Great Spectations

by Lani Teshima, staff writer
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If you are a registered entrant in the 2006 Walt Disney World Marathon or Half-Marathon, you have less than a month to go! Hopefully you are wrapping up your training (or like me, saddled with heel spurs and taking it easy on my half) and starting to look at last-minute things as you look forward to your upcoming race.

Since we are so close to the race, there isn't much to talk about with regard to training. So instead of focusing on ourselves, let's look at what we can do to make this an exciting event for our friends and family members who will be cheering us on at the sidelines.

Spectator transportation

For the first time, the marathon and half-marathon (for simplicity I'll just refer to them as "the full" and "the half") are being held on two separate days. If you have two members in your party doing two different events, for the first time you will each be able to cheer the other on. However, this means the rest of your cheering squad has double-duty. In addition, there are some course changes with the half course.

More than likely, you have already received your official packet from Disney that included the marathon information booklet. Spectator information is listed on pages 32 an 33, and my suggestion is that you make copies of these pages to give these to your family members. It is important that you all figure out what sort of plan you want to devise so they can see you on the course.

The following are the most important things to keep in mind when discussing spectator strategy:

What is the expected pace of the runner? If your participant is planning on maintaining a pace of 10 minutes per mile, calculate when the participant will hit the major spectator spots. That is the basic timeline you need to follow. There are a number of variables that add minutes to this pace. So although you might want to be at a designated spot in plenty of time, you will want to figure out how long to stay and wait before moving onto the next location. The starting line can often be a very slow process, and can sometimes be an additional 10 minutes to the overall time of a runner. If you add aid stations and bathroom pit stops, the participant can easily rack up 20 minutes on their predicted pace time.

How many different locations do you want to try to hit? If you want to get to the finish line early with a little seat cushion, you can plant yourself on the bleachers and sit for three hours to try to ensure a good spot to see your participant finish. On the other hand, do you want to try to go to as many spots as possible?

How do you plan to move from one viewing area to another? For the most part, try to devise a plan that takes advantage of the monorail system, even if you have a car. You can always drive to the Epcot parking lot, but once on property, plan on leaving your car there and use the monorail to get around. This helps you avoid all the traffic jams and road closures and allow you to get to your next planned viewing spot promptly.

Good spots

We are publishing the official spectator information from Disney at the end of this article, so you can determine what might work best for you. That said, there are a couple of things that you want to consider in planning your spectating.

If you are watching the half, the official guide says that you cannot view the start of the race. According to the booklet, this has to do with space limitations. In a way this is good; it means you don't have to get up at 3 in the morning. On the other hand, this is not really my favorite spectating spot because of a couple of reasons:

The course is very full, making it almost impossible to see individual runners

You do not have a very good vantage point, so that even if you can see the person who is running, you will only do so briefly

It's still dark, making it very difficult to see anyone.

For both the full and half, I recommend as your first spectator area either the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), or Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. TTC is outside of the park itself, and has more space. You can spread out a bit, and you won't feel so squished in. That's because Main Street is considered by some to be the charmed location. Spectators get to go into the park before the park opens (via Monorail), so there is a certain attraction.

You can also consider the area along Floridian Way for both events, and you can get there by getting off at the Grand Floridian monorail station. It's a bit of a walk, but it's away from the park, and the course far enough along in miles that it's a little easier to spot people on the course.

In addition, if you can make your way to the Contemporary Resort, the areas around World Drive are good spots to watch. Officially, you are supposed to be a hotel guest of the Contemporary, but I suspect that has to do with parking and the lack of transportation around the area. This area also has a lot of greenery and is wide open, so you can have a seat on the ground and get comfortable.

For the half, there isn't a whole lot more places to view other than the finish area. That is located in the Imagine parking lot in Epcot. One strategy might be to catch the monorail to TTC and view from this area, then hop back on the monorail and go to Epcot after the participant has passed you. The route from TTC to Epcot is via the Epcot monorail, so it shouldn't take too long, especially since you are already at TTC and walking is minimal.

