Friday, November 11, 2016

Disney Wine and Dine Lumiere's Challenge

The Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon has always sounded like a really great event to me.  Of course as a Disney fan and past Disney runner (see Disney Dopey Challenge), it seemed to only make sense to give this event a try in the same year since I was opting for annual park passes.

However, much to my initial disappointment, Disney decided to change the format of the race.  In the past this race has been held at night (a 10pm start time) with a large "after party" at Epcot upon completion until 2am!  You ran through Animal Kingdom park, then through Hollywood Studios through the Osbourne Family lights and ended at Epcot.

While I don't know the real premise for the change, I suspect a few events may have been the catalyst.  First, is the release of the up coming live action Disney Beauty and the Beast movie.  The other is probably the construction going on in Hollywood studios for the new Cars and Star Wars areas.

It didn't take me long to realize that this event was going to be much smaller than the Dopey Challenge I did in January.  Not because I read up on the number of runners for each of the events, but simply by how much smaller the crowds were at the Expo.  Packet pickup was an absolute breeze with hardly any delay. The downside to the event being so much smaller was that the expo itself.  The Run Disney merchandise was also very limited and not all that "special" compared to January.

In short, the event was moved to Disney's fairly standard 5:30am start time and they decided to add a new 10k event over the weekend in addition to the Christmas oriented 5k and Half Marathon they have had in the past.  They also added a "bonus" medal if you did the 10k and the Half Marathon, hence Lumiere's Two Course Challenge.  They still had the after party on Sunday night starting at 9pm and while we had good intentions on going, some feedback from prior years ended up keeping us away as the food and crowds didn't seem worth the trouble.

My wife and I did both the runs together this time, which was a change from our January event since we both ran independently.  The weather was great for both events with relatively cool temperatures in the morning (low 60sF) and highs in the afternoon right around 80F.  With the events starting so early in the morning, the rising sun doesn't become much of an issue except for the last hour or so of the half marathon.

Transportation from our Disney resort started at 3:30am and we managed to get on the 3:45am bus to the starting line at Epcot for the 10k.  The event was well managed and staffed with volunteers, so things ran smoothly as expected.  No issues getting through the port-a-potty line at all, and then made our way to the starting corral perhaps a little early.  Our corral got the go ahead to start at 6am.

Both events had plenty of runner support with water stops about every 1.5 to 2 miles.  The 10k course didn't have any food stops, but the half marathon does have one right around mile 7 or 8.  All stops did have both water and Powerade.

If you have done the 10k during the Walt Disney World (WDW) Marathon weekend in January this new Remy 10k is exactly the same thing.  Basically you make you way West out of the Epcot parking lot and then do a 180 degree turn back onto Epcot world drive.  You then enter the backside of World Showcase behind Mexico and emerge into the park proper between Norway and China.

Disney Remy's 10k Strava Map
Thankfully they do have the bathrooms open through World Showcase so if you need to make a quick stop it is very doable in a timely manner.  After going around the worlds just past France you make your way out of the back of Epcot and then run clockwise around the boardwalk.  You re-enter World Showcase behind England and then make your way to Future World past the large fountain, past Spaceship Earth and then finish in the Epcot parking lot.

Somewhere in World Showcase
There were several photographers on the course around the World Showcase area, the Boardwalk, the pathway from World Showcase to the fountain, and then just past Spaceship Earth.  Unlike past Run Disney events I have done at WDW the photographers this time were Disney PhotoPass photographers and not from Marathon Foto.  The great thing about this was as an annual passholder I had access to all the photos right away for free! (well free as in I didn't have to pay for them outside the annual passholder fee).  I assume photos would have also been included if you had purchased Memory Maker as well.  A great deal to be sure based on the number of photos that had been taken.

My wife and I headed out of Epcot to the Finish Line
Early start, short distance, so back to the resort before 9am and the kids are all still asleep.  So, what do you do?  You shower, change cloths and go to Disney Springs and hit one of the coolest Starbucks you have ever seen.  Lastly, a few short hours in the parks and dinner at Seasons in the Land, but nothing to crazy since there is a half marathon the next day.

Inaugural Remy 10k Medal

Once again, up early and on the bus at 3:45am to head to the starting line.  This time, however, the start is at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.  While I did get to run through this during the marathon leg of my Dopy Challenge back in January, this is the first time I have started here.  Setup is very similar to a start in Epcot, but the coral placements are a little different.  After arrival, did the requisite port-a-potty stop and then made our way to our starting corral.  There were only 3 minutes between corrals for this race so we started at about 6am.

Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Strava Map
As with all Disney races in Florida the route is practically flat with a few minor exceptions over bridges and/or exit ramps so there is really no point talking about elevation gain (or loss).  After exiting the ESPN area, you turn left onto Osceola Parkway and make your way to Animal Kingdom.  This is a great treat for runners as you usually only get to run through this park if you do the Marathon run in January.  So, if you aren't up for that distance yet and want to experience running through Animal Kingdom (AK), keep this event in mind.

