Thursday, November 13, 2014

Race Recap: 2014 Disney Wine & Dine Half-Marathon!

If the 2010 Disney Marathon Weekend is forever known as "The Year it SNOWED!", then the 2014 Wine & Dine Half-Marathon will now be known as "The Year it RAINED!" Admittedly, not the same caliber of challenge, but still... this was one tough race.

But before I get to the race itself, I have a few pre-race tidbits to discuss!

First of all, I have pretty much nothing to share about the expo. I went, I saw, I got my stuff, I socialized, I got out. ~yawn~ See, I'm not a shopper, and I've been to a bunch of runDisney race expos: they're all about the same after a while. I wanted only three commemorative items for this particular race: a mug, a wine glass, and a mini 2014 Wine & Dine medal. Bib and packet pickup was a breeze, as was paying for the few things I wanted to purchase, so I was done in no time!

Clockwise from bottom left: race program, free $10 gift card, wristband for after-party, free coaster, purchased mug, purchased wine glass, purchased  mini medal, free race shirt.

Pre-race item #2: my hotel. I stayed off-site for this one to save money and gain a kitchenette... and I'm so glad I did! I went with a super deal through Orbitz for Buena Vista Suites (BVS). It's not the fanciest place in Central FL, but I didn't need fancy: I needed cheap, safe, convenient and comfortable. BVS hit it right on all points. The beds were very comfortable, with fresh mattresses and down comforters, I was only about a 10-15 minute drive from Walt Disney World, and I paid less than $100 a night. Having a microwave was wonderful - I used it to make oatmeal for breakfast and to heat my pre-race dinner. I did have to park pretty far from the building when I returned at night, but I felt perfectly safe: everything was well lit and there weren't any shady looking characters lurking about. My only gripe is the $8.99/day charge for wifi. That stings. Still... I only used it two of my days, so my nightly cost was still MUCH lower than any WDW property with "free" wifi. I definitely recommend BVS and will likely go back in the future!

Pre-race item #3: Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
I got talked by a couple of super friends into doing this party the night before the race... and we had a BLAST! With Wine & Dine being a night race, I had no concerns about being out late and on my feet the night before; I would never consider this before a morning race. I haven't been to the party since my son was little, so it all felt new and fresh, and experiencing it with a couple of pals, minus any offspring, was the perfect way to get a racecation going! Spoiler alert: If you're heading to the party, don't click through to the video - let it be a surprise!

Okay with all of that pre-race fun out of the way, let's talk about the 2014 Wine & Dine Half-Marathon, shall we?

I slept in a bit the morning of race day, though not as late as I'd have liked; a nap later was a must. My goal for the day was to lounge around a lot, relax, do some reading, watch some TV and eat. Exactly what I did for the Tower of Terror 10-Miler a month prior. I think I did an admiral job... after a leisurely breakfast in my room, I indulged in a hot bath, got dressed, and eventually made my way out for lunch. And dinner. All at once. I had a Plan... I opted to visit one of my favorite WDW resorts, Caribbean Beach Resort (CBR), where I grabbed a turkey sandwich and ate it there, at the food court. But I also got a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a croissant - to go. Dinner! Not just dinner... the BEST pre-race dinner I've ever had. CBR makes a mean chicken noodle soup: lots of white meat chicken, a delightful broth that was just salty enough without being too salty, and penne pasta cooked perfectly al dente. A small bowl of that plus the croissant for extra calories and carbs was just right.

So after a good nap and dinner, I took one last look at the weather forecast before dressing for the race...

~sigh~  No change. A front - a 600-mile-wide front, to be exact - was moving across Florida and was forecast to be smack dab over WDW for the entirety of the race and after-party.
Now, let me be clear: rain doesn't scare me. I've run through more FL summer rainstorms than I can count. I ran through a lovely light rain in the NC mountains. I even once ran through a named storm, complete with ankle-deep flooding - for 10 miles! I'm down with rain running. But the forecast did alter my expectations of the race. My phone would be protected by several layers of plastic wrap, so no picture stops. Which could mean a fast race... but for the fact that I was starting from a pretty late corral (I, out of A-L) and would likely be slowed by lots of folks who are not used to running in the rain. I was also concerned about the temperature, as my rain runs are usually in the scorching heat of summer. I'm still acclimated to the heat and wasn't at all sure how I'd feel in lower temps and rain. So I adjusted my expectations, decided that I'd run for as long as I was feeling into it, allow myself to quit if I was miserable, and do what I could to mitigate the cold wet.

