Experiencing Disney’s Marathon Weekend

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This year, Disney World celebrated the 20th anniversary of the always exciting (and exhausting) Marathon Weekend. Many events were held over the course of four days that drew in people from all over the world. It was a great weekend for the motivated runners and supporters.

Back in August, I made the decision to not only attend Marathon Weekend for the first time, but actually participate in a race. For months, I had been seeing my friends train for and successfully complete races that they never thought that they would be doing. I wanted that accomplishment for myself! My husband, Matt, and I decided to train to run 3.1 miles in the Family Fun Run 5K event. We started the training with an 8 week Couch to 5K program. Never running more than a mile in my life (and never willingly), I was absolutely petrified at what I was going to be doing.

Before I knew it, my husband I arrived in Disney World just days before our big run. We chose to stay at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort, which was also a big hit with other runners. Immediately, we were surround by “real runners” which only made me feel like more of an amateur. Here I was, nervous to run 3 miles, and others were preparing themselves for a race far more challenging. What was I so afraid of?

A big part of Marathon Weekend was Disney’s Health and Fitness Expo, held at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The Expo was where runners picked up their race packets, as well as any merchandise or gear. In order to get to the Expo from Magic Kingdom, my husband and I had to hop a bus to the Contemporary, and then get on a different bus to get to the Wide World of Sports Complex. Once at the Expo, we discovered a lot of people, all wanting to do the same thing as us. While there was seemingly a lot of chaos, the volunteers placed throughout the field house helped us find our way. Luckily, going at mid-day seemed to work well in terms of packet pick-up lines. We did not have to wait at all, and within minutes of arriving in the packet pick-up area, we were free to go. However, we could not leave without seeing running guru Jeff Galloway speak. It was really exciting for us to see an Olympian talk about his passion for running.

The night before our race, I was a nervous wreck. I kept reminding myself that it was just a “fun run” and I should not be taking it so seriously. It was overwhelming for me, a girl who has always despised running, to know that I was going to accomplish a race with other runners, and in the end someone was going to give me a medal. Despite a relatively sleepless night, my alarm went off at 3:30 a.m., and I felt ready to get on with it.

By 5:00 a.m., my husband and I were on a bus, headed to the starting line. Through all of my anxiety, I could not help but be really excited to run through my favorite theme park in the entire world… Epcot. With loads of Porta Potties lined up and big white bag check tents in our sights, we knew we were in the right place. We quickly got through bag check and made our way to the corrals. I felt like all of the runners were cattle. The fast cows went to corral A, and the rest of us fell behind in corrals B, C, and D. Disney provided everyone with some pre-race entertainment, lots of group dances, and appearances by Mickey and Minnie.

In about an hour, all the cows filed into their proper corrals, and the real fun started to begin. The first runners in the Family Fun Run, the wheelchair division, got a glorious firework filled send-off. Corral A started a few minutes after to the same exciting start. Then it was our turn, corral B. It was getting real now, and I was just ready for it to be over with. Fireworks filled the air in front of us, and we were on our way!

Our goal was to just keep running and not get trampled in the sea of people. A lot of people in our corral seemed to be going the same general speed, save for the usual speed demons, which made it easier for us to run together and push on. About a half mile in we encountered our first characters… Chip and Dale! I was bound and determined to get my photos with characters on this journey, so we waited in about a five minute line and posed quickly with our furry friends. This line really seemed to move quickly despite how long it was. At this point, I realized that the fastest runners were probably finishing the entire race already. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t running for them; I was running myself. Once I let that go, I started to actually have fun.

After entering Epcot, we encountered lots of characters in fun outfits, all themed to the countries where you could greet them. Daisy looked adorable in Norway, so we had to get a photo with her. Once we made our way to America, we saw Goofy in cute colonial garb. Matt and I entered this line only to realize it was not moving at all. I figured we should probably keep running and leave Goofy in our dust. Of course, I had to stop and take a quick photo in Morocco, one of my favorite pavilions. The sun was shining by the time we came upon Pluto, sporting a beret in France. The absolute cuteness of his outfit required us to stop for another photo opportunity, no matter how long the line was. A long stretch of the course was around mile 2. I started to get tired and just wanted to finish this thing. Coming up on Canada was so exciting once I saw Donald Duck! We entered his very long line, only for his greeter to tell us he had to step away for a few minutes. Once again, we did not want to wait and just moved on.

Trust me folks, at this point, I was zonked. I knew the end was so close, and there was no stopping me now. I found myself passing people left and right. With only a few short walk breaks in Future World, my husband and I made our way to the front gates of Epcot when we started to hear some blaring music in the distance. A cast member cheering us on said loudly, “That music that you hear is the finish line!” I gasped out loud and thought to myself, “You have got this!” Upon turning a corner, we could see the finish line in the distance. Matt took my picture by the 3 mile sign, and then it was time for the big finish. We held hands and slowly jogged over the finish line, enjoying every bit of the accomplishment we felt. I was absolutely giddy and so proud of everyone around us finishing. After about 30 seconds, I let out a huge sigh, and then started crying tears of joy. We kept walking on down the pathway and proudly received our super cool rubber medals. Realizing it was the first time I had ever gotten a medal put around my neck, Matt snapped a picture to capture my happiness.

