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.

ohhhh … ‘merica

I’ve been thinking about our recent trip to (and back from) Florida and how it fits into the core context of this blog … because, frankly, it doesn’t much, really.

I mean, I ran. I raced in three official races with start lines and medals and free bananas at the end and everything. This, of course, is something I consider on topic for this blog.

I also did a lot of sketching in my off hours. I’ve written a bit about sketching in the past, and so again, that’s something that is mostly on topic as well.

But then the rest of the time I spent in and around a theme park. I didn’t cook. I didn’t camp. I didn’t season a single cast iron pan. And to be completely honest, what we did wasn’t so much “travelling” as it was “vacationing.”

Or, to be fair, the trip was split about ninety-ten vacation to travel.

The travel parts? Well, for example, we made a couple trips to Florida grocery stores to stock up on quick breakfasts and race fuel and cheap drinking water.

For the most part, shopping for food in a foreign country is pretty routine. But I’ve been in food stores all over Europe and the UK, Iceland, and multiple places throughout North America.

And it’s the little things that throw you off.

Like, for example in the UK, eggs are not refrigerated.

No big deal, but it’s just enough jarring to remind you that you are in a foreign country.

In Florida (albeit I took the photos attached to this post two days before New Years Eve) I could have loaded up my basket with as many fireworks as I could carry. Back in Canada fireworks are treated like Grade A contraband with (I assume) thirty seven pages of government paperwork required to even discuss buying fireworks, let alone actually exchanging hard cash for explosives alongside my blueberry muffins.

As my daughter pointed out, mostly because we wouldn’t let her buy any, there were also a lot of doughnuts to be had among the shelves and aisles of the two markets where we shopped.

One particular Publix where we bought our first round of groceries was an anchor store for a cluster of smaller stores, one of which was a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. Yet, fear not, those same doughnuts could be purchased inside the grocery store saving busy shoppers a five minute stroll to the stand-alone doughnut store.

None of this is judgemental, by the way.

I mean, I’ll take a fried egg and some sourdough toast over a glazed doughnut for breakfast every time. Ten times out of ten. Not interested in chocolate frosting with my morning coffee. But then that’s how I was raised and what I like, and that’s why we travel … to see those little cultural differences, no?

Back inside the park there was a cultural uniformity that comes from existing inside the boundaries of a massive corporate juggernaut like Disney World for nearly two weeks. One tends to forget for a bit that it takes effort to actually leave the park, when even back at one’s pirate-themed hotel room, one is still in Disney, enveloped by the intellectual property and profit-driven fantasy world of such a vacation.

Yet, even in that, snippets of travel are possible, and as simple as exploring a more real part of the country and culture surrounding that park with something as simple as a trip to buy fruit and cheese at the grocery store.

Travel Tuesday: Magic Kingdom-ish

I’ve been a terrible daily blogger, but if you read my previous post a little over a week ago you already know that I just spent the last two weeks in Florida.

We’re home.

Fifteen hours in transit yesterday. Two flights. Three airports. Two COVID-19 tests. Virtually no food (thanks to supply chain troubles at the airports.) And a couple hours of jet lag, to top it all off.

Ahhhh … remind me again why I missed travelling so much?

I joke.

Mostly.

Traveling during a pandemic was a choice we made late last month with very heavy hearts. I don’t want to appear cavalier about it. We didn’t know even up until the departure morning when we woke up at 4am and got on the plane southbound that we were still going. We had a bailout plan right until the Orlando flight boarded. Ultimately came down to balancing personal risk, losing a lot of money if we cancelled, and setting some lowered expectations around the trip activities overall.

But. I have just spent the last two weeks wearing a medical grade N95 mask every time (no, every time) I was in public … and oh boy, were we ever in public. My face is chapped. My hands are raw from sanitizer. My mind is blurry from cognitive dissonance of immersing myself in that for so long and then coming back to almost-lockdown locally at home. I’m not sure I want to turn this post or blog into a rant about the mixed narratives being woven in Florida (and Disney World itself to be honest) about the severity of the pandemic, personal accountability, a culture of individual liberty, and the politicization of health care, but I just Jungle Cruised through the epicenter of pandemic insanity and survived to tell the tale.

I feel like I could write a few things worth reading.

At the core of our vacation, however, was doing the right things in the middle of the big wrong one. In retrospect, knowing what I know now, even having tested negative and made it home sans COVID, I think we probably should have cancelled. But we made a hundred choices each day about masks, touching surfaces, where to eat, how to transport from hotel to park and back again, when to be around other people, and when to pull the ripcord and just go back to the isolation of the hotel no matter how much fun it seemed like we were missing.

I’m going to let it all settle in a bit first, and over the next days and weeks I’ll likely write a lot about the recent travel experiences and opinions before getting back into the food and cast iron posts.

I had these dreams of writing great missives about our adventures directly from Florida, but in the blur of everything else, the days filled with theme parks and food and sketching (I did do a lot of sketching) sitting down to blog about it all just … fell by the wayside.

Plus, announcing that I wasn’t at home online didn’t seem like the smartest choice for many reasons including both home security and seeming to flout restrictions.