Monday, January 9, 2017

Disney World Half Marathon Cancelled: Making Lemonade

Ever since it opened, I’ve wanted to stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Wild animals, including zebras, roam freely on a small savannah directly outside of your room. Throughout the years, I’ve seen many of my friends’ photos from there on Facebook, and so Greg and I finally decided it was time to go. We figured we'd time it with the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, which we had both previously run 4 years ago in 2013. I registered for the half marathon and Greg for the full. His rationale was that he wouldn't have to train for a marathon during the coldest months of the year: January and February. But last summer, he decided to run the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon instead, and just not race at all this weekend.
Ready to run!

A vacation with zebras and running-- what could be better!?

Given that the Disney World Half Marathon typically has warm, humid weather, my approach to this race was to practice running hard and to enjoy the experience. Even before the forecast came out I hadn't set my sights on a PR. This race was going to be all about mental toughness and enjoyment, simultaneously. But when the forecast came out for the weekend, I have to admit my heart sunk.

I woke up on Thursday morning, and the forecast was calling for thunderstorms and 68 degrees during the race, and then a dramatic drop in temperatures for the rest of the day on Saturday and a very cold and windy Sunday. I was worried that the race would be cancelled and that it would be too cold for the zebras to come out. And that our one day to be in the parks (Sunday) would be miserably cold and windy. I went for my morning run and tried to stay positive, but the weather forecast was definitely bumming me out.

I figured I should have a backup plan in case the race was cancelled. Greg still had his full marathon bib, so my plan was to run 18 miles of that as a training run and then pull off the course. So I packed (or should I say re-packed, since I had done most of my packing the weekend before) for the marathon weather conditions as well: 37 degrees with 15 mph winds. For those of you who aren't familiar with the Disney Marathon weekend, the half takes place on Saturday, and the full on Sunday.

We arrived in Orlando on Friday and I was elated to see 4 giraffes and two zebras at our resort! We
Zebra in upper left corner. Can you see her?
had a pretty good view of them from our balcony, although they were far away. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get any good photos of the zebras because I couldn't get close enough to them on Friday.

After getting our race packets, we took an Uber to the nearby town of Celebration for a carb-filled dinner. My spirits were pretty high at this point. The weather was gorgeous, I had seen zebras, I had my packet, and everything was all set to go. I was ready to race hard, even though the conditions would be challenging. We went to bed at 7:30. Because the race starts at 5:30, it requires a 3:00am wakeup, and we had no problem falling asleep so early.

When my alarm went off at 3:00am the next morning, I saw a text message from the race officials stating that the race was cancelled due to the potential for lightening. I wasn't surprised or heart broken. I was mentally prepared for this to happen, and I had my backup plan of running the full marathon. Greg was worried that my plan to run 18 miles of the full would be logistically difficult. Not only would I have to wake up early and hang around in the 37-degree windy weather for an hour beforehand, but it wasn't going to be easy for me to get transportation back to the start. I looked at the course map and I realized I wouldn't be able to Uber because all the roads would be closed. Mile 18 was located in the ESPN Sports Complex, and there was no getting out of there. So, we decided we'd try to find somewhere to run later in the day once the thunderstorms passed.

Even though the race entry fee is non-refundable, Disney went above and beyond to make up for this circumstance. Runners had the option of registering for any other Disney race for free, receiving a Disney gift card, transferring to the full if space allotted, or receiving two park-hopper passes. This was a no-brainer for me. Greg and I had planned to spend Sunday at Epcot center, and tickets are $105/each, so the park hopper pass saved us over $200 dollars. And it's actually worth even more because it allows you to go to all the parks.

As for finding another spot to run, I saw on Instagram that people were going to Disney's Art of
Animation resort to run around Hourglass Lake. This is a 1.38-mile loop on a concrete surface around a resort lake. There really wasn't anywhere we could see to run at Animal Kingdom Lodge, so once the weather calmed down, we boarded a bus to the other resort.

When we arrived, we couldn't believe our eyes! It was like an actual race! I would estimate about 150-200 people were running around the lake. There were cheering spectators all around the loop,
Lots of fun things to look at along the way!
and some even had cowbells. Even better, there was an aid station stocked with water, gels, and bananas! It was such a fun experience and everyone's spirits were high. Endurance runners are a dedicated group of people for sure. Many people were even wearing their bibs. For people who were planning to run the Goofy challenge (both the half marathon and the full marathon) doing this was a must! I later learned that there were other locations throughout Disney with these "poor man's" races. On social media, this became known as the Grumpy Challenge.

I decided that instead of racing 13.1 miles, I would do the run my coach prescribed: 18 miles with the last 5 hard. Since Greg is training for a half marathon, he did a timed run of 1 hour, 45 minutes, which ended up being about 12.5 miles. It was nice to run with him because if I had done the half marathon, I would have been alone before, during, and after.

Miles 1-6
The first two miles went by very slowly. In fact, when our watches beeped for one mile, we could hardly believe that we had only run one mile. It was about 67 degrees and insanely humid. There wasn't much pep in my step (which could have been due to the concrete surface) but I was definitely hot. We kept these miles at a pace of about 8:45. We tried to go off the course a few times and run around the parking lots, which were a softer asphalt surface, but that was more annoying than it was worth.

Miles 6-13
After about six miles it started to cool down ever so slightly. It was still really humid, and raining off and on. I actually really liked when it rained because it had a nice cooling effect. The crowd support was amazing and the energy was high. I think we must have started later than most people (we started at 10:00) because after about seven miles we noticed fewer and fewer runners. About half as many as there had been at the beginning.

