Recapping 2016 Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekendby Lorree Tachell, contributing writer
The 7th annual 2016 Wine & Dine Half Marathon, held the weekend of November 4–6, had new races, new courses, new medals, and of course, the usual runDisney bumps in the road we've come to expect. Joining me as I attempted to keep my streak of Wine & Dine half marathons intact were my friends Rae Mills and Mary Harokopus (the Texans in Tiaras). It was a weekend filled with miles on the roads, miles in the parks, great food, and more bling to add to the collection.
Wow, didn't see this coming
With the previous incarnation of the Wine and Dine Half Marathon weekend hosting Mickey's Jingle Jungle 5k Saturday morning and the half marathon later that same evening, it was not feasible to fit in a 10-kilometer race or two-race challenge. The previous two years of night races had also proved to be problematic, with the pouring rain in 2014 turning the race into a "splash and dash" run, and thunderstorm damage to the Animal Kingdom course in 2015 causing a race start delay to 11:00 p.m. and the cutting of the distance of the half marathon course, to 6.72 miles, in what became referred to as the "Half Half" race. Yet, as 2016 registration dates approached, everyone assumed it would be business as usual.
With five days to early registration (for annual passholders and Disney Vacation Club members) opening in early March 2016, runDisney had yet to post information including pricing for the 2016 Wine and Dine race weekend. On March 4, a posting was spotted on Active.com that listed a 6.2-mile 10K race, which was the first sign of changes to come. Shortly before the announced registration date, runDisney bumped out registration a week with no word on why, and without providing any pricing information.
Then, on March 10, runDisney announced a radical change in the weekend format: The 5K, now called Mickey's Holiday 5K, was moving to Friday morning. The newly announced Disney Wine & Dine 10K would be held on Saturday, and most shocking, the Wine and Dine Half Marathon was moving from Saturday night to Sunday morning. Lumiere's Two Course Challenge was added for those taking on both the 10k and half marathon. The traditional Epcot after-race party, instead of occurring right after the half marathon was over (into the wee hours of the morning), was moving to Sunday night.
The backlash on social media against the changes was swift. The uniqueness of the weekend race being run at night was a big selling point for many, and without that difference, it was just another runDisney race weekend. Morning races in WDW are especially difficult for those coming from the West Coast (and whose bodies were three hours behind Eastern time) which was another strike against the change. Worse, the after-race party moving to a Sunday night would require an additional night stay. Many of the "Perfect Spatulas" (those who have run every Wine and Dine Half Marathon) decided not to return.
So, would anyone show up and register? runDisney didn't have a thing to worry about. Early AP/DVC registration opened on March 22 and within 90 minutes, the limited spots available for all races and the challenge were sold out. On March 29, general registration opened at 9:00 a.m. Pacific; by 11:45 a.m., all races and the challenge were completely sold out.
While much of the fast sellout was due to the inaugural 10K and challenge, there were those who were pretty happy the half was now a morning event. We'll see if this trend holds for 2017 and beyond.
What's an eGift card?
One nice perk of the Wine & Dine Half Marathon has always been a $15 Disney gift card that could be used towards purchasing food at the after-race party or on park merchandise. It was given at bib pickup on a coiled wristband that could easily be worn during the race and then used at the after-party.
For 2016, runDisney would continue with the $15 gift card but made the change to send it in an eGift Card format via email to all half marathon participants. Well, that was the concept. Many did not receive the card (Rae was among that group) and would have to stop by Runner Relations at the expo to get a replacement.
And in a "what were they thinking?" moment, the after-party wristbands which were also previously distributed at the expo, were now a card that was physically mailed through the postal service a week before the race. Unfortunately many race participants had already left for the race and/or had moved and not updated their Active.com address, so they also had to plan a visit with Runner Relations.
One could only imagine how these changes were going to impact the line wait at the expo Runner Relations.
