With Laura, Jackey and Megan all attending the 2016 Walt Disney World Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on last year’s event. It would be my first runDisney race event, but also my first solo trip to Walt Disney World. I wasn’t too concerned about making the trip alone. I had some solo moments on prior trips, and my wife doesn’t ride a lot of the more intense rides, so I am used to going on rides alone. Plus, the Walt Disney World Resort is a great place to strike up conversations with it’s workers (called Cast Members), or even strangers you meet along the way. What I wasn’t prepared for was making relationships that would carry on well past the race weekend. It was exactly one year ago today, November 5, 2015, that I would get introduced to Laura and Jackey. To fully understand how this came to be, we need to back up a few months. I wasn’t originally planning on running the Wine and Dine. I had my sights set on doing the Walt Disney World Marathon in January, and was expecting that to be my first runDisney race. In the course of planning out my training, I had registered for half marathons in September and October. While looking over the calendar, I started eyeballing the Wine and Dine half marathon, and started wondering to myself if I could pull it off. Somehow the topic was brought up while talking to my wife, and she was all for it. I liked the idea of having a runDisney event under my belt before conquering the big one in January, plus I liked having another half to keep me going into the colder months. She gave her blessing, and I immediately got started on planning.
I wasted no time in booking my hotel, and securing my park tickets. Part of the excitement around these trips, for me, is the planning, especially deciding which resort to stay at. I knew right away that I wanted to stay at the Beach Club resort. I had stayed there before and loved it, and it is within walking distance to Epcot. That meant I could just walk back to my room after the race and the after party. With all of the details ironed out, all I needed to do was register for the race (a small technicality). This would turn out to be a very stressful endeavor, one I don’t really need to get into detail here, but at the end of the day, I was in!
I had joined an online running group on Facebook to help keep me motivated in my training, especially once I knew I wanted to do a marathon. This particular group was formed around a love of Walt Disney World, so even better! As we got closer to race day, the ones attending Wine and Dine started making plans for meet ups, coordinating fast passes for attractions, and making dining reservations. I really didn’t think much of it. I figured meet a few people here and there and go back to my solo trip.
I arrived on Wednesday, November 4, and after getting settled in my room, spent the rest of the day in Epcot. The next day I spent the morning in Animal Kingdom, and was thoroughly enjoying touring the parks solo. Later on that day, I was set to have my first meet up at the Magic Kingdom. A lot of the group would be arriving at various points on Thursday since the Expo wasn’t set to start until Friday morning. I had been in contact with Laura and we decided to meet at the entrance to Adventureland. We wasted no time in hitting a couple of attractions, and started just getting to know each other.
We would meet up with a few others as we went along, and after closing out Magic Kingdom, hopped over to the Polynesian Resort to check out Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto for some drinks. It was a bit of a wait to get in, so we set up outside on the Tiki Terrace and had some drinks while we waited. Finally Jackey and her cousin Shannon made it over to us since they had just got in and settled into their room. They were only spending one night at Pop Century, but then moving over to Beach Club with Laura (small world). Jackey will tell you that she was skeptical of me since I was a Patriots fan, and apparently people think we’re obnoxious (must be all of the winning). Eventually she would get over it as we bonded over our love of the New Kids on the Block, and obscure 80s movie references. We finally got into Trader Sam’s and had just an awesome time.
The next day Laura was participating in the 5K, so Jackey and another member, Stephen, joined me for breakfast at the Kona Cafe located at the Polynesian Resort. We then took the monorail over to the Magic Kingdom just in time for the opening show, and would eventually meet up with most of the group as they made their way over.
We decided to leave the Magic Kingdom around lunchtime to take it easy the rest of the day. The half marathon used to be a night race, so we wanted to be ready. We spent a good deal of time at the pool/hot tub of the resort, and never ended up napping. We retreated to our rooms to get ready, and made our way to the buses that would take us to the starting area located at the Wide World of Sports Complex. This is where things would get really interesting.
We met everyone else for pre-race photos, got some pictures with the characters and just enjoyed the atmosphere. Once it became time to head to the corrals, we dispersed. Since Laura and I were in the same corral, we had decided to run together. This was something completely new to me since I’ve always run alone, both in training and in races. So while I had agreed, I was a little nervous about it working out. Needless to say, I am so glad we did run together, which I’ll get to in a moment. No sooner did we get to the entry point for the corrals that we could sense something wasn’t right. The winds started picking up and along with it, the threat for rain. An announcement was made that due to severe storms in the area, they were evacuating us indoors. This was not something I had ever experienced, and you can imagine what it was like to herd some 20,000 plus people into indoor areas.
At this point we were all concerned about what was going to happen. Not with our safety mind you. We were worried that they would cancel the race, or even worse, the after party! It was hard since we couldn’t hear any announcements from where we were, but we made the best of the time and enjoyed it as much as we could. Finally, everyone started making their way back to the corrals, but nothing had been announced. We were delayed a good hour so speculation was that something was going to change, and come to find out, they were reducing the race from 13.1 to 7.1 to ensure everyone could complete it safely and still enjoy the party. While this was a bummer for me, especially since I was really looking forward to running around Animal Kingdom at night (which they eliminated), I was still excited to be running in my first runDisney race.
Running with Laura truly made it a wonderful experience. She forced me to slow down and enjoy it. We stopped for every character photo opportunity, and pretty much walked through the Osborne Lights since it was going to be our last time doing so (turns out they extended them into January, so we got to experience them once more at Marathon Weekend).
During the race we got to talk and learn more about each others’ families, and really had a great time. At the finish we got our medals along with our complimentary beer, and made our way back into Epcot. We had checked bags with a change of clothes and after changing rented a locker to store our bags. Now it was time to enjoy the party!
We enjoyed a couple of rides with little to no waits. We rode the original version of Soarin’ for the last time since it would be closing to update it, as well as Test Track. We then made our way over to World Showcase to enjoy some of the Food & Wine Festival. After procuring some drinks, we gathered for a group photo in the United Kingdom, which is one of my favorite photos from the trip.
The party went until 4am, and it was closer to 4:30 by the time they were sweeping us out of the park. We walked back to the resort and jumped into the hot tub as daylight broke before finally grabbing some sleep.
After a few hours we were back at Epcot to enjoy the day, culminating in dinner at the Wave at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. After dinner, Megan took us up to the Top of the World Lounge located at the top of Baylake Towers. We enjoyed some drinks while watching the Holiday version of Wishes fireworks. The next morning I would have to leave to head home. It’s funny how I didn’t know these people just a few days prior, but here I was being sad that I was having to say “goodbye.” Even more amazing considering had I not decided to take this trip, I’m not sure I would have ever gotten to know them.
Even though we parted ways, I knew that we were now solidly bonded in friendship. We got to enjoy Marathon weekend in January together, as well as the Broad St 10 Miler in Philly. They would then convince me to join their blog, and we would start doing YouTube videos, and even a podcast! After another unbelievable trip for the Disneyland Half Marathon, we are firmly entrenched in each others’ lives.
It’s amazing to think how much has changed for me in the last year. I changed careers, just had a new baby, and ran my first marathon. Somewhere near the top of the list of changes, however, I would list meeting Laura, Jackey and Megan. They force me to slow down and enjoy things, to be silly and carefree, and to just enjoy this journey we are all on together. I can’t wait to see where it takes us next!