The Wine and Dine Half Marathon is my favorite half marathon at Walt Disney World. It's the only nighttime half marathon. It starts at ESPN Wide World of Sports and ends at Epcot, where there's an after-party that goes until 4:00 a.m. The Food and Wine Festival booths are open as are some attractions, and there's also entertainment and character meet and greets. Party admission is included with race registration, though you still have to pay at the food booths. As we did last year, our plan was to run the race Saturday night, then take a four-night Disney cruise starting on Monday. Oh, and then return to California on Friday to run the Inaugural Infinity Gauntlet Challenge at Disneyland on Saturday and Sunday!
We arrived late Wednesday night, and spent a couple of days enjoying the parks and the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.
The race expo opened on Friday morning at the usual ESPN Wide World of Sports location. We headed over late Friday afternoon. This race is not as big as most of the others, so not all of the Disney resorts are "host" resorts where transportation to race events is provided. The Boardwalk is one of those resorts, and we took the bus to/from the Expo.
Packet pickup was easy - no line. Included in our race registration was a $15 Disney gift card intended to be used at the party after the race, though it could be used any where. Instead of picking those up with our packet as in past years, Disney mailed them to us at home before the race.
The shirts are a very dark blue, and long sleeve. It's a nice shirt but I have too many long-sleeve shirts - we don't need them very often in San Diego!
There was a decent selection of official merchandise for the race. The item that seemed to be in the most demand was the wine glass - and I heard someone in line to check out say that she had gotten the last one. We actually did not buy anything this time! I have the magnet and mini-medal pin from last year, and although this year was slightly different, it wasn't significant enough that I wanted a new one.
Since the race is at night we tried to stay more on west coast time, though it was more difficult this year since we arrived Wednesday and not Friday like we did the previous two times we'd run this race.
I'm always concerned with weather conditions for race day. Last year during the Wine and Dine Half Marathon we had rain for the entire race. This year it looked like it was going to be unseasonably warm and humid...and as of Thursday there were thunderstorms in the forecast for Saturday afternoon/night. Sigh.
Saturday we "prepared" for the race by wandering around Animal Kingdom in the morning. We spent much of the afternoon relaxing in our room out of the heat. We split a turkey sandwich from the Boardwalk Bakery around 5:00, and we both took bagels with us to eat before the race.
It was supposed to be 75 degrees and 80% humidity at the start of the race at 10:00, and 72 and 90% humidity at midnight. Because of that I did a slight last-minute modification to my Belle costume - instead of running in my blue skirt, which has compression shorts, I just ran in my regular lightweight black running shorts. With the apron over the shorts it still looked fine.
We got in line for the bus to the start of the race (ESPN Wide World of Sports complex) at 7:00. I think we were on the second bus. There was a fair bit of traffic getting there, but we still arrived by 7:30 for a race that started at 10:00.
There were a lot of characters out for photos, and it was early enough that the lines weren't too bad, so we had our photo taken with Chip and Dale.
We found friends to hang out with while waiting, including our friend Jack from our amazing Hong Kong and Tokyo Disneyland trip.
It was still warm and humid, but whether we expected any rain depended on which weather forecast you looked at - and when.
At about 9:00 we were in the Porta-pottie line, anticipating that they would be sending us to our corrals soon. Suddenly the race announcer came on asking for our attention and telling us that we all needed to immediately evacuate to the nearby stadium because of lightning in the area. We were at the front of the line so we used the pottie, but when we got out they were telling all of us we needed to leave.
There were about 13,000 runners and lots of volunteers, so this exodus didn't happen very quickly. But it was orderly and no one was panicked, nor did I really hear a lot of grumbling. We could see lots of lightning flashes, and there was a little bit of light drizzle. In that we were fortunate, because it poured rain in some nearby areas.
They ran out of room in the stadium, and we ended up on the floor of the Field House instead. That was pretty comfortable and we could even stretch out. But we didn't get much information about what was going on - the cell service was overwhelmed and it was very hard to get any data. There was a DJ in the arena but he didn't have any information.
Rumors abounded...that the storm wouldn't pass until 11:45, that Disney would have to cancel the race if we didn't start by 11:00, that it was raining leopards and hyenas at Animal Kingdom, etc. We sat there until about 10:30, and then everyone started to get up and leave! No announcement, but we could see volunteers and race personnel waving us out. Yay!
It had not rained very much, if at all, and the ground was dry. It took much less time to get us back to the staging area than it did to move us into shelter. We hit the porta-pottie again. They still weren't quite sending us to our corrals yet. Race announcer Rudy Novotny told us that the course had been modified, one reason being that there was a chance of additional storms later. At that point they didn't say how it had been modified, but it turned out that it was shortened by over six miles. We did not go out to Animal Kingdom at all. (Apparently they were still rounding up all of those leopards and hyenas. ;-) )
Once they started letting us go to the corrals, it was a very short time before the race started. Just after we made it to corral D was the national anthem, followed very shortly by the start of the race. There were still fireworks for all of the corrals, though!
We started about 12 minutes after the official start. I was hoping that the storm would have cooled things off and reduced the humidity but no - it was still 75 and VERY humid. At that point we'd been told that the race was at least six miles shorter. And I have to say that I was pretty happy about that: less time in the heat, and more time to enjoy the Epcot party at the end.
