Running Disney: Final Musings on My Half Marathon

I’ve already written about my experiences exploring the Expo, running the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, and eating gluten-free around the World. But there are still a few thoughts left to share.

 

Don't worry, you can run much faster than the Caterpillar in the Main Street Electrical Parade

Don’t worry, you can run much faster than the Caterpillar in the Main Street Electrical Parade

The main thing is the magic of running a Disney race. I’d heard stories from fellow runners whose twin loves of running and Disney are so great that I didn’t really trust their view out of rose-colored glasses, and from those who came away disappointed because of the frustration of racing alongside too many first-timers. As for me, the extremely early wake-up call was not much fun, and my early arrival meant an extra hour out waiting in the cold, but otherwise my race morning was smoother than expected. As long as you provide a proof of time that puts you in the top corrals, it’s easy to avoid the congestion. I’d imagine it was worse further back, but if you’re faster than me (a solid 9-10 minute miler) unless you stopped to wait on a long photo line you’d avoid the traffic.

 

Photo ops with your shiny medal can take place after the race

Photo ops with your shiny medal can take place after the race

Speaking of those photos – yes, many of the lines were long. Disney races do cost a pretty penny, and part of the experience many people feel they are paying for is the chance to get some pictures with characters along the route. I decided only to stop at the castle and where lines were short. Luckily for me, starting in Corral D and running steadily for the first 4-5 miles at a <10:00/mile pace, when I made it into the Magic Kingdom the only crowded part was running up Main Street, U.S.A. Otherwise, the bathrooms were mercifully empty in Tomorrowland for a quick stop, and running through the castle archway, when I pulled to the left for an official photo, there were NO LINES. As in, five photographers, and only two runners in front of them, with race directors pointing out the quickest path to the nearest photographer to make it a one-minute photo stop. Of course, along the stretch of highway from Miles 7-10, the character lines were long because even the faster runners chose this point to take a short break – so I kept on running.

 

In Epcot, the photo area in front of Spaceship Earth was crystal clear with directions as well, I just think most of the runners in the first corrals who were finishing around the time I did felt the same way as me – a stop at Mile 12 was not worth breaking the finishing momentum. And MarathonFoto is very pricey, but most runners were pulling out their own cameras for character stops (as I did around Mile 7) and since MarathonFoto is the race photographer for literally every New York Road Runners race, I’m accustomed to ridiculous prices and had planned to buy one special photo (my castle shot) and let my memories suffice for the rest of the race.

 

This eagle's eyes watched over runners from the roadside during the race

This eagle’s eyes watched over runners from the roadside during the race

Otherwise, Disney’s attention to detail made this race experience so much fun. There was entertainment at the starting area and for the corrals, and shooting off fireworks as each corral was released was a nice touch. The long walk from the buses to the corrals was unfortunate, but whenever a race starts anywhere in Central Park that is not smack in the middle, my walk is more than a mile so I’m used to it. The NYC Half last year had all runners enter at 59th Street, and then walk up to start near 72nd, so I had a two-mile trek before I started there as well. Disney organized the starting area very well and manned the corrals conspicuously, so cast members didn’t let slower runners try and sneak into earlier corrals. And the music playing and cast members cheering along every mile of the course made even the boring stretches of highway go by quickly, which was particularly good for the first few miles when it was still pitch-black outside.

 

 

Cheering on fellow runners during Sunday's marathon

Cheering on fellow runners during Sunday’s marathon

Entertainment and people amped me up and kept me going. It wasn’t just Disney characters and cast members; the Reedy Creek Fire Department came out with their truck and all the crews to cheer about Mile 8, and friends and family members of the runners were grouped at various points rather than just the finish line. I’ve volunteered for the New York City Marathon before, so I know that the cheering sections are somewhat similarly dispersed; in New York there are more crowds in certain areas, and the same is true at Disney. But the highway doesn’t have views of the five boroughs where the crowds are lacking, and they more than make up for it with the music, characters, and signs.

 

The finish line was fantastic. Hearing my name called out over the speakers was great, and the assortment of refreshments offered a much wider variety than I’m used to. Most NYRR races offer a bagel and either an apple, orange, or banana, so I take the bottle of water and the apple or banana if I’m lucky, and go. At Disney, there were boxes of carby treats that I obviously couldn’t eat, but in addition to bananas there were fruit snacks and other goodies. There were also tents for self-treatment and for $1/minute massages, with packets of Advil and Tylenol, and a giant reunion area for family and friends, helpful for my parents to find me. I remember desperately trying to call them after the NYC Half with my frozen fingers unable to handle my phone as I searched for them near the Wall Street subway station – this was much better!