It's not WDW if there's not chaos over runDisney-branded merchandise
Bib pickup and the race expo usually start at 10:00 a.m., with the line forming for entry around 6:30 a.m. or so. Knowing this, Rae, Mary, and I arrived around 7:30 a.m. and found ourselves about 50th or so in line. We sat and chatted with other race weekend participants as the entry line slowly filled in behind us. Given this was an inaugural event (and as survivors of the infamous 2016 Princess Half Marathon Weekend merchandise crush), we wondered how runDisney would handle the expected crowds.
Traditionally, the expo opens by 9:30 a.m. or so—however at around 8:30, we were happily surprised to get the signal to start the march to the merchandise area. As we walked by the New Balance setup, I overheard a cast member franticly calling on the radio that "guests were on the floor!" That didn't bode well.
We continued civilly walking through the expo, and similar to the expo at Disneyland, were queued up outside the official merchandise area ready to start shopping. Well, that was the idea. An apparently more senior CM appeared and announced that we weren't supposed to be in the expo yet, and we would have to leave. No, we couldn't stay queued up where we were. So, we made the walk back throughthe expo and since our places in the outdoor queue were already filled up, we were placed in a second line that was guaranteed to be first back in the doors. Unfortunately, they did not post a CM at the end of our line so it was a constant push back for those who looked at the monster line (now wrapping around Josten's building) and decided to try and take a place in the shorter of the two.
Finally, just before 10:00 a.m., the doors opened, and our line was again walked through the expo to the merchandise area. We expected the same queue process, but no, it was once again a stream of people allowed into the merchandise area, and chaos again ensued. Within minutes, the pin holder was five deep as people shoved to get close and grab a handful of pins. The mob scene at the wine glasses resulted yet again in the CM just holding a box of glasses and allowing people to grab once the shelves were stripped. It was difficult to move anywhere in the crowd.
There seemed to be a few items missing from the expo, but I chalked it up to just overlooking them in the mess of people. I quickly grabbed my "have to have" items, including hats for both the 10K and 5K races, and quickly made my way to the line of cashiers, which was still blissfully quiet. As I looked up behind the cashier, I could see two groups of senior CMs standing on the landing observing the chaos on the floor below. People were still streaming in, and no queue had yet been set up. It was a repeat of Princess all over again.
I watched from outside the merchandise area as I waited for Rae and Mary to complete their purchases. People were coming out with a shell-shocked look and were finding the closest CM to express their displeasure at the lack of a queue and/or any coordination to reduce the mob scene. We quickly escaped over to the HP Pavilion to pick up our bibs and our pre-order merchandise. Well, that was the plan.
You say inauguaral, I say inaugural
With the exception of the Runner Relations line that was, as expected, a monster due to issues with gift cards, party cards, and the occasional actual race problem, and the line to print race release forms backed up as the printers were having challenges, the crowds in the HP building were relatively very small. Once we had our bibs and challenge shirts, we were instructed to go upstairs to pick up the preorder merchandise.
It seems there was a slight problem with the 10K pins and preorder jackets: The word "inaugural" was misspelled. Yes, with all the eyes that must look at each item in the design phase, "inaugural" was spelled "inauguaral." This explains why some of the race merchandise was missing from the floor—they had been pulled, and there was not enough time for reprints
We still needed to pick up our 5K shirts, which necessitated a trip back to Josten's. Unfortunately, unlike Disneyland runDisney expos, which separates out branded merchandise lines from those wanting to only attend the expo, everyone was packed back into the main monster line. With an estimate of one to two hours to get back into the building, we made the call to return later and hope that the line had cleared out (it did).
And humorously, runDisney wasn't alone in misspelling inaugural. Later that week, several CMs and I at the Christmas Shoppe in Disney Springs had a discussion on how to spell inaugural for a Christmas ornament I had made to celebrate the challenge. They had to retreat to the back room to check on their cell phones (can't do it on the floor) to confirm that, yes indeed, "inaugural" was spelled how I had it printed on the order sheet.
All this crazy and the races hadn't even yet started.
Anyone who preordered a jacket or 10K pin were to receive the missing items via mail as soon as corrected versions were ready, which was expected to be anywhere from four to eight weeks from race weekend. About two weeks post-race, many of the jackets started arriving. While the design was well-received overall, there unfortunately was no way to exchange if the fit was off, which was the case in many instances, as the jackets were running small. On the plus side, runDisney included a nice T-shirt with the preorder jackets as a gesture of apology. As of this writing, the 10K pins have yet to arrive.
