Usually cruising involves a ship, but sometimes people cruise along on their own two feet. Sometimes those very feet take their people into races, and whether literally or officially, races can be a challenge.
Disney World brings up images of rides, castles, princesses, and most of all happy families and children having fun. Most people probably have no idea Disney also sponsors marathons and other races. I would never have known if my daughter and her family hadn’t made plans to come to America from Australia where they live to participate in the Walt Disney World Marathon at Disney World. Of course when that was over we took time for a cruise on the Carnival Magic, sailing out of Port Canaveral which is the closest port to Orlando.
runDisney includes a variety of events throughout the year with some taking place at Disney World in Florida and others at Disneyland in California. Some events include full marathons plus other races. Other events top out at a half marathon. Races go through Disney parks. Disney characters may be spotted along the way and some participants run dressed as characters. Participants get t-shirts and finishers get medals. The marathon at Disney World is one of their biggest events including both half and full marathons as well as other races. Some participants continue on after the marathons are over to another 5k race out on Disney’s Castaway Cay – but they have to take a specific cruise on a Disney ship to get there.
Our daughter ran the full marathon, which was her first full marathon and at 26.2 miles about 6 miles farther than she’d ever run before. Her husband signed on for the Dopey Challenge, which included both the full and half marathons as well as 5k and 10k races. There’s also a Goofy challenge for the half and full marathons. The kids each did one of the children’s races. Age groups for kid’s races started with the diaper derby which barely has to cross the finish line and then 100, 200 and 400 meter races for younger kids with each successive age group running a bit farther. The mile is open to any kids 13 and under who can run that far.
Small children can run with their parents, and for those who don’t there’s a corral at the end where the parent has to have the claim strip that matches the child’s number to retrieve them so no child can leave the pen without a parent and no adult can enter the pen without the claim strip or leave with a child unless the child they take with them matches the number that they have.
The short races run in waves with one following after the other in fairly quick succession. Daniel won his wave in the 200 meter with a personal best and although Hannah was young enough she could have done the 400 meter, she chose the mile instead and made a personal best on her time while crossing the finish line about the middle of the pack – ahead of a lot of kids bigger than her. The boy who crossed first was about twice her size and finished the mile in less than 6 minutes (5:39)
Each race in the runDisney marathon weekend has it’s own unique medal. Participants all get a shirt for each race they entered when they pick up their numbers and everyone who finishes within the allowed time gets a medal. The 2-race Goofy Challenge comes with 3 medals and the 4-race Dopey Challenge with 6 as well as a shirt for each race entered plus one for the challenge. Top finishers earn money as well, but most people run for their own personal reasons with no chance or thoughts of winning. Some even walk the marathon, which is allowed as long as they finish within the maximum time.
Disney characters are a big part of each race and participants can stop for photos with them along the race route. They may not want to wait in line for that, but there are other photo ops along the way and if they choose to buy their photos the race package is combined with any photos they have taken in the park. Race photos are identified through their number bibs which are equipped with tracking and park photos through scanning their cards or wristbands.
Most races started and finished at Epcot, but kid’s races and number pick-ups were at ESPN. Getting there is easiest when staying in a Disney resort, but those who aren’t could take the bus from Disney World to Pop Century Resort and then one from there to ESPN. Cabs are also available, but uber gets you there just as quickly and costs less. Uber or cabs also work for getting to the races from off-site hotels which don’t run shuttles nearly that early. We used uber quite a bit around Orlando.
Safety is always a concern. The half marathon got cancelled due to lightning on a rainy, stormy day. Quite a disappointment to any runners entered in that race. All the runners still get their medals, but those in the Dopey or Goofy challenges don’t get the satisfaction or bragging rights of actually completing all their races. Some participants ran on their own to put in the mileage when the weather cleared enough, but they don’t get any official times or the experience of seeing the Disney characters along the way. Entrants were given a choice of park passes or vouchers for merchandise as a refund for their entry fees.
There was a program to get updates on a runner’s progress through the marathon. People could get alerts through facebook, email, or texts. While helpful to a point, the updates weren’t frequent enough to really know what time a runner would arrive at a specific point. When they do get there odds are quite a few others will pass by at the same time. Runners wearing something that stands out from everyone else certainly makes them easier to spot in a crowd while those wearing the race shirts they were given blend into the multitude. It’s not all that easy for the runners to spot family in the crowd either. We had signs, but just small ones made last minute with colored pens and computer paper and they almost missed us. We didn’t see a lot of encouragement signs at Disney World, but apparently it’s a thing at other races – at least in Australia anyway.
Runners had to walk some distance both to the starting line and back to the parking lot from the finish line. It took quite awhile for them to collect their medals and come out of the finish area.
The runDisney marathon brought about 70,000 people to the area, which of course made not just Disney World, but also nearby parks like Universal far more crowded than they would be during what otherwise would be the off season when all the kids have gone back to school after Christmas break. The best day we had there for getting on rides was the day the half marathon got cancelled. The crowds didn’t show up in the miserable weather so the lines were shorter than any of the other days. Plus they let people in before the park officially opened that day so we got on a couple rides that usually had long waits before any lines had a chance to get started.
If I had it to do over again I’d enter the 5k or 10k. Maybe both in case one got cancelled. It doesn’t matter if you can’t run that far, it’s OK to walk. Plus if you stop for photos with the characters you can rest a bit while waiting in line. This experience did inspire me to start running. Unless Sheri and Aaron do the Disney thing again I may never enter a race, but I can run a full 5k now without stopping. Which isn’t much to a marathon runner, but a lot farther than I ever could before. I was on the track team in High School, but only as a sprinter mainly doing 100 or 200 meters with the max at 400, which seemed quite far to me then. By the time we see the kids again I might even be up to running a full 10k.