An Epic Everest Adventure

I am so excited to have my first guest post!  Thanks to Cindy Koenemann-Warren for sharing the story of her first 5K.  I’m so proud of her for achieving her goal and finishing this race!  Take it away Cindy…

About two weeks ago I ran my first 5K.  As a Disney parks fan, to me, there was no better place to run my first race then Disney.  After some mild peer pressure or enabling, I convinced my friend Kristen to do it with me.  It was her first 5K too.

We decided to register as a team to tackle the Expedition Everest Challenge, a 5K race through Disney’s Animal Kindgom complete with an obstacle course and a scavenger hunt. After debating on a team name and figuring out our coordinating outfits, it was time to focus on training.

I arrived at Disney very excited and very anxious.  Aside from my concerns about an overtraining injury and the inability to run for almost a month, I was headed into a new experience, my first race and I had no idea what to expect.  Kristen and I arrived the day before the race and after checking into our resort, grabbing a tasty lunch, we headed to Wide World of Sports to pick up our packets.

I was not sure what to expect at registration.  WWOS itself is huge!  It felt like we walked a 5k to get to the registration area from the parking lot and the size of the complex did not lessen my fears.  But, as I should have known with anything Disney, registration was a breeze.  Aside from a little confusion over the flow of where to pick up what, we got our number, my event pin, and race shirts with ease.  There was a very small booth of runDisney merchandise.  I expected to be overwhelmed with vendors and shopping opportunities, but it was very low key.  The entire process happened so quickly.  We reached the conclusion that this particular race was much smaller in scale which may explain why it was so calm and why there were no vendors present.

The day of the race came and my nerves only increased through the day.  The one thing I knew was how happy I was that I decided to do this race with a friend, and that we had so many other friends around the entire weekend.  Had I done this solo, both running and as a trip, it would have been very easy to feel isolated alone with my fears.  Instead I felt supported and reassured that I was not in this alone.

I was also really happy we decided to stay at a race resort.  This allowed us to catch the bus to the race from our resort rather than having to find another way to get to the race.  I am not certain we could have driven ourselves even if we wanted to and it was one less thing to worry about.

Once our bus dropped us off, we made our way to the starting area.  Generally speaking, the event was very organized.  There were 8 waves of race starts and we were in group seven.  The hardest part was finding anyone you wanted to meet up with before the race.  I had a core group of friends that Kristen and I were looking for and somehow we managed to find them.  I had another group of friends to find for a prerace picture and that was a bit more challenging, but we found each other.

The best part of our delayed race start was that we had plenty of time to see how the start process worked and received lots of tips, reassurances, etc. from the veterans in our group.  The worst part was the waiting.  The nerves only continued to build.  Slowly our cheerleaders were heading off to either run in earlier waves or to watch the race from designated areas for nonparticipants.  And then it was just the two of us.

It was a hot night, our first race, and hard to figure out what the routine should be.  Because we both used the Jeff Galloway method (run/walk intervals) we did not know the best way to incorporate our warm up.  How would we run our run?  How bad would the obstacles be?  We had way more questions than answers, but before we knew it our wave was called and the fireworks launched indicating the start of our first race.

Honestly, most of the race is a blur to me.  Once those fireworks went off, I got a bit of tunnel vision.  I was in charge of tracking our intervals, indicating when it was time to walk and when it was time to run.  Starting in a large group we had to navigate the chute and crowd to figure out how to run our race plan.  We started off running just to get out of the crowd, and once things spaced out a bit we stopped to warm up.  Before we knew it we had passed our first obstacle (hay
bale hurdles – I loved these!) and found our friends in the cheerleading section.  We had run our first mile and we were not even in the park yet!

While I was anticipating far more entertainment then we got, running at night made things different.  And since it was my first race, I am not sure I would have noticed anything that first mile.  The second mile involved racing through the Oasis, up to Africa and then backstage towards Rafiki’s Planet watch.  This was the first time we saw any character interaction…a puppet from the daily parade at Animal Kingdom.  It was not tempting enough to stop.

The only time I wish we had stopped to take a picture was when we ran past the truck holding little red which had recently been removed from the Kilimanjaro Safari experience.  But other than that, we only saw characters one other time during the race.  We were pretty sure that they were headed to the after race party.  Maybe the obstacles were supposed to be part of the entertainment.

At the end of mile two we had the fun of doing tires.  It seemed like there were 50 of them. It was not hard to do.  We took them very slowly and very deliberately as did many of the other participants and there were EMTs alongside all the different sets of tires asking people to be cautious and go slow.  I suspect that was the result of prior races, but we got through
them easily and were so excited to see the sign indicating that we had completed mile 2!

Mile 3 flew by too.  This part of the leg took us back through to the Oasis and then backstage.  The crowd was pretty thinned out by then and it was so exciting to know we were almost there.  We decided to run that last tenth of a mile and just when I thought we were approaching the finish line, we ran into the last obstacle.  The dreaded cargo net crawl!  I was so glad I decided to wear my capri running pants even in the 85 degree temperature because my knees were protected.  I may have been one of few who survived it without scrapes!

I was disappointed by the lack of finish line for the 5k.  I did not know enough to connect the timer on the side of the route as a finish line.  This was a result of the actual finish line being located outside Everest at the end of the scavenger hunt.  We realized we were done the 5k when they handed us our first clue for the hunt.

Because we reached out goal of running our 5k, we may have taken our time with the scavenger hunt.  We finished it pretty quickly but we did not run.  Crossing the finish at the end of the hunt was a bit anticlimatic as we more wandered across the finish line than raced across it.  Getting my first medal made the whole experience did make it feel a bit more special.

I have definitely been bit by the running bug.  I have already registered for another 5k, a ten miler and a half, all at Disney this fall.  As much fun as I had, I am not sure if I would recommend this race for a first 5k only because of the lack of fanfare at the finish of the race.  That said, I would highly recommend a Disney race for a first experience and would also strongly recommend running with a partner.
Kristen and I definitely kept each other committed to the race, committed to our training and also helped calm each other’s nerves.  Plus we got to celebrate our mutual achievement.  I’d also recommend picking a race that more experienced friends have either done before or are also participating in.  They did so much to reassure and support us on our great adventure

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