Monday, January 14, 2013

8 Reasons to do the Walt Disney World Marathon's Goofy Challenge

This weekend I participated in the Walt Disney World Marathon "Goofy Challenge".  Like the Chowdah Challenge here in Massachusetts, this was a 2 day "race" where Saturday morning dawned with a 1/2 marathon (13.1 miles) and Sunday morning dawned with a full marathon.  The total challenge?  39.3 miles over 2 days.  In no particular order, I present to you 8 reasons to be Goofy.

1.  You are a morning person. 
I preface this by saying that I AM a morning person.  But this is ridiculous.  Disney starts the race early.  Really early.  The 5:30 am start time is one of the earliest race start times I've ever seen.  While the 5:30 start time is early, the wake up call to get there is worse.  This race has gotten so popular that you HAVE to get on the shuttle bus from your resort hotel to the start line at 3 am and not much later.  By way of example, on Saturday I got on the bus at 3:05-- I walked right on and grabbed a seat.   Sunday, feeling confident in my ability to get on a bus, I waited until 3:15 to get to the bus stop-- and had to wait for 4 buses before I found a seat.
Once you get to the start line, sweat check comes pretty early too. . . 4:30. . . and its time for the walk to the start line.  This wasn't a problem this year, but the first time I did the race, with temperatures in the 30's, an hour plus without sweats is a LONG time.

Again, I'm a morning person, but this drill 2 days in a row is hard.  That 2 am wake up call comes WAY too early on Sunday morning and its pretty tough. In fact, it may be the hardest part of the Goofy Challenge. 

The upside, of course, is you can be home before most of your family wakes up on Saturday and have a couple of good long days to sit by the pool or tour the parks. 

2.  You think you are Walter Payton.
There are a LOT of people in this race.  Admittedly, the last time I'd run Disney was in 2001-- and there may have been 10,000 people in the half and full combined-- but I was NOT prepared for the sheer volume of people on the course.  The hardest day was 1/2 marathon day.  From the outset it was evident that I was going to do some dodging and weaving around the multitudes of people that had started ahead of me.  This was when we were running down a 2 lane road.  When the road narrowed to one lane. . . there became a pretty major traffic jam.  When the road narrowed to a path-- as it did in the section of the course through the Magic Kingdom, especially in the exit from Cinderella's Castle,  there were some pretty serious areas of congestion. 
Marathon day was better, although those sections of the Magic Kingdom were still pretty tough.

The other issue here is the volume of people running who either:
a) don't know
b) don't care about or
c) forget
runner etiquette.

The race program speaks a lot about runner etiquette, and I was a bit confused about why.  Until I got on the course.  Walkers in the left lane.  Run/Walkers stopping without any notice.   People running across 2 lanes to get in line for a character picture.  Walkers getting in to Corral A and then walking the race.  People TURNING AROUND and running up stream to go back for missed photo opportunities.  I'm all for new runners.  I'm all for walkers. I am a run/walker at least some of the time. I'm always a slow runner.  BUT at least pretend to try to follow the rules people!

3. You really want to finish a 39.3 race. 
 The race program states that you need to maintain a 16 minute per mile pace to successfully complete the Goofy Challenge.  I will admit, after putting my Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis on to get a PR during Saturday's 1/2 marathon, I was SERIOUSLY tempted to grab a sparkly skirt (see number 4) and just take pictures all day Sunday during the marathon. It was supposed to be HOT; I'd expended a bunch of energy going lateral on Saturday (Garmin said I'd run 13.9 miles instead of 13.1) and I knew mentally abandoning the marathon PR that I'm so actively seeking these days was probably a good idea. 
That idea was reinforced when I got to mile 16 of the marathon in the blazing heat (80-- but it is January and I've been training in 30 degree Massachusetts) and made a decision to back off to a slower marathon pace.  After adding about 10 minutes to my usual marathon time and finishing in 5:17 (5:45 gun time due to corral placement), I got my medals, food and drink.  Headed to the TNT tent and checked in; grabbed my bag from the bag check; waited in line for the shuttle to the hotel and boarded the bus.  As we crossed over the road that contained mile 16, I was AMAZED at how far the line of runners stretched.  As far back as the eye could see they were still coming.  It was incredible.  Walkers, runners of all abilities out there UNBELIEVABLE!!  But the time cut offs are so liberal that you could walk slowly the whole race.  If you want to finish a 39.3-- here is the place to do it.  You have all the time in the world to finish that marathon.   

Let's be honest.  You are either a huge Mickey Mouse person or you aren't.  For those of you that are Mickey Mouse people ("MMp's") THIS RACE IS EVERYTHING YOU LOVE ABOUT DISNEY WORLD.  You run through the parks.  Characters line the side of the road and people line up to get their pictures taken by Disney photographers.  Runners wear costumes. Serious costumes.  Obscure costumes.  People run groups with a theme.  You run through the parks. Its like Bay to Breakers set out over 2 days without the nudity.  You even get to tour behind the scenes running through the costuming outfit, the reclamation plant and a few other Disney secrets on Marathon day.  One of the best parts was running on the outfield at the Brave's training stadium (this is for all of you fellow Atlantan's who've secretly always wanted to do this at Turner Field-- or maybe I'm the only one). If you are a MMp, the time in the parks (and the extras like character pictures) may be enough to sustain you during the really long stretches of course between the parks.