After runners were finished, Disney volunteers handed out water, sports drinks, and snack boxes. We also had the opportunity to get our photo taken in front of a finisher sign with our medals. I swear, I could not stop smiling. I wanted to go up and hug everyone and congratulate them. I finally understood why so many people sign up to run at Disney races! All of the hard work pays off the second that you complete that race. No one cares how fast you ran or if you have the hottest running shoes. The only thing the people around you care about is if you had an absolute blast.

The next day I saw so many different people of all shapes and sizes wearing the Half Marathon medal around proudly. It was truly inspiring to see so many people doing something that benefited their health and self-confidence. The vibe was so positive and uplifting! Then on Sunday, I was able to root for my friends who ran the full Disney Marathon via Twitter. I cannot tell you how proud I am of everyone for accomplishing something that so many people will never even think of doing. When you combine the joyful feeling of the Disney parks and the endorphins created by accomplished runners and their proud families, you get a vibe that cannot be shaken.

Before the 5K, I had told myself that I would never run another race again. I believed that the training runs in 20 degree weather were not worth it. I believed that the stress I put on myself was not worth it. However, after seeing so many other people kick so much tail during Marathon Weekend, I started to get a crazy idea in my head. I just might want to run again. Not only do I want to run again, but I want to train for my first Half Marathon. I am sure I will regret my decision many times during my upcoming training, and I am sure I will want to give up. Still, I just cannot seem to shake that desire to feel accomplishment on an even bigger scale.

If you have ever considered signing up for a Disney race, I whole-heartedly encourage you to do it. While running is not exactly fun for most people (like me), getting to complete a run with other Disney fans just like you seems to make it all worth it.

Did you participate in Marathon Weekend? Are you interested in maybe running a race at Disney World someday and have questions? Drop me a line in the comment section so we can talk about it!

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Posted on January 22, 2013

21 Responses to “Experiencing Disney’s Marathon Weekend”

  • Awesome! Everyone has to start somewhere, why not you at WDW? I’m glad your first race was so much fun.

    • That was exactly my thinking! If I am going to put myself through the stress of training, I am going to have an absolute blast running. There really is no better place than Disney World to motivate you to run. Plus, with so many runDisney events all year long, there are a lot of excuses for Disney trips.

  • Woohoo! I always love hearing about people running their first race. Good luck on your next one. Just a warning, Disney races can be addictive. ;)

  • I ran the 5k too! My dad, sister and I did our first Half Marathon as well this year and it was wonderful. Imagine the 5k, just longer. It was especially great with the Magic Kingdom halfway through, then finishing in Epcot. We were so psyched my Dad and I are doing the Goofy Challenge next year.

    • Hi, Mike! I love hearing about people going from 5Ks to halfs, to fulls, then to the Goofy. I feel like almost anyone can do it with the right training. Are you using the Galloway method?

      • Yep, I believe its a huge mental game as well. If you have the time you should check out the movie “Spirit of the Marathon” it follows 6 different types of runners and is super inspirational. As for training we’re not really following any method. My dad is in superb shape and is a crazy person who gets up before dawn to run and bike and I’m just hoping a little extra exercise at high altitude will solve endurance problems!

        The factor I found the worst in the half marathon was not necessarily the stamina aspect, but the joints and sore feet from the impact of just running for a couple hours, so my training will be geared toward ‘hardening’ my feet and joints.

  • Congratulations!

    Last year, I was in your shoes. I ran the 5k with my daughter who wanted to do cross country at her school. I loved the 5k so this year at the age of 45, I ran the half in 2:37. I NEVER ran before and never thought I would!

    Now I’m doing the Dumbo at DL this fall, and I’m considering the marathon for 2014. I can’t believe how much fun I’ve had running or that I would come to this at my age.

    • That is so inspiring for me! I am excited to once again prove myself wrong and do something that I always thought was impossible. Congratulations and good luck on taking on the Dumbo at Disneyland! That sounds like such a fun time!

  • I really enjoyed this article because it makes me think my daughter and I could try to run the 5K next January when we are at Disneyworld. We aren’t runners, but we have plenty of time to prepare. And I think the experience would be wonderful. My concern is the 16 minute/mile pace that is listed in the race requirements. You stopped several times on the route for pictures. Were you concerned about being picked up because you weren’t meeting the pace requirements? I don’t know how that works, but I think I’d be embarrassed if I couldn’t maintain the pace. Any info about this would be greatly appreciated.

