Ever heard of a Disney marathon? Or Princess weekend? Are these new Disney attractions? Nope – they’re running races at Walt Disney World! Sounds interesting but you're not sure what it's actual like to run with Disney? Or have you known about RunDisney for years wishing you could but you're just not a 'runner'. Here's some info and facts that might surprise you!
In January 1994, Disney held the first Marathon weekend, and it was attended by just over 5500 runners. The 26.2-mile race went through all three (at the time) Disney theme parks. In 1998 they added the half marathon (13.1 miles) on Saturday, with the marathon on Sunday. The races were becoming more popular, so in February 2009 Disney added the Princess Half Marathon weekend. This was followed by Star Wars themed races, the “Wine and Dine” held during Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, and even a 5K at Disney’s Castaway Cay (their private island for Disney Cruise Line passengers). In 2019, 58,000 runners and 20,000 spectators participated in the marathon weekend!
What makes a Disney race/marathon different than any other (like NYC or Boston)?
The community! It’s all about running with other Disney enthusiasts through Disney parks, wearing Disney gear, seeing Disney characters, hearing Disney music, getting Disney medals and other cool merchandise, and then there’s the community (online groups, support systems, etc.).
So why go all the way to Disney to run in a race, especially one that you have no hope of winning?
That’s what I was wondering when my daughter flew to Disneyland in May 2017 to run in the Tinkerbell race. But she enjoyed it enough to sign up for another Disney race in November and invited me to join her for the 10K – a real stretch as I had never run a day in my life before that! But we crossed that finish line together, wearing our Minnie Mouse themed outfits. And with that, another RunDisney enthusiast was born.
What is the appeal?
Especially considering that it’s not cheap – the 2019 Wine & Dine Half Marathon registration fee was $205? That price includes a themed tech shirt, personalized bib, post-race goodie box (snacks), and the medal. It’s all about the medals. Run a challenge (both the 10K and the Half Marathon) and for your $327 registration you’ll get 3 medals – one for the 10K, one for the Half, and one for the challenge. Or be Dopey – at the January marathon weekend, you can do the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Marathon for just under $500 and end up with 6 medals (in addition to running 48.6 miles in four days). You get to run through Disney theme parks and get your picture taken with Disney characters!
Are the medals the same every year?
No – consider the Disney Race medals the ultimate limited-edition Disney collectible! Every race every year gets a different medal. They are heavy, with nice soft lanyard material to hang around your neck. The back can be engraved with your name and race date. Here are some of my daughter’s medals (her collection has grown a lot since this photo was taken). And the best part is that it is a Disney collectible you can’t buy, that you worked hard to earn, and that you can look at and show with pride for your accomplishments!
What’s it like to run in a Disney race?
You have to arrive at least the day before your race and go to Disney’s Wide World of Sports to sign your waiver, pick up your bib, pick up your free tech shirt, and visit the RunDisney shop (Disney themed merchandise) and the Health & Fitness Expo (vendors selling the latest running gear). Your bib will indicate your “corral” – the waiting area for your race, assigned based on your previous race times or official time from other races submitted to RunDisney. This gives the fastest runners the opportunity to get ahead of the “pack.” There are so many fun themed things you can buy, from clothing to car magnets to special “Mickey ears.”
What time does the race start?
Race day starts at about 3:30am when your alarm goes off. If you’re staying at Disney resort, you go outside and get on the bus that will take you to the starting area. If you’re staying off property, you drive to the drop off area (which may only be a drop off to take a bus to the actual starting area). You are supposed to be in your corral by 5:00am, and the first corral starts at 5:30am. The later corrals might start as late at 6:15am. For the 5K this year, my daughter was already past the finish line when she heard the announcement that another corral was just starting the race.
Where do you run?
The race route changes for every race (here is the route for last year’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon). They always include at least one theme park, although the amount of time spent in the parks can vary greatly. In my three Disney races, I’ve run through all the parks except the Magic Kingdom. The roads on Disney property are either closed or sectioned off to allow the runners to run. The theme parks are either not open at the time the runners come through, or there are paths marked off to give runners a clear path around park visitors after the parks open. This is the reason for the maximum 16-minute mile time – the theme parks are opening and cars are coming onto property and they have to get their day going for visitors, so the last people in the last corral have to keep that pace or they will be “swept” – guided to the buses that are standing by to pick up people that are either too slow or can’t finish the race.
Do you get the medal even if you don’t finish?
Yep. Even if you walk for 10 minutes and then climb into the bus. But for those of us who cross the finish line, we know we’ve earned the medal and can look at it with pride.
Did you say Disney characters?
Yes! At various places along the race route, mostly in the theme parks, there are Disney characters with whom you can have your photo taken. Of course, the clock keeps ticking while you are standing in the (sometimes long) line, so if you are concerned about your race time, you probably don’t want to wait in line. Or just enjoy the moment and stop for all the photos you want, just stay ahead of the “balloon ladies,” who mark the back of the line.
Is this just for adults?
Not only is not just for adults, they have races just for kids! At the January 2020 marathon weekend, they will have a “Diaper Dash” for crawlers 12 months old and younger, a 100-meter dash for kids ages 1-4, and a 200-meter dash for kids ages 5-8, and there is a one-mile run for kids ages 4-13. Every child gets a special medallion, shirt and goodie bag for running! Families can also run together – the 5K race has a minimum age of 5 years old, the 10K has a minimum age of 10, and the Half Marathon has a minimum age of 14. There are so many families running together, and it’s great to see them in matching themed outfits! It's an opportunity to not only spend time with your family at Disney, but to encourage a healthy lifestyle by getting kids involved early in running their own races.
