I have been meaning to write this review for a long time now and was finally kicked in the butt by a recent conversation I had with my race partner. Turns out, Disney will not be repeating the relay next year or even in years to come. This is unfortunate as I had a fantastic time, reconnected with some old friends and made a new friend all in a few glorious days.
The 2012 Disney Marathon weekend was the first time (and sounds like the last) that the Run Disney program allowed a team of two to compete in the full marathon as a relay. The race was divided evenly between the two runners so each of us had a chance to run a full 13.1 across the 26.2 course that the full marathoners would run. The only choice a team would need to make was, who would run the first leg and who would run the second. I had one more choice: who would I run with.
When I first heard about the relay I immediately decided I wanted to do it but I would need to find a running partner. I took to the Disney message forums, of which there are many specifically for Disney runners.and after many weeks of looking and asking, finally paired up with a fantastic woman Charrissa, from Connecticut. She and her husband are avid Disney fans and runners and like me, she likes the half as a preferred distance. We exchanged messages for a few weeks before finally speaking on the phone to finalize our team name (Keep Moving Forward), our travel plans and our meet up logistics.
My wife Lorie and I had plans to go down to Orlando on Saturday, the day before the race with our good friends the Demskis who I have know for over 30 years and we were going to say into the next week post race to enjoy the parks. Charrissa would be getting there on Friday and leaving out early Monday to head back home. She was coming down solo as her husband and she had just been down for the Wine and Dine Half so he was not able to get off work again.
We had the first flight out from Chicago so there were no delays and we were in Orlando, on the Magical Express and at the Brach Club Villas before noon on Saturday. I called Charrissa and we agreed to meet up at 3 over at the Big River Brew pub on the boardwalk, which is just across the lake from our resort. It was a bit strange meeting your running partner for the first time less than 24 hours before you were going to run together, but we were all excited to meet her for the first time. We were just finishing up lunch outside on the boardwalk when she walked up. We had a meet up and discussed the logistics for tomorrows race.
We had decided ahead of time that she would run the first leg, as she had never run through the Magic Kingdom before (I have on the Full and Half Marathons that I have done there in the past) and that would give me a chance to run the second leg which passes right by our resort with just under 2 miles to go. There, hopefully, Lorie, Rick and Yvonne would be standing by with an cold beverage for me, or at least an encouraging hug. With everything planned out, we were ready for Sundays race.
Both Charrissa and I need to be at the Epcot parking lot by 5am for the walk to the starting corals, which means that even though I would be starting my leg about 2 hours after hers I still needed to get to the main starting area at the same time as her. We decided to meet under the orange and white strip tents in the queue area where she was waiting with some other Disney forum runners she had raced with before. The main area were we all gather is very well marked with various colored roof tents (the little 10ft wide ones with no sides) and some larger tents for medial, bag drop-off and paid admission prerace eats and drinks. The layout makes it very easy to plan your meet ups both pre and post race.
Charrissa made her was to the starting corals which is about a 15 to 20 minutes walk from the main queuing area, and I made my way to the relay bus corral ( yes they had us in a little fenced in area like little excited ponies) for my ride over to the Magic Kingdom parking lot. My ride took about 15 minutes and I arrived at my waiting area by 5:30, about 15 minutes before the first wave was to start back at Epcot. It was a bit chilly out there in the open and Disney had provided ‘butt warmers’ for us to sit on as part of our race packet. I decided to forgo the warmer and instead had procured an extra large hoodie just for this purpose, so i just pulled that down over my legs and sat on part of it like my own little tent. Many racers will bring a piece of clothing to this event an plan on leaving it behind when they start their run, which I also did . Disney collects the garments, washes them and then distributes them to local charities.
I had about a two hour wait as Charrissa’s estimated finish time was 1:50 so I alternated a little rest and some roaming around taking in the various events that I could see from my lot. This being a Chip and Dale themed relay, the two boys them selves made an appearance in our lot and posed for photos with anyone who wanted to participate. I could also see a row of classic cars to the left of our lot and could hear the classic rock the DJ was playing along that stretch of the course. At the front of our lot was a stage with a giant view screen and the transition area where we would ‘hand off’ to the second runner, We had our own DJ to keep us motivated during the wait and the jumbo screen was showing live shots of the runners from the starting gun all the way through the Magic Kingdom.
From this are I was able to see the elites run by to our left as the ran towards the Magic Kingdom, and to our right as they came out. I had never been able to see them so far out ahead by themselves so this was a pretty special moment. I noticed that many of the runners did not even see them going by but I had been looking forward to seeing this and started watching about 10 minutes before I estimated they would come by.
