
If you read the Facebook support pages and blogs about Disney races, you will undoubtably run into posts about the fear of being swept. Read too many of those like I did, and you will start fearing the sweep irrationally…like I did…and this irrational fear can be crippling.
And crippled I was. I was coasting along happily (really happily) about to cross the 10K mark and there was the sweeping brigade. Even though I was in no danger of being swept at my pace, I felt that dagger of fear in my stomach and panic ensued. It took me about a mile of mantras and thinking happy thoughts to get me back on track and on pace.
Lesson learned: Running IS mental and if you run the Wine and Dine, come up with a coping strategy should you view the sweepers.
(For me) Disney Races Are Not the Places to Earn a PR
This last Spring, my youngest daughter was the first female to finish a 1K through the local zoo. Her reaction? “That was really cool. Can I run it again so I can look around this time?”
My thoughts on Disney exactly.
While a good portion of the course takes place on the roadways around the Disney parks, there are plenty of really amazing views once you are within the gates. During this race, we ran through the Osborne Family Lights and I am sorry, I had to stop and look around. The sight is breathtaking, and I took my time in capturing (as best I could) the view in snapshots.
I also waited quite some time for a picture with Darth Vader and Boba Fett (and I was so giddy that I squealed. Star Wars nerds unite)!
Between those two stops and a few others to take in the sights, I totally blew a PR. And you know what? Eh, I don’t care. I can speed through a boring course any time, but this is Disney and I savored it.
I swear, Disney’s medals rival the Olympic medals in appearance.
There’s lots of controversy about who gets a Disney medal (go read the message boards or Facebook group walls) and I am not here to give my opinion. The fact is that everyone who starts the race gets a medal, even if they get swept along the way. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. (There are Coast-to-Coast medals that people receive for running a race at both Disney World and Disneyland in the same calendar year and you will not get your Coast-to-Coast medal if you get swept during one of the races although you will get both race medals.)
After a race, there’s always a ton of chatter about whether or not to wear the medal to the parks later that day or the next day in the case of Wine and Dine. At Princess 2012, I saw a ton of medals around the parks, but there were very few after Wine and Dine. Maybe it was the timing of the race or the bulk of the medal (seriously enormous), but next time I hope to see more bling around the park! Confession: I didn’t wear my medal because it was heavy and I’m a little over the I-did-it thing, but I congratulated the people whom I saw wearing their bling. I figure that if you’re wearing it, you must be proud of your accomplishment and so am I.
Cheers to another wonderful Run Disney experience!