2016 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend: Dopey Challenge - Part 1

As I lay here staring at the ceiling after slipping and landing on my back, I realized I hadn't started my recap post. 

Okay, I'm back. Massive headache and achy wrist, but I'm ready to dig into the veritable cornucopia of running goodness that occurred over the past weekend. There's a lot to talk about so you may want to grab a hot beverage and settle in to a warm nook of your abode. 

As some of you may know my wife and I have recently become "West Coasters," which is tough for me to say. Not so much about living on the west coast, but moreover, we haven't quite gotten there yet. You see, the Dopey Challenge happened just after I accepted a new position at a new agency, so along with trying to prep for a four-day 48.6 mile run, I was also ears deep in packing, movers (a whole post unto itself), shipping a car cross-country and a whole slew of headaches that are associated with moving. We decided to get our packing done early so we could just drive our car down to Florida and spend some extra time with family and friends post-Dopey. Then, we'd set off for our new adventure of experiencing what water on your left is like. So, more to come on that, be sure of it!

After two mind-numbing days on I-95 originating from Boston, my wife and I rolled into Orlando and caught up with my mom at her home not too far from the parks. We spent a couple of days there before checking into my favorite resort, and our home for the past five Marathon Weekends, Disney's Wilderness Lodge. I love its national parks lodges feel and the resort easily has the best music on Disney property. Currently, Wilderness Lodge is undergoing a two-year refurbishment and half the resort was closed to guests. Even at half capacity, the resort still felt full and vibrant. They even left the Christmas tree up for us runners, which was a nice welcome. That is, until Tuesday morning when poof, out of nowhere, it disappeared. Tree nabbed!

Quite a lobby (post Christmas Tree).

I just love a Courtyard view.

Now that we've settled in to our living arrangements, let's talk about some racin'.

Most of you are probably aware of the Dopey Challenge, which consists of running all the major races over Marathon Weekend; starting with the 5k on Thursday, a 10k, a half marathon and then finally a full marathon on Sunday. After enduring this challenge three times, I can assure you, none of it is easy. The Dopey is but one of the challenges Disney offers, there is also the Goofy's Race and a Half, which consists of the half on Saturday and the full on Sun. There are also unofficial challenges that runner's undertake. For instance, my wife ran the 10k and the half marathon which I dubbed the Bashful Challenge, since you're just shy of running a full. 

But, before we get into the race recaps, you guys want to see something incredibly stupid?

"No"vember.

December was devoid of running. 

Besides the Wine & Dine Six-Miler in November and a 5k race in December, I hadn't really run. Not one bit. Seriously, zilch. Yes, I am aware this is monumentally dense given I was running the Dopey, and not all within my character to approach training this way. However, since I am an accomplished runner with a strong base and I knew I wasn't running any race for time (and know when to quit), I still decided to give it a go. I'm not sharing this to show off, rather I'm showing you how massively dumb I was and owning up to the fact running the Dopey (or any distance race) should be taken seriously. 

Thursday - A Speedy 5k & An Old Magic Kingdom Friend Reimagined

Thursday morning brought the 5k, which was held at Epcot. This would be a chance for me to see how badly the damage of under-training would be. I love this little course, which starts in the Epcot parking lot, heads back towards cast member parking, into the backstage area (where I spent many, many days as an Epcot cast member), and on to World Showcase. It's a fast course and affords a lot of room to get into stride without the burden of weaving around slower runners. Adding to the excitement of the day was my mom would be reprising her role of 5k participant from the previous year's 5k. While I had walked with her last year, I needed to check out what was under my rusty hood, so I bid her best wishes and took my position in Corral A. It's worth noting that Mom did awesome. I got to see her strut across the finish line with a huge smile on her face. It was inspiring.

My gear set up would remain pretty consistent across the weekend, but this was race I opted for race-type attire. In my corner were was my trusty Dirtbag Runners singlet, Democracy of Sweat arm warmers and ever-so-speedy New Balance RC5000 racing flats. Light, responsive, fast. 

Superfast.

