Walt Disney World Inline Skating Marathon 2005
written May 1, 2005
last changed March 28, 2006
Table of Contents:
What's that saying about "good things come in threes"? Well, in the case of the third Disney Inline Skating Marathon, three was not charmed, although opinion seems to vary a bit. This year's marathon took place in May again like last year. According to race director, they moved it from March (as it was in the first year) due to conflicts with baseball spring training and Spring Break.
Last year, on the Friday right before the Marathon weekend, there was a heavy thunderstorm, but then Mother Nature graciously allowed for minimal chance of rain during the Expo and race day. Unfortunately, this year the weather forecasts had 70-80% of thunderstorms during all the wee hours of Sunday morning. And sadly the meterologists were not off the mark. Race time was to have been around 6:00 - 6:30am and people were arriving started at 4am. The race director told everyone during the Expo to do their best anti-rain dance. Suffice it to say that there wasn't enough (roller)rain-dancing.
But before we delve into the rain situation, I'll start with the Expo first as usual and then deal with race day.
As we've done the past two years, we trekked to the Disney Wide World of Sports complex to attend the pre-marathon showcase of skaters and equipment. The Expo was held in the Milk House as usual, which also doubled as the sign-in for all race participants.
The first thing that struck me as we walked up to look over the expo floor was that there were noticeably fewer vendors and exhibits than last year, and even more so compared to the inaugural year.
Here's my standard shot of the show floor:
As you can see, there were noticeably fewer booths than in past years. In fact only Rollerblade and K2 were there to represent the mainstream consumer-level skating vendors. Hopefully the low turnout of skate companies is not a continuing trend. Bont and Powerline were the companies I noticed from the racing side.
The expo schedule included several briefings about the race course and various policies, rules, and so on. Dan Joyce, the race director, lead the briefings and fielded questions from skaters after each session. As rain was an obvious threat even on Saturday, there were numerous questions about rain and what would happen if it did rain on race day. Also, the question of refunds came up. The answer was that there were no refunds period.
There wasn't much particularly outstanding that I saw at the expo. There were bearings, wheels, helmets and other gear for sale as usual. Zephyr Tours and Miami EsKate were there.
This year Derek Parra wasn't there (training for the next Winter Olympics maybe?), but I did see some racers that I recognized from past Disney marathons like the 1st marathon pro women's winner of Team Hyper, Cecelia Baena. Olympians Jennifer Rodriguez and her husband KC Boutiette (also on the US Olympic team) were present. On the expo agenda as usual was Eddy Matzger, who was there as part of the TwinCam booth. Eddy gave a talk around 12:45pm that was a similar to his talk at the first marathon, but not nearly as detailed. The announcer turned it into a psuedo-interview asking Eddy various questions about skating and sports.
I have Eddy's 2005 talk on video, but may be a while before I get it properly digitized for the web site. The one from 2003 (see the previous link) was definitely the more complete version of his talk, so if you've seen that one already then you know what sort of tips he covered.
Eddy was scheduled to give two skating demos at 3:00pm and 5:00pm. He only ended up giving the first demo, as the attendance had dropped quite a bit by 5:00pm (the expo was scheduled to end at 6:00pm). Mostly Eddy wanted to show various ways of stopping, including a gymnastic rollout, t-stops (front and back), and proper skating posture. And lastly he did a few rounds of double-push. I've also got this on video, although he was often skating away at an angle, so it's probably not as good as some of the double-push teaching videos already on the web.
This year there were supposedly 1800 skaters registered for the Marathon, up from last year's 1500 registrants.
The race course for the 2005 marathon seems to be a bit faster than the previous two years. The course leaves the Sports complex, goes behind MGM-Studios, exit out the front of MGM-Studios, then onto the Boardwalk area, into the Epcot World Showcase (countries) out the front of Epcot, and then the last 6 or 7 miles it looks like it's all road until you hit the finish line (or start of the second lap).
The previous route wound through a lot more of the two parks and the Boardwalk area. That presented a much more "technical" race, with lots of bends, potential surface changes, and of course the infamous Boardwalk slippery parts, to deal with. With the last half of the 2005 course being all on the road, I would expect there to be more racing per se, and less navigation of the hazards along the way.
This year I got my rear out of bed earlier and arrived at the Sports complex shortly after 4:15am. As you may remember from last year, I almost ran over a skater sitting on the ground getting her skates on because the parking lot was crippled (each lane was a complete dead-end). This year they wisely had not only created a turn lane out of the last couple parking spots at the end of each row (since the finish line area required the actual end of the rows to be roped off), but there was a volunteer standing there to direct people into parking spaces.
Due to the impending rain, all the parking lot volunteers were already wearing ponchos. Not a good portent. Right about when I stepped out of my car, the first few drops started falling. It wasn't heavy at first, but by the time I grabbed my umbrella and started to walk down the parking row, it started to get a lot worse. Didn't seem like there was any chance for a dry race course. Anyway, I had already gotten up, I figured at worst I would get home with a few dozen pictures of the rain and how wet it was. I didn't hold out much hope of there being anything left to watch as the deluge continued.
I felt bad for those that had to take a shuttle or taxi to the Sports Complex. They had no place for cover when the rain started coming down. Most of them had to take shelter under the baggage claim tent in the parking lot or huddle under shared umbrellas.
A little after 5:00am, the word went around that everyone was to gather in the Milk House, where the race officials were confering about what to do about the race. Plus, it was a good chance to dry off a little bit. The wind was picking up, so it wasn't just raining, it was blowing into your face as well.
