2017 Disney World Marathon

So another year, another marathon.  I've been training for the past few months to prep for the 2017 Disney Marathon.  Last year, I ran the San Antonio Rock 'n' Roll marathon.  Finished in an acceptable time, but really felt the effects of the run for a couple weeks afterwards.  Honestly, it was largely an unpleasant experience, especially the last 8 miles or so.

So, this time, I decided to run a marathon at the "Happiest Place on Earth" and see if a little Mickey Magic would help.  Plus a better training plan, sleep plan and nutrition plan. 

However, my training plan revealed that a nagging issue with my right hip flexors was still present.  I can't blame anyone but myself.  My coach had me on a pretty good regimen of stretching and strengthening that I was marginally compliant with.  When it flared, I got much better about it and was able to keep the injury from getting worse. Lesson learned for this hard-headed guy -- follow instructions from people who are smarter than you are about running. 

Anyway, back to the run.

 The RunDisney Expo

The RunDisney Expo

My wife and I arrived a few days early and headed to the Expo on Day 1. As is typical for RunDisney events, it was fabulously organized, and we were in and out of the registration process in about 5 minutes.  However, the parking lot as ESPN Wide World of Sports was particularly crowded, so there was  little walking to get to the registration. The exhibitor floor was stuffed full of all sorts of vendors from Fit2Run (a large, Florida-based running store), New Balance, Disney apparel, Sport Hooks, Garmin and more.  Great to see the latest wares and talk to the experts about running and great gear.

 Running the "virtual" half on Saturday AM

Running the "virtual" half on Saturday AM

So my wife and I headed to the parks that Friday afternoon.  Unfortunately, the warm, sunny Friday yielded to an angry, stormy and lightning-filled Friday night and Saturday morning forcing RunDisney to cancel the 1/2 marathon.  The decision to cancel could have not been easy, but was clearly the right thing to do, as bands of strong thunderstorms rolled across Orlando from about 10pm to 8am.  Putting 25,000 runners into lightning storms would have been rather irresponsible. Disney did, however, offer disappointed runners reimbursement in the form of a future half marathon, gift cards, free passes to the parks or the ability to run the full marathon the next day.  Many of the Dopey and Goofy challenge folks ran their own half-marathons on Saturday morning after the weather cleared.

While Friday morning was a balmy in the mid-60s, Sunday morning, Marathon morning, was another matter entirely.  Just goes to show the wisdom of bringing cold-weather running gear and "throw away" warm clothes to ditch at the beginning of the race. Sunday morning was 38 degrees with a 20 MPH wind from the north.  Chilly.  I headed out the door at 3:30am to catch the bus and was very pleased that I was wearing cheap sweats and my running tights and jacket.  Once we got to the corrals (about an hour later) I dumped the sweats on the side of the road.  RunDisney collects this discarded clothing and donates it to local charities.  

 'Twas cold!

'Twas cold!

At 5:30am sharp, after the National Anthem, the wheelchair division racers were off, followed, every 5 minutes, by a corral.  I crossed the start under a shower of typically-awesome RunDisney fireworks at 6am.  As we headed away from EPCOT and headed towards Magic Kingdom, we were treated to DJs, performers and character photo opportunities along the route.  I headed into Magic Kingdom at around the six mile mark and stopped for the obligatory "castle" photo and headed out.  My strategy for the first 18 miles or so was to run much slower than my normal pace -- around 11-11:30 miles, so that I wouldn't hit the proverbial wall quite as hard as I did in San Antonio last year.

After Magic Kingdom, it was about six more miles to Animal Kingdom. After a quick trip through Africa, Asia and Dinoland, we headed to the parking lot and toward ESPN Wide World of Sports.  For the past few months, I've been concerned about WWoS.  I figured it would be boring and relatively boring as we wound among the sports fields of the complex.  However, the route planners mixed it up with some runs on the tracks (including a lap on the inside of the baseball stadium) and routing along the beautiful tree-lined paths that crisscross the complex.  Very nice.  Looping out of WWoS, we headed over to Hollywood Studios, entering right behind the Tower of Terror, and heading out the front gate.  As the entire back part of Hollywood Studios is undergoing renovation to make space for the new Star Wars and Toy Story areas, the run through the park is disappointingly short.

