We'd been wanting to run the Celebration half since its inaugural year, and thanks to its generous bib transfer policy, we were able to make it happen in 2016. After delaying registration so long that the race sold out (which it does every year) we thought we'd missed the opportunity to run. A desperate Internet search led us here http://www.celebrationmarathon.com/faqs.html and ultimately to the Celebration Marathon Facebook page where injured runners were looking to transfer their bibs to those in need. We gave into The Man, signed up for a Facebook account, and found bibs in less than 24 hours. Two weeks later we toed the starting line at Celebration.
The race expo was held at Celebration Town Hall from 5 pm to 8 pm on Friday and 10 am to 6 pm on the Saturday before the race. Parking was easily accomplished in the parking lot designated for the recreation fields just behind town hall. Packet pickup was wisely split into three places within the building complex. Bib pickup was held at tables outside, shirt pickup in one room inside, and beach towel pickup in another. The two indoor spots were filled with vendors like Bondi Band, Sparkle Skirts, The Running Sticker, Raw Threads, at least one vendor selling running supplies like gels and compression apparel, some local chiropractors, and more.
Upon entering the town of Celebration, we were shocked by the size of the place. It truly is a town, and it has traffic like just about everywhere else in Orlando. Be prepared to crawl down the main drag (Celebration Ave) to get to the expo.
We said this last month when we ran the Disney Marathon: accommodations in Orlando are practically limitless. Your options near Celebration are varied. Runners willing to stay for at least two nights can roll out of bed and to the starting line if they stay at the Grand Bohemian. Book early to reserve a room at one of the special marathon rates. The second closest option is the Melia Orlando which is located about one mile from the race start. Again, runners who can stay two nights should book early to reserve a room at marathon rate. Both these hotels are normally quite costly, and the special rate makes both very doable.
Being late registrants to the race, we could not stay on either of these properties. There are still numerous lodging options within five miles of the race start. We stayed at the Comfort Suites Maingate, which was nestled inside the mania of Old Town and its fun park. Be prepared for traffic congestion if you stay anywhere in this area. Fortunately, you won't encounter much traffic at 6 am on race morning, so arriving at race start should not be a problem.
While we were a little scared about finding parking a reasonable distance from the race start, we need not have worried. Our recommendation to everyone is to park on Golfpark. One side of the street is designated for runners, while the other side has parallel parking spots and is open to traffic. Runners who can park on Golfpark close to Sycamore will have a quick few blocks to walk down Sycamore directly to the starting line. This will also keep you and your car off Celebration Ave through the main part of town and away from all that congestion. Few runners were parked on Golfpark when we arrived about 35 minutes before the race began, leading us to conclude that this parking area is an overlooked gem.
Places to Eat
We said this a few weeks ago, as well. Dining options in Orlando are also limitless. To narrow things down here are some options. Your race packet will include a plethora of coupons with a few for use at Celebration dining establishments. One Italian restaurant was offering pasta plates for $10. Scared of possible throngs of people waiting to gorge themselves on inexpensive pasta, we met up with some local friends at Little Italy (2901 Parkway Blvd). Food was good (if service was a bit cool), the prices were reasonable, and the location was right across the street from Celebration's main entrance.
The course began and ended in slightly different locations near Lakeside Park in Celebration. Both port-o-lets and the local pool restrooms were open for use before and after the race. Prior to the start, wait times for a toilet were about ten minutes, so plan accordingly. A bag drop was set up in front of the AMC theater on Front Street, mere steps from the starting line. We discovered later that the marathon collected clothes that were dropped near the start, and those were neatly folded and grouped by color for people to easily retrieve at bag drop upon finishing. One of us got back his boring gray thermal, while our other bright purple fleece must have been snatched up by a cold spectator.
The race began on time after a singing of the National Anthem. Runners were treated via the course to a tour of beautiful Celebration and its charming homes. Surfaces were varied and runners traversed sidewalks, road, and even boardwalks. While crowd support wasn't massive, it wasn't measly, either. (Keep in mind we ran Disney a few weeks ago, so our perspective is skewed.) The finish line in particular was packed with cheering fans against the backdrop of downtown Celebration and accompanied by a live band. Numerous intervals along the course kept runners entertained with signs like, "Always give 100%, except when giving blood," or, "Your pace or mine?" We chuckled regularly and were grateful to whoever took the time to stick all these signs in the ground. We were also grateful to the many volunteers who were doling out water and Gatorade, which were available every one to two miles. At some point along the course gels and orange slices were also available.
After running around one last lake, runners headed back around Front Street (passing bag drop) and to the finish line on Market Street. More gracious volunteers were on hand to distribute finisher medals, water, muffins, Clif Shots, Clif Bars, soda, oranges, and bananas. One delightful surprise at Celebration was the Heat Sheet alternative, a disposable, one size fits all Celebration jacket.
The post-race party was one of the most generous and entertaining we've attended. Each registered runner of drinking age received a bracelet, which opened up access to mimosas and beer. In order to partake in both beverages and food, runners needed to show their bibs in order to receive a card. The card listed all the vendors and allowed them to mark when a runner had visited their tent and used up their allotment of food or drink.
All this was set against the picturesque views of Lakeside Park. Spectators and finishers alike could not only view runners as they raced their final quarter mile around the lake, but they could also watch the finish on Market Street. Steps leading down to the lake made for good seating and stretching and offered up the aforementioned views, in addition to prime seating near the band.
Don't miss the chance for free photos in a little nook on Market Street. Taken against some Celebration "wallpaper," runners posed for three shots and received a printed photo within seconds.
The Celebration course was flat, fast and pretty. In addition to a killer post-race party, the race has a generous bib transfer policy. This policy allows those unable to run to get their money back, and those who want to run the opportunity to do so. Celebration is a modestly sized race that provides runners with a big race experience (or even better than a big race, truth be told). There's no reason not to sign up and a zillion reasons to.
Tips for Running a Successful Celebration Half Marathon
- Be somewhat cautious on the boardwalks while running. There were many turns and we had heard rumor of the boardwalks being slippery when wet with morning dew or frost.
- Park on Golfpark. Easy in, easy out. Enough said.
- Bring your appetite. The food and drink offerings offerings are plentiful.