Very early in my racing career, a friend told me about the ‘Mickey Marathon’ at Disney World in Orlando. Just a few months earlier, October 15, 2005, I had completed my very first race, the Tom Walker Half Marathon in Micanopy, FL, and became totally enamored with racing. When I learned that Disney World held both a marathon and a half marathon in January, I enthusiastically signed up for the half marathon; in January of 2006, I finished the race and received my Donald Duck Half Marathon medal. I was hooked. The medals are so large and impressive, especially compared to some of the smaller more nondescript ones I had managed to accumulate during my first year of racing, that I when I decided to try to walk my first full marathon, I made sure that it was the ‘Mickey’ at Disney.
Then, in 2008, I signed up for the Goofy, a duet of both races, the half on Saturday and the full on Sunday. That resulted in three big medals, three technical shirts – and lots of bragging rights. But some people, not to be outdone, decided to go for one more race, the family 5k that was held the Friday before the longer events. These people (and I feel sure most of them were Maniacs) said they were doing ‘the Dopey.’ The Run Disney people must have caught wind of these high-achievers and decided to expand the races over the 2014 marathon weekend to include a 5k, a 10k (new this year), the half, and the full – and people who chose to do all 4 races would collect (after completing the series) SIX medals (one for each race plus the Goofy – since they were doing both the half and the full – and of course a special Dopey medal).
Usually on the second weekend in January, I drive to Mobile, AL, to do the First Light Marathon, one of my favorites. However, I decided to pass on Mobile this year so I could accept the Dopey Challenge for its inaugural running. Seven thousand runners and walkers signed up for the Dopey; I’m not sure how many actually finished the whole series but it sure seemed like there were quite a few of us. There were many Marathon Maniacs as well. The race series turned out to be a great, if expensive, decision, and I returned home on Monday tired but satisfied.
But I am getting ahead of myself. My husband and I began our journey to Orlando on Wednesday and arrived at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, site of the health and fitness expo, around noontime. There were hundreds of people even this early on the very first day, but, hey, I reminded myself, this is Disney, I’d better get used to it. Signage was excellent and there were plenty of volunteers to direct us to the proper spots to get my six tee shirts, two bibs, and a goody bag. Five of the tee shirts were long-sleeve technical shirts in a variety of colors, one each for Minnie, Donald, Mickey, Goofy, and Dopey. The 5k shirt was a short-sleeve cotton tee in lime green, with Pluto on the front. Sizes for the tech tees were gender specific so they actually fit. For the non-gender specific cotton shirt, Disney wisely sized women down a size automatically so those shirts fit as well. Pretty smart!
I was disappointed in the expo. In previous years, I remembered there were dozens of booths and tables with all sorts of enticing things to buy and displays of races from all over the country and the world. I could find all kinds of new and unusual items I wanted or didn’t realize I wanted until I saw them on display. I would always locate the Injinji display so I could stock up on my favorite socks. This year there were no Injinjis, displays for just 2 other races (other than Disney ones), and very few items of interest. The one item I really wanted to try was the New Balance 890 version 4 shoes, since the other NB 890’s are so comfortable and lightweight. Imagine my surprise when I was told – on the first day of the expo – that they were all out of my size.
Each day there were a number of talks and panel discussions on everything from sports bras to good running form to race nutrition. The only talk I really wanted to hear was the 2 pm talk on the Dopey. We were supposed to wear the first of our two bibs (with chips on the back) for the 5 and 10k races and after we completed each of the shorter races, we were to visit the Dopey tent to get our wrist bands attesting to our finish. For the half and full marathons, we had to wear the second Dopey bib and visit the Dopey tent once again at the conclusion of our half marathon to get our next wrist band. We kept the 3 wrist bands on our arms until we completed the full marathon, at which point we received our 3 remaining medals (Mickey, Goofy, and Dopey).
Because of the generous time limits – 3.5 hours for the half and 7 for the full, beginning after the last person in the last corral crossed the starting line – I was not at all nervous about these races. I knew I wouldn’t get lost, there are too many people and lots of signs and cones. There are also plenty of portapotties and water stations. My only concern was whether I could tolerate the long hours of waiting until the start of each race. Bus transportation began about 2-2.5 hours before the start of each race, and since I always like to be on one of the first buses, it meant I had a lot of standing and waiting. That, for me, was the hardest part of each morning. Watching runners dressed up in costume as Disney characters made fun and more palatable. Still, my muscles were pretty tight for several miles.
Weather was fairly decent all four days. Orlando in January can be pretty unpredictable; during my three previous Disney World races, I experienced freezing cold weather as well as hot and humid. This year we had some rain and drizzle during the 5 and 10k races but nothing intolerable. During the half marathon, the temperature rose to the upper 70’s with high humidity but I enjoyed that. The coldest day was Sunday; my teeth were chattering by the time my corral started, but for the majority of the race the temps were comfortable, with sun and a cool breeze.
All the races began and ended in the Epcot parking area. The courses for the shorter races stayed in the Epcot area while the half marathon wound around to the Magic Kingdom, through Tomorrowland and Cinderella Castle (neat!), and then back to Epcot. The full marathon followed the same course as the half for the first 8 miles, except for a brief detour around the Disney World Speedway, and then proceeded to Animal Kingdom. Some people even decided to ride Expedition Everest (the park was not open yet so there were no lines). Then it was on to Wide World of Sports where we did several miles around the track and around the infield of the Atlanta Braves spring training baseball diamond. The final 3-4 miles took us into Hollywood Studios, around the Epcot resorts, and finally through Epcot itself to the finish line.
