While I suppose the actual race has begun, one year ago on this date I was wandering through a theme park in Florida and nervous with anticipation for the four following days of the Dopey Challenge. It’s not quite as daunting, but another Disney race is technically on our horizon in the squeeeeelingly-close future. But I still feel a little awed that Dopey was a year ago already. Geeze!
Claire has been watching me draw… and she wants to keep up.
I am not by any means a professional artist. I doodle. I sketch. I draw little pictures through great patience using a free vector graphics program –a piece of software I have written about previously— often while I’m sitting around at night with nothing better to do, watching television, or whatever.
And Claire pays attention to that. In fact she gets excited about my little doodles and often has me print them out so she can paste them together into scenes.
See, while we were in Disney World recently, we hit up the Animation Academy attraction at Hollywood studios and had the opportunity to do some hands on drawing (of Disney characters of course) with a Disney artist for about twenty minutes.
Claire had a bit of a meltdown, as I wrote in my daily vacation summary post, because her drawing was (while awesome for a six year old) not up to her “impossibly high” standards. She cried and gave up, despite that the artist leading the class came back to give her some one-on-one help. It was a little embarrassing, actually, but gave me a hint that she was actually pretty interested in this whole art thing.
A few days later –while still in Florida– she lost a tooth and that clever little tooth fairy tracked us down and gave Claire a copy of a “Learn to Draw Disney Characters” book, coincidentally also available for sale outside the Animation Academy in Hollywood Studios.
So, she’s been drawing up a storm in the last month, filling blank paper with little sketches of Mickey Mouse and friends.
I’ve included some examples of her work in this post. They’re actually not too bad (though she has yet to figure out the difference between a should-be-light guideline and the actual should-be-firm-and-dark lines of the picture… but we’ll get there.)
Taking It To The Screen
However, where I’m going with this little anecdote has more to do with my own adventures in digital doodling than with Disney World. If you’ve been reading this blog you may have noticed an article I wrote over the last couple days and which I published today called Of Doodles & Debates.
You can read that article over at the link… but the point is that I drew a little cartoon to go along with it, spending a couple hours sketching it up in Inkscape. And for part of that work, Claire was looking over my shoulder with rapt curiosity.
One Very Short Tutorial Later…
Of course, I think the fact that she tried –sort of– to duplicate what I drew was interesting in itself and I could probably write a whole article on the nature of learning to draw through imitation. But the fact that she drew this (mostly) herself with very little guidance beyond some basic explanation of some of the basic tools available in the software… to me, that’s pretty impressive. I don’t know many adults that can use vector graphics software (and I work in a related industry!)
Looks like Inkscape school is in-session at our house.
For those just arriving at this post from a search engine — in other words, those who have not actually been following along for the last year as I trained for the 2014 Dopey Challenge in Disney World in Florida — I ran it. I ran it all. I completed it. I crossed each and every start — and finish — line, and took the photos, earned the medals, revelled in the personal glory and all wallowed in every bit that goes with it all. And… I walked away to talk about it.
And talk about it I have. Everyone — from people at work to family and friends and of course the folks I run with — are curious, have questions, and want to know: “how was it?” But then why not?
After all, it was a bit of a crazy thing to do… four races in four days. What was I thinking, eh?
So, instead of just letting all those experiences wash away in the mists of fading memory, I thought I would take the time to write some of it down. It shouldn’t be a surprise to my regular readers (blogging nut that I am) and in fact many of you have probably been wondering why I haven’t done it already. Here I am: two weeks post-race and with a little perspective on things and… a summary. How I got there, how I trained, what I did right or wrong or plain just lucked out on. If you are reading this in a couple months or a couple years because you’ve signed up — or are thinking of signing up — for the 2015… 2016… or maybe the in 2034 for twentieth anniversary edition of the challenge — then maybe my little bit of insight will help. Or, at least it will be of some mild interest and good for a chuckle.
So, who am I?
someone who has been running for about 6 years
First, I’m just a guy. I have a desk job. I’m a father of a six-year-old girl. I was 37 years old when I ran the race, and in average physical condition, at least for someone who has been running for about 6 years (with dedication) or longer if you count the years before joining a club and focusing. I ran my first marathon in the summer of 2013, about four months prior to running Dopey, but about five months after signing up for it. Yeah, that’s right: I had never before run a marathon when I signed up for the Challenge.
