Spartan Race

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Goofy, Part 1

You know, I have to hand it to the Disney Imagineers. They are impressive. They made the Goofy Race and a Half Challenge that my wife and I completed last weekend quite memorable. Having had people complain about how warm it was on Disney Marathon Weekend for the last couple of years, they apparently decided to turn the Southern US into a tundra just for the races. I had no idea the power they could exert over even mother nature, but now I'm a little scared of them.

For those of you not familiar with the Goofy Challenge, it’s a reasonably unique race in that one runs a half marathon on Saturday, and then turns around and runs a marathon on Sunday for a total of 39.3 miles over not quite so many hours. It presents a fairly unique challenge in that you have time to go home and get sore before you run the marathon the next day. Given that it’s basically 2 races, I’m going to write about it in two stages rather than one long blog.
Back to the Disney Imagineering. Somehow, and I’m not sure how, the fine folks at Disney managed to turn central Florida into a fairly good approximation of a taiga. The week before the Half Marathon, I monitored the weather incessantly, and unfortunately kept seeing temperatures dropping lower and lower to the point where per several national weather services, it was supposed to be in the high 20s at race time. Oh, and by the way, there also might be what is apparently known as a “wintry mix” at the start of the race. Anticipating this difficulty, we purchased tyvek coveralls from the local hardware store and space blankets from Walmart in an effort to keep warm. I also planned on donning some old corduroy pants and a flannel shirt as throw away insulation. I've been caught unprepared at cold races before, and it ain't fun.
On the morning of the race, we rose at 2:50AM, got dressed and were on the bus from our hotel to the starting line by 4AM. We arrived at Epcot about 4:30 for the 5:40AM race start. Hopping off the bus, one was greeted first by the bracing cold, and then by a volunteer cheerfully shouting "welcome to Disney Alaska!", which we all found mildly amusing at the time. While waiting in line at the bag check, my wife pointed out that one could see snow flurries in the lights around the parking lot. At this point, it was novel, pretty, and not sticking to anything. Just the way that the Disney Imagineers planned it when they somehow figured out how to control the weather. After the bag check, we took an obligatory trip to the porta-potties and this is when the real fun began. I began to hear something akin to rain hitting the modern day out-house, and upon exiting, I realized that it was, in fact, sleeting in central Florida. I think the imagineers made this happen just to show that they could do it. We had been carrying our coveralls and space blankets up to this point, and now decided to gird ourselves with our full foul weather gear. We then joined the line of racers heading to the starting line looking like some sort of hazmat-lumberjacks.

The walk from the baggage check area to the start is long in Disney races, and very crowded. It reminds me of the cattle round up scenes in old westerns, complete with cowboy/volunteers herding we, the cows, into the corrals. Though it was cold and sleeting, everyone was still in a good mood. It honestly didn't feel all that bad with as many layers on as I had. We subsequently found our way to corral B, and had just enough time to get our coveralls (which, by the way, were a superb investment for $7) and throw-away clothes off before the wheelchair race started. At this point, I was stripped down to a short sleeve Sugoi Ready T, a Long sleeve Sugoi Ready T, Sugoi Merlin Shorts, and my Sugoi Zap Jacket, but was fairly comfortable.

As would be expected, the Disney folks know how to start a race. Fireworks, blaring music ,the whole shebang. I wasn't paying a lot of attention to it though, mainly because I was discovering that when one runs in driving sleet, it hurts one's eyes. I decided to go full Corey Hart and wear my sunglasses at night (or really 5:40 on a cloud covered morning) simply so I wouldn't have small pieces of ice cutting up my cornea.

The first few miles of the race are flat and fast, or at least they would be if it weren't for the throng of humanity pressed around you. Normally, I hate this part of the race, and spend it weaving in and out of people who are going slower than I am. I exert a lot of energy moving from side to side rather than forward. This time, since I was taking it easy knowing I had to run a full marathon the next day, I just jogged along chatting with my wife; dodging the occasional walker; glancing over at Epcots' signature geodesic sphere, the Spaceship Earth; and thinking about how I was going to be able to brag about this morning to people grousing about subsequent Disney marathons (you think that was bad? I ran in 2010 when it was snowing and sleeting, uphill both ways, and we liked it). Miles 1 and 2 passed easily and were, for the most part, just a time for the crowd to thin out. A few intrepid high school bands and a balloonist, desperately trying to fill his hot air balloon replica of Spaceship Earth with enough miasma to make it stand up straight, provided some distraction between mile 2 and 4. Soon after, you skirt the Disney World Speed Way and Disney Ticket and Transportation center. The later has great, and pretty much indiscriminate, crowd support.

At this point, I feel the need to give a lot of credit to my Sugoi Zap jacket. I'm from South Carolina. I don't run in the cold real often and I certainly avoid running in sleet and snow. This thin, light weight jacket kept me warm, and more importantly, dry for the whole race. I don't think I own any other race wear that could have done that. I would have been utterly miserable without it.

