Walt Disney World Inline Marathon 2003
written April 27, 2003
finished Mar 28, 2004
I actually had this article written last year, as you can see, but I never quite got around to finishing it off until just before the 2004 marathon. At least this can be a little teaser for the upcoming 2004 Disney Inline Marathon!
On March 30, 2003, the inaugural Walt Disney World Inline Skating Marathon took place in Orlando, FL. An estimated 1500 skaters of all levels took part in this unique inline skating event that takes the participants and spectators through a 13-mile loop covering parts of Epcot, MGM Studios, and the Disney Wide World of Sports (WWS) complex.
I had the good fortune to be able to attend not only the marathon but also the Expo that took place the day before. The Expo was in the Milk House of the WWS complex. The Milk House (so named because the building is sponsored in part by the Dairy Farmers and Milk Processors Association) is basically a small to medium sized multi-purpose indoor court/stadium. For the Expo they had covered the court area with a small rollerrink surface for people to skate on.
The various sponsors for the marathon had their booths lining either side of the floor, with the far-end of the floor for race registration. The middle area (where a court or rink normally would be) was covered with the indoor sport court surface for skating. Most people were on foot, but there were a number of people skating, especially the kids warming up for the junior events that took place on Expo day, since the marathon has no under-12 division.
Composite shot of the Expo floor
Special Treat #1
When I first got there, who should happen to be giving a talk but Eddy Matzger. I've never seen Eddy except in various magazine photos from years ago. However, it somehow seemed obvious he was the one giving the talk, standing on the podium in his skates.
Eddy Matzger on stage
Luckily I had my video camera set to go, so I plopped down to tape him. I came away with about 40-45 minutes of very insightful and informative skating teaching advice, interspersed with many humorous and relevant anecdotes from his own skating experiences.
[Aug 26, 2004]
I finally got around to digitzing and uploading some of Eddy's talk.
I also realized how nicely distilled his skating advice was (no doubt honed from his years of giving skating classes, see Skate Central)
Eddy Matzger on stage
I think I probably learned more skating from him in that few minutes, than I have from any other skating source.
Anyway, my arm was jelly after holding the camera up so long, but it was well worth it! I even got to have my picture with Eddy after his talk.
After Eddy's talk, I had a chance to wander the booths for a while. I think all of the International Inline Skating Association (IISA) members were present: Rollerblade, K2, Salomon, Ultrawheels, Tour, Roces, Nike N-Dorphin Inline Skates, Verducci, Hyper Wheels, Smart Wheels, and TWINCAM.
Among the interesting things I saw in my wanderings was the Bont booth, with skaters getting their feet cast in some sort of special sock designed for the plaster, so that they could get custom boots made. I saw lots of racing gear, wheels, skates, bearings, and clothing in all the various booths.
I also visited the booth of Concept Sports. Their product, SmartWheels, intrigued me, since their product is yet another alternative braking system to the heel brake (or T-stops, etc.). And being the natural skeptic about braking systems (due to all the not-so-great products that have hit the market in past years), this was something I really had to see.
The SmartWheels are essentially a disc-brake system for inlines. The brake goes inside the 2nd, 3rd and 4th wheels of each skate. You active them by applying pressure on your outer edges, like when you do the snow plow manuever (both toes pointed inward, heels out), or even when you slalom.
Anyway, I had the chance to briefly demo some skates with SmartWheels installed. I will be looking to write up a more in-depth review later. My initial impressions are that this system isn't too bad, especially compared to other braking systems from the past.
While I'm still a huge proponent of learning to stop with the heel brake and other methods, the SmartWheels product is intriguing enough for me not to dismiss it outright. But when I get a chance (free time, what's that?) look for some nit-picking and details in an upcoming review article titled (tentatively) "SmartWheels vs. Smart heels: How Does The Latest Brake System Compare to The Heel Brake?".
The main barrier-to-entry to SmartWheels that I can see, is that their wheels (with the brakes installed) are somewhat tied to the skate model. You can't just buy the system and install it yourself. If you happen to be in the market for new Rollerblade or Roces skates, you can buy them direct from Concept Sports with the braking system included. But for skaters with their own skates already, I can see where this will be a marketability problem.
The reason for this is that the SmartWheels relies on the skate frame as part of the braking function. So if the frames don't match their mounting hardware, you've got a compatability problem. And apparently all the skate manufacturers like to change their frames often enough that Concept Sports can't just sell their product right off the shelf.
However, as a last resort, their FAQ does state that you should give them a call, to see if retro-fitting your existing skates is possible or not.
Women's Skates Revisited
Those of you who read about my experiences buying women's skates (see Buying Women's Skates) know what an ordeal we had the first time. Ever since my rollersweetie's skates were stolen (Moving Sucks), having to find her a new pair has always been on the to-do list.
At the Expo, we once again tried on skates from all the manufacturers. With assistance from the very helpful ladies at the UltraWheels booth, we found that the UltraWheels women's skates actually fit fairly well. Maybe by now the skate manufacturers are finally catching on that women's feet and legs are shaped different.
Probably the best part of the Expo and marathon were all the great people I was able to meet. Besides Eddy and the various people at the booths, I also got to meet and hang out with Kathie Fry of SkateGrrl.com and SkateLog.com fame. Kathie was also the long-time steward of the About.com inline skating section, although she gave up that position last year, to focus more on her own sites.
