This post was written by Kristi, a busy mom of two boys and one boxer dog. She enjoys traveling, running, reading, and eating her husband’s cooking.
Like many other women entering the later part of their 30’s, I found myself drawn to running. The pounding of my feet, the breeze in my face, my favorite tunes blasting in my ears…all did something to clear this foggy brain of mine. The stress just seemed to melt away as the miles ticked on.
My co-worker (I call her my “work wife”) had done some runDisney events in the past. Like everyone else, I thought she was crazy for running 13.1 miles. But now? Now it sounded fantastic. So, in the summer of 2016, I signed up for the Star Wars Light Side 5K and 10K that would take place January 2017.
As the date approached, I felt very confident in my ability to complete the run, as I had just finished my first half marathon. I mostly was concerned about getting up early and making it to my corral in time. I knew some people wore costumes, but I had no idea the lengths to which they actually went. I put together my version of some “costumes,” which were really just Star Wars-themed running clothes.
The morning of the 5K was a chilly one (in California terms anyway). I walked from my Disneyland good neighborhood hotel with my knee-high Yoda socks, as his ears flapped with each step, and quickly found my corral to huddle in with the masses. From the moment my feet crossed that start line, I was hooked. The 5K route first entered the parks through a back entrance of California Adventure. Our first real peek of the parks was the Cadillac Mountain Range of Cars Land. I’ll admit I got a little teary-eyed. And, that wouldn’t be the only time. The race ended near the Disneyland Hotel, just after running through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and a quick photo stop with Chewbacca. I had a permanent smile plastered to my face. Thus began my obsession with runDisney.
That year brought three more runDisney weekends at Disneyland. I was fortunate enough to run the Tinkerbell Pixie Dust Challenge in May (10K and half marathon), the Disneyland Half Marathon in September, and the Super Heroes Infinity Gauntlet Challenge in November (10K and half marathon). Sadly, runDisney announced shortly afterwards that they would be putting all Disneyland running events on hiatus for an indefinite amount of time. Due to new hotel construction that was scheduled to break ground, they felt they couldn’t provide runners with a safe and satisfactory experience. Whether or not this was truly the case, as hotel construction has been scrapped and races have yet to be reinstated, is a hot topic of debate. Give it a Google, if you’d like to read more.
Twenty eighteen was a year of mostly local races for me, with a few “runcations” I was able to work in. I also completed my first full marathon in Los Angeles. With the absence of Disneyland races, my running buddy and I started talking about Walt Disney World. He had a timeshare that was available in January 2019, and proposed the idea of running the WDW marathon. I countered with the Dopey Challenge, to which he reluctantly agreed. The Dopey Challenge, in my mind, is the be-all-end-all of runDisney events. It consists of four races over four consecutive days: 5K, 10K, half marathon, full marathon, for a total of 48.6 miles. Go big, or go home, right?
As I’m writing this, I’m still living off that runner’s high from just a weeks ago, in January 2019. Personally, my family and I found the “magic” in the Magic Kingdom to be lacking (don’t hate us) but really enjoyed the other three parks at WDW. However, the runDisney experience was one we will never forget. From the ease of the expo to the nonexistent lines at security, to the amazing volunteers and cast members, it was an experience that would make Walt Disney himself very proud.
We started marathon weekend with the 5K on Thursday, January 10th. My husband and two boys (aages 7 and 8 ½) also were registered for this race. My husband ended up coming down with the flu the day before. The doctor advised him against running, so he spent the next day and a half in bed. So, that left me and my boys, as our friend was running the 5K with his girlfriend. Now, I was prepared for a copious amount of complaining to come my way…but that never happened. They did complain a little while we were waiting in our corral, as it was a very cold morning. I was complaining right along with them. This was their first experience running this long of a distance, which could have ended in a disaster. Surprisingly, it went better than I ever could have dreamed. My boys run in a manner that fits their personalities to a tee. My older, more cautious, son held my hand the entire time, ensuring he did not get mixed into the crowd. My younger, more daring, son ran and jumped the whole 3.1 miles. It was an experience I will never forget and one of my greatest memories with them. They had a blast, too!
We then completed the 10K on Friday, the half marathon on Saturday, and the full marathon on Sunday. In the end it wasn’t as grueling as I’d feared. I was able to go to sleep each night around 7:30 pm, which left me fairly well rested for the 3:00 am wake-up call each morning.
Now that marathon weekend has passed, I don’t know when my next runDisney event will be. There’s nothing else that compares to running through your favorite place on Earth with others who share your same affinity for all things Mickey. And, it isn’t just the location, or the characters, or the beautiful medals that make runDisney so popular. It’s the community. Fittingly, the crowd support is just as magical as the races themselves. Tons of people come out each morning to cheer you on with their homemade signs, free candy, sunblock, snacks, and water. Most of these supporters are seasoned cheerleaders and come with their own clappers and know to shout out as much encouragement as possible. I often have heard my name cheered by strangers, as they read it off my runner’s bib. Or, I’ve been cheered by the name of the character I’m dressed as. Whatever it takes to get their point across, this crowd is ready to do it!
For those of you thinking, “There’s no way I could run a race” – Disney’s got your back! Or, your feet in this case. Not only are your fellow runners very encouraging and supportive during the races, but they’re there for you all year long through various social media outlets. Former Olympian Jeff Galloway is the official training partner of runDisney. On their website you can find training plans for each of their races. Jeff utilizes timed intervals for your running, a/k/a RUN-WALK-RUN. For example, for a half marathon I prefer to run for nine minutes and then walk for one minute. That’s what’s comfortable for me. For a full marathon, I will run four minutes and then walk 30 seconds. Find what works for you, but don’t feel like you MUST run the whole thing. In fact, since runDisney has a 16-minute per mile pace, many people are able to speed walk the entire race (including the full marathon). All it takes is training. And, in the middle of your training, you just might decide you really enjoy it.