Miles 4 through 7 are probably my favorite part of the race. The stretch starts with occasional glimpses of the taller attractions in Magic Kingdom - Cinderella's Castle, Space Mountain, etc. As you near the contemporary resort, around mile 4.5, you pass under the Seven Seas Lagoon, in what I suppose could be though of as a short under-lake tunnel, but I have always considered to be under an overhead, water-filled overpass connecting two of the larger man-made Disney lakes. The only downside to it, besides the mild claustrophobic feeling that one has millions of gallons of water overhead , is that one of the few hills on this whole course greats you on the other side.

Around mile five, you wind your way through a back gate of the Magic Kingdom onto Mainstreet USA. The crowd support here was phenomenal, despite the weather and early hour. We stopped to have our pictures taken with the Mayor of Mainstreet and the in front of Cinderella's Castle (and, in retrospect learned an interesting fact: Scotchlite is great for keeping cars from running over you in the dark, but in a camera flash drowns out everything but itself, see picture below: what you would see, sans Scotchlite, is my wife and I flanking a Johnny Depp imitator)

The course through Magic Kingdom is fun. You run up Mainstreet, through Tomorrowland, bisect Fantasy Land, run through the backside of the castle into Liberty Square, and then out of the park through Frontierland. We stopped several more times to take pictures with characters, figuring we needed to save our legs for the next day anyway. You exit Magic Kingdom through a part of the park not usually accessible to guests, and see the back side of Big Thunder Mountain and some storage areas, which I always find pretty cool. I almost stopped to take a picture with a moth-balled, animatronic hippopotamus, but it was starting to get cold again, so kept going. The Imagineers had grown bored with making it sleet by this time (or at least I didn't notice it anymore), but had made the temperature paradoxically drop despite rising sun.

The next few miles (about 7 to 10) take you past the Grand Floridian Hotel and the Polynesian Resort as well as by some of Disney's world renowned Golf Courses. Crowd support is really quite excellent in this area, and the run is fairly easy. All that changes around mile 10, however, when you reach, in my opinion, the only hard part of this otherwise flat and fast course. A little after the tenth mile marker, the course follows one ear of a cloverleaf up onto an overpass that takes you down the home stretch to Epcot. The gain in elevation is minimal, but the way the cloverleaf is banked from right to left always kills my joints. I've figured out that that by drifting to the high side of the road and running on the grass, one can get to flat ground. Totally worth the minimal extra distance.

A little after mile eleven, one can see parts of Epcot, and you enter the park, again through a back entrance, soon after. Despite the lure of the finish line just a fraction of a mile away, we stopped to have our pictures taken with Disney Channel icons Phineas and Ferb , favorites in the running doc household (apparently, my face was too numb for me to smile at this point), before running through Futureworld to the fringe of the World Showcase, and then back to the front of the park.

At mile 13, just outside of Epcot, a superb gospel choir (who has appropriately been in the same place every time I have run this race) stood, belting out their craft, their gold robes soaking wet and frosty from the weather. I always appreciate this touch. Turning the corner and trotting to the finish line, I realized that my finishing time was 30 minutes slower than my time the previous year, but this was completely intentional. Last year, I just ran the half and left it all on the course. This year, I had to have a lot left over for the marathon the next day.

As I mentioned earlier, the Disney Imagineers had programmed this ride to get colder as it went along. If memory serves, the temperature dropped about 6 degrees over the course of the race, and we were wet with perspiration by this time. I felt great as long as I was running, but the second I stopped, I literally froze, and my wife was just as bad as I was. My fingers were so cold that I couldn't open my complimentary poweraide. We usually mill about a lot at the finish line, eat, drink, stretch, etc, but this time we collected our medals and made a bee line straight for the buses back to the hotel. It only took us a few minutes on Disney transportation, but from what I understand, traffic was backed up for a few hours for those in personal vehicles.

Overall, this is a great, albeit expensive, half marathon. The course is fast, and I did have my PR on it last year (though I didn't even try to run that type of race this year). The crowd support couldn't be better, and the swag is pretty good. Usually, the weather is mild, but I have to say, all joking aside about Disney inducing this freak weather system, the volunteers and staff were amazing, and proved that they can handle literally just about anything that can be thrown at them and still be cheerful and organized. I have obvious Disneyphilic tendencies, but I think this one will always be my favorite half. In particular, it's a great half marathon for first timers because there is a lot to see along the way.

So what does one do the afternoon after running a half marathon if one has to run a marathon the next day? Why go to Epcot and eat Italian food of course! What better than to prepare you for the other two-thirds of the Goofy. Part 2, coming soon. Mu.

1 comment:

  1. Great report! Thanks for the recap! I've always wanted to do this race. It's usually not this cold, is it?