 

Finally, the overall experience of the weekend was marked by the feeling of accomplishment I had throughout. Runners are encouraged to wear their medals in the parks and around the resorts, and cast members, fellow runners, and regular Disney guests were all quick to offer me congratulations on the race. This felt particularly sweet because it took me a long time to think of myself as a runner. When I first laced up my sneakers, just about two years ago, I was loath to call myself by that name, feeling I didn’t deserve it until I could run at least a 10k. Even then I didn’t quite feel worthy of it. But the whole weekend, I kept thinking that even two years ago, I never imagined I could run a half marathon. And now I’ve run two and have a third coming up! I run for myself, and not to meet a certain time goal or to keep up with anyone else, but it is wonderful to feel that accomplishment acknowledged just for a day or two. And having run for Team JDRF and raised money for juvenile diabetes for this race, I felt the recognition was also for the cause – achieving both goals was doubly wonderful.

 

Where else do you get to see an elephant by the pool and in the majesty of his natural habitat the same day as your half marathon?

Where else do you get to see an elephant in the majesty of his natural habitat…

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…and by the pool, the same day as your half marathon?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My family and friends find it funny that I loved running Disney so much. Actually, I’m the sort of person who, according to statistical analysis, is supposed to loathe Disney. I love quiet and natural beauty, I hate crowds and I’m pretty claustrophobic, I prefer good books read in cozy libraries to clubbing at the hippest haunts. I read David McCullough and Joseph Ellis for fun, and keep up with financial independence writers, whereas Disney has a reputation for being corporate, expensive, anti-intellectual, and so on and so forth. But for some reason, the magic still reels me in. Watching the Wishes fireworks, hearing the voice of Jiminy Cricket telling the audience to believe that wishes do and can come true, I’m filled with the same hope and optimism I felt as a child. So running up toward the Magic Kingdom, I felt like a real runner, and someone who had everything to run towards and to keep moving forward for. And that’s the greatest feeling in the world.

 

I've got an extra Minnie's Bakery Rice Krispies Treat, a shiny medal, and a pair of Mickey kicks to keep me going until the next race!

I’ve got an extra Minnie’s Bakery Rice Krispies Treat, a shiny medal, and a pair of Mickey kicks to keep me going until the next race!

 

 

 

© 2015 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.

 

Running Disney: Half Marathon Race Recap

The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend is a bona fide bonanza. There is no other way to describe it. While I’m used to races with a few thousand runners for a regular charity 4- or 5-miler in Central Park, and my inaugural half marathon had more than 20,000 participants, the sheer number of runners who show up to participate in the four races over the course of this marathon weekend was astounding. The Pluto 5k on Thursday, Minnie Mouse 10k on Friday, Donald Duck Half Marathon on Saturday, and Mickey Mouse Marathon on Sunday are just the tip of the iceberg. Some runners take on the Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge, running both the half and full marathons, and the truly hardcore go for the Dopey Challenge, which includes all 48.6 miles across all four races. I’m just happy I can run a half marathon!

Ushering in the parade

Ushering in the parade

 

Since my main event was the half marathon, I was able to visit the theme parks with my family on Friday. Friday evening we got to see the Main Street Electrical Parade in the Magic Kingdom, which I’ve always loved, and the Wishes fireworks. Fireworks are my favorite!

 

 

 

 

After the fireworks, we got on the bus back to our hotel, near Disney’s Boardwalk and Epcot. I found myself sitting next to and across from several fellow runners, who had all caught the nighttime festivities and were heading back to try and get a couple of hours of sleep. They had all run the race before, and two of them were running the Dopey Challenge – all of them warned me that the alarm clock’s early bell would be tolling long before I was ready! This turned out to be true. I was up at 3:30am to be on a bus to the start at 4am, and I don’t think I got more than two hours of sleep. There was too much excitement coursing through my veins, both nerves and adrenaline keeping me awake. It didn’t matter much – when we got to the staging area, there was music playing and characters were milling around, and all the other runners were very friendly and ready to keep each other alert and ready to race! I stopped by the Team JDRF tent to say hello to a few other runners who were running and fundraising, and then began to make my way to the starting corrals.

