Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon

by Lorree Tachell, contributing writer

With a gentle touch and 30 minutes early, the Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900ER landed last Thursday night at the Orlando International Airport. The plane not only carried families on their way to a fun Florida vacation but it also included many who were participating in the fourth annual Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend events.

T-shirts and jackets from runDisney events were a dead giveaway of their intended destination as were a variety of well-worn running shoes. It’s easy to strike up a conversation when there is a shared interest, and the normal din of the plane during embarkation rose even higher as race participants excitedly shared their plans with total strangers who somehow seemed like close friends. It’s a fun fraternity runDisney runners belong to, and like the rest of the athletes on the plane, I couldn’t wait for the weekend to begin.

Why do we run? For many, it's all about the bling. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Taking the One Disney concept just a step to far

As with any trip I take to WDW, my transportation to the hotel (All-Star Sports for this trip) was on Disney’s Magical Express. For the first time in years, the video monitors on the bus showed a new video during its 35-minute trip from Orlando International Airport to Disney property. Produced by DME-TV (Disney’s Magical Express TV) and the Disney Parks Blog, the video was hosted by Carissa Bealert, one of the trio of runDisney race announcers.

The video started with something new: a bilingual safety review of the bus. Once we knew where the exits on the bus were located, that a fire extinguisher was on board and it was OK to call 911 if something happened to the bus driver, it was time to move onto more pressing topics for park guests, such as MyMagic+, Fastpass+, and the My Disney Experience mobile app. No more cheerful Disney characters walking guests through the hotel check-in process; now it’s pretty generic and very vanilla. What finally got my attention was when Carissa Bealert introduced a clip from Walt Disney. The black-and-white clip was from the opening of Disneyland (“To all who come to this happy place; welcome”). To my amazement, it had been edited to appear as if he was speaking of WDW instead! Frankly, that’s just wrong—but most park guests probably had no idea of the trickery. One Disney indeed…

I discovered something else later that evening: For those like myself who enjoy purchasing customized artwork and ornaments from the Art of Disney and Disney’s Days of Christmas, those days are over. No more “celebrating 15 years together” or “running my first marathon”. Now it’s just names and dates. While I’m sure there must be a reason why the change was implemented, it seemed to escape anyone I talked to. It was just explained that Disney Legal made the edict. The cast member I spoke to, who remembered me from previous purchases, was highly apologetic and was kind enough to accommodate (with management approval) one final customized drawing for me. It said “Inaugural Dopey Challenge – January 2014”. Really, really sad that little touches like these that make Disney special are going away.

Street artists entertain in Downtown Disney. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Another Wine Glass for the Collection

Friday morning, after a quick Mickey waffle breakfast over at the All-Star Music cafeteria (since the All-Star Sports cafeteria is still under construction), it was a quick bus ride over to the Wide World of Sports complex for race packet-pickup and expo (and more shopping!). I arrived 15 minutes before opening and instead of finding a long line, I was happily surprised that the doors were already open and it was an easy walk right into the Official Merchandise area.

I picked up a race-branded wine glass (at this point, I could host quite the runner’s dinner party with all the glasses I’ve amassed), a T-shirt, a hoodie, and one of the pink Wine & Dine hooded jackets.

I was pretty amazed at the size of the Champion brand's "C" logo that emblazoned the front of the official “I Did It” T-shirt—at one inch tall, the logo is ridiculously big. At this rate, the logo will take over the front of the T-shirt in a few short years and the race logo may shrink down to a tiny afterthought.

The crowds were light early on at the expo. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

There was one new runDisney item at the expo that caught my eye. Nestled on a small shelf display were boxes containing a runDisney-branded medal holder featuring six metal hooks. At 2 ½” H x 7 ½” W x 3” D it’s not very big, but carries a very Disney price tag of $59.95. I noticed a lot of initial interest from expo attendees and a lot of folks putting the boxes back after giving the purchase a bit of thought.

runDisney medal holders on display at the expo. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

After making my purchases, I wandered over and was third in line to pick up my race packet. The process was so smooth. After the near chaos of this year's Princess Half Marathon expo at Coronado Springs and the Disneyland Half Marathon expo, it was a pleasure to attend one that was relatively quiet and calm. And I love the official race shirts (the graphic was the winning design in a poll on RunDisney's Facebook page earlier this fall).

The 2013 Wine & Dine Half Marathon shirt design. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

I’m a sucker for a Disney party, and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party hosted in the Magic Kingdom is no exception. Friday night found me standing on Main Street enjoying a cup of hot cocoa (with little marshmallows) and fresh snickerdoodle cookies as the park transformed into a winter wonderland of lights and music.

Cinderella's Castle in Christmas lights. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade started off the evening, followed by Celebrate the Magic (with a special bonus Christmas addition), and the night was complete with Holiday Wishes – Celebrate the Spirit of the Season fireworks display (even in Florida, it snows on Main Street).

I still get teary when the Toy Soldiers come marching by, as I remember my late mother who loved the Christmas parade in Disneyland. Being from the West Coast, I am partial to Disneyland and consider it my "home park," but I have to admit that Cinderella’s Castle in WDW is breathtaking this time of year, with its display of icicle lights. While I wished I could stay longer, I stopped for a picture with two of Disney’s Finest on my way out as I headed back to the hotel to catch a bit of sleep before the run on Saturday night.

