18 January 2017

This isn't fun anymore

That time I went to a runDisney meet-up
Ok runDisney... it's time we had some words. My sense of disappointment in these events has been growing year after year as prices continued to rise and yet no additional offerings were being included. You moved my favorite race from a nighttime spectacular to a morning race, in my opinion, only to garner more money for the weekend. You continue to add races to the calendar, but stack them on top of one another instead of spreading them throughout the year. You don't address the numerous people who come to an expo and hoard up on merchandise only to be posted on eBay and sold at an outrageous mark-up. You did away with the social media events in lieu of inviting only certain social media gurus and keeping those of us who only infrequently blog off "the list." I made a decision to quit you because of these things.

But I came back for marathon weekend this year. I came back because a dear friend wanted to attempt her first marathon, and wanted me to be there with her. I came back because it was my first marathon and I remember those 26.2 miles and the friendships that were made and the change that was made in my life because I became a marathoner that day. Those were 26.2 grueling miles, but they were also 26.2 FUN miles. Fun because I had my peeps with me. Fun because of the on-course entertainment. And fun because as a Disney fanatic, I was getting to experience parts of the park that most people never see. I was the nerd who thought it was uber cool to run through the environmental services area between Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom and learn about all the green initiatives taking place behind the scenes at the parks.

But you know what? The weekend just wasn't what I had hoped it would be. Sure, runDisney did AN AMAZING job handling the situation on Saturday. The weather was no condition for anyone to be out - from the volunteers who would have showed up around midnight, in the thick of the storm, to the runners and on-course personnel that would be there in the early morning hours while it was still raining and occasionally lightning. And then to offer the opportunity to be compensated for the cancellation - UNHEARD OF! We all signed waivers agreeing that there was no compensation in the event of cancellation due to weather. But instead we were given the option to transfer to a future event, get park tickets (for those only registered for the half), or a gift card in the amount of registration to use in the parks. Things were handled really well on Saturday. I was really impressed with runDisney as I walked out the expo and mentally focused on the marathon ahead on Sunday.

Around late afternoon Saturday we started to get the alerts from runDisney that it was going to be much colder than expected and to plan on layering as much as possible. Looking at the forecast, I was starting to get more worried not about the temperatures but about the wind. In another race setting, those conditions may have warranted a delayed start, but runDisney doesn't have that option because of the logistics of road closings and navigating through the parks after opening. And yet no consideration was made on how the weather could impact pace. And this is where my real beef with the weekend (really just Sunday) lies.

Seeing rare characters during my first half marathon
Sure the website says we're all supposed to train to maintain a 15:00-16:00 pace per mile. But we all know about the balloon ladies. They're supposed to be the LAST people to cross the start line, at the back of the last corral, and maintain that 16mm pace to essentially show where the cut-off line is. As I mentioned, it was COLD Sunday morning, and the winds were around 11mph out of the north. That meant as we were coming down World Dr., we were running into a head wind. And yet our average pace according the runDisney through the first 5 miles was 16:33. A little off the suggested 16:00mm pace, but we still should have been WELL ahead of the balloon ladies at mile 5. And yet at mile 5.5  when we stopped for a restroom break, we were suddenly being told that the balloon ladies had passed us and we were behind pace.

Ok, wait a minute. At 16:33 average for the first 5 miles, we were only 2:30 off pace over finish time. There was no WAY they started only 2:30 minutes behind us!!! But we caught up to them as we were coming out of Magic Kingdom, and managed to stay ahead of them as we passed the second pick up, and turned onto Bear Lake Road. It was here at this point that we heard one of the balloon ladies tell another runner that she was running a 15:40mm pace at that time.

Ok, wait a minute. Aren't they supposed to be maintaining a 16:00mm and pulling up the "rear?" Also, shouldn't they be next to each other, matching each other's steps? What we heard one of them explain (because the other was already ahead of us again) was that if they were ahead of pace at the mile marker, they would wait, and then start going again. And yet, still not paying attention to the 16:00mm pace as they made their way between mile markers...

So on Bear Lake, as we curved around environmental services, the balloon ladies managed to get ahead of us again, still well within sight, and the bicycles were riding around us telling us we needed to pick up the pace. As we passed mile marker 10, we were told we had until the next mile to catch up to the balloon ladies or we would be swept. They were still within sight, and we knew we could catch them before mile 11. (oh yeah, I forgot to mention after we passed the second pick up, one of them mentioned we would have until the half marker before the next sweep point) And yet, as we came up to Western Way, around the 10.5 mile marker, busses pulled into view just as the balloon ladies crossed the street, and we were unceremoniously forced onto the bus.

