Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon - Five Years Runningby Lorree Tachell, contributing writer
In the dark of night and in a steady pouring rain, runDisney held its fifth annual Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon in Walt Disney World on Saturday, November 8. A race five years in the making and serving as an anchor to the last weekend of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, the race saw close to 12,000 race participants slog their way from the ESPN Wide World of Sports, through Disney's Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios, by Disney's Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, to a finish just outside of Epcot.
Just a few of the members of Team MousePlanet (from MousePad, our MousePlanet discussion board) gather before the start of the Wine & Dine Half Marathon... and the start of the wind and rain. Photo by Alex Stroup.
The inaugural Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend was held back in 2010, on October 1 and 2 in conjunction with the first weekend of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Race registration opened in early February and took just over five months to sell out. In a rare move, runDisney opened a wait list in mid-August, which filled in eight days. In comparison, this year's race sold out in just over a day.
The half-marathon, which replaced the Race for the Taste 10K (which in turn had replaced the Disney 10K Classic), was the first nighttime half marathon held in Walt Disney World and the first WDW half-marathon to run through both Disney's Animal Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios parks. Today'scourse remains relatively unchanged from the inaugural route, with the exception of the finish, which initially ended inside of Epcot on the World Showcase just past United Kingdom and Canada. Just over 7,000 finishers completed the inaugural half-marathon under very warm and humid conditions.
For those not yet ready to tackle an entire half-marathon, participants could choose to take part in the two-person Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Relay. Just over 1,000 teams participated in the inaugural relay event, which covered the same course as the half-marathon, but allowed two people to share in the fun of completing the event.
In the relay, the first team member would start the race with the half-marathon participants at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, completing 8 kilometers (5.1 miles). The second runner would take the baton and complete the remaining 13 kilometers (8 miles), crossing the finish line with the half-marathon participants and reuniting with the first team member, who was bused to the finish. In the inaugural race, the baton was a flashlight. In the second year, Disney got a bit creative and used a small rolling pin as the baton.The relay was offered the first two years of the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend but would be retired when the race moved from October to its current home in November.
In addition to the half-marathon, the Mickey's Halloween Family Fun Run 5K was held early Saturday morning. Unlike the current Mickey's Jingle Jungle 5K, which is run primarily in Disney's Animal Kingdom, Mickey's Halloween 5K started at Topiary Lane at the Transportation and Ticket Center and ran through the Magic Kingdom with a finish back on Topiary Lane.
In the beginning, there was chaos
As is typical for a first-time race, there were more than a few bumps along the way, especially for the half-marathon. Many of the areas along the half-marathon route were in total darkness, which caused a number of runners to stumble. Chefs were stationed along the route and were actually cooking, the smells of which were not well-received by many of the participants, who gagged and/or held their noses until they could get past the smells. And then there was the chaos of baggage claim.
Given this was a night run, I thought it best to have a change of clothes for post-race and for the first (and last) time used the race bag-check service. Unlike today's race where bag check is held in outdoor tents, the bag check was held indoors. Race participants, who had dealt with high temperatures and humidity for the majority of the race, were now subjected to almost an hour wait indoors to pick up their bags, which wouldn't have been nearly as miserable had the building air conditioning been on.
While I was nauseated from the heat, I was one of the fortunate ones as I didn't pass out or throw up, but others were not as lucky. It looked like a triage behind the curtains that lined the passage to baggage claim as race participants were pulled away from the crowds to recover. Many race participants, including myself, vowed to never do the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon again.
Five Years Later…
It's five years later, and yes, I'm registered for my fifth Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. The lure of legacy status (being recognized as running the race every year since the inaugural event) was too strong of a draw, and each year, I made the trek back to Walt Disney World for the race.
The race has improved over the years, including better lighting along the course, removal of the chefs (and cooking smells), and a baggage claim process that appeared to work better than the first chaotic year. In 2012, the race weekend had also moved from October to November, which provided slightly cooler race conditions, for which I was grateful.
There had been rumblings in social media that runDisney would be sending out notification to those who had completed all four Wine & Dine Half Marathons (not including relay finishes) and were also registered for number five, confirming their "perfect" status. Unlike Perfect Princesses, Perfectly Goofys, and Disneyland Legacy Runners, we were to be known as "Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Perfects". Not exactly as simple as the other monikers but perhaps a bit better than Perfect Winos or Perfect Wine-rs, which were suggested names that had been tossed around. Of course, they could have used Thomas' suggestion of "Perfect Vintage," which we had made into a event shirt to wear.
