Disney 2014 (Or Why This Trip Mattered So Much)

Warning – This post has many pictures.

 Recap: Back in 2001, Steph and I decided to run the Walt Disney World Marathon. In the end, I ran the marathon while she sat on the sidelines nursing an injury. Not getting that MIckey medal really bothered her so thirteen years later, we went back for another shot. I wrote all the fine details back on May 22nd.



In 2001, we had some simple goals:

  1. Stay at a Disney Resort (something neither of us had done before)
  2. Run the Walt Disney World Marathon
  3. Eat a celebratory dinner at the California Grill
The Resort
Click to embiggen
When i was a kid, I always asked my parents if we could stay at the Contemporary Hotel (the biggest at the time) instead of some chain motel an hour or more away. I don’t remember the exact response but I suspect it had something to do with money and trees and then Dad telling me to eat my cereal.

When Steph and I had the chance, we picked Port Orleans Dixie Landings (now Riverside). It was a lot of fun and basically cemented into our minds that we would never stay off premises again when visiting Disney.


The Marathon

This, as many know, didn’t turn out so awesome. Steph got injured mere weeks before the race. I ran alone, narrowly missing four hours (4:04:01) but I didn’t care. I had a Mickey Mouse medal and I’d completed my first marathon.

Click to embiggen

California Grill

For those not aware, the California Grill is located on the top of the Contemporary Resort and has fantastic views of the Magic Kingdom. If you time your dinner right (as we did on this trip), you can watch the fireworks from the comfort of your seat. It’s also a very high class restaurant so it was ideal for our celebration of the marathon.

Contemporary Hotel from Monorail (2014)
California Grill is the very top.

All things considered, it was a great trip. We had a fantastic time but ultimately only one of us really came away celebrating. I didn’t realize until several years later just how bad Steph wanted a Mickey medal. Yes, I knew she was disappointed (who wouldn’t be?) but the extent was a bit surprising.



In 2014, we had a single goal – finish the marathon and get a Mickey Mouse medal. On top of that, I decided to try and recreate 2001 as best as possible so that Steph could have the experience long denied her.

The Resort

Fireworks at the start of the Half Marathon

Port Orleans French Quarter. Same general area as Dixie Landings/Riverside back in 2001, just slightly quieter. We stayed there once before and really enjoyed it. So we booked a room over looking the river.

As an added bonus, our room happened to be within sight of the races. On Saturday morning, we were able to hear and see the fireworks when the Half Marathon began.

The Marathon

The big show, the one event we’ve been waiting for. Up until now, training had gone pretty well except for a few minor injuries. We were about as ready as we could be for the race. A pasta dinner the night before and a 3am wake up call was all we needed.

One thing we can say about Disney is that they know how to put on a show. Huge fireworks at the start. Volunteers everywhere. Entertainment and music abound. It was like a running party. Did a lot to take your mind off the miles, especially later in the race. (My favorite? The Toy Story Toy Soldier Sarge – “You are looking GREAT! You’re making every toy in the toy box proud! Hoorah!”) Few things can compare to running down Main Street at 6:30am, in the dark, with Cinderella’s castle lit up and thousands of people cheering you on.

The day was a bit hotter than either of us would have like – high 60s with some pretty thick humidity. Because of that, we were each drinking a lot. I think both of us took water and Gatorade at nearly every stop (and there were plenty of those). Surprisingly, neither of us went through all our GU. And the candy at mile 21? Better than any gourmet meal a 5 star chef could ever make. *nom nom nom*

The Course (PDF)

The Course (YouTube Video)

One starts just outside of Epcot and runs along the highways towards the Magic Kingdom. Of course, all the entrances and parks were lit up and fully staffed. (One thing to touch on that – volunteers and staff had to be in place before the runners arrived, which was at 3:30am. That meant some of them were probably around by 2am or earlier.) Miles 5 – 6 are in the Magic Kingdom and then we head out for a 6 mile stretch to Animal Kingdom. After the AK, it’s off to ESPN World of Sports and a loop around the WDW Speedway. Next up is Hollywood Studios and then a run along the path toward the Yacht & Beach Clubs.  Last stop? A run through the World Showcase and underneath Spaceship Earth before finishing in a parking lot just outside Epcot.

We started in corral D ( the fourth out of  sixteen). This was a change from 2001 where they went on the honor system (“Oh, you are going to run a 4 hour marathon? Right up here, sir! … why are you walking at 6 hour pace?”) This year you had to have proof of time. It kept a lot of walkers and the charity runners out of our way and made it a lot easier to get started at the pace we wanted. The ultimate goal was to finish and we both thought we could do it in 4 hours or less.