The RunningFool and two new friends. Photo by Disney cast member.

In Search of Peanut Brittle

Thomas, my CSO (Chief Support Officer), did not join me on this trip to WDW as he is not a fan of quick cross-country jaunts. His one request was for some of the wonderful peanut brittle that Disney makes. After spending most of Saturday hopping from one park to another in search of said peanut brittle, it turns out that WDW no longer makes it; only Disneyland does.

On the plus side, I managed to get in every park in a single day and even managed to sneak in a couple of rides as well. While in Epcot, I stopped by and paid homage to the late Norwegian marathon runner Grete Waitz, whose statue graces the Norway pavilion. I also snagged a chocolate and orange cupcake from the Champaign and Chocolate booth at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival as my treat for completing the half marathon later that evening. If it tasted half as good as it smelled I knew I was in for something wonderful.

And We’re Off!

By 7:30 p.m. Saturday night, it was time to board the buses that would transport us to the start at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. There was one proposal, lots of dancing, and more costumes than I’ve ever seen at Wine & Dine, including a very creative wig of wine corks and a mother/daughter duo who were taking one last run before the daughter headed down the aisle.

Telling it like it is. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Unfortunately, there was also warmer weather than the previous evening when the night was crisp and cool with a wonderful breeze. Official runDisney running coach Jeff Galloway announced that the temperature was about 10 degrees warmer than ideal conditions for running, there was no breeze, and the humidity, while much less than the previous month at the Tower of Terror 10-Miler, was still going to be a challenge. At that point, given I was still dealing with a bum knee from the fall in Atlanta and heat/humidity is not my friend, I decided to take it easy, stop for pictures, and just enjoy the last runDisney race of 2013.

With an hour until race time, we moved from the ‘dance floor’ into the corrals. runDisney created 12 corrals (A through J), more than usual for a smaller race, containing fewer people in them to try and ease some of the start congestion. From my own experience and from those I talked to, it seemed to be a great success in keeping the flow of participants moving right along. The event started on time, and each corral was released at two-minute intervals. I was back in Corral F (previously in Corral B to give you a perspective) and it took me just 12 minutes to cross the start line.

A bubbly start to the race. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

As only WDW can do, each corral was given a send-off of fireworks and ‘Champaign’ bubbles, which emanated from a large bottle and flute off to the left of the start. We ran down Victory Way and then moved west on Osceola Parkway. On the way to the Animal Kingdom, we were met by an Ostrich and Hippo from Fantasia who were available to pose for pictures.

By mile 4, we were passing the Tree of Life in Disney’s Animal Kingdom as we ran through the park and back out east for a return on Osceola Parkway. Around mile 7, with walkers still making their way towards the park, I spotted the dreaded parade of vehicles following the final run participant. It’s not a sight anyone would want to see in their rear view mirror.

The crew following the very last half marathon participant. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

By mile 10, we were in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where we passed the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, ran down Sunset Boulevard through Pixar Place (where Buzz and Woody were posing for pictures) and out through the disco-ball decorated Costuming Tunnel.

One of the highlights of the park was the opportunity to run through the incredible Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights display. As a runner to my right said to no one in particular “This is unreal. It has to be my favorite part of the run!”

The Osborne Family Festival of Lights. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Around mile 12, with just over a mile to go, we were ran along the boardwalk surrounding Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club. We entered Epcot and made our way past Spaceship Earth, where we were met by hundreds of cheering spectators. Just outside of Epcot was the finish line.

And with that, the final runDisney run of 2013 was complete. I collected my medal, along with a bottle of water, and headed back to the hotel, where I showered, finished packing, and was on a 4:45 a.m. Disney Magical Express bus back to the airport for a 7:45 a.m. flight home.

Ironically, the return bus trip featured the 2012 Behind the Scenes: Designing a runDisney Medal video.

2012 Behind the Scenes: Designing a runDisney Medal video. Video by Disney.

I happily wore my 2013 Wine & Dine Half Marathon medal back home, where I shared my a-little-worse-for-the-wear chocolate and orange cupcake with Thomas. It wasn’t peanut brittle, but it still made for a wonderful finish to yet another great race weekend. I’ll see you back in WDW November 8, 2014 for the 5th anniversary Wine & Dine Half Marathon!

To the victor goes the spoils. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Just the facts

  • 14,000 participants signed up for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon, with just over 12,000 finishers.
  • Women outnumbered the men 8,049 to 4,094.
  • The overall winner was Justin Scheid, who set a course record of 1:11:47.
  • The top female finisher was Kristen Tenaglia, who also set a course record with a time of 1:23:37.
  • Team MousePlanet’s own Lani Teshima got 5th place in her age group (go Lani!).
  • The oldest female finisher was 81-year-old Betty Cowan, who finished in 3:23:51.
  • The oldest male finisher was 78-year-old Hank Kirshschner, who finished in 3:20:33.
  • Over 1,300 volunteers assisted with the Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend events, with over 900 who staffed the half marathon alone—thanks to each and every one of them.