2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend - The Dopey Challenge Part 1: 5k, 10k, Meetups and Such

48.6 miles. That’s nearly 256,608 feet. Let’s just think about that for a second. If you live in New York City, then it’s a good stretch into Connecticut, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania. If you live in Los Angeles, 48.6 miles is just a shade under halfway to San Diego. However, in Florida, 48.6 miles equals a castle, a tree, a water tower, a giant golf ball, a lot of sweat and a lifetime of memories.

Last week I had the absolute pleasure of attempting Disney’s inaugural Dopey Challenge running event. For those of you who don’t know exactly what the Dopey is, it’s four consecutive days of running races. Starting with a 5k, then a 10k, then a half marathon, and then on the final day, wrapping up the challenge with a full marathon. A total of, you guessed it, 48.6 miles. Yes, it’s as bat-shit crazy as you’d imagine. Last year, I attempted and completed the Goofy Challenge, which was “just” a half marathon and full marathon, in which I injured my foot, so you can imagine my nerves at attempting this year’s challenge.

A step back, my journey into running dementia was nearly over before it even began. The previous week’s weather woes across the country had gnarled up air traffic so badly, JetBlue (our carrier) physically shutdown operations in Boston until they could unravel their mess. Luckily, we narrowly missed a cancelled flight by about five hours and skirted out of Boston by the skin of our teeth. 

Phew!

Once in Florida, we spent a few days at relatives’ houses and then checked into the Wilderness Lodge. This is by far my favorite resort. I love the theme of the parks lodges of the Pacific Northwest, the music (Silverado, Grand Canyon Suite, Wyatt Earp, Dance with Wolves, etc.) and how the only way to really access it is either by boat or bus. Not to mention you get a great view of the Electrical Water Pageant at night. It really is a hidden gem and I could go on and on.

Love this place!

Really love this place!

Ahhhh.

The Expo

We went later in the day on day one and packet pickup went really smoothly.  Even the merch lines were moving. After criss-crossing the expo, I stopped in the New Balance booth and said hi to some NB friends and picked up a new singlet I had been eyeing, and headed out to the Runner’s World table. I had planned on saying hi to Bart [Yasso], but also was fortunate enough to run into staff writer and all-around fun guy, Mark Remy. His style of writing is a big influence on mine and we talked a little on some effective writing techniques. 

What the Hell is a "C"?

Bart Yasso, Your's Truly, Mark Remy

A Must Read

Thursday, 5k, Meetup

Thursday morning brought the first race of the challenge, the Family Fun 5k at Epcot.  Not knowing how to exactly approach the overall weekend, my plan of attack was to skip the A corral on my bib, hop into the very back of the E corral and run at a very easy pace. However, the entrance to that corral was so log jammed, I decided to head into B and be the last to cross the Start Line there instead. The corrals for this race were a little different than 5ks I have experienced before at Disney races. Instead of the old, “line up wherever you want,” routine, there were actual corrals with marshals. I think it is an immense improvement over the old way and hope they continue this strategy in future races. After crossing the Start line, I did my best to hold back to a ten minute pace all throughout Epcot. The weather felt crisp and my legs were trying to push me faster but my brain held them in check. It was actually a pretty good mental exercise, given my Achilles’ Heel of racing is to always go out too fast. The racecourse itself wasn’t much to write home about. Don’t get me wrong; I love running through the World Showcase of Epcot. However, I have run this race multiple times so I wasn’t expecting anything grand. I breezed through the finish in some time that I didn’t pay attention to and headed to get my medallion (rubber key chain) and first Dopey wristband, which was a bit of chaotic. Volunteers were not communicating where to go for the wristbands, so runners were all over the place trying to decipher where it was. Luckily, I made it through the traffic jam, found the wristband chute and headed back to the hotel. 

The Fonz's favorite corral

This is a new view

Later that day, my friend Linzie (@seesharprun), held a runner’s meetup at the Disney Marketplace, which I attended. Here, I met some old friends, new friends and some folks who follow me on Twitter. It’s always great to meet folks in person and share running stories. The meetup had some great giveaways and I had a great time. Look to add them to your schedule the next time you run a Disney race. 

I'm not sure what's going on here.

YOLO!

Great group of runners

Friday, 10k, More Meetups

Friday morning brought me back to Epcot for the 10k. However, today I had my wife in tow as she was running the 10k and half marathon, or what I refer to as the “Bashful Challenge.” I approached the corrals and race strategy similar to the previous day’s 5k, so hopping into B corral I awaited the start. While in this corral, we ran into an old friend of ours who had recently caught the running bug. I love seeing old friends who have also embraced the sport and are looking to get healthy.

The race started the same as the day before, instead of heading directly backstage at the International Gateway, the course took us to the Boardwalk, past ESPN Zone, around the lake to the Yacht & Beach club, finally back into Epcot and towards Future World. My pace was just as leisurely as the day before, given this race outcome had no real bearing on my performance measurement.

Just as I was passing Spaceship Earth and heading backstage towards the end of the race, I felt a gigantic slap on the ass. Startled, I turned around and saw my old friend had come up to try and challenge me to a race to the finish. Casting aside any adult in me to play it cool, I took off after him and beat him across the line. Even after his controversial hip-check into a light fixture on the final turn. Picking up my medal and second wristband of the weekend, I said goodbye to my friend, and hopped on a bus for the Wilderness Lodge to catch a quick nap and then do some park hopping. 

This guy's an ass.

So many wristbands

We ended up going to the Magic Kingdom to stuff ourselves in fried theme park food. Sure, why not? Low and behold, our dear friend from back in our Earthquake (Universal) days was MC'ing the "Move It, Shake It Streetparty." Well, we just had to watch and see if we could "shock" Gene off of his game. The ever consummate professional, he never waivered. 

This guy runs Orlando.

Later that evening, my wife and I headed to the Grand Floridian for another runner meetup held by my friends, Jen (@TRVLGRL25), Kim (@KimRunsDisney), Andrea (@OnceUponARun1) and Marc (@MarkyMarc70). We sat outside by the firepit and dished the dirt as castmembers roasted marshmallows for guests. I really enjoy hanging out with that gang. Every time we get together, hilarity ensues. See you next time, guys!

Such good friends. Photo Credit: KimRunsDisney

My next post will bring the half marathon recap, the marathon recap and my perspective on the overall Dopey experience. To read Part II, click HERE