Earlier in the week, fellow TouringPlans blogger Caroline wrote a post that included some great tips for folks who are running in the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. Like myself Caroline has become a runner in the past year. She’s a bit more advanced than me because while she’s running the Half Marathon in just two days time, I feel that I am not quite ready to run a Half Marathon. I’m planning for the 2012 Half Marathon to be my first.
Now, while I’m not running this weekend as I spaced on the 5K registration and missed it. I plan to be on property cheering on the runners to the best of my ability. If you’ve been following my posts in the past year, especially my recent thank you post, you may already know that seeing the 2010 WDW Half Marathon along with encouragement from several friends is what got me to get out and start running myself.
But the big question on the mind of many folks who are planning to be in WDW this weekend for the event, specifically those who are not running, is how do they support the runners. Well I have some experience in that department. Last year I went to cheer at the WDW Half Marathon for fellow TouringPlans staffer Katie and her now husband Ed. It was a mad crazy day that consisted of going to sleep very early the night before, and getting up at 2am to be parked at Epcot by 3am – I live about 30 minutes from WDW.
You’re probably wondering right off the bat why so early? However before I answer that lets back up a bit, and talk about the weekend itself. Marathon weekend is a 4 day event that in 2010 is running from Thursday January 6th through Sunday January 9th. You can find a basic schedule of events over on the WDW Marathon website. This will show you that of the 3 races the 5K is Friday morning at 7am, the Half Marathon is Saturday morning at 5:35am, and the Marathon is Sunday morning also at 5:35am.
So as you can see these events start quite early. But don’t think you can just get up at 5am and get to Epcot to see the start of either Marathon. It’s not quite that easy. Now while the 5K race does not impact WDW traffic, the Marathons do. Significantly so. Disney asks that you arrive at Epcot before 4am (you can arrive later), I actually suggest getting there a bit earlier to avoid the rush – there will be a push at the Epcot gate around 4am that may delay your entry.
Feel free to drive to Epcot and park – parking at Epcot is usually free until 7am, but you only have until 5am on these mornings. So I want to make sure you don’t think you have until 7am to get to Epcot – because you don’t. If you’re not going to make Epcot before 5am don’t bother, you won’t get there. Epcot Center Drive and the main entrance to Epcot will be closed from 5am through 7am on both Marathon mornings. After 5am you will be directed to Magic Kingdom to park and you will have to monorail to Epcot.
Both races start at 5:35am and according to Disney’s Marathon Spectator Tool there will be 3 waves of runners that go out at 5:50am, 6am, and 6:15am. Handicapped participants – those using wheeled mobility devices – will be starting slightly sooner because they move much faster than the runners and also finish much faster – you will get to see them finish not long after the waves start. Half Marathon runners will have approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes to finish the Half Marathon meaning the latest completion is at about 9:30am. Marathon runners will have approximately 7 hours to complete their runs making the end time at around 1:15pm.
There are many places from which to Cheer, but from my research last year the prime viewing location is along Main Street in the Magic Kingdom with the Hub by the Castle being the most popular location. The hub will fill up first, with the crowd working it’s way toward the train station as it fills up. Spectators are not allowed past the hub. You will not need a ticket to get into Magic Kingdom as a Spectator and you can be there as early as 5:30am. The hub is about the 40% mark for either Marathon (5.3 miles for the Half and 10.5 for the Full). This is a great point to be to cheer on your runners as they’ll need the encouragement.
- Mile 0 – Epcot Center Drive. Start point.
- Mile 4.2 – Transportation and Ticket Center.
- Mile 5.3 – Main Street USA. Halfway point.
- Mile 8.1 – Floridian Way.
- Mile 13.1 – Epcot Parking Lot. End point.
The Full Maration has nine Spectator viewpoints as follows:
- Mile 0 – Epcot Center Drive. Start point.
- Mile 4 – Same as above, runners pass by a second time.
- Mile 9 – Transportation and Ticket Center.
- Mile 10 – Main Street USA. Halfway point.