The starting line around 4:45am

The starting line around 4:45am

It got a little nerve-wracking about 4:30am, as I walked to Corral D. There were 16 corrals in addition to the elites at the front, and the walk up to near the front where D was located was almost 2 miles from the drop-off point. When I got there, I realized I was a little too early – very few of my fellow runners were there yet! I had submitted a half marathon proof of time from last year of 2:10, and a target time of 2:00, so even though this was my first Disney half marathon, I was in an upper corral, whereas most of the other first-timers were farther back. Apparently, all the other half marathoners in the upper corrals knew the drill with Disney races and planned to get there closer to the starting time of 5:30am. Everything worked out okay, although the temperatures were quite cold for Central Florida and I had to work hard to keep warm, stretching and doing some light jogging. I was glad I had worn a long-sleeved fleece and leggings over my shorts and tank top – I threw the leggings into the donation pile prior to starting as planned, but I ended up keeping the fleece with me the whole race, as the temperature hovered around 45 degrees the entire time. Finally, it was time to start. They let each corral begin and walked the next corral right up to the start, then held the runners so that corrals were released at precise 2-minute intervals. This was a little frustrating as we waited, but it was worth it when the fireworks went off for each and every corral!

Miles 1-3 were relatively uneventful. I started off a bit faster than planned because of the cold. I usually try to keep the first few miles slow and steady, but I ended up running a 9:32 pace for a 29:37 5k split (I know this because I signed up for runDisney tracking alerts, and they texted me the times so I could see after the race – my Fitbit Zip is so not that fancy!) Around mile 2, a bright spot in the darkness on the side of World Drive turned out to be the pirate ship float from the previous evening’s Electrical Parade, with music blasting. It was that kind of fun Disney touch that made this race special. Although the highway running up to the Magic Kingdom is relatively barren, there were all sorts of entertainment setups alongside the course to keep things interesting, and thousands of Disney cast members cheering the runners on.

Cinderella Castle lights up the sky

Cinderella Castle lights up the sky

Mile 4 brought us to the Transportation and Ticket Center and the Magic Kingdom sign. Here is where my energy finally revved up and I shook off the major shivers! There were some characters here for photo ops, but I had decided before the race that I was only going to stop in the Magic Kingdom and afterwards so as not to lose momentum too early, and also to only pause for photos if there were no/short lines, because waiting around in the cold would probably have hurt! So I kept on running, went down a small slope under a tunnel and when I came up we were right outside Space Mountain and rounding a corner, heading through the turnstiles and charging up Main Street, U.S.A! This was probably one of the most exhilarating running moments I’ve ever had. Throngs of family, friends, and other onlookers stood on the sidewalks cheering all the runners on, and Cinderella Castle glittered up ahead, lighting the path through the darkness.

 

 

After a hard right into Tomorrowland, I took a left back through Fantasyland and went through the castle. At the base, I took a beat, pausing for a photo. Just couldn’t resist that sparkling backdrop! Afterwards, the course continued through Frontierland and Adventureland, and Mile 6 marked the exit from the Magic Kingdom. My pace grew to 10:16 for a 10k split of 1:03:47, reflecting the stops I made on Main Street and at the castle. They were worth every minute.

Just Dick van Dyke and a couple of Poppins Penguins

Just Dick van Dyke and a couple of Poppins Penguins

 

The sun began to rise during Mile 7, and by Mile 8 the sky was fairly bright. The Grand Floridian was beautiful in the dawn’s early light, and while I was starting to feel the cold a bit more and my knee was a little sore, I found a spoonful of sugar to sweeten the rest of the run.

 

 

 

 

Miles 9 and 10 felt a bit slow, although my pace of 10:19 and 15k split of 1:36:07 was not far off my usual steady jog on a long run. It was probably because the scenery on this part of the route is the least entertaining, although Disney does try hard to make the highway exciting. There were characters at the golf course, Mickey and Goofy in golf clothes looking adorable, as well as Aladdin and Genie and a few others along the way, but the lines were at least a dozen people long. Mile 11 was the most difficult, as there was a slow and steady climb up and around an overpass. This course was very flat with the exception of a few underpasses and overpasses, so even though I’m used to running much steeper hills at home, to have one come in after miles of flat terrain was tough. In addition, the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel pyramid was in sight starting at Mile 9, but I knew it was roughly four miles away sitting next to Epcot, so the view (while gorgeous) felt like a bit of a trick!

By Mile 12, I was heading into the Epcot parking lot, just a few hundred yards from where we had started. I headed into the park and charged past Spaceship Earth, my pace picking up considerably for the final push. Instead of heading into the World Showcase, the course looped around  and brought runners back toward the exit from Future World into the parking lot, where the finish line was located. I crossed the finish line just before 8am, clocking in at 2:14:33 with an overall pace of 10:16. I placed 4,654/22,081 finishers and 1,581/12,379 women. I was elated and exhausted all at once. During my celebratory brunch at the Captain’s Grille at the Yacht Club resort, and spending time in the parks afterwards, I felt like a princess when cast members and fellow runners alike shouted congratulations. It was an incredible race.

At Disney's Hollywood Studios after the race

At Disney’s Hollywood Studios after the race

 

 

© 2015 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.

