On Saturday evening, the 4th incarnation of Disney’s Wine and Dine Half Marathon took place at Walt Disney World.
And for the 4th year in a row, I was running in Disney’s only night race.
The Night Race Dynamic
For those of you that have never run a night race, it is a totally different ball game than the typical early morning starts. Some people like the night start, some people aren’t as keen about them.
Since most runners are creatures of habit, starting a race at night totally throws off the race day routine. Should you sleep in or get up early and take a midday nap? What time should you eat before the race? What should you do all day? Normal activities? Lay on the couch?
And what about your bathroom routine?
But me? I love the late start!
Until recently, I’ve never been a fan of early morning running. So the idea of running a half or a full that started at 6 or 7 in the morning was almost as daunting as the actual run itself.
But to start a race at 10 pm? Being wide awake, fully fueled, and ready to go? Where do I sign up?
That was the allure of this race 4 years ago. And after running it the first time, I’ve been hooked ever since.
Why Do I Run the Same Race Every Year?
First and foremost, Disney knows how to put on a race.
Yes, the price is steep compared to most other races. But when it comes to race organization and on-course entertainment, it’s really hard to beat a runDisney event. There are Disney characters sprinkled throughout the course for runners to be able to get pictures with, and the allure of running through the theme parks is pretty awesome.
And the route we run during the Wine and Dine Half is fantastic. In my opinion, running the January half course is nowhere near as cool as the Wine and Dine half. Not only do you get to run in 3 of the 4 parks instead of only running through 2, but you also get to spend more time running in each of the parks! During the January race, you’re only in the parks for a little over a mile. At Wine and Dine, you get about 3-4 miles of park running. And park running beats road running any day.
This Year’s Race
This year, my Wine and Dine experience was a little different than it has been in years past.
After running the Red Ribbon Half in the morning, I was slightly less than fresh for the start of the race.
But I had a plan and I stuck with it.
The plan was simple. Start just off at about 8:45 pace or the first 5k and see how the legs feel. If, after 5k I felt ok, I was going to try to bring that pace down towards 8:30 and give another PR a shot.
As we gathered into our corrals, I started to feel the excitement and nerves.
After that, it was time to run.
This year, the race organizers did us a huge favor by creating more starting corrals with fewer people in them to limit the cluster that typically happens during the first few miles of a runDisney event. So instead of being in the first corral with 1500 other runners, I was in Corral C with only about 500 runners.
And this small change made a huge difference.
Coming out of the shoot, runner traffic was flowing smoothly. Yes, the road was crowded. But we kept moving, and that is better than some past race experiences that I’ve had. And while the first water station (just past Mile 1) was still narrower than it could be, having fewer people passing through it at the same time did make it easier for those of us not wishing to stop to be able to keep running.
By the time we got to Animal Kingdom, I was still feeling alright so I decided to push it a little bit. At this point, I wasn’t sure my legs would make it for the entire 13.1, but I knew if I didn’t stay close to my target pace while my legs were still feeling good it wouldn’t matter anyway. I mean, there was no way I could knock out a couple of 7 minute miles at the end of this race, so I needed to keep my second 5k around 8:15 to keep an overall 8:30 within reach.
Coming out of DAK is tough, because the trip down Osceola is BORING! But, I kept an eye on my watch and focused on maintaining my breathing as I got through the worst stretch of the Wine and Dine course. By the time I got to the 15k mark, a PR was within reach. I had made it to the Studios, and my overall pace was down to 8:36.
I entered the Studios and tried doing some quick math in my head. I’d have to keep pushing all the way to the finish, but for the first time I really felt like I could get the second PR of the day. The Studios section of the race is tricky, because there are a lot of sharp turns that you have to navigate with tired legs. The first couple are 90* corners, so they don’t slow you down too bad unless runner traffic gets in your way. But there is a 180* turn around the 10 mile mark that is a killer, because it just totally stops all of your momentum.
And then there are the lights.
I’m not much of a Christmas lights person, but every time I enter the Streets of America to this scene, I can’t help but slow down and take as much in as possible. This year, I tried my best not to slow down too much through this section, but I know I did.
Coming out of the Studios with 2 miles to go, I liked my chances. I’ve run the route between the Studios and Epcot dozens of times, so I knew how to cut every corner and accelerate up and down every little “hill”.
Once we got to Epcot, there were so many yelling and screaming people that I knew I could get a lift from their energy. And I did.
I rounded the final corner, crossed the finish line, and the Garmin read 1:52:05! New PR!