Immediately on exiting Hollywood Studios, the course enters the Boardwalk area.  This beautiful part of Disney a boardwalk lined run along a canal and lake surrounded by trees and fantastic Disney resorts. About now, right around mile 24, I started to feel the run.  Started to walk a bit more and think about finishing a lot more.  I wasn't in the sort of pain or distress I had experienced in San Antonio, but I was ready to be done.  The Boardwalk ends right at the entry to EPCOT parade of nations between the UK and France. Just after crossing the bridge to France, the 25 mile marker beckoned.  All along the roped-off course, crowds gathered to cheer on the runners as we passed all the countries between France and Mexico on our way to Future World.  Again, I stopped for the obligatory, "Big Ball (aka - Spaceship Earth) photo and ran out the exit (and the 26 mile marker) to the parking lot and finish.

Minnie was there at the finish line giving out high-fours as we crossed the line.  I finished in 5:15. Well over my 4:57 from San Antonio, but feeling much better about the run. Yes, I was tired, but I didn't feel awful as I had a year earlier.  I grabbed my medal and lunch (with that awesome nacho cheese sauce everyone talks about) and headed to the Race Retreat Tent.

For those not familiar, the Race Retreat is an option that runners can purchase in addition to their race experience.  It offers a nice plan to hang out both before and after your run in climate controlled comfort with dedicated port-a-potties, changing rooms and food + drinks.  A bit expensive at $125, but in my view, worth it.

All in all, I found the Disney World Marathon to be a superb event. Terrific organization, enthusiastic crowds made up of volunteers, employees and the general public with terrific on-course entertainment.  Unlike other marathons, the support and entertainment continues to the very end.  If you're looking for a first or 100th marathon, this should be high on your list of runs to consider.

I'm not sure I'm going to run another for a while. It takes a lot out of my schedule, work and family to train for a marathon. I'm going to explore improving my 1/2 marathon times, losing some weight and maybe dabble in some triathlon events.  However, I do plan to do a Dopey challenge some day in the next few years, so I fully expect to do 26.2 with the big Mouse again one day.

The Battle of Leon Creek 20K & 20 Miler

Today I ran the Battle of Leon Creek 20 miler, put on by Scallywompus Events.  This event, it turns out, is the last in a four run series the race director, Bart Childers, says is specifically designed to help local runners prepare for marathon season and the San Antonio Rock 'N' Roll at the beginning of December.  Several years ago, Bart and some of his running partners realized the local running events were not mapped out to be friendly to those on a half or full marathon training plan for the San Antonio marathon.  Thus, the Alamo Beer Challenge was born.

The Alamo Beer Company sponsors the four race series, which begins in late summer and has an event once a month in August, September, October and finally in November.  Runners who run the events get to do their long runs on beautiful courses that are well-supported with water stations and an awesome party afterwards. "We want people to come to the run and stay for the party", says Childers.

The run started at the Hill Country Place apartments, near UTSA under cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid-50s. Water and toilet facilities were  plentiful.  The first folks out the gates at 7:01am sharp were the 20 mile runners and the walkers.  As we headed out, the MC reminded us, "This isn't that hard. It's just right, left, right, left. Repeat."  True.  We looped out of the parking lot and hopped on the Leon Creek Greenway and headed south.  The Greenway is part of a larger network of linear parks that San Antonio has been developing over the past decade or so and will ultimately link up different parts of the city with roughly 150 miles of trails.  Leon Creek is a well-developed pathway of smooth concrete with enough room for three runners to run abreast and still room for passing on the sides.  The trail is generally very flat and meanders along Leon Creek.  Scallywompus placed water stations roughly every two miles and the trail was very well marked to ensure we stayed on course.  We turned around roughly behind Ingram Park Mall and headed back toward UTSA and the finish line.

