Since this was our first Disney race, (and, actually first race, period), I had only a vague idea of what to expect. I’ve been reading reports from those who’ve run the recent Walt Disney World Marathon and Half-Marathon, as well as tales from the Tinkerbell Half and Princess Half-Marathons from last year, so I had some general knowledge about packet pick-up, transportation, and race photo-ops. But there’s a chasm of difference between reading about things and experiencing things, right?
As it turned out, maybe not so much difference; most of our race experiences were textbook. Friday, Feb. 24, we drove over to The World and went straight to the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility. My first time there… WOWSA. That’s one gigantic place! Everything was well-marked with directional signage and there were lots of Cast Members (CMs) on hand to guide guests around. Most of the time they knew what they were doing. ;) I easily located race check-in, got into the line for our bib numbers, and received our personalized bibs, as well as a “Have a great race!” to me, and a “Go get ‘em!” to Leo from the nice volunteer checking us in. And that set the tone for the rest of the weekend. :)
Next stop was the Josten’s Center, home of the Fit to be a Princess Expo, where our T-shirts, bib pins and bag check bags were being held hostage. Oh yes, one had to traverse the length of the very, VERY noisy and crowded Expo to reach the packet pick-up desks. I hate to sound negative, because it wasn’t a bad place… if a cacophony of music, chatting and loudspeaker announcements doesn’t bother you. It bothers Leo and me, though, Leo especially. I had wanted to see about registering for the Tower of Terror 10-miler while there, but one look at Leo’s face told me to skip it – it was too much; he was hungry; and melt-down was minutes away. So we just grabbed our swag and got out.
The rest of our day was spent renewing my annual pass and Tables in Wonderland card and grabbing lunch at Downtown Disney, checking into our hotel, and spending a few pre-dinner hours at Animal Kingdom. We opted for the Port Orleans Riverside food court for dinner, where we continued to receive words of encouragement from the CMS we encountered. All in all, there was a lot of walking and standing in line the day before our race… and that’s my first lesson learned: it was too much. By the time I went to bed, my heels and ankles were very, very sore. Typical for me at WDW, but not so great, knowing I had a race to run the next morning. I soaked my feet in a tub of cold water, which helped some. By 8pm, we were in bed, lights out, hoping to get some rest before our 4:30am wake-up time.
4:30am. Time for me to get up, take a quick, hot shower to ease the neck and shoulder tension I always wind up with sleeping in hotels, and get dressed. The forecast called for temps in the low-60s all morning, which means layering weather for us Floridians: running tights under a skort and a long-sleeve tech shirt under a short-sleeve tech shirt, topped with a light jacket to be removed for the race. Oh, and my tiara. I’ve had this for many years and was thrilled to be wearing it for my first race!
By 5am, Leo was up and dressed and we had a small breakfast of half a bagel with peanut butter, a banana, coffee and a protein shake for me and milk for Leo. Neither of us was very hungry that early. We stayed at Coronado Springs, which was not an official race host resort, but we weren’t the only ones getting into our car at 5:30 – at least 4 other cars waved and wished us a good race, and vice-versa, in the dark parking lot.
The arrival at Epcot was rather surreal – the drive over was very quiet, the roadways lined with dark, woodsy areas, and there were only a few other cars out. But when we pulled into the Epcot lot, WHAM! Bright lights, a pulsing bass beat and lots and lots of people. Instant adrenaline rush! In retrospect, we were parked so close, there was no need to check a bag with my jacket, park touring bag and a few other post-race items, but the process was super easy and efficient. The runDisney volunteers are not only kind and helpful, they kick ass at getting the job done and done right. Leaving Bag Check, we joined the throng of runners walking toward the end of the parking area and around a tree line to the staging area, set up in the adjacent parking section. Tons of people in there – over 5,000 runners, according to the DJ!
Yes, DJ – he was giving shouts out, playing lots of upbeat tunes to get us revved up and updating us on the countdown every five or ten minutes. Along the tree line was an endless row of porta-potties, plenty for everyone! And a good thing, too, because I needed them. Listen, chilly weather makes me pee. Being excited makes me pee. Feeling a little nervous makes me pee. Coffee makes me pee. Oh, and I was well-hydrated, too. Much to Leo’s dismay, I tried three different port-o-potties over the 45 minutes or so we waited in the staging area. I made him go once, both to ensure he’d not need a mid-race stop (HA! more to come on that…) and because it seemed like a good time to learn proper porta-pottie etiquette: touch as little of it as possible, pee in the urinal, not the toilet, breathe through your mouth, etc.