Counting Down, Packing Up

It’s hard to believe, but my second half marathon is only five days away! And now that the countdown has reached the single digits, it’s time to think about packing. I should be a pro at this by now – I went to sleep-away summer camps and programs starting at age 8, and had to move my possessions across the Atlantic more than once while attending college in England. But somehow, it’s the short trips that still stump me. I’ve never once achieved that traveler’s nirvana of having worn or used every item in a small carry-on suitcase on a short trip.

I’m not anticipating a change in this state of affairs, because I’m being overly cautious. This half marathon is actually my first ‘away’ race. While I’ve gone on regular morning runs in places ranging from down the Cape to Chicago to California over the past couple of years, all of my races have been run in the tri-state area, mostly Manhattan with a few local races in my Connecticut hometown thrown in for good measure. Usually, I don’t even bring my cell phone to races in Central Park. I’m lucky enough to be able to throw on a shirt, shorts, and sneakers, walk out my apartment door and be at the starting line in 20 minutes. This race is going to be different, and I intend to be prepared!

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I’ve been told to pack for all potential conditions. I doubt it will snow so the YakTrax are staying home, but otherwise I’m trying to be ready for anything.

Palatable and portable

Palatable and portable

 

I need to pack my post-race snacks as well. I didn’t eat anything during the New York City Half Marathon last year, with my only fuel being a few stops for a sip or two of water. It was freezing and I just wanted to make it to the finish. This time, I’ll have my loving family members at the finish line bring my favorite fuel along with their hugs.

 

 

 

In the end, though, I just need to take a step back and breathe at this point. I’ve met my fundraising goal and raised $2,000 for Team JDRF in support of Type 1 diabetes research. I’ve done the training runs and I’m ready to tackle this next adventure. Let the countdown to Florida continue!

 

 

 

© 2015 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.

 

Putting the ‘fun’ in Fundraising

When December rolls around, the phone calls, e-mails, letters and old-fashioned in-person solicitations seem to come in a flood. Every charitable cause seems to want to be in touch, with you, knowing as they do that it’s the end of the calendar year and thus their last chance to obtain your contribution, in exchange for a nifty tax deduction pursuant to Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3). Now, I am a law student who is particularly interested in the law relating to nonprofit organizations and charitable giving, so I could talk (or write!) your ears (or eyes!) off about this, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll share a few tips for choosing a worthwhile cause to donate to, or for raising money for a cause yourself. As we look ahead to 2015, I’m hopeful as always that giving will be on the rise. I’m by no means an expert, but I’m seriously wonky about this stuff!

 

Snow or summer...

Snow or summer…

...it can always be a season for giving

…it can always be a season for giving

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For donors overwhelmed by the sheer number of different organizations, one of the best ways to start is to clear away the fliers and to think about what sort of donation you personally want to make. There are many factors to consider, and these are just a few:

  • Sector: Do you want to donate to education, to healthcare, the arts, animal welfare, or another area?
  • Location: Do you want to contribute within your local community, or on a state, national, or international level, or to a specific community elsewhere?
  • Program (or not): Do you want your donation to fund a particular program, or would you rather it go toward the general operating costs of a charitable organization?
  • Type of donation: Do you want to give money, or can you contribute your time to volunteering and using your particular skills to help an organization?

Once you’ve thought about this, you can narrow the list of possibilities to those that are best suited to the donation you want to make, and go from there. If you’re thinking about going beyond a local community organization, an excellent place to check out charities is Guidestar.org.

For fundraisers trying to meet a goal by a certain date, there are also specifics to consider. Reaching out through social media and putting flyers on bulletin boards at school, work, or in the community is just the start. Often, just casually slipping into conversation that you’re fundraising for a particular cause is enough to enervate the giving spirit at a gathering. Friends, family, classmates and co-workers are of course potential donors, but they are part of a bigger picture. Just asking your friends to mention your efforts to their friends can do wonders. As long as you are passionate about your cause, others will be too.

Keep in mind that simply soliciting donations is just one way to fundraise. You can put your skills to use and offer to babysit or build a bookshelf, putting the profits of your work toward your fundraising goal. You can hold a yard sale, or consign clothes online, noting carefully where the proceeds will be directed. Friends and family can get in on these efforts, making it a team endeavor. You might even decide that fundraising is indeed fun! Because in the end, it’s not about the amount you raise personally. It’s about giving something of yourself to help make a difference, and just making the effort is a step in the right direction.

 

Well, that’s all for 2014…wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year!

 

PS: Check out this New York Times article on giving and socially responsible investment…timely and thought-provoking.

 

 

 

© 2014 Renaissance Runner Girl. All rights reserved.