January 2010 will forever live in my memory as the second greatest Disney moment in my life when I completed the Walt Disney World Half Marathon on Jan. 9, 2010.
The entire weekend was one my family will never forget for many reasons – not the least of which was the amazingly cold weather – the coldest in 20 years (so I was told).
After a little problem with our first room in the Garden Wing of the Contemporary on Wednesday, Jan. 6th, we were moved to a Bay Lake view room in the main tower. I won’t get into the nature of the problem, other then to say the problem required that we move to a new room. The guest services cast member working the front desk was quick to resolve the problem and was very kind to upgrade our room to the tower. I’ll share more about my thoughts of the Contemporary in a later post.
We had a nice breakfast at 1900 Park Fare Thursday morning and then spent the day at Epcot before going over to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex to register myself and the kids.
After picking up the Mickey Mile race packet for the kids and my Half-Marathon packet at the Milk House, we went over to the new Josten’s Center to get some marathon merchandise. I don’t know who was in control of the heat – but they overdid it. Big time. I know it was pretty cold outside, but it was stifling in that center. I don’t know how all those vendors and castmembers stood that heat.
The next morning was race day for the kids. In the morning we went over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and managed to find a somewhat short standby line for Toy Story Mania. I have the Wii version of this game, and some of the same tricks apply here. I managed to get my highest score ever. So did my two boys. After a quick run on Star Tours, we went back to the car and went back to the Wide World of Sports for the Mickey Mile that started at 12:30 p.m.
For anyone wondering what’s around for kids during Marathon Weekend, the Kids Fest is a must. There are several races for kids 13 and under from the Diaper Dash up to and including the Mickey Mile. My three kids were signed up (by me!) for the Mickey Mile. As the name suggests, it’s a one mile run through the Wild World of Sports Complex. I was surprised at the large number of kids signed up (777 in all). Of course, Mickey Mouse, himself, started the race with some help from a Radio Disney DJ. With a simple “GO!!” the kids were off!
What’s just as surprising was how fast some of the kids could run a mile. The first person to cross the finish line (I don’t say “win” as everyone is considered a winner) was an 11-year-old who did so in 5 minutes and 24 seconds. Of my three, my daughter finished first with a time of 8:42. The boys were a bit slower (they ran together) and finished at 13:08, still a pretty decent time for a mile.
We returned to the Studios for the rest of the day and had a wonderful relaxing dinner at Hollywood & Vine. It was incredibly quiet – thanks to no Fantasmic. My wife and I had a wonderful conversation with our server who told us that on nights when there is no Fantasmic, Hollywood & Vine is much less crowded, especially during non-peak times of the year. On Friday night, half the restaurant was closed. Dinner also is a non-character meal, so we had the opportunity to sit back and take our time at dinner, which I really appreciated since I was carbo-loading for the half marathon the next morning.
Did I mention it was cold? Yeah, well I didn’t appreciate cold until the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, Jan. 8. In order to get on the monorail to Epcot before 4 a.m., I got up at 2:45 a.m. After a quick breakfast, I got “dressed” and was ready to go. I say “dressed,” though it was more like bundled. First, I put on two (not one, but two) pairs of running pants. Then I put on a wiking short-sleeve shirt, followed by a long-sleeve wiking shirt, then a sweatshirt, then my WDW Radio Racing Team wiking shirt a race bib and finally my outer running jacket. Top it off with earmuffs and gloves and I was ready to run the Iditarod (which was what it felt like!).
I got to Epcot shortly before 4 a.m. and trudged my way to the far parking lot behind Ellen’s Universe of Energy. As I (and several others) were walking, one comedic cast member shouted, “Welcome to Alaska!” He had a good reason for cracking jokes: it felt like Alaska. The temperature was a balmy 31 degrees with a bit of wind.
As I met up with some other WDW Radio Running Team members, it started to snow. That’s right, snow. Not flurries. Snow. While there wasn’t enough snow to accumulate, it was enough to make it feel even colder.
