Rain & Dine

Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Recap

The hardest step for a runner is the first one out the front door.

Undertrained would be an understatement, yet at 10:48pm last Saturday night I crossed the start line of Disney’s 5th Wine and Dine Half Marathon. A little more than 3 and a half hours later, I would cross the finish line soaked, cold, and tired.

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Starting at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, winding through both Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios before ending at Epcot, Wine and Dine was my 3rd half marathon and my 1st night race. Training for the race had gone poorly and I arrived in Orlando unprepared. My plan was to start and wish for the best. I had no fear of being swept, my plan included taking the DNF long before the dreaded ‘balloon ladies‘ were in sight.

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My friend Sarah and I met in Orlando Friday night and quickly headed over to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival. After the required Grey Goose Slush stop in France we took in fare from Morocco, Japan, Poland and Italy before ending the night at the Dessert and Champaign booth for Illuminations.

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Saturday morning we headed to Wide World of Sports for the race expo. We both needed to pick up our race bibs and I needed to find a running belt that would fit an iPhone6. Sarah, a collegiate runner and much faster than me was placed in corral C. Due to a registration problem with my proof of time I was placed in corral L, the last to start. I attempted to plead my case to race relations with zero luck.

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The usual runDisney vendors were present at the race expo. In my opinion, there was much less free swag and promotions than at other non-Disney race expos. We checked in with our friends and favorites at the Raw Threads and Sparkle Athletic booths. I ended up with a new Spibelt to hold my phone and a wine themed headband from Sweaty Bands.

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After dropping our race gear off at the hotel, we returned to Epcot. For the last 16 years, several of my WDWCP friends have been meeting on the final Saturday of the Food and Wine fest to celebrate birthdays while eating and drinking around the world. We caught up with the group in France long enough to snap a few photos with my friends Liz, Cheryl and Eric.

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After a few food stops and lunch at Sunshine Seasons it was back to the hotel to nap before the race. We also had a pressing need to find ponchos. The weather reports for the race were getting nastier by the minute and we wanted to at least attempt to stay somewhat dry.

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All my previous half marathons and shorter races have been early morning events. While I’m a night person, getting ready for a night race was much harder for me than a morning race. Knowing we had to eat, we joined other off schedule runners in the food court. All of us were confused trying to decide on a pre-race meal.

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Due to the impending weather we, like most people, had waited until 7:45 to enter bus line to the corrals. We spent a lot of time discussing rain strategy and costume changes with the people around us. I seriously considered skipping the race and going to the Charlie Worsham concert at the Downtown Disney House of Blues.

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We arrived at the staging area, hit the bathroom one last time, checked our bags, and at 9:15, as the rain begin to fall, we entered our corrals. For corral L, it was a long wait in the rain to start. At 10:48, in the pouring rain, I crossed the start line.

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Then I took mile 1 at a 11 minute per mile pace. By the 5k point my sweatshirt was so wet I needed to find a way to take it off. I ended up getting the sleeves off, tying it around my waist and making a ‘poncho-shirt’ to block some of the wind and rain. As we approached Animal Kingdom, I had already seen several people fall and my headphone were so waterlogged they were useless. Any help I was getting with interval pacing was gone. However, I was maintaining a good pace and I passed the first sweep point with relative ease.

Miles 5-9 are boring roadway. On any other night, Disney would have filled the area with characters and other course entertainment.  However, in the rain our “entertainment” was dodging huge puddles and trying not to slip on road paint. I had started to run intervals with a Galloway timer I could hear and I felt pretty good. While my shoes were completely wet, I wasn’t developing blisters or having any other major issues. I passed the 8.5 mile sweep point and headed into Hollywood Studios. Where it all went to hell.

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Hollywood Studios is my “home park.” There isn’t an area there where I haven’t worked and it was the place I was most looking forward to running through. However, somewhere between miles 10 and 11 my pace had significantly slowed. I REALLY needed to use the bathroom and my hands were starting to swell and cramp from the cold. Then I heard the chatter about the balloon ladies. I couldn’t yet see them but I knew they were close. As we exited Hollywood Studios, I could see the line of busses. The field was narrow and crowded, I struggled to run around people to avoid the sweep. While being swept wasn’t a fear going into the race, I knew the balloon ladies were behind me and after 11 miles in the rain there was no was in hell I was going to be swept at the 11.5 mile mark. It wasn’t going to happen!

The course narrows significantly as you approach the safety of the Yacht and Beach Club boardwalk. Once you hit that point, there is no longer a danger of being swept.  Getting to the slippery, water logged boardwalk was my entire focus. I took to the muddy hill below the path and pushed my way forward. I’m not a fast runner in the best of circumstances but I was outpacing the balloon ladies and that is all that mattered.

As I approached the 12 mile marker I looked to my left and was staring directly at a Mickey shaped balloon. I must have looked horrified because the next thing I heard was “you are on the boardwalk, you don’t have to keep pace.” With those words I slowed significantly. I walked, in the cold, hard, windy rain to the finish line. 3 hours and 38 minutes after crossing the start, it was my worst half marathon finish. But it was a finish.

I didn’t collect my post race free drink, I didn’t stop for a post-race finisher photo. My new goal was to get into warm, dry clothes as quickly as possible. After the bag check volunteer helped me open my bag because my hands were too cold and swollen to do it, that happened.

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I met Sarah at the Land Pavilion and we enjoyed the final hours of the post race party in Epcot. We finally got back to the hotel (with one VERY lost bus driver) a little after 5am.

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Sunday was a day for celebration. After lunch at the Magic Kingdom we headed back to Epcot to show off our medals to a few friends. This year Sarah had run the Disneyland Half Marathon and completed the Dumbo Double Dare Challenge (a race I differed to 2015) so in addition to her Wine and Dine medal, she earned a Coast to Coast medal.

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No trip to Epcot would be complete without a stop at La Cava del Tequila in the Mexico Pavilion. If you aren’t familiar with this hidden gem, I don’t even want to tell you about it! We broke tradition and didn’t get the avocado and blood orange margaritas instead opting for the special edition Maelstrom and a passion fruit. I also managed to get a taste of the Horchata and Fireball margarita, which was surprisingly good.

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Both Sarah and I were more tired and sore than we had anticipated so we headed back to the hotel early to get ready to head home on Monday.

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Monday, we had an early lunch with my friend Matt and Sarah headed to the airport while I headed to Team Disney with Matt. Once we finished up, I walked over to Downtown Disney to do some shopping. Of course it was raining. A MAJOR shout out to the Raglan Road CM from Puerto Rico who let me share his umbrella!

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Final thoughts. You should probably train more for a half marathon than I did. People like Jeff Galloway have some great beginner and run/walk plans. Prepare for any conditions. The rain was brutal. I am an experienced runner who’s in decent shape and it was BY FAR the hardest race I’ve ever done.  Undertraining aside, I was completely unprepared for the rain. Even though this race was a mess, I would recommend the runDisney races to anyone and can not say enough amazing things about the volunteers who were out there all night with us.

That said, Disneyland Half and the 2015 Double Dare will probably be my last races. See you there!

 

 

 

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