I believe one of the reason they are not going to do the relay again was complaints form the second leg runners who had to wait around for the first leg runners. I was fortunate that Charrissa was a sub 2 hour runner so my wait was really pretty good ( I tend to enjoy any time I have down in Disney even if I am sitting around waiting for something), but I can see how the second leg runners who had a 3 plus hour first leg runner would be getting a bit antsy by the tie they showed up. The only way to get around this, in my opinion would be to have the team do a true estimate of their first leg partner and get over to the MK parking lot 1 hour before that estimated time. But that would mean the second leg runners would need to get to the TTC (Ticket and Transportation Center by the Magic Kingdom) directly instead of going over to Epcot as a starting point. So, Disney would need to provide busses from the hotels to two different locations and a monorail from Epcot not just to Epcot which would probably be too confusing at 4 am. Or perhaps if they at least provided a warm tent with a few characters and maybe a little food, that could make the wait a bit more bearable for the second runners.
The other thing that would have been nice would be to have your first leg partners name show up on the jumbo screen wen they were within 5 minutes or arriving at the exchange point. That would be easy enough to do as we were all wearing D-Tags on our shoes for timing and they knew who the first leg runners were. They would just need an extra strike pad 1/2 mile or so out to make this happen.
I started looking for Charrissa at about the 1:40 mark and saw her coming up on the shoot at 1:45. She was right on the mark and actually PR’d the race (way to go Charissa!) I pushed and excused myself through the other waiting second leggers and stepped out into exchange area. If I had been thinking ahead I would have given Charissa an acorn to carry for a hand off as there was nothing provided for the exchange. It was more of me flagging her down doing a quick hug and congratulations and then I was on my way.
It was still before 8 am when I took off so the weather was a perfect sub 60 degrees. I wont bore you with a mile by mile account but I did do better than I expected. I had been training for a 2 hour half like Charrissa, and was right on track for most of 2011, but I ended up getting a chest infection that prevented me from running for three months.which pretty much wiped out all my hard work. I had estimated that I would fining in about 2:40 and ended up doing a 2:25 which is OK considering my retraining window.
I mentioned earlier that our resort, the Beach Club Villas, was just under two miles from the finish, right along the running route. We try to stay there every year during the race so I can run by the family on my way to the finish. I pass right in front of the resort before entering the back entrance of Epcot for the final mile around the countries, past the big golf ball and exit out to the finish line in the parking lot near where we started.
I was really looking forward to seeing my wife, Rick and Yvonne at this late point in the race for a little moral boost. They did not disappoint me. As I approached their cheering section Lorie jumped out and gave me a hug, to which the lady next to her said ‘eeeewww, how can you hug him when he’s all sweaty like that?’. Lady we have been married for 25 years and she has seen me a lot worse. I was able to get a quick hug from Yvonne and Rick as well then I pushed on to the finish.
One of my favorite parts of the Disney marathon, which I wrote about here also, is the full on live gospel choir they have about 300 yards from the finish. Just when you feel like you can’t go any more you get a nice boost that helps me quicken my step towards the finish line.
Charrissa and I had planned on meeting under the same orange and white test post race so I got my knees wrapped in ice, stood for my post race photo, grabbed a banana and PowerAde and headed over to meet the group. Everyone was all smiles despite the obvious pain some of us were in (things obviously hurt a little more as we get older) and we all recounted our high points and low points of the race. I stuck around for a little while then we exchanged hugs and discussed when we would talk next to exchange photos etc. I made my way, slowly, to the bus for my ride back to the hotel. There were a few finishers near me on the bus, who had just run for the first time here and were wondering how they would feel over the next few days. I suggested that they should step out sideways on Disney transportation for the rest of their stay. What I mean by that is instead of walking straight down the stairs to exit a bus (going up does not really hurt too much), you stand at the top of the stairs then turn either left or right so you hip is facing the stairs. You then take your steps down that way which put less stress on your knees. Believe me it works and you can easily tell who the runners are when they exist any transportation.Back to the hotel for a much needed shower and a race debrief with my friends.
Once again, I had an awesome race experience here at Disney (thanks Charrissa)and I look forward to next year. A special thanks to Rick and Yvonne, for sharing the experience with us.I hope we can do it again in the future. We had talked about not coming down for 2013 as we will be going to Disney Hawaii for our 25th anniversary, but I have such a good time and it gives me something to train/look forward to for the next year, that I think I need to do it again. When does sign up start for 2013?