My times: they’re nothing to write songs about, I admit, but I’ve earned them fair and square. I have a wall at home covered with race bibs and medals, and my drawer is stuffed with technical shirts bearing the logos of runs-gone-by. As of the race I had some solidly-average PRs (though the marathon time listed was my ONLY marathon time… counting Dopey I’ve now run just two of those.) You can judge the times for yourself, but I include them because (chances are) if you are contemplating a Dopey run yourself one of your biggest questions is probably “how do I stack up against others who’ve done it?” So this is me, and you can compare for yourself.
|RACE||My Past PR||My DOPEY Time|
|Half||2h 03m||2h 31m|
|Full||4h 40m||5h 13m|
I live and I train in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: a city of about a million people that has amazing river valley trails spun like ribbons of smooth asphalt through peaceful forests and connecting huge areas of suburban sprawl, but also a city that is blanketed in snow for five months of the year and whose winter temperatures drop occasionally to -40 Celsius not counting the wind chill factor. We have a fairly high elevation, are land-locked with low humidity, and mosquitoes that will carry you away if you don’t anchor yourself to something strong.
I run with the Running Room run club here. I show up for various nights of random distances training runs, I’ve participated many times as a student (and a few times as an instructor) with their assorted clinics, and we have an awesome social group there who probably now meets just as much for the post-run coffee hangouts as we do for the actual running. They’ve turned me into a runner and I’ve done what I can over the years to give back to the group in return.
Deciding to Run a Dopey?
It was love-at-first-sight: I honestly didn’t think about it much. We’d recently discovered running vacations. I’d done Vegas. We were in a routine of weekend-getaways based around out-of-city races. And, we had pretty much already decided we were going to Florida, and had pretty much already decided I was doing a race there. It was just a matter of choosing between a Disney Half (a distance of which I’d run many times before) or a Disney Full (which would mean a summer of hard-core training.) So when Karin, my wife, messaged me one morning nearly a year ago to ask if I heard about the Dopey Challenge I think it was probably only a split second of hesitation in my mind and I’m pretty sure I decided right there. I wrote about it, yeah, and pondered it as if I was in doubt, but some of that was for dramatic effect and because I didn’t want to seem like was jumping off a metaphorical cliff without any forethought. Weird, huh? I hadn’t even really considered doing the Goofy Challenge prior to that, but something about the Dopey was just so over-the-top nutty that I knew I wanted in.
So there I was: registered, with nearly a year of planning ahead of me.
I’m going to consider everything that led up to running my first marathon in August of 2013 as the “far-out” training, the training that led into what I would consider training “officially” for Dopey. In actuality, I was training from the minute I signed up, and thought about running that way. But even though that ten-or-so months of training before the Challenge was all part of it, there were some distinct phases along the way.
I’ll keep those points simple and salient:
Just Keep Swimming… er, Running
Just Keep Swimming… er, Running – When you sign up, you’ve started. I didn’t take any prolonged breaks. I didn’t say “uh, well, I’m gonna start training in September” or plan to start sometime in the future. You’re signed up, your training now. No… really: right NOW. Lace up and get out there. Every day is an opportunity for a run — or a rest — as your plan dictates.
A Year’s Worth of Plans – I planned every training run from the day I signed up until the taper week leading into Dopey. Did I make every run? No, there were mild injuries, illnesses, unforeseen family obligations, or bad weather days. But I had a plan shortly after signing up and I stuck with it as best I could.
Illness, Injury, and Other Stuff – I was sick twice, I rolled my ankle really badly once and could barely walk on it (let alone run) and I can’t tell you how many times the weather threw me for a loop (even in the summer). Don’t mess around. Take the punch, fix what needs to be fixed, rest injuries and look after yourself… and then get back to training.
Instructing-ish – I had an awesome time instructing a clinic over the summer, and I think that while everyone wouldn’t have that opportunity, there is something about a big goal and a big group of people to train with that will keep you honest. For that first marathon, stretching my limits every week, having a group that was relying on me for their own training kept me coming out and got me across the start line.
I’m glad I’d done at least one marathon prior to Dopey. Very glad.
run a marathon before you run Dopey
As much as I’d read, researched, talked, learned, and training for that first marathon, there is literally NOTHING that compares to running it. And I’m not just talking about the actual experience. A marathon is as much a mental sport as it is a physical one. I think that is why it appeals to so many people. While a half-marathon is tough, it’s not until you hit that point about two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through a full marathon that… well, a philosopher might call it dualism: your body and mind begin to operate towards differing goals, they seem to separate from each other and you pick a side — mind or body — becoming a mere observer in the events that are transpiring with that side you didn’t pick. Your energy is depleted and every decision you make — and making rational decisions three hours into a run is not as simple as it sounds as you sit at your computer reading this — affects every step you take from thereon in. I could write an essay on my anecdotal perception of that race, but the takeaway message would be simple: I did a lot wrong in my first marathon, mistakes that almost didn’t let me finish and left me in the medical tent at the end, BUT… but I was able to recover, learn, and adapt to better run and finish Dopey.
My one word of advice for potential Dopeys… run a marathon before you run Dopey. I’m not certain, but I’m sure there were murmurs of participants in my coral who were doing their first marathon that morning in January. That’s not smart, in my humble opinion.