Things started well with us being faster than pace. Then around mile 9, Steph’s knee began to hurt. This was the same injury that kept her out in 2001 and had plagued her throughout her past two marathons. Still, she toughed it out and we kept running. By about mile 14 or thereabouts, Steph’s knee was pretty much just attached to her leg and not doing much else. If she had the opportunity to take it off and beat me to death with it, I’m pretty sure she would have.

Back to the running – by mile 18/19, we started switching to a run/walk pattern. Part of this is because – “Hello, we just ran 18+ miles” and the other because it helped loosen up the knee for Steph to run again. I was also suffering a bit with some foot pain but we both got through it. After that, it was pretty much just toughing through things. Epcot was another bundle of activity with a huge amount of cast members, volunteers, and spectators everywhere. Also in Epcot? The Gospel Choir, singing Hallelujah as we hit mile 26. Literally right around the corner from them was the finish line. Steph got to Hi-Five Donald Duck and then we were done.

Steph got her Mickey Medal and I’m pretty sure she cried when the volunteer slid it over her neck. What more to say?


California Grill

Just like 2001, I managed to get us reservations at the California Grill. I was also able to time it so that we’d be up there during the fireworks. We got there a little early and I asked the hostess, “I know everyone asks, but if there’s a chance we could get a good seat for the fireworks, that would be great.” Lo-and-behold, we did – a perfect window seat overlooking the Magic Kingdom. Plain and simple – people would kill for the spot we had.

We ran a lot so we figured we could eat a lot.

Dinner: Oven-dried Tomato Flatbread, Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli, Yuzu-marinated Sashimi, Georges Bank Scallops (Matt), Seafood Stew (Steph), and Chocolate Pudding Cake.

I also managed to catch the end of the fireworks so here you go:

And now, the pictures …

Magic Kingdom (6 miles)


Hollywood Studios (Mile 22-ish)


Finish Line (Mile 26.2)


Medals x 2



Marathon Ready

Two weeks until the Walt Disney World Marathon and we’re buckling down for our final miles.  We’ve entered the taper weeks which are generally lower mileage and easier running but no less important.

Steph here is showing the commitment necessary for such an ordeal.


Twelve Miles on the Treadmill

By the way, that’s Pirates of the Caribbean she’s watching.

A Long, Quick Trip to Mankato

Steph and I spent the past weekend in the good old north of Minnesota where we partook in the Mankato Half-Marathon.  It was cold (low 30s), sprinkling rain, and on one occasion, snowing.

We sure have a knack of picking out the best races, right?

To be honest, it wasn’t a bad race.  Great volunteers, well organized, and the course was nice and scenic.  But why Mankato?  The main reason is that the Walt Disney Marathon (in January) requires proof of time in order to avoid starting in the very last corral.  Our times from Grandma’s Marathon was just outside the permissible time range so we opted to run Mankato’s certified course.

What we both thought was going to be a steady run to get a qualifying time ended up as a race for Steph’s personal record in the half-marathon.  And we almost had it, missing by less than a minute.

Or did we?

According to my Garmin Forerunner 610, we ran 13.23 miles in 1:50:21. According to Steph’s Garmin Forerunner 405CX, we ran 13.26 miles in 1:50:19.

Using SportTracks (the software we offload our data into), we can see that we crossed the 13.1 mile mark at 1:49:19 (Steph’s was 1:49:05).  Steph’s PR for the half-marathon is 1:49:31.  By that logic, we beat her PR.  So I’m saying she’s got a new PR, she’s on the fence.

Either way, we got ourselves some shiny new medals and a good starting corral for Disney.

Runner’s Bling


A Medal 13 Years Late

The following is a dramatization of a conversation that occured early on the morning of May 22nd.  When possible, the original participants have been used instead of actors.

Me: Hey, we’re going to Florida for next year…

Steph: Oh, okay.

Me: In January…

Steph: That’s a good time to go. It’ll be cold up here in Iowa.  But weren’t we just there —

Me: To run the Walt Disney World Marathon.

Steph: SQUEE!

We are a very unusual couple.

Joking aside, this is actually a pretty big deal.  Back in 2001, I ran the WDW Marathon.   Disney was my first marathon and it’s been quite special to me.  Not only did I get a neat medal but I finished where I wanted and got to run through the parks of Disney like I wanted to when I was a kid but Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me.  So in short – awesome.