If your family member is doing the full, however, you have more official viewing areas to go to, including Animal Kingdom, Disney-MGM Studios, as well as Epcot. Keep in mind, however, that you will need park admission if you plan on viewing from these parks. In addition, neither Animal Kingdom nor Disney-MGM Studios is a monorail-accessible park, so you might have to have a car. That said, be warned that traffic isn't always very good during the marathon. Disney cones all sorts of roads and lanes, so even if you are familiar with the resort, you may end up getting turned around here and there to accommodate the runners.

If you decide to go to Epcot, the marathoners run from one end of World Showcase to the other. They enter by the entrance between the U.K. and France pavilions, and run the entire arc of World Showcase. Depending on the pace of the runner, the course is very sparsely populated by this point, and it will be very easy to spot people. Keep in mind that Disney does not close off World Showcase to park visitors, and that the marathoners have to navigate within the traffic cones. However, this is basically the last mile of the course, which means people will be really tired. Even those who pick up their pace will probably not really do so until they are in Future World and they are close to Spaceship Earth (which tells the runners that they are just on this side of the finish line).

For this reason, if you want to jog with them for a short distance, this may be a good spot to do so. Just make sure not to get in the way of anyone else.

The other spot is not even on the official spectator viewing list, and that's the sidewalks of the Boardwalk, Beach Club and Yacht Club resorts. This portion makes up the stretch between miles 24 and 25, and because the runners are on sidewalks instead of trafficked roads, it's much quiter and provides a kind of intimacy you don't get at the official viewing areas. If you are staying at one of these three resorts, I would strongly recommend this location.

Finally, there's the finish line. The finish line! It's always so exciting and full of emotion. I've been known to sit there like a lump and both cheer and cry for finishers. If you end up waiting by the finish line, pay attention to all the finishers. They run the range of emotions from triumphant to exhausted, but all proud and happy to have completed.

If you can manage a spot at the finish line, great! Keep in mind there is a small set of bleachers, but no other real seating unless you walk away from the immediate area. It's also very crowded, although that starts to lighten as people leave to be with their loved ones who cross the finish line.

Regardless of where you decide to view your participant, don't forget one last meeting spot – where to get together after the run is over. Disney provides family reunion tents in the general area of the finish line, and they are staffed with volunteers who can direct your questions. Consider bringing a bath towel, or better yet, a wet wash cloth (tucked in a resealable plastic bag). Most marathoners will have sweated all morning long, with their sweat drying into a layer of salt crystals. A fresh and moistened wash cloth will feel terrific. Make sure to take pictures or video to capture that "I'm tired now" moment. You might want to bring a spare pair of socks and shoes for the runner, as well as a bottle of water. Be ready to share some interesting or funny stories about how the morning went, and even if you don't really understanding anything about pacing or strategy, be there with an ear to lend some more support.

Depending on how the marathoner feels at that point, it might be time for a hot shower or a hearty breakfast, or both (in whichever order).

Notice me!

When you are one of among 15,000 other people, it's really hard to get noticed. You can wear Mickey Mouse ears, but chances are someone else will be, too. A bright yellow shirt? A fluorescent tie-dye shirt? Yep, those are spotted on the course, too.

For the runner, consider some of these things that help your friends and family spot you in the crowd:

- Wear something distinctive. If you have any fluorescent-colored running shirts, give that a try. If you are comfortable wearing an unusual hat or visor (for example, you can buy a visor with a foam animal on its head), consider that. If it won't drive you batty, a pair of jingle bells on each shoe might also provide an audible clue to those nearby (although I can't guarantee that that won't drive your neighboring runners batty).

Whatever you decide to wear, make sure your family members see what your entire outfit looks like. Better yet, model for them so they can see how you look (and pin your running number on your shirt).

- Make sure everyone knows your running number so they can keep an eye out for it. Every so often, I see people pinning their running number on the back. The only people this helps are the slower runners behind you. If you want your souvenir photos, make sure your number is pinned to the front of your shirt, or on the top of your waistband.

- Write your name is very thick marker on the top of your shirt. Believe it or not, this is probably one of the easiest ways to get noticed. And don't be timid, either. Use a piece or chalk or light crayon to get the spacing on your letters penciled in above your chest and below your collar bone. You don't want your running number to cover up your name. If you can, make each letter at least three inches tall and two inches wide. Make each letter as thick and as legible as possible. If you have an unsual name, be creative and make it easier to read. For example, “LANI” is easier read using lowercase letters so it reads “Lani”—so there is no question that the “I” is an “i” and not an “L.”