Flat V was ready for the rain!

Luckily, the rain held off during the wait-around time before the race, when we were most likely to be miserable. I met up with my running group for some quality social time before the race and the most it did was mist a bit. Yay! I even managed to visit the porta-potties before the rain really hit. Double yay!

By the time my race buddy, Anne (go visit her blog at when you're done here), and I got to our corral, it had officially begun to rain for real. I've never seen so many ponchos, rain jackets and trash bags used as cover-up in one place! I had my rain jacket and an umbrella, which helped keep me pretty warm and dry until we started.

It felt like runDisney sped up the start process, leaving little time between each corral. I kind of suspected they'd do this, in the interest of getting the race started sooner due to the weather. In a short while, it was our turn - I ditched the umbrella, zipped up my jacket and gave a good "Wooo hooo!" as our fireworks went off and we got the party going!

Knowing we'd likely see precious little entertainment on the soggy course, Anne and I decided to count discarded ponchos and trash bags along the roadsides, much as one might count road kill on a car trip. (What - not everyone counts road kill on car trips? How do you people pass the time?!) We hit 100 before we'd gone half a mile. And couldn't keep track anymore. So much for that game.

The first few miles passed easily, if slowly. The pack wasn't moving particularly fast as we all tested our footing and adjusted clothing and accessories. I didn't find the highway asphalt to be slippery, but my Newton Gravity shoes were proving themselves to be not so great in the rain: they filled up with water quickly and didn't drain well. Fortunately, they are very lightweight, so the extra water weight wasn't too bad. And my Smartwool socks are the bomb-diggity: I had NO fear of blistering. I took off my jacket after about a mile; I was getting hot. I tried wearing it around my waist, but it wasn't repelling water and was getting heavy... off it went to the side of the road. And surprisingly, I wasn't cold. I felt pretty great, actually!

By the time we entered Animal Kingdom (AK) around Mile 4, the rain was really coming down and Animal Kingdom was experiencing some flooding. After hurdling a couple big puddles I gave up and decided to run through whatever came my way. That was very liberating and I felt like a kid playing in the rain as I splashed through the park and its parking lot!

AK wasn't very thrilling in the rain. The paths there are lumpy and bumpy to start, and a bit slick when wet, so I spent most of the time there with my head down, being extra careful with where I placed my feet. Many construction walls were up, blocking some of AK's best views, like those of the Tree of Life and Expedition Everest. Even poor Everest looked dark and dreary in the rain, despite its nighttime lighting. I bet this is a fun part of the course when it's not pouring, but it wasn't particularly exciting this time.

My feet were hurting a bit as we left AK and reentered Osceola Highway, but nothing unmanageable, and a quick assessment told me that all other body parts were still in good working order. My ears, nose, elbows and fingers were getting cold, but my core still felt warm enough. So when we passed the buses parked outside AK, ready to take on any runners ready to be done, or who fell behind pace, I had no interest in stopping. Onward!

It's odd... I felt like I picked up my pace quite a bit in the next couple miles, but my stats don't show a dramatic uptick in speed. I don't know if I just felt faster than I was due to the weather, or if my GPS was off. In any case, I still felt good as we approached Disney's Hollywood Studios (DHS). I felt even better as we entered the park... and it stopped raining - like Magic!!!

For the short time we were in DHS, the rain did nothing more than drizzle lightly. Which meant two things: 1. I could safely take my phone out of its wrappings. And 2. I could get the pics/video I'd wanted most from the race!

I adore the Osborne Lights. It's been a family tradition to visit them every year that my son's been alive, and it simply doesn't feel like the holidays until we've seen them. We missed them last year, for the very first time, and it was a major downer, especially for my son. So I took a few moments during the race to really enjoy the ticky-tacky splendor that screams "CHRISTMAS!!!" to my family and gave a big mental shout-out to my boy, who should have been sound asleep, but was probably hyped up on candy, watching bad TV with his Gramma.

As we prepared to leave DHS, the rain started back up and I pulled over under an awning to re-wrap my phone. Which would not cooperate. I told Anne to "go on without me!" as I spent five minutes swearing at and struggling with my stupid, wet, armband and finally got it wrangled back in. And then... I took off. Seriously - I may well have run my fastest split ever (though I'll never know, because the time I spent getting my phone settled is mixed in - GAH!) as I booked past people to catch up with Anne.