I'm not the fastest runner; I completed my 20 miles in about 3:25 -- under my goal time of 3:30. Happy with my results, I turned in my timing chip and headed to the vendor area.  Each adult bib had tear-off tags for beer and food.  Priorities being what they are, I headed over to the Alamo Beer tent and grabbed their excellent Octobofest.  Pizza Classics was helping feed the masses with a variety of their excellent pies, while Highlander Bar & Grill was handing out Kiolbassa sausage (on a stick!).  Several other sponsors and vendors lined the parkings lot: Sessi Wine who was sampling their fares along with the Rebecca Creek Distillery, Monster Energy and Generation UCAN.  The aforementioned MC was busy handing out prizes and keeping everyone entertained while a DJ handled the playlist.  Everyone was having a great time.

Good run.  Good beer.  Good food.  Good times. Bart says that about 1000 people ran today's event, but he wants it to be much bigger.  Well, plus one, Bart -- you've earned a new runner.  I'll be there next year.  This time for all four events.  Bookmark Scallywompus and check out their other runs and next year's series.  Interested in registering for the 2016 series?  Here's the link: 2016 Alamo Beer Company Marathon Challenge  

Did you run this event?  Been to a Scallywompus Event before?  Leave a comment below!

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Run Report: San Antonio Riverwalk 10 miler

Time for another long run this weekend, although not quite as long as the last one.  I had to do a 10 mile run today and I decided to head down my favorite route in the city:  The San Antonio Riverwalk.  

The San Antonio River actually starts near Incarnate Word University where a series of springs create the headwaters.  It passes through Breckenridge park and then heads towards downtown and ultimately south towards the ocean.  Nearly everyone is familiar with the Downtown part of the Riverwalk, with the hotels, restaurants, bars and, of course, the river barges. Not as many are aware that there are two other parts: the Museum Reach to the north of Downtown and the Mission Reach, extending south.  Overall, the Riverwalk is nearly 15 miles long with tons to see and do along the way.

My favored route is to start the Pearl Brewery near US Hwy 281 and Grayson Street and head south toward the missions.  I usually run early on Sunday so I park in the lot nearest to La Gloria, but there is a large parking garage nearby.  The Riverwalk runs behind La Gloria and the Hotel Emma.  Head down the river and turn left.  This portion of the Riverwalk is called the Museum Reach because of the concentrations of Museums along its course. To the north, the river winds past the Witte Museum, the Zoo before passing the Pearl.  Shortly south of the Pearl it passes the San Antonio Museum of Art, housed in the repurposed Historic Lone Star Brewery.  As you head South, you'll see a variety of art installations, many in residence under the road bridges you'll run under.  About a mile to the south of the Pearl, you'll encounter the Riverwalk locks -- used to lift the river barges up about 15 feet from the Downtown portion of the Riverwalk to the Museum Reach.  

The Museum Reach, adjacent to the Pearl Brewery Complex

After passing the locks, you enter the Downtown Reach of the Riverwalk.  This is the historic part of the riverwalk and certainly looks more mature, with larger, stately trees.  As the buildings creep closer to the river, you can note that the architecture of the Riverwalk also looks a little less modern.  Also, you'll note that the placards describing the historical significance pick up in frequency passing through this area.  As you approach the bend in the river at the north flood control gate, you'll head up to street level to cross over and continue going straight south. Repeat the up and over on the south flood control gate and keep heading south.  As you exit the downtown area, you'll notice the river widens and large cyprus trees predominate on the banks.  Welcome to the King William District.  So named by the german immigrants who settled this area and named it after Kaiser Wilhelm.  A couple flood control dams interrupt the waterway, but thank to the City, they are well integrated into the surroundings. This is probably the most peaceful, beautiful portion of the Riverwalk.  Feel free to hop up onto the streets of the King William District and explore the streets dotted with old mansions and massive live oaks.  As you head run along the river, you'll encounter the old foundations of the North Mill, established by Mr. C.H. Guenther and later the South Mill.  Off on the right side of the Riverwalk you can see the towering Pioneer Mill, established by C.H. Guenther and still a large producer of flour products today.  Proceeding further, the path twists and ends up near Roosevelt High School and the lower discharge for the San Antonio Flood Control Tunnel.  

