The Wine & Dine Half Marathon was held on November 8 in Walt Disney World, in association with the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Billed as "the ultimate runners' night out", the half marathon starts at 10pm, and ends at Epcot for a finish line party that runs until 4am; like all runDisney weekends, there is also a 5K family fun run and Kid's Races. This was the event's 5th year (after replacing the Race for the Taste 10K) and was my second year participating; I travelled with a friend who would be completing her first Wine & Dine. A total of 11,941 runners completed the 13.1 mile course and Chris Sorrick of St. Petersburg, FL won the men's division in 1:17:39 and Jenn Berry of Denver, CO won the women's division in 1:27:59.
Since I knew that the race would entail a late night, I decided to also run that morning's 5K to ensure I got a high quality mid-afternoon nap. Mickey's Jingle Jungle 5K begins in Disney's Animal Kingdom parking lot, does a loop through the park, followed by a quick backstage out-and-back behind Dinosaur and Expedition Everest, and returns to the parking lot to finish. Since the course is run on the roads in and out of the parking lot, all runners must be on site long before the event starts. With nothing else to do while waiting, I waited in a 50+ minute queue for a photo with Mickey and Minnie, before heading to the start corrals.
Because of the proximity to animal enclosures, the traditional race start fireworks were replaced with smoke machines and we were on our way. Since I was trying to conserve my legs for that night's big race, I took it easy and stopped for all of the character locations. It was interesting running past all of the construction walls on Discovery Island, behind Harambe village, and surrounding the future home of Rivers of Light; it reminded me of being in Disney's California Adventure while it was undergoing its makeover. I completed the course in 24:27, which was in line with my expectations for a moderate race.
Since this was a quick weekend trip, we didn't have park tickets. To kill some time during the day we headed back to the race expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to have a look around and watch the Kid's Races. It was a lot of fun watching kids of various ages complete the 100, 200, and 400 meter dashes and the 1-mile run. Most of the kids had a blast, but it was equally entertaining to see the ones who clearly did not want to be running; the marathon isn't the only distance that occasionally involves crying and breakdowns!
After the conclusion of the Kid's Races, we headed to the Boardwalk area for lunch and a round of mini golf at Fantasia Gardens. We played the Gardens course, which is similar to traditional miniature golf, with 18 holes themed to various the segments of Fantasia. This was my first time playing any of the Disney mini golf courses, and my first time playing in several years, so I was surprised to discover how challenging it was. After finally completing the course, we headed back to the Pop Century for naps before getting ready for the night's main event.
The half marathon course begins at the Wide World of Sports, before heading west onto Osceola Parkway towards Disney's Animal Kingdom. After passing through the Oasis and Discovery I0sland, runners make a lap around Africa, Asia, and exit the park through Dinoland. Returning to Osceola Parkway, runners the continue up World Drive to Buena Vista Drive where they enter Disney's Hollywood Studios behind Tower to Terror. The next couple miles wind through the park and its backstage areas. Exiting out the front of the park, runners head up the path to the Boardwalk area, have a blink-and-you-miss-it trip through Future World, and finish in the Epcot parking lot.
Similar to that morning's 5K, the half marathon course required runners to be in place long before the actual race began, since the roads to the start area would be closed during the race. Like that morning, we waited for a photo with Minnie, since there was little else to do to occupy the time. As a DJ tried his darndest to get runners to do every line dance ever created, we rested our feet and made some final trips to the port-a-potties.
Before getting too far, no discussion of this year's event would be complete without mentioning the weather. During the day and while waiting for the race, we had perfect fall weather; however it shifted about 30 minutes before the race when the temperature began to drop and the rain moved in. The only other time I've raced in the rain was my first marathon, which was almost exactly 3 years before Wine & Dine. There was only rain for about the first hour of that race, but by that point the damage was done and there was no hope of drying off. For this race there was a steady cold and heavy drizzle the entire time I was running, with no real relief. As such, I threw all my time goals out the window and my new goal was simply to run the best race I could with the conditions I was given.
In addition to being my first fully-rainy race, this was also the first time I've fallen during a race. Instead of making a spectacular tumble to embarrass myself in front of hundreds of other runners and spectators, I slipped and fell on the slick ceramic tile floor of an empty bathroom in the Animal Kingdom. My shoes made a cartoonish squeak on the wet floor and my feet flew out from under me. I landed on my right knee and hand, but it surprisingly didn't hurt much and didn't seem to have any real impact on my race. Even after the race, there wasn't much beyond a dull ache.
This race was my first time in the Studios since several noteworthy announcements and attraction closures, so it was exciting to pass through. The course headed through the costuming tunnel, which was part of the now-defunct Studio Backlot Tour, and had been decorated with disco balls and had some funky tunes playing. In addition to getting a closer look into the workspaces, the tunnel provided welcome relief from the rain. After winding through some backstage areas, runners passed along the tram tour's former loading area (which also provided some protection from the rain) and emerged into the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. The lights have been a highlight of the race since its inaugural year, so I hope that they're able to incorporate them in the future with the rumored changes coming to the park's Backlot area.
It was around this point that I realized that my original time goals were still very much in play, and I was feeling strong enough to push the pace a little even though other runners around me were starting to slow down. From the Studios, we headed up the path to the Boardwalk area. Despite the rainy conditions, spectators made their way to the course to cheer their runners to the finish, including what appeared to be a bachelorette party on a Beach Club balcony. Especially since so much of this course is inaccessible to non-runners, getting some support was great motivation to keep on pushing. After a quick pass through Future World and a dogleg through the Epcot parking lot, I was at the finish line in 1:55:54. I was also able to have my own Cinderella moment, finishing just moments before midnight.
Of course the real reason to run this race is the finish line party in Epcot. All of the Food & Wine Festival marketplace booths and a handful of attractions were open for runners and their support crews. Last year's event had light crowds at the after party, so I expected this year's rain would further reduce crowds. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a lively group of runners filling the park, though the crowds were still quite manageable. It seemed like everybody decided that they worked so hard during the race that they had really earned the party. We spent about 3 hours sipping and tasting our way around World Showcase before deciding to throw in the proverbial towel and head back to the hotel to attempt to dry off and warm up.
Although I had previously given up on my time goals due to the weather and stopped for every character photo I saw along the way, I was happy to get my fastest half marathon finish time in 18 months. Along with the good finish time, I stayed strong through the race's final miles despite heavy shoes and some blistering, which makes me cautiously optimistic for the Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon at Disneyland Resort next week. My friend even managed a 1-second personal record and was only 10 seconds off of an age group award. Although the rain made this race somewhat miserable at times, it was still a lot of fun overall and the after party can't be beat. It truly is the "ultimate runners' night out"!