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



Back from the House the Mouse Built

I know what we're going to do today!

This morning Steph and I boarded a metal tube that sent us hurtling through the sky away from Walt Disney World and back toward reality.  I can safely say that neither of us were willing participants.  But alas, we’re back and here’s the obligatory post about the trip.

In short – Disney was fun.  It was just what we (and possibly more so, I) needed.  There wasn’t any talking or thinking about work.  Just relaxation and time to unwind.

We stayed at the Yacht Club, which is one of Disney’s ‘Deluxe’ resorts.  A bit higher class than our usual but for such a short stay, we decided to go with it.  Plus it’s really close to Epcot which is our favorite park which is a perk.  We took advantage of the great pool (complete with water slide) and the close proximity to the Boardwalk where we enjoyed a delicious dinner at the Flying Fish.

The Yacht Club - We had a ground floor room in this wing.

Other Highlights:

  • Catching Illuminations on the first night at Epcot and being able to walk back to our resort in less than ten minutes.  On other nights, we were able to see the fireworks from our room.  Disney knows how to put on a show.
  • Running the Happy Haunted 5K Trail Run.  One of the big events of the weekend was the Tower of Terror 10 Miler.  Alas, I wasn’t aware of it when we booked the trip so I wasn’t able to get us signed up in time.  But I did manage to get us into the 5K which was a lot of fun.  You can see for yourself in the video below.  Look for a couple of people around the 43 second mark – one in yellow, one in white.
  • The other big event was the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot.  They had food booths and demos setup at all the nations plus a few others.  Steph and I ate our way around the world and were thoroughly stuffed by the end.
  • Seeing Disney at a new time of year.  We usually go in January or February.  The park was a lot different this time around with the fall and Halloween themes.  Plus we were able to get on rides that are normally closed in the cold months.   We got soaked on the Kahli River Rapids in Animal Kingdom.  Never made it to Splash Mountain though – it had a technical malfunction the day we were in Magic Kingdom.

So, yeah, we had a good time.  Tomorrow is back to work but since I don’t want to think about that right now, I won’t.  Have a few pictures.

Looking across to the Boardwalk.
Giraffe. He did not appreciate the 'How's the weather up there?' joke.
Some people say we have a kinship with this fellow ...

All Ears

A couple of weeks ago, I booked a vacation for Steph and I for the end of September.  Nothing major – a simple extended weekend away from home.  The timing seemed right. We haven’t had any real time off since January and by that time, school will have been in session for a very hectic month and I’ll be in need of a break.

The catch, however, was that I didn’t tell Steph where we were going.  I told her roughly how much it was going to cost, that I’d take care of the credit card bill, and that I’d drop occasional hints now and then.  This did not please her in the least.  She doesn’t like it when I keep secrets.  At first, she appealed to my well-being.

Steph: I think it will be hard on you to keep this secret.  You should share.

Me: No, I can handle it.

Steph:  You know, now that you’re getting up there in years, holding this kind of secret could have serious health implications.

Me: Ouch.

When those efforts failed, she turned to quizzing me at every opportunity.  Through her questioning, she managed to rule out Texas, Ohio, or any place outside of the continental United States.  For my part, I did drop a few hints.  I told her that I had purchased a pair of Brita Water Bottles w/Filters.  Her response to this was “Do I have to be worried about giardia?”  (Thankfully, no.)   I told her that we had never been to this place before.  Groceries were going to be delivered to our room.  She was to bring a swimsuit (“Beach or pool”, she asked.  “Both,” I replied).  I also let it slip that we were signed up for a 5K Trail Race.

It was quite fun.  Or frustrating, depending on which role you were playing.  Unfortunately, as the days passed, it became apparent to me that some key decisions were going to have to be made and I could not do it without her input.  So I decided to give her a few more big hints in the hopes that she would figure it out.  I started with a picture of where we are staying:

Entryway to the Resort


She recognized the New England style but didn’t know where it was.  So I showed her another picture of a possible view from our water front balcony.  It took her about ten seconds to spot it.


Balcony View

Having trouble?  Look along the right hand side.  See that ball shaped object?  Yup, that’s Epcot.  We going back to Disney.

We’ll be staying at the Yacht Club Resort and by pure luck, we are arriving at the same time that Walt Disney World is holding their Food & Wine Festival.  I had wanted to sign us up for the Tower of Terror 10 Miler but alas, those spots were filled so I went with the Happy Haunted 5K Trail Run.  I know that most sane people would say “Why would you go on vacation and run a race?!” but I counter with this:

1. We are not sane.

2. In 2001, Steph and I were supposed to run the Disney Marathon.  Steph got injured and had to watch me run it.  I got the Mickey Mouse medal and the experience.  Steph did not and though she’s never outwardly let it show, it’s eaten at her ever since.  This time, she’ll get a Disney Medal (we’ll work on the Marathon sometime in the future).

So … yeah.  Let the countdown begin.


Home Amongst The Snow

(Warning – lots of pictures in this post.)

Well, we’re back home in Iowa again.

Thankfully, the state was kind enough to meet us halfway on temperature (40 degrees vs the 80s of the past week).  Groceries have been procured to fill the empty fridge, the first of many loads of laundry begun, the dog retrieved from the in-laws, and the cat … well, let’s just say it’ll be a while until he forgives us for this latest transgression.