As you proceed south, you now enter the Mission Reach, named for the three, UNESCO World Heritage Site old Spanish Missions that line the river.  The river channel is quite a bit wider and the area around far less developed.  During the cooler months, this is a beautiful route with birds, flowers and other wildlife.  However, I do not recommend Mission Reach in the summer as there is no shade and the heat is brutal.  Just after passing underneath I-10, I turned around and headed back north to my car. 

The Riverwalk is an eminently run-able, beautiful route -- unique in the United States.  It bores straight along over 300 years of history and is not to be missed.  Navigating is simple -- there are signs marking the route and maps along the way.  Have you run the Riverwalk?  What do you think?  Leave your comments below!

Run Report: San Antonio 20 miler Alamo Heights --> Downtown

I'm training for the San Antonio Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in early December and needed a 20 mile route for my training.  My favorite running spots line the San Antonio Greenway, however these beautiful trails are along the major drainage creeks.  With the rains we've had the past week, including last night, these normally dry creek beds have been transformed to torrential rivers.  Many of the trails are under water. So I needed another route. I headed over to MapMyRun and found this gem by user Tom Fuller.  

The route starts at the Shops at Lincoln Heights. Lots of parking!  Cross Basse Road and head into the neighborhoods of Alamo Heights. The first couple miles winds through bucolic neighborhoods with towering oaks shading the entire route.  Eventually, you head to Contour Road.  On my run, there were two low water points. While there wasn't any water over the road, last evening's thunderstorms did manage to deposit about two inches of slippery mud that I had to wade through.  Exiting Alamo Heights, I crossed into Olmos Park and across the dam.  More gorgeous homes and trees and I exited the neighborhoods into Broadway.  

A short spell on Broadway and I turned into Brackenridge Park at the Witte Museum.  Near the zoo, I picked up N. St. Mary's Road and headed south.  Up to this point, navigation had been a little tricky and I had to keep referring to my phone, as I'm not familiar with the neighborhoods and roads I took to get to Brackenridge.  However, after hopping on N. St. Mary's, it is  just a straight shot all the way to downtown and a turn, some miles later, onto  Commerce. The neighborhoods are a smidgen dodgy as you approach downtown, but I had no problems.  A right on to Commerce and then a mile or so later, a quick u-turn around Market Square and and onto Market Street, past the Main Plaza and eventually a left turn on Alamo Plaza led me past the Alamo.  I looped onto Houston, back to Bowie and Commerce.  A right turn onto Commerce and I headed back toward N. St. Mary Street.

However, I decided to pass N. St. Mary Street and jumped on the Riverwalk to head north.  I love running on the Riverwalk.  It's quiet, shaded and a unique, beautiful part of our city.  Previously I had always exited the Riverwalk at the Pearl Brewery, however I decided to take it all the way to Brackenridge Park.  After passing under 281, I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the golf course.  The Riverwalk merges with Avenue B and I eventually turned left onto Mulberry and then right onto N. St. Mary's.  

As I approached the Japanese Sunken Gardens, the course that Tom Fuller maps turns to the left and heads up a hill behind the Sunken Garden Amphitheater.  This is not a terribly obvious route as the road is closed, but I (somewhat daringly I thought) ran around the SAWS "Authorized Personnel Only" sign and was first punished by a rather steep climb, but then a panoramic view of the Amphitheater, Alamo Heights and Terrill Hills.  Decending toward the zoo, I took a left and headed under 281 to climb a series of nasty hills on Tuleta and Stadium Drive until joining Divine Avenue to head back into Olmos Park and Alamo Heights and eventually back to Lincoln Heights Shopping Center.

I ran on a Sunday morning and there was very little traffic. The course was varied with lots to look at, plenty of businesses (coffee shops and gas stations) for water / bathroom stops.  The route also passes many historical markers and plaques describing the history of our city. It was a great way to pass 3.5 hours.  

