I need to delay my Princess Half Marathon race report for several reasons.
1. I still don’t have an official time since there was a problem with my tag registering at the start line.
2. I haven’t had time to upload my pictures yet.
Instead I thought I’d share some thoughts about running at Disney. There has been some discussion on various Disney-related discussion boards about the Princess Half Marathon (and running Disney races in general) and I thought I’d use this space to give some of my opinions.
Issue 1: The Corral Placement system at Disney is imperfect and leads to some fast runners being corralled in the back and some slow runners finding their way to the front. This leads to a situation where sometimes faster runners need to weave around slower runners before being able to attain their desired pace. Obviously this can be dangerous as it leads to potential crashes and annoying because the faster runners cannot run their own pace while dodging around slower runners.
In my opinion there are several different issues at hand.
1st issue is that runDisney caters to 1st time half marathoners, many of whom have never raced at all (or have never gone further than a 5k). I met a woman at the airport who runs 8:30 pace and finished the half in a “disappointing” 2:20 because she started in Corral F. In retrospect she belonged in Corral A but had never done a race beyond a 5k. It’s hard to translate a pace for 3.1 miles to a pace for 13.1 miles. Disney only accepts a proof of time from a race 10k or longer. Disney is forced to “randomly” assign these runners to Corrals based on no knowledge of how they will actually run. There’s no good solution. Disney asks for an estimated finish time but requires proof if you think you will finish faster than 2:45. The situation is made worse by the fact that many of the slowest runners at the race are afraid of being “swept” for not keeping the pace. These runners will try to start as far forward as possible because the sweeper clock doesn’t start until the last runner crosses the starting line. Having someone who is running a 17:00 min/mile pace start at the front of Corral D is an unfortunate situation but it happens – sometimes intentionally. One of the first non-Disney races I ran was a local half marathon with no corrals. I guessed (correctly) that I’d be one of the slower runners and thought (stupidly) that I’d start toward the front so I wouldn’t finish last. What a mistake! I was nearly trampled by the 1st mile. The next year I ran the race I (appropriately) started in the back for my own safety. In all fairness I knew I wouldn’t be swept anyway and the amount of time cushion was minimal so there was no benefit to starting near the front. I totally understand the fear of being swept but still think it’s safer for people to start near where they belong.
The 2nd part of this issue is that many runners who are capable of running a faster time choose to enjoy the entertainment instead. If you normally run a 2 hour half but stop in a dozen lines to wait for pictures with characters, you will find yourself weaving through crowds of slower runners. Should there be a separate and later start for people who want to stop for all of the characters???
Issue 2: Course crowding. Both the Disney Full Marathon in January and the Princess Half Marathon last weekend had record number of participants. While this is clearly good for runDisney’s bottom line, it does create an issue with crowding on the course. There are several narrow parts to the course and the larger number of runners has made the congestion much worse. Having started runDisney as a Corral F runner and now having started in Corral B, I can pretty definitively say that the crowding is worse the further back you start. So for that woman who start in F and finished in 2:20, she had the worst of the crowding. I don’t really think that runDisney is going to start cutting back on the number of runners. Economy of scale argue against this. The Disneyland Half Marathon sold out within hours of opening. As long as we, the runners, are willing to pay the high prices to participate in these races, Disney will continue to have big numbers. And since Disney caters to new runners, they have a pretty good thing going. For all the people who ran the Tower of Terror 10 miler last fall and swore they’d never do it again, Disney is finding new people to run the race. And they raised the price of that race by quite a bit. Trust me, they’ll be able to sell out the race.
Issue 3: Walking vs. Running vs. Run/Walking. I suppose this could be a whole entire blog entry but I’ll keep it brief. There are always complaints that there are racers in the early corrals who are already walking by mile 1. And this is a huge problem for some people. I have strong opinions on this since I am a run/walker but…
1st I know a 60-something year old man who WALKS a 2 hour half marathon. No running involved. Unless you are faster than he is, don’t criticize walkers as a homogenous group.
2nd, I did run 30 sec/walk 30 sec for most of the race. So I took my 1st walk break before minute 1 of the race. And I finished around 2:34-ish (no official time yet but that’s my Garmin time). For a Disney race that puts me appropriately in Corral B. Which is where I started. And I ran negative splits. Depending on when you saw me, you might have seen me walking early in the race. That doesn’t mean I don’t belong in B. I try to be considerate of my walk breaks and skipped some when course crowding/narrowing made it dangerous to slow down to a walk. I know that some people are less considerate with their walking and, especially with the later corrals, course crowding caused problems. But Jeff Galloway is the master of run/walk and he’s also the training consultant for runDisney so walking isn’t going away anytime soon at Disney.
Final thoughts: runDisney does an amazing thing. It gets people off the couch and into running (or walking or run/walking). This is an amazing thing. In a generation where obesity is an epidemic, we should all support an organization that encourages people to start moving. Three short years ago I got off the couch because of runDisney. And since then I’ve done two 5k fun runs, one 10k, one 10 miler, SEVEN half marathons, and 2 full marathons. That’s pretty amazing stuff. So I refuse to criticize those who train the best they can but struggle with the 16 min/mile pace. And if letting people who are just starting their discovery of running means that I won’t PR at Disney, I think I’m ok with that.
Ultimately I think that running at Disney is a bit about letting yourself have fun and managing your expectations. The Princess Half was exactly what I expected and I had a blast! And my 7 year old daughter is counting down the years until she’s old enough to run the Princess Half with me (she has 7 more years but who’s counting???). I’ll be there with her!