In January of 1994 the first Walt Disney World Marathon was held on Walt Disney World property which in turn kicked off the Disney Endurance Series. That series is now known as runDisney and has grown incredibly since that first race almost 25 years ago. Discussions of a marathon on Disney property began in the 1980s and a race was finally approved in 1992.
Track Shack is the company runDisney uses in Florida to put on this event with race director Jon Hughes who has been part of the events for all 25 years. At the time the 26.2 mile race went through the three Walt Disney World theme parks. Today, it goes through all four theme parks and the ESPN Wide World of Sports. When the event first kicked off just over 5,500 ran in the full marathon. Today, over 20,000 routinely participate in the race. Course records the the full marathon were set in 1995 by international runners and those records still remain today.
In 1996, electronic timing was first introduced to the event. In 1998, runDisney added the Walt Disney World Half Marathon and a relay option was added to the full marathon. The relay option no longer exists but the half marathon is still running strong. After Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, the fourth Walt Disney World theme park was added to the marathon course in 1999.
In 2006, runDisney added the first challenge event to its race weekend Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge. This challenge would have runners take on both the half and full marathons totaling 39.3 miles over two days. In 2014 another challenge was added to the mix, the Dopey Challenge. This challenge would encompass 48.6 miles over four days including a 5K, 10K, Half, and Full marathon. And the final challenge added to this race weekend would be in 2015 with the Castaway Cay challenge which included running a Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend event and then going on a Disney Cruise after and running the Castaway Cay 5K.
Disney races are often described as events unlike any other. No matter the distance from 5K to full marathon, participants run through Disney’s theme parks and have experiences that can’t be had elsewhere. Disney entertainment has characters and props throughout the course where runners can stop and take photos in the middle of a race. After Expedition Everest opened in 2006, runners were allowed to even stop and ride a rollercoaster in the middle of the marathon. Some runners will even stop in Hollywood Studios and Epcot to ride attractions. These experiences can only happen at runDisney events.
In 2018, from January 3rd-7th, runDisney is celebrating 25 years with the 25th running of the Walt Disney World Marathon as well as the 5th anniversary of the 10K, and 5th anniversary of the Dopey Challenge.
After the 2018 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, I will recap the 25th anniversary of the marathon.