Not only does this make it easier for your friends to spot you, but you will discover that spectators and cast members will be cheering you on throughout the course! And when you are slogging through a particularly difficult stretch, nothing cheers you up like people telling you, “You're looking great, Bob!” “You're almost there, Jen!”

The lettering doesn't have to be fancy, as long as it's large and legible. A Sharpie marker is perfect for this, since it's water resistant. Don't bother with iron-on letters or embroidery unless you have a set running shirt that you wear all the time. I've even seen people use masking tape or electrical tape to spell out their names, but some types of tape will start to peel off as you sweat, so your name might go from “Ben” to “Be,” which might look kind of silly.

Family members! There is a way for you to be noticeable, too! While you talk strategy with the runner in your family, try to pin down exactly where you plan to wait. Once you determine the general location, try to decide a more specfic area. For example, instead of just agreeing that you will be waiting on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom, figure out what portion of the street you want to be. Since the entire stretch is pretty much available for you, do you want to be closer towards the castle, or near the town square? Most spectators line the left side of the street as you go towards the castle. Is that where you want to be?

Bring big signs. You can buy poster-sized paper at a craft store, although I don't recommend getting foamcore, since it takes up a lot of room. Get stiff paper you can roll up. It doesn't have to be white, but make sure it's a nice bright or light color.

In the thickest pen you can find, write out your participant's name in huge bold letters. You can add hearts and things, but make sure they don't detract from the name on the sign. First and foremost, the name has to be huge. Feel free to make each letter two feet tall if you want!

Consider making more than one sign so everyone in your family can hold one up. You can also write a motivational sign on the back of the paper that you can wave to other participants. Phrases like “Keep it up!” or “You look great” are appreciated by others who run past.

For when your runner finally shows up, consider some noisemakers. If you have access to those noisy inflatable Thunderstix, those work. You can even put some stones in an empty soda can and tape up the opening. Shake it for a quick and easy homemade macaras. If you have a rattler or a kazoo that you take to a sporting event, you can consider using those, too. Got a pair of pom poms? As long as your family member knows what to look for, they are really easy to spot.

While we are on the subject of cheering, let me encourage all of you who plan to spectate, to cheer everybody on who you see on the course. If they are wearing fundraising shirts (for example, the purple-shirted Team in Training people are always at the Disney marathons in force), yell out, “Go Team in Training!” or “Go purple people!” If you see their names on their shirts, yell them out and give them a cheer. While the really fast gazelle people may seem to barely notice, the slower ones for which this is a real challenge event, will really appreciate your support whether you know them or not.

Support “pack”

If you are going to be there all morning to support the participant, you will want to pack some things for yourself. Bring a towel or a mat to sit on, a book to read, a puzzle book, or a radio or CD/MP3 player to listen to. If you are viewing the full marathon, bring snacks and a water bottle, and make sure to bring some sunscreen.

These days, cell phones are getting so small that they are pretty easy for the runners to carry in a little waist pouch. If this is the case, consider having the person phone you with an alert so you know that you only have to wait a few moments at your viewing spots.

One last thing. You might have thought your family member was nuts to try a marathon. And everyday, you saw dear hubby, mom, or son don the running shoes and head out the door while you just shook your head. There were long runs, painful experiences, and exhaustion as your family member pushed hard to train, and you were there by their side the whole time. Now, they are almost there. It's only a few weeks away, and after one last long weekend run, they will start tapering off. And you were there the whole time, supporting them as their personal cheerleader. You might not have clapped or cheered every time they came home from a run, but training for a marathon involves everyone in the household, and I'm sure you'll agree that you've also been touched.

Well, this is your one big chance. Show dad that you're proud! Let your daughter know how proud you are. Yeah, and getting a Walt Disney World vacation isn't a bad byproduct, either.

So if you were for one monent considering blowing off watching your family member during the marathon, banish that thought. Disney World is a place where memories are made, but I can bet watching your loved one run a marathon at Disney World is going to be a few notches more special than your memory of riding “it's a small world.”

I promise.


