Having set no less than 3 separate alarms for 2:00am it was time to get up. With all four of us running the half marathon (me, my wife, my sister-in-law Rina and her husband Mike) we had made arrangements for a babysitting service (“Kids Night Out“) to be at our hotel room by 3:00am to look after the boys while we were gone. I was up and dressed and sat down to wait for everyone. It was hard not to doze off but I managed to keep it together. I didn’t have such a good nights sleep for some reason. Not nerves but just my head was pretty active with stuff.
Just before 3:00am there was a knock at the door and it was the babysitter. Shari and I chatted with her for a few minutes and we peeked in at the boys who at this stage were lying either on top or across each other without noticing. We left our details with her and set off to wait for the rest of our party. The temperatures were calling for mid 40s rising up to the 50s but we knew getting there early (as required by the race instructions) we would be standing around for quite a while. We were all pretty much bundled up as we headed to the race start at EPCOT.
As we arrived at EPCOT (remembering to take a photo of the car lane number in which we parked) we headed through the security checkpoint and into the pre-race area. Shari and I briefly stopped by the Team Up – Autism Speaks booth to say a quick hello to Phillip and then headed in to the meet up area for the Mickey Milers.
The meet up was scheduled for 4:00am with a group photo at 4:15am. We were catching up and meeting some fellow Mickey Milers for the first time and it was a good way to relax. It was chilly and almost everyone was wrapped up against the cold. Shari was already in her plastic trash bag with a bath towel wrapped around her to keep her warm. I was wearing my throw away jacket and gloves. It was great to chat with everyone. If you’ve never been a part of a team or running community (either locally or online) it is such a great experience. It was great to meet everyone. Most were wearing their easily recognizable team shirts (underneath all the warm gear) and it was easy to spot fellow runners over the next two days either on the course or cheering from the sidelines.
Shari, Rina and Mike were also chatting with people and trying their best to stay warm. One of the best things about these races is that even through we get there so early and stand around until they call us to the corrals people are friendly and approachable and you can always strike up a nice conversation.
So after wishing everyone good luck we headed to bag check and through to the corrals. Shari and I went through ‘S’ back check, Rina through ‘G’ as she registered way back before the wedding and Mike in ‘E’. Eventually meeting up on the other side we made the long walk to the corrals. Shari and I were starting together in Corral F and Rina and Mike were starting together a few corrals back. We said our goodbyes and good lucks as the corrals split in different directions and headed to the start. We got there just in time for the National Anthem so we knew we had about 5 minutes to the race start and probably another 10-15 before our corral was to get the countdown to go.
I’d made the decision (which turned out very wise) to check my throw away jacket so I had something warm to wear after the race and just grabbed my runDisney space blanket from a prior year. I’ll talk about that later.
Donald Duck came up on the stage and gave the countdown to start the race and off went the fireworks. I love that. Gets me every time. We waited as our corral got closer and closer to the start and then I ditched my space blanket, kissed Shari good luck and with race announcer Rudy Novotny calling us “Corral F – the fun corral” and calling us at with our Team Up gear we crossed the start line and we were on our way, only 39.3 miles to go. First we had to get through today’s 13.1 miles.
As this was our first Goofy together we decided to be a little strategic with our photo stops knowing that we would see some of the same characters the next day. Depending upon the lines as we approached (and also whether we recognized some characters on sight) we felt okay skipping some today to catch them tomorrow. As we approached the first stop, Captain Jack Sparrow, we decided to skip. Shari at this point had been wearing her trash bag and was just beginning to warm up. She was running along like an inflated balloon with the bag willowing behind her and decided she was warm enough to ditch it before the first photo stop. She promptly discarded her bag…right in front of me (thanks Babe) and having seen the line for the Pirates we moved past and headed towards the Magic Kingdom knowing we would probably spend most of our pictures stops there.