After a while, the Milk house main bleachers were packed with some fairly wet and concerned skaters. Thankfully, they got the concession stands opened where people could get hot coffee and something to eat even. Also, a few towels were made available for those caught without any rain gear on.
In some web forums I saw people complaining that there was no shuttle provided to get to the sports complex. Disney had specified in the race materials that there would be transportation at that time of day from Pop Century specifically for the race, but I have no way to verify if that was true or not. I saw several buses and lots of the smaller shuttle buses that morning.
When the race officials finally declared that the race was converted into a fun roll, there were a lot of wet and disappointed skaters. Originally the premise was that the lightning was bad (which it definitely was at the peak of the storm), and they were not about to send the skaters out to get zapped. But then as morning started to dawn the main reason seemed to be the focus on the wet course. They stated multiple times that the skaters' safety was their main concern, and therefore it was to be a fun skate in order to avoid pileups of people unused to skating on wet terrain.
Unfortunately this meant most of the top pro racers didn't skate since the race had no bearing on their rankings. A lot of the advanced skaters went away disappointed as well, not wanting to put their expensive equipment out on the wet course just for a fun roll. I don't typically follow inline racing, but it is my understanding that most races take place rain or shine, and it was stated in Disney's own race info:
The Walt Disney World¨ Inline Marathon will take place rain or shine. Rain contingency will include a course modification for the safety of all skaters.
So Disney's decision didn't seem to win any favors in the racing community. However, opinion seems to vary.
- Why it should be cancelled: the Disney course (i.e., the Boardwalk, etc.) when wet, with elite skaters in a pack might be a recipe for pileups and injuries. The less skilled (non-pro) skaters will also suffer for it, having little or no experience on rain. Make it a fun roll and everyone can relax and still have a good time skating. Even though nothing was at stake, the pros that did skate still made a good competition out of it.
- Why it should be held rain or shine: Pro racers have skated in the rain before. That's part of the sport. Falling is also part of the sport. Everyone has to adjust accordingly. We didn't spend all this money to travel to a race just for a fun roll.
Even though this race wouldn't count in any type of points or standings (for the serious skaters), there was still lots of good skating to be had, judging by the number of skaters that stuck around for the fun roll. After all, how often do you get to skate on Disney property anyway? Just once a year! And for hundreds of skaters, the only standings that counted was their own personal best time, or simply to finish.
Just to put the debate into perspective, pictured below is Mark Farnsworth of Gatorback Skate who decided to skate in the marathon anyway, even with a busted knee. He fashioned a makeshift splint to keep his leg from bending.
That devotion to the sport is worthy of a completely unsolicted product plug for his product called the GatorLeash. GatorLeash is Mark's invention, in the form of a strap that you attach to your skate to let you pull your toe up, to give you even more braking leverage. As you may have read in my Stopping Techniques, I'm a big advocate of the brakepad (costs the least to use and stops you without sacrificing stance or control), so the GatorLeash is right up my alley. Anyway, read his 2005 Disney marathon story.
I didn't realize it at the time, but after Eddy Matzger finished first in the pro men's division, he hung out at the medals rack giving out medals to everyone. I hate it when I miss a photo-op. Next year, maybe I will have to wear skates while I shoot.
Dealing with the Rain
I've read various ideas online on what should or could be done to correct, what many thought was a bad experience at the 2005 Disney Inline Marathon. Many were upset at having spent so much money to travel here only to get rained out. Others were just happy to be here, rain or shine, competitive or non-competitive event. Hey, if you're going to be rained out, might as well be at Disney World, no? There's no shortage of other things to be doing.
These are some ideas that posters in various skating forums have suggested (so don't give me the credit, other than for noting it here):
- Dual courses: One thought is to have two courses, one for a fun skate, one for racing. This addresses the two main types of skaters: pros and fitness/recreational skaters. Those that just want to race, scenery be damned, can go the pro route.. And everyone else wants to skate this course because it's a chance to skate through Disney World.
- Backup Race Day: Many people suggested Saturday morning should be race day, with Sunday as the backup date. The problem is then the Expo would probably have to be on the Friday before. Plus the All-Star Kids Classic is held on the Saturday during the Expo. But this would give the race at least two chances to score a dry day to race on. But if race day was Saturday, then Saturday night would be a great time to have lots of post-race events and get togethers.
- Contigency (Rain) Course: There was supposed to be an alternate race course according to the race information. They could easily shorten the race course to just the roadways and completely bypass hazards like the Boardwalk or the parks and resorts. In the 2005 race course there's a very long stretch that is all on the road. They could've had an alternate course that simply looped around the roads already closed off for the race anyway. I guess that would make it less than a full marathon, but does that matter? Everyone skates the same distance.
- Guest recovery: I'm surprised that Disney stuck to the "no refunds" policy so stringently. At the very least, a voucher/discount towards next year would've been a nice gesture, and help ensure people come back again. Disney already got revenue from lodging and meals, surely a full or partial refund of the $70 is small potatos. There are so many stories that I hear from cast members about bad guests that complain for no reason and still get complimentary meals/tickets or room discounts, it's crazy that for a legitimate reason (i.e., race cancellation) that affected thousands of people (if you count skaters and family and friends) that they wouldn't show the world-class customer service that is normally the hallmark of Disney.
On the flip side, how great would it have been for everyone, if the pro skaters put on their beat-up skates (don't they have skates they can wear just to goof off in?) and skate a leisurely marathon with the regular janes and joes that were skating in the recreational or advanced groups. You know, help encourage others to enjoy and support the sport, instead of just taking off. I know they're all elite athletes and such, but a gesture like that would've gone a long way. That would've maybe transformed a disappointing event into one for everyone remember.