Walt Disney World Inline Skating Marathon 2004
written May 16, 2004
last changed February 14, 2005
The 2004 Disney Inline Skating Marathon is (and was) the second annual inline marathon at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. Once again, thousands of skaters and spectators come to sunny Florida to take part in perhaps the most decorative inline marathon route around, with the Mouse and company as the backdrop.
This year's marathon took place in May, rather than in March, like last year's inaugural marathon. For those of you who don't live in Florida, the seasons are fairly predictable: hot and hotter 8-) Actually, the time from November to March is really quite nice and is one reason many folks spend their winters in Florida. While Floridians are putting on jackets to brave the "chilly" 60 degree weather, the snowbirds are out in shorts or at the pools swimming.
In the winter it's very nice crisp skate-worthy weather. But when the spring and summer months kick in, you can count on two things: heat and rain, and their dreaded offspring -- humidity. During many months it rains everyday almost like clockwork in the afternoon. Sometimes it showers even while you still see blue skies and sunlight elsewhere in the sky.
So with the second Disney Inline Marathon taking place in early May, the risk of rain was real. On the Friday of the marathon weekend, there was a heavy thunderstorm. But amazingly, the forecast was for only 30% chance rain on Saturday (Expo day) and 10% for race day Sunday. The rain did still turn out to be factor, but more on that later.
Sadly, there was no pre-marathon night skate this year. I guess with the thunderstorm, it was ust as well. There was supposed to be a more formally organized pre-marathon skate this year, but it fell through right near the end. According to the Central Florida Trail Bladers (CFTB), at the last minute, some of the facilities wanted CFTB to sign liability agreements and foot the insurance bill for the event. CFTB is not a formal club with the ability to pay for the insurance and is not a legal entity, in any case. They're just a group of people that like to skate and train together. However, I think with lessons learned, the planning for future pre-marathon skates will be taking place a lot sooner.
Expo Day 2004
We arrived at the Disney Wide World of Sports (DWWS) complex just after the Expo had opened. When we looked over the balcony, the Expo floor looked more packed with booths than last year. Similar to last year's layout, the booths circled the floor, with a rollerrink surface in the middle. The presentation area was a little fancier this year, with a podium and backdrop for the stage.
In the far back of the floor area, the tables for race registration were set up for skaters to pick up their race kit and t-shirt. The bleacher area (towards to rear-right of the expo picture) was set up as before, for the audience to listen to the speakers throughout the day.
While I was visiting the booths, I saw some gear I hadn't seen before. Given my limited exposure to the latest and greatest skating gear these days, I'm sure this stuff has been out for years. I didn't get to really interrogate anyone on any product this time around, but it was still fun to look at all the skating equipment on display and for sale.
- DeFeet sports socks
I'm sure many people already know and use DeFeet products, but they were new to me. In the past I've worn polypropylene sock liners underneath some Thorlo anti-blister socks. But these look pretty cool. If you can't see it in the photo, the fabric on the top part of the foot is a mesh weave that does a really nice job of venting heat and moisture away from your foot.
I was intrigued enough that after the race on Sunday, I went out and bought some of the DeFeet Air-e-Ator socks from a local shoe store. My first test was an entire day at the Disney parks (on foot, not on skates!). All through the day, my feet felt a little warm as you'd expect from all that walking and standing, but still surprisingly cool. I'll be looking forward to trying these with skates. Hopefully they're not overly thin, as I think my skates are used to me wearing bulkier socks. But time will tell. In general, I've found only good reviews about DeFeet socks online. They come in all sorts of funky or silly patterns, along with the standard solid colors. They also come in multiple ankle heights, depending on if you want low or high cut.
- Bearing tool by skatedarr.com (domain doesn't seem to exist now)
I saw this kind of interesting bearing tool at one of the booths. I've seen lots of various pocket-sized bearing tools to push out the bearings from wheels over the years. This one looked like a nice heavy-duty bearing extractor that would give you lots of leverage. Too bad their domain or web site doesn't seem to exist anymore.
I saw lots of other random gear, ranging from the standard display of skates, helmets, bearings, wheels, race clothing, and sunglasses. It was interesting to see quad-style skates along with the inlines, at Rollerderby's booth.
I didn't see any Twincam or Eddy Matzger this year. Last year they had a whole Twincam-SkateCentral.com booth with clothing and stuff designed by Eddie (or at least his designs on clothing). I was kind of looking forward to seeing Eddie speak again. Maybe next year.
