Friday, January 18, 2013

Walt Disney World Half Marathon #GoofyChallenge Part 1

I can't recall when I first heard of the Goofy Challenge (half marathon and full marathon) and when I decided I would one day run it. I do recall that I added the 2013 race weekend to. Y calendar in late 2011 and signed up very close to the opening of registration. We saved throughout 2012 for a week long Disney vacation.

Quick summary ... This was one of the best running experiences of my life. I ran well within my fitness and executed my race plans perfectly. I had energy for family time in the theme parks before and after each race.

My Team Triumph
For the half marathon I wore my race t-shirt from myTEAM TRIUMPH an organization that helps persons with disabilities have an endurance athletics experience while also creating lasting friendships. I was running for all of the mTT captains on Saturday. I am looking forward to racing with mTT again soon!

Pre-race for the half marathon.

With a 0535 start time we had to wake up about twenty minutes before 3 am. I quickly changed, finalized my drop bag and guzzled a cup of coffee. I brought with me a water bottle and bagel with peanut butter to eat in the corral about 90 minutes before starting.

Runner bus transportation was close to our Corando Springs room and a mostly empty bus pulled up just as we arrived. At the next stop there was a long line of team in training runners. The bus filled and we were on our way to Epcot.

My wife was also running the half so we chatted about race strategy and the nervous energy of several dozen team in training runners and walkers. team in training, which I believe benefits leukemia and lymphoma is the official Run Disney charity partner. I heard they raised more than 3miliion dollars with more than 1500 participants. On the bus I spoke with a sweeper.her job was to make sure everyone finished and had anything they needed. She was to be the last team in training finisher. There were also lots of coaches that were either running with participants or lining the course. Coaches had a grab bag of guu, band aids, power aide and other things runners might need. They also had silly hats, Pom pons and cow bells.

EPCOT Arrival

Runners arrive to the start village by bus, dozens of buses, private vehicle, foot, and monorail. Our trip was quick as I think we were ahead of much of the traffic. It is a 5-10 minute walk from the bus to the start village. The start village was complete with lots of port a potties (our first stop), photographers, and a DJ. We found a spot to meet post race, listened to a green army guy give encouragement, and visited with a few other runners.

Just after getting off the bus. The walk to the staging area. 

Looking back at the dozens of buses lined up to drop off runners. 

Red carpet walkway and Mouse ears to enter the staging area. 
Best Bag Drop System Ever

For many runs the bag drop is the back of a truck or a constricted area with no clear entry or exit. The bag drop was by last name and was the walk through to the staging area to the start. In the F to H tent there were 10 drop off spots and a one way flow of traffic. My bag would stay in this tent and not be moved, another bonus.

Given the hot weather my drop bag was pretty empty .... Water bottle, room key, phone, hat, dry shirt and dry shorts (I was anticipating chaffing and wanted to be able to get dry as soon as possible post race). Many runners didn't have a drop bag, which I considered but didn't want to run with my phone and room key.

Staging Area

Staging area after moving through the bag drop
After moving through the bag drop we staged in another large area with lots of ports potties. The wait in this area wasn't entirely clear. We sat with some other runners and finished our bagel and water breakfast. If there was an announcement we missed it because at around 0430 runners began to move out of the staging area and down a service area to the start corrals. This was probably a half mile walk. Corrals A to E went left and corrals F to H went right.

Just after the split there was another long line of porta potties. Pro tip, walk further down the line of porta potties for a shorter line. Although I was assuming the corrals would have porta potties I decided to make a final stop. This is where I said goodbye to my wife. She was in corral B and I was in corral A.

One of many rows of porta potties
The wide angle shot ... yes many of those people are in line

Corral A

The road we walked from the post bag drop staging area to the corrals
The corral was virtually empty when I arrived. Some runners were jogging and running strides on an adjacent road, some were ducking into the bushes, others were taking photos, and many were sitting.

The split for A-E and F-H corrals
I think there is marginal value in "warming up" on a warm day for a pace that is essentially a fun run. For longer races on colder days I might do a short warm up, especially if I have shed most of my layers. Today though, no warm up.

Milling around in Corral A

Inspiration from Goofy, Mickey, and Donald
I sat, did some light stretching, talked to a few other runners, and listened to the DJs blather on. Including interviews with Joey Fattone and James Franco. I was running with a camera (I have never done this before) so I took some photos throughout the Pre-race for this and other blog posts.

I was expecting porta potties in the start corral. Alas there were none. Although my need was urgent I opted against hoping the barrier and ducking into the woods. I didn't want to face plant into the concrete. Held it in for on course porta potty.

