If you don't care about the new Walt Disney World Marathon Relay, stop reading now. :-)
When they announced the new Marathon Relay race last year we were very interested, and signed up. But there was very little information on how it was going to work...and as time went on, not much new information was forthcoming, which was quite a surprise. All of us running it wanted to know how the actual exchange was going to work, and there were no details at all about that!
There was a little bit of information (including a map) when they published the marathon weekend program on-line in December, but still no specifics. When we picked up our registration packets at the Expo, there was an information sheet for the relay teams with a few more details. The worst part was that the Leg 2 runner also needed to catch a bus to Epcot by 4:00 a.m., and could take either bus or monorail to get to the Relay exchange area in the Transportation and Ticket Center parking lot. If you took the bus it dropped you at the relay area, if you took the monorail you had to walk from the TTC (10-20 minute walk). STILL really no information on the exchange, though!
On the morning of the race they had this map up at the information area in the pre-race area of Epcot- this was as much detail as we got. It showed their were four "chutes" for the Leg 2 runners instead of 8 that were shown on the program.
I was the leg 2 runner, so I got to "scout" the Relay Exchange area. :-) I took the monorail from Epcot to the TTC, then walked to the relay area - it was easy to find, just follow the sound! There was a finish line for the leg 1 runner, with a clock, and then beyond that were chutes off to the side with number ranges. (That's Lee crossing the finish line.)
There was a stage and a race announcer, but they were across the exchange area and not accessible. The big screen alternated between showing the relay finish line, the Epcot finish line (most of the wheelchairs and the top runners finished while I was watching), and other scenes.
The leg 2 runner waited in the chute until they saw their runner approaching, and then moved out onto the course for a hug, kiss, high-5, or whatever. There was no "baton", and no electronic tracking point that both runners had to cross.
Runner 1's time ended when they crossed the finish line. Runner 2's time started when they got back onto the marathon course and crossed the 13.1 mile tracking point. But the time in between was counted as the "transition time" and added to the team's overall time.
The leg 2 runner had about .3 miles further to run, since they had to exit the transition area and get back into the marathon course (that entrance was just BEFORE the 13 mile mark) and then their official time started .1 miles after the 13 mile mark.
The relay area was quite large considering there were less than 900 teams. They had plenty of porta-potties and a bag check and information area. And the medal stand and refreshment area for the leg 1 finishers.
They ALSO had Chip and Dale available to pose with runners, against a nice marathon relay backdrop.
But it was a REALLY long wait for the second runner. Most of us got over there by 5:00-6:00, and then had to wait until 7:30-8:30 (or longer!) for the first runner to arrive. There was no shelter there at all and it was dark until about 7:00. Fortunately there were mylar "blankets" available, and I saw lots of runners curled up on the pavement with the blankets around them trying to sleep.
It explained the extra "gift" that the relay teams received at Packet Pickup, though - we all got these blue bags...
And inside was a seating pad, I guess to help cushion us from all of that waiting around we were going to have to do! (I don't know anyone who actually used it, though!)
About 30 minutes before I expected Lee to arrive I checked Lee's gear bag (and added a couple of items of mine that I no longer needed). In turn, he had checked my gear bag at Epcot so it would be waiting for me at the finish. Before we said goodbye at Epcot we made VERY sure that we had the correct bags! At about 7:40 I went to the appropriate chute to wait for him. I had used the Runner Tracking setup to send text messages to my phone, so I had a pretty good idea of when he was due. I could see him when he was about 100 yards away.
It was fun watching the "exchanges" - some people gave their first leg runners big hugs and kisses, and some just said a couple of words and the second runner took off. I saw quite a few who gave their incoming running the mylar sheet that they had been using!
Another interesting thing...Disney recognized that there were some runners who for whatever reason didn't have their first-leg teammate. They still allowed them to run - at about 7:45 (a little over two hours after the race had started) they made an announcement that those without a first leg runner were free to leave and begin their race. So they still got their time and their medal - I thought that was a nice way for Disney to handle it.
There were plenty of buses to transport the leg 1 runners back to Epcot - Lee had no problem getting back there, though they had to take the long way around via Ft. Wilderness and Bonnet Creek Parkway.
Once I was out on the race course the rest of the race was really no different for me than for those running the full marathon - except that I was a lot less tired than they were. :-)
At the finish line they had plenty of people looking at our bibs and directing us to the area where we received the Relay medal instead of the Mickey medal. There weren't nearly as many racks of Chip and Dale medals as there were Mickey medals, though!
One thing I was disappointed about - at the area where they were taking pictures of us, there was no special Relay backdrop - only the ones for the Marathon and for the Goofy. So I didn't get my photo taken.
Shannon, who read my earlier blog on the relay, sent me an email and let me know that there WAS a Relay backdrop at the finish - it was near the Runner's Retreat and the concession stand. She writes: "It was small and easy to miss. I noticed it while waiting with my DH before the first leg when I grabbed a cup of coffee."
And here is their photo. (Thank you, Shannon, for the use of the picture!)
For the most part, for a first-time event I thought this one went quite well. The transportation to/from the Relay Exchange area went quite smoothly. And there were few enough people that it was easy to find your incoming runner as long as you had some idea of when they would be arriving. I still think the wait time for the leg 2 runner was excessive, though. And it seems like there should be some way to avoid having to have them arrive at Epcot so early when they won't be running for several more hours.
If you are thinking of doing the Relay in the future, then I think choosing a monorail resort for your weekend stay would be a really good option. The leg 1 runner can take the monorail to Epcot, and the leg 2 runner can stay in the room until they need to take the monorail to the TTC and then walk to the Relay Exchange area to wait for their leg 1 runner.
And after I wrote that, I received this email from Julie:
"I was a 2nd leg relay person. I ended up staying at the Contemporary the night before. I took the monorail to the TTC and walked to the exchange area in the MK parking lot. When I got off the monorail at TTC, a security guard pointed me toward the crowd of spectators watching the race. There was a walkway marked for spectators and relay runners that was easy to follow to the Simba parking lot. It made getting to the exchange point very simple.
"I left the Contemporary around 6:30 or so and was in the exchange area a little after 7 a.m. My relay partner finished her half by 8:15 so I didn't wait long. My backup plan was to drive to MK after 5:30 a.m. Either way, it requires extra money to rent a car or stay at a monorail hotel so you don't have to get up so early. I did the half on Saturday so I was looking for a way to get extra sleep on Sunday."
(Thank you, Julie, for sharing your experience!)
Someone told me that it seemed as though I'd done the Relay just to get the new medal, and asked if I would do it again. Hmm. While I enjoyed the experience, and I'm glad that we did it, it's not something I would do year after year. Lee and I both felt a little "guilty" being out on the Marathon course when we were only running 13.1 miles and not 26.2. But I'd do it again with a friend who really wanted to do it and needed a partner.
In closing I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to all of the wonderful volunteers who worked the Expo, handed out water and snacks, provided direction, and cheered us on - we couldn't do it without you! And thank you to all of the spectators who cheered and offered encouragement and yelled and rang those cowbells!
The previous post in this blog was A Tribute To Richard M. Sherman.
The next post in this blog is Disneyland's Lunar New Year Celebration.