As we made it through the turnstiles to the Magic Kingdom (free this time…although it has risen to $17 this year for cars!!!) we headed towards the TTC (Ticket and Transportation Center). As we passed by the back of the Speedway there was a new character stop this year. ‘Wreck it Ralph’ and ‘Penelope Von Schweetz’ were together. We stopped for a quick photo which didn’t come out in the light. We made a note to make sure we got back there tomorrow. We then headed further up and saw Jack Skellington and Sally. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is one of our boys favorite movies and we pretty much know this story by heart after watching it and listening to the soundtrack so many times so that was a must do today.
At the TTC we saw the first of the big cheering sections. Plenty of folks out there cheering everyone on. This is also a great place for a bathroom break as there are real bathrooms, not port-a-potties, and they are heated, which was great for this morning. It was still a little chilly out. From there we run under Bay Lake and past the Contemporary Resort and get our first long distance view of Cinderella’s Castle. We run around the back of Space Mountain and take a path backstage before arriving on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom. As you may know from my previous write ups for the 2013 and 2014 Marathon Weekends I absolutely love running up Main Street. It is for me the most special part of the race. The street is all lit up and there are cheer sections all along the route. You run with a direct view of the Castle all aglow with thousands of little lights. Breathtaking. It was starting to get a little light at this time (we had spent some time lining up for pictures already) but we still got the full effect.
The route of the half marathon (similar to tomorrow’s marathon) takes us up Main Street USA to the hub where we then turn right into Tomorrowland (another good place for a bathroom break if needed!!) and then into Fantasyland. We made the decision to spend most of our photo stops in the parks. Neither of us had any concerns about timing at this point as we knew we could pick up the pace on the second half of the course and our corral was far ahead of the balloon ladies. Let’s just say that we had a couple of 18-20 minute miles in the first half of the race.
In Tomorrowland the line for Buzz Lightyear was too long for us to stop so we headed over into Fantasyland where we saw the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. If you haven’t noticed by now, when I run with Shari we tend to have a very good time.
As we rounded Fantasyland we came across one of the characters we didn’t recognized by name. I knew him as the mime from ‘Tangled’ but as we didn’t know his name as we approached we didn’t stop. His name is ‘Ulf’ by the way. Usually during the half Donald and Daisy are situated by the castle but as there are improvements being made to Cinderella’s Royal Table there was no where for them to be. They did have Elsa, Anna and Kristoff on the balcony above the tunnel through the castle. I’m sure that if they had been available for a photo opportunity the lines would have been insane. We did a little goofing around (no surprises there) while in Fantasyland. Neither of us was able to pull the sword from the stone.
From Fantasyland we get to experience running through the castle. Always a great spectacle (if not a little crowded). We stopped for our picture in front of the castle before heading down towards Frontierland.
As we ran through Frontierland we passed by Louis the Alligator from ‘Princess and the Frog’ and one of the characters from ‘Country Bear Jamboree’ who was in the place where I’ve seen Woody, Jessie and Bullseye in the past. We decided not to stop for these characters as we knew there would be a long line ahead of us for one of the princess backstage. We did stop however for a little photo opportunity with the steam train from the Walt Disney World Railroad.
We left Frontierland before the entrance to Adventureland and ventured backstage to where there was a long line for a photo stop with one of the Princesses. We decided to stop here despite the amount of time we had already spent in the park as the Princesses change out regularly and we figured we would get another opportunity tomorrow and if it happened to be the same photo tomorrow we could just skip and go on our merry way.
There was a water station just past this point which was the first one since the TTC area. This is the longest section of the course without a water station due to the logistics of navigating the areas of the park. We took the route out of the side of the park and onto Floridian Way which is the narrowest section of the course as you have everyone huddled onto one side of the road (the other side is open to emergency vehicles). This is also the section that people refer to as ‘Cone Alley’. There are cones as far as you can see. In this stretch you run past the Grand Floridian Resort on your left, one of the Walt Disney Resort golf courses on your right and the Polynesian Village Resort on the left. Although space is tight here, as soon as you approach the resorts there are cheering sections which were very crowded and much appreciated. The Team Up – Autism Speaks cheering section was situated along this section of the course near the Polynesian. It really is a long stretch along the course here until approaching the overpass which takes you back to EPCOT. There are a few character stops on the course.