After much anticipation, the notification email did arrive prior to the race, and I breathed a sigh of relief that all my finishes were in order (I had copies of all my finish times prepared to take with me just in case). In that email, runDisney not only congratulated me, but also instructed me to stop by the "Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Perfects" booth at the expo where, I would receive a "special commemorative gift" in celebration of five years running. This was in addtion to the commemorative lanyard given at the finish.
Wow. This was totally unexpected and a very nice surprise. Wonder what the gift would be, I wondered. A nice wine glass, perhaps? When we reached five years at the Disneyland Half Marathon, we received the commemorative lanyard and had our names published in the official guide. At the fifth Princess Half Marathon, we received the lanyard, our names on a wall at the expo, and a pink sash and tiara to wear. So whatever we might get for the Wine & Dine, it would certainly be fun!
Bright and early on the Friday morning of race weekend, I headed over to the expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The doors to the expo opened early and as usual I headed off to the runDisney Official Merchandise booth for a bit of shopping which was a wise plan as many of the items were sold out by mid-afternoon.
One major hiccup the expo experienced on Friday morning was when the New Balance Virtual Queue failed to work as planned. When the website went live at 6:00 a.m. as promised, the link pointed to the Tower of Teror race two weeks prior rather than the correct link to the Wine & Dine race queue. And since the Tower of Terror race had already passed, the system would not allow anyone to sign up online. This resulted in no virtual queue at all, as New Balance reverted to its first-come, first-served standby line for the special runDisney New Balance shoes instead of orderly appointments throughout the day.
Those arriving later on Friday or Saturday were left with a very limited selection of both event merchandise and New Balance shoes, with both Disney and New Balance once again grossly underestimating how much inventory to carry.
Once I had made my purchases, it was time to head over to the other building to pick up my bib and find out what special commemorative gift was waiting for me, a "Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Perfect."
I'm a Perfect… what?
I got my first inkling that things were a bit off when the volunteer working at the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Perfects counter asked what "running 5 years perfect" in little bitty letters on my bib meant. A supervisor jumped in to explain, then told me to head down to the booth at the end of the row to pick up my gift. There, a chipper volunteer confirmed my name, smiled wide, and handed me… a cheap white plastic spatula with "Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon" stamped on the handle. At first I assumed it was a joke. But no. She then wanted a picture of me with my new spatula. This really was the special commemorative gift. I can pretty well guarantee that the look on my face in my picture was probably not exactly what runDisney was hoping for, and will never use in any future race publicity.
As the weekend went on, many of the spatulas took on a life of their own as we took the unexpected "gift" and ran with it. There were 287 #PerfectSpatulas (our new hashtag on Twitter) and many of them went wandering around the parks having their picture taken, a la Flat Stanley, as they enjoyed their first attraction, their first park rope drop, and their first trip on the Monorail.
If you ever wondered if runDisney monitored social media, rest assured, they most definitely do, as was evidenced by runDisney race announcer Carissa Bealert, who made not only one but two shout-outs to the Perfect Spatulas at the start of the half-marathon Saturday night.
It was the best of weather; it was the worst of weather
Saturday morning brought blue skies and cool, crisp temperatures, which made for perfect running conditions for Mickey's Jingle Jungle 5K. As usual, I met up with friends Kristen and Todd and we spent the pre-race time chatting and looking at all the costumes. There were running toy soldiers, reindeer, Olafs, Christmas trees, and Christmas presents galore. At the start of the race, each corral was treated with a light dusting of Disney snow, and then we were off.
The course had us going once around the parking lot and then into Disney's Animal Kingdom, where we ran past the Tree of Life, through Africa then on to Asia, where we ran past Expedition Everest on the way back to the parking lot for the finish. After finishing my 5K run, I found Todd in the crowd. Together, we watched Kristen race across the finish line. Another runDisney 5K successfully completed and another rubber medal added to my collection.
Saturday evening, I met up with MousePadder Deanna Duncan and her friend Wendy Steele at the hotel prior to the half-marathon for a quick "finally nice to meet you face-to-face" and a bit of strategy time. The weather reports were looking less than positive, with rain scheduled to start at exactly 10:00 p.m.—right when the half-marathon was supposed to begin. As long as there was no lightening in the area, the race would go on no matter the weather, so it was on to bus, fingers crossed, and off to the start with ponchos in hand.
