Chorley was always my A race and then I was going to ease off for the rest of the year but then the opportunity to get a few more races in came up. We had a family holiday planned to Florida in November and as always the first thing I do once I have the dates of any trip is look at races i could do. And as if by magic Disney World was hosting the Wine & Dine Running weekend (as part of a food and wine festival that was on in Epcot )in the week that we arrived. Zip a de do dah!!
I signed up to the ‘Two Course Challenge’ which was the 10km race on the Saturday and the Half marathon on the Sunday. To make the experience last a little longer, I also stuck an entry in for Mickey’s Fall Feast 5k on the Thursday. Three races over three mornings totalling just under 20 miles. A different sort of challenge I guess but one which was well within my comfort zone, apart from the heat.
As part of the sign up process you had to submit a 10k or half marathon result from the previous twelve months so that you could get seeded into a start pen. I sent my details off from the Southport 10k and as a result I was in pen A for the 10k and pen B for the half marathon. That’ll do, I was happy not to be starting somewhere near the back. The 5k wasn’t chip timed and was just a bit of fun.
We arrived in Florida and the week of the race we were staying actually at Disney in two hotels, The Wilderness Lodge and The Art of Animation and doing the full immersive theme park experience. So lots of walking etc.. I got out early ( 4-5am ) a couple of mornings to run and try to experience what it would be like as the races all kicked off at 5:30am.
On the Thursday I left the family swimming at the hotel and I headed off to the ESPN sports complex to pick up my race numbers, race shirts, instructions etc. I had read nightmares about this process in the past but i sailed through around 4pm and it was fairly quiet. I had my photo taken so they could then match my race number to the photo after the half marathon to validate my achievement and award me the challenge medal. I was really starting to get excited. I also picked up the kids numbers as they would be doing the kids races on the Saturday morning. Charlotte obviously is a veteran now of ironkids but this would be Matthews first ever race.
Mickey’s Festive Fall 5k
Perhaps the biggest challenge of the three races was the getting up three mornings on the run at 3am without waking the family up. I had to be at the hotel bus stop by 4am to get the bus to the start. The start for the 5k race was the parking lot of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This race would take place entirely in and around that theme park.
My plan was to run the 5km hard and then use the 10k as a recovery run. Being me that didn’t go to plan. Fireworks marked the start and off we went, in a matter of seconds I had space to run despite the thousands of runners/walkers that were taking part. I went off fast, stupidly too fast, I could see the other runners in front of me as we curved around the car park heading for the entrance of the theme park, I counted them. I was eleventh.
Then in an instant I was in pain as my right hamstring just seized up, months of steady ultra plodding, and then I ask it to sprint. It wasn’t having it “Sod off Andy”. I instantly dropped the pace to a crawl and thousands passed me over the next 25 minutes or so. I could jog uncomfortably, I knew I would finish.
Being Disney they provide entertainment throughout their races with DJ’s and lots of character photo-ops, many of which are rare and can’t be seen in the theme parks. I decided to stop at everyone and get my photo taken. I’m a huge Disney geek and this was no longer a race but a fun run.
My leg ached but i loved the experience. I collected my medal, a bottle of powerade and a snack box and walked/limped back to the shuttle bus. I was back in the hotel gym stretching by 6:30am. Grabbed coffees and went to wake up the family for a day of rollercoasters and princesses.
The leg felt tight all day and I was seriously worried that I wouldn’t be able to race the next morning. I said to Emma “If this wasn’t a Disney race I wouldn’t run for a few days”. I headed to Target and bought some muscle pain cream and lathered it on before bed. I slept lightly, worried.
Wine & Dine 10k
Up again at stupid o’clock and covering my leg in cream, i stunk of deep heat but i didn’t care. Fingers crossed it held me together for an hour or two of running. I had decided that if the leg didn’t play ball that I would just walk the course. Being stubborn I was determined that I was going to complete the challenge over the next two days.
This time the bus dropped us off outside Magic Kingdom in the Rapunzel parking lot, there were noticeably more people around this morning. I was on site by 3:30am and joined a huge queue for the toilet. I still had almost 2 hours to kill so i joined another queue to have my photo taken with Chip n Dale. That was fun.
