It’s taken me some time to write this race recap, because this race really didn’t turn out as planned.

Last year Mr Awesome and I made a plan to run the Star Wars half marathon in Disneyland in January 2015, and the Wine and Dine in Walt Disney World in November, earning us the Coast to Coast Challenge medal. Not to mention that this would be achieved one day before my 40th birthday.

At first we weren’t even sure that he would be able to race, because after a glitch in the registration system, an early sell out and a mad scramble, we only had one race bib. Our wonderful travel provider, Pegasus, worked some Disney magic in early October and got us the second bib.

I can’t say that training for either of us was stellar, him due to the shortened timeframe and me due to a tricky ankle that was giving me quite a lot of issues in the last two months before the race. I never got to train to the full distance, maxing out at 10.7 miles.

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My costume

Nevertheless, we were headed to Orlando for a family vacation, my birthday, and to have an awesome run no matter the outcome. We had our pirate costumes, a tribute to my favourite ride at Disneyland. We packed all our gear in our carry ons, just in case our bags got delayed in the tight connection and late arrival schedule.

On that, we really should have allowed ourselves an extra day pre-race. We arrived after midnight on the Friday night and the kids had their races at 10am Saturday…plus we had to pick up all our race packets BEFORE they could race and the expo didn’t open til 9am. Did I mention Mr Awesome and I were to be running our half marathon at 10pm that same night? It all worked out timing-wise, but I was stressed.

So. We picked up our packets, the kids ran their races, we spent more time at the expo and returned to the hotel for a leisurely rest of the day. We had worked out our food to avoid stomach issues mid-race and all was looking good. We got on our hotel shuttle as directed at 8pm, and were taken to the start line and corrals at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.

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The evacuation

Because Mr Awesome had registered so late, we were in the very last corral. (I was further up but if we wanted to be together I had to move back.) We were in the holding area prior to when the corrals were supposed to open, doing our last minute porta-potty stops, etc. I was nervous but feeling great and fairly prepared given my struggles during training. The crowd started to move toward the corrals and a loud cheer went up from the group. As we got near to our corral entrance, we were directed to make a sharp right turn and a volunteer said “You’re not headed to the corrals, we have a weather evacuation and you’re all being taken undercover.”

Um, what?

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Waiting…waiting…

It turns out Florida is the “lightning capital of North America.” There was a massive storm bearing down on us, as told by the large green mass shown on Mr Awesome’s weather app. All 15,000 of us were led back to the various complex buildings, stadiums and arenas. The spirits in the crowd were still high, and the amazing camaraderie of the running community really shone brightly. It was hard to hear the announcements and updates over the PA system, there weren’t any volunteers providing updates, but we were fairly content to sit and see what was going to happen.

After about 45 minutes everyone started moving, and we all proceeded back to the holding area in a surprisingly orderly fashion for 15,000 people hopped up on their pre-run energy gels.

It was then that the rumors started. It was surreal how the message started to spread. The “word at the porta-potties” was that the race was being shortened. We heard 10k, we heard the entire Animal Kingdom section of the route was being cut out, we heard from someone who knew someone in the EOC…but when all was said and done it was the porta-potty connection that proved the most accurate. Go figure. The race was being shortened to 6.72 miles…just over a half of a half.

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We’re at the start line…finally!

We finally got to our corral, and we waited. And waited. We heard each corral start, with fireworks and cheers from the emcees. By the time our group, Corral L, got to the start line it was midnight. The emcees were obviously pretty much done with the whole business, but they did something that actually made my night. Under the guise that they were tired and didn’t want to talk anymore, they played songs and had us all sing. It was awesome. Sweet Caroline is the one that sticks out most in my memory, but it really got everyone back into great spirits and we were underway.

Now with any race, if you’re not right at the very front you will encounter walkers. I don’t know how these participants get up so far when they clearly aren’t in a position to achieve the finish time that that corral requires, but there they are, usually more than two abreast, blocking the path of those trying to run. Race etiquette appears lost, as they clearly aren’t aware they are supposed to move to the side when walking. I myself am a “10 and 1” runner, where I walk for one minute every 10, and I make a point of signalling and moving as far to the side as possible to make way.

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The start line…almost there!

But when you start in corral L, or 12 corrals back from the first wave, you not only encounter your own walkers who are legitimately in the last corral because they know they will be slower, but you come up against TWELVE corrals of walkers. And because they cut out the Animal Kingdom section that would normally help to space everyone out on the long stretches leading to and from the park, we were all jammed into a compressed route. There were a lot of narrow points through the parks, and at one point in a tunnel we were virtually stopped because there were SO many walkers that the runners basically had to give up and walk because they had no other choice. A lot of people do the Disney races to soak in all the atmosphere, get photos with the characters, etc and while I still want to see everything and enjoy the magic, I also want to keep moving. And given that it was such a short race, it started so late and I was EXHAUSTED, I wasn’t in the mood to dawdle. I tried to remain positive but it was frustrating.

Don’t get me wrong, the entire experience was still awesome. The parks were amazing, the city of Orlando and Disney logistics support of the event was incredible, the care for participants in the face of a weather warning was fantastic. Mr Awesome and I ran the whole thing together, my ankle held up and because it was just 6.72 miles I was able to maintain a pretty decent pace when we were actually moving. They handed out the half marathon medals and still awarded the Coast to Coast medals, despite runners not completing the “full” challenge. That had been my biggest concern, given the time and expense invested in taking on the challenge. All in all it was a great event, what happened couldn’t be helped and it was dealt with in the most appropriate and professional way possible.

Do I feel like I achieved my goal? Not really. I wanted to run a half marathon for my 40th and I ran slightly over a 10k. Did I have an amazing time with my best friend, partner and biggest supporter by my side? You bet. Is that enough? Yes.

But I am on the lookout for my next half marathon. 😉

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