Animal Kingdom near Discovery Island

Once you enter the AK park area, the race director builds anticipation by first making you run around the parking lot.  At that point you enter the park (around mile 3.5), head around the rainforest like entrance to the left then get your first glimpse of the incredible Tree of Life.  As you head to the back area of the park you go to the right to Asia and then back towards the park entrance.  Just when you might be thinking that was a short trip through AK, you turn left towards Dinosaur Land and head around the water counter clockwise past Expedition Everest back towards Asia and the Yak and Yeti restaurant before heading out of the back of the park onto Conservation Road.  As with the 10k race all the restrooms are open within AK.

As you continue to make your way out of AK and towards the direction of Magic Kingdom (MK) you will of course pass photo opportunities with characters and get to see some of the animal housing.  There is a quick out and back on Western Way before heading north on Bear Island Road back towards MK.  If you have done the WDW Marathon you have been on this road before, just in the opposite direction.

When this road ends, you make a right onto Floridian Way, merging back onto World Drive and heading back to Epcot for the finish.  At this point you have about four miles remaining, so while you are making progress, still have a long way to go and you will see runners around you starting to hit the wall.  At mile 7 we hooked up with one of the volunteer pace groups which really helped us through a couple of miles.  It is nice having the support of others around you during an event like this.

As we worked our way around the on ramp to Epcot Center Drive to head into Epcot the crowds were getting really thick again.  This is a much smaller event than the January run, and yet it was very hard to pass people on these narrower routes.  This can get frustrating at times, so it is important to remember that Disney races are about the journey for sure (and the bling at the end) and less about setting a PR.  Unless you find yourself in corral A, don't even try it.  And even then, depending on the number of runners, that may not help.

Once runners enter the Epcot parking area they are now safe from the sweeper bus, which is why you can see runners with finish times longer than the advertised limit.  I think the imaginary line is about a mile from the finish line.

Once your in Epcot you enter the park behind the bathrooms/camera shop on the West side of Spaceship Earth, turn right to go past the main fountain and head into World Showcase.  Just at the entrance to World Showcase you do a 180 degree turn, head back towards Spaceship Earth, out the park to the right, and then across the finish line in the parking lot.

My wife and I crossing the finish line

As with the 10k, there were lots of great photo opportunities on the course in both AK and Epcot, as well as lots of character stops along the way staffed with Disney PhotoPass photographers.  Always a good idea to take advantage of these if you can.  I probably didn't do a great job in that regard.

2016 Wine and Dine Half Marathon Medal

As with all the Disney races I have done, once you are through the finish line you are greeted with happy volunteers handing out medals, water, sports drinks, bananas, snack boxes and of course the first aide area.  If you are in need of Tylenol, ice or BioFreeze, they will have you covered (literally).

The medals make it worth it!
If you are eligible for a challenge medal you will make your way through the Challenge Tent before getting to bag drop off for proof of eligibility (they compare  your expo photo to you and verifying you ran the required events).  Examples of these medals include the Lumiere medal and the Coast to Coast medal for this event specifically.

Inaugural Lumiere's Two Course Challenge Medal (the flames glow!)
As with the Dopey Challenge in January this was a fun event.  An expensive event for sure, but a fun event.  The flat nature of the course as well as the scenery make these interesting to run.  These events make a great first Half Marathon or Full Marathon event for newer runners attempting a longer distance for the first time.  With the lack of hills and focus on having a good time it takes the pressure off hitting a specific time, which is the best way to run your first longer distance.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Baltimore Marathon

Travel plans required that I miss the Marine Corps Marathon this year, so I quickly deferred to 2017.  That left me one marathon shy of five which I was shooting for after the Marine Corps Marathon so I could purchase a yellow OSAAT Sport band.  The color of the bands signifies the number of marathons you have run, and I figured getting to five would be a nice place to start for my first band.

The solution to this problem?  A last minute sign up for the Baltimore Marathon.  This event was actually my first official Marathon race ever, and it happened only a one year ago in 2015.  You can read all about it in last years blog post.  My marathon PR was captured here and while I knew the time would still be safe from any threat on my part, the challenging nature and location of the course seemed like an easy choice.

The weather was absultely perfect.  Running weather in the Maryland area becomes exceptional in October, but this was a really great race day.  Cool temperature, no humidity, clear skies and absolutely no wind.

Last year I drove up for the race expo and packet pickup on Friday and then drove up again early Saturday morning for race day.  As you can read in my prior post, traffic and parking was very well managed so it wasn't much of an issue, but this year I decided to stay the night Friday night so that I could sleep in a bit more Saturday morning.  Since my wife was running the half marathon we could both benefit from the extra sleep.