However … Steph was also supposed to run Disney but it didn’t happen.  She got injured and was unable to participate.  She was able to go to the expo, pick up a number and t-shirt but could not set foot on the course.  In short – not awesome.

Sure, she’s run two marathons since and some half marathons but none of them were Disney.  Last year on the surprise trip, I scheduled us to run a 5K at Disney.  It was nice and it got Steph a medal but it still wasn’t a Marathon medal.

This morning after her run, she came into the office and said, “I know what i want for my birthday. I want to run the Disney Marathon.”

So I said, “What the hell?” and signed us up.  I also promised her that I’d run the race with her.  So come next January 12th, she will finally get one of these of her very own:


Loop de Loop

Yesterday about this time I was crossing the finish line of the inaugural Loop de Loop Half-Marathon here in Decorah.

I would have written something about it yesterday but, Hello, Just ran a half-marathon!  Some people.

The course followed the new Trout Run Trail which surrounds our town (more on that below).  Weather conditions were cold – 38 degrees at start- and breezy with winds about 15mph and gusts up to 25mph. Being the first race, there were only about 120 people running the Half but that meant it was a nice friendly affair.

All things considered, I’m happy with my performance.  My goal from the start had been to break 1:50.  Far from a PR but this course isn’t designed for a something like that.  Three miles into the race is a .75 mile hill that just leads to more rolling hills.  It doesn’t really flatten out until almost 7 miles in.  So yeah, PR = Not Gonna Happen.

I finished in 1:40:08.  I felt better on the hills than I did the flats due to the wind.  The course ended up being a bit short – about half a mile, which is disappointing since we all trained for a full 13.1 miles.  Still, challenging course and when I look at my pace, I still would have broken my goal even if it had been the full distance.

Steph came through at 1:50:28, beating her goal of 2:00.  She too was happy.

So, the Trout Run Trail.  This has been a big project for our little down that started about half a decade ago (though I think the idea has been around for a lot longer than that).  The goal was to get a biking/walking path that showed off everything our county had to offer.  The folks found a way and construction finished just a few months ago.  Turns out that one of the access points is about a quarter of a mile from our house so Steph and I end up running on portions of it just about every time we head out the door.

It’s a mix of hard hills and nice flats with scenery all about.  At one point, the trail goes past the famous Decorah Eagles Nest.  Which is pretty cool except when there are hordes of people blocking the path that don’t seem to notice the bikers trying to get by.  A beautiful bridge takes us over the really busy highway intersection (long a bane for us runners and bikers) and there are tunnels everywhere else so we don’t have to jump on the roads.  In short – we like it.  Have some pictures.


Pic from Cedar Rapids Gazette
Trail through the Cut


Bridge over Highway 9 and 52
Taken from the peak of the final hill about 7 miles in.


One of the smaller bridges that cross the streams.

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  • War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

  • Duration
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    Drama, Science Fiction, War.
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Matt Reeves.

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Running Scared

Some months ago, my older brother Greg called up and said “Hey Matt, I’m running this half-marathon up in Middleton, Wisconsin called the Haunted Hustle.  I think it would be something you and Steph would like.  We could run it together.”

I was intrigued.  First off, I’m a runner and being that this was a Halloween themed course (complete with costume contest), it looked a lot of fun.  Steph thought it would be a good chance to set a new PR in the half-marathon.  She’s set a 5K and Marathon PR this year, why not collect the whole set?  Plus, while I have run literally hundreds of races with my twin brother, in over 25+ years of running, I’ve never run an actual race with my older brother.  Yes, we’ve run in the same race but never together.  So this was a chance to correct that grievous error.

On top of that, Greg suggested making it a family weekend – Steph and I could come up and run the race.  Mom and Dad could come up, spend a weekend with the kids and grand kids.  We’d all have a grand time, or so the premise went.  So we signed up and started training.

Pre-Race @ 35 degrees (give or take)

The course was fun – a mix of city streets, bike paths, and off road trails plus some really slick bridges and foot paths.  Greg and I stuck together all 13.1 miles.  Whereas some running partners might boost each others spirits with motivational chants or encouragement, it appears the Hughes boys use sarcasm.  For instance, when Greg was starting to feel the pace, I helpfully reminded him that this entire thing was his idea and he’s no longer allowed to pick family vacations.  But hey, it worked so who am I to complain?