Also, Lincoln Heights Shopping Center has several restaurants -- I had some Torchy's Tacos.  Awesome!

What are your favorite routes in San Antonio or your city?  Leave a comment below!

 

Running a 5K & Half Marathon Through the House of the Mouse, Cali-style


I ran my very first half marathon at Disney World in January 2015, and indeed, the experience was magical. Now, before you roll your eyes at the the use of Disney's favorite adjective, do not underestimate my sincerity.  Prior to the run, I really wasn't all that interested in running.  At all.  However, my experience with Disney was so good that, at the suggestion of my wife, decided to run the Disneyland half and earn the Coast to Coast medal.  I'm sure her suggestion had little to do with her interest in heading back to Cali, where she grew up.  My challenge back to her was that she was going to run the 5K with me.  With our challenges agreed upon and defined, we dutifully trained until it was time to hop on Jet Blue and head west.

For the unfamiliar, Disneyland is a much smaller, far more compact version of Disneyworld.  It is situated in the third largest urban area in North America and doesn't have the space to stretch out.  The parks are smaller, the ride lines are outside rather than the Florida-style air conditioned indoor queues. While this may seem problematic, it is not.  While my experience in Florida has been very positive, moving from place to place (i.e. hotel to park) in Disneyworld takes time.  A lot of time.  Like, an hour or more.  Disneyland, on the other hand, the time from my hotel room at the Disney Paradise Pier Hotel to the entrance to Disney California Adventure:  10 minutes.  On foot.  Walking.  On the morning of the half in Florida, I woke at 3am to catch a bus at 3:30 to beat the traffic so I could sit a the starting area for over an hour, to walk another half-mile or so to the start corrals (all 23 of them!), etc.  In California, I woke at 4, left my room at 4:45 and was in the starting area at 5am.  Walking.  The compact size of Disneyland was a nice change for those of us accustomed to the metropolitan-sized Disney World.

Another major difference is the weather.  Florida tends to be hot and humid. While the heat can be variable, the humidity is not.  On the other hand, Southern California, while often warm during the day, cools down significantly at night.  On the morning of the run it was 62 with low humidity. Perfect.

Weather, size and location aside, however, the Disneyland RunDisney experience was the same, high-quality, well-run event that makes these runs so popular.

On arrival to Southern California, my wife and I checked in at Disney's Paradise Pier hotel.  This is the "moderate" priced hotel on the Disneyland property, and is very convenient to the parks and running activities.  After a quick stop on our room, we headed out the door to pick up our race packets.  

Stepping out the backdoor of the hotel, there were plenty of signs to guide us to our destination, the conference center at the Disneyland Hotel, a leisurely 15 minute walk.  As we neared the hotel, uniformed volunteers guided us into an underground convention space where the packet pickup lanes were located.  Again, in typical Disney efficiency, the volunteers guided us to our lanes and our total time in this area was less than 15 minutes.  This was on Thursday afternoon; I imagine that Friday afternoon was much more crowded.  We then went upstairs and stepped into the Expo.


 Disneyland Half Marathon Expo 2015

Disneyland Half Marathon Expo 2015


The Expo was packed with the usual RunDisney vendors and things to see.  New Balance, Clif, Fit2Run, RunDisney and a myriad of other vendors with lots of items to try, and of course, buy.  The cool thing about the DL Expo is how convenient it is to the hotels. While the Disneyworld Expo is larger, it is far removed from the parks and hotels at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and requires a car or bus ride.  We ended up returning to the Expo on Friday to get some more stuff and see Sean Astin speak.

After the expo, it was off to dinner, then to sleep as we were running the 5K the next morning.  

 

The Disneyland 5K

The next morning, my wife and I got up, poured down a bit of coffee and headed over to the start area.  The walk from the Paradise Pier hotel over to the start area was a leisurely 10 minute stroll and as we approached, the crowd started to build.  