So.. my first marathon was in the bag, and there was I was in about Septmber-ish with jsut a few months to go. What were the key points of that span of training?
Keeping Up With Yourself: Solo Runs – If you find a training partner for Dopey, awesome. The problem with travel runs, especially around big trips like for us to go all the way to Florida, is that it’s tough to find someone who is willing to race with you. See my next note about the season, but races are pretty few and far between in winter around here and training for an epic marathon-plus run in January meant that no one else was really doing the distances I was doing. I expected a lot of solo runs and for the most part I got them as November and December arrived.
Seasonal Shifts – Summer running turned into autumn running which very abruptly turned into winter running. I capped much of my training off in the local recreation center (rather than out on the trails where I prefer) running long, boring laps around the indoor track because the sidewalks were icy, the snow was fresh and too deep, or simply because the cold was a little on the dangerous side (yes, a minus 45 windchill is dangerous) for outdoor training.
Holiday Temptations – As much fun as it was to hit Disney World AFTER the holiday rush, having the races in January did mean that the crux of the race training was going on at the same time I was expected to be hanging out at Christmas parties and eating big meals and doing family things. Squeezing in a twenty-five klick run before yet-another family party was not easy. Stick with your plan.
Between registration and the minute you step across the finish line you will experience every single emotional state you can imagine, and probably some you cannot.
Anxiety. Fear. Regret. Inadequacy. Frustration. Elation.
Everyone deals with emotions in their own way, and even me –as open and sharing as I tend to be on this blog– can only really admit to a few strategies for getting your head in the game: music, solitude, routines, friends, and focus.
I guess the only real advice I would have here is that you need –NEED– to understand that running this kind of distance, participating in this kind of event is as much a mental game as it is a physcial one. So…
Set reasonable expectations.
Understand how you will deal with the unexpected.
Have a plan and stick with it.
You know the drill…
The Week Before
We arrived in Florida three days before the first race. I wrote a whole article on that t-minus-one-week preparation for Dopey, and I don’t really want to repeat that now. In retrospect I guess the things that really mattered to me most were:
a) planning my meal choices ahead of the game: eating almost every major meal out at a restaurant in Disney World is not exactly the best pre-race strategy. But if you’re wrapping this race in a vacation you’re kind hooped in that regard. My “club sandwhich and iced tea” strategy –as loony as it sounded– didn’t do me wrong.
b) removing the jet-lag factor: by the time we left Edmonton for Florida, I was already on Florida time. It was only a two-hour difference, but not having to deal with jet-lag AND early wake ups for the race was just one less stressor to have on the mind.
c) using a grocery service and our kitchenette: no-brainer, maybe, but not winging the whole “What am I going to eat before the races?” question by ensuring I had not only brought along a jar of my favourite peanut butter, but had a fresh sack of bagels waiting at the hotel… that was smart. Also, coffee-addict that I am, I avoided brewing fresh each morning by brewing a pot the night before, storing it in a clean bottle in our fridge, and re-heating in time to down a quick cup before dashing for the bus. It wasn’t exactly high class, but it beat caffeine withdrawl during the races.
And yeah, we did spend a couple days at the parks prior to running. But I relaxed, gave myself the freedom to enjoy myself, but didn’t burn myself out on park-hopping, thrill-ride exhaustion in those first couple days at Disney World’s enticing sirens of entertainment..
About ten thousand people queued up in five corrals in the Epcot parking lot: that was our first impression of the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend. Stepping off a bus with my family into the dark January morning of a Florida amusement park parking lot was the first step of many that encompassed that race.
I wrote about the 5K experience that night in another post.
The Expected: Crowds, butterflies (of the stomach variety), dark, music, costumes, friendly strangers, ample port-o-potties, security, wave-start, photo-ops, more music, cheering crowds.
The Unexpected: Waiting, waiting, and more waiting, so few character photo-ops on the course, the blur and abrupt end at the finish line.
The evening before we went to Epcot for the Pasta in the Park party: very good (though they ran out of pasta for a bit right when we got there.) It meant a bit of walking, but turned out to be a great place for the character photos we’d missed on the run.
That night I was in bed a little later than I’d wanted, but still pretty early.
The second race started 45 minutes earlier than the first, but used the same coral system: 5 groups of about 2,000 people per. This time I was still feeling pretty good, but I was stepping into the fray alone.
I wrote about the 10K experience that night in another post.
The Expected: Lots of hype for the (mostly) Dopey-runner crowds, more characters, the music.
The Unexpected: The humidity, the first half of the route through a dark and lonely stretch of Disney World highway, and did I mention the HUMIDITY!