    • For any Disney Fun Run, I do not think that they enforce “sweepers” since it is a pretty low pressure race. People sign up and walk the entire thing. Being able to walk even half of it will absolutely be doable. We were in corral B and with all of the photo stops and walking breaks, we did not finish until over an hour since corral A started. It really is not about the time with a Fun Run. I think when you start to get into the more serious races, like the half and full marathon, they are sticklers about keeping pace. You should absolutely sign up and have a great time!

  • congrats! i wasn’t really a runner either, and i just finished my third disney half. after i finish the half, i wonder how or why anyone would want to do a full, and then the next day while watching folks run the full i’m totally tempted to sign up for my first full. disney races are definitely addicting and much more fun than some other runs. the one big downside i can agree with is training up here in the north in the winter – ugh – who wants to run 10+miles in the freezing cold? but i survived another one and will prob be out there again in 2014 – maybe we’ll see you there too

  • Wow! I literally HATE running, and actually had intense anxiety and stress related to a weekly mile run I had to perform in junior high, but your article has inspired me to maybe try it out myself. Of course, nothing can be that bad if you’re doing it inside a Disney Park, right? Thanks for the great article and inspiration to maybe one day try something I myself NEVER thought I would consider! And congrats on your accomplishment! :)

  • I have been training since last January for the Princess half next month. Reading your blog just fed the fire of excitement! There will be 60+ of us, from the US and UK running together and we all met via TP in a round-about sort of way! For most of us it will be our first half marathon and as it gets closer and closer the excitement builds and builds! Thanks for your post and nice job on your race!

  • Congratulations on your race! I did my first Disney 5k in 2007 when I was there to cheer on my cousin running the marathon. After I went to the finish line to see him I was hooked and decided to do a half. I just did my first full at Disney 2 weeks ago. I love it! For me the thing that has made all the difference is running with my local Galloway group. Good luck with your next race!

  • I never ever considered myself a runner but 3 years ago, my sister in law ran her first 1/2 Marathon and it got me thinking about giving it a try too. I took a big leap and signed up for the Disneyland 1/2 as my very first race. I hurt my knee a couple weeks before and walked it in a little over 3 1/2 hours. We did the 1/2 again last year and came in under the 3 hour mark but before running the half last year, I did something completely crazy for me…I signed up for the WDW Marathon. Honestly, I don’t think anything could have fully prepared me for that Marathon, the heat and humidity almost did me in before I even hit halfway. But I pulled through and I did it – took almost 7 hours but I did it. I swore I would never run anything ever again except for the Disneyland 1/2 to get my Coast to Coast. Fast forward to today – the dark cloud from those hard miles as officially gone away and I am not only signed up for the Dumbo Double Dare but will be doing 2 other 1/2 marathons as well and will most likely doing the Goofy in 2015. I never imagined this is the path my life would take me and couldn’t be happier! =D

  • I grew up with my dad running marathons. When I got to high school I decided to join the Cross Country team. Thus began my long distance running. When I got to college I kept running, but never anything serious, just for fun. Towards the end of the college days I stopped running and working out and by the time I was a few years out of college I was overweight. I was miserable, knowing how much I used to love running and exercising.

    So I decided to do something crazy. I signed up for the 2008 WDW Half Marathon. I had never run a race over 5k before in my life…and here I was signing up for a 13.1 mile race…knowing I couldn’t run a mile at the time! WDW was my favorite place in the world…which was my motivation. I knew that I would have to get back in shape in order to not kill myself…and my reward for getting in shape was a WDW vacation…win/win. I trained hard with a few buddies I convinced to join me and we completed the race in just over 2:30. It was such a huge accomplishment physically, mentally, and emotionally. We even used our race as a means to raise over $1,000 for a local charity in our city.

    Be careful…once you run a half marathon…you may get hooked! Later that year I ran in the Country Music Half Marathon where I brought my best time down to 2:08. The next January I ran the WDW Half again…this time with my parents and sister. Then the next year in February 2010, I ran in the Mercedes Half Marathon with my fiance (now wife) in my hometown of Birmingham, AL. My wife and I want to get back down to WDW (haven’t been since 2011) and run in the Wine & Dine Half either later this year or next year. There is nothing like crossing the finish line and getting a nice, shiny medal. It can be addictive.

  • Went to my first WDW Marathon to cheer on my 23 year old son. He did fabulous!! What motivation! So next year at the age of 46 I will be running my first Disney Run. Decided to start with the 5K. Who knows…maybe at 47 I’ll run the Half Marathon??

  • Way to go! As a new runner myself, I know exactly how you felt! Last January, I committed to run a 5K in April, and I was scared to death. I was a very klutzy kid, and had lots of bad memories of being made fun of or just being aware that I was the worst athlete around. I found that the running community is completely different — everyone is truly supportive and excited for ANYONE that has the guts to go out there and run, no matter how slow you are! It is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, and I am now totally hooked. I’m running the Princess Half marathon in a month, my first half. Still scared to death, but excited too. I figure if I am going to suffer through 13.1 miles, it might as well be in the happiest place on earth, right? :) Keep it up and maybe we’ll see you there next year–