View of 5K/Full Marathon start from hotel (Camden Yards to the left)

I got a fairly good price at the Hilton Baltimore via a link/discount code off of the Baltimore Running Festival website.  While it was higher than normal for Friday night, it was a very convenient location as the starting line for the Marathon (and the 5K) is right in front of the hotel, and the Half Marathon starting line is just down the street.  You finish in the parking lot between Ravens Stadium and Camden Yards, so the walk back is short.

Location Map

This year the Expo was in the Baltimore Convention center which you can see in the map above is just down Pratt Street from the hotel as well which even made that a short walk.  Last year it was in Raven's stadium which was actually a longer walk from the parking lot as you wind up the walkways in the stadium to where the Expo was located.  I think this new location worked better.

Starting line view looking back at the Hilton
The Full Marathon course was largely the same as last year with a few minor exceptions around the Wyman Park area and also by the Under Armour headquarters.  Last year we actually ran around the primary building and then back towards the Half Marathon starting line, but this year we stopped short and did a quick 180 degree turn back to the Half Marathon starting line area.

I am a huge Under Armour fan, and have way to many cloths from them, so not getting to go through the entire campus was a bit of a let down, but they still had the DJ and music blaring which is great as you are approaching mile 11 at that point in the course. [footnote: if anyone from UA reads this and wants to sponsor a old, mediocre runner, I am your guy]

Strava Full Marathon Map

With only minor changes to the course I could determine outlined above, the overall elevation challenges of the course didn't change dramatically either. You can get a detailed description of the course in last years post, but according to Strava the elevation gain this year was right on the money at 960 feet.  Nothing to take lightly for sure; hill training is a must if you plan on doing any of the races in Baltimore, but especially the Full Marathon.

Strava Elevation Chart

Last year I ran the race alone and frankly went out of the gate a little too fast, and while I held good split times until 16, my times continued to degrade after that until the finish.  While I didn't think I could beat my PR this year (I have been running slower as of late), I decided to try and stick with the 3:45 pace group if for no other reason than to have better pace management on the course.

I have to say that running with the pace group was really great.  The lead pacer (Marcie) has done this race about 10 times if I remember correctly so her knowledge of the course and challenges was exceptional.  She was great at reminding us to conserve energy on the long down hill runs even though we may want to pick up our pace (which I did last year).

I was sticking with the group fairly well until about mile 11 when I got hung up at a water stop and I was never really able to catch back up.  After that my times continued to fluctuate through the remainder of the course.  I had some good split times at miles 13 and 15 but overall I was degrading on average.  I had run the Via Marathon the month before and I think that not only was I struggling against my lack of training this year, but also had not recovered fully from that event.

So, while I didn't set any time records Strava did point out that this was my second best Marathon time overall, so not a bad day after all.  I can start focusing on speed again through the winter and try and improve my time next year.

As with last year, race support was great.  Lots of volunteers out there cheering you on and working the water stops.  There are plenty of stops throughout the course and I never felt as thought was was "overdue".  My favorite stop is still the snack stop right around mile 20.5 for the full marathon and 7.5 for the half.  They have the standard water and sports drink but also have potato chips, bananas and other snacks.  While I didn't partake of anything last year, I had several potato chips from the bag and really felt a pick me up.

Full Marathon Medal in Closed Position
While I thought the medal last year was really special, this years medal was really unique.  Since the race is in Maryland they went with a full on crab theme.  The 5k medal was a small crab and both the half marathon and full marathon medals were large 3D looking crabs that open up via a magnetic latch.  The primary difference between the half and the full is the color and the total milage carved into the top of the crab shell.

Full Marathon Medal in Open Position

The only negative I experienced is the food at the finish line.  The variety isn't great and certainly not what I normally eat after a long run.  I know my time wasn't great and the 5k runners, several full marathon runners and half marathon runners had all finished, so perhaps they ate all the stuff I would have wanted.  All that was left was a few bananas, some hot and spicy chips and lots of sugar loaded "protein bars".

Unfortunately my wives experience was a little worse.  Not only was there really no real food left at the finish line for her, she didn't get her event medal.  Apparently runners were either taking extra medals because the volunteers said they could, or they were just stolen, but either way they ran out and the last 150 or so runners didn't get one.  As of the first week in November we are still waiting to get her medal in the mail, but according to the event staff it is in process, they have been very communicative on the issue.

UPDATE (11/10/2016): My wife's half marathon medal arrived safely packed in a bubble envelope.

Overall, this was a good event.  A great time of year in MD for a race and nice scenery and great support overall.  I do recommend this race, but let me reiterate that this is a challenging course all around, for all three races, so please keep that in mind and train well.