The day of the ten klick run I’d gone to Hollywood Studios for the better part of the day. I took it easy, sat through a lot of quiet shows in cool theatres, stayed out of the sun, and didn’t walk around too much. Also, it gave me the chance to wear my medal around for the day.
I volunteered to take all the kids back to the hotel while most everyone else stayed for more rides. We all got to sleep pretty early that night.
The half-marathon had a lot more people. I’d heard the number 26 thousand tossed around, and it seems like a reasonable guess if nothing else.
I wrote about the half-marathon experience that night in another post.
The Expected: Lots of stops, walks, and assorted breaks for photos, character photos, selfies, the sights, well organized and frequenty water breaks.
The Unexpected: The looooooong walk from the drop off through security through multiple checkpoints around to the corals (no really, it was like a 4km walk), the speakers by our coral only worked sporadically, the ants, the chill in the air despite the humidity, the massive crowds (no really, there were thousands of people cheering), hundreds of guys peeing in the bushes duing the first 5 k of the race, the school bands (awesome), the runners who took the race waaaaaay to seriously (I mean, it’s Disney, guys!) the humidity (again), the chafing (in part thanks to the humidity.)
I slept after the half. I had long since decided it was going to be a hang-out-at-the-hotel kinda day, and so everyone went off to Epcot without me while I watched lame TV at the resort. At one point I knew I needed some food and couldn’t stomach the thought of multiple club sandwhiches in one day, so I took the boat to Downtown Disney and ate a rice bowl.
My biggest problem — and it caused me a great deal of stress — was that despite my preparation I managed to chafe a bit of the skin on my inner thigh, a bit below the seam line of my shorts. It was raw, and painful to walk. I ended up spending a big chunk of the day nursing that (fortunately we had some cream which helped) and it turned out to be only a minor factor in the full the next day.
By the time I lumbered off the bus on that fourth morning there were not many surprises left. I had my peanut butter bagel and water in hand, and I was ready.
We coralled, and I think I was in a bit of a cloud. I’d convinced myself (and I think I was right) that the hardest race was the half: y’know, because it was the race where I had to hold back and moderate else risk ruining myself for the run the next day… plus it was pretty humid that third day.
But then the fireworks went… and we were off.
I wrote about the marathon experience that night in another post.
The Expected: Being very, very tired even as the race started… and everything else I’d seen up to that point repeated.
The Unexpected: The drop in humidity, the number of fellow Canadians (I was wearing a shirt with “Canada” on it), and the numb feeling hitting me for a few hours after it all ended.
It was a hard run. There are parts of it that are vivid in my brain. There are parts that are a complete blur and of which I have no memory. I suppose any marathon will do that to you.
I carried a camera with me for all four races (definitely recommended!) and I took a whole bunch of video, none of which I’ve watched as of this writing… I may even post some of it some day… but part of me was very happy when I crossed that line, and part of me was very sad that it was all over. I’m saving the video for when that realization really starts to sink in. I mean, all the preparation and planning, all the fun… and it was done.
Afterwards and Beyond
I slept that afternoon, and we went for dinner, I with a bunch of medals around my neck.
I posted a picture of my feet (and a pair of newly-retired shoes) from somewhere in the Magic Kingdom the next morning. We went the park, and I wrote: “I promised my shoes that if they treated me well for one last race, they could retire and I’d take them somewhere special.” So, we went to Disney World.
Thousands of fellow runners with medals around their necks. Hundreds of “congratulations” passed between strangers. Dozens of conversations spun up between people who might never have said so much as hello in the vastness of the chaotic theme park bustle.
A few days of vacation.
A pair of slowly recovering feet.
A long plane ride home.
And then… it was just another couple of race bibs tacked to my wall.
Would I recommend it? Would I do it again? Yes. Yes. So much yes. All the training, all the cost, all the self-doubt… worth it in the end: it was an awesome experience, and anyone who has the chance to run such a crazy, insane… dopey… race, should sieze it.
And me… I’ll shut up about it now.
This, like every post about Dopey, has been tagged with the keyword “dopey” so you can click through and read more. Or, you can just click on the running topic and dig around for even more training-story goodness.
For those who are interested, I posted all my vacation blog as a series of daily articles. They are each dated for the day they were written/happened, but most of them were posted as back-dated posts a couple days later… so if you looked on any particular day you probably didn’t see it. About a zillion people knew we were out of the country, but I didn’t want to make it too easy for potential stalkers or burglars to track our whereabouts: Disney World, Day 1 – The Gong-Show (of a) Day | Disney World, Day 2 – The Animal & Expo Day | Disney World, Day 3 – The Family 5k Run Day | Disney World, Day 4 – The Ten Klick Day | Disney World, Day 5 – The Half Marathon Day | Disney World, Day 6 – The Marathon Day | Disney World, Day 7 – The Medals Everywhere Day | Disney World, Day 8 – The Fancy Eatin’ Day | Disney World, Day 9 – The Wilderness Explorers Day | Disney World, Day 10 – The Bricks and Building Day | Disney World, Day 11 – The One Last Disney Day
January 17… and it ended up something like this:
We squeezed in one more day at the Magic Kingdom. Pass confusion. Race rest days. Magic band mayhem earlier in the vacation. It all meant that for about ten bucks we were able to do one minor little tweak and we all had yet one more day in a park. So, we chose the Magic Kingdom.
