Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Preview

My next event is the Walt Disney World Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge, consisting of the WDW Half Marathon on Saturday, January 12, followed by the WDW Marathon on Sunday, January 13. Today we will preview the .....

I had signed up for both the Half and Full Marathon last year, but, a sick 6-year old (up all night vomiting) thwarted my go at the Half. My wife and I were both signed up for the Half and we felt that leaving a sick child with friends to baby-sit wasn't the right thing to do. So, since this was the wife's first half marathon, I stepped aside and took on vomit-duty.

A Little History of the Race - Originally, the Half Marathon and Full Marathon were held on the same day (Sunday), with participants in both races sharing the same course until a split. Almost 3 years ago Disney moved the Half Marathon to Saturday, adding an option for participants to run both the Half and Full Marathons to earn the coveted Goofy Medal.

Getting There - One of the most difficult aspects of this event is the start time. The Half Marathon starts at 6:00 AM sharp. Actually, there are three start "waves" for runners of differing abilities, the first of which, Wave A, starts at 6:00 AM, followed by Wave B at 6:10 AM, and Wave C at 6:25 AM. The Wheelchair start is at 5:55 AM. Here's the kicker.....if you are a guest at the Grand Floridian, Contemporary or Polynesian Resort, monorail service begins at 3:00 AM and continues up until the start (runners will be taken to the Ticket and Transportation Center where they board a second Monorail to take them to Epcot). If you happen to be staying at another Disney Resort Hotel that is not within walking distance to the start, buses will take you to the start beginning at 4:00 AM....BUT, Disney advertises that the last bus leaves at 4:00 AM. Most runners dread the early morning routine, but, once the race begins it is a thing of the past. I have never taken a bus to the start (only the Monorail), so I cannot give any feedback on that mode of transportation. A few friends of mine have taken a bus to the start and have had mixed reviews of the experience. Also, if you are staying off site and are driving to the start, make sure to arrive early as traffic tends to back up.

Pre-Race - Pre-race activities are few and far between. Runners congregate in a meeting area (the "start zone") where they have some food, water, coffee, etc... Baggage check is also located here - all gear must be checked in by 5:00 AM (so they say). If you have to go to the you know what, there are plenty of porta-johns located in this area. The start of the race is located in the Wonder Parking Lot of Epcot, so, at around 5:00 AM they announce that is time to "walk" - runners have at least a 20-minute walk from the start zone to their corral. There are very few porta-johns along the walk, but plenty of bushes. When you arrive at the start corrals, there are additional porta-johns, a big screen television, and lots of music and activity.

Rules, Rules, Rules - Disney does not allow headphones on the course (so the say). I have seen plenty of headphone wearers in the Marathon over the course of the last 3 years and have never witnessed a runner being pulled from the event for wearing headphones. The corral attendants are fairly strict - you can move back but not forward.

The Course - The Half Marathon course starts outside of Epcot's Wonder Parking Lot and proceeds up World Drive towards the Magic Kingdom. Runners enter the Magic Kingdom and stroll through Tomorrowland, before entering Cinderella's Castle. The course then takes runners back down World Drive to Epcot, passing through Future World before hitting the finish line. Click on the course map above for a "zoom-able" .pdf version.

The course has 9 aid stations, one of which offers Cliff Shots (around mile 10). The reality of the course is that runners actually do not spend much time in the Disney Parks. Most of the race traverses the park road system, which runners could find somewhat boring. However, Disney does place many characters on the course, making for great photo opportunities. The course is mostly flat - beware, the exit/entrance ramps of the park roads are "up-hill", although not terribly steep.

Another possible issue one might find with the course revolves around spectators. If you have a friend or relative that has come out to see you run through one of the Disney parks (in this case, the Magic Kingdom or Epcot), they must purchase a park ticket to enter the park of choice. So, those who are just popping in (and are not either staying for a period of time and have a park-hopper pass, or, are not looking to visit the Magic Kingdom or Epcot that day) are forced to spend a some $$$ to see you run.

Pacing Requirements - Let's talk pacing requirements. All runners "must be able to maintain a 16-minute per mile pace throughout the race, leaving the Half Marathon cut-off at 3.5 hours. If you can't keep that pace, Disney reserves the right to pick you up at any point along the course and transport you to the Family Reunion area at Epcot. So....keep up the pace ! There were some issues a few years back with runners being removed from the race by Disney personnel and left on the course (w/o transportation back).

Intangibles - Disney offers on-line runner tracking via e-mail and text messaging. They also have an awards ceremony and post-race celebration (in Downtown Disney) after the completion of the Marathon on Sunday.

My Take - Ok, so, what's my take on the Disney Half Marathon ? Well, this will be my first year running it, but my fourth year running the Full Marathon - so, I do have some experience with the course. If you are looking for a Half Marathon that is well supported, flat, and has a bit of Disney "magic", this could be a race for you. In addition, if you are planning a Disney trip with the family and are going to be in the Disney area for this event, what the heck, run it ! Besides, I've found over the last 4 years that the parks are less crowded the weekend of and week after Marathon Weekend.

Overall, I give the Disney Half Marathon a 7 out of 10.

Check back soon for a preview of the Walt Disney World Full Marathon and the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge.

5 comments:

  1. seems like a good race. I love Disney and would love to do the Goofy. Thanks for the detailed report. Make sure the kids stay healthy and do not thwart your plans this year ;)

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  2. LOOKS to Hard, I think I will just watch from the Ferris Wheel :-)

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  3. Mr. Gentile - you can hop on the ferris wheel as you get ready to leave Magic Kingdom....you will be out there at 4:00 AM to hop on the bus for the Full....see you then !

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  4. It sounds like fun. But it always seems a bit disapointing that not more of the 1/2 and full marathon are run through the parks.

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  5. Very true Kim. The Full Marathon is even more frustrating in that respect. I'll do a review of that shorlty. The races do take you through some parts of the park (the back-areas) that no other tours take you through. I suppose that is a benefit.

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