With only two theme parks and just thirteen point one miles, the half marathon is the easy part of the Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge, but being that it’s the first race of the two, it can really make or break your weekend. The key to getting through the Goofy Challenge in one piece is to take this race easy.
After getting down to Orlando and picking up our race packets, we kept Friday simple. With no park passes for the day, all we had planned was just to head on over to the expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports and then some relaxing at the hotel. I think we were even asleep by 7pm, which is good because race day starts with a 2:15am alarm to get us out of bed. When we woke up, my wife was complaining that she was having some pain the arch of her foot. After toying back and forth with what to do, she decided to go for it and we would just take it extra easy. But as we started walking out to the bus stop, the pain was a bit too much and she made a quick decision to sit the half out so she could rest up for the full marathon. It didn’t seem worth it to risk having to sit marathon race out. Losing my running partner for the race hit me a bit hard. I couldn’t stop thinking about her the entire time. I knew she was back in the room beating herself up over it. After months of training, it’s a huge blow to have to make a decision the day of the race to not run.
After a short bus ride, I was in the Epcot parking lot and ready to make my way over to the starting line. For some reason, I was in the B corral even though my previous race times put me well into the A corral for both races. However, since I was planning to run with my wife, I didn’t bother having my corral changed, so it was a B corral start for me! My real concerns at this point were with my wife’s choice to not run and my shoe choice for the day. I decided to run in my New Balance 1600s, marking the first race longer than 5 miles that I wasn’t running in my Vibram Five Fingers in over two years. I’d only even done a handful of training runs over thirteen miles in them over the course of the last six months, but I knew that they’re easier on my ankles…even if my performance is much better in the VIbrams.
After the twenty minute walk to the starting area, I got into my corral and did what warming up I could manage in the space I had available. While I was doing that, I saw the Galloway pacers for a two hour finish making their way through the corral up to the front. Since I was going to have to pace myself without going too fast, I figured running with a pacer might be a good idea so I followed them up to the front and stuck with them. My wife was looking to do a 2:05 finish and that’s what we trained for so a two hour finish seemed like a good target for me to aim for. Unfortunately, because it was a Galloway pacer, this group would be following Jeff Galloway’s run/walk program. I had no interest in that so I planned on just trying to keep steady when they started walking. Not having my wife with me definitely through my whole race plan off!
After a blast of fireworks, the first wave was off and just a few minutes later it was time for my corral to go! As usual, the race started off pretty tight with a lot of people packed in despite the wide road road for the first mile and a half. After we got moving, I spotted the balloons for the 2:00 Clif Bar Pace Team just up ahead and I knew this was a better group for me to run with. Even with a marathon coming up the next day, I knew that I could easily expend the energy to quickly catch up and then park myself with them, but just before I caught up to them I saw a member of the Oiselle Team and struck up a quick conversation with her. Since my wife just made the team, I figured I’d ask the girl if she knew her. It turned out that her and my wife had talked a bit via Twitter and had planned to try to meet up. Since she was running while injured, she was keeping her pace super slow and I fell back quite a bit from the pace group I was trying to catch up to, but I wasn’t too concerned. After a couple minutes, I left her and made my way back up to the pace group. I decided to just go for it and pick my pace up to my normal race pace for about a quarter mile or so to get up to them quickly. Since my pace was around two minutes/mile faster than theirs, it didn’t take me too long to catch up!
Once I got with the pace group, I parked myself there and didn’t budge from the pacer’s side. Knowing that the temperature was going to be approaching 80 by the time I finished and the humidity was around 100%, I wanted to do everything I could to be smart and make the half marathon as much of a net-zero for my body as possible. I took Powerade at every stop except the one a mile before the finish and even ate an energy gel around mile seven or eight. For a half marathon, this was complete overkill for me, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
As the race rounded into Magic Kingdom for our run down Main Street, USA, I could feel the energy of the crowd. This is always the best part of these races. Knowing that it would be really easy to be swept up in the energy and lose the pacer behind me, I took extra care to keep my pace under control and stick right next to the pacer. As awesome of the energy of running in Magic Kingdom is, I was still thinking about my wife and missing her by my side and I was a bit worried she wouldn’t be able to make it out for the marathon. I think this helped keep the adrenaline down a bit so staying on target wasn’t too hard.
After a quick run through Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Cinderella’s Castle, and finally Fontierland, Magic Kingdom was done and it was time to make the trek back to Epcot. This portion of the race can be a bit boring as it’s just back roads without too much to look at. Still, for a more seasoned runner, it’s not too bad. We’re used to that kind of thing.
At the mile eight water stop, I lost the pacer behind me somewhere. Worried that I might slowly end up picking up the pace without him, I took extra effort to really bring my pace down to let him catch up, but when I looked over my shoulder, I couldn’t see him. I practically felt like I was walking, but I didn’t want to risk anything. I still have no idea how I could have lost him that badly in the span of just an eight of a mile or so, but it happened. Eventually, right at the ninth mile marker, he caught back up to me and I playfully asked him what took so long. Once I was back with the group, I was able to get back to the rhythm I’d been running with all race and things felt more natural again.
By the time we got to the eleventh mile, it seemed like there was only one other runner left with the pacer and me. As we approached the last hill of the course, we could see the sun rising over it with Spaceship Earth just off the right and, with a layer of fog still over everything, it was a very beautiful sight to see! After a remark about the beauty by the pacer, I mentioned to the other guy running with us that the hill we were approaching was the worst of the race, but that it’s nice and flat after that. I think I may have freaked him out a bit, but he powered up the hill and left the pacer behind. I ended up doing the same and with just around a mile and a half left to go, I let myself have a nice strong finish. I picked up the pace slightly and left the pacer behind.
As I made my way into Epcot towards where Future World and the World Showcase meet, I was disappointed to the see that the big Christmas tree had already been taken down. This is when it hit me that I hadn’t seen any of the Christmas decorations in Magic Kingdom either. Usually, these are still up for Marathon Weekend.
From here, the course doubles back on itself a bit before making its way out to the parking lot. I kept my pace nice and steady and finished with a nice 1:58:00 time. This was a bit faster than I had planned prior to race day, but I felt great. Taking all of the water throughout the race really made a difference. I was insanely sweaty, but I wasn’t too dehydrated feeling. And most importantly, my legs felt good. I hung around just past the finish line so I could wait for the pacer to shake his hand and thank him for keeping me on track. Then I quickly got my medal and made my way through the finisher area. This year runDisney opted to hand out little boxes filled with food instead of a bunch of individual things. This makes life a lot easier and eliminates the struggle of holding everything while also trying to eat and drink it all post-race.
Since I was eager to get back to my wife, I didn’t waste any additional time. I hopped on a bus back to the hotel right away, I didn’t even stop for a post-race photo! To be honest, I was still really bummed that she couldn’t run and didn’t really want much to do with anything other than getting back to her.
Overall, this half marathon was probably the most controlled that I’ve ever run which is important when you have a full marathon the next day!