I have finally returned from my awesome vacation down to Florida to see family, attend a dear friend's wedding and most importantly, race in the 2014 Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. This would be our fourth year racing and one I seldom miss, as it's my favorite race. For those who haven't run, the race takes place at 10:00 at night, starting at Disney's Wide World of Sports, traveling through Animal Kingdom, MGM (Hollywood) Studios, past the Boardwalk and Yacht/Beach Club, finally ending outside of Epcot. After the race, Epcot's Food and Wine Festival is open to runners and spectators until 4am. The course is pretty barren and lacks the Disney-heavy entertainment seen at WDW Marathon Weekend, so for the most part, it's just you and the road. Frankly, that's the way I like it.
We hit the expo on Friday afternoon, checking out all the usual running goodies and picked up our bibs. That night, we met up with our dear friends, Jen, Tracy and her husband, Katie, Kim, Ty and his wife for drinking and singing at Jellyrolls within Disney's Boardwalk Resort. Boardwalk would be our host resort for this trip. But, sadly our post-JR walk on this night was to the car as we were checking into Boardwalk the following day.
After a long night of debauchery with some crazy runners and a much needed late night stop at McDonald's for a McRib (a necessity when the gods of drink descend upon your liver), we found ourselves back at the Boardwalk on Saturday. However, instead of immediately checking in, we parked and high tailed it over to Epcot to meet our Ragnar Relay team for pizza at Via Napoli. It was great to meet the rest of the gang that would be accompanying us in the 200 mile jaunt from Miami to Key West in early 2015. I can't wait for that journey.
Following a chatty lunch, we made our way back to the Boardwalk to finally check in. Once we got to the front of the check in line, I gave the host my name and he looked up and gave me a look directly into the eyes. Flatly, he said, "Come with me, please." Oh shit, what did I do? Did something happen last night that I don't remember? Where was this man taking us?
We followed him through the halls of the main building to the elevators. He motioned us to step in. "I normally don't check in over here," I sheepishly said, trying to break the uneasy attention." "Mr. & Mrs. Stone," he said, "You've been upgraded to Club Level," with a smile. "Come again?" I asked (there was a ringing in my ear). "You have been upgraded to Club Level." he said. The elevator doors opened and he took us down a long hall to a concierge seated at desk next to a large closed door. The concierge checked us in, told us about the Innkeeper's Lounge, which would hold a host of assorted treats and drinks throughout the day, and then opened the closed door. I swear to God, there was a magnificent light that bathed the door and enveloped us as we crossed through to our Narnia. We were shown to our room that had a wonderful view of the Boardwalk, lagoon and Yacht/Beach Clubs across the way. The room also had a little gift of chocolates waiting for us with a welcome note.
Across from our room was the Innkeeper's Lounge, which had a wonderful continental breakfast in the morning, snacks and soft drinks in the daytime, and hot hors d'oeuvres and booze at night. They also had a concierge in-lounge to set us up with whatever we needed. My wife and I spent a lot of time there noshing on the treats and enjoying the experience. I'm still unsure why we were upgraded (it may be because we only stay at deluxe resorts and this was a little thank you), but my guess is it was probably just luck of the draw.
After reveling in the luxury usually saved for Carnegies and Rockefellers, and a quick nap, it was time to head off to the race. We both had an uneasy feeling throughout the day, as the forecast continued to show one mother of a rain storm off the coast of Florida that was slowly encroaching upon the peninsula and would, no doubt, eventually bathe us runners in a sheet of torrential rain. There was no question of if, but more when.
Hopping on the bus a little later than previous years (due to the weather), we caught up with our friends in the field of WWoS and proceeded to spend the next two hours checking the weather. Finally, it was time to hit the corrals and I made my way into Corral B (a sad first for me), with a garbage bag robe to keep the cold and wind off my bare shoulders (I had donned my "lucky" Team PAWS singlet in hopes of another PR in a recent string of records). At 10:02, the fireworks shot off and away I went. Unfortunately, at 10:01, Mother Nature decided to unleash her fury.
This rain was the kind where the droplets are the size of dimes and are as cold as ice. The rain pelted my face and body like a million tiny frozen daggers, each one colder than the previous. By Mile 1, I was soaked to the bone and freezing. My shoes were water logged and heavy and I could feel myself fighting to keep pace. Equally frustrating was that I pulled a specific pair of shoes out of retirement for one last race. Now, I love my New Balances, but something told me to bring my "Green Meanies" (Adidas Adios Gen 1), which had gotten me through so many races (including my broken foot at the 2013 WDW Marathon). This was supposed to be their swan song, but instead they were drowning in the wet, sorrow of Mother Nature.
Not only were my shoes a problem, my running pouch, that held my phone, was starting to get wet from the rain and I had to continue to shift to find a dry spot on my body. I finally found a dry spot and adjusted. But, by then the damage was done. I was way off pace and struggling to find a groove. Leaving Animal Kingdom, my spirits were lifted a little by running into my running pal, Krissy. She was lamenting the weather as much as I and so we ran a little together. It was great to see a friendly face among the cold drops of evil. We parted ways when reaching the second stretch of the unending Osceola Parkway and I was back out on my own. By this time, I was so numb from the rain, time seemed to just stop as my glare sat straight ahead, fixed on the horizon. I traversed the course, same it had been the year prior, all the way dodging massive puddles that other runners had succumbed to. Finally, making my way to the finish, I completed the great "Splash and Dash" of 2014 in 1:47:58, a some 80 seconds over my PR time. But, PRs be damned on this night and I just wanted to find respite from the sting of the elements.
I took refuge in the only place I knew that was warm and devoid of runners and spectators, Spaceship Earth. Similar to last year's strategy, I rode an endless loop of the gigantic ball that hovers like a beacon in the night. I donned every article of clothing I had in my bag, and by the third time I passed Guttenberg's printing press, my body was starting to relinquish itself from the rain's icy grip.
Exiting the ride, the park was murmuring, a far cry from last year's throngs of bodies that packed it to its gills. I was able to see my wife and friends finish, grabbed some cheddar cheese soup in Canada, and then made a bee line for the warmth of our king-sized bed back in Camelot.
As we headed out, we kept hearing from runners around us that the spinning feature of the finisher's medals were coming apart and medals were breaking. Both of ours were intact, so we didn't give it any additional thought and headed for cover. Little did I know what my medal had in store for me the following day.
End of Part 1