The corral gradually became more and more crowded. Lots of runners in various Disney character outfits. Without going into details my favorite was a Jasmine outfit and several Minnie mouses more reminiscent of an adult Halloween party than Minnie from the Magic Kingdom.


A Disney vocalist sang the national anthem and the wheelchair race started with fireworks at 0530 (I had been awake for almost 3 hours at this point).

Starting with a bang!
The corral surged forward and corral A started at 0535 (I am not sure of the time seeding for each corral). I crossed the line about one minutes after the fire works. It was a goose pimple start for me. The combination of fireworks, mass of people, Disney, and fatigue. We began on a three lane road with lots of space. Like any mass participation race there was the befuddling mix of people sprinting and weaving and very slow walkers. Odd.

To the Magic Kingdom

Large parts of the route are on the roads between the theme parks. Probably less than two miles of the half is run in a theme park.

Running through the toll booth to Magic Kingdom parking
Before the one mile mark I found the porta potty I needed. With no line I was in and out in less than a minute. Not long after the course made a sweeping right hand turn ... An exit ramp from one highway to another. This was a significant constriction of the course, but the pace didn't slow which was nice. After the sweep right we poured onto another three lane road that led to the Magic Kingdom.

The first character sighting was Captain Jack Sparrow. Runners were lining up for photos and music was blasting. It was a neat sight. Even neater was the monorail zipping by to our right.

The route turned into the ticket and transportation center which was nice because lots of runner friends and family were there cheering. Plus it was well lit after running a couple of miles in the dark. We continued out of the parking area and past the contemporary hotel. By this time I had settled into a comfortable pace. I didn't want to run to fast and risk both having a fun day with my kids and the marathon the next day. I was very content to run easy miles and enjoy the sights.

5K split in 28:43 (pace 9:15 min/mile) with an estimated finish time of 2:01:10.
Near the Walt Disney World speedway I stopped for a photo with Chip And Dale.

Posing like the Clay Maker
On Monday night during the Tomorrow Land dance party Chip grabbed my medal and seemed to be communicating by gesture that he remembered having a photo with me Saturday morning. it's a small world after all.

Running in the fog near the Contemporary Hotel
Cinderella's Castle was brilliantly lit with thousands of twinkling lights and visible from outside of the park. We entered the back stage area just past the monorail track and exited onto Main Street USA. I felt as if I was turning onto fifth avenue during the New York City marathon as there were so many people and so much cheering. Runners had the east side of Main Street and spectators had the west side. It was great and another goose pimple moment as we ran towards the castle. Just before turning into Tomorrow Land I said a quick hello to a couple of medics from Reedy Creek.

Looking south on Main St. USA

Looking at Cinderalla's Castle

Magic Kingdom

Inside tomorrow land I stopped with a photo with Buzz Lightyear.

To 13.1 and beyond!
Another pro tip ... The rest rooms in the theme parks are open to runners if you need a clean and real toilet. We cruised through tomorrow land and past the tea cups. I waved to Alice as we turned into the newly expanded Fantasy Land. I considered a photo with Beast and Belle but decided to run on.

The route runs through Cinderella's Castle. The exit is spectacular into bright lights and flash bulbs of race photographers and spectators. In front of the castle I posed for a photo and made the turn into Frontier Land.

Inside Frontier Land I stopped for a photo with Jessie and Bullseye (Toy Story). I was surprised more people werent stopping and I never waited more an 2 to 5 people. You could have an official race photo taken as well as a photo with your own camera by a cast member.

Holding the reins ... like Psy
We crossed the rail road track and exited the Magic Kingdom. (video: as we exit the park and into the back stage area a runner with a GoPro caught a short snip of me running ... red shirt, black short shorts, and knee high socks).

We ran past a Reedy Creek station I had not seen before and just after the 6 mile mark a reedy creek ladder was parked next to a DJ and cheering section.

Run Strong, Be Safe from Reedy Creek FD
10K Split in 58:40 (pace 9:26 min/mile) with an estimated finish time of 2:03:46.

Back to EPCOT

We ran a long straight section that eventually took us past the Grand Floridian and Polynesian. Just after the transportation center we rejoined the road....south bound lanes... of the road we had run into the Magic Kingdom.

Runners/walkers still a few miles from the Magic Kingdom

Runners and walkers moving in both directions

End of the race, literally being swept off the road
During this stretch I stopped for a photo with Mary Poppins and another with a Reedy Creek crew.
Why the Penguin? I am about to get happy feet so keep reading. 

Reedy Creek FD ambulance at Hess station, but I couldn't find the crew.

A few Reedy Creek FD personnel at the medical tent around mile 8

Central Florida is very flat. The only hills on this course were when we changed roads. The switch from southbound to eastbound was a long sweeping clover leaf 270 degree bend. Near the top a couple of green arm guys were giving encouragement and my wife reported later challenging runners to do push ups.

