2015 Disney World Marathon Weekend: Dopey Challenge Race Recap Part 1

I am sure you are aware following the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, there tends be a significant influx of activity in the running blogosphere. Mainly, due to the sheer size of runners who attend, but also because the string of events and experiences the weekend entails. Now, as I sit back in the real world, at 35,000 feet of a flight that terminates in the Midwest for a business meeting, and not in Orlando (where I wish it would), my addition to the web on the weekend’s events begins, for your review and approval.

Admittedly, race recaps are never easy to write. For one, it’s tough to paint a detailed landscape for those who didn’t attend, with nothing more than, “I ran. I drank some Powerade, and then I ran some more.” For those who did attend, they have their own experiences to remember without my stories infiltrating their consciousness. Secondly, these things are hard to remember. Sure, one can recall the general “mize en scene” of the day, but to truly remember each mile is a tough task. Not to mention, my weekend consisted of not one, but four races on four consecutive days. With that said, I will do my best to present to you my experience.

As I eluded to above, this year would be my second year attempting the Dopey Challenge. Building off of last year’s experiences, I had a better sense of how to attack the weekend and make sure there was enough left in the tank for Sunday’s marathon. The 5k would take care of itself, since I would be helping guide my mom through her first 5k. For the 10k, I'd dig in and give it a strong effort. The half and full marathons would be my "fun races," where I'd just take my time and enjoy the experience. 

Arriving early in the week, my wife and had the opportunity to visit with our families and dear friends from our days in Orlando. On Wednesday night, we had a group dinner with some unbelievably amazing people who I once worked with while during my tenure in the recording studio at Universal Studios Florida. We reminisced of old times and caught each other up on how our lives have changed, all the while dining on the best fare Red Robin had to offer (we’re simple people). It warmed my heart to see us all together again, and for that night, all was right with the world.

On Thursday morning, we awoke early to temperatures in high 30’s, with the wind chill in the 20’s. Not exactly what one would call race weather, and certainly not Florida weather. No matter though, as today was the first day of the Dopey Challenge, the 5k. I had run dozens of 5ks before, but today was exciting as this would be my mom’s first race. I had signed her up when signing up for the Dopey Challenge, reason being for almost every Disney race we’ve ever run, my mom always joined us at the expo. So, I figured it was about time she got her own “bib & bag.” For the race, we had decided to stay together and enjoy the course. I moved back to my mom’s corral and we watched together as the runners in front of us passed through the race start. Finally, it was our turn and off we went. The course was the usual Epcot layout, starting with a tour of  the parking lot, then backstage towards the back of Test Track., where oddly, they were broadcasting a Christian radio station? We, then broke onto World Showcase at Mexico and headed around the lagoon towards the U.K. During the race, my mom kept a huge smile on her face and asked me how she was doing. For her first race, she was holding up really well. I, on the other hand, wasn’t. Not accustomed to walking 5ks and lacking any cold weather gear, my hands froze and teeth chattered the whole time. Looking at the race pictures, you can almost see the cold passing right through my body and the frigid look on my face. We crossed the finish line in a time that doesn’t matter, but what did matter was being able to see my mom get her first race medal. I’m glad she now has a personal race experience to share with friends and family.

Finally got her own bib and bag.

So frickin' cold.

Later that day, my wife and I checked into the Wilderness Lodge, our longtime home resort, for WDW Marathon weekend. I’m half reticent to tell you about it, mainly because I want to keep the place all to myself, but also there’s just too much to talk about. Not only does it have the best theming of all the resorts on property, it also is tremendously calming, being so close to water. In fact, having to the use the boats to get to the Magic Kingdom is one of my favorite aspects of the resort. Not to mention, the Electrical Water Pageant that appears on Bay Lake promptly at 9:30 takes me back to my childhood. Then, there’s Artist Point, and oh, I’ve said too much.

Christmas was still in effect.

Such an amazing resort.

Similar to last year, we reserved a courtyard view overlooking Bay Lake, and once again had bunk beds in addition to a queen-sized bed. If you have never taken a nap in a Wilderness Lodge bunk bed, well then, friend, you haven’t experienced heaven. After my lengthy nap and walking the grounds for some time, my wife and I headed over to the California Grill to meet up with family and celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary.

Don't hate.