Derek Parra gave a talk at around 12:45pm, going over how he got started in skating and how he made the jump from inlines to ice and finally onto Olympic ice speedskating. I have video of his talk, which I will try to get online as soon as I can. Derek even had his own booth at the expo this year.
When we made it to the front of the line, we got a nice photo and a "Hey, remember us from last year?" chat with Derek. One thing I did goof up was that when he asked me, "Hey you going to be out there tomorrow?". I replied "Yes", only to realize about 3 seconds later that he meant IN the marathon. I was thinking out "there" AT the race, but as a spectator. Oh well!
His new book, Reflections in the Ice (buy a copy from his web site, DerekParra.com) was out, and they had lots of copies on hand. His lovely wife and sister were there running the booth behind him. We bought a copy, which he signed for us.
The inscription: Follow your Dreams
Among the various booths, I saw Athens-to-Atlanta, and the Beach Bladers (South Florida). I think there was a New York club there too? Zephyr Inline Tours was there again too (I'd love to take one of their Florida tours someday, if I ever get the chance). Salomon, RollerBlade RollerDerby, Nike, K2, Bont, Hyper, all had their wares out for people to try on.
We didn't really have a chance to try on any new skates this year. Mostly I just glanced over the skates. I don't know if it's just me, but it seems like skates are kind of like where cars are now. All the brands and models seem to look a lot like the others. In the "old" days, I could tell a make and model at a distance purely from the color scheme. But I guess that's because there were so few brands out. I think it's great that there's so much selection now. Perhaps an updated Buying Guide is in order soon.
I didn't see Concept Sports there this year. As you may recall from the Expo last year, Concept Sports was promoting their SmartWheels braking system, which I got a chance to try out. If they were there, I was going to apologize for not getting around to doing a real product review of their SmartWheels system. Maybe next year? (I have since heard from them via email. They've developed an off-the-shelf version of their product now, although it'll only worth with newer skates. My original Rollerblade Aeroblades are just too old and crotchety.)
Anyway, although the Expo was larger this year, it seemed like last year's was more interesting for some reason. Maybe it's just because it was a brand-new event last year. Only the second year and I'm already jaded!
Last year, Disney was a little disorganized in executing the Inline Marathon. But hey, first time for everything right? All is forgiven. In fact, I believe they limited the first year's number of partipants to 1500 specifically so they could work out the problems, before they took on a whole lot more skaters.
This year, I noticed that during the entire weekend, the Disney Wide World of Sports complex area was being shared at the same time with a paintball tournament. When I got to the Expo on Saturday, the big open grassy area that was last year's staging area, was entirely covered by multiple paintball arenas and paintball vendor booths. At first I thought, they had so many inline skate vendors show up, they had to spill over to the outside. But that excitement quickly faded after seeing some signs like "Facefull: In your face in your world", and hundreds of guys walking around in padded gear and paintball guns.
I guess Disney felt confident enough about their improvements that they felt they could hold two very large events simultaneously. The real problem wasn't so much in sharing the space or time (since the inline race was mostly over by the time the paintball events started), as it was that the paintball players left a lot of spent ammo on the ground. It wasn't nice to walk or skate on, and stained the asphalt as well.
The first start time (pro men's) was scheduled for 6:30am. I haven't been to hardly any skate races, so I don't know how racers and their crew typically do things. I don't know if it's just general human nature to dwaddle along, or if it's just part of standard procedure. Last year, Disney race staff had problems getting everyone in their staging areas on time (the phrase "herding cats" comes to mind). Still, it's not like Disney doesn't tell everyone when they need to arrive at the race. The event info clearly states skaters should arrive between 5 and 5:30am. There were quite a few still straggling in even at 6:00am.
This year, they had the staging area on the outer end of the sports complex parking lot. One noticeable improvement was that this year each corral was properly labeled for each skill group, instead of just a single letter like last year (What makes more sense, "A" or "Pro Men's Division"??). I know that seems like such a mundane thing to write about. Yet something as simple as that was not properly done last year, which led to some confusion.
I saw several other improvements as well. They had several tables near the corrals for the skaters to pick up their timing chips (which everyone wore around their ankle I think). They also had a P.A. (public announcement) system and loudspeaker to give out time checks and notices. Much better than last year, where Disney staff had to walk around with megaphones shouting instructions and trying to get racers in their staging areas. Disney also had a baggage claim tent, for skaters to check in their bags or unused gear. An excellent idea, as not everyone did or could drive to the race. Lots of people arrived by bus or taxi.
Also, they had Disney employees (or maybe they were Skate Patrol members?) on bikes lead each wave to the start line. I'm not sure if they had bikes there last year. But a good idea nevertheless.