It wasn’t long at all before the DJ told us to start lining up in the start corral and all 5,000 of us moved forward. And then we stopped. The 5K is corralled with an honor policy: signs indicate pace groups – sub-7 minute mile, 7-9, 9-11, 11-13, 13-16 – and it’s up to you to position yourself where you should be. Everyone pushing a stroller was to line up at the very end. Great. No problem. Lots of us honest folks were aiming to get into the 13-16 and 11-13 areas… but there were only two openings to the corral, one at the very front and one at the very back. Once people entered those and stopped in the sub-7 and 13-16 pace areas, the rest of us were effectively blocked from getting past them to enter the corral. Picture the Magic Kingdom on July 4 and you’ll have an idea of what it felt like – shoulder to shoulder we stood with several thousand others, all waiting to get in the corral. Some jumped the barriers to get in, but the barriers were tall and I’m, well, not. I wasn’t about to chance injury before the race even started! And I figured we’d all eventually get there, right? The camaraderie was a blast, anyway, as we all chatted with total strangers about our training and upcoming runDinsey events and smiled at all the young runners in training. Finally, the Star Spangled Banner was sung, the fireworks went off and the corral started moving, allowing the rest of us in and up to the Start line – hooray!
The first leg of the race made a wide loop through the Epcot parking lot. It was very, very congested through much of it, leaving little ability to run. Leo and I just walked for a bit, but quickly got frustrated with being stuck behind groups stacked four or five abreast, walking at what had to be a 20-minute mile pace. And the strollers that were A. meant to start at the very back of the pack and B. supposed to WALK, not run? They didn’t, on either count. Strollers were everywhere, pushing through the crowd like battering rams at full speed. I get that the 5K is a “fun run” and there is no official time, but the combination of poor race manners and strollers created some really dangerous situations. Those of us who wanted to go faster had no choice but to run the route like we drive in Florida: bobbing, dodging and weaving, passing in any lane as well as on the shoulders. I think a LOT of the problem could have been alleviated by having all strollers start 10-15 minutes later and by better policing of just where they were in the start corral.
Other than that, we had a terrific run! As you may have anticipated, we didn’t even make it to the first mile before Leo needed to stop at the first bank of porta-potties. Along with pretty much every other kid in the race. Disney must know what they’re doing, because the potties were located at exactly the right place for the kids who needed to stop, while a row of us parents stood outside, tapping our feet, smiling at one another in sympathy and rolling our collective eyes. Oh well.
After that, it was full speed ahead, as we passed a rusty old Backlot Tours tram, some employee parking areas and the business sides of the Future World attractions.
Yes, they’re ugly and the antithesis of “Disney Theming”, but Leo and I thought it was very cool to see a bit of what makes Epcot really tick. On our left, Test Track was going through its opening warm-up, with cars s l o w l y going around the outside speed track. From backstage, I found it hard to know just where we were and it felt like one second we were looking at Test Track and the next we were passing the side of the Mexico pavilion, making our entrance into World Showcase! The sun was coming up, the lights were still on and they had the torches going. Leo and I looked at each other mid-run and burst into a “WOOO HOOO, here we go!!!”
It may sound silly, but it was such a moment of elation to realize were about to run through one of our favorite Disney places. (And I was secretly thrilled that we, for once, would not be stopping to buy Transformers stuff in Japan, heh heh.) We were in no danger of being swept, though we’d had to abandon our usual 30/30 second walk/intervals, taking our running opportunities wherever we had them, but neither of us wanted to walk much anymore. We walk around Epcot all the time – we wanted to RUN around it! So we did, stopping only occasionally for pictures.
Note the lack of characters. They were there, but Leo doesn’t do character interaction and I’m not a fan either. The lines were long, so just as well. But I saw plenty of Princesses out there with their Princes – Snow White, Jasmine, Mulan, Belle, Ariel, and Rapunzel, of course. I’m sure Cindy was there, though I don’t recall seeing her.