Things were fairly quiet when we arrived. We did a couple rides. Claire zipped through two unusually-short lines get photos and autographs with four princesses — Rapunzel, Snow White, Aurora and Cinderella — all in about fifteen minutes, counting the photo time.
And then we just took it easy for a while.
During Karin’s research for this trip she had read (and watched on YouTube a little, too) about this new game that Disney has wedged into the Magic Kingdom. Aptly named, the “Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom” game is one part video game, one part card trading game, and one part scavenger hunt. You sign up, you get a starter pack of cards, and then you follow the clues to the various portals hidden around the park. When you activate a portal, the game appears on a wall or a screen nearby and you can use your cards — which you can collect and trade — to ast spells in the video game portion of the game. You do this by standing at the right spot and holding up one or more cards in the direction of the portal.
We got some starter packs and spent a good two or three hours racing from portal to portal playing a full nine-phase first round of the game. Claire’s interest waxed and waned as the day wore on, but we interspersed it with some more rides and with some of the shows we’d missed on earlier visits, and so she held out to the end.
But soon evening crept close and our dinner reservations were poking over the horizon. At some point in here my head clicked and I was done. It was over. I went from sad to go to ready to leave: the vacation was in “let’s go home” mode.
We did one last train loop of the park and waved good-bye. We caught the Disney transports — the monorail and the bus — to Downtown Disney and caught up with our other four traveling companions for dinner.
Dinner. That was something else: my brain is still spinning from a meal at the T-Rex Restaurant. The lights. The noise. The chaos. The onslaught of sensory stimuli from every direction. I don’t know what to say about it, actually.
Highlights of the day include:
1) The artist. The tooth fairy found Claire last night and brought her a “how to draw Disney Characters” book. She must have seen me eyeing it at Hollywood Studios last week. Claire sat on the bed this morning trying her darndest to draw Mickey Mouse.
2) The princesses. As cliche as I sometimes imagine it to be, there is something neat about seeing the big grin on your daughter’s face when she gets to have her photo with a Disney Princess. I’ll eat those words someday, but today I’m brimming.
3) Leaving the park: after all the worry and wonder that surrounds this kind of vacation, the fiasco with our last Disney trip of dealing with Claire and the flu, the race training and preparation, and the issues we had this time round with tickets, having concluded with nothing gone irreparably wrong or broken, I was feeling pretty content about a successful vacation as it ended when we stepped through those gates this evening.
And now, a late evening of packing. The bus comes early. The plane leaves around noon. And this time tomorrow night we’ll be at home wondering why it’s not time for bed yet. It’s been one crazy vacation.
January 16… built out something like this:
Technically, we didn’t do much of Disney at all today.
We rented a car. We drove about 40 miles south. And we visited a little theme park called LegoLand Florida.
We had three LEGO-crazy kids with us on this vacation. Claire is a quiet-but-creative builder about whose explorations with the bricks I’ve written on numerous occasions. My niece and nephew are fanatical: they actually have a LEGO room in their house, a whole room devoted to nothing but building with LEGO. (They’ve got a big house, but still… a whole freaking room!)
So we went to LegoLand, because the kids love their LEGOS.
Here’s the thing: Disney does things at the gold standard of awesome. They are in a category all their own when it comes to ride efficiency, theming, coolness factor, customer service, and a smile-on-every-face-ness. It’s a candy coated un-reality and no one can touch them. In the last days of your vacation if you choose to divert yourselves to a theme park that only measures up as a somewhat distant silver or bronze standard theme park, you gotta expect to be a little bummed.
Don’t get me wrong: it was cool. The place was filled with a crazy and massive collection of LEGO structures — a life-sized Darth Vader, a full-sized Ford Explorer, miniature but-still-twenty-foot-tall skylines from New York, Vegas, San Francisco, Washington DC, and so many more, and even a fifty foot bust of Albert Einstein — and we were in awe of them all.
But the rides were, well, meh. It was a theme park geared at the under-12s, to be certain (so we had the right kids along, anyhow.) But the queues were slow and awkwardly managed, a couple of the staff were a little more grumpy than we’ve been used to for the last week, and a bunch of the pieces were shut down or simply not operating because they were water-rides or resulted in you getting wet.
