I have two obsessions: Running, and all things Disney. Lucky for people like me there is the Run Disney series of races at the Disney parks. The granddaddy of them all, the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend is fast approaching. After seeing several posts over the last few weeks about people training for the WDW marathon (or the Goofy and Dopey challenges) I thought I’d put together some tips on the event. I am generally going to stick to the marathon itself, but many points can be applied to the other events as well (5K,10K, and half).
· When to vacation? Ok, it might be a little late for this one (and the next one!), but unlike most marathons, a Disney marathon generally has a vacation attached to it. A vacation with a lot of walking! So, do you plan your trip with the marathon at the beginning or at the end of the trip? I think it depends on your level of intensity for running. I need to do the run at the start, because I know I won’t be able to relax all week with a race hanging in the future. Others prefer to run at the end so they can walk the parks without post-marathon stiffness impeding walking through the parks. I can see the logic in both, so make a choice that works best for you. To me the choice comes down to two factors: The week of walking and standing leading to the marathon draining you of some of your running energy vs. gimping around a day or two afterwards.
· Where to stay? My advice here is the same for all Disney trips. Stay at a Disney resort on property. Disney resorts immerse you in the magic 24/7, plus all transportation needs are taken care of, leaving one less thing to worry about. For some Run Disney events, only certain resorts (called host resorts) provide transportation to the expo and races; however, for marathon weekend just about all Disney Resorts should be included. Resorts will have a designated area for bus transport to the expo and races; it is usually close to, but not necessarily in the same area as the park transport buses. The pick-up area is clearly marked with a sign, but it’s a good idea to check with the front desk to be sure of location.
· The Expo is really cool. For one thing, it’s an excuse to see the Wide World of Sports Complex, Disney’s beautiful multi-sport venue. The expo has the usual things, pack pick-up, chip testing, and vendor booths. They also have ongoing presentations by pillars of the running community, and of course a huge area to shop for marathon weekend souvenirs. Bring your family too, they have nice area where loved ones can make their own signs to cheer you on with!
· Don’t count on much sleep before the marathon. The Disney buses pick up at the resorts insanely early, like 3am early. You can try to make up for it by hitting the sack extra early, but that is tough to do at Disney. I remember going to bed at like 8:30, only to be awaken by Illuminations outside my balcony, I of course got up to watch and I don’t think I slept much after this. The good news is that most research has shown that rest the previous night has the bigger pay-off, so make sure you get plenty Friday night.
· There is a lot of downtime at the start. The buses will get you there plenty early for gear check, then you will wait in a holding area before they open the gates to the start corrals. My advice, pick a spot you can sit or lay down and just chill. In typical human crowd fashion people will start piling up at the gate and soon just about everyone is standing in pack like Black Friday shoppers waiting for Wal-Mart to open. Don’t get caught up in the frenzy, use this time to relax and conserve energy. The starting line isn’t going anywhere and there is no prize for being first to your corral. Once the gate opens to the corrals, there is a lengthy walk to each corral. The lower the letter, the longer the walk (my walk to the A corral was at least a half mile). Once you get to your corral, you will have some more downtime. Plenty of time for warm-ups or another chill-session.
· There are clothing donation boxes at the corrals. It can be chilly before sunrise, even in central Florida. If you want to stay warm before the race, but don’t want to run with you warm-ups on, I recommend wearing old sweats or long sleeve shirt and just stuff it in a donation box prior to the start. The Run Disney folks then donate all articles of clothing placed in the boxes after the event.
· The start is spectacular. Music, characters, fireworks. The start is awesome! It is also staggered, every few minutes a wave starts and the corrals move up. It is quite a lengthy process. Somewhere around mile 3 or 4 the course doubles back to near the start area and I could see waves of people still crossing the start area!
· Make sure fun is your priority on this race. Disney goes all out on this event. Christmas lights in the parks. Music, characters, and cast members cheering you on when you are not in the parks. There are lots of photo opportunities throughout, including with many hard to find characters. Character photo spots will have Disney photographers to take official race photos, but will also be happy to take one with your camera or phone if you ask. Although it is possible to run a PR at this race, I’d save such lofty goals for other marathons and just enjoy the sights, sounds, and uniqueness of this event.
· Make sure your supporters have a plan too. The Run Disney website has a spectator guide to help your loved ones find places to watch you run. They can utilize Disney buses to get to spectator locations, including the finish outside EPCOT. We stayed that the Boardwalk Resort, so my family literally just stepped outside to see me hit mile 25. There are reunion tents at the finish area where they can find you after the race. Buses run continuously to take you all back to your resort.
· Wear your finisher medal with pride in the parks. You worked hard for it, so get some mileage out of it! Wearing you medal won’t give you free admission to the parks (once upon a time it did), but you will get showered with praise by cast members who will be sure to commend you on your accomplishment. It will also let people know why you are clenching the rail with both hands as you gently descend the stairs heading to Jungle Cruise!
· Although this race is about fun, respect the distance. No doubt this race is a lot of fun, but don’t forget, it is still 26.2 miles. You will be achy and sore. It will take you longer to walk the parks and exiting some attractions will be difficult. Let your family know in advance that you may not be your usual spry self for a day or two and may need a few extra breaks in the day.
Hopefully this helps our JunkEe representatives at the WDW marathon have a more magical experience. If there is something I didn’t cover or have a general running or Disney question, feel free to email me any time at email@example.com .
About the author: Craig Weyrich is a Physical Therapist and USATF certified coach (with a totally healthy Disney obsession) in Yorkville, Illinois.
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