I was on the walking path from DHS to the the Epcot resorts, which was pretty narrow, and had fallen behind a whole lotta folks who'd given up running altogether. Lots and lots of slow strolling through there. I initially felt badly about my constant calls of "Excuse me!" and "On your left!", but folks were very nice and a few thanked me for being so polite about my desire to move faster than the overall speed of the crowd. That made me smile!

I caught up with Anne shortly before we entered the resorts boardwalk and found that she was ready to pour on some speed, too. It was getting chilly, the end was almost within sight, we were still feeling strong and happy, and wanted to finish on a high note. The folks around us were decidedly not feeling the same way. I remember thinking that the very air smelled like dejection. We did our damnedest, Anne and I, to whoop and holler and clap and cheer and get folks feeling some excitement - we'd all come so far in less-than-ideal conditions! But it fell flat; very few were ready to party at that point.

We powered through Epcot, running flat-out with only a couple short walk breaks, and then, there it was... the Finish!

As I ran through the finish line, it hit me... I'd just completed my very first UNINJURED half-marathon!!!!!!! Not so much as a wink of IT Band Syndrome for what turned out to be 13.82 miles. To say I was overjoyed is a major understatement!

But something else hit me, too, as I tried to hang on to the Powerade, snack box, medal and Mylar blanket being thrust into my hands... the COLD. I'd felt fine while running, but as soon as I stopped, frigid tendrils of cold began snaking through my limbs and by the time I'd added a free cup of wine to my pile o' free stuff, (seriously, runDisney - BAGS! We need bags here!) and we had our checked bags back, I was shivering nonstop. All I wanted was a warm, dry place to get into my warm, dry change of clothes - I had no attention for any other matter.

The changing tent had what looked to be a 20-minute wait to get in, and we figured we'd get more chilled standing there in the rain than by continuing to walk, so it was off to Epcot we went. We landed in the Land pavilion, where we waited in line in the heat, out of the rain, and finally got out of our drenched running clothes and into the stuff we'd brought to change into for the after-party.

That's right - party. The Wine & Dine Half-Marathon ends at Epcot, where the annual Food & Wine Festival is held at the same time of year. So once finished with the race, participants can spend the rest of the night (or, really, morning, as the party ends at 4am) strolling the Festival and/or enjoying Epcot's attractions. Friends and family members, too, can buy tickets to the party and enjoy it while their runners do their race.

I felt surprisingly good and was getting very hungry, so yeah - I was ready for the party! 

Finished, bundled up, and ready to party!

Right up until we left the building... and found that it was still raining. I was still hungry, but had no interest in standing around in the rain, visiting the Festival food booths. We found what was left of our running group in the Mexico pavilion - most folks had opted out of the party altogether and those who were left were ready to head back to hotels, too. It was after 3am, but Anne and I were ravenous. So this happened...

Big, steaming heaps of nachos, covered in ground beef, cheese, tomatoes and guacamole, with a side of hot cocoa. Best post-race meal ever! Eaten under a roof, no less. Booyah!

By the time we were done eating, everything was closed and the poor Epcot Cast Members working that night were cleaning up, trying to shut the place down. So we took off for the exit in an oddly empty Epcot, along with the few other stragglers, and Anne hopped a bus to her resort, while I made my way back to my car. Which I only knew how to find thanks to this pic I'd snapped before the race...

Take note, future drivers to Wine & Dine: snap a pic of your parking row! Trust V.

After a hot shower and some necessary foam rolling, I finally crashed into bed at 5:30am... when I normally get up each workday.


So the obligatory final question: would I do this again? I'm giving the Wine & Dine Half-Marathon a definite YES! After the Tower 10-Miler I thought I might be done with night races, but wanted to see how Wine & Dine went. Well, I'm still not a fan of the night race - at least not when they don't start until 10pm. But I think I can manage one a year, or every other year. And despite the unfortunate weather, I really enjoyed this one. I REALLY enjoyed cooler weather leading up to it; it was so nice to go into this race feeling strong and energized, as opposed to wilted and tired at the Tower 10-Miler, after a long, hot FL summer. And running through three parks is a major perk - can't do that in any other WDW race other than the full marathon! And with the Tower 10-Miler canceled indefinitely, well, I don't even have to choose one over the other. Chances are, I'll be back to Wine & Dine again next year.