Fair warning:  you aren't a MMp, you may find some of this annoying (I toyed with writing "THIS RACE IS EVERYTHING YOU DON'T LIKE ABOUT DISNEY WORLD").  I appreciate the characters on the side of the road but REALLY don't understand stopping in the middle of the race-- or worse, STANDING IN LINE IN THE MIDDLE OF A RACE-- to get my picture taken with Captain Jack Sparrow (unless of course, the real Johnny Depp is there--and even then, he needs a shower (but then so did I at that point so I guess the pot shouldn't call the kettle black)).  The costumes are cute-- but frankly, a slightly overweight Mrs. Incredible probably should think twice about whether she wears that skin tight costume to run 26.2 (or 13.1)

Serious swag. 
3 long sleeve tech-T's.  THREE- One for the Marathon.  One for the 1/2.  One for the Goofy.  That is a lot of T's. 
3 Medals.  And not just any medals BIG HUGE MEDALS with Disney Characters on them.  These medals are seriously SO heavy that when they put the final two on you at the end of the marathon-- you seriously notice the weight hanging from your neck.  Update:  I just weighed the 3 of them on my home scale:  one pound 2 ounces. 
Not to mention the amazing amount of pictures the Disney photographers will snap AND the amount of pictures you can take with your own camera. 
Firework shows each morning and with every corral start. 
SWAG.  Tons of it. . . and its pretty cool.
6. You want a high finish
Any one who has read this blog before knows that I AM SLOW.  I make no bones about it-- it doesn't bother me-- I'm not ashamed of it.  I often finish in the bottom 3rd of all participants in the race (or lower).  I'm out there, I'm having fun.  Let my slowness go. 

So, when I say this, please know where I'm coming from:  My 2:21 minute 1/2 marathon put me in the top 1/3 of all 1/2 marathon participants.  My 5:17 marathon (that did include a character stop) puts me in the top 1/3 of all marathoners.  I'm guessing my combined Goofy time puts me somewhere close to that number as well.  This is not the norm for me AT ALL.  SO, if you are slow and you still want to get a high finish-- this is a great place to do it.

Along those lines, I just wanted to mention that I kicked Joey Fatone's (of N'Sync) butt-- finishing an hour ahead of him in the half and an hour ahead of him in the marathon.  Not that it matters. . .

7. You like to wear your bling. 
I preface this by saying I'm not.  As usual, I'd stuffed my medals in my backpack for the trip home.  Apparently, they were viewable, because as I was standing waiting to get on my plane, a girl came over to me and said, "I just want to let you know that you are a complete bad ass and good job this weekend"  Huh? Is it my wicked awesome "We the Patriots" T-shirt?
Well, she explained that contrary to everyone else in the Orlando Airport on Sunday night, she'd noticed that my medals were "casually stuffed in my backpack" instead of hanging around my neck and that that was totally cool.

Nothing wrong with being proud of yourself and wearing your bling.  If you want to do it. . . you will be in good company since many of the 65,000 people who participated in the race are staying the resort (and using the airport) and many, many of them will be wearing their bling LONG after they've showered.  I even saw a few half marathoners cheering on the marathoners on Sunday proudly displaying their Donald Ducks.

8. You want to run a well organized race with lots of spectators and amazing course support.
No matter whether you are an MMp or not, you have to admit that Disney knows its business and its brand.  If you've ever been to Disney, you know that they pretty much go out of their way to make sure things work (I will never forget the time my 2 year old dropped his chicken fingers through no fault of Disney's and a Disney employee who saw the incident brought us new fingers free of charge).
The marathon is no different.  The park is clean.  Employees or volunteer or both man water stations.  There are plentiful water stations that are well stocked and well organized.  Banana's and Cliff products are abundant.  Bathrooms?  Can't say I've ever seen a course with more opportunities to use the restroom.

Spectators are plentiful in the parks (not sure if they need a ticket to get in to cheer or not) and completely absent on the stretches between the parks.  To compensate for this, Disney has put its characters and DJ's to make sure you don't get bored.  In the marathon, the inspiration quotes from Walt Disney himself that are posted along the course are amazing. Even non-MMp's will appreciate the vision he had (and wonder at the amount of money that place pulls in every day).  Even the finish area is well organized with a clear family meet up area and easy access to the buses back to your hotel (that come about every 5 minutes so there is no long wait for a bus)

Should you need medical support it was everywhere.  And I'm not talking "dire"  medical needs, I'm talking "I need a band aid"; Does anyone need bio freeze? Vaseline, Tylenol, Ice, you name it -- it is readily available on the course and at the finish line at both a "medical staff" tent and a "self-help" tent. 

You really can't beat the course support on this course.  Between that and the bling, the cost of entry ($320 dollars paid about a year in advance) may well be worth it.