I join Team Nuun to tackle the penultimate Ragnar Relay race in Utah's beautiful Wasatch Back Mountains. I went to run, but left with the admiration of a team of individuals who made my experience greater than any race could.
Aaaaaaannnnd, we’re back! When we were last together, I had banked 9.3 of the 48.6 miles required to earn my Dopey Challenge medal (which, I have no idea where it currently is), and was staring down a half marathon, followed by a full one the following day.
Upon returning to our room, we noticed our maid had used some towels to make quite an unsettling looking creature. I swear, throughout our stay, that thing moved closer to my bed every night. Since my wife was not running the half, she decided to spend the night with her folks at the Bonnet Creek Resort, so they could get up early and find a prime spot along the course. After she left, I sat out on the balcony and watched the Electrical Water Pageant, which is one of Disney’s longest running shows. Each night, a line of barges travels around Seven Seas Lagoon/Bay Lake and puts on a light show for the resorts. It’s something I still remember when I was a little kid and it warms my heart.
I spent some more time on the balcony listening to the rushing of the man-made waterfalls and the rush of the geyser off in the distance, while developing the strategy for the following day’s race. Upon hitting the sheets, I couldn’t for the life of me get to sleep. It’s not that I was too excited to sleep, rather I just wasn’t tired. Watching some TV finally made my eyes heavy, and I drifted to sleep a mere two hours before my wakeup call.
As expected, the morning came quickly and I shuffled my way outside into the frigid Florida air and onto the bus headed, once again to the Epcot parking lot. There, I caught up with my good friend, Seth, who was undertaking his first Goofy Challenge. This being his first race of the weekend, his legs were fresh and I resented him for it. Truth be told, my legs were feeling pretty good and I was ready to run. This year’s corral placement had put me farther than I had ever been back in a Disney race, corral D. I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, but dropping corrals bothers me. I guess it’s in my competitive nature to strive to start with the front of the pack, but I guess as the years go on, I should get used to watching a few more sets of fireworks go off before I start.
The half marathon is the third race of the challenge, but the first that really covers any significant mileage, and I never know how to run this sucker. Theoretically, if there’s any chance to ace the full marathon, I should back off this one. Problem is, I don’t know how much. Moving back to corral E with Seth, I imagined would help. As we crossed the line, Seth and I made a deal we’d hang out together as long as possible, but either of us were free to speed up or slow down. Respectfully, every man for himself. The plan managed to work for about two miles when Seth sped up and was quickly lost among the hundreds of runners around us. This really made me want to kick it into high gear. Adding to my angst were the runners who were speeding past me in droves. However, I remained disciplined and putt putted my way along the racecourse. As I turned on to World Drive towards the Magic Kingdom, I could see runners by the thousands that disappeared off into the horizon, clearly cementing my position of middle of the pack. I passed marching bands, balloons, and even gained some ground on runners who had stopped to get a picture with some Disney characters (not my thing).
The Ticket and Transportation Center is, no doubt, one of the Disney runner’s favorite locations as it’s really the first spot where the spectators outnumber the runners, and it’s always a good feeling to see them. I caught the eyes of some friends as I leisurely entered and exited the area and headed down the road towards the Magic Kingdom. If the TTC gives you the “runner’s high,” then running down Main Street USA is a shot of adrenaline straight into the heart. The feeling is truly indescribable. I knew my family would be there and I caught them relatively easily. Without any real reason to finish in a good time, I stood there for a few moments and we talked a little about the morning and how I was feeling. I gave my wife a kiss goodbye and headed on my running tour of the rest of the park, stopping in the Tomorrowland restroom. I never stop at a rest stop during a race, but again I was in no hurry. In the men’s room, there were a handful of other Dopey runners who had the same idea I did. A few of us talked a little bit as we checked our hair in the mirrors (gotta look sharp) and then trickled out.
After the Magic Kingdom, the course takes runners behind the Grand Floridian, where the course is adorned with traffic cones to separate the runners from the cars that traverse that area. Repeating from last year, I tried to count the cones to keep my mind occupied. I can’t remember the number, but I think it was around 1,267. At this time, the sun was starting to peak over the horizon and gave a warm, orange glow over the adjacent golf course where some wild deer were up and about.
From there, the course gets pretty boring, as it essentially follows World Drive back to Epcot. As I approached, Mile 11, I noticed something strange. In front of me was a runner that was clearly out of her element and struggling to maintain a walk. As I passed, I noticed on her bib her corral placement was one of the last to start. I originally chalked it up to her jumping corrals, as scumbag runners do frequently. But, then I thought there was no way she was in front of me the whole race. So, I wondered where she may have cut the course and the only real place that could have happened was on the entrance to World Drive at Mile 3. That meant she would have only run (walked) five miles while the rest of us were slugging it out. Things like this seem to happen more frequently as Disney races, and I thought I was the only one who noticed. However, Seth told me he noticed it too when we found each other after the race. I’m all for everyone getting out there and hustling, but cutting corners is absolutely reprehensible. Maybe that runner should stick to shorter distances until she feels ready to run an honest half marathon. End soapbox rant.
Coming up on the finish, I caught up with Sean Astin of Goonies fame. Sean has been to a lot of the same races I enter so I see him enough for this not to be a big deal. With a slap on the back, I congratulated Sean on his race and watched him head towards the finish while I stopped to say hi to my family. My wife, mom, and my wife’s parents were all there, so after seeing Sean, I sauntered over to the bike rack barrier they were standing behind. “Finish the race!” my wife passionately exclaimed. “ Nah,” I said. “I’ve got time,” eliciting laugh and applause from the surrounding spectators. I hung out for a few minutes and then endzone danced across the finish line.