But despite the rough adjustment back into reality, it’s good to be home again.

The vacation was great. Very relaxing and stress free. Did a lot of reading, thought a lot about my own writing (but I didn’t write more than a few hundred words the entire week).  We got to meet a bunch of new couples, see ancient Mayan Ruins, play beach volleyball (precisely 4pm island time, right behind our cabana), and go snorkeling in some of the clearest water you’ll find outside of an Evian bottle.

The staff at Coco Plum is nothing short of phenomenal.  The kitchen was remarkably accommodating with Steph’s vegetarianism and my assorted dietary requirements.  When the bartenders discovered I didn’t drink alcohol, they took it as a challenge and came up with all sorts of interesting concoctions (my favorite? Sprite and Orange Juice – simple yet yummy).

Even departing the island was memorable.  Nothing is more fun than riding 9 miles to the mainland in a boat followed by a flight in an 11 person Cessna in the midst of a terrible thunderstorm.

Without further ado, pictures are after the break (click to embiggen any image).

Continue reading “Home Amongst The Snow”

South of the Border

And just where do you think you're going?


While Tim Tam might object, we’re on our way out the door for a pleasant little vacation off the coast of Belize.   The resort we’re staying at – Coco Plum Cay (map) – has a mere 10 cabanas on the entire island.  We expect to spend much of our time sitting on a beach, snorkeling, or taking in the Mayan ruins.  Our first flight leaves at 5:30am, so it’ll be a rough start but somehow we’ll manage.

So have fun back in the States with winter and please, whatever you do, don’t let Tim Tam take over in a coup. It won’t end well.

Sand in My Shoes

Back home from California and into the sweltering heat of Iowa.

The wedding went off without a hitch and Steph’s cousin (Andy) is marrying into quite a unique family.  To give you a sense – Michelle’s (the bride) mother is Mexican, born in LA and her father is Indian born in Goa, India which is the Portuguese part of the country. I half expected them to break out into a rousing rendition of Jai Ho (and judging by the reception, I wasn’t too far off the mark).  The day after, we went to the bride’s house for a delicious brunch which included Orange Juice squeezed from oranges picked that morning off their own orange tree.

Yes, this is a big deal for us Iowans.

And, as an added bonus to my dear readers, proof that it is possible for me to get dressed up:


Sunday was also a chance to hang out with VP bud Chia, her husband Dan, and their friend Thessaly (quite a character).  They took us out to a great lunch and then back to their place for Much Ado About Margaritas.  Folks from VP will know what that’s all about.   Steph also got a chance to ransack Chia’s lemon and orange trees.  All in all – a great way to spend an afternoon.

So in parting, I leave you with pictures of California.

Manhattan Beach Pier
Manhattan Beach: Birthplace of Beach Volleyball (this place is packed on weekends)
Sadly, this was not me.
Steph and I in slightly more natural dress

I Would Walk 2000 Years …

More like 12+ miles but we did it alongside a wall nearly 2000 years old. Hadrian’s Wall – built by the Romans to define their northernmost borders (and to keep the army busy so they wouldn’t revolt). There isn’t much to say other than it was amazing.

We started off Vindolanda, a Roman fort and village, now one of the best locations to find Roman artifacts. The English climate did an excellent job of preserving items and a lot has been learned from this spot.

After spending the morning touring the place (and making an unforgivable number of sheep jokes), we started off for the wall. We’ve been fortunate to have great weather on this trip (not one day of rain!) so I’m just going to let the photos do the talking beneath the break with a few comments.

Continue reading “I Would Walk 2000 Years …”

A Vacation from Vacation

Every vacation needs a bit of time away from the whole tourist thing. Today was that day.

We left Bristol early this morning and caught a series of trains to the little village of Haltwhistle. Haltwhistle is very close to Hadrian’s Wall, an ancient wall built by the Romans in AD 122 that crosses the entire country. This was my Must See sight of the trip. We’re going to be hiking it over the next couple of days and I guarantee pictures.

On a side note – we seem to have a lot of luck with leaving cities just in time to avoid problems. Cardiff played host to the Euro Football 2012 Qualifiers between England and Wales today. The game was played not too far from our hotel so the place would have been a madhouse. And in London, huge protests took place regarding government budget cuts. Estimates are 250,000 people showed up. This would not have been good for playing tourist.

More tomorrow. For now, it’s off to read a book or watch some football on the telly.

Don’t Talk Back in Bath

We left Cardiff this morning and, after a brief stop in Bristol where we are staying the night, headed to Bath.

Bath is a town famous for the Roman baths that give the city its name. They were said to have restorative powers – Queen Mary stayed in Bath when she was unable to have a son and nine months later, gave birth to a son and new heir to the throne. That the King did not accompany her on the trip was overlooked as divine inspiration.

We took ate a lunch of pasties and then embarked on a tour of the city led by a volunteer who also happened to be a civil engineer. That meant the tour not only cover the history but the architecture of the city. Very cool.

Afterwards, we started ate dinner at a great Nepalese restaurant called Yak Yeti Yak. On the way, though, we stumbled across a souvenir.

Decorah, IA to Bath (via Edinburgh, London, Cardiff): 4000+ miles
Decorah, IA to Trempealeau, WI: 81 miles

Continue reading “Don’t Talk Back in Bath”