The fourth annual Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon on November 9, 2013 at Walt Disney World in Florida was a record-breaking run. I attended the race on a press trip sponsored by New Balance and runDisney.
In this post, I’ll walk you through the entire race day experience including:
- Running in Costume
- The Course
- The Start
- The On-Course Entertainment
- The Finish Line Experience
- The Finish Line Party
- My own race experience
- And a slideshow of photos from the event
Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon
Justin Scheid, 27, of Sparta, N.J. was the top man, breaking the course record by more than 90 seconds in 1:11:47. He won the race easily, breaking away from the lead pack near the halfway mark and running solo to the finish.
Kristen Tenaglia, 29, of Seminole, Fla. obliterated the women’s course record by nearly 3 minutes, finishing in 1:23:37. Appropriately, she’s a tech rep for New Balance, runDisney’s official shoe partner.
We mere mortals also helped break a record at the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon too: 12,134 runners finished the race, the most in the event’s four-year history.
The race weekend also included the Health and Fitness Expo, Disney Jingle Jungle 5K and Kids’ Races, all at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
It’s no secret that Disney’s Wine and Dine Half Marathon is a favorite among the 60 races I’ve run. My husband proposed at the Finish Line Party in 2011, and it was my first runDisney race. The Finish Line Party also happens to be the best post-race party, bar none, of any race I’ve done.
So when New Balance and runDisney invited me to be their guest for the race, I returned in 2013 with high expectations, but also trepidation. Would it be as much fun as I remembered? Could 2013 possibly live up to the magic that was 2011? Could I really run a half marathon in harem pants? Yes, yes and yes.
Running in Costume
It helped that my husband, Phil, and I dressed as Aladdin and Jasmine. As I learned a few Disney races ago, running in costume is always more fun.
We got cheers the entire race from other runners, Disney employees in the parks, volunteers at fluid stations, spectators along the course, you name it. Barely a minute passed without us hearing shouts like:
“Look! It’s Aladdin and Jasmine!”
“Go Aladdin and Jasmine!”
“Why don’t you just take your magic carpet? That would be a lot faster!”
“You’re in a whole new world now!”
It motivated me to keep going and made the whole experience more fun. As usual, a post on how I put those costumes together is yet to come.
Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Course
The Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon starts at the southern end of Walt Disney World just outside the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
From there, runners head west to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which they reach after the Mile 3 mark. Runners pass through the front gates, onto Discovery Island, and into Africa, where the Tree of Life sits on their left. Then it’s on to Asian and DinoLand U.S.A. before exiting the park between miles 4 and 5.
The next four miles take runners east along the road to Disney’s Hollywood studios, which they reach at Mile 9. They enter in the back near the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Rock’n’Roller Coaster before heading up Sunset Boulevard, past the Sorcerer’s Hat, through Pixar Place and on to the Studio Backlot Tour. Then the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights greets runners in the Streets of America. Runners pass Star Tours, loop behind the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and exit the park through the front gates at Mile 11.
From there it’s one mile along the canal to Disney’s BoardWalk. Crowds thicken as runners pass the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, the BoardWalk Inn and Villas and Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts to Mile 12.
The final mile takes runners past Epcot’s International Gateway into Future World West, where screaming crowds usher them past Spaceship Earth and on to the finish just beyond the park’s gates.
There are nine water and PowerAde stops roughly every 1.5 miles with Clif Shots available at Mile 8.4. Four first-aid stations were scattered along the course as well.
The course is largely flat with a few short climbs—mainly highway overpasses between the parks. The elevation ranges from about 95 feet above sea level to 120 feet.
The party started in the pre-race area with a DJ and group warm-ups. Lines for the bathrooms were on the very long side at the port-o-lets near bag check, and not too bad at the port-o-lets near the entrance to the corrals. The lines looked long, but we only waited about 10 minutes. They moved pretty quickly.
Disney added more corrals this year with fewer runners in each corral. So even though there were more people on the course, it felt pretty spread out. In all there were 12 corrals (A through L). The first four started 2 minutes apart. The next three started 3 minutes apart. Then the start times spread out more until the last two corrals started 7 minutes apart. I started in corral D, and thought it worked really well. The course near us was never too crowded; I never got boxed in, and always had plenty of room to run.
