On Sunday, after months of preparation and dedication, I ran in my first ever marathon, the Walt Disney World Marathon. This is a wildly popular event, with over 25,000 registered participants for the marathon alone this year! Add in the other three races of the weekend and there were over 45,000 participants in the running events at Walt Disney World! Several of these runners were completing either Goofy’s Race and a Half, which entails running the half marathon and full marathon, and Dopey’s Challenge which entails running all four of the races on consecutive days! As cool as those events are, and as much bling as you can earn from them, I did not participate in either one because this weekend was about completing my first marathon and I did not want to cheapen that accomplishment in any way. Furthermore, I now have a next step, if I chose to take it, to strive towards in future years.
Often, Disney is associated with the premium price tag that one must pay for the privilege of visiting a park, buying merchandise, or even participating in a race. But the company does pay attention to the details and very rarely disappoints in the desired quality. The WDW Marathon Weekend was no exception. Yes, there were some areas that could, and should be improved upon in the future, but overall, the entire event was ran quite well.
The Expo: The expo was not nearly the nightmare that I was dreading. This year, vendors and packet pickups were distributed between three buildings at ESPN Wide World of Sports, helping with traffic flow and congestion within the expo. There were signs everywhere directly participants where to go, and I did not have to wait very long in my line for my bib or race shirt. There were also multiple areas dedicated to runDisney merchandise (because this is Disney and they do know how to turn a profit), which made it easier for runners to buy commemorative items and souvenirs from the various events. I could not say no and left the merchandise booth lighter in the wallet, but with two new shirts, a commemorative pin, and decal for my truck. I honestly could have spent more, but I did a good job of sticking to my budget. And honestly, there really is not a thing that I passed on buying that I regret today.
A big-ticket item at the expo was the release of this year’s runDisney New Balance shoes. I get the appeal in the shoes, but maybe not the $400 price tag for them on eBay, but the particular models of the shoes do not treat supinators well, so I did not have to worry about fighting for shoes for Susan or myself. I will say that I know of several people who waited for over six hours to get shoes on Wednesday! And this wait time was with Disney having a pager system for people buying shoes! Absurd!
Every running vendor imaginable was at the expo, and there samples galore. I went to the expo twice, once on Thursday when we arrived, and once on Saturday since I forgot some race fuel and needed something before mile 11 on race day. Both days the crowds were very similar, with the KT Tape booth and the runDisney booths being the busiest by far. I did not buy anything besides some Sport Beans from other vendors, but I did enjoy browsing around We were also able to register Susan, Susan, and Richard (the last two are my best friend’s parents who came to support me) for the Chear Squad gold level at the expo.
Chear Squad: Chear Squad is an excellent example of how Disney can turn everything into a profit. Disney actually sells cheering opportunities for friends and families of runners! It sounds a bit greedy, but with limited space and 25,000 runners, there actually was some value to it. Without Chear Squad, Susan would not of seen me cross the finish line. And that was worth the $65 price tag to her alone. There were other Chear Squad viewing options along the course, but travel to them were next to impossible, and I imagine very few people could make it to multiple locations during the event and actually see their runner. Susan gave up trying and just waited at the finish to see me. Chear Squad members in the silver and above packages also get a swag bag with a waterproof blanket, t-shirt, and Mickey clappers. Susan was glad that she registered for Chear Squad, but thought that Disney should have made better arrangements for travel between viewing locations and should have had someone dry off the bleachers in the viewing areas since it rained the night before. If you are going to charge for seats, they should be somewhat accommodating.
Transportation: This was the biggest catastrophe of the entire event. Susan and I always stay on property when we go to Disney, and there is an internal shuttle service for guests to the parks, resorts, and shops. And on race weekend, there were special shuttles to and from the expo. This worked well for the most part. What did not was race day transportation. I was on my bus to the race by 4:00 am. I was staying at Caribbean Beach, which is near Epcot. I did not arrive to Epcot until 5:07 am! And once you are dropped off, you walk across two of Epcot’s parking lots to a security check then to bag check then the porta potties (if you need them) then have a hike down a service road to the corrals. This was nearly a twenty-minute process, so needless to say, there was no pre-race restroom break.
Also, there was no transportation for resort guests between 5:00 am and 7:00 am, so Chear Squad participants were left to fend for themselves. Susan was able to catch a bus for last second runners, or otherwise she would have missed the first half of the race! A little clearer communication on when and where she needed to be would have been helpful. For future reference, spectators and runners should leave their on Disney property hotel by 3:00 am to accommodate for the transportation issues.