Everybody castle jump and #holdontoyourmedal
My GPS watch had us at a 16:21mm average pace. Yes, still behind the recommended pace, but we still should have been ahead of the balloon ladies that started at the end of the corral behind us. Our "official" time had us at 16:41 at the 10 mile mark, which still should only put us a little over 5 minutes behind the recommended finish time pace. And with over 25 miles still to go, we should have been able to make that up. Not to mention the number of people I saw with official finish times over 7 hours, and well past the 16:00mm pace - they just happened to get the benefit of starting in an earlier corral...

How was it that the balloon ladies had caught up to us so early, and had passed us?? The math just didn't seem to add up. Reaching out we heard that they had started only 5 minutes behind us according to official times. Ok, wait a minute. How much time is supposed to elapse between corral starts? We started very near the front of our corral, O, which was the second-to-last corral. They should have started at the end of P. Also, are the times between corrals between the end of one and the start of another, or just between the start of each. But still if the corral behind us started 5 minutes after ours started, and they were at the back of the group, how were they still only 5 minutes behind us?

Putting all that aside, we were told we had until mile 11 to catch up to them, and yet at the moment we were picked up - somewhere between 10 and 11 - they were probably only 10-20 seconds ahead of us. A time that definitely could have been made up before the mile marker. And why scoop people up before Animal Kingdom anyway? We were about 100 feet away from clearing the road - a road that is not a main thoroughfare by any means - and entering the backstage areas of Animal Kingdom. The park was already set up to manage park guests and runners, so why not allow us to run through the park, and then do the sweep after if we were still behind pace? It's not as if it would be difficult to do a sweep as runners exited the park.

Cha-Cha finish at 2013 Marathon
The thing is, the whole point in my mind of a Disney race is to have fun! Before I ever attempted my first marathon, I thought the only thing that could ever motivate me to go 26.2 miles was Mickey Mouse. I was inspired to run this marathon after watching contestants on the Biggest Loser compete. Many people attempt their first distance race - whether half marathon or full marathon - here at Walt Disney World. People of all fitness levels come to Disney to achieve goals and to show others that they have what it takes to be a distance racer. Many people come to Disney with the full intention of walking the 26.2 distance. So why be so strict about a 16mm pace? Especially on a day like we had Sunday. And then to hear stories from my friends at Disneyland today doing the Star Wars 5K - a race that isn't even supposed to be timed - being told that the sweep vehicles are coming and it's time to stop standing in line for a beloved character stop. Where's the fun in that?? A lot of us participate in these races for the chance to see rare characters on course and take the time to get our picture with them. We participate in these races to see Disney like most people never see the parks - early in the morning before sunrise or late at night after dark. We revel in the opportunity to go backstage and see the behind the scenes parts of the parks. Back when I signed up for my very first runDisney race - my first half marathon - it was for the fun of participating in a festival weekend and getting to earn my goodies! I loved the chance to see Russell and Dug on course, and finish with Mickey and Minnie at the finish line. For my first marathon, I loved the chance to see Darkwing Duck and cha-cha across the finish line with Minnie! My friends that I finished that marathon with always joked, "we may not have the best time, but we had the BEST time!" We had fun together on that course, despite the pain of 26.2 miles (for some 39.3 miles) and the blistering sun that day.
Castle-jumping to celebrate the fun

But after my experience on Sunday, I can say, it's just not fun anymore. Sure we know that some concessions have to be made especially on the marathon, because of the enormity of conducting a race within the confines of the park. Race starts can't be delayed, and roads have to open at some point to accommodate other guests. But almost every other person we were on that sweep bus with had the same thought - why now? We didn't feel like we were ready to give up, to have that chance to become a marathoner - whether for the first time or the tenth time - taken away from us. We still had more to give to the race.

And to top it all off, we were told we could not receive our Goofy medals because we had not completed the marathon. I know this is a whole other post in and of itself, but my friend was devastated by this whole outcome. Why would we get the marathon medals for not finishing (and the half medals for not even running at all) but have the Goofy medal withheld? Since when did Disney medals become finisher medals - but only in certain instances?

Ok, wait a minute. So, after being told at the cancellation of the half marathon that we had the options listed above, we're suddenly being told that transfer isn't an option any more?! We have tweets from runDisney specifically stating that we could choose to transfer when the decision was made to cancel the half. Granted, we know they didn't have to do anything to compensate us for that. But at the time, they said these were our options, and now that we're following up with them - liked they requested - we're being told no? And a friend who was at the Light Side Challenge this past weekend - the race we'd like to defer to - said there were very few character stops during the race. runDisney just seems to be charging more and more for these events and offering participants fewer and fewer perks. Why am I agreeing to spend $185 on a half marathon when I could use that money for at least 2 races that are a better value for my money? At least when there were rare and even regular character stops on the course, and I got the chance to run through parts of the parks regular guests rarely see, it was worth the extra money.

Nope, I just don't see the fun in it anymore... so maybe if you tell me again my option is gift card or park tickets, I'll simply take the gift card and enjoy Disney some other time. Because I can never be mad at the Mouse... just the people that are taking the magic out of it all.