After a quick trip backstage again, we reemerged next to the Party for the Senses building, passed Canada and were on a course straight up to Spaceship Earth. They had lots of CMs around to take photos with the ball in the background, so we stopped and took advantage of the opportunity.
From there, we ran pretty much the last stretch, past Spaceship Earth, out a side entrance, and back to the Epcot parking lot. Passing Mile 3, volunteers and CMs were lined up along the race route, cheering us on with shouts of “Way to go – you’re almost there!” and “Keep up the great work!” and clanging cowbells and clappers. Talk about uplifting! I was in no way tired and seriously felt like I could do the whole thing again right then and there. Leo, too, who spotted the Finish line and shot me a devilish look, taunting, “First one across wins?!” Dude…. Game. On. I can’t wait to see the official race photos – I hope they captured the two of us bolting across that finish line, lol! I don’t even know who crossed first!
Amidst even more cheering and congratulating from the workers, fellow runners and spectators, we received our medals. Yay us!!!
A wide course was laid out to lead us to tables full of bottled water and Powerade, followed by official medal portraits (we skipped that), and tables with bananas and snack boxes, which turned out to be full of yumminess that I’ll use for afternoon snacks the next week. Leo and I pulled over to Tweet, Facebook, take a few more photos and rehydrate before retrieving my checked bag and heading for the car. We weren’t done with Epcot yet, but wanted to leave our running belts and schwag at the car.
We’d already agreed to stick around for a few rides at Epcot, since it would be opening shortly after we finished, and that’s exactly what we did. Wearing our medals, my tiara and grins we just couldn’t wipe off our faces, we went straight to Test Track, where we wound up in line and sharing a car with a mom and daughter in matching tutus with whom we’d kept pace for much of the race. What are the odds?! Next up was Soarin’, where the effects of an early wake-up, adrenaline let-down and a total depletion of calories let itself be known. I’m hypoglycemic to start, which means I have to eat just right to keep my blood sugars up. Salad for dinner the night before running was dumb; sure, it was light and lean, but I really needed more carbs in my system. Standing in line, I suddenly became very dizzy, confused and shaky – classic hypoglycemia. Luckily, I was prepared with a little bag of Skittles, which got me through Soarin’ and out to Sunshine Seasons for a gigantic Second Breakfast. We were STARVING by that time!
With full bellies and tired legs, we called it a morning and went back to the hotel for showers and naps before going back to Epcot for a celebration dinner at our new favorite, La Hacienda de San Angel. We spent a few hours the next morning at the Magic Kingdom, outside of which we honked the horn and cheered for the almost 20,000 folks running the Princess Half Marathon. Next year, I’ll be one of them. :)
For a first race, I truly couldn’t have asked for a better experience. The Royal Family 5K was an absolute blast! And it was the perfect opportunity to learn some things about what to do and not do for future races.
1. Next time around, my day-before-the-race will involve a LOT less time on my feet. All of that walking around Wide World of Sports, Downtown Disney and Animal Kingdom made for very sore feet on race day morning. It was fine, I managed - but I’d rather feel fresher.
2. Nothing wrong with a salad with dinner the night before, but not as dinner. It just wasn’t enough calories or carbs. A sandwich would have been a better choice. And perhaps a full bagel race morning, instead of half.
3. I’m not going to be one of those folks who can wait to fuel until mile 7 or 8; my blood sugar will be depleted by then. My new motto as long runs get longer is “Fuel early and often!”
4. Getting to Epcot early was perfect. We had plenty of time to look around, soak it all in, and use the porta-potties. Again and again. ;)
5. I didn’t regret my double layer of clothing one bit; never even broke a sweat. If future races are any colder, you can bet I’ll add a third layer to the mix.
And now, it’s time to toss the 7-week 5K training plan and pull out the 10K program! I don’t actually have a 10K planned, but I like short-term goals and need to start ramping up the miles… because I just registered for the Tower or Terror 10-miler in September! Until then, I’ve got another 5K in two weeks, Leo and I are doing a local 5K in April, and then we’ve got the Expedition Everest Challenge in May. Let’s get this party started!