The Race: The race itself was ran about as smoothly as possible. The course was clearly marked, corrals were organized and entry closely monitored, there were frequent medical tents and water stops, refueling stations, and entertainment. Bathrooms on the course were frequent, but there never was many in one location. Corrals were released every three minutes and congestion on the course was not nearly as bad as you would expect for a race of this size. I know some people thought the first few miles were too congested, but what race does not have that issue? There was a constant stream of runners for all 26.2 miles, and it never seemed to be overwhelming at any of the water stations, of which there were twenty-one. Apparently, the medical tents ran out of Biofreeze later in the race, but that is just what I have heard. Bag check might have been the most efficiently ran aspect of any race that I have ever participated in. Locations were separated by last name, so if your last name started with A or B, you went to one tent, C-E, to another, and so on. You were provided a sticker with your bib number and last initial which was used to organize the bags. Dropping my bag off and picking it up took about a combined forty-five seconds.
Weather for the race was not nearly as unbearable as last year’s event. Temperatures were mild, with the temperature at the race start was 62 degrees, but the humidity was at 100% and the dew point was very high as well. I was drenched by mile three, but thank goodness that these numbers dropped throughout the race. By the end of the run, the weather was nearly perfect. I did forget to wear sunscreen, so I had an interesting tan line from my GoPro camera strap, however.
The Course: It is mostly flat, road with the only real inclines on the exit ramps for the parks and the entrance to the Walt Disney World Speedway. There are a couple of narrow spots on the course, but the traffic in those areas was manageable. One of the big draws of the race is that runners get to run through all four Disney parks. And while this is true, the bulk of the miles still come outside of the parks. You also run through ESPN Wide World of Sports and the Walt Disney World Speedway. On the stretches of road outside of the parks, Disney has numerous marching bands, DJ’s, and character meet and greets to keep you occupied. Captain Jack Sparrow, Lilo and Stitch, Jack Skellington Sally, Royal Mickey and Minnie, Pluto, Buzz Lightyear, White Rabbit, Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, Christmas parade reindeer, King Louie, the gravediggers from Haunted Mansion, Dopey, Wreck It Ralph, Belle, Mulan, a green toy army man, and Duffy were the characters that I remember. The line for most of the character meets was insane, so to take a picture, you were definitely would sacrifice some time. My favorite portion of the course was the last three or four miles. Once you entered Hollywood Studios, you had no more lulls. You ran through Hollywood Studios to Disney’s Boardwalk to the World Showcase in Epcot to the finish line. My pace picked up over these last couple of miles and there were several good photos captured over these miles, including one of me high fiving Mickey at the finish!
My Experience: This was my first marathon and I really think that I chose well on the location. I was quite nervous about how my body would react to the event. I chose the WDW Marathon since it would distract me and help keep the negative thoughts at a minimum. For the most part, this strategy worked. I hurt my toe around mile 8 and had to fight that for the rest of the race. Looking at my splits, you can definitely see a rapid drop-off from the point of the injury. I am not sure what happened, but the pain was intense for the entire day and is still a little sore. I do not think it is anything major, but I will monitor it for a couple of weeks to make sure.
If you were to ask me today if I want to do another marathon, I would probably say no, the half marathon is the distance for me. Ask me in a couple of weeks, and I would say that it would be something that I would consider. Ask me in a couple of months, and I would say something along the lines of, “Sure, I know that I can handle the mileage and I need to lower my time.” So we shall see if I attempt another marathon, but as of today, I am just basking in the glory of knowing that I was able to complete this task and live to tell about it!
My five-hour race in just 7:48! Obviously, my marathon video has been edited down. So much of it is such me plodding down a highway, and who really wants to watch that? I will also be doing a recap of the other part of this trip, vacationing at Disney, but for now, I shall leave you with my overall grades of the event.
Swag: A+: Good looking tech shirt, amazing medal, plenty of support along the route. Prior to the race, I was a little bummed that this year’s medal for the WDW Marathon was not as cool as last year’s. But the more that I think about it, I really do think that this medal is on par with last year’s. Maybe that is just my enthusiasm talking, but it is definitely my favorite medal.
Course: A: There was plenty going on to distract runners and incorporating all four Disney parks was fantastic. Runners ran through Cinderella’s Castle, on a race track, through Asia, through Champion Stadium, Downtown Hollywood, across the boardwalk, and through the World Showcase.
Overall: A: Great race that despite a premium charge, it feels like I got good value for my money.