2008 marked the 15th year of the Walt Disney World Marathon. Once upon a time, they offered a full and half marathon concurrently. Those who ran the full marathon got (and still get) a medal that looks like Mickey Mouse's head. Those who ran the half got (and still get) a medal that looks like Donald Duck. Pretty cool, although this means that the organizers don't have to be creative about medal designs each year.
Three years ago, they decided to split it up: the half marathon would be held on Saturday, and the full on Sunday. This was good news for runners because the events had gotten overly crowded. Of course, really this was a financial move by Disney (EVERYTHING about these races has $ as motivation)... it allowed them to sign up more folks.
When they split the races in 2006, someone in the Disney org had the bright idea of promoting "The Goofy Challenge" - a runner could sign up for BOTH races and get an extra Goofy medal. Apparently, they expected a few hundred people would sign up, and they were surprised by the interest. They closed it at 3,000. They expanded the field for 2007, and the Goofy sold out just as quickly. For 2008, they finally decided to offer a special Goofy shirt (there hadn't been one previously) in addition to the medal. And for the first time, they charged a premium for Goofy. The first two years, Goofy was the same price as the two races added together. In 2008, it cost more. Yippee. And it still sold out practically immediately. Mind you, Goofy is not a competition. There are no extra awards, and no age groups. They don't even aggregate results. But the Goofy runner gets that extra medal, extra shirt, and special bibs... and Goofy folks get a few more shout-outs. It's pretty cool.
It must be cool. Considering the prices they charge and the logistical pain in the ass of these races, something must be good about them. It's not just that Orlando is almost as far away from Seattle as one can travel within the continental US. It is true that if the runner stays on Disney property, the shuttle bus system is efficient. But both of these races start at 6a, and they want folks there by 4a. They encourage people on property to take the 3a shuttle. 3a! This means, for me at least, getting up at 2a. My west coast body thinks I'm getting up at 11p. Getting up. At 11p. Goofy is two loooong days.
Meanwhile, these races are NOT wall-to-wall theme park. About 4 miles of the half and 8 miles of the full are in the parks. The rest... the majority... of the races are on highways and through parking lots. The highway sections could be from races just about anywhere.
And I've been to all three editions of Goofy. They really are cool. The runner is well cared for. The entertainment is top notch. And while there aren't spectators throughout the courses, they ARE thick AND LOUD through the theme parks. Running down Main Street in Magic Kingdom as the sun comes up and hundreds of people are cheering is really special. Yes, "main street" is fake. Yes, the real crowds at something like NYCM are a different thing. But Disney is ELECTRIC... I even got a little choked up this year a couple of times. More on that later.
So, like I said, I've been to all three. When I did the first Goofy in 2006, I had not yet run a double (two marathons in a weekend). I had run one half/full combination in preparation for Goofy... but I still showed up nervous and probably undertrained for the experience. Plus it was 30 degrees and blowing wind both days. It was pretty neat, but standing for two popsicle-cold hours before each race was not fun. Here is my report from that year. Additionally, I was sick with a sinus infection and bronchitis for that weekend, although I didn't really know it until afterwards. I struggled to a 1:50/4:01 finish in those races. My half time disappointed me; I had no idea how I'd do in the full, so my time seemed ok - but I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. I didn't run for several weeks after Goofy I.
Goofy II in 2007 was a night-and-day experience compared to 2006. It was 75-80 degrees all weekend. Bright blue skies. And 100% humidity. This made waiting before the races much more pleasant. But the races themselves? Not so much. I did make it onto the big screen before the half (showing my Mickey temporary tattoo) and I got interviewed before the full (which was where I went on record that I was going to run 50+ marathons in 2007). I split my report for these races into three posts: an expo/prep report, the half report, and the full report. I stayed healthy for the weekend, but my times were still disappointing: 1:48/4:40. In fairness, the 4:40 included some time where I helped a person to a first aid station... but I was toast in that race. It really kicked my ass.