As readers of Skate FAQ will know (or notice), I've been woefully pathetic at keeping this web site up-to-date. Although as Kathie likes to say, I was smart to write a lot of content that withstands the test of time fairly well 8-)
I also finally got to meet Kalinda Mathis, the Director of IISA, with which I've exchanged emails off and on in years past. Another great person I met was Walter Johnson of the Detroit Blading Inline Skate School. There were quite a few other skaters and people that Kathie (seems like she knows everyone in the inline industry) introduced me to.
Last but not least of all, those us attending the Inline Skating summit meeting the day after the marathon got the pleasure of a talk and visit from none other than 2002 Olympic Gold/Silver medalist and World Record Holder Derek Parra. [See the video of his talk] It may sound cliche, but he's just the nicest guy to talk to. He never seems like he's trying to get rid of you so that he can get on to the next person waiting to meet him. He passed around his medals during his talk for everyone to see. We even got some nice photos of him and the medals.
Pre-Marathon Night Skate
One of the fun things to do during the Marathon was actually the night skate they held at Celebration, FL on the night before the Expo. I think there was maybe close to 200 skaters there that night! I've been off skates for quite a while, so I thought this was a perfect excuse to get back on the roll again. I was going to wear my Aeroblades because I thought it was going to be a "casual and leisurely" skate. Of course, I should've known better 8-)
When I got there, I didn't know a soul. But I saw it was mainly all various skaters that were going to participate in the marathon. Well, they were all in speed gear. Not everyone was in 5-wheelers, since there were a lot of the recreational level marathoners too, but I quickly wished I had brought my Bonts instead.
A Whole Heap of Skaters at the Pre-Marathon Night Skate, in Celebration, FL
Anyway, the skate was anything but casual for a wannabe out-of-shape skater like me. I met a nice Celebration resident that was going to skate the marathon the next day. He had only been skating a few months I think, at the time. We were pretty much the last skaters in the group most of the time. Most of the problem is because I'm just sadly out of shape. But I like to cast partial blame on my Aeroblades.
My feet seem to be configured a bit duck-like. I don't know if it's my knees, ankles, or feet, that are too angled, but my stance is naturally wider (in terms of the angle my feet make) than normal. Because the Aeroblades (these are the original Rollerblade Aeroblades) are just your normal mass-production skates, the frames are not adjustable and is designed for your non-duck-like skater.
Granted, I skated on the trusty Aeroblades for many years without being any wiser. But when I got my Bonts and racing frames, I finally was able to configure the skates to suit me. On Aeroblades, when I stand at rest, the wheels tend to ride on the outer edge, and sit too far to the center. If you try to stand on both of your outer edges at the same time, that's kind of how my feet and skates end up all the time. On my Bonts, I can stand with my wheels still vertical, without having to assume any kind of weird position.
Anyway, if any of you happen to have this sort of biomechanical issue as well, let me know. I can't imagine I'm the only skater to have this problem.
Sunday was race day for the marathon. I think the first race was to start at around 6:30am. To get into the start/finishing area, you had to be there by around 5-5:30am. Kathie Fry and I managed to get there just before the huge influx of racers started arriving.
Skaters as far as the eye can see
This was first time attending any sort of inline skating race, so it was all new to me. While Disney has held many running marathons before, their inexperience at inline races was somewhat evident. For one thing, the races didn't start even close to on time. A lot of the skaters didn't seem to know where they were supposed to be, due to some distinct lack of signage. In one of the pictures below, you'll see the signs "A", "B", etc. Maybe the racing info told them which letter each division was, but frankly, it would've helped enormously "A: Pro Men's Division", "B: Pro Men's Masters Division", and so on. Instead, you had a couple Disney employees running around yelling in a megaphone for everyone to get in their places. You'd think that Disney, with their long-standing experience at handling large crowds would've had this aspect down cold. But then again, I suppose it's not quite like herding tourists to their favorite rides or attractions.
Part of staging area for the race
The other major noticeable snag was that the starting and finishing line area was covered with a large mat. The mat was there to cover the sensor cables that read the RFID chip on each racer, to log their race time. This was, I assume, a carryover from the running marathon. However, what's fine for shoes, isn't always fine for skates! Quite a few skaters had problems getting across the starting line on this carpet-like surface. It was even was worse at the finish line, with lots of tired skaters almost tripping over the mat. I did see at least one skater wipe out at the end because of it.
After enough skaters had almost face-planted at the finish, they did go out and try and hammer down the mats some more. Hopefully next year they'll have a better system to do track the tags. Or at the very least a much smoother surface to cover the wiring.
Trying to fix the pesky mats
But despite all that, it was still a great time. It was cool to see all the pro skaters lined up in their teams and such. I'll admit I hardly follow the inline racing scene, and I've only heard of some of the more well-known skaters like Chad Hedrick and KC Boutiette. It was great fun just to see the skaters sprinting down the final stretch for the photo finish.
The pro men's starting line
Get Ready for the 2004 Marathon
Okay, enough blabbing about my duck feet and such nonsense. The 2004 marathon will hopefully be even more fun and interesting. Hope you all can either participate in or at least watch the events.
Thanks for reading!