I’ve always loved the top of the Contemporary Resort. With a nearly 360-degree view of Walt Disney World, one is never at a loss for an awe-inspiring vista. While a majority of California Grill patrons will jockey for a view of Magic Kingdom, I prefer the more subdued side of the Wilderness Lodge/Fort Wilderness. For dinner, our tablemates were my wife’s parents and my mom sporting her “bling” from the morning’s race. Our first course was a delicious charcuterie of pate, duck confit, ham, bison terrine, smoked turkey sausage and pork bellies. For my entrée, I had a Filet of Beef, while my wife had Seared Rare Ahi Tuna. We even got there in time to enjoy the Magic Kingdom fireworks show, although it was much too cold and windy to go out on the balcony. Since the restaurant pipes the music inside, we decided to remain at our tables with our hot meals to keep us warm.

Pulled right from the fridge.

Overall, the meal and experience was enjoyable, as it tends to be. However, this time I wasn’t really feeling it. The whole experience of the restaurant just seemed a little unfinished to me. The meal didn’t have that premium taste the price commands, and the service was stilted with our waiter showing up too frequently and then disappeared when we needed him. Also, the staff’s appearance seemed a little sloppy to me. I recall their dress ware looking more polished and premium last time. We may give California Grill another chance, but don’t think it needs to be a staple when we visit like it used to be.

Friday morning brought the 10k and a nearly two-degree improvement in the temperature, bringing the morning weather to 42 degrees with a steady wind, making it feel more like 35 degrees. My strategy for this race was to dig in a little and put in some effort, figuring the following day’s half marathon would be my chance to take it easy. For the most part, it mimics the previous day’s 5k, however just before entering U.K. pavilion, the course breaks left and takes runners around the Epcot resorts; Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Clubs, before heading back into Epcot towards Future World. As Disney World racecourses go, this one is one of my favorites. The course length is a good exercise in maintaining stamina while requiring a faster pace. Also, running around the Boardwalk and adjacent resorts is exciting, since so many spectators get up early and cheer (much to the dismay of those trying to sleep in their rooms just feet away). For this race, I decided to toss on a well-worn pair of New Balance 1600 racing flats to give me the best possible chance at rocking a good time.

It's nasty time.

My friend Jen was enjoying her initiation into the A corral, so before the race we hammed it up for the camera a little.

Duckface, bitches.

But, once it was time to go, I shot out of the gate like a cannon. Having not really run in the previous two weeks, my legs were fresh and ready to chomp down on some miles. Making short work of the backstage areas, I gobbled up World Showcase like there was no tomorrow, and set my sights on Boardwalk. I dispensed with the resort area with swiftness and poise, and headed back into Epcot to complete the speedy loop. I finished in around 48:51, nowhere near my PR, but a respectable time, I think. Waiting for everyone else to finish, I fell victim to the dreaded “runner’s chills” and had to find respite by hiding under the tablecloth of a nearby table. No matter the temperature, from 20 to 100 degrees, the “runner’s chills” hit me every time. Anyone else?

6.2 more miles in the bag.

After collecting the rest of the gang, which consisted of my wife, Jen, Kim and Ty, we made our way over to the Polynesian Resort to enjoy brunch at O’hana with Patrick, Lena and her husband. Before we get to brunch, can I just say what the eff happened to the Poly? The old lobby contained this majestic indoor waterfall that led out to a frothy brook that contained hundreds of Koi. What has replaced that seems to be some poor excuse for a lobby centerpiece. Honestly, it looks like the result of what would happen if a giant goat had too much Indian food. But, they did add some flowers, so that’s nice. Okay, back to the story.

Da fuq?

So, about brunch. Honestly, I don’t care for the whole character thing. Yes, there are times when I may snap a pic with Goofy, but that’s really about it. It may have to do with my cast member days (oh, the things I've seen). Really though, I’m just a Parks guy, and not so much a character/movie guy. So, you’ll have to understand my lack of enthusiasm when I found out our brunch included characters. But, with the company at my table, it was impossible not to have a good time and I made the most of it as the pictures illustrate.

Trouble.

Ugh. I'm too old for this shit.

We broke after brunch and headed our separate ways for the day. My wife and I hit the Magic Kingdom to enjoy Space Mountain and to people watch for a while. However, our day at MK was short-lived due the massive onslaught of tour groups from a certain South American country, so we took a leisurely boat ride back to our room to relax.

So far, I had two races under my belt and 9.3 of 48.6 miles covered. The following day is when the miles would really start to pile up.

But, wait! There's more! Stay tuned for part 2. Coming soon!