You CAN go for time at RunDisney, and it’s awesome!
It has been said that RunDisney is not a place for PRs — even I have said that, and for many athletes that is true, for all intents and purposes. Disney races are a celebration, a fun time with friends, characters, and castles. However, I also know that under the right conditions: desire, training, weather, and course layout, running a Disney race for time can have a huge impact on a runner’s confidence. It is possible.
With RunDisney races returning after 21 months off, many of us didn’t quite know what to expect. Would there be characters? Mile Markers? What will this new “Start Group” system look like? We went into this weekend uncertain about some aspects, but were quickly greeted with the familiar: the announcers, DJs, Balloon ladies, Volunteers, Cast members, and so much more.
The Wine and Dine 10k was my first RunDisney race since the January 2020 Marathon and the Goofy Challenge. A lot has changed since then. Obviously, the “Convid” Pandemic had all of us wondering when — and maybe even IF — in person races would return. Personally, I have endured the inevitable phase of Perimenopause, which has made running harder. It takes much longer for me to warm up during a run, and when only a year ago I could run 5-6 days a week, 3-4 is now all I can manage without overtraining. So much had changed.
However, I raced in September, and felt really good. As I am training for the WDW Half Marathon in January, this stop off at Wine and Dine had me wondering what would happen at sea level if I ran for time. My goals were to run the 10k hard, and then take the half marathon slow and easy. I didn’t put all my chips on a time goal, but rather I made it a race morning decision. Some race predictions had me hitting a 10k PR, I knew that was a long shot…a very long shot. However, my goals were fluid and relaxed enough to know that if I gave a solid effort, I’d be happy with whatever results. Ultimately, my goal was to at least beat my Fortitude time of 1:04:39 (September 2021).
The course layout was perfect for this kind of effort, with the first 5k on a wide open road, flat, and straight. Things would change as I approached the parks and the usual bottlenecks, so the first 3 miles would tell me a lot about the race.
The weather was…well…inclement. 15-20 mph winds out of the north and rain and a “feels like” temperature in the mid-40s. As the race start approached, I realized the additional advantage of a tailwind for the first 3 miles.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time here on how great it was to be back. Check out the Podcast Part 1 and Part 2 for that, plus the YouTube Videos. By the time I got to the corrals, I decided to stay warm with my usual dynamic warmups, some brisk walking and light jogging. I knew I didn’t want to burn out before I started. This was a very careful balancing act.
Once the countdown happened and the fireworks went off, my mental game locked in. I had my own music, and laser focus. Finding my pocket early, I found a line straight down the center of the road. For the first three miles, I was making mental notes of what and who was going by me: that’s one of my friends, oh there is another one. Water and Powerade stop, good to see volunteers. Set backdrops for what might be characters…interesting. I didn’t wave or talk to anyone. I was concentrating on the path in front of me. I kept my head on a swivel so as to not hurt anyone as I passed.
My fleece jacket got ditched by the first aid station, but I wasn’t cold. With the wind and rain at my back, I could barely feel it. I felt strong. Fast. Powerful. With each mile, I made note of how I was feeling, but almost maintained a mental “fog.” There was focus, almost as if I were watching a movie of the other athletes and aspects of this course — like a Youtube POV video. If it could be such a thing, it was almost an out-of-body experience.
The first major landmark was a loop interchange uphill on a banked turn. I pushed pace to the top, and I was past the 5k mark at 31 minutes almost on the dot. Mentally and logistically breaking this 10k into 2 halves, I knew the rest of the race would be about taking each step as it comes. With a quick trip in and out of Hollywood Studios, I charged up that hill behind Tower of Terror, then blazed down the other side. The biggest obstacle was yet to come, and I knew it.
We have (well Jen came up with it) christened the stretch between Hollywood Studios and the Boardwalk the “International Squeezeway.” One of the greatest bottlenecks on any runDisney course, there is no way around it. I knew it would be congested, but with the number of people I was passing, I didn’t know what kind of room I would have. Surprisingly, while I did have to dodge and weave, I tried to do so safely, meaning I had to slow my roll slightly. The last two were my slowest miles, but not because I had gone out too fast, or mis-managed the race (that is what usually happens). My fellow runners and I were taking it in. The hardest “hill” was the one into Yacht Club, but I crushed it and tried not to slide down the other side on the wet pavement.
When my watch turned over to Mile 5, I thought I had read 58 minutes…that can’t be right, though…but my brain wasn’t about to work it out (I realized later it was 50 minutes). I just kept going, pushing, and turning my legs over as fast as they would go. I wiped my face with my hands, realizing for the first time that everything was wet. Oh yeah, I thought to myself. It’s raining.
I’m still in a haze as I’m entering from backstage into Epcot. Turning left to see Spaceship Earth, and running through some of my favorite parts of the park, we finally — after over two years — get to run beneath the “ball.” It was at that point that the mental fog started to lift, that I realized where I was and what I was doing. It was dark, and I couldn’t quite see my watch, but I knew good things were happening with this run. I flew past the 6 mile mark, and tamped down the emotional lump forming in my throat. I wasn’t done. I can celebrate in about 2 minutes.
The winding course through the last 2 tenths of a mile — I could see the lights through the trees, hear the announcers, smile for photopass, and then…the finisher’s chute. In that moment, I knew I had done something great in my running journey, and I did it in the most magical place on earth. Shouting in victory, I pumped my fist in the air and got my favorite runDisney finish photo yet.
As I crossed the finish line, I put my hands on my knees and nearly wept in joy and disbelief. I didn’t even know what my time was, nor how it stacked up against my lifelong running efforts. It was good though. I felt that. What I also felt was my hamstrings seize up in dramatic fashion as I made my way past the familiar finisher’s area.
The rest was a haze as I waited in the wind and rain, which I hadn’t noticed since leaving the start line. Standing there, I realized I was wet, and getting colder by the minute. I don’t know how I blocked it out for an hour, but I did.
In the end, my official time was 1:03:44. My second fastest official 10k road race of all time, and by far my fastest RunDisney 10k. Surprising? Maybe. Satisfying? Absolutely.
After a global pandemic, a massive hormonal shift, and battles with depression and anxiety, I didn’t know if I would ever find this kind of speed again. I was content with my Fortitude time, but wondered if that was all I had. Turns out the desire, training, weather, and course were all in my favor. This was my day to outshine the rain and outrun the wind. While my PR is still out there teasing me, I can finish 2021 and come back to RunDisney with one of the greatest personal victories of the last 2 years.
Things would change for the next day’s half marathon, but for now, I’m happy. It’s good to be back.