Army guys

Top of the dreaded clover leaf, looking down at runners about to start the long curving hill
15K Split in 1:27:00 (pace 9:20 min/mile) with an estimated finish time of 2:02:22.

Pick up the Pace

After the clover leaf I realized I needed to step up my pace to get to finish in under two hours. I felt well rested, hydrated and I had eaten a gel a few miles before. The sun wasn't yet over the horizon so I stepped on the gas. Although this section was straight and fairly mundane it is always fun to pass other runners.
Pushing it with the sun about to rise
Warren Sapp in the ESPN Zone

Just before the EPCOT parking lot Warren Sapp and another ESPN personality were shouting out hometowns of runners. I got Warren to give a cheer for the packers (playing that night). Later I realized I could have kicked him in the knee and shouted, "that is for Chad Clifton."

Inside EPCOT

At this point I was really pouring it to the coals and making lots of passes. We ran through the bus drop off area and into EPCOT to the left of spaceship earth. I stopped for a photo with @jeff_EMT and continued to blast toward the finish.
Great to see you Jeff!
After passing spaceship earth the course runs to the lagoon and turns 180 back to spaceship earth and the finish line.

I felt great as I smiled for lots of photographers. It was another goose pimples moment as we left EPCOT and ran by a gospel choir. I was thrilled to see 400 yards to go and know that I was well within 2 hours.

Spaceship Earth ... one of my favorite rides
I ran my fastest three miles of the race in the final 5K (see splits below)

Finish Line

The finishing chute is quite long with plenty of space between the medals, water, powerade, finisher photos, and food. It was quite spacious. I enjoyed some snacks, posed for lots of photos, and watched others finish. Bag pick up was easy and I was handed my bag before I reached the table. It was Magical.

I arrived at the finish in 1:57:23 (pace 8:57 min/mile).

Just after crossing the finish line

A fine looking medal .... thanks Donals

Lots of cold drinks, water and Powerade

Walking into post race staging area was a long line up of race potographers

These ladies put the B into bananas
Bag pick-up was easy peasy ... 

Post Race

Post race ... happy and hydrated
I ate, drank, took photos, and visited with other runners in the family meeting area. I spent a few minutes with Dr. Jeff Guy (@burndoc and PHTLS author).

After Amanda arrived we had a photo with Daisy Duck.

No quacking about my runner chicken legs
Buses back to the resorts were conveniently located to the finisher area. We walked onto a mostly empty bus for the ride back to the Coranado. A few hours later we were on the the animal kingdom African Safari.

Laps from my Garmin

Overall place: 2061 of 23125
Gender place: 1537 of 9998
Age division place: 295 of 1725 (this is sort of stunning to me that there are this many runners in the 40-41 male age division. Perhaps I am sorting wrong or mis-reading)

Generally I like to be in the top 10% of the field (I call it the front of the middle of the pack). I think my placement reflects two things:
1. A generally slow field with lots of walkers
2. A race with more female than male entrants

Stay tuned for my recap of the Full Marathon.


  1. Did you tell Royal Mickey and Minni my Goofy Joke?

    This summer I have two triathlons in one weekend. The Saturday day race is the B race and a little shorter then the Sunday A race. I have a 4 hour drive between the two. Any strategies or other advice not included in your report?

    Sounds like a ton of fun. Nice report.

  2. Thanks. The whole experience was a blast. The time with family was even better.

    I think a lot will depend on a) how hard you race on Saturday and b) how extreme the weather is for either race.

    Some of the things I did post race Saturday:
    1) Wore knee high tight fitting socks. I am not sure if there is actual evidence of compression products, but anecdotally I feel like it helps me.

    2) I ate regular breakfast after half marathon - oatmeal, fruit, and coffee. Then I had a huge lunch at about 2 pm at the Yak and Yeti restaurant with a flourless chocolate cake that was to die for.

    3) I drank a lot of water throughout the day. It was warm and humid.

    4) I kept my mind off of the previous and upcoming races by going on an African Safari, taking in a Lion King show, walking on a nature trail, looking at Gorillas, riding a couple of spinning rides, and getting scared out of my wits on the Expedition Everest roller coaster (it goes backwards in the dark very fast ... I didn't know that was coming).

    5) I went to bed earlier than normal, right after my beloved Packers took a 7-0 lead. If I had stayed awake for a few more plays I might have tossed and turned with thoughts of their impending doom.

    6) Finally, I did a lot of back to back (about 10 weeks worth) of long runs. Always doubled Saturday's mileage on Sunday. I am not sure if that translates to tris but might be worth a try.