There was plenty of water and Powerade for finishers and we were all given a box of food (chips, cheese, Craisins, a protein bar, and a banana). Buses back to our resort left promptly each day, although after marathon, we had to wait quite a bit to get through several traffic jams.
It was a relief each day to cross the finish line for each race. If I had my way, I would have chosen to do the longest race first, followed by the half marathon, and then the shorter races. That would have been easier on me mentally and possibly easier on my body as well. However, I managed to come through all four races with minimal wear and tear on my muscles. The only problem I had was with small pebbles getting in my shoes during the races. These excoriated my toes and became very painful. If I had my gaiters with me, I would have worn them.
Since my goal was to finish each event with a decent time (because of crowds I did not expect a PR in any of the races), I was pleased with my finishing times:
- 5k – 38:23
- 10k – 1:19:40
- Half – 2:52:00
- Full – 5:59:05
We stayed at the Beach Club Resort at Epcot and were very pleased with our room. Cast member Taylor helped us get a quiet room on a higher floor (originally we had a room near the elevator on the 2nd floor) so I was able to get some rest before the races. Our attractive room had a refrigerator and coffee pot and was light and airy.
For snacks, we had brought with us a cooler with string cheese, crackers, chocolate milk, a bottle of wine, and granola bars. This helped us with between-meal munchies, but every day we had a reservation for a real sit-down meal at a fun restaurant. We concentrated on breakfasts and lunches, since dinners were much more expensive. Our list of restaurants included:
- Big River Grille & Brewing Works (on the Boardwalk)
- Biergarten Restaurant (a German buffet with floor show – in Epcot)
- Crystal Palace (a character breakfast buffet with Pooh and friends – in the Magic Kingdom)
- Rose & Crown Pub (lunch – in Epcot)
- Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (in Norway section of Epcot – a Princess buffet)
- Cape May Café (a character breakfast buffet – with Minnie, Goofy, and Donald – in the Beach Club Resort at Epcot)
We enjoyed every meal – food and service were excellent.
After each race, we visited the parks, concentrating on one a day except for Friday even though we had Park Hoppers and could have jumped around if we wanted to. It was just easier to take on one park each day. Since I don’t like fast rides or roller coasters we selected the more sedate rides and shows: the Great Movie Ride, It’s a Small World, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, and the like. These were all my old favorites so it was fun to revisit them.
- Courses are fun, with entertainment, music, characters, and attractions
- Aid stations are plentiful (even the 5k had 2 water stations) and in the marathon several offered gels and bananas
- Lots of medical stations, with Vaseline, Biofreeze, and personnel to help out
- There were plenty of volunteers and cast members to help out, cheer, and provide directions and information
- People are friendly and easy to talk to while waiting in the holding area and in the corrals. This helps while away the time
- It is impossible to get lost
- Time limits are generous
- You can’t beat those great medals
- Even with the thousands of people, there is terrific organization and crowd control
- It’s Disney!
- Lots and lots of people. Not everyone gets placed in the appropriate corral, either because they don’t know their pace (Disney is a first race for lots of people) or they expect to do better than they have in the past. As a result, slower runners and walkers will act as a break. People also do this race in groups and it is hard to maneuver around them. I found myself trying to keep my usual steady pace, only to come up short behind slower runners who are tightly packed
- There is some shoving and pushing and stepping on heels. At least most of the people who barreled into me apologized but several did not. I heard complaints from others about the same behavior. Fortunately this did not happen often
- The course is occasionally narrow in parts, with various obstacles. Verbal warnings and signs alert racers to speed bumps and tight corners, but progress is slowed as a result
- Expo did not have the variety of resources I expect to see at a big event
- It’s expensive – but rather than cut corners, it is best to bite the bullet and try to budget your expenses for a great experience (see suggestions below)
There are several things to remember when planning a Disney race weekend:
- It’s a good idea to sign up early for the event you wish to do. Almost all races sell out quickly and the most popular ones can fill up within a few weeks. If you hesitate too long, you may find yourself out of luck
- The races are horrendously expensive; even with my Disney Visa discount, the Dopey Challenge cost over $500. I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it but the sticker shock is considerable
- Race weekend is expensive – be sure to take into account not only the cost of the race or races but also the added expenses of park tickets (you will want these and so will your family members), hotel accommodations, and meals. Sure, you can save money by staying off-property and snacking in your room – but to fully savor the Disney experience, it’s best to stay at a Disney resort, take advantage of Disney transportation, and enjoy the myriad tasty meals available at exceptionally good restaurants. But it all costs – a lot
- Make your dining reservations as early as you can. We made ours months ahead of time and had no waiting at all. In several cases we arrived early and were able to get seated right away
- This is one time when I do wear my tee shirts and medals (yes, all 6 of them) after the races. People will stop to congratulate you and other participants will commiserate with you about the aches and pains and sore legs and feet. It’s all part of the fun!
Definitely a must for walkers – especially if you enjoy Disney.