Since I had the big race the following day, we didn’t stick around, rather the whole gang headed back to the Wilderness Lodge to nosh on breakfast and relax around the resort. Of course, after a few hours I got antsy and decided to hit the parks a little bit. My wife and I headed over to MGM, where I was incredibly happy to see walls surrounding that ugly monstrosity called, “The Hat.” Everyone has an opinion on it and I’m no exception. Being a Great Movie Ride cast member for so long, my feeling is the sooner that thing is gone and we get the original view of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre back, the better.
Devin and I ate at the Backlot Express restaurant, one of the few remaining untouched areas from the early days of MGM, and then grabbed a bench to people watch for a bit before heading back to the room and settle in for the night. Re-entering the room, we had seen our maid had added another creepy creature to the towel menagerie.
Sunday brought the Disney World Marathon and the final day of the Dopey Challenge. The main story of the day was that the cold snap had broke and today was slated to drive temperatures into the 80’s with a possibility of rain. The rain was less concerning to me having just survived the “the deluge” that was the Wine & Dine Half Marathon, but the temps had me a little on edge. However, because of the forecast, I replaced my New Balance 1600s with my recently retired “green meanies.” Just like yesterday, I caught up with Seth in his corral and we crossed the start line for the 26.2 miles ahead of us. Unlike yesterday, Seth and I stayed in lockstep throughout the early miles race and the Magic Kingdom. While we didn’t talk much, it was good to race with someone at my pace and helped break up the monotony. At the Disney Speedway, around Mile 8, we broke off to run our own races. There, I saw my friend Billy, who works at the Speedway, and he ran with me to the end of the track.
The stretch of course that bridges the Speedway to the Animal Kingdom is one of a runner’s most dreaded sections of the races. Not only is it incredibly boring, but the smell from the water treatment plant adds the insult to injury. This is usually where I take stock of how of my body is feeling and decide if I can pick up the pace, or if I need to back off. Today, my body felt good and I started to speed up my pace heading into the backstage area of Animal Kingdom.
I really like running through Animal Kingdom and really wish there was more of it we could run through. Alas, it seemed as I was exiting the park just as fast I entered it. But, now it was on to Osceola Parkway and the long stretch to the Wide World of Sports complex. Although, this part of the race tends to feel like an eternity, the sun hid behind the clouds for most of it, making the run rather tolerable. Surprisingly, I finished Osceola Parkway quicker than I expected and made the turn onto Victory Way towards Wide World Sports.
From a completely unscientific poll of my peers, the Wide World of Sports section is the most hated of all parts of the race. It’s nearly four miles of sidewalks, tracks, stadiums, twists, turns and just overall blah. I really wish Disney would bring back the course that didn’t have us go in there. Seriously, it’s awful. The one highlight of this section was that I got to see my friend and Ragnar Relay teammate, Jillian and running pal, Krissy. Seeing them really picked up my spirits, and I felt great heading into the Studios.
Secretly, the Studios is my favorite park. Not just because of my GMR days, but also because there’s this air of nostalgia, like nothing has changed (even though it has gone through numerous enhancements(?)). Keeping with tradition, I flipped the bird to the Hat, something I do at every race and then quickly exited the park towards Epcot and the finish.
Cranking through the Boardwalk and Yacht/Beach Club, I found myself on Epcot’s World Showcase promenade, and quickly headed towards the end of my journey. No less than two tenths of a mile from the finish, the heaven’s opened up and rain began to pour down on me. Of course, it did! Luckily, the rain stopped as quickly as it started and I crossed the finish strong and happy.
At the finish line, I caught up with my mom, Seth and his fiancé, took a few pictures and then found some dear friends in the stands to watch my wife and other friends finish the race. Once again, the heavens opened up and it rained hard for about 20 minutes. I felt bad for the racers still out there, but when later discussing it, my wife said it was refreshing and welcome.
I was able to see my wife finish the race, which is always wonderful. She looked great and had huge smile as she crossed the finish line. My wife is boss.
So, remember my Red Robin friends from Part 1? Well, some of them were racing, too. Some their first marathons, others their first Dopey. Those who weren't running we're cheering. That's right, they had gotten up like the rest of us runners to cheer us on. Not to mention, they had a virtual war room going on, using all means of communication to determine where all us racers were to ensure they would be the loudest when we crossed the finish line. I love these guys so much and am incredibly proud of them and everyone who participated.
Devin and I celebrated like we do every year, with a romantic dinner at our favorite restaurant, Artist Point at the Wilderness Lodge. We feasted on treasures of the Pacific Northwest and the best Pinots Oregon has to offer. That night, I drifted to sleep easily with a smile on my face.
The next day, we met up with Jen, Lena and her husband at Epcot, and celebrated the only way we know how, by drinking around the world. We started with tequila shots in Mexico, because we're bosses. We, then made our way around World Showcase, slowly, stopping at Via Napoli for lunch, and then back to the liver abuse. By the time we got to UK, the sun had gone down and the rain began to fall in sheets of icy daggers. So, we holed up in the Rose & Crown and carried on as the locals do, with lots of Scotch.
As I reflect on the week, far and away, the highlight wasn’t the races, nor was it the parks or attractions. Truly, the most wonderful part was being able to share in experiences with family friends. We had reconnected with a tremendous group of people, I saw my mom participate in her first 5k, I got to share time with my wife’s folks, saw Seth run his first Goofy and other friends complete their running goals, and got plastered in Epcot.
Really, what more could I ask for?