I met up with my running partners Lori Burke and Mitch Brannen. Here I have to give a shout out. While this was my first ever long-distance race, Lori was running with an even greater challenge – a broken leg. She had a stress fracture in one leg, but was determined to still run. Mitch and I vowed that we would get her across the finish line by hook or by crook.
At around 5 a.m. it was time to make our way to the starting corrals located on the eastbound side of Epcot Center Drive - right out on the highway. We were in Corral G, which basically meant the end of the line. In reality, the “end of the line” meant standing with about half the entire field. There must have been five to seven-thousand people in that final corral. We managed to ease our way up toward the front of the corral so we could get a bit of running room once we started.
At 5:45 a.m., the countdown was on. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – GO! Fireworks lit up the night sky and the elite runners took off. About 30 minutes later it was our turn to start and with another countdown and fireworks, we were off.
All through this time, I was wondering if I had it in me to actually finish. I had not done as much training as I would have liked, especially in the month leading up to the race because of all the snow that fell in mid-December. Now that I was on the course, I was trying to get a feel for how I could do. Lori set the initial pace with an easy jog. At times we had to slow to a walk because of all the people around us. As we crossed the second mile marker, we saw runners coming back down Epcot Center Drive. These were the elite runners who had already made it to the Magic Kingdom and were on the home stretch. Wow, these guys (and gals) were fast!
As the miles ticked away, I kept in touch with my wife via my cell phone. I was really looking forward to seeing her and the kids as I ran into the Magic Kingdom. As it turns out, we had a bit of bad luck in that where they were standing was further away from the course than we planned. Nevertheless, as I passed the Contemporary, they were there, freezing. In fact, they were even colder than me since I was at least running and generating some heat. They were just standing there waiting for my slow butt to pass by. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am that they were right there cheering me on, despite the freezing weather. All too soon, I made the turn into the Magic Kingdom and they were behind me. I knew they were heading into the MK as soon as they could get a monorail (which were packed by this time).
A few short steps later, I was running down Main Street USA, where I saw some other Disney friends and fellow WDW Radio supporters. After a quick high five, we were off to Tomorrowland, then Fantasyland for a quick stop for a photo with Alice, the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts. Moments later, we were off again, running through Cinderella Castle and then turning toward Liberty Square and Frontierland. Just after we crossed the railroad tracks, we stopped for another key photo op: Jack Sparrow. This is the only time I know of were guests can get a shot with Captain Jack. Sadly, we didn’t have time to talk, because we knew we had the longest and hardest part still to come – the return leg down World Drive.
As we got closer and closer to Epcot, we noticed on thing – it was getting colder. By the time we could see Spaceship Earth again, we were pulling on gloves and hats again. That being said, I was so glad to see Spaceship Earth because I knew the finish was close at hand. We made our way into Epcot through a backstage entrance behind the Seas pavilion and burst into Innoventions Plaza. We made a quick dash down the center walkway towards World Showcase, around the Christmas tree and again back to Innoventions Plaza before taking a backstage exit just before the Epcot entrance. A few minutes later, I could see the finish line. What a wonderful sight!
Standing there cheering us to the finish was Mickey Mouse. After a quick photo stop, Lori, Mitch and I grabbed hands and we crossed the finish line together.
Our time? Three hours and 39 minutes. Not as fast as I had hoped, but finishing nonetheless.
Before I knew it, I was awarded my Donald medal (they are huge!), said my thanks to Mitch and Lori and was walking back to the monorail station to meet the family in the Magic Kingdom.
The remainder of the day was like a dream. I met up with my wife and family in Liberty Square where we sat down (thankfully!!) for lunch at the Columbia Harbor House. About an hour later, we were joining Lou Mongello, the Box People and many Disney friends for a WDW Radio meet in the Exposition Hall. It was a lot of fun being on the other side of the box for a change!
That night, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday at Chef Mickey’s and the day was done. But what a day!
Oh, what’s my greatest Disney moment, you ask? That would be in June 2007 when my wife and I, along with our children, first set foot in Walt Disney World. It was like discovering our true home. If you’re reading this blog, you’re a Disney fan, and probably know just what I mean.