Disney’s 39.3 Mile Goofy Challenge
When I signed up to do a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday at Walt Disney World (WDW) in sunny Orlando Florida in mid-January, I would never have imagined that Florida would be grappling with record low temperatures. I know I will not get any sympathy from those braving single digit temps here in the Fox Cities WI. Like my last marathon in Newport RI back in October 09, this event will again be memorable for the weather.
It was announced that this event is now the 2nd largest race event in the world. I believe it since I have never seen such a mass of humanity at any single event. If you were not a major company representing the latest in running gear at the 3 day expo, you missed out in over 55,000 participants and the friends and family they brought with them. I have to say one thing for WDW, it’s all about organization, people (employees & volunteers) and how to make a buck.
Organization was evident as it has to take a lot of experience to house, shuttle and coordinate everyone involved in these events. The registration & race packet pickup area was the size of an indoor arena floor and well marked & staffed. All of this was housed at the new Disney sports complex. Everyone had to submit a waiver form and ID before even getting serviced. The long sleeved tech shirts & goody bags were across the street at the expo. I had to park about 4 city blocks away when I stopped by the expo and that was not during the peak pickup time which was mid-afternoon on Saturday. WDW had shuttle buses running non-stop from all of their resort hotel areas. It was difficult to move around the expo floor with so many people. I enjoy it just to see all the variety of people. I did not see anyone I knew except for Jeff Galloway who was speaking at the time.
I stayed at Disney’s Pop Century Resort which is near the sports complex. It was ok… nothing special and in a way… rather outdated accommodations. You can learn a lot more by going to the WDW website to see all of their resorts/hotels.
I actually arrived at the Orlando airport late Friday evening, picked up my rental and arrived at Pop Century registration about 10:30 PM. Thanks to fellow 50 Stater John W Moyer Jr for picking up my race packet & shirts and dropping them off at the hotel. I crashed in bed around 11 PM.
Shuttle buses from the hotels started at 3 AM, so I got up about 2 AM to get ready. The Weather Channel said the temp was 27 degrees with an 80% chance of morning precipitation. I headed over to the shuttle pickup area about 3 AM. I knew I had to pick up a “Goofy” wristband at the race area information booth to prove that I participated in the half marathon. The bus ride was buzzing about the cold temps. It took about 20 minutes to get from the hotel to Epcot where the race event started and ended. Again, WDW was very organized in getting the shuttle buses in and out. The wind was picking up as we walked from where the buses drop us off to the 3 city blocks to the staging area. I found the wristband place and took care of that right away (more photo ID stuff) and then tried to find a place to stand out of the wind. About 4:30 AM it started to snow. No, it couldn’t be… “It never snows in Florida!” I’d really recommend that you dress for the weather since we have to stand around the staging area for almost an hour and a half. I did not have enough layers for my legs. I had on tights, 2 shirt layers, a hooded sweatshirt, a jacket, hat, gloves and mittens. Another runner from Minnesota gave me an extra garbage bag and that helped cover my legs from the biting wind. About 5 AM we leave the staging area and walk a little more than a half mile to the starting corrals. By then the snow had changed to sleet. Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy were there to greet us and get the race started. The wheelchair racers start at 5:35 AM and the runners about 5 minutes later. I tore off the garbage bag at the start since I did not want to get all steamy inside as I ran. The sleet continued for the first 4 miles and then changed to rain for the remainder.
I was not impressed with the half marathon course since most of it was run in the dark. Sometimes it was too narrow to accommodate the runners. When I finished it felt very similar to the Newport RI marathon… soaked and freezing cold. Thankfully it was just a half. My Garmin indicated I had traveled 13.29 miles on the course. I received a very nice finishing medal and then had to go to the “Goofy Challenge” tent to exchange my half marathon wristband for a marathon wristband. There was plenty of food, although nothing hot and it was still raining so I walked back to the shuttle bus area for my ride back to the hotel.