Disney's Art of Animation Resort Running Path
Instead of drinking UCAN beforehand, I had eaten a bagel with peanut butter and brought a bottle of UCAN to drink at the halfway point. Greg was carrying our water. So at mile 8, I drank my UCAN bottle. About 15 minutes later, I felt a lot better and I think the UCAN really helped. My left hip (which is always a problem when I run counterclockwise) started acting up, so we turned around and ran the other way on the course. There were runners going in both directions and it had thinned out quite a bit, so it wasn't a problem at all to do this. We sped up a little during this portion to a pace of about 8:35.

Miles 14-17
Before I started the faster miles, I was not feeling good. The humidity was getting to me, my legs were not happy with the concrete, and my hip was a little achey. But I figured it might actually feel better to up the effort and change things up. And I was right. I started out by telling myself I only had to do two "hard" miles, which would be 15 total. But then I really got into it. I was running so fast and so many people commented on how fast I was going. People who were staying at the resort were cheering me on from their balconies. I felt like such a rock star! I really perked up. It was especially motivating when I passed Greg each lap, who was my biggest cheerleader.

During these final miles it really started to cool down-- to about 56 degrees-- and it started raining again. It was also quite windy. I think the cooler air really helped me feel better. I decided to stop at 17, even though I had originally intended to run 18, because I felt like I had satisfied the requirements of the workout and I didn't want to kill my legs on that concrete.

My last 4 miles averaged 7:38 and my overall pace for 17 miles was 8:29. Not too shabby! My training runs and my 10K race suggest a marathon pace of around 7:29, so I think my last four miles at 7:38 were a good test of what my actual marathon pace might be.

After the "race"
Greg and I were soaking wet and it was in the 50's so we were freezing as we waiting for the bus back to Animal Kingdom Lodge. We were so happy that we were able to run together and have a fun, race-like experience. And it's probably even better training for a marathon than racing a half marathon: less recovery time, and more mileage.

After we showered and ate lunch, we headed back to the ESPN sports complex to get our park-hopper passes and my medal. Now I can truly say I earned this medal. We celebrated by having signature drinks at the resort bar that night. It was an exhausting but fun day. With all the walking that we had to do in addition to the "race," I logged 36,000 steps on my FitBit!

On Sunday, after a short recovery run on the treadmill, Greg and I went to Hollywood Studios and Epcot Center. Both were fun, and we brought warm clothes so that the cold temperatures and wind didn't bother us too much. I was, however, bummed that I never got to see the zebras again. Friday was really the only day I got to see them. I guess we'll have to go back again when the weather is more conducive to zebra-watching.

One of the coolest things about Sunday was getting to see the marathoners run through Hollywood studios at mile 23. We saw the 7-hour pace group and also the very back of the pack. And then, when we went to Epcot we saw this same group of runners headed for the finish line. It gave me an entirely new respect for people who run/walk and who are out on the course for so long. You could tell that they were in so much pain, but they remained focused and high-spirited!

All in all, we were able to make lemonade out of lemons. I wasn't too upset about the race cancellation and running around the disney resort was much better than doing a long run at home in the frigid weather with icy streets. I'm still bummed that I didn't get to see as much of the zebras as I would have liked, but Greg and I are planning a trip to a drive-through safari park in the spring to make up for it.

Greg and me at Animal Kingdom Lodge (he's wearing his 2013 race shirt!)


  1. What a crazy weekend! That make up "race" around the lake sounds really epic! Where did you eat in Celebration if you don't mind me asking? I'm running the Town of Celebration marathon in a few weeks and could use a rec! Thanks!

    1. We ate at Cafe D'Antonio. The meal was amazing, and the bread. OMG. The bread was incredible. The texture, the flavor, the temperature. Highly recommended!

    2. Cafe d'Antonio is SO YUMMY!!!

  2. My heart really sank for you when I saw the race was cancelled, as I know you've been through a lot as a runner, but I'm glad you still had a great trip to Disney and made the best of it. I do agree you earned the medal and do not fault Disney at all for giving them out (what else are they supposed to do with them?). Plus, the options for runners were very generous, with deferral, transfer, the park passes, etc. You are going to rock it out at MB! Have y'all booked hotels yet?

    1. Thanks, Amy! We booked our MB hotel awhile ago-- it's very close to the start/finish. We should plan to have lunch the day before or after. I want to meet up with you and some of our other blogger friends!

    2. Oh wow. How many bloggers are running this race?

    3. I just know of you and two others!

  3. I loved how so many runners (including you) made this into a win. When I saw the race was canceled, I felt so badly. I travelled to Disney 6 years ago with my family to run this race and I can say I would have been so disappointed! Glad you made the best of it.

    1. Thanks. I would have been more disappointed if I hadn't run the race before. And honestly, I wasn't exactly looking forward to racing in 68-degree humid weather, so it kinda worked out. :-)

  4. Oh wow it does sound hectic!! The weather sounds mental too.
    Glad it worked out in the end though. So cool to get those free tickets and still get a good (albeit unofficial) race at the end.
    I'm heading to Orlando for the theme parks at the end of January and I'm hoping the weather will be warmish though I've been there that time of year before and was fairly chilly!

    1. I hope you have better weather than we did. Don't miss Epcot center and don't eat a ton of food all at once so you can have room for "tastes" of everything.

  5. I admire your ability to stay positive! Fun recap - where did you eat in Celebration? My BIL lives there so we always spend some time there during our annual February Disney trip.

    1. Cafe D'Antonio- I see you saw my comment above. It was amazing.

    2. Sounds much more stressful than most race experiences, but I'm sure staying flexible and seeing the bright side like you did only helped. Having the spectators cheer you forward must have been great!

  6. That sucks that the race was cancelled and while I am happy that Disney offered refunds, etc., I am still shocked they did.

    Good for you for making the best out of it. I did read another blog post of how it went down later in the day and runners were actually running on their own the half marathon. Way to go!