Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend – A Family Event

img_6952By Jonathan Black

Recently my family and I participated in the 2020 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. This race weekend happens every year on the second week of January and is runDisney’s headlining event that kicks off their running year. The weekend consists of four events and kids runs. The separate events are a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and a full marathon. The kid runs are a diaper dash for crawlers, 100m, 200m and a 1 mile. There is also the option to run Goofy’s Race and a half challenge which consists of the half marathon and the full, or for the ultimate endurance event, the Dopey Challenge which is all four events.

There is a runners expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports where runners come to get their credentials such as their bibs, and t-shirts. There are numerous vendors there that sell gear for runners, as well as official runDisney race weekend merchandise. There are also special weekend eating options, as well as special guest speakers that help with running tips and other advice suited to runners. There is a showcase of runDisneys events for the year, which always features a medal display so that participants can see what their medal will be when they finish.

img_6950Everyone in our family ran in an event that weekend, my sons ran the 5k, my wife did the half marathon, and our daughter ran the 200m kids race. I participated in the Dopey challenge, which meant that I ran all the races. The weekend calls for very early starts to your morning every day. I was awake every morning no later than 2:30 and out of our hotel by 3:30 most mornings, except the day of the full which was closer to 3am. We stayed at the Best Western Lake Buena Vista, which is a Disney Springs hotel and on property. However, it does not offer race transportation to the start lines or to the expo. It was a cost saving measure by me for our family this time; but I recommend staying at a Disney resort as they have transportation to all areas for the races.

The staging area for the start line is akin to a cattle sale. Every race has over ten thousand runners, with this years half topping twenty thousand. That’s a lot of people to stage and get going! Every race has what’s known as a wave start, that is divided up by corrals. The corrals are seeded by submitting a proof of time from a previous race and the better the overall result in time the higher placement you receive. All events with the exception of the 5k are timed and have to be completed within a certain time. Runners are expected to keep a 16 minute per mile pace, otherwise they will be pulled from the course and shuttled to the finish area.

img_6951All events start in the Epcot parking lot and finish there as well. There are character meet and greets before, during, and after the race. The 5k strictly runs through Epcot, seeing backstage areas and all of world showcase along the way. Generally there are four character stops in the 5k, all of which are usually rare characters that are not seen in the parks any more. My boys and I were able to meet Chip and Dale dressed in their Rescue Rangers outfits along the way. The 5k is always the most relaxed of the events due to it being a fun run and not being timed. It’s the easiest event for a newcomer to complete and offers a great window in what to expect from the other events that are longer distances. My boys and I had so much fun together and laughed, sang and enjoyed the sights and sounds of Epcot early in the morning.

The 10k I have seen with multiple variations, it’s one distance that changes more frequently than the other events when it comes to its route. Lately it’s mostly stuck to an all Epcot course, where in times past it has gone through Hollywood Studios and Epcot. It usually has around five or six character stops along the course and offers a few aid stations along the way to keep you hydrated. It’s probably my favorite distance of all that are offered during any of the race weekends because of how short it is but how it can still be a challenge to finish with a good time.

img_6954The half marathon hasn’t changed in the multiple times I have completed it. It follows an out and back route that starts on Epcot Center Drive, takes a turn up World Drive, goes through the Magic Kingdom, and back down to Epcot where you come in through future world and exit out the backstage area of World Showcase to the finish line in the parking lot. It and the full marathon are the only routes where you get to run through Cinderella’s castle, and down Main Street USA. The time of year is perfect for this race also because the castle always has the Christmas lights still on as well as Main Street still has all the decorations up. There is no other experience quite like running through the castle and it is something that if you have the desire to put in the training to experience I highly recommend. I loved doing this race with my wife, I have helped her train for it as it was her first half marathon. It was a lovely experience to cross the finish line, hand in hand knowing we did it together.

The marathon is a beast all its own. In the United States .5% of the population runs a marathon every year. The course at Disney is a Boston qualifier and there are dozens of finishers that qualify for Boston every year during marathon weekend. The marathon is the only race that goes through all four parks and this year included a portion that went through Blizzard Beach water park. There are many character stops along the way with the marathon, as well as multiple water stops and stops that will have nutrition that are either Sport Beans, which is an electrolyte fuel, and a stop that has bananas. The course time limit for the full marathon is seven hours from the time the last person crosses the start line. In most instances the marathon is generally finished by 1pm. This was my first marathon that I completed. I had previously trained for it twice but wasn’t able to make the trip due to other circumstances I couldn’t control. Running a marathon puts your body through the most physically demanding rigors that it will likely ever experience. Running one at Disney World is a great distraction from all of that because you have the joy of being able to see and experience the parks in a way that you could not otherwise. I am humbled that I was able to push through the walls and become a marathoner and it was all the better because my family was at the finish line to see it happen.

img_6958Should you participate in a runDisney event? I can’t answer that for you, but I will say there is no other race experience like it that I have found. Is it expensive? Of course, but it’s Disney and that is something that is to be expected when it comes to what they offer. Here are a few things I want to mention. If you want to register make sure you do it early as the races always sell out. Some sell out earlier than others such as the Princess Half Marathon events that occur in February. That race usually sells out the day of registration. You can always go through an approved runDisney travel agent and they can handle all the details of the registration, tickets and dining just like any other vacation you would book through a Disney agent. My family and I did visit the parks each day except for the day of the half marathon because I needed to be in bed early for the marathon the following day. When running an event, especially a challenge, it’s a good idea to walk around the parks for a little bit after the race. But you need to be back at your resort no later than 7pm to be sure you are rested for the next early wake up. There are Photopass photographers along the course and at the finish line to get pictures of you while you are running, in addition they are also at the character stops as well. If you purchase memory maker for your trip your race photos will be included once you link them to your My Disney Experience account. One piece of advice that I would give is that I would not recommend attempting a challenge event if you have not completed a half marathon before. You can wind up getting injured or needing medical attention and missing out completely on finishing. I say pick a shorter distance to start with such as the 5k or 10k and work your way up by training properly to assure you finish strong. I hope to see you out there at one of the events, my next one will be Star Wars Rival Run Weekend. Happy Running!