Mickey's Jingle Jungle is now the Holiday 5K
Friday morning, it was time for Mickey's Holiday 5K. Rae was skipping this one and instead worked the medical tent at the finish. Almost 6,000 participants lined up at the start in five corrals based on estimated time per mile. Mary and I were fortunate to again be in corral A, which gave us the opportunity to see the pre-show up close and personal. The snow machines were working great this year, and although the morning was hot and humid, it was looking like a winter wonderland instead of a slush party at the start line.
Announcer Rudy Novotny (who is no longer emceeing the runDisney races in Disneyland but is still engaged in WDW race events) was again on the stage with John Pelkey; the third announcer team member Carissa Bealert stopped by but was running the race herself. With the singing of the National Anthem (against a backdrop of the American flag in falling "snow"), it was time to hit the road.
The 5K course took us through the Animal Kingdom parking lot, into the park, and back out to the parking lot for the finish. There were Disney characters such as Pluto in their winter finest out for pictures, and Christmas carols played throughout the course for a very festive feel. Costumed runners and walkers ranged from a trio of toy soldiers to reindeer, Santas, snowmen, and elves.
Of course, no matter the distance there are always those Grinch-y few who think nothing of cutting the course and cheating the finish. That was the case of the guy who cut short the turn-around right in front of us with less than a mile to finish. We called him out as a cheater, to which he replied that it was no big deal, as it was "only a 5K." So I guess according to him, there were cheating standards and rules.
Mary and I crossed the finish line very red, hot, and sweaty from the morning's humid weather. We looked for Rae at the medical tent but finally located her handing out water bottles at the finish instead. Fortunately even though the weather was on the warm side, the distance was short enough to keep most race participants from experiencing heat-related issues, so her medical expertise was not needed.
Mary and I collected our real metal Mickey's Holiday 5K finisher's medal and headed back to the hotel for a breakfast of Mickey waffles. Given that we didn't have a half marathon waiting for us that night, it was off to the parks for the day.
The inaugural (not inauguaral) Disney Wine & Dine 10k
Saturday morning brought the new Disney Wine & Dine 10K. With Remy from Ratatouille on the medal, it was only right that he was also there in person for pictures and to see the runners and walkers off. The 10K route, while light on park time in the early miles, followed the back roads around the park, until it entered Epcot at about mile 3.5 before finishing just past Spaceship Earth. The sun was just starting to peek out by the end of the race. Fortunately, the weather, while warm, was less humid than during the 5K, which made for as close to a perfect running morning one can have in WDW.
Over 9,000 participants earned the inaugural Disney Wine & Dine 10K Remy medal, with women outnumbering the men by an over two-to-one margin. Derek Wehunt, from Morocco, finished first in 34:11, while Georganne Watson was the first female finisher, with a time of 39:37. As always, Mary, Rae, and I ran our own races. Rae had another outstanding run, finishing first in her age group, and Mary also had an awesome race, finishing just outside of the top 10 in her very competitive age group. I… finished. The hamstring that has been a problem since the 2014 Dumbo Double Dare decided to make a re-appearance, which slowed my time down considerably. Given that I still had a half marathon to finish and 22.4 miles waiting at Super Heroes the following weekend, it was became more about slowing down and getting across the finish line than about getting a good finish time. The goal for the weekend went from running a fast race to keeping my "Perfect Spatula" streak intact.
Adding an even more special memory to the day, I joined thousands of Chicago Cubs fans to celebrate the 2016 World Series win with a honorary player parade down Main Street. While waiting for the parade, fans kept themselves entertained by singing the Cubs fight song, posing in the street with the W (for win) flag and with photos of long-departed Cubs fans—one couple even took the opportunity to become engaged. Finally, with the announcement "108 years in the making..." Ben Zobrist, Addision Russell, and Javier Baez, along with Mickey Mouse, made their way down Main Street to the delight of the screaming and crying fans. It was a memory I won't soon forget.