But then all that is just compared to Disney World. So it’s neither fair nor in the same category. If LegoLand was within a hundred miles of my house I’d have an annual pass and be there every other weekend, no doubt.
Highlights of the day included:
1) The tooth: Claire’s morning was less occupied with LEGO than it was with her tooth, which got bumped and wiggled loose shortly after we got to the park and ultimately fell out around lunch time. There were a lot of tears in between.
2) Claire’s first solo coaster? Well, she and her cousin went by themselves on the little mouse-cart-style coaster in the Technic-land. She was beaming.
3) Karin managed our rental van and did a great job driving on the Florida highways. Unfortunately, when she went to drop off the car, the shuttle back had a sick-to-his-stomach passenger on board. We got the slightly disgusting play-by-play in the Google Hangout as we waited for her.
We hit up Downtown Disney for a late dinner, and fixed up our last plans for our last day. (Everything seems to be working, but we’ll find out tomorrow.) A chilly boat ride back to the resort, a quiet stroll back to our suite, and now we’re just sitting here listening to the Epcot fireworks booming in the distance.
Tomorrow? One last Disney Day. Sigh… is it almost over already?
January 15… and it trotted along something like this:
Things are just finally starting to feel like vacation and it’s nearly over. Isn’t that how it always goes?
We spent another day in the Animal Kingdom today, catching a fairly early bus to the zoo-like theme park from the hotel. We had to run to catch it, which was probably pretty silly because they come every fifteen or twenty minutes and it’s not like we were getting in any earlier than park opening anyhow.
An early morning at Animal Kingdom is cool: I’d advise that if you get into the park early enough, trot your way over to the Safari ride because it’s still cool enough (and feeding-time enough) that a lot more of the animals seem to be out and about in the back savannah. Or maybe that’s just the perception. (We rode that particular adventure three times over two days and I’d swear the pre-9am trip was the best.)
We’d gone to park early for a character breakfast: y’know… a buffet meal with a hundred other chaotic families, and where some of the characters — Mickey, Donald, Goofy, etc — wander around and visit your table for autographs and photo ops. Yes, really… autographs. It’s a thing here.
Things got a little more theme-park-normal after breakfast though: more rides, more wandering, more looking at stuff.
Animal Kingdom has latched onto a bit of a throw-away gag from the Pixar film “UP” and created a whole adventure program for kids (and some big kids, too) around the “Wilderness Explorers” concept… y’know Russell, the kid with the backpack who exclaims “The Wilderness Must Be Explored!” Well, we hunted around the whole park and collected about 20+ of the sticker/badges from completing little activities and quests. Claire did, mostly, but I helped quite a bit.
The highlights of the day included:
1) Claire and her autograph book. She’s asked for a few things, but a lot less than you’d expect from a six year old. Some of it sincere, some of it begging. But it seemed pretty sincere when she asked if I’d buy her an autograph book so she could get Mickey’s signature.
2) Pooh. On that same vein, collecting the signatures for the day led us on some interesting hunts for more characters. It was a pretty quiet day — at least by Disney standards — and we rounded a corner and found ourselves with some solo time with Pooh and Tigger. That turned into some Claire-and-Pooh dancing and skipping down a street and… well, it was pretty neat for her.
3) My niece wearing a plastic bag for a raincoat on the Kilamanjaro raft ride… and still getting wet. She was not impressed.
But it was an early evening as the park closed at 5 and we caught the bus back to the resort for dinner and some down time. Tomorrow, something non-Disney for once: Legoland.
January 14… and it went a little like this:
It was overcast when we woke up this morning: no alarms, no hard-and-fast schedule, and no grand plan. Just an overcast day, getting over to Epcot at some point in the morning, and enjoying it.
But we’re still here.
So, we went to Epcot. Epcot, and the World Showcase, that eclectic and seemingly random collection of national showcases ringing a lake. And as many times as I’ve been there this trip — running through four times and pasta in the park — I hadn’t actually used my ticket to go yet.
We were there pretty much when the park opened. We weren’t rushed, but we got there anyhow, and made our way onto a few rides: a couple spins on the Test Track, a couple flights on Soarin’, and a jittery and too-often-stopped trip through Spaceship Earth, the slow-moving, conveyor-belt-type ride that’s inside that iconic panelled sphere that sits at the gate of Epcot.
We were pretty much solo for most of the day. Claire, Karin and I made our way through a number of the national pavilions, sampling food from around the world: nothing too crazy, just favs that we can’t get most anywhere else in Disney World: German beer, curry-wurst, sushi, some French pastries, and… oh, yes… another turkey leg.
Karin and Claire played an interactive game where they were hunting for clues with a kind-of-cell-phone device that led them around a couple of the pavilions.