- Mile 12.5 – Floridian Way.
- Mile 16.5 – Animal Kingdom (requires park admission)
- Mile 23 – Hollywood Studios (requires park admission)
- Mile 25 – Epcot (requires park admission)
- Mile 26.2 – Epcot Parking Lot. End point.
For both Marathons it is impossible to get to all locations so I suggest you use the Spectator Tool to get a feel for what will work best for you and plan out your cheering strategey and what times you need to be where. To do so you’ll need the approximate pace or expected finish time of your runners. Then the tool will give you travel times, and an hour:minute mark you should expect to be at that location to see your runners.
Last year I only viewed the Half Marathon, and that consisted of starting my day in Epcot to see of Katie, Ed, and Mike. There we got to see it start to snow. It was a cold and bitter day, but this year looks to be both Sunny and about 70 degrees both days – if there’s a breeze it’ll be a good day for the runners. Last year was brutal and I wouldn’t want to see a repeat of that again. At all. Ever. After they headed into the corral headed to Mile 0, then Mile 5.3, and then, after meeting up with Matt, headed over to Mile 13.1.
I managed to see Katie and Ed at all 3 locations. Seeing the people you know at Mile 0 is the hardest because they run on the opposite side of Epcot Center Drive from where you’re standing. And it’s dark. They need to have on a real identifiable article of clothing at that point. I was fortunate because Ed was wearing this amazingly orange ski cap.
I intend to use the same trip for the Half Marathon on Saturday that I did last year – miles 0, 5.3, and 13.1. It worked very well for me, and it wasn’t that stressful. Besides one of the coolest parts of the experience was seeing the runners from up in the monorail. It’s a hard thing to describe really – just a sea of people moving along the road while you ride by. The only modification that might work is to add in mile 8.3. I don’t thing you could manage mile 4 and 5.3 in the same plan.
For the Full Marathon, I’m going to stick to the same basic plan with some modifications. While it’d be interesting to do the Animal Kingdom (mile 16.5) or Hollywood Studios (mile 23) – Disney pretty much tells you up front that if you choose to do these don’t expect to make any of the other locations. Because of this I’m definitely planning to do miles 0, 4, 10, and 26.2. Depending on timing I might make 12.5 as well. Depends on how tired I am after two days of cheering.
The interesting difference between the Half and the Full will be the break. What I mean is that since the Full Marathon passes through all 4 parks, if you’re doing the Epcot to Magic Kingdom to Epcot cheering plan, you’ll have 2 or 3 hours to spend in Magic Kingdom or Epcot before you’ll have to be af the finish line (mile 26.2), plus an hours travel at worst case. And I’d plan for the worst as the Monorail has not been the most reliable mode of transportation in the past several months.
Disney does offer a cheer package that you can purchase from their CHEAR Squad [sic]. It’s not a requirement to cheer or be a spectator. There are 3 levels that cost money. Last year I purchased the Silver level so I could have a t-shirt from the CHEAR Squad – last years was blue, this years will be green. Prior years have been other colors like yellow. The Gold and Platinum packages include beverages, reserved seating at the finish line, and other amenities. Platinum also includes Internet access plus a brunch. I did not purchase a package this year.
Disney also offers a service for tracking your runners via text message and/or email. To do so you will need, at the very least, the last name of each runner you wish to track. Bib numbers won’t work for this. Emails and text messages will be sent at various checkpoints throughout the course, triggering off the tracking units that runners are required to wear during the race. To be honest this service was very spotty and unreliable last year. And signing up for it is a pain as the site for it is terrible.
I’m looking forward to cheer on and/or track several friends this weekend including Lindsay, Jackie, Len, Mike, Caroline, Megan, and Deanna. Good luck to everyone running, I wish you all the best of luck.
What about you? Are you cheering at the Half or Full Marathons? Are you running the Half or Full Marathons? The Goofy Challenge? Have you run a Disney Marathon or 5k in the past? Are you planning to run one in the future? May your laces never be loose.