I’ve been running and racing since 2008 but lately I’ve had several big races impacted by weather. The 2014 Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon was 40 degrees in pouring rain. People are still talking about the less-miserable-but-still-not-fun 2014 Wine & Dine Half Marathon affectionately known as “Splash & Dash”. I ran the final 15 miles of the Kentucky Derby Marathon in a soaking rain and ended up not running but working the start and finish lines of the Inaugural Horse Capital Marathon in Lexington, Kentucky, which meant I was standing in the rain with wet clothes and shoes for over ten hours. I was hoping for a good run at my 6th RunDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon since it’s time to really start piling on the miles before the 2016 Dopey Challenge. Mother Nature disagreed.
Weather-obsessed runners starting posting on Facebook at least 2 weeks before the race. Watching the forecasts, I was anticipating a very hot & humid race, much like the Inaugural Tower of Terror 10-miler in 2012. That was a very difficult ten miles for me and my goal for Wine & Dine #6 started to shift to a mindset of “just get it done”.
On race day my friend and I visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom, rested by the Wilderness Lodge pool, ate dinner around 5, and headed out for the bus to the race around 7 PM. We didn’t have to wait very long but there was a huge crowd behind us. Several runners from resorts other than Wilderness Lodge came over to use our shuttles. We arrived at Wide World of Sports around 8 PM and found a few friends. We’d seen several flashes of lightning since we left Wilderness Lodge and were looking at the weather radar on our phones. Everyone was concerned about the heat & humidity, especially after hearing that the Rock & Roll Savannah Marathon had been black-flagged and that a runner had died.
Right after 9 PM, just after we dropped our bags at the bag check and were heading to a portapotty line, the announcer said that all runners needed to clear the pre-race area and move indoors. We could not possibly have been further away from the Wide World of Sports buildings. Everyone herded that direction, with a few wrong turns. Disney Security finally turned the back of the crowd in the right direction and we ended up on the middle level of Champion stadium. It looked like this:
We actually sat outdoors in an area that ran down the left field wall. I know now that some runners were inside the HP Field House and photos show that area was not full, so I’m unsure why people stopped moving indoors and instead went into the stadium. We just followed the crowd, there were no announcements that we could hear.
15,000 people all with cell phones meant that social media was nearly inaccessible. I couldn’t post to or get posts to load on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, but I could text Paul at home and he texted me back screenshots and reports. We were there close to an hour, waiting for updates and wondering if we were going to run. I was holding the small Clif Bar given to us at packet pickup and ate it shortly before we were told we could go to the corrals. I know a few announcements were made in between, but we really could not hear them. We only moved back to the corrals since everyone else did. After I said goodbye to my friends and headed to corral F, I got the Tweet saying we’d be running a shortened course. Immediately after was a tweet saying Coast to Coast medals would still be awarded to those who ran a half marathon at Disneyland this year too. I already earned my Coast to Coast medal for running the Dopey Challenge and the Dumbo Double Dare earlier this year.
Getting to the corrals was really difficult. Between the new location for the pre-race area and all the post-evacuation confusion, no one seemed to be able to find openings in the landscaping to get through. Many runners just shoved through the trees & bushes. I kept walking and finally found and entrance. Because we were among the last to evacuate, we were the first to get to the corrals. I have heard that volunteers were not able to check bibs very closely towards the end of the rush, which may explain why someone with a corral L bib crossed the finish line the same time I did.
Only after we were in the corrals did we hear the new race plan. Our wonderful announcers did their best to share information as they got it. Rumors in the corrals were that we were skipping Animal Kingdom and that we were running a 10K. Paul sent me screenshots from Twitter since I still couldn’t access anything myself.
Then I knew exactly what they were doing. We were running mile 20-23 of the marathon and then the final 5 miles of the Wine & Dine Course. The two overlap on World Drive and are similar, but the routes through Hollywood Studios and Epcot vary. Some runners were angry. Some of us were glad we got to run at all. Just about one hour late, the national anthem played and the first runners started.