But the day wore on. It rained a little. And we needed a short break. We caught the bus back to the hotel for a bit of a siesta and a nap, but were back at the gate by half past six.
The second part of the day was a fancy dinner: Claire hung out with her aunt, uncle and cousins while Karin and I took the monorail to the Contemporary Hotel’s California Grill for a date-night dinner overlooking the Magic Kingdom, well-timed to catch the 8 pm fireworks. We had sushi, seafood, and some nice drinks.
The highlights of the day include:
1) A double-dip on Soarin’ when the ride attendant miscounted our seating and graciously offered us a second go without even having us leave our aisle. Two rides for the queue of one.
2) The monorail. As clumsy and inefficiently as the system is run (well, at least compared to riding the LRT back home and have recently spent some time in the New York subway system) I’ve always wanted to take a spin on this classic transit system.
3) The fireworks from afar: from the fifteenth floor of the Contemporary Hotel, our window-side seats for dinner gave us an awesome view of the show. They even dimmed the restaurant lights and played the audio program over the speakers.
Tomorrow should be a shorter day: but we do have a breakfast date with Mickey Mouse… or so the tour guide tells us.
January 13… wandered around aimlessly, something like this:
Let vacation mode begin! With the runs over, I’ve got a few days to catch up with the others in the actual vacationing part of this vacation. No more carefully watching food intake. No more abstaining from beer-y drinks, and no more attending to my early bedtimes.
We got up pretty early — not nearly as early as past days — and were on a bus by quarter after 8 (oh, how reasonable that sounds!) to the Magic Kingdom, Disney World’s premier and most famous Florida theme park, the one with the castle and main street and Space Mountain. We’d gone on our first day, but it was (a) the first day and (b) a bit of a gong show what with my befuddled pass, so I was counting this as a do-over.
Also, Karin’s mom earned herself a new nickname: she’s become our resident burglar after demonstrating her superpower of being able to talk herself into nearly anywhere. This morning she was able to talk her way into our hotel room to retrieve some items forgotten in the morning rush for the bus (she came later). I think we’ll start calling her Bilbo Baggins.
We caught more rides, of course, getting in a few spins on things before the big crowds arrived: Space Mountain (of course), the race track/Autopia thing or whatever it’s called here, Winnie the Pooh, Small World, and the Teacups.
We were a bit more casual with sticking together today. Our party of nine went it’s separate ways more often than we stuck together. Everyone had things they wanted to do and wanted to see.
We all did make it onto Big Thunder Mountain again (after it broke down while we were on it last week), and for the first time we took the boat over to Tom Sawyer’s Island and had a mix of quiet time and mild panic when Claire ran off for about 5 minutes. Karin and I also wanted to check out the Hall of Presidents. (Admittedly, mostly because that and the Haunted Mansion are major set pieces in Cory Doctorow’s novel “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”… which is worth reading before or after you come here.) We also had Fast Passes to this interactive story thing with Belle, which Claire loved, and was impressive from a production perspective.
More rides, more wandering, and more of everything… but by the time six o’clock rolled around we parked our butts along the parade route and waited in some prime real estate for the Electrical Parade at 7.
Highlights of the Day included:
1) Feeling like a bit of a star as I walked around the park wearing my Dopey finisher medal and getting “Congratulations” and loads of questions from fellow runners, Disney cast members, and lots of other people. And I think TinkerBell may have been hitting on me.
2) Inversely, seeing the hundreds of other runners all wearing their medals too, whether Marathon, Half, Goofy, or Dopey gold, too.
3) Sitting on It’s a Small World with Claire and her cousin Salem, he just chilling and singing along, and then telling me after that (after all the fast or spinny rides) he just liked relaxing and watching. I think I got a glimpse into his personality there.
But we caught the fireworks as the day closed, jam-packed into a space exactly the size of my feet, a very tired Claire perched on my shoulders to see above the fray. She fell asleep on the bus ride home, and I very nearly did too.
January 12… and I felt every step of it, like this:
Did I mention I ran a marathon this morning? Oh, yeah.
The race began at after another spectacularly early morning. Up at 3 am. On the bus by 3:30. The long march to our corals. A chilly wait on what would have otherwise been a quiet stretch Florida highway. And then…
We ran. We ran, ran, ran.
I savoured every minute of it, stopping at about three quarters of the characters I saw. I took every bit of it in, from the cheering crowds to the fantastic lights, to the back-stage foot-tours of Disney World. Every bit of it crawled into my brain and I’m sure I’ll be digesting it and processing it for the next week, month, year… and longer.
The finish line was well earned. The bus ride home was a blur. And then the day just sorta was. Lunch. A nap. Dinner at Planet Hollywood in Downtown Disney. And a few quiet minutes to catch up on my writing.
1) The race. The run. The finish line. What else can I say? I’ve been watching it slowly approach for nine months and… finally done!