I had done Goofy I just to do it. I returned to Goofy II because I had been sick at the first one, and I wanted a do-over. But my do-over stunk. So I wanted a do-over-over. And that brings us to Goofy III. I told myself when I registered that no matter how I did, this would be my final Goofy for awhile. It was nice being involved since the beginning. And I learned that Disney put together a really nice plaque for everyone who had done all 15 Disneyworld Marathons. Maybe some day, they'd do the same for the Goofy people. But it's just TOO expensive and logistically painful for me to do it every year. Plus there are other wonderful races in January. This would be it. The finale. At least for awhile. Never say never.
I'll skip all the intro and setup info for the races. I stayed on Disney property at Port Orleans, same as the previous two years. I got claustrophobic at the expo and marveled at the high prices, same as the previous two years.
Goofy III's weather was going to be a lot like Goofy II, but a little cooler: 65-70 degrees and 100% humidity. Yuck. However, I was in much better shape this year than I was last year, even with my December/January blahs.
My last Goofy. I decided I'd base my goals on what my body felt like each morning, but secretly I wanted to be semi-aggressive: PR the half and beat 4 in the full. In isolation, beating 4 in a full is conservative for me now. Even beating 4 on the second day of a double is doable in many situations. But I had never beaten 4 at a Florida race, plus it was going to be humid, and I'd really be sucking wind if I truly managed to PR the previous day. So in this instance, "beat 4" felt aggressive.
My last Goofy. I've described the courses in detail previously, but here are summary descriptions.
The half: This course is fairly fast, and by far the more boring of the two races. It is a balloon-on-a-stick out-and-back that takes runners up from EPCOT, though Magic Kingdom, and back to EPCOT. Miles outside of these parks are highway miles. Easy peasy. The course is NOT completely flat thanks to several bridges and one nifty underpass, but it is mostly flat. The race starts at 6a... lots of running in the dark.
The full: This course is a loop. The start is an interesting affair: two different start lines with corrals. Each start covers a different course before everything merges around M4. After making this complicated for two years, the organizers finally did it the easy way: the corrals for one start held people who were theoretically faster than the corrals for the other start. The elites actually started in front of the slower-start corrals. Depending on which start the runner was assigned, those first miles either went through the front of EPCOT (for the slower folks and elites) or the lands/countries in the back (faster folks). The back was more interesting... but it would also repeat later in the race as M25. They corralled differently in prior years, and although I had always been in the "second fastest non-elite" corral, I was on the side that hit the front of EPCOT. This year, I was in the "fastest non-elite" corral, and I moved to other side. So I got to see the back. Cool. Finally, I can say that I've seen everything these races have to offer :-).
After circling through EPCOT, the next section of the full is identical to the beginning of the half: up the highways, over some bridges, through the Magic Kingdom's transportation center (tons of spectators here) and through Magic Kingdom. This is my favorite part of the whole course. There are tons of spectators at all the parks, but the Disney employees and characters seem more welcoming at Magic Kingdom - and there's a very nifty band. Also, trumpets salute runners as they enter the castle. Woohoo! Then, instead of returning to EPCOT, the full heads down a different road past Mickey's Magical Waste Treatment Plant and The Happiest Compost Facility on Earth (hold your nose!). After that treat... and really? This part of the course totally cracks me up... runners head through the middle of Animal Kingdom. Exiting Animal Kingdom around M18, the next four miles are the most boring of the race. Highway miles that seem to go nowhere, with a little out-and-back (M20-M21) just to stir things up. After this, the rest of the race is next to wall-to-wall spectators and cool theme park sites. First MGM (which, huh, is no longer called MGM), then the Disney boardwalk area, then finally back through EPCOT's lands to the finish.
My last Goofy. Each day was very different.
Half day dawned, and I felt a little achy. After going through the whole "3a shuttle then wait for 2 1/2 hours" experience, we started on time at 6a. I had been placed in the first corral, which was quite long and skinny. Somehow I got too close to the front, and when I decided to back up, it was too crowded to do so. Shades of last week in Mississippi. I went out fast, but not too fast. Well, maybe. My half PR was 1:44 - 8:00/mile pace. However, this PR was from 2005 and I have been doing much faster speedwork since then. I decided to try to settle in between 7:20-7:30/mile.
