Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Race Report - Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon Relay

It's a yearly tradition that my mom and I take a trip down to Walt Disney World - more recently around Marathon Weekend time - and spend a week or so at the parks, at the pool, and sometimes running the events of the weekend. Since 2007, I've covered the half, full and goofy challenge courses, and my mom has done the half marathon twice.

Since I am coaching the West Side LA TNT team at marathon weekend this upcoming January, my mom and I decided to reschedule our trip to Wine and Dine weekend. It coincided with the 11th annual Wine and Dine Half Marathon. And for the second year in a row, Disney offered a a relay race option.

EPCOT - Center of the Wine and Dine Festival

Since Mom didn't want to run the full 13.1, we decided to do the relay race. The major appeal of this race for me, beyond the relay part, was that this is a nighttime event! The race covers three parks (Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and EPCOT), and with a 10pm gun time, you get to trek through the worlds while they're lit by Main Street Electrical Parade floats, street lights and colorful strobes. Quite unique race conditions that I was really looking forward to.

Packet Pick Up/Expo

Packet Pick Up/Expo

And since we were there for a couple days, and the 8.3-mile leg of my race wasn't all that long, I decided to throw in the Mickey's Halloween 5K Race onto the schedule as well.

OVERVIEW of Race Day, Saturday Oct 1st:
4:15am - Alarm goes off
5:00 - On the bus to the Animal Kingdom for the 5K
5:25 - Arrive at AK, wait for race. Watch dancers and DJ.
6:50 - Get in corral
7:00 - Race
7:30 - Raced, medal-ed, back on bus to hotel
8:30 - Breakfast
9:00am - Head to Hollywood Studios and EPCOT for some park fun.
2:00pm - Back to the pool to rest
5:00 - Dinner
7:15 - Board the bus to Wide World of Sports Complex (Start Line of half marathon)
7:30 - Arrive at Start
7:45 - Split up with Mom (relay runner #1) and head to Animal Kindgom (Relay Exchange)
8:00 - Sit in AK Parking Lot for 3 hours, watch race on big screen TV
11:20pm - Mom arrives! Off on my leg of the race
12:30am - Finished the half marathon! Reunite with Mom, party in EPCOT
1:45 - Leave EPCOT and walk to hotel
2:30am - Head hits the pillow for the end of an epic race day!


The race started and finished in the parking lot right outside the Animal Kingdom. It's a giant stretch of concrete perfect for corralling a couple hundred racers and their spectating families. The shuttles ran from certain WDW Hotels (more on this in the "pros and cons" section) from 5am-6am. Since we are a bit paranoid, we hopped on the first shuttle - 5am - and arrived ridiculously early at the start line.

Biggest disappointment of the 5K experience? No coffee!! Usually Disney provides a cash-only concession booth that sells coffee, bagels and the usual continental breakfast works. But I guess they didn't think the 5K was worth it. Mom and I were really bummed. Temps were nice (upper 60s) so we sat on the bleachers and watched a few runners dance (well ... move awkwardly to horrible party music like 'Cotton-Eyed Joe') for about 90 minutes.

The event got moving about 15 minutes before the start. I haven't raced a 5K in years, and didn't really know what my strategy - if any - was going to be. I decided just to take it easy the first mile and see if I could push myself for the final two miles. There were about 800 participants (runners, walkers, kids included) in the family-friendly event. I positioned myself at the front of the pack and crossed the line about 5 seconds after the gun went off.

I've never run a race where I can always see the leader - this was my first! I stayed ahead of the pack and slowly picked off 15-20 people over the first mile. We wound around the parking lot and into the Animal Kindgom where the park was empty except for the very friendly staff lining the streets to cheer us on. If you've run any WDW race before, you know that the cast members that come out for the events are very supportive.

I look like a linebacker

At mile 2 I picked up my pace knowing that I was was of the first couple of women in the front of the pack. I picked off 2-3 more girls, and decided to push myself enough to see if I could break 24-minutes. About a year ago, I threw down at practice-5K-time of 21:03, but I am nowhere near that conditioned right now. So I shot for a sub-8 pace.

After passing Expedition Everest, we headed on a short out-and-back train track and toward the finish line. Cross the line in 23:58, and my mom counted me the 10th female overall. I was very happy. Such a fun, quick race.


After the 5K, breakfast and hitting up the parks for some food and rides, Mom and I spent the remainder of the day at the pool.

Pool - lots of time spent here

I took a short nap, as did she, and then we strategized our dinner plans. Since neither of us have run a race at 10pm at night, it was questionable when/how/what we were supposed to eat. We agreed that 5pm would be enough time to digest without getting too hungry before we ran. Mom's start time was 10:10pm, and I would be starting between 11:15pm and 11:30pm.

We grabbed some food at The Fountain in the Dolphin (our hotel). It was a fabulous veggie burger (and mom's salad was good). Then we headed back up to the room to prep for the race.

Salmon Salad

Veggie Burger


We took the shuttle from The Boardwalk Hotel over to the Sports Complex, the start line for the half marathon. The Complex is also the packet pick-up location for the race, so we had been there the day before. Though Mom was nervous, having never done a race without me running next to her (and standing next to her in the corral), I had to leave at 8pm to catch the shuttle over to the relay exchange. So we said our goodbyes and I ventured back to the Animal Kingdom to wait for Mom to run in a couple hours later.