As we waited in the corral, I noticed one of my favorite touches of the race. A steady stream of bubbles flowed out of the giant champagne glass as the start. I loved that.
The race started, as usual, with an appearance by Mickey and Minnie and then, runners were off to fireworks, some of them shooting out of the giant champagne bottle, as if it were popping open, next to the literally-bubbling glass of bubbly. Love the thought that goes into these things.
There was so much more music along the course than I remembered. Often, just as music was fading into the distance behind you, you could hear music from the next entertainment piece just ahead. Only a few stretches of the course were completely silent, and they never lasted long.
Between DJs, character stops, visual elements, light displays and water stations, there was something to keep you entertained more than every half-mile. As I said before, many were right on top of each other.
One of my favorites was a video montage with old Disney clips set to up-beat songs. As I ran by, “We Got the Beat” by the Go-Go’s played along to quick edits of Disney characters like Mickey and Goofy playing instruments and dancing along to the beat. I loved it!
Some runners I chatted with after the race bemoaned the lack of princesses along the course. There were plenty posing for photos at the after party, just not on the course. There’s a reason for this.
Various folks from the runDisney team, including John Phelan, entertainment show director for Disney Sports, have explained it to me. Every time a Disney character appears in the parks, it has to make sense contextually. So you’ll never see Belle in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, because it wouldn’t make any sense for her to suddenly appear beside the Tree of Life or in DinoLand U.S.A. But you will see her in France in Epcot’s World Showcase, because that’s where “Beauty and the Beast” is set. Or you’ll see her in Magic Kingdom in the New Fantasyland, where the Beast’s Castle is.
But you will see characters from “The Lion King” in Africa and characters from “The Jungle Book” in Asia at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There’s logic to it.
Want to see more princesses? Run a race that goes through Magic Kingdom or Epcot like Disney’s Princess Half Marathon or Walt Disney World Half Marathon. Want to see more Pixar characters? A race that goes through Hollywood Studios and Pixar Place is your best bet like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler and this one..
Plus, year after year and race after race, the Disney entertainment team likes to switch up the characters so that every experience is different. Where the Main Street Electrical Parade versions of Sleeping Beauty’s fairies awaited runners in 2011, Captain Jack Sparrow greeted runners in 2013.
Some of the characters along the course this year included “The Country Bears,” Hyacinth Hippo and an Ostrich dancer from “Fantasia,” Timon from “The Lion King,” King Louie from “The Jungle Book,” “Lilo and Stitch,” a Green Army Man from “Toy Story,” Captain Jack Sparrow from “The Pirates of the Caribbean,” Genie from “Aladdin,” Darth Vader from “Star Wars,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” Buzz Lightyear and Woody from “Toy Story” and more.
Just be sure to bring your camera if you want pictures with them all. Some Disney characters have official photographers from Marathon Foto with them, but some do not. Disney staffers are always on hand, though, to take photos with your own camera or phone.
Disney has the finish experience down to a science. Within seconds of crossing the finish line, I had a medal around my neck and bottles of water and PowerAde in my hand. Moments later, someone handed me a food box filled with treats. I stopped for a quick finisher photo, steps away from the baggage check and changing tents.
Then I handed over my drink voucher for my choice of a complimentary beer, wine or soda. Perfect.
The walk to the after party was longer from there. But with some food and a glass of wine in my hand, it didn’t feel bad at all.
Runners walked to and through the front gates of Epcot. Spaceship Earth was open for business, and spectators, who’d purchased a ticket to the festivities, lined the course cheering runners to the finish.
Crossing the course to get to the World Showcase, where the Food & Wine Festival waited, proved to be the only difficult part of the entire race experience, however.
Race organizers set up a “Y” along the course at a marked crosswalk. Runners passed over one side of the Y, while people crossing were ushered across the other side of the Y into the middle. Then course marshals directed the flow of runners onto the empty side of the Y so the people in the middle could complete their crossing to the far side.
It worked well except that there were a lot of people trying to cross the course, so it got quite congested. Plus, the flow of runners was too thick to try dashing across. You’d definitely take someone out if you tried to “Frogger” it.
On one hand, I loved running through Epcot to the finish. But on the other hand, 45 minutes passed from the time I finished at 12:27 a.m. to the time I actually got to the World Showcase and bought my first item of food in Hawaii at 1:12 a.m. Very little of it was working my way through the finishers chute. That was fast. More of it was simply walking from point A to B. But a chunk was also spent waiting to cross the course.
