My good friend Estelle has has been holding Animal Kingdom Appreciation month over on This Happy Place Blog and I thought I would support her cause (a noble one in my opinion!) by recapping the Disney Halloween 5K through Animal Kingdom on October 1, 2011. This was the race that started it all…my journey to get healthier and run a half marathon! Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
In 2010, my husband Barry and I ran the Disney Halloween 5K, which was our first race ever. This was the first year the race was held during the inaugural Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend. The course went through the Magic Kingdom and it was a blast! We had done very minimal training leading up to this and it was more of a fun experience to have with our friends.
The following year we were returning to the World for the same weekend to cheer on friends in the Wine & Dine Half Marathon and attend all of the “Epic October” festivities. We had both decided that we were not going to run the 5K in 2011 because it was so exhausting the prior year with everything else going on that weekend. Well this was until about 3 weeks prior to our trip when I succumbed to some serious peer pressure from my “friends” and registered for the 5K. Barry was not as week as I was, so I was doing this one solo. Not really, but sans husband.
I was up, dressed and out of the hotel by about 5:45 am the morning of the race. It was still dark and eerily quiet at Saratoga Springs. We had a rental car so I was able to get over to Animal Kingdom fairly quickly. There was a small amount of traffic when I arrived, but it looked like I got there just in time because the line of cars started building around the parking lot behind me. I got a great parking spot right across from the starting/finish line.
When I entered the pre-race area, I had my eye out for my Be Our Guest Podcast family and all of my other peer pressure filled friends 🙂 They were pretty easy to spot because of the awesome signs the Chear Squad had made for us runners!
We had at least 30 minutes to hang out and catch up before we headed into the starting corral. For Disney 5Ks, they have signs posted with different pace times throughout the corral. You simply line up behind your anticipated pace and wait. I know I’m probably not supposed to do this, but I tend to go a little farther up than where I should be because I’m always scared I’ll finish last! You probably shouldn’t follow my lead here…
So the starting fireworks went off and we stood…and stood… It took a while to get moving. There was a large group participating in this race. As you can see from the photo above, we were pretty far back from the starting area, which actually curved through the parking lot. Since we were moving at a snails pace, I grabbed a pic of my festive black cat ears I wore for the race. The closest thing I would get to a costume when running 3.1 miles.
We finally made it over the starting line which is when I realized the beginning of the race was mainly going to take place in the parking lot. Booooooring! I wanted to see some animals! I guess this makes sense that even though Animal Kingdom is a large park, there aren’t a lot of areas to actually run the race on. Most of the space is reserved for the animals.
As we neared the entrance of the park, I could see a serious bottle neck ahead. The course had runners filing into a very narrow walkway to the left of the tram drop off area instead of taking us on the road the tram uses. Try getting 5,000 people into a single file line…not so good. We stood around and inched our way onto the walkway then headed through the gates of the park, which was equally congested. I hope this is something Disney remedies for this year’s race.
The course went through the left side of the Oasis and into Discovery Island. This was absolutely beautiful right at dawn. Everything seemed to be coming to life right before my eyes. As I’m sure you know, the Oasis is uphill into Discovery Island which was a bit daunting, but we were rewarded with this gorgeous view of the Tree of Life in front of us. Sigh.
When in Discovery Island, the course went left into Africa. From what I recall, this was the first character area I saw. Come to think of it, I don’t recall many character photos areas at all on this race. Here in Africa we came across the Hyenas from The Lion King. They were pretty funny as they would dance around everyone who came up to them.
Now here’s where the race got boring. I thought the parking lot was boring, but at least there was the anticipation of entering the park. After leaving Africa, we entered a backstage area for a loooooong down and back. I’m pretty sure this road went all the way back to Conservation Station, you know the area you usually take a train to. It felt like it went on forever. The only bonus was that right after the turnaround, cast members had some animals out cheering on the runners! I was just glad I was moving faster than this tortoise! 🙂
I was happy to leave the backstage area knowing now that there was only 1 mile left to go. We finally entered Asia, my favorite part of Animal Kingdom. There are so many wonderful details in Asia to look at, which was a welcome change. I have to admit I was a bit sad to be running past Expedition Everest instead of riding it, but I kept on moving.
We went past Finding Nemo: The Musical and into Dinoland USA. From here we exited the park and into another backstage area. Here is where my favorite photo stop of the race was…the Gravediggers! They always put on a great show. I just wish there was a better backdrop than a Ryder truck and Porta Potties…
As we came upon mile 3, the sun was just beginning to appear over the horizon. What an amazing sight…truly breathtaking. Disney couldn’t have planned that any better 😉 This area also gave a great view of the backstage area of Expedition Everest. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a real mountain!!
Finally, we were back in the parking lot and back at the finish line. I made it!! I was thrilled to finish this race, as it was much more difficult than the year before because of my lack of training and the lackluster course. I LOVE Animal Kingdom as a theme park, but it’s not ideal for a race.
So yes, I huffed and I puffed my way through the race. I finished with a not so stellar time of 48:10, but I didn’t care. I felt a sense of accomplishment and a new found desire to keep going and do better. That evening I saw my friends cross the finish line at the Wine & Dine Half Marathon and I knew I had to do it….I had to run a half marathon. And that’s when the training began.
Now look at me, only 6 months later. I have completed my first half marathon and I’ve shaved 10 minutes off of my 5K time. Don’t get me wrong, I still huff and puff and my face gets just as red, but it’s slowly getting easier. While this wasn’t my favorite race course, I appreciate Animal Kingdom for igniting my passion. Every time I’ve been back to the park since then and I know every time going forward, I can smile and think about that day…the day it all began.