By 9:45 p.m. the crowd of about 14,300 race participants were lined up in the corrals waiting for the start when the rain began to fall. While it started out light with a few drops here and there, it quickly picked up speed, soaking everyone and everything. I have a touch of night blindness, which makes running in the dark a challenge; add in the rain on my glasses, and it was at times incredibly difficult to see where I was going—I just prayed I didn't hit a curb or bump. Volunteers were calling out flooded roadways when they could, but there were times when avoiding them was not an option, and my shoes continued to become more waterlogged and heavy.
We sloshed through mile after mile, and I continued to be amazed at the number of characters still out on the course in the downpour. Although some weren't easy to spot as they weren't in their usual locations—most, like Rafiki from The Lion King, who found refuge under the security cover at the entrace to Animal Kingdom—were still busy posing for pictures. Even two small floats from The Main Street Electrical Parade were out to greet the race participants. Sure it was a lighter number than normal but under the rainy conditions, but it was wonderful and surprising to see any of them on the course.
And then there were the volunteers at the water and aid stations. They stood out in the downpour for hours until the last person passed by, remaining impossibly cheerful and supportive given how soggy they must have been. And don't forget all the spectators who still lined the course in the parks and along the Boardwalk with signs, cowbells, and encouragement. It's one thing to move in the rain; it's another to stand for hours in the same spot. They were all just incredible.
You're almost there
And then there was the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights in Disney's Hollywood Studios, where over a million Christmas lights are synchronized to music. There is a memory that is triggered by the song "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby and as I entered the Streets of America where the Lights are located, the song started to play. At that moment, I was happy for the rain as a few tears slipped by as I made my way past display after display of dancing lights. And even more fun was waiting as we ran through the Costume Tunnel, where disco balls and music by the Bee Gees were just the pick-me-ups I needed to keep moving to the finish.
We exited Disney Hollywood Studios with just over two miles to go and made our way to the Boardwalk, where a few of the earlier race participants (and one cyclist) had fallen victim to the slippery surface. Then it was on to a quick run through Epcot, a pass by Spaceship Earth, and out to the parking lot where the finish line was waiting.
I collected my finisher's medal and made my way to the "Perfect Tent," where I was handed my "Perfect" lanyard. Looking at my new lanyard, I thought it odd, but it initially appeared that it was the exact same lanyard as the one holding my finisher's medal. I spent several minutes trying to differentiate the legacy lanyard from the regular finisher's lanyard, and in the dim light, finally found the two small differences that distinguished one from the other: a difference lettering color and a brief change in wording. No matter—I had completed five years of Wine & Dine Half Marathons!
I gathered my space blanket tight around me to keep the chill out and started the long trudge through the photo area and out of the parking lot to the buses. I had an early flight to catch in the morning, and even if the weather had been favorable, I sadly didn't have the time to stay and party in the park. On my way out, I passed by very long lines at baggage claim, which was odd—and found out later talking to friends Rae Mills and Mary Harokopus that they waited almost 20 minutes in the rain to get their bags; shades of the inaugural year bag check issue.
Going to be hard to beat a spatula
While I've completed my original goal of hitting five years at the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon, I'm too curious to stop now. After receiving a spatula at the five-year anniversary, what could they possibly have in mind for 10 years—#perfectskillet perhaps? It will be hard to top the 2014 event.
Even in the most miserable weather conditions, I truly enjoy this course and plan on coming back to the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend as long as I possibly can. It's honestly not about the recognition; it's about keeping a streak alive as a personal goal to myself and the enjoyment I get in running a runDisney event. Even in rotten weather, there is nothing that makes one feel more alive than being out running on the roads and you can't beat the roads in a Disney park.
Of the 14,300 registered Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon participants, 11,941 finished which, given the weather conditions and an accident that blocked traffic on a highway to the park for hours, is actually higher than I would have expected. I cannot thank the cast members, characters, volunteers, and spectators enough for being there in support of the race participants; without them, the number of nonfinishers would have been much higher. We truly could not have made it through the event without each and every one of them.
Next up, the inaugural Avenger's Super Hero Half Marathon in Disneyland—the last runDisney race in 2014.