The road finally opened up from the cones and Shari and I were able to recapture some of the time we had lost during the early photo stops and the time in the park. It is pretty near impossible to make up time in Cone Alley due to the congestion. Unless you are in Corral A or decide not to stop for any photos this is not the race to try for a PR. I think the half marathon is usually more crowded than the marathon due to the numbers involved.
As we made our way along the course back towards EPCOT around mile 11 we encounter the only real hill on the course, the overpass, which takes us from World Drive up to EPCOT Center Drive. The cool part of this is when you are on the overpass looking back down below and seeing the endless stream of runners. It’s pretty cool to see everyone out there.
Heading into EPCOT we knew we were in the final mile of the half marathon. There is the short little out and back as we enter the park which takes us to the lagoon in front of World Showcase and then we head back towards Spaceship Earth and out towards the finish line. I felt a slight ache in my right knee around mile 12 so we took the last mile a little easy as we still had the marathon to run the next day. No sprinting to the finish line today.
We crossed the finish line feeling pretty good. It was still quite cool but we got our medals and headed to the medical areas to ice down. We had to wait for Rina and Mike so we took advantage of the time to ice down with the help of the volunteers who packed our legs in ice. Shari was nursing her right ankle and I was nursing my right knee. We saw Mike pass us while we were there but it was so busy he didn’t hear us call out to him so we sent him a text message and told him we’d meet him outside.
One thing that was missing from the finish line area were mylar wraps. Yup, no space blankets. It wasn’t as if it was a warm weekend or anything and I was sure that after the previous two days when the temperatures were in the high 30s/low 40s they would have been prepared, but no. No blankets. That’s when I was pleased I’d packed my throw away jacket in our checked bag.
We made it through the finish line area and grabbed our food. We took our picture and walked through to the Goofy lanes. No one was checking our bibs or looking us up based upon the pictures we took at the expo. Strange. Last year when I ran the Dopey Challenge they made us all pick up a wristband. With the new method I figured we would have to report into someone. By the way, there was nothing too amazing to report about the runDisney food boxes. Pretty much the same as last year. Would it break the bank to have bagels or a soft pretzel available?
So on to bag check. We entered the ‘S’ tent and Shari told me to pick up the bag but they couldn’t find it. They kept asking my number and I was showing them my bib but no use. They made us head out to a central table and report the bag and had a volunteer run back and forth into each tent for any loose bags. At this point it was getting cold without any jacket or space blanket. Shari was turning blue. Kind of matched her outfit but not appropriate to tell her that at the time. Ultimately they asked us how many bags we checked and we said one and then they asked if it was under Shari’s number. We hadn’t thought about that. Duh!!! Once we established it was her number they found the bag right away. Like runDisney would really lose our bag!!! Felt kind of stupid but thanked them all. At least we had something warm to wear now.
Based upon the race text alerts we saw that Rina was near the finish so we met up with Mike and waited outside for her. Once she came through the bag check we didn’t hang around (we had the babysitter charging mucho dollars!!!) as we had a lunch reservation at the Sci Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at Hollywood Studios and we all needed to get back for a shower in time to get there.
We spent the afternoon at Hollywood Studios where we did some character meet and greets and had a really nice lunch. We managed to secure our Fast Passes to Toy Story Mania but this wasn’t the best park for the kids and we were all a little tired. We did head over to the Frozen Sing-A-Long which we had Fast Passes for. This allowed Shari and I a few minutes off our feet. We grabbed a light supper of pizza from one of the quick service options along Hollywood Boulevard but made sure we headed to ‘Sweet Spells’ to get some
special treats carbs before we left for the night. We chose Hollywood Studios as our park as they had the earliest closing time for us (we skipped Animal Kingdom this trip) so we could say we stayed until the park close and still get home for a relatively early night.
We got home, got the boys to bed, laid out our clothes for tomorrow’s marathon and attempted to get some sleep before our early morning alarm in a few hours…