Greg and I came in at 1:42:06, impressive considering neither of us had a goal in mind.  Steph was just behind at 1:49:31, a new Personal Record and topping her goal of breaking 1:50.

We all picked up some nice shiny medals and a great long sleeve tech shirt.  Afterwards, we got to spend some quality time with the parents and my niece and nephew.  A pretty good weekend, I have to say.


Matt & Greg





Sibling Rivalry

A slightly paraphrased IM convo I had with my brother following a 5K race he ran this past weekend:

Jon: I shoulda stayed at the race todayI took 3rd in my age group
Matt: Nice. Do they ship you a medal?
Jon: The office is right next to mine :B
Matt: Have to stop by and get it
Jon: sweet, I was 29th out of…439
Matt: Not bad.
Jon: It either means A) Everyone else sucks cause I’ve been injured and not training well, or B) I AM A GOD.
Matt: Good to see this isn’t going to your head.
Matt: *looks at his wall, spots the 1st place in age group medal* Oh wait, that’s medalS.
Jon: Jerk

In the end, however, Jon got ahead for it was not a medal they gave him but rather a plaque.  And as all runners know, Plaques trump Medals.  *shakes fist feebly*

I Have Been Humbled

Over Hill, Over Dale, and Repeat Ad Nauseum

(This blog entry has plentiful pictures.  Consider yourself warned.)

This past weekend, Steph and I headed back up to Hayward, Wisconsin to take part in the Birkie Trail Run.  Last year, we did the half marathon.  This year we opted for the Marathon Relay, conning four friends to join us.  A blast was had by one and all.

Greta, Steph, Me, Amanda, Andrew, and Marissa


I’ll make the race report short and sweet – as a team, we did great (more on that later) and as individuals, nearly all of us beat our expectations.

Considering the nature of the Birkie Trail, that’s not an easy feat.  No matter where you are, you’re either running up or running down.  It’s impossible to settle into a pace.  One leg can’t be compared to another.  Case in point – my 5.6 mile leg was filled with rolling hills and a few sharp rises while Steph’s 3.7 miles didn’t have as many hills but they were nearly all straight up and down.


Top = Matt, Bottom = Steph

Overall, The Tufted Mazurkas (that’s us) finished 3rd out of 16 teams in the Mixed Division.  I think overall we were 16th out of 63 teams, which is an impressive showing.  You can check out the race results here (click on Relay Team Results, scroll down to 6 person mixed).

The official Birkie results, however, will show that we finished 6th in our division.  This is because the Birkie calculates times using an adjusted scale based on age and sex.  Someone between 20 – 30 counts their full time while someone in their 50s or 60s may count as little as 85% of their time.  Runners younger than 20 also get adjusted times which strikes me as quirky and downright odd.

This meant that the team of 50 – 60 year olds who finished a full 45 minutes behind us was moved ahead of us in the rankings.  That miffed me a bit but considering the prizes were coffee mugs and I don’t drink coffee, my miff-ness is not terribly strong.

Plus we got medals and those are cool.  And we had an awesome time.  What more could you ask for?

Pictures after the break.  Click to enlarge any of them.

Continue reading “Over Hill, Over Dale, and Repeat Ad Nauseum”

Apples to Flaming Torches

The Apples

Click to Embiggen

Applefest 5K this morning.

We love this race (as blogged about here and here).  We keep coming back because we love the course.  It’s hilly and challenging, as the picture to the right shows.  You don’t go to Applefest to get a PR.  In fact, take your average 5K time, add anywhere from 90 to 120 seconds and that’s about where you’ll finish.

This year I came in at 21:07, good enough for 19th overall (out of 500+ runners) and 4th in my age group.  Steph knocked a full minute off her previous Applefest PR and finished in 25:07 and 76th overall, 6th in her age group.   Both of us hit our goals and are totally stoked.  Plus getting a free bag of apples at the finish line doesn’t hurt.

Afterwards, we headed out to pick up traditional caramel apples and even more apples (we now have 30 lbs for pies, sauce, etc).  Now that we’re home, rested, and recovered, we’re heading up to campus to see the Passing Zone tonight.

I’ve been juggling for almost 25 years now and in the juggling world, the Passing Zone is considered one of the best acts out there.  They are regarded as some of the best club jugglers hands down.  One of them, John Wee, is also a Luther Alumni.  A few years ago I got the chance to meet and juggle with them.  It was kind of a juggling geek’s dream come true.  So yeah, I’m looking forward to the show.