Race Report: Disney World 2022

Sunday Runday, and just over a week after rolling through the finish line of three Florida Disney World races, I did a (socially distanced) ten klick run back with the crew through the icy streets of Edmonton.

Amazing. Crazy. Chaotic. Nostalgic. Insane.

What other words can one use to describe the first international mega race back after a multi-year break from the same.

Exactly eight years ago I was standing on the same set of start lines getting ready to run (that time) four races. Back then I’d signed up for the inaugural Dopey Challenge, four days of four races starting with a 5k, ending with a full marathon, and tucking a 10k and a half in the blurry middle of it all.

This year, I cautiously signed up to do the first three of that series.

So, on that Thursday about ten days ago, all three of us, my wife, my daughter and I, woke up at 3am, found our way to a shuttle bus stop, trotted through the security mayhem outside Epcot, and queued up to run the five kilometer loop through that parks winding walkways.

My wife and daughter are not runners, but they are not out of shape either. We followed the crowd and dashed along the route and crossed the finish line to applause and medals.

I repeated the next day, but solo. Bus. Security. Race corral. Ten kilometers looping through two parks instead of one, past our first hotel of the trip, and ending with a musical pre-dawn dash under the glowing blue orb of Epcot’s Spaceship Earth as we pushed to the finish line.

I wore a mask the whole run. I wore a mask for all the runs. There were crowds and people and more crowds and on top of it all there were even more crowds. I have not been around that many heavily breathing runners in years and I’m surprised I didn’t bring home a viral souvenir from the experience.

Did I mention crazy and insane?

On the third day I woke up at 3am one last time and made my way to an even bigger starting corral with an even bigger crowd. It would be fair to say that somewhere between ten and fifteen thousand people stood at that start line, and if more than ten or fifteen of them were wearing masks I would have been surprised.

I went out in the second wave, with another dozen or so behind me.

We ran up the dark highway to the sounds of Disney movie soundtracks blasting from speakers. The path brought us under the park gate and through the parking lots and past the Contemporary resort and between the turnstiles of the Magic Kingdom. I held my phone out in front of me recording video as I ran onto and up Main Street:

I paused at a few spots for photos.

I absorbed the moments.

I kept on running.

Did I mention amazing and nostalgic?

In a short kilometer or so we were out the back gates of the park, running past some utility buildings and behind Splash Mountain as we disappeared back onto another Florida highway.

The sun rose as the view of the castle faded into the distance behind me, and I plodded along to finish the race back at Epcot.

My time wasn’t so great. Running 20.5 of the 21.1 kilometers in a surgical mask didn’t do much for my endurance. Stopping for photos and dodging crowds and slowing down to video or record a bit of it here and there left my pace a little dodgy in the end. Neither the pace nor time was the point, anyhow. The point was the experience.

And then it was over, and we flew home, safe and negative, and a few days later I was plodding along once again through icy streets with friends pondering the next year and wondering if maybe it had all been some kind of dream.

Amazing. Crazy. Chaotic. Nostalgic. Insane.

Turtle Power

Sunday runday and on my solo five klick shakeout I paused beside path to watch a turtle the size of a football basking in Florida sunshine.

Also, it was nearly fifty degrees celsius warmer than the last time I ran oudoors a little more than a week ago. I haven’t been that sweaty from running five kilometers since the heat of last summer. I could have taken a dip beside that turtle and …

The runaway train of vacation planning never actually found a means of slamming on the brakes and the next thing I knew I was boarding an international flight to Orlando with my face wrapped tightly in a N95 surgical respirator and wondering, sometimes aloud, at the bounds of my own sanity.

Back in the summer, when all things virus had seemed to be packing its bags and getting ready to move out of the basement like all uninvited houseguest should eventually do, we registered in a series of Disney World Marathon run events.

Then we eagerly booked a vacation around that … and waited.

It all went great from there, right? Well … no. We watched anxiously as a viral variant named Omicron washed a new wave of panic all across the world. Triple-vaccinated and packing a smuggler’s haul worth of PPE, we warily tracked the news and tripped over ourselves justifying taking the trip versus the stupidly high costs of cancelling it and just wallowing in pity at ourselves from the safety of our frozen house. A dozen times we came a turtle’s breath away from calling the whole thing off, swallowing the thousands of dollars of lost travel spends, and buying a big bottle of bubbly for new years eve to forget the whole thing and …

And.

And yet, here we are.

And here I am on a Sunday morning, looking out at a resort swimming pool after a five klick shakeout run, sipping a six dollar cup of takeway coffee, having spent the last four days wandering through the densely packed, pandemic-oblivious theme parks of Disney World and giving myself blisters and aches and pains and overwhelming anxiety and exhaustion in the process.

There are a number of smooth and flat walking trails just out the front door of our hotel, winding around lagoons and restaurants and wire-suspended gondolas, leading into and around and between Epcot and a make-believe Star Wars lands. As thousands of racers congregate here over the next few days for races starting later this week, I saw dozens of fellow runners out on the boardwalks and asphalts. I even saw some of the race crew flagging locations for aid stations and mile markers and marshalling points.

We have a couple days to cool off. A few more days of park-hopping and pool lounging. We pick up our race packages mid-week and run before the weekend starts in earnest. I’m wondering how I’m going to tackle a half marathon I didn’t really train for, on which I’m banking on residual fitness and sheer determination, plodding along at a turtle’s pace to finish the thing on pure willpower.

This morning on my tour of the hotel trails, weaving around families walking towards the park gates, and as I trotted by wearing my 2014 Disney Half Marathon running shirt, one of the race setup workers looked up, pointed and snapped a photo of me from his phone. I smiled. It was probably the only time I’ve been out in public this week without a mask so it took a moment to remember how. I guess if you see a sweaty forty-something guy smirking akwardly on the runDisney socials this week … maybe it’s me?

Or maybe I should have posed with my new friend the turtle. I’d bet we have more in common these days than we realize.