I headed into my start pen with 30 mins to go and listened to the DJ working up the runners, we watched promotional videos from sponsors on the huge screens by the start gantry and then it was time. Being the USA they had a singer belt out the national anthem, i stood respectfully, the only one on my row without a hand on their heart. And then it was time, the fireworks went off and pen A was on its way.
I set off very nervously, conscious that I could be very quickly reduced to a limp/walk again. The leg was uncomfortable but it was holding together. I got through the first mile in 9:47 and then increased the pace as each mile was completed, eventually finishing off with an 8:42.
The course wound its way on the back roads of Disney property towards Hollywood studios, we turned in by the Tower of Terror ride and I joined a queue to meet the original Disney icon, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. I was made up. I’m such a kid. I ran through the closed park with the Christmas decorations all lit up, disney cast members cheering us on. We followed the path to Disney’s Boardwalk and I stopped to meet Genie from Aladdin before heading into EPCOT. I stopped to meet Koda and Kenai from the movie Brother Bear, there was no queue and it was such a fun photo as I joined them in growling.
Back running I passed the iconic Spaceship Earth ( the big Disney golf ball ) and headed for the finish line, coming home in a respectable and bloody unexpected 57:58. I finished 1185th out of 11,118 runners. Not bad for a knackered old crock. But now my focus was on the main event of the weekend the Kids races.
The Kids races
These took place on the running track at the ESPN sports complex. Charlotte would have to run 200m and Matthew would make his running debut over 100m, which given the 80+ heat was no easy feat for a 6 and 2-year-old.
Matthew was off first, I ran with him but he wouldn’t hold my hand. He shot off and was actually winning until the last five metres when he heard Emma shout encouragement at him. He ignored Mickey Mouse stood waiting at the finish line for him and stopped dead looking for his mummy. Bless him. He started running again and beamed when he got a high-five off the mouse himself. He was then presented with his “Dragon Medal” – the dragon being Disney character Figment. Matthew then played for football for 45 minutes whilst we waited for Charlotte’s race.
Charlotte ran brilliantly, it was her first race on her own. She ran hard and unlike her brother didn’t stop.
I was so proud of my kids, they loved doing the races, and it was a great experience for all of us which we rounded off with ice cream. It would have been rude not to.
The Wine and Dine Half Marathon
The last early start was finally here, I rolled out of bed and headed for the bus. I should add that all three races were run fasted, in that i didn’t eat at all until after the races. It wasnt intentonal it’s just what happened. We were warned that morning that the humidity factor was dangerously high and that we should all treat that with respect and take on as much fluids along the course as we needed. The heat whilst running the 5 and 10k had been bearable. It already felt hotter than those at 5am.
The race got under way and it wound in a similar route but as it was longer we headed to Animal Kingdom before heading back to Hollywood Studios and Epcot. There were plenty of meet and greats and i stopped to have my photo taken with Tinkbell and Friends, Cpt Jack Sparrow, Pluto, Rafiki from the Lion King, Dopey and the Penguins from Mary Poppins.
Much like the day before i maintained a steady pace but i was stopping and walking through each feed station getting 2 or 3 cups of water/powerade as i was really feeling the heat. Now as a big lad I sweat a lot but i was drenched, i looked like i’d sat fully clothed in the bath. At the end i even poured sweat out of my shoes. I’ve never experienced humidity like that before, it made Ironman Lanzarote seem cold.
The elation as I crossed the finish line was just pure emotional relief that I had completed the challenge that two days previously looked dead in the water. I punched the air in delight as I finished in a non too shabby 1:57:08. I came 1205th out of 13,178 runners.
I received my half marathon medal and then went off to get my number checked against the photo taken at the expo, in a second this was verified and i was presented with my special ‘Two Course Challenge’ medal. I’d done it.
It has to be said that Disney did an amazing job with these races, I would love to go back and race again. Maybe one year I’ll be there for the full marathon. I finished my race season on a high.
So I’ll sign off with a quote from the man himself, it seems appropriate:
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”