After running myself ragged on Friday attending the New Fantasyland preview, the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Expo, and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (whew!), I knew running 16.2 miles on Saturday in two events would be a challenge. But it was a fun challenge and one I would unreservedly recommend to anyone looking for a unique runDisney experience.
Saturday morning started with a 4:30 a.m. alarm to make the 5:30 a.m. bus to the start of Mickey’s Jingle Jungle 5K held at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. In honor of the jungle theme (and to avoid the bright orange wig debacle from the previous 5K), I wore a chocolate brown jacket and running capris complemented by a small pair of monkey ears and tail. Frankly I looked like a walking M&M (Ms. Brown to be exact) but the animal theme seemed to be in the minority as the majority of costumed runners went with a bright and shiny Christmas theme. There were many elves, a vast number of green-sequined Minnie ears, and even one very large wrapped Christmas package. Ho ho ho indeed!
As we waited in the cold for the start (we could actually see our breath), the perfect Cheshire Cat moon from the night before faded into a glorious sunny morning. At 7:00 a.m. sharp, those of us in the "A" corral received the start and we were off. Since I was planning on running 13.1 miles that night, the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) event was planned as a nice warm-up to the main event so speed was not a goal. My friend Mary and I took our time and stopped for pictures along the way with a variety of Disney characters as we ran through both the Asia and Africa continents in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and by park highlights such as the Tree of Life and Expedition Everest. It was a wonderful, fun, and relaxing way to start the day.
While I should have rested up a bit before the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon, as usual I had too many things on my list to accomplish and time slipped away. I took about an hour in the evening off my feet before boarding the 7:30 p.m. bus to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for the annual "hurry up and wait" race start. The weather was not yet as cool as I had hoped but I kept my fingers crossed that it would eventually cool off to temps that we had in the morning or the previous evenings. I will say that it was 100 percent better compared to the heat and humidity we faced just over a month ago at the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10 Miler.
We spent the next two hours people-watching and standing in the never-ending porta-potty lines. I do believe that no matter how many units are provided, the lines will still take forever to clear. I headed to the "B" corral with about 20 minutes to spare until the start and worked my way up to the middle ranks of the crowd. As always, a Disney vocalist provided the National Anthem, and with a pop of fireworks at 10:00 p.m., the corrals began the slow, controlled progression across the start line. I remembered to start my Nike+ before heading off down Victory Way and out on Osceola Parkway towards Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While this is by far not the most exciting part of the race, runDisney did provide many very nice roadside attractions, including the Hippos and Ostrich from Fantasia, who were having a great time dancing with any runner who took the time to stop. Two of the smaller floats from Disney Main Street Electrical Parade (the snail and a bug) were also racing along with the runners as they passed by.
We entered Disney’s Animal Kingdom and, similar to the 5-kilometer route in the morning, we ran past the Tree of Life (which looks very different after dark than in the light of day) and Expedition Everest. We passed through a "hall" of giant "tooth" lights and had the pleasure of seeing many of the bigger-than-life puppets on display, including a giant chameleon, which had a more than passing resemblance to Pascal from Tangled. As we left the park, we again headed out on Osceola Parkway and, as it is a turn-around run, came across the last runners making their way to the park as well as a huge contingent of clean-up crews and trucks following close behind them. I noted that one of the Hippos remained on the far side of the road for those final runners and was walking along with them as they passed. runDisney does make sure that every participant is celebrated.
We continued on Osceola Parkway and by the McDonald's just a few short blocks from my hotel. Where there was a comfy bed. And a relaxing tub. But no finisher’s medal awaited me there… so I passed the thought of taking the off-ramp and instead continued on to Disney's Hollywood Studios. I remembered the last time I ran through this park, I was dealing with the aftermath of the kneecapping by a speed bump, which caused me to miss all the beauty of the park at night. We ran past The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, through Pixar Place, and the always fun Costuming Tunnel, where runners can see actual cast member costumes in various stages of development and/or refurbishment.
What has to be the highlight of the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon is the incredible experience of running through the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights display. The route allows for a brief sliver of what is to come and for many who were experiencing the race for the first time, the gasps that followed the right-hand turn into the exhibit was part of the magic of the night. It is jawdropping and incredible, as over 5 million LED lights dance in harmony to Christmas carols. While I hated to leave, it was time to make the transition from good to evil as the familiar breathing coming from the Star Tours area could only mean one thing: Darth Vader was just around the corner. As popular as ever, he had quite the queue of runners waiting to pose for pictures.
Soon, it was time to leave Disney's Hollywood Studios and head down the boardwalk of Disney's Yacht & Beach Club Resorts. This part of the course is extremely narrow and rather dark, and with many spectators camped out there to cheer on the runners, it makes for a very challenging part of the course to navigate. The boardwalk leads the runners to a back entrance of Epcot, where we run past the British Isles and the Ocean Spray Cranberry Bog on our way to Spaceship Earth. We pass by a screaming horde of spectators in the park (if you were one of them, bless you for standing there for hours to cheer on total strangers as well as friends and family) and head back out of Epcot to the finish.
As one who has now completed all three Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathons (would that make me a "perpetual wine-r"?), I have seen a great change for the better in both the course and run experience. The course has less dangerous stretches of darkness and is far more interesting than in its inaugural year. While I did not personally use the baggage claim process, I heard it was vastly improved and included a women’s dressing room for changing after the event. There was plenty of water and Power Ade tables along the course and even a Clif Shot stop around mile eight with every flavor imaginable. Thanks go to the volunteers for their time and cheer as they provided both mental and physical aid to keep us moving safely and sanely along the route.
Night running is always a challenge but I do believe runDisney is determined to make the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon one of the best running experiences possible. I’ve already made my hotel reservations for 2013 and look forward to being a Perpetual Wine-r in 2014 when they celebrate the fifth anniversary event. What are your favorite memories of the 2012 Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon?
There were 11,617 finishers in 2012, which included 7670 females and 3,947 males. That is up from both 2011, when 8,253 finished (5212 females and 3,041 males), and the inaugural year (7,292, of which there were 4,606 females and 2,686 males).
In an interesting trend, the finish times are tracking faster, which is unusual for half marathons. In 2010, the average finish time was 2:38:20. In 2012 the average finish time was 2:30:55.