The early miles clicked by in the dark. I was focused on my pace... I've run so many marathons between 8:15-8:45/mile that I didn't want to go on autopilot and settle in at my marathon pace. I wasn't talking to people and as I entered the transportation center, I noticed that I had an odd, detached vibe with the spectators. By the time I entered Main Street in Magic Kingdom, this feeling became much more pronounced.
Some people speak of "runner's high". I've noticed that I get two wholly different feelings associated with flow, and I don't know that either one is really a "high". The first one is associated with a race where everything goes perfectly and the miles roll by with seemingly less effort than other races. This was NOT what I was feeling during this half. I was very conscious that I was pushing things. The second feeling is that whole Saving Private Ryan thing where, in the middle of a loud, chaotic situation, everything seems to go silent (or ambient sounds are replaced by a rush of air noise) and into slow motion. This is what happened to me, and it was weird but quite cool. Main Street was jam packed with spectators cheering at jet engine decibel levels. But as I turned onto the street, everything slowed down. I saw people rooting, but I heard basically nothing except my own breathing and footfalls. A little further down the street, it ended. Everything sped back up and it got loud!
GO GO GO!
We turned off of Main Street, curved through Tomorrowland and by an awesome Disney band, by the teacups (hello Alice in Wonderland!), and then came back through the castle. Danger! Danger! This is the one part of this race where I seem to play runner dodgeball every year. When exiting the castle, at least during the half, it is still kind of dark. There is a small army of race photographers squatting here and all their strobe flashes in the dark are blinding. Meanwhile, there is a series of 90 degree turns to negotiate. The problem is that some runners kind of lose their brains and come to a dead stop to pose - it is a very unique spot on the course. Who wouldn't want a nice picture of themselves with that castle in the background? Alas, I seem to be right behind the person who stops. Every year. I have to ole! around people. And this year, I was running fast. In fact, I had gotten caught up in my whole Saving Private Ryan moment and the great band... and I had run this mile in 7:05 (though I didn't know that until I checked my splits later). Uh oh. Would I be able to ole! in time??
And... no one got in my way. Turned out that at this pace, the course wasn't exactly crowded :-).
Through the zigzag, down through Adventureland (I was tangentially aware of the cowboys and cowgirls and... weird bears I don't remember from childhood), and we exited Magic Kingdom.
"Say, do you remember all those neat signs after Magic Kingdom?" My friend Lauri (nickname: PSA) also did The Goofy and she asked me later about these signs. Apparently, there were dozens of little signs, the size of Open House signs, stuck in the ground with cute sayings and jokes.
"No, I didn't see any of them."
I must have been focused.
This was the out-and-back section and I did notice the sea of humanity headed the other direction into Magic Kingdom. Around M10, I was passing a few folks who had gone out too fast for the humid morning. And I realized that there were only a handful of people running this section with me.
I caught one runner and he sped up to stay ahead of me. Weird. I caught him again, and he sped up again.
Oh my. Someone was racing me! Not just the clock... this was a dude who did not want to be beaten by me and my pink shirt. Huh. I messed with him a few times just to see if he'd keep sprinting, but I quickly lost interest. I was barely hanging on to my pace. He "won". A couple people passed me in this section and I watched surgy sprinter guy race them.
Back into EPCOT, around the corner, through a backlot and wooosh. Finish line.
1:36. A new half PR for me, by 8 minutes. This means I was more than a mile ahead of my old PR.
That's what I'm talking about!
Depending on your own experience, a 1:36 might or might not seem fast. But it is for me. And it was on that day - I finished 196th out of 12,288. Granted, a lot of those people were walking. Still cool for me.
This is as good a place as any to state one of my goals for 2008... I plan on running fewer fulls and a whole lot more halves. The half is my favorite distance and I want to break 1:30 this year. I'm pretty sure that in cooler/drier conditions, I can run a 1:33-1:35 now. So we'll see.
Part two of this report (here) covers the full.
Next up: I'm not 100% sure. I am doing an obscure marathon in Orlando on February 2nd. Depending on how I feel, I might find something before that. We'll see. In any case, check back for part 2 of this report.