A sunny Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon
With Daylight Savings happening Sunday morning at 2:00 a.m., everyone participating in the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon had the benefit of an extra hour of sleep. Of course, paranoia of missing the alarm, always high by Sunday, took on extra heightened levels as many were worried about setting the clocks wrong. In our room, it took three alarms and a hotel wake-up call to make sure we were on schedule for a 3:30 a.m. room departure to the bus line. The one drawback of the time shift was we would be running in more daylight, which would play into warmer temps for those of us out on the course longer.
Let's talk about the half marathon course. While it was expected to be changed from previous years due to construction going on in Disney Hollywood Studios, it still was a big letdown to see just how little park time we would have over 13.1 miles. Starting the race at ESPN Wide World of Sports, race participants hit the roads until mile four, when we entered Disney's Animal Kingdom. After a short 1.5 miles in the park, we were again on the roads until mile 12, when we entered Epcot where, similar to the 10K, we finished just outside in the parking lot. Yup, just over 2 miles of real park time—and no Osborne Family Lights made for a course that did not live up to the usual runDisney expectations. We can hope that as construction moves along on Star Wars and Toy Story Lands, the route will again utilize Disney Hollywood Studios.
Under sunny skies, Jason Simpson from Boulder, Colorado finished first overall in 1:10:24, with Giovanna Martins from Brazil coming in at 1:20:20 on the women's side. Over 12,000 participants earned the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon meda,l again with women outnumbering the men by a bigger than two-to-one margin. Rae had another outstanding run, placing second in her age group, while Mary kicked it, placing high in her age group as well. As with the 10K, I finished in a time that was nothing to write home about—but I finished. My "Perfect Spatula" streak remained intact for another year.
And for those who completed both the half and the 10K, Lumiere's Two Course Challenge medals were awarded, as were Castle to Chateau (Disneyland Paris Half and any 2016 US runDisney half) and Coast to Coast medals for those who completed a runDisney race on both coasts in 2016. As a surprise, it was discovered that Lumiere's candles on the challenge medal glow in the dark, making the medal a very unique addition to the medal collection.
Noshies with a side of confusion at the after-race party
The after-race party, traditionally held right after the race in Epcot, was moved to Sunday night, which allowed race participants a chance to shower and relax before hitting the park to party. Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, not everyone received their party cards designed to be exchanged for wristbands, causing a major line-up at the park gate for anyone who had not resolved the issue at Runner Relations.
The party was originally advertised to run from 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. (an earlier time than the previous 4:00 a.m. close), which changed to 10:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. with the option to enter the park early at 8:00 p.m. However, while one could enter at 8:00 p.m., the park closed from 9:00 – 10:00 to clear out those who did not receive the party as part of their race entry or were friends/family who paid $89 to play. So for an hour, anyone who arrived early sat around checking out their cell phones and wondering what was going on. There was also an issue with some of the CMs not checking for party cards and just handing out wristbands, which allowed entrance for many who didn't pay.
For those who stuck around, the parks did clear out around 10:30 as the early morning caught up with many. Lines for attractions were light as were lines for food, but the ambience of previous parties seemed to be lacking.
Rae and Mary did give the party a shot and stayed for an hour or so. By the time the party started, I was already winging my way back to the West Coast with four wonderful new medals and a very sore hamstring. No regrets on missing a long night in the park.
It's a long to-do list…
runDisney knows there needs to be changes for the 2017 event. The branded merchandise area needs better crowd control management. The issues with the eGift and party cards require better coordination. Proofing to avoid problems like the 'inauguaral' misspelling should be tightened. And finally, the half marathon course needs less road time and more park time to bring back the runDisney race magic.
But with all that, it was still a wonderful weekend. The medals are beautiful, the weather was better than in previous years, moving the half marathon to morning opened the race to more race participants, and adding the 10K and the challenge provided more incentive for many to try new distances. While moving from night to morning did unfortunately drive away many of the "Perfect Spatulas" (now down to 173 from 278 two years previous), I for one was happy to keep the streak alive for yet another year, and look forward to seeing what 2017 brings.