A belated race report, but I wanted to post it before I forget too much more.
I may not be cut out for Walt Disney World races. I've managed to complete two Disneyland half marathons without much incident, even one I hadn't even trained for. I can't say the same for Florida events. Between the race they wouldn't let me finish, and the two I've registered for but had to skip due to schedule conflicts, I had decided not to sign up for another Walt Disney World race. Then they announced the Chip and Dale marathon relay. I already had two successful races under my belt, I'd been working out a lot more, I had a friend willing to form a team, I already needed to be on the East coast the following weekend for the Atlanta Gift Show... oh, why the heck not?
Famous last words.
As the race drew nearer, I knew I was in trouble. The 5-day-a-week bootcamp schedule I'd maintained over the summer in preparation for the Disneyland half went flying out the window during the crazy holiday season, and I did none of the long distances my training plan called for. By the time I boarded the flight to Orlando, I had already started to mentally prepare myself for another meeting with the sweep team. To make matters worse, I wrenched my ankle two days before the race, and spent much of Saturday icing and elevating my leg to try to get the swelling down.
Added to the physical stress was the confusion of exactly how the relay would be organized. Disney's official pre-race communications were light on specifics about how Jeff and I were to make the exchange at mile 13.1, and some of the information made no sense at all. For starters, why were the starting corrals lettered A-H, but the exchange corrals numbered 1-8, a number that seemed to have no correlation to our bib numbers? To get clarification, I first asked the volunteer who handed us our bibs at the Expo. She told me that ALL of the relay runners were starting from corral H, but directed us to the information desk for information about the exchange point. The information desk person corrected the original woman - relay runners were starting in all 8 corrals, as indicated on our bibs - and said that the exchange corral was based on our starting corral. A=1, 2=B, etc. Further, she said a giant screen at the exchange point would "show" the inbound runners, so we would know when to expect our partner to arrive. Hmm.
The info desk woman (who was a RunDisney staff member, not a volunteer) also said that it was the plan to let all remaining stage 2 runners start around 9am, in the event that their stage 1 runner was late / swept / injured / dropped out. This way, the stage 2 runners would have the full 3.5 hours to finish the half ahead of the sweep vans. Hmm.
It happens that my relay partner and I have worked several years on the Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay, a 120-mile, 20-stage relay race for law enforcement agencies. We have a LOT of experience with the concept of a relay race, and in fact our primary role is to communicate to the next stage the position and ETA of the inbound runner so the outgoing runner is prepared to start on time. While a race with a single exchange point is obviously far less complicated than what we're used to, we were still both a little concerned that there seemed to be so little information for runners. I signed up for runner tracking so I would get updates via text message and could try to keep tabs on him that way.
The morning of the race, Jeff headed to the start line at oh-dark-hundred. For most teams, being the stage 2 runner meant going to Epcot with their stage 1 runner, who would walk to the start line. The stage 2 runner would then board a Disney shuttle to the exchange point, where they were expected to wait for 3+ hours, first for the race to start, and then for their runner to get to them. Disney provided a little foil "sit-upon" for the stage 2 runner, and had foil wraps at the exchange point so runners could try to keep warm, but I heard from many that it was miserable in that parking lot before the sun came out.
Fortunately, Steph really wanted to stay at the Poly, and one major advantage to that was that we could sleep in and walk to the exchange point. The walking worked out just fine; the sleeping in proved to be much more difficult, as we could hear every. single. word. being spoken over the PA at the start line. Inside our room. Before 6am.
I would not be surprised to learn that the hotel front desk was flooded with complaints by guests who had their sleep so rudely interrupted. It turns out that the sound was actually coming from the exchange point, where a giant display screen relayed video and audio from the start line. After the race started, an announcer/DJ at the exchange point kept the music and announcements flowing.
Since we were awake anyway, we stretched and headed to the exchange point to wait. Miraculously my ankle felt fine, easing that worry. Jeff sent a Tweet from the starting line, warning that a new diagram of the exchange corrals had been posted that morning. When we actually got there, we discovered that the setup was different than even the updated diagram, and the corrals were now numbered with our bib numbers. Except that they'd only build 7 corrals, and there were 8 groups, so those of us in the last corral got to share a tiny triangle of space next to the finisher's medals.
I didn't want to deal with that crush and I definitely did not want to sit down on the cold asphalt, so I wandered around the area, watching the exchanges between teams as one runner arrived and the next started onto the course. The video board that was supposed to "show" the inbound runners would have worked better had it actually listed runner names (as I'd expected), or even maintained a video feed of the inbound lane. Instead they kept cutting to other video of the race course or to silly runDisney commercials. As a result, I saw several exchanges where runner 1 arrived and runner 2 was nowhere to be found, or had to scramble to get through the crowded chute to start the race.
Every once in a while a volunteer would go to a corral searching for a runner, and twice I heard an area-wide announcement seeking a specific runner. According to the volunteers, that meant that team's stage 1 runner had dropped out for whatever reason, and they were sending the stage 2 runner on their way. As it got closer to 9am, I asked what the plan was for the rest of the stage 2 runners, and was told we'd get about a 10-minute warning before they sent us all off.
Then it was 9. And 9:05. And 9:10. I was getting anxious, and knew my runner was due in at any time. Then it was 9:15.
At 9:20, they made an area-wide announcement and basically said, "if your runner isn't here yet, you need to get going or else you could be swept." WHAT?!?! Where the &*%$ was the 10-minute warning?
At that second, I had my phone in my hand (looking for a tracking update) instead of in its pouch, my music player wasn't launched, I didn't have Runkeeper launched (it chews up battery, so I don't leave it in standby), and my ear buds were just dangling. My adrenaline spiked as I rushed to type out a message to let Jeff know that they'd sent me ahead, launch Runkeeper and my music, plug in my headphones, stuff my phone into the case and get onto the course. As I ran to the road where our official "start" was, I passed Jeff heading into the exchange point and was able to tell him what happened. It was probably the worst possible start I could have had, but I tried to calm down and get into race mode. Unfortunately, the sweep team had other ideas.
(to be continued...)