I was pretty impressed with how Disney handled the situation. I felt they made the correct decisions to keep all of us safe AND make the appropriate adjustments that would still allow us to enjoy as much of the event as possible. As this particular race is largely about the party after the race I thought that shortening the course allowed those who finished towards the back to still have some time to experience the party, too. And keep in mind that it wasn't just the runners they had to keep safe - there were all of the volunteers and spectators and entertainment out on the course to consider as well.
The first part of the race followed the usual course on Osceola Parkway.
At about 1.3 miles instead of continuing out to Animal Kingdom we turned right toward the Studios.
There was a photo stop there.
Not too far after that was the mile 8 sign. Fastest 8 miles I ever ran! :-) The rest of the race followed the original course.
We stopped for most of the characters, though we skipped a few that had long lines. Because of the shortened course we ran faster than we would have in a longer race. And because the character stops were relatively close together we ended up not doing run-walk: the photo waits ended up being our rest interval. Given the heat I thought we did pretty well.
We had planned to run this race with a couple of friends, but we weren't able to connect with them after the evacuation. Elizabeth caught up to us anyway - she's speedy, and even starting two corrals behind us she still caught us! :-) We ran about the last half of the race together and had a good time.
One of the best parts of this race is running through the Osborne Lights. I'm really sad that this is the final year for that, but glad that we were able to do it one last time. We walked through them instead of running.
Because the race was shorter the runners hadn't gotten spread out on the course as much as usual, and the section from Studios along the canal behind the Boardwalk was more congested than usual. Not terrible - we just needed to be a little patient. But we were happy we were more towards the front where it wasn't as busy.
We finished the modified course, which was about 6.75 miles long, in 1:20:35. I'm calling it a quarter marathon, though it was just a bit longer than that.
From previous experience I knew we did not want to linger in the finish area, which is in the Epcot parking lot, so that we could maximize our party time. To get to the party we had to get through bag check at the entrance to Epcot, and then we needed to get across the race course itself where it crosses Future World. We picked up the bags that we had checked (I was looking forward to dry clothes!), and left the finish area. Bag check was no problem for us (though the lines were very long later), but it took some time to cross the course. Disney sets up a designated crossing area where they re-route the runners to create an island for those crossing, but it's not a very quick process.
After that we found a restroom so we could change clothes. Ahhh...dry clothes feel so good! And then it was time for some food! Since we had finished relatively early the lines at the food booths were pretty short. We had pork sliders from Hawaii and a lobster pie and cheese plate from Ireland. After that we went and hung out with friends who had a table near Germany. It was after 1:30 by then.
We ended up not getting any more food, but I watched the lines at Germany get longer and longer. Still, I was really shocked when we left Germany at about 3:15 and saw how crowded it was and how long the lines were! Many of the food booths had lines 30-50 people deep. It looked like a busy weekend day! Disney really oversold tickets to this event. I felt badly for the runners who finished late and had to contend with those lines. I know some who simply gave up and didn't get anything to eat/drink at the party. :-(
All things considered, Lee and I had a pretty good experience. We were quite happy to run fewer miles and have time to enjoy the party after the race. Since we finished in the top 40% we were also able to take advantage of the shorter lines for food and beverages. But I hope that next year Disney will reduce the number of party tickets available to non-runners - the crowds were pretty awful as the night went on.
It seems as though Mother Nature has taken a dislike to this race. Last year was the "Splash and Dash" (or "Wet and Drenched"), and this year we had the thunderstorm that necessitated evacuating everyone. I know there are a lot of people who are very disappointed that the race was shortened, especially those for whom this was their first half marathon. They trained hard for this race and then they didn't have the opportunity to go the distance. I understand their frustration and I'm very sorry they didn't get that experience. I think it was different for those of us who have run this race, or other races, before, and perhaps easier for us to embrace the changes. If this applies to you then I hope that you will sign up for another half marathon. And I hope you realize all that you accomplished in completing the training and making it to the start line. To the best of my knowledge Disney has never had to shorten a race before, so if nothing else, at least you were part of something historic...
Next stop for us was a four-night cruise on the Disney Dream, including the Castaway Cay 5K, but the next blogs will be about Avengers Half Marathon Weekend at Disneyland.
N.B. As I was finishing up this blog entry, I received this email message from runDisney that went out to all Wine and Dine Half Marathon participants:
Thank you for participating in the 2015 Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. We heard that some of our runners had questions about the race, which was delayed and shortened because of inclement weather and lightning in the area. As a race team, we had been monitoring weather conditions continuously on Saturday and due to conditions in the area we modified the course for the safety of our runners and spectators.
We appreciate the effort you put into preparing for the 2015 Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. While we are equally disappointed in not being able to provide a complete half marathon experience, we are thankful our runners were able to complete the modified course safely.
All Coast to Coast Challenge participants are eligible to receive their medals, and all runners' proof of time will count toward a 10K distance option for other runDisney events.
Our runDisney team has a passion for putting on magical running events where participants can make their dreams come true and achieve their personal best. While weather is out of our control, we take necessary precautions to keep our runners and Guests safe. We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused you and hope you will consider running with us again.
SVP, ESPN Wide World of Sports and Disney Springs
runDisney Race Director, East Coast