2) The guy who got up an danced a full-on Gangam Style in the middle of Planet Hollywood.
3) Hearing congratulations everywhere I go, from the applause that greeted us when we stepped off the bus, to cast members asking about the races, to fellow runners passing off high fives or just knowing nods of approval to each other as we passed.
Now, a little later (but still pretty early) to bed. A bit more vacation starts tomorrow with a jaunt through the Magic Kingdom, some fireworks, and probably a bunch of walking (just thank goodness the running is over for a while!)
January 10… and it went a little like this:
Three in the morning came waaaaay earlier than expected. Just a reminder for those who haven’t been following along. That’s 3 am Florida time… so technically I crawled out of bed around 1 am Alberta time.
I was on the bus 30 minutes later, at the race thirty minutes after that, and… then hurry up and wait. They want people there so early, but then we stand around our corals for an hour and some until things start moving along. Don’t get it.
Our wave of the race was about 20 minutes late in starting, and then… we were off, running through the dark of the Disney dawn.
It was a blur. I took my camera along, and lucky thing. I grabbed some video and some selfies along the route. I also did some character stops. All of that added onto my time, but I’ve long since decided I’m not going for a time: just a finish.
I was back at the hotel by quarter to eight in the morning, showered by quarter after, and itching to do something besides sit around the hotel all day. So I hopped the bus with the M-I-L and we were off to join the others who had already gone to Hollywood Studios.
Rides and other amusements followed: A couple rounds of Star Tours, the Beauty & the Beast show, a meet-and-greet with Ralph and Vanellope a’la Wreck it Ralph, and a couple spins in the Artist Academy where they lead you through a character sketch. Later in the day we also hit up Toy Story Mania and the Aerosmith Rockin Rollercoaster.
Highlights of the day include:
1) My song playing as I rounded past the French pavillion in Epcot and got an extra burst of energy as I tromped through. Kinda just how I had imaginged that.
2) Running into my relatives –not the ones I’m traveling with–at the security gate of Hollywood Studios. Knew they were here the same time as us, all 19 of them, but didn’t expect to randomly run into them on their first day.
We were supposed to have Fast Passes for the Fantasmic show at 7. So we ate a quick, well-timed meal and went to go watch. Technical difficulties had the thing cancelled. We never have any luck with that show. In Disneyland a couple years ago that’s the one where Claire was crushed by the flu, and we just kinda hunkered down and tolerated it.
Probably for the best though: it meant Grandma and I took the three kids back to the hotel while the others turned it into a late night at the park. Early to bed for the young and the Dopey.
January 8… Kinda went something like this.
Dopey Eve. And we spent it first by wandering around a faux wilderness and second by picking up some race packages.
Suspense of the morning was resolved: yes, my issue with my pass was cleared up and I had no problems from the previous day getting into the park.
Karin, Claire and I had ditched the rest of the group for a super-early morning and were at the Animal Kingdom for 8 am when the gates opened. We strolled in, snapped some pics, and started hitting rides. Well… ride, actually. We managed to convince Claire to ride Expedition Everest with us. That was that. She was not impressed.
The others joined us shortly after our wild roller coaster adventure.
I took the three kids and we headed down to the dinosaur land while the other three parents caught up with the Everest ride (ie. took their turn because the kids wouldnt go near the thing.)
More rides ensued, including the Dinosaur Adventure ride, the Jungle Safari, and a whole lot of walking. We also snuck in a look at the live-action/puppet-type production of Finding Nemo The Musical. It was all another blur.
A few more rides later and Karin, Ryan and I split from the rest of the group, making our way over to ESPN World of Sports where the RunDisney Expo and race package pickup was located. It wasn’t very busy, and we had all our race chores and goodies ticked off within an hour or so… hey, it’s a big place.
Then it was back to the hotel for a few minutes before swinging by Downtown Disney for a bite at the House of Blues. Karin and I took Claire home to prep for the race tomorrow, and now the girls are in bed and I’m on my way there too.
1) Got my turkey leg. Have you heard of the famous Disney Turkey Leg: if not its like a Disney staple, a smoked full-on-bone turkey leg wrapped, hot, and available at a ton of different vendors. You gotta have at least one per trip.
2) Getting royaly soaked at the Kilamanjaro raft ride.
3) Finding some helpful runners who gave us serendipitous and timely directions to the bus on our detour trek to the expo. We couldnt find a more direct route from Animal Kingdom to the ESPN Center where the expo was being held, so we went to a nearby resort to catch the shuttle and promptly got lost. Of course.
But the first of the four races is tomorrow: the 5k Family Run, and all but me will have their racing dance cards filled and filed by this time tomorrow. It’s going to be an early morning — the bus leaves at 5 am — but it’s gonna be fun.