Team Conlon

I had the chance to chat with some amazing guys on the shuttle and while waiting at the exchange. John, an FBI agent six years into his 20-year contract, was on vacation with his family. His wife was running the first half of the race, and would be arriving just before my Mom was planning on completing her 4.3-mile leg. A fellow Ironman, Ty, was there with his very fast son - who Ty predicted would arrive at the exchange after a 30-minute leg. I also had the chance to talk to a TNT participant (whose name I didn't catch) about her experience with the program after her friend passed away from leukemia.

Over the course of the waiting period, I kind of forgot I actually had to run when my Mom showed up. I sort of fell into a denial that I had to get up off the pavement, stretch my legs, and put in a solid workout. But when the first relay-ers arrived and handed off to their partners, my adrenaline kicked in and I was ready to run.

After a couple hours of waiting for the race to start and then my relay partner to arrive, Mom ran into the exchange at 11:20pm. I spotted her and ran up to her (no baton passing necessary at this race) and pointed her to her finish line. Then it was my turn.

Here comes Mom!

Because she runs at a slower pace then I do, I merged with the runners going the full 13.1 miles and found myself passing them quickly. I don't say this to imply I am any sort of speedster, but rather that I was fresh and used to running quicker, so it 'swim upstream' easily. As the race went on, I climbed up the group at a 8:20 pace, and held that through the race. I never felt tired - the night time sights were enough of an entertaining distraction to keep me moving!

I was not carrying my camera, so the pictures I have taken are either snapped during the daytime, or during the night on a different day. I didn't think I was quite safe enough for me not to trip while taking photos and running in the dark. But thank you to Brightroom for providing the race shots.

Running at Night!

One of the most memorable sights was an enormous, green-light-bulbed Turkey (who, in my head I dubbed "Queen of the Turkeys") at mile 9. This giant float was a part of the Electrical Parade. There were clucking sounds coming out of it and crazy techno music. Quite a strange and cool sight to see.

The first three miles of leg #2 took me from the AK to Hollywood Studios by way of a long, slightly rolling highway. We ran past people on stilts in colored-light costumes, some cheerleaders and crowded of disney cast members. Strobe lights and music everywhere.

We entered Hollywood Studios around the 4th mile (Mile 8 or so in the half marathon), and I got a kick out of running down Sunset Boulevard...because I have run down the real Sunset Boulevard in LA at night. It was a weird moment. The course took us through Pixar Place, Aerosmith's Rockin' Rollercoaster and on the set of Indiana Jone's Stunt Spectacular.

Pixar Place - daytime

Sunset Boulevard - daytime

Sunset Boulevard - daytime

Entrance to Aerosmith's Rockin' Rollercoaster

We exited the park near the Fantasmic arena and took the path toward the Boardwalk. This section of the run got particularly crowded. I slowed down to try and manage myself among the numerous runners trying to share the narrow pathway in the dark. With few lights along the way, this was one of the more challenging sections of the course - just had to go with the flow.

Pathway to Boardwalk - daytime

Once we hit the Swan/Dolphin bridge and moved toward the Yacht and Beach Club section of the Boardwalk, things spread out a little.

Entering the Boardwalk

Boardwalk - Yacht and Beach Club side

View across the marina

Nice to run on wood instead of pavement for a bit

I knew we were almost done when we climbed the small hill up to the back entrance of EPCOT. From here - miles 12.5 - 13.1 of the full race - the course was nothing but music, strobe lights and cheering. You could hear the crowd cheering, you could barely see the pavement with the lights flashing in your eyes, and you could feel the participants picking up the pace for the final kick.

Back Entrance to EPCOT during the daytime

There was no long stretch to kick down near the finish line. It just kind of showed up right around a corner. Surprise - you're done! But that was fine by me. I ran in with 1:09 on my watch, putting Team Conlon at 2:19 for the day. I had no expectations or goals for either of us, and was happily surprised with pulled off such a great performance - 99th out of 538 relay teams.

EPCOT was open to finishers, spectators and families from 12am - 3am after the race. So I reunited with Mom and we headed into the park to hit up the various food booths participating in the Wine and Dine weekend. After an hour of walking around, we were both spent, so we walked back to the Dolphin and called it a night. And slept in until 9am the next morning.


I would absolutely recommend the Wine and Dine half marathon (relay or non-relay) to athletes looking for a great night race and unique running experience. The temperature was perfect at 10pm - mid-60s and the course was well-lit and entertaining overall. Disney is #1 in customer service, and that extends to the races that they put on. Everything runs very smoothly, there was plenty of water/food and friendly volunteers to cheer us on. And the post-race event was very cool. Although Mom and I did not partake in any rides after the race, many of the most popular EPCOT attractions (Test Track, Soarin', Maelstrom) were open for riding. The race is only 11,000 people, so the post-race festivities were not overly crowded or line-heavy.

Disney also offers great transportation throughout the weekend. Though the Wine and Dine guide says that you can only take the transportation if you are staying at one of the sponsored hotels, turns out that if you can walk your way over to the hotel (ie. like we did from the Dolphin to the Boardwalk), then you can hop a shuttle there. So no need to limit yourself to the options that they suggest.

My criticisms are minimal. I wish the 5K had a coffee counter - and that's only because I have a slight caffeine addiction. And the waiting time that surrounds the actual events is long but necessary. Because of road closures and safety, I was at the relay exchange over 3 hours before I actually ran. It was a long time to sit in a fairly empty parking lot. I'd bring a book next time and check it with the bag before I ran.

Other than those two small complaints, it was a wonderful experience. This will not be the last time that we head down to WDW for the Wine and Dine race!

Post Race Treat on Monday

Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave them below or hit me up on twitter @goingforgoofy

1 comment:

runnergirl training said...

Way to go!!! Looks like a blast! Thanks for sharing!