At the explosion of the fireworks I was off with the usual weaving of runners who had found their way into a corral they may not should have been in, but whatever. I've grown used to the misappropriated runners in corrals that have become commonplace at runDisney events. After the bottleneck at the start, I was able to relax and settle into a comfortable run. But, instead of gunning it all out, I fluctuated pace; first starting easy, then digging in a little, then backing off, and so on. 

Making my way through the World Showcase promenade, I felt pretty good. At no point, did I feel like the run was a strain on my legs or lungs, and thought to myself that maybe this weekend would turn out okay after all. Finishing in about 26:45 (8:14 p/mile), I caught up with some friends, watched Mom finish her 5k and then headed back to the Wilderness Lodge to relax. 

Go Mom!

That's one helluva keychain. 

Knowing so many miles lay ahead, my intention was to stay off my feet as much as possible. That lasted for at least for an hour as we hopped a Magic Kingdom-bound launch to check out a new restaurant I've been dying to try. 

The best way to travel at WDW. 

Side note: Metal detectors at Disney. They're ineffective, poorly managed (in fact one of the CSC security guys showed me how to beat it). I agree there needs to be better security, but this wasn't done well. It's nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction on Disney's part to give off an appearance that they are doing something. It's was a major influencer in us deciding not to visit the parks more. Okay, that and all the tour groups. 

Ever since I was a little kid I had always loved Adventureland. I loved the smell of Pirates of the Caribbean, the excitement of the Jungle Cruise, the singing in the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Orange Bird and, of course Dole Whip. But, what I really loved where the pineapple burgers at the shuttered Adventureland Veranda (brought to you by Kikkoman). It closed back in the early 90's, then became a character area, until just closing up for good. However, it recently reopened as the Jungle Navigation Company Skipper Canteen, a full service restaurant that brings the story of the awesome Jungle Cruise off the water and onto your table. The backstory, from what I can gather, is the daughter of the owner of the JNC created a restaurant that brought back the exotic fare of lands of where jungle expeditions ventured. 

All they were missing was Shrunken Ned.

Inside the Skipper Canteen, the look and feel was exactly what you'd imagine a respite for world travelers would look like, with exotic artifacts scattered about and late '30's/early '40's big band piped through the hallways. The menu matched the atmosphere, no standard theme park meals here (thank god). Our server, Carly, was into but not overly committed to the shtick. Her corny jokes landed with a dry witt, something I really appreciated. For starters my wife and I shared the  (somewhat soggy) S.E.A. Shumai. It was a flavorful combination of shrimp, pork and mung beans, but had some room to improve. For main course, I enjoyed Skips Mac & Cheese, an Egyptian dish consisting of spice ground beef, pasta & bechamel sauce, while my wife feasted on a hearty rice noodle bowl with chicken and jalapeños. I really do applaud WDW for bringing in a new sit down restaurant that offers more than what you'd expect at a theme park. As hoped, I really enjoyed the experience. While we went later in the night, the restaurant was never really full. I hope they don't dumb down the menu to fill more seats. 

Friday - Rainy 10k, Cigna Run Together Meet Up, 

Friday morning brought us back to Epcot to race the 10k. The 10k tends to be my best distance and I really wanted a setup that allowed me to run fast, but also be comfortable, and nothing's more comfy than telling folks you like their pace with my favorite RUNFELLOW shirt. 

Unfortunately, it also brought down the fury of the rain gods, who must have been upset over all the celebrating the night before. From the moment we caught the bus to Epcot to well past the race, the rain never let up. The drops were the kind that were heavy and cold, not unlike the rain that pelted us during the 2014 Wine & Dine Half Marathon. I really wanted to hustle on this course, but chose a wiser decision of swapping out racers for shoes that could handle the weather better, albeit slower. I really don't mind running in the rain, it's the waiting in the corrals that drives me insane. At least everyone around me was cool as we all huddled together to brace the elements. An easy 6.2 miles later at 8:20 p/mile, I was back undercover and headed back to home base to a long, hot shower. 

A very wet 10k medal.

Soaked. To. The. Bone. 