After laying out my drenched clothing to dry, I climbed into a hot hot shower for a long time and then headed back to bed since I only had 3 hours of sleep before leaving for the half. In the afternoon, I headed over to the expo, found a Pizza Hut for some supper and then headed back to the room for a good 8 hours of sleep before the marathon. One-third of the Goofy Challenge complete!
I found clear skies when I got up at 3 AM. I learned from the day before not to leave too early and stand in the cold wind. I dressed with an extra layer around my legs… another thing I learned from the day before experience. Fortunately my Wisconsin sweatshirt dried overnight and I had it available for Sunday’s marathon. Pretty much the same routine in the staging area although the wind was coming from different direction so I had to find a new place to hide from the penetrating wind.
The marathon course was bit different depending on which corral you got. I was in C which was the last one in the same roadway as the day before. D-K was along side and each group followed different paths until about mile 3 where we joined together. I noticed immediately that the wind was much stronger on Sunday. At the first water station, the water and PowerAde was icy. By the second water station, all the spilled water had frozen on contact with the road and I nearly landed on my butt as I slipped and slid my way through. The same for the next few water stations before the volunteers received sand to put down through the water stations to give footing to the ice rink water stations. It was so cold that I could see my breath through mile 16.
Another highlight of WDW are the Disney characters spread throughout the parks. Disney gave you a disposable Kodak camera for each event to take pictures. I stopped and took about 20 pictures along the marathon course with Chip & Dale, the characters from the movie UP and the usuals… Mickey, Minnie, Donald, etc. Each set of characters had several Disney employees who took your camera as you stood in line and took your picture with your camera and passed it back as you headed out to the next photo op. There was a stretch of pathway where they had a lot of trivia that I could not read on Saturday since it was still dark then. It was later in the marathon course so I could read them.
The marathon, although cold and windier, was sunny and most importantly… dry. There was a lot of running on roadways between the 4 parks that exposed us to the wind and little, if any, crowd support. Most of the crowd gathered in the park attractions as one would suspect since they were easy to get to with the monorail and bus system. The marathon course showed you areas most tourists do not see like the staging areas, employee only areas and the huge waste water treatment facility. When I finished, I received another big finishing medal. My Garmin recorded the mileage as 26.64 miles covered. So, combined nearly 40 miles. I then went to the “Goofy Challenge” tent and received a third medal for completing the Goofy 39.3 mile Challenge. I’d estimate that about a third of the runners were “Goofy’s”.
Would I recommend it? One thing you can never control is the weather. While I managed the cold, sleet, wind and rain, it was far better than temps in the 80s and high humidity as it was a couple of years ago. There are a lot of first time runners who do not understand race etiquette. They stop suddenly or spit without looking for who’s around them. They often walk down the middle instead of off to the side and sometimes in pairs… or more. The course is not a PR course. It is very narrow in many portions, especially toward the end, and often times you had to run off the path to pass slower runners or walkers. And because the events are ALL half marathoners or ALL marathoners its the same all the way through both courses. In spots where the Disney characters stood for photo ops, often times the lines of people would stick out onto the course. I guess those were the negatives… just an event too large for the course however scenic it may be.
The pros… it was fun to see areas of the parks you don’t ordinarily get to see. I get to meet a lot of nice people and of course Disney hires employees for their friendliness and cheery personalities who were placed in areas with less crowd support. They were well organized. My team got around very nicely on the monorail and bus system and Disney broke the course down well for spectators as to where to be based on the timing of your runner. They had only one out and back and a chip trap at the far end to catch cheaters from trying to cut out the mile. I like that. The medals and shirts were top quality.
It’s a hard course and times were down because of the weather. The Brazilian winner was almost 10 minutes longer than his win last year. There is a lot of space between venues mostly on roadways. The actual parks are pure Disney and by far the best portions.
I did not have time on this trip to spend in the parks as a tourist. I did look up a “Green Bay Packer” bar in downtown Orlando… about 25 miles from Walt Disney World to watch the playoff game. These Packer-backers are a crazy bunch! Travel through the Milwaukee and Orlando airports was typical despite the ramped up security expectations.
Next month I head to Texas to do a pair of marathons… including my 60th marathon on my 60th birthday.