Disney's official spectator information

Spectators are encouraged to share in the Walt Disney World Marathon and Half Marathon excitement. After 8:30 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, Epcot will be open for theme park guests and a parking fee of $9.00 will apply when entering the auto plaza (fee is subject to change). To increase the possibility of seeing your friends and family run, be aware of their pace, expected time at each mile point, and anticipated finish time.

Please make sure to allow adequate time for transportation between each Spectator Area. The runners' safety is foremost; therefore, traffic on area roadways will be limited. Specific directions to each location will be in the Event Guide, which will be distributed at Disney's Health & Fitness Expo. Spectator directions are also available at disneyworldmarathon.com.

Half Marathon

Due to space restrictions, there will be no viewing area available for the Half Marathon Start on Saturday. The ideal location to view the Half Marathon is at the Magic Kingdom Park. After watching the runners pass at the Magic Kingdom Park, spectators can hop on the Monorail for a quick ride to Epcot where they can see their friends or family members finish. To watch the first finishers for the Half Marathon on Saturday, you should arrive no later than 6:45 a.m. at Epcot. To see the first finishers for the Marathon on Sunday, you should arrive at Epcot between 7:15 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.

Half Marathon Viewing Areas
Saturday January 7, 2006

Transportation and Ticket Center
6:25 a.m. to 7:20 a.m. – 4.2 miles
(Accessible ONLY by monorail)

Magic Kingdom Park Park/Main Street U.S.A.
6:30 a.m. to 7:40 a.m. – 5.3 miles
(Accessible ONLY by monorail)

Floridian Way
6:42 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. – 8.1 to 8.4 miles
(Accessible ONLY by Monorail)

Half Marathon Finish – Imagine Parking Lot at Epcot
7:10 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. – 13.1 miles
(Accessible by Monorail, event bus, or car)

Viewing Areas at Walt Disney World Resort Hotels
If you are a Walt Disney World Resort guest, you can watch the Half Marathon in viewing areas at selected resorts

6:25 a.m. to 7:35 a.m. – Disney's Contemporary Resort
6:35 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. – Disney's Grand Floridian Resort
6:40 a.m. to 8:25 a.m. – Disney's Polynesian Resort

Marathon

If you plan to watch the start of the Marathon, you must arrive at Epcot by 5:00 a.m. on Sunday. The viewing area of the Marathon start is limited. To see the first finishers for the Marathon on Sunday, you should arrive at Epcot between 7:15 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.

Marathon Viewing Areas
Sunday, January 8, 2006

Epcot Center Drive – Start

5:55 a.m. – Wheelchair
6:00 a.m. – Runner

When arriving at Epcot parking area, look for illuminated signs that read Spectator Viewing. Viewing will be allowed along Epcot Center Drive.

6:20 a.m. to 7:05 a.m. – 4 miles
Remain in the same location as the start viewing area. All Marathon and Half Marathon participants will run past this location.

Transportation and Ticket Center
6:50 to 8:35 a.m. – 9 miles
(Accessible ONLY by Monorail)

Magic Kingdom Park Park/Main Street U.S.A.
6:55 a.m. to 8:5- a.m. – 10 miles
(Accessible ONLY by monorail)

Floridian Way
7:10 a.m. to 9:25 a.m. – 12.7 to 13 miles
(Accessible by Monorail)

Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park
7:25 a.m. to 10:40 a.m. – 16.5 to 17.3 miles
(Accessible by car)
A theme park ticket will be required for admission into Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park to watch this portion of the race.

Disney-MGM Studios
8:05 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. – 23 to 23.5 miles
(Accessible by car)
A theme park ticket will be required for admission into Disney-MGM Studios to watch this portion of the race.

Epcot
8:15 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. – 25 to 25.9 miles
(Accessible by Monorail or car)
A theme park ticket will be required for admission into Epcot to watch this portion of the race.

Marathon Finish – Imagine Parking Lot at Epcot
8:20 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
(Accessible by Monorail, event bus, or car)

Viewing Areas at Walt Disney World Resort Hotels If you are a Walt Disney World Resort guest, you can watch the Half Marathon in viewing areas at selected resorts

6:45 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. – Disney's Contemporary Resort
7:05 a.m. to 9:10 a.m. – Disney's Grand Floridian Resort
7:08 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. – Disney's Polynesian Resort
8:10 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. – DIsney's Yacht and Beach Club Resort