Once the first corral started, the other seemed to go very quickly. I am not sure if RunDisney waited the usual amount of time between them or not. before I knew it, we were off and running down the roads I know very well by now. The first mile felt as crowded as always, but after we turned and headed up the on-ramp to World Drive, I knew I was in for a very crowded race the whole way. Cutting out the six miles down the 3-lane Osceola Parkway and back meant the crowd never had a chance to spread out. Some runners were taking it easy because of the heat and the delay, some took advantage of the shorter course to go faster than planned. There was quite a bit of leapfrogging between runners using different intervals as usual, but even more pushing and shoving and “COMING THROUGH!” than usual. I was hit and pushed several times and I did finally yell back at a guy who hollered “ON YOUR LEFT!” at me several times while I was pinned between other runners and a 4 foot concrete wall. I’m not sure exactly where he expected me to go or why he need to blow past me at that exact moment.
All the usual characters were in the spots I expected to see them. We only hit one timing mat, the one near Toy Story Mania in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I was sad that the curtains were closed in the costuming tunnel so we couldn’t see in the work areas, but I did think the tunnel was brighter and less disorienting without the disco balls and fog machines. There was a DJ inside. Before I knew it, we were in Epcot and taking that familiar backstage route to the finish. The flashing green light was missing from the finish area but Chef Mickey was at the finish line!
Running up through the finish line, I checked behind me and shifted over towards Mickey so I could give him a high-four as I crossed. As I reached out my hand, a big dude dressed like Wreck-It Ralph crashed between me & Mickey, slapped Mickey’s glove and knocked me to the left. Mickey caught me as I stumbled a bit and I crossed the finish line. I followed the guy, grabbed his shoulder and told him he nearly knocked me over. Now, I know accidents happen, but his response was pretty much, “sorry, not sorry”. I shook it off, moved way down the line to get my medal, got my Perfect ribbon to add to it, and passed up all the photo lines on my way to my RunDisney box with chips and cheese!
The post race area was shifted around a bit and worked really well. For the first time ever at this race, they used the pass-through method of bag pick-up, which works better than walking up to a narrow area. There was a large open runner-only area just after bag pickup and I stopped here to gather everything and check to see how far along the course my friends were. I ran 6.87 miles, RunDisney is officially saying we ran 6.72.
I moved ahead to the changing tents, which were set up better than ever before! There was an entrance opening and an exit opening and the post-race beverage pickup was AFTER the changing tent. This is something I ranted about last year when there were issues with open beverages in the super-crowded changing tents. Everyone was SOAKED last year so more wanted to change immediately after finishing. There were fans inside the tent too, which I don’t remember ever having before.
Year one of this race, we had coupons on our bibs for one snack item and one beer/wine item at a Food & Wine Festival Booth. Year two, they handed us either a can of Budweiser or a can of soda as we entered Epcot (through a runner-only entrance – miss that!). Years three, four, and five, the beverage pickup has been a hot, hot mess with crowds of people huddled around a tank of ice screaming & yelling with confusion at the volunteers. Thanks, RunDisney, for fixing this.
I headed on into the party, met up with all sorts of friends and had some yummy treats from the Food and Wine Festival booths. Made it back my bed around 4:45 AM.
I really do think the RunDisney staff handled this the best way they possible could. Lots of criticism is being thrown around the internet about not running the whole course or shortening so people could go spend money at the party. In reality, 13000ish runners plus several thousand volunteers, paid staff, and family members were involved too. Between the storm, the heat & humidity, and the need to end the event on time, I think they made the best call they could have and executed it well. I know from my own experiences working at races and as an event planner who dealt with a massive snowstorm during my event this year that circumstances like this are like a runaway train. All the event directors can do is hold on and make the best decisions possible with the information available at the time. My personal opinion is that if we’d run 13.1, there would have been hundreds if not thousands of runners swept from the course or sick at the finish. Many thanks to all the volunteers who had to re-set up water stops and deal with cranky runners.
I’m already looking forward to #7 next year!