I couldn't relax too long as that day I would be heading to a blogger event hosted by Cigna that I had received an invitation to attend. This would be my second event with Cigna, the first being earlier in the year at Disneyland. These guys do a great job of arming us bloggers with a host of great information and then give us the authority to distribute that information in however we see fit. I love when brands provide but don't dictate. That, my friends, is smart marketing.

Along with the meet up, a few of us were asked if we wanted to have an intimate meet & greet with some celebrities that were running over the weekend. The Cigna team brought me up to a meeting space above The Art of Disney Store in Future World where I ran into some familiar faces I've had the pleasure of knowing through other running events. Along with me, there was Tania Lamb, Heather Montgomery and Megan Wood Copello, all great bloggers and runners in their own right. Our subjects of the day were two popular Latino stars on the Telemundo network; Aaron Diaz and Laura Flores.

Laura Flores

Aaron Diaz

Each of us had about 10 minutes with each actor to talk about whatever we wanted. I first met with Laura, who was incredibly gracious and pleasant to talk to. We talked a bit about running, but what I found really interesting was her musical background. Being a drummer, I immediately jumped into a discussion about how music is a passion that drives other passions. She agreed and said through singing and musical theater she could really be herself. Music was such a focal point of her home, it had grabbed her daughter too, who started taking piano lessons (as well as was Laura). I asked her about how she manages singing, touring, producing and a family effectively and Laura told me it's really understand what the actual priorities are and not the aesthetic ones, which makes a great deal of sense. She also mentioned how being physically fit helps to make sense of those priorities. I could have talked to her for hours. 

Aaron was equally great to work with. Aside from numerous hours on the set of one of his many television programs, he always makes time to work out to clear his head. Just the previous morning he had escorted Julia, a candidate from Girls on the Run Orlando Chapter, on the Disney 5k. He considers himself in great shape, but was surprised to find how eager Julia was to run faster, a feat he struggled to maintain with her. We also talked a lot about how to manage the complexities of juggling multiple endeavors at once. His being television, film, music and mine being the move and Dopey. His perspective was similar to Laura's in that, one has to understand all that's going on and then prioritize in a way that's healthy and sustainable. That, and you can only do so many stunts until the producers get worried and send in a double for the dangerous stuff.

The meet up was already in progress when I arrived, and I was glad to see so many of my dear friends in attendance. There was the jet-setter, Emelia; the fashion/foodie (and former fellow GMR alumn), Andrea; the terrible twosome, Kim & Gail; the speedster, Patrick and my east coast partner-in-crime, Kristin. Plus, a whole host of runners who I've gotten to know via social media. It was so nice to meet you in person. Thanks for the great convos and pics!

What is this yoga everyone's talking about? Photo Credit: Cigna/Disney

In this meet up, folks were broken into teams for a little friendly competition. Kim and I were teamed up with @DisneyBride & @DisneyGroom, as well as others. I felt we were at a bit of a disadvantge given we only had six people and other tables had upwards of twelve, but we battled it out, Hoosiers-style. Cigna provided a ton of great health and wellness information, very much applicable to us runners. But, instead of the traditional seminar format, we were required to answer trivia and undertook physical challenges to gain precious coins that would lead to an ultimate team winning the day. We fought the good fight, winning at music trivia, yoga poses, and even placing in the "how fast can you run in place" competition. However, we fell just a bit short and came in second to Gail's team. We ended the event with some great pictures and an interview or two. Video below. 

Runnin'. Photo Credit: Cigna/Disney

Kim and I crushing it! Photo Credit: Cigna/Disney

Thanks Cigna! Photo Credit: Cigna/Disney

Muggin' for the camera. 

That night, my wife and I had dinner with Cyanne; one of our favorite persons on the planet. We met at the Kona Cafe at Disney's Polynesian Village and enjoyed lively discussion of the topical affairs of state. I took it easy with a beer flight, while the ladies enjoyed the famous Lapu Lapu. After dinner, we hit the outdoor patio of Trader Sam's before calling it a night. The three of us get along incredibly well and it was pleasure to be able to spend some time together over the course of the weekend. 

Going to stop here tonight, gang. But, stay tuned, we still have to get through a half marathon, marathon, another awesome meet up and more Disney!

Taa Taa for now!