13.1 Mostly ‘Magical’ Miles: Disney Half Marathon Recap!
What a weekend. I didn’t run down Cruella Deville or get chased by the Seven Dwarfs, but I hung out with Minnie and Mickey at the 2013 Disney Half Marathon and managed to PR with a 1:46:17 finish. Out of more than 25,000 runners, 177th place and 29th in my age group.
The finish felt great, as they usually do after grinding it out on the pavement for that many miles. It always rocks to be DONE, right?! But this was a very different experience from the Zooma Florida half marathon last month, which also promotes itself as a women’s weekend active getaway. The differences reminded me that bigger and grander isn’t necessarily better than a smaller race event, depending on a runner’s personal preference and interests.
As with everything in fitness, you have to find what works for you. Full disclosure: I am not a Disney devotee. I prefer beaches, mountains or big cities to theme parks. Toddlers having meltdowns at the Teacups make my ovaries shrivel into raisins. And I don’t like waiting in long lines. Yet I know others love Disney enough to go a few times a year, and for them this event is their ideal blend of fitness and fun.
While I am glad that I ran the Disney Princess, and thrilled that I got to meet fellow Fitfluential and SweatPink Ambassadors and spend time with friends, I likely won’t repeat. Here’s why, starting with what made the event great:
- Organization: Disney isn’t known as the “most magical place on Earth” by accident and happenstance. Disney is a well-oiled machine of operations and organization, as they must be given their size and scope. That was on full display the entire race weekend and even before. There were helpful e-mail updates in the week or two before the race, and on-site they provided precise instructions and execution for everything from packet pickup to race-day bag check and resort transportation. Even with inevitable waiting and delays because of the volume of runners (26,000), Disney managed to herd us (quite literally; at one point I uttered, ‘So this is what cattle feel like.’) into those multiple starting line corrals on time.
- Starting line: Fireworks and bass-pumping music at 5:30 am don’t happen very often, but Disney set them off for each corral’s start – after a pep talk from the Fairy Godmother and fellow runner Sean Austin of Goonies, Rudy and Lord of the Rings fame. It was an awesome way to get fired up, even at that super-early hour’
- Post-Race Offerings:There were ample supplies of Chiquita bananas, Dasani water, and cute food boxes packed with nuts, hummus and whole grain crackers, Luna protein bars, even a square of dark chocolate.
- The Medal:It is fully tricked out and heavy on the bling, a sweet finisher medal!
- Massage Tent: I don’t love that they charged $1 a minute (Zooma massages were complimentary), but my 10 minutes with the massage team was worth every penny. My guy realigned and stretched my tight hips, diagnosed my post-run kinks immediately, and was clearly an expert. Plus Biofreeze was flowing! Awesome.
Here’s what was disappointing….
- The Course: The race tagline proclaims “Every Mile is Magic,” but as my friend Laura said on the car ride home, “I don’t think every mile was magical.” There was too much time spent running across parking lots, down back alleys and along service roads that stank of freshly laid manure. The route did not spend as much time in the Magic Kingdom and Epcot as the marketing materials suggested. And really, isn’t the idea of running through Disney why many of us registered for this race?
- The Start Time: I am an early riser. I teach a 6 a.m. class every weekday. But even I found the 5:30 am start – and hurry up and wait around even earlier than that – to be rough. We had to be at the shuttle by 4 a.m., which meant a 3 am wakeup, and then once we got to the race area had to walk 20 minutes to get to our start. I am definitely a bigger fan of the 7:30 or 8 a.m. start time, and one that doesn’t require so many transportation logistics.
- The Expo: The vendors were awesome (check out this awesome T I snagged! ‘Does this shirt make my butt look fast?’), and the expo of any race is my personal fave time to discover and peruse new #fitgear. But this one was too crowded in its setup, with the vendors squished into a too-small area of the huge hotel hall while the race packet pickup area was a wide-open expanse of mostly wasted space. The crowded nature of the expo was sort of overwhelming, and probably not helpful to vendors’ bottom line. I passed on buying a couple of items because it was just too chaotic.
- Post-race transportation: Here, the Disney machine sputtered. Later finishers had to wait 40+ minutes to get the bus back to their hotels, in some cases arriving so late they didn’t have time to take showers before checkout. The last thing a runner wants to do is stand around for 40 minutes after running 13.1. Disney needed more buses and a faster process for moving people after the race. My friend Laura was one of these runners, and frankly the hotel should have honored our request for a later checkout when we called at 10:50 a.m. to let them know her bus had yet to bring her back.
- The Price: The registration fee for this single event could have covered two half marathons elsewhere. So if I am paying that much, I expect more – starting with a great scenic course and ending with seamless post-race transport.