If you read The DIS – and obviously you do or you wouldn’t be reading this would you? – you are someone who understands that a Walt Disney World vacation is unlike any other. And I’m not referring to the resorts, the shopping, the food or even the parks. I am, of course, referring to the planning. Whether it’s something as simple as figuring out which parks to visit on which days and making a few dining reservations or as complicated as coming up with detailed touring plans with every step mapped out on a spreadsheet, any successful Walt Disney World vacation requires some degree of planning. If you add running one or more of the races over WDW Marathon Weekend to the mix and you complicate things even further. The requirements of fueling (meaning food) and rest that running a long distance race demands place a particular set of restrictions on your schedule that will demand your attention when planning your trip.
Full disclosure here – I have only run one Disney race (the 2013 WDW Half Marathon) – so I don’t think I would be honest in calling myself an expert. Yet, in preparation for running in the 2015 races next January I have done a lot of research, and I have leaned on the expertise of others with much more experience than I, and in doing so I think I have managed to come up with an approach that allows me to make the most of my upcoming vacation. There are several things that one needs to take into consideration when planning a trip around the race events in addition to all the considerations for any trip.
First, which runDisney event should you sign up for? There are Disney races on both coasts – in Walt Disney World as well as Disneyland. So first would be to decide which coast you wish to visit. Next would be to decide what time of year you want to go. As of this writing there are eight runDisney events scheduled for 2015 – two in January, one in February, two in May, one in September and two in November. Finally, you may want to sign up for a race based on its theme. There are running weekends themed for specific Disney properties (Star Wars and The Avengers), specific events and attractions (Expedition Everest and the Food & Wine Festival), and there are 2 events themed as ladies’ events (Tinkerbell and the Princesses – of course men are welcome as well.) Running at Disney should be as much about having fun as it is about challenging yourself, so think about what appeals to you the most and what is most important to you. It’s important to point out here that most of the Disney races sell out very quickly. An inaugural event can often sell out the day that registration is made available. So you will need to plan ahead. Another consideration is what type of race you want to sign up for. The Expedition Everest Challenge is a combination 5k and obstacle course while all other events include some combination of a 5k and/or 10k as well as a Half Marathon. And the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend has, of course, the addition of a full marathon. Whish brings me to my next point…
Which race or races should you sign up for? As I wrote above, running at Disney should be as much about fun as it should be about challenging yourself. Well, it’s also as much about challenging yourself as it is about having fun. Many people use the lure of the Disney resorts as a reward to motivate themselves into a healthier lifestyle. In my opinion, this is one of the coolest things about Disney races. Now, which specific races you decide to run will be determined by your experience as a runner, your level of fitness and the amount of time you are willing and able to devote to training. Whether using a Disney 5k as your motivation for starting a “Couch to 5k” program or making the Walt Disney World Marathon your first full marathon, the parks can be used as a strong motivating factor for the health minded Disney fan. The wisest approach is to sign yourself up for something that will challenge you, but is an attainable goal – e.g. I would not suggest signing up for Dopey’s Challenge if you’ve never even run a half marathon.
As an example, in 2013 I signed up for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon even though I’d never run more than 4 miles or so in my life. That may seem like a stretch, but I worked out regularly and my level of fitness was pretty good (even though I was carrying around an extra 50 pounds or so). I knew that a 5k was not enough of a challenge and that the full marathon was too much to take on (Disney did not offer a 10k until 2014). So I signed up for the Half. It turned out to be just the challenge I needed. After that I was hooked on running and I have completed 10 more half marathons and 4 full marathons since. This year I was looking for a new challenge so I signed up for Dopey’s Challenge (all four races in four days). I contemplated Goofy’s Race-and-a-Half (the half marathon and the full), but the Dopey seemed like something I wanted to take on.
Another thing you need to ask yourself (and your travelling companions ) is how much of your vacation you are willing to devote to doing a race or races. It’s not just the time to do the races themselves, there’s the time prepping for the race(s) and the time spent recovering. I believe that a race should take priority on the days you are participating in a race. So make sure you are prepared to allow yourself the time to fuel, hydrate and rest enough for whatever it is you are signed up for. This is particularly important if you are participating in a multi-race challenge, when recovery time is of the utmost importance. And make sure that your travelling companions understand what you need to do and are supportive. They need to understand that you may not be able to join them for all the activities they have planned. In my case I am travelling with an old friend who goes to WDW by himself often and has no issues with being left to his own devices.
Where should you stay for your race vacation? When deciding where to stay for a Disney race vacation there are the normal questions you would need to ask for any vacation – on or off property? What is my budget? – as well as some other questions you would ask that you might not otherwise think of. I should note that most of these questions are less important for Disneyland where all of the Disney hotels – and most of the “Good Neighbor” hotels – are walking distance from the race starting areas. In terms of a WDW race, first and foremost is whether the hotel on the list of official race hotels. For the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend, generally all resort hotels are on the official list. But this may not be true for all races. This is important because you will need to catch a bus to the race starting area very early – before the resort buses are running – and only official race hotels have transportation to the race start. And speaking of getting up early for the races, think about what kind of accommodations you will need and whether your early morning race preparations will disturb your fellow travelers. I have even heard of runners booking a separate room for themselves for the night of the race so as not to disturb others. And finally, think about the location of your room within the resort. In many resorts the rooms can be a long walk from the bus stop. In the case of resorts with multiple stops, in the past the race bus only drops folks off at the main resort bus stop. Trust me, after running a long race the last thing you want to do is walk a half mile to your room! You can find resort maps on wdwinfo which can help you decide which building to request. You can request a specific building when you make your reservation or ask your travel agent to do it for you. In my case we are staying at Old Key West and I have requested a room near the Hospitality House.
Finally, should you schedule your trip so that the race(s) are at the beginning of your trip or toward the end? Disney schedules races toward the end of the week. In the case of the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend they run from Thursday through Sunday. As a rule of thumb, the “big event” for any race weekend is going to be on Sunday. It would seem to make sense, then, to schedule your trip with the races at the end of the vacation. The problem with this approach is twofold. First, on the days leading up to something as challenging as a race of 5k, 10k, 13.1 or especially 26.2 miles, not to mention if you are doing multiple races, you need to prepare yourself with the proper nutrition and avoid overly rich foods. And who wants to do that while on vacation? Second, the days leading up to the race also require proper rest, including having to rise extremely early on the race days. Again, who wants to do that on vacation? The best solution is to schedule any races at the beginning of your vacation therefore allowing yourself to go into “full vacation mode” once you are done. In my case, I’ll be arriving on Wednesday and leaving the following Tuesday. As I am running in the “Dopey” I will be doing races 4 of the days I am there. My plan is to visit the parks on Wednesday (the day before the races start) as well as the day of the 5k, then take the days of the 10k and Half Marathon off from park visits. Assuming I have the energy I hope to resume my park touring Sunday evening after the Full Marathon.
Hopefully that gives you some food for thought if you are thinking of participating in a Disney running event. There are, of course, other considerations as well, and there are many resources available that can help to answer the other questions you may have. In my next installation of this series I will outline some of the resources that I have found most helpful.
Until then – keep running around in the parks!
About the author: John Thompson and his wife of over 20 years are the parents of two wonderful young women. John, who grew up in Southern California in the shadow of Sleeping Beauty castle, is a life-long Disney fan. He has been blogging about travel – Disney in particular – for 17 years. He is also the host of the Runner of a Certain Age podcast.