Race Courses: They Can Make or Break You
When I first started running, I never gave much thought to the actual race course itself. I was more concerned about actually finishing the race and not getting swept! (If you're not familiar with being swept, for Disney races you must keep a 16 minute/mile pace on the course or you will get picked up by race officials and taken to the end of the race.) Now as I've done more races, I have become increasingly aware of the course and what challenges it will hold.
My first race ever was Mickey's Halloween Family Fun Run 5K in 2010. This race was a loop that began in the TTC parking lot and took runners through the Magic Kingdom and back. What is more exciting about running through the Magic Kingdom, right?! Not much! Well that is until you look at the rest of the course.
The route from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom is pretty boring and actually quite hilly. When you look at the map, you only have a little over a mile in the park, which leaves about 2 miles of service roads and parking lots. Also, the Magic Kingdom is set up on a hill with Cinderella's Castle being the highest point. It's a gradual climb, but you notice it while racing. These are things I never would've thought of.
Let's look at the elevation for the upcoming Tower of Terror 10-Miler in September 2012. I entered the course into Map My Run and here is the elevation...hello hills!
Look at those two giant spikes in the first half of the race! That is a HUGE overpass on Osceola Parkway just before you get to Animal Kingdom. Seeing that this is less than 2 miles into the race, I will make sure to start off slow to conserve my energy and then pick up the pace after hitting it for the second time after the turnaround. And remember, what goes up must come down, so use those downhills to your advantage! I always try to keep the elevation of a course in mind so I know when to conserve my energy and when I can push myself.
Another factor to take into account besides elevation is terrain. I recently ran a half marathon that had 4+ miles of gravel road. This was not only tough on my feet because of the uneven ground, but I kept getting stones in my socks and shoes, which seriously slowed me down. For anyone who is running the Happy Haunted 5K Trail Run this year, keep this in mind. The runDisney website says to expect "various terrains including pavement, grass and sand," so make sure to get in some practice runs on these terrains so you aren't met with any surprises.
A few weeks ago, runDisney announced the new course for the 20th Walt Disney World Marathon. I think they have really improved upon an already fantastic course by including even more aspects of the Walt Disney World property. I think the biggest improvement is having the halfway point be in Animal Kingdom. This will be the point where many runners will need that extra push to get through the remainder of the course and what better way to do that than with a theme park! Then there is the 20 mile celebration taking place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, which promises to be very exciting. They have left a lot to look forward to at the end of the race when it is most needed.
I think the reason why I prefer Disney races over any other is the entertainment. As you can see from many of the maps, there are some very boring stretches of road on these courses (World Drive & Osceloa Parkway to name a few!). Disney does a fantastic job of keeping runners preoccupied with characters, acrobatics, bands and DJs. They help to make the miles go by so quickly! So even if the course looks daunting, know that there will be a Disney surprise around every turn to make you keep going. Oh and then there's that awesome bling to look forward to :)
Are you getting ready for a runDisney race? Have you checked out how the course will effect you? Leave us a comment and let us know what you're training for!