The RunDisney starts are events unto themselves.  As we approached the start corrals, a small army of volunteers steered us to the proper places.  We entered the chutes and were ultimately deposited in our spot for the start.  All along the starting area were lights and speakers broadcasting music. A large video screen showed our hosts, Mickey, Minnie and some human hosts helping set a festive mood.  

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Each corral group gets it's own start, and the starts occur about two minutes apart.  Before we knew it, we were counting down and away we went!

We ran the first 1/2 mile or so down the road and into the backstage area of Disney California Adventure and emerged in Cars Land.  Radiator Springs was lighted using a Sunrise motif.  Lots of people stopping to take photos.  The course then looped near the Paradise Pier area before heading to Hollywood Land and out the exit of DCA and into Disneyland. 

There really isn't anything that matches the experience of running up Main Street U.S.A. My wife and I paused for a quick photo op at Sleeping Beauty's castle and pressed on through Fantasy Land and out Frontier Land through the backstage.  The last half mile or so was through Downtown Disney and we were done! This was my wife's first 5K and I couldn't have been prouder.  We happily collected our medals (made of vinyl), grabbed some water and a snack.  Again, since we stayed on property, a shower and nap were only a 10 minute walk away.

 

The Disneyland Half Marathon

Since this was a vacation, I skipped the 10K the next morning and creaked out of bed early on Sunday to run the 10th Disneyland Half Marathon. Again, I was grateful for staying on property as it was just a short walk to the start corrals.  The crowds today, however, were much larger.

As I made my way over to the start corrals, I realized that I was not assigned to the proper corral.  While I am nearly certain I submitted the necessary race times to qualify for a higher corral, I was assigned corral G, as in, "G"o way to the back.  I'm not sure exactly what happened, but make sure you submit the required times so you don't get sent to the back.  One advantage, though, is that my starting group was backed up on the ramps to the parking garage, so I could see all the action down at the start line.  Again, it was a staged start so we watched groups A-F move out before it was our turn. Since 15,000 people ran this event, it took us nearly 45 minutes to cross the start line.  

The start was terrific and we were off. As we headed backstage in Disney California Adventure, I realized that the run through the parks was going to be a bit tedious.  Crowding was a real problem at numerous points where the course narrowed and the pace would slow to a crawl.  I've already made double-sure that my times are properly submitted for my next RunDisney event!

Running through the parks at dawn was simply beautiful. The 3rd shift cleaning crews were out in force cheering us on.  The route through both parks was about twice as long as the 5K and we emerged from Disneyland into Anaheim around mile 6.

The Anaheim portion of the half-marathon winds through the light-industrial section of the city, along the Santa Ana River, through Angel's stadium and back through Anaheim and into the parks.  The finish line is just north of the Disneyland Hotel.  While the Anaheim part of the run is a bit dull, as there really isn't much to look at, RunDisney made sure to line the streets with high school and college bands, dancing groups (thanks Tahitian dancers!) and cheer squads.  One of the more interesting displays occurred during the few miles leading to the Santa Ana River.  Hundreds of car collectors lined the streets with their classic autos.  They were largely themed with Disney films as well:  Herbie the Love Bug, and all manner of vehicles represented in Pixar's Cars (classics, Porsches, souped up asian imports, etc). The run in Angel's stadium was very cool.  We entered at first base and ran counterclockwise around the field and exited at the left outfield foul line.  

As is typical with RunDisney events, the course was superbly supported with ample water stops and plenty of port-a-lets along the route.  

At the finish, an army of volunteers handed out water, medals (really nice ones!) and a fancy cooling towel.  After a short walk, I grabbed my snack, found my wife and headed back to the hotel. 

 

Summary:

Our RunDisney experience was fantastic.  The courses are interesting, the support spectacular and the vibe fun.  However, what really made Disneyland special was it's compact size and ease of movement. I'm definitely heading back for a future event.  I strongly recommend staying on property and make sure you properly submit your run times to RunDisney by the deadline so you don't end up in the back (unless you want to be there).  Happy running!