That said, I’d rather finish through Epcot and have to cross the course than not finish through Epcot, as was the case in 2011. But it’s something to note for runners who might be waiting to eat until you get to the food festival. Maybe have a snack on the way to hold you over.
Finish Line Party
This is the best of the best. Many runners come to Disney’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon not for the run, but for the party, and for good reason: 30 international marketplaces serve up food and drinks from around the world. Music plays throughout every square inch of the park. Some of Epcot’s most popular attractions are open to ride and Disney characters greet runners throughout the park.
One of the most common questions I’ve gotten about the race is this: Do you have to spend money at the Finish Line Party? Or: Is the food at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival kiosks free? The shorts answers are “No” and “No.”
Here’s the long answer:
It is possible to enjoy the post-race party without spending any money at all. With race registration runners get a complimentary beer, wine or soda with the “Drink” tab on their race bib; a box filled with munchies like humus and chips, graham crackers, a mini Clif bar, drinkable fruit, and puffed rice snacks; a bottle of water and PowerAde; plus, a $10 gift card to spend anywhere on the Walt Disney World resort, including the Finish Line Party.
That $10 goes farther than you’d think (at least from a New Yorker’s perspective) at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. It’ll buy you a wine sample, tapas sized taste and dessert.
Plus, many Epcot attractions like Spaceship Earth are open for business with no wait times whatsoever. Music is everywhere and Disney characters like Tiana and Naveen, Mulan and Mushu, and Snow White and Dopey pose for photos with runners. You could easily fill all your time with those attractions.
As it is, there’s so much to do that it’s impossible to do it all—eat your way around the world, ride all the rides and get photos with all the characters—before the fun stops at 4 a.m.
Phil and I managed to do one-full lap around the World Showcase, take a photo with just Aladdin & Jasmine, ride Maelstrom in Norway and catch a 4 a.m. bus back to our hotel. (Buses ran until 5 a.m.)
The vast majority of the fun is completely free at the party, included with your race registration. The only thing that costs money at the party itself is food at the Food & Wine Festival kiosks. So if you want to sample a bit more food and beverages than $10 worth, you need to dip into your own pocket.
Phil and I spent a total of $53.75 on food and drinks at the festival. With two $10 gift cards to our names, we were only out-of-pocket $33.75. For that we got six food items, three wine tastes, one 12 oz. beer, and one dessert. Dollar for dollar it was $4.89 per item. With the gift cards, it was $3.07 each. That’s not counting the full Yuengling beer and Fetzer Quartz glass of white wine we got at the finish plus the food in our finisher’s box.
Phil and I decided to treat this as a victory lap after a long summer and fall of running. In 2013, I ran 12 races. This one was just for fun.
We caught a 7:45 bus with the New Balance group from the Grand Floridian hotel to the start area. We quickly checked our bags and headed to the port-o-lets at the far end of the staging area.
While waiting in line, I bumped into none other than Krissy of Shiawase Life, who I’ve never actually met in person. I love meeting the other runners I’ve gotten to know through blogging and Twitter. What a treat to finally meet Krissy!
After getting some water, Phil and I headed into the corral. At 10:06 p.m. we were off!
Not too far into the race, I bumped into Joe Taricani from The Marathon Show. It’s always great to see Joe. If you don’t already know about his podcast, be sure to check it out. He travels to races all over the U.S., interviews runners along the course, and brings all of the fun to his listeners. Joe did a quick interview with me as we ran and snapped this really fun picture of Phil and me.
We bid Joe farewell so that we could stop for our first photo of the race with Hyacinth the Hippo from Fantasia. I still have a mug from my childhood with dancing Hyacinths all over it.
Next, we made our way to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There we stop for pics with Timon from “The Lion King.” It’s Phil’s favorite Disney movie. We’re still waiting to get a picture with Simba one year.
Then we found King Louie from “The Jungle Book.” I’m a huge fan of Louis Prima, who voiced the character in the movie and performed, “I Wan’na Be Like You.” Here’s a fun Louis Prima fact: he wrote what is possibly the most famous song of the Swing era, “Sing, Sing, Sing,” though the Benny Goodman version is more famous.