What am I wearing?
Many (not all) people wear Disney-themed outfit for their race. I’ve seen people in full head to toe costumes, some just a Disney shirt, others make their own costumes. For my 3 races, my daughter created the outfits for each – Minnie Mouse, then the Aliens from Toy Story, and for Princess weekend we were the 3 fairy godmothers from Sleeping Beauty (the race celebrated the 60th anniversary of that movie’s release). You don’t have to wear a costume, but…. Why not? Where else can you run a race in a costume and have people not only not look at you like you’re crazy, but actually shout out to you during the race “love your costumes” and “look – Flora, Fauna and Merryweather!”
What about photos?
There are Disney PhotoPass photographers along the route, snapping away (photos above were taken by Disney photographers). Their technology picks up your bib number, so if you use the MyDisneyExperience app and link your bib number to your account, you can see the photos on your account and purchase them. Best bet – at least 3 days before the race, purchase a PhotoPass package (currently $169 if purchased in advance or $199 if not purchased in advance). That will give you unlimited downloads (for up to 45 days) of all the photos, and that includes photos taken by PhotoPass photographers throughout the Disney resort during your stay.
Can I watch the race? What is a ChEAR Squad?
If you can’t run, you can cheer! There are people lined up at various places on the race route that are cheering the runners on. You can either plant yourself somewhere, like on the Boardwalk at Disney’s Boardwalk resort if the race goes past. Or you can pay for a ChEAR Squad pass, which includes access to premium viewing areas (even inside the theme parks), food and beverages, ChEAR gear, restrooms, etc.
Are the races only in Florida? When are they held?
Here are the upcoming races:
Star Wars Rival Run Weekend – April 4-7, 2019 (Walt Disney World (WDW))
Disneyland Paris Run Weekend – September 19-22, 2019 (Disneyland Paris)
Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend – October 31-November 3, 2019 (WDW)
Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend – January 8-12, 2020 (WDW)
Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend – February 20-23, 2020 (WDW)
Star Wars Rival Run Weekend – April 16-19, 2020 (WDW)
There’s a Disney race in Paris France?
Yes, there is! It will be held this year in September with 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon races held over the weekend. The Half Marathon route will include both Disneyland Paris theme parks and running through nearby villages. Registration is currently open if you book a package (including hotel and theme park tickets) and is expected to open in April 2019 for those just looking to register without a package. Have I ever been? Not yet – but our 2019 registration is already booked!
Want a really special medal?
Run a Half marathon in Florida and one in Paris, and you get a special challenge medal – “Castle to Chateau” (additional registration required)! (I’ll show you mine after I get it in November!)
Are there races in California?
Not at this time. They have been held there in the past, and we are hopeful they will resume races there in the future.
What if you can’t get to a theme park?
There are “virtual” races – register online, and just submit your time to get your bib and medal. Yes, it’s based on an honor system, but it’s still a nice way to participate even if you can’t get to Florida or Paris (or if you just want more really cool medals). There is currently new “runDisney Virtual Series” running June 1-August 31, 2019, and you can sign up starting May 7, 2019 at 10am. These are a series of 5K races, one each month (June, July and August, registration is $40 each) and a Virtual Challenge, so it’s a chance to win 4 medals (registration fees for the challenge is $145)!
Does the race registration include theme park admission?
No, theme park tickets are still required if you want to go into the Disney theme parks. However, if you run a Half Marathon at some of the events, they do include an “Post Race” party at one of the theme parks. For example, included in your Half Marathon (or Challenge) registration for the Wine & Dine race in November is a ticket for a special event just for those who registered for the race (and their family members who can purchase a ticket) in Epcot. You can enter the park while it’s still open, and the party starts after the park closes at 9pm and everyone has left. It includes live entertainment, select theme park attractions, and access to the Food & Wine kiosks with smaller lines.
How do you sign up for the races?
Go to www.rundisney.com and sign up to be notified by email when the registration opens. And be ready – these races sell out VERY quickly, so if the registration opens on April 1 at noon, you’d better be on their website ready to register at 11:59am, because most of the races will sell out within the first 30 minutes of registration/
What if you miss the registration date?
There are many charities for which you can run that let you register after the official registration date. Are you a Florida local? Try your luck and show up that weekend. The shorter races are much harder to get into, but you'll have a good chance of signing up for the half marathon last minute. (Note – “challenges” require advance registration to qualify for the challenge medal.)
Running for charity?
Running through a charity organization is not only a great way to challenge yourself but to put it all to a great cause. The charities also tend to have their own micro communities in a sense, like Give Kids the World hosts a meet up for all of their runners to meet each other during race weekend and they often have matching t-shirts, so you become part of a team.
Do you have to stay at a Disney hotel?
You don’t have to stay on Disney property, but the benefit is that they have buses that run directly from your resort to the starting line area (and back). It’s also easier to go back to your hotel room after the race, shower and grab breakfast, and then head into the theme parks for the day.
How do I book a hotel and get Disney tickets?
Contact me and I can help with that! Robin.Norell.Travel@gmail.com Prices are the same as booking on your own, but I do all the work for you and can share my knowledge about the races, hotels and theme parks, and all things Disney!
Ultimately it comes down to this – you can really get anything you want out of them out of the Disney Races. Want a chance to run through the theme parks and take pictures? Yep you can do that. Want to take pictures with every character you can and try to outrun the balloon ladies? Yep you can. If you want to dress up in full costume and attempt to run a race looking like a total happy idiot, no problem. You’ve never run before? That's ok, everyone is really supportive.
So, what are you waiting for?