For skaters, the most welcome improvement this year was probably the removal of the carpet mats an the start and finish line that covered some of the race equipment cables. If you'll recall, last year lots of skaters tripped over the mats. When you've just skated 13 or 26 miles, the last thing you want to have to roll over is this thick carpet.
About every 5-10 minutes, they would announce over the PA the current time and to "Please get in your staging areas". For some reason, the pro skaters seemed to be last to assemble. I guess they like to stay with their coach until the last minute?
Since I spent all my time trying to get photos of skaters in the staging area, the starting line area was already fairly packed by the time I got over there. I had to kind of weasel my tripod and video camera into a good location.
After the national anthem, and introduction of Jennifer Rodriguez and Derek Parra, there were some officials at the front warning the skaters about water on the Boardwalk portion of the course. And then it was race time. Jennifer and Derek did the countdown and each wave of racers took off down the road.
After all the skaters were on their way, the spectators trekked over to the finish area. I set up for some photos of the skaters as they looped through the Sports complex into the second lap of the full marathon.
I camped out at the finish line, hoping to get some good shots of skaters finishing. Sadly, I missed getting pictures of the two best finishes, as far as style was concerned (my very outdated digital camera just can't shoot fast enough). One guy turned backwards and did some nice backwards crossovers as he crossed the line. Another guy did a nice spread-eagle as he zipped through.
Fortunately Disney was nice enough to send me some of the great pictures taken by their photographers.
As many sites (see Bont) and skaters have mentioned, the water from the rain on the Boardwalk was a big problem. Many skaters lost their footing and wiped out. There was apparently more than one pileup too, and many skaters wiping out not once but twice (second lap) on the slippery synthetic boards that make up the Boardwalk. It's good for walking, but not skating! At the first aid tent near the finish line, there were quite a few people being treated for scrapes or cuts. One woman had her hand in a splint.
This excerpt from Team Bont's acount of the race, will give you an idea:
"If you heard anything about this race, you've probably heard about The Boardwalk. For some reason, one of the few wet spots on the race course was a boardwalk about one quarter mile long, made of synthetic materials. The words most used to describe the offending area were "like ice" or "grease". In talking with skaters after the race, most of whom had gone down on the boardwalk, it seems that it was nearly impossible to just roll through the section, let alone stride through it. Skaters falling over one another like bowling pins seemed to be the best description of the scene."
The opinions about the water situation seem to cover the entire spectrum. Some say Disney should never have the course go over anything that can be that slick. Or if so, then they should dry off the surface before the race. The other camp feels that inline skating is very much a road sport, and you're not going to get a perfectly prisitine surface every day. Water, dirt, etc. is all part of outdoor inline skating, and you should learn to skate properly on it.
Personally, I think that Disney could've perhaps done at least something, like bring out the huge blowers (like they do for tennis courts), just as a safety precaution. The synthetic boardwalk planks (which are used instead of real wood, because they are more durable and warp-resistant in the Florida heat and sun) aren't exactly a surface you encounter in normal everyday skating. So while I feel strongly that you should learn to skate on all road conditions, sometimes it's just not possible. Skating on wet pavement is always a real possibility, of course. Even if there's no rain, there might be sprinklers, or someone washing their car, or some puddle somewhere. If you can't handle that, then practice practice practice.
Tony Herring, the guy with the flag skated again this year. He also skated last year's marathon the entire way while carrying a US flag. If you care about this sort of thing, Kathie Fry interviewed him last year about it.
A few things I overheard at the finish line area.
- "I killed a frog". I wouldn't want to be the one to clean those skates!
- "They pointed us in the wrong way!" Apparently some racers got off-course because some of the race staff misdirected them. Oops. This upset a lot of the skaters in the finish area (looked like they were in a pro division), for obvious reasons. I'm not sure what became of it.
- Regarding all the pileups, I heard "I never thought we'd see what we saw today [at the first aid station]" and "more injuries today than all season". Luckily there were ample medical staff on hand. Hopefully next year they will have a plan to deal with water on the course next year.
Overall, I think it was still a great skating Expo and race event. Hopefully, next year's will be even bigger. Of course, my goal is to skate the race myself Some Day, although I guess I will have to give up some of my photo and video opportunities. If I am in good enough shape, I ought to be able to get some decent photos while in the race itself and afterwards (assuming there's no rule against that). But that journey will have to be the subject of a whole different article. For now, I guess I'll just have to settle for writing about it.
See you at the 2005 Disney Inline Skating Marathon!