Runner's Dream Weekend

by Mike Scopa, contributing writer

For many Walt Disney World guests October is the absolute best time of the year to go. Some very appealing reasons to visit Walt Disney World during October include:

  • Crowd levels are low – fewer families are there, and of course the fear of hurricane season is a deterrent for potential guests who just don't want to run the risk of going up against Mother Nature's fury.
  • The weather is perfect – not too hot and not too cool but as Goldilocks would say, "just right" and that is a key factor.
  • The Food & Wine Festival – this annual event has become the most celebrated and popular time of the year for avid Walt Disney World fans. Who can argue when it comes to promoting food and drink at Walt Disney World?
  • Halloween and the Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party event at the Magic Kingdom – something special people have come to look forward to in this season

However, over the last decade or so there has been one other draw for some guests to visit Walt Disney World in the fall, especially in October: The Walt Disney World 10K Fall Classic. And last year, to recognize the event as happening during this special time of year, the event was renamed to the Race for the Taste 10K.

This 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) race has its participants running through the Disney-MGM Studios and Epcot theme parks while feeding them along the way. But wait, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

It was only fitting that this past first weekend of the Year of a Million Dreams celebration at Walt Disney World brought with it a "double-dip" race weekend for running fans. This was the case for the weekend of October 7 and 8. This year once again Walt Disney World hosted not only the Race for the Taste 10K but also the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K.

If you are an avid runner, Walt Disney World fanatic, a food and wine lover, and a big-time Halloween groupie, then this was the weekend for you. If you are wondering, yes, I made the trek down and ran in both races.

So let's look at these races up close. Perhaps you may want to make plans for next year.

Race for the Cure

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation is the machine behind the Race for the Cure 5K that took place on Saturday, October 7. The race began at 7:15 in the Peacock parking lot of the Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park. The course is mostly run on a flat level with no hills.

This year the runners entered Disney's Animal Kingdom Park through the leftmost turnstiles. As the runners approached the Oasis they headed for Africa. The runners then worked their way around Discovery Island and past DinoLand and soon found themselves on the outer perimeter of the park grounds, negotiating their way through some service roads. The runners then re-entered the theme park and ran past the towering Expedition Everest eventually finding their way back to Discovery Island and out to the parking lot to the finish.

This year's race saw 581 participants cross the finish line, some of whom were breast cancer survivors, as well as those who have friends or family who have been affected by breast cancer. I have spent many hours coming up for the words to describe the atmosphere for this race but I don't think there are any words that can accomplish this feat. Let's just say it's indescribable.

The prominent color seen on race day is pink—worn by survivors—some capable of participating in the race, others there to support those who are supporting them. Many participants wear dedications on their clothing in memory of loved ones who have been targeted by this demon breast cancer. It is quite the experience to attend and run in this race.

This year's goal was $120,000 and as of this week the amount raised was over $211,000. If you are planning for next year note that the entry fee is usually around $25 but goes up if you register a day or two before the race. For more information on the Race for the Cure 10K go to the event Web page.

Oh, if you're wondering, I finished seventh in my age group with a time of 33:07.

Race for the Taste 10K

The Race for the Cure 5K was the first half of the double-dip weekend. The second half of this double-dip weekend involved the Race for the Taste 10K that took place at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, October 8. This race was formerly known as the Disney 10K Fall Classic. The race is ideal for anyone who is a Walt Disney World fanatic. Hmm, I think I qualify and yes I did run it, despite pulling a hamstring in the Race for the Cure the day before.

On that morning I elected to drive to Epcot and take one of the provided buses to the start at Disney's World of Sports. My preference was to have my car waiting for me at the finish rather than have to take a bus back to the start.

This race easily had double the number of participants from last year. I believe they may have limited the number of runners to 2,500, but even that seemed a bit much as portions of the course were congested.

The race course began at the World of Sports and made its way to the rear entrance to the Disney-MGM Studios. Once inside the park my fellow runners and I found ourselves entering the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show attraction and running through the actual area where the show's stunts take place. There were two cameramen there making sure they caught us on camera so we could see ourselves on the big screen.

As we left the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show we made our way down the Big City Streets area and past the Buy the Book shop and the Sci-Fi Drive-In Restaurant.

We continued past the Commissary restaurant and made our way to the Great Movie Ride. We ran past the entrance to the attraction before taking a U-turn around the sorcerer's hat and then headed towards the Indiana Jones Stunt Show Spectacular.

Up to this point I was "holding back" and wanted to go faster but you know, my hamstring starting talking to me and said, "Mike, don't make me hurt you!" So I just sort of held back.

As we sped past this attraction we approached the 50s Prime Time Cafe and Hollywood & Vine, and then took a right turn onto Hollywood Blvd. We then continued to the front of Hollywood Blvd. and took a left at Crossroads and entered the gates which are used by those guests who make use of the Fantasmic Dinner Package.

We then made our way out of the park and run along the pathway that leads to the Boardwalk Villas. This was one of those congested areas on the course. Once we arrived at Boardwalk we found ourselves negotiating the first "hill" of the course: the bridge that connects the Boardwalk to the Swan and Dolphin complex.

I think I live for these moments, as since I train on the hills of New Hampshire, bridges and ramps at any WDW race are like a taste of home cooking.

We then headed towards the Yacht and Beach Club and made our way pass Stormalong Bay and eventually ran up the second hill as we approached International Gateway.

We entered Epcot via the United Kingdom Pavilion area. We came through the gate near those red telephone booths. Once inside World Showcase we turned right and ran past the Rose and Crown restaurant. We then faced the third hill of the race, the bridge that connects the United Kingdom pavilion with France.

We then were looking at the home stretch. We hit the five mile mark right at the edge of the France pavilion. We then continued running counterclockwise around World Showcase. At one point we heard music from "Beauty and the Beast."

The finish was in the parking lot, basically the same spot as the finish for the half-marathon.

For this finish however, yours truly did not do his traditional final kick as my hamstring had been kind to me during the race and I was not about to make him angry. For the record I finished 39th in my division with a net time of 1:17:12 which is about 2 minutes slower per mile than my time the day before, but my hamstring was happy. Only 2143 of the 2500 participants were able to cross the finish line.

The entry fee for this race is usually around $35 and as all WDW races, will see that fee rise as you get close to the actual day of the race. Runners must be 11 years of age or older and must be able to maintain a 15-minute per mile pace. For more information on the Race for the Taste 10K go to the event Web page.

[Editor's note: In addition to running in the Race for the Cure 10K, Mike also participated in a fundraiser for the event, successfully raising 100 percent of his goal of $2,750 for the cause. Way to go Mike!]