The evening was cool, but rather humid and we were already sweating profusely at this point. Between stops, we jogged along at a 9:30 pace and walked through water stations to replenish.
After Animal Kingdom, we stopped at a first aid station to get some Vaseline. My costume was doing great, but my bra, as often happens to me, was chafing.
We really didn’t care what time we finished in. We just wanted to have fun. It was my first long run after finishing the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon three weeks before. I was coming straight from a week of minimal running while I covered the ING New York City Marathon with New York Road Runners’ show “On The Run.”
So I was happy just to be running again. Phil is much faster than me with a 1:26 half-marathon personal best, but he struggles with IT band issues. His knee has been bothering him lately, so he was also happy to be going “slow” with me.
The road between Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios had a few quiet stretches, but there was still plenty of music and entertainment.
We passed light-up Tigger and stopped for picture with Captain Jack Sparrow.
As Hollywood Studios neared, we saw a Green Army Man encouraging runners up a hill.
At the 8.4-mile mark, we each grabbed a Clif Shot from the water station. Clif is my favorite gel brand, and I was delighted to see they had my flavor—chocolate. I’ve tried every brand of gel on the market. Most don’t sit well with me; I have acid reflux, which wrecks havoc while I run. I have to be incredibly careful about what I eat before and during a run. I’ve found Clif Shots to be the best of bunch for me.
Then it was on to Hollywood Studios. I loved running through this park. It really filled up the miles. From Mile 9 to the finish you either had entertainment, characters, volunteers, Disney employees or spectators to cheer you the rest of the way. There were really no dead spots along the course.
We stopped for lots of pictures in there. Disco Jasmine shook her groove thing in the costume tunnel on the Backlot Tour.
We met Buzzlightyear and Woody in Pixar Place.
The Incredibles pumped us up.
The Osborne Family Dancing Spectacle of Lights was indeed spectacular.
And I tried catching a cab outside a subway station in “New York City.” And no, this station doesn’t actually exist in real life.
And finally, Darth Vader gave me the heebie-jeebies.
Instead of clocking our mile paces, I clicked off all of our stops so I’d have an idea of how much running vs. stopping we did.
We ended up making 14 stop in total in a little over 10 minutes: 13 photo stops and one Vaseline stop. We never had to wait too long for photos. Our longest stop was 1 min, 8 seconds. With many characters we were behind just one or two runners or no one at all.
But our last stop may have been the best one.
Genie! We were so happy to see a character from “Aladdin” on the course. With less than a mile to go, we ran through Epcot and on to the finish.
We crossed the finish in 2:21:26. With 10+ minutes of stops, our run time was 2:11 for exactly a 10 minute mile pace overall. Not bad for my first long run after the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon three weeks ago.
We got our medals, food and drinks. Cheers!
But we had one more mission to make the night complete. Get a photo with the real Aladdin and Jasmine. We know from past races that they’re often in Epcot’s Morocco, which also happens to be the spot where we got engaged. So we ate our way around the world to Morocco as quickly as we could.
When we spotted them, we ran to get in line. Their handler said they were about to go on a break and told the people behind us that we’d be the last ones to get a shot. Then he whispered that they were supposed to break already, but when they saw us, they couldn’t pass up the photo opp.
With our Mission Accomplished, we were free to dance and party the night away. We stopped by the New Balance party at the American Pavilion, then continued to eat our way around the world. We also popped into the Fez Room in Morocco for an anniversary selfie. This is the spot where Phil popped the question two years ago.
Phil and I stayed until 4 a.m. I honestly can’t remember the last time I stayed out that late here in New York City. I’m far more likely to be getting up at 4 a.m. to run or cover a race than to be going to bed at 4 a.m. And as it was, we didn’t really get to bed until 5 by the time we got back to our hotel and showered.
The Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon didn’t disappoint. The race was just as fun as I remembered, and the party was a blast.
I don’t often repeat races. I love trying new ones. But the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon has the unique distinction of being the only half-marathon I’ve run more than once. It’s up there with the ING New York City Marathon as a race I’d gladly run again and again and again.
I attended Disney’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon courtesy of runDisney and New Balance. But as always, all opinions are purely my own. I really do believe in being honest about my experiences and Disney is no exception. For more information read my Disclosure Policy.