Marathon Weekend 2024:
- Expo – Wednesday, January 3rd through Saturday, January 6th
- 5K – Thursday, January 4th starting at 5 a.m.
- 10K – Friday, January 5th starting at 5 a.m.
- Half Marathon (changed to 7.1 miles) – Saturday, January 6th starting at 5 a.m. (moved to 4:45 a.m.)
- Full Marathon – Sunday, January 7th starting at 5 a.m.
* * * * * *
Six in person Dopeys. I had to count that out a few times before it properly registered. It didn’t feel like it had been that many.
I would travel down for Princess Weekend every year before we lived here. I started running that race for my dad in 2016. We weren’t local yet so it was tough to justify another race weekend the month before, especially with two kids under 5 that made for wonderful, but slightly more exhausting, Disney trips. Pairing a family trip with Marathon Weekend seemed…tough.
But after we moved down in the fall of 2017, all excuses were out the window and I started running “perfect” runDisney seasons, including the Dopey Challenge: the nutty challenge during January’s Marathon Weekend wherein you run the 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon in sequence over the course of 4 days for a total of 48.6 sleep-deprived miles.
So that’s 2018, 2019, 2020, 2022, 2023, and 2024. Six Dopeys on Disney property. (2021 was a virtual event because of the pandemic.)
I’ve changed a lot over those years. runDisney had changed a lot over those years. (Heck, Disney itself has changed a lot over those years.) But one thing that hasn’t changed is my love for Marathon Weekend and all of its crazy, exhausting, community-driven goodness.
The Lead Up
This was not a great training season. The 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 seasons were wonderful. I’d been incredibly disciplined in my training and it showed in my strength and times. I’ve never run for speed necessarily–I’m never going to win the Olympics. I’m not particularly athletic as a rule, to be honest (my friends are laughing at this understatement), and have always run as a sort of means to an end. It clears my head. It gives me the mental space to be at my creative best. As a whole, it’s basically the healthiest vice I’ve found to get through life as a relatively mentally healthy version of my best self.
So you can imagine my aggravation when the universe took it away. (I mean come on–I’m trying to make good decisions here…)
I’ve had plantar fasciitis flare ups over the years and they finally culminated in a rupture on the 4th of July last summer. (While I was running a 5K on cobblestones like a fool…) You can’t run through the pain with that injury, you just have to wait it out while it heals. So wait it out I did. I usually start training in July for Dopey but my program doesn’t technically start until September, so the timing wasn’t terrible. I missed the runs but leaned into yoga and just tried to be patient with myself.
Then it was healed and I dove back in…feeling AMAZING because while my foot had slowly healed the rest of me had too. So I dove back into my training. Wayyy too fast. And ended up on the brink of a stress fracture on my second metatarsal. Apparently I’m not in my 20s anymore.
Over the course of the rest of the training season, including through Wine & Dine Race Weekend, I would wait a couple of weeks, ice, take anti-inflammatories, stretch my heart out, and slowly try to start again. But every time, after a few 5K training runs I’d ease into longer distances and the pain would start again.
I finally had a choice: squeeze in as much last minute training as I could and risk making it worse. Or just max out on healing and hope muscle memory would take over for Marathon Weekend. I went with the latter.
Walking into Expo, I felt good but didn’t know what to expect over the course of the weekend–especially going into the full right after the half. If my metatarsal flared up again, I wasn’t going to go into the full and risk a stress fracture that would REALLY ground me for a long time. I wasn’t going to land myself in a boot or worse.
Expo itself, though, was great. I’ve been running with runDisney for years and sharing my experiences with all of you; and runDisney was kind enough to gift me a Platinum Level Club runDisney membership this year so that I could share that experience with you, too. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for this. It’s nice when you’re loyal to something and they kinda love you back a little, you know? Also, the membership is quite spendy at $959 for the season, completely sold out, and not something I’d generally ever do for myself. So I appreciate it enormously.
That said, please understand that I pay out of pocket for all of my races. As a member of Club runDisney, I have these perks–most of which really affect the ease of registration and Expo activities, rather than the races themselves:
The Benefits of Club runDisney at the Platinum Level
These are the benefits of Club runDisney that are affecting my race season:
- Early registration for future race weekends, up to two registrations per weekend. This is the big one. One of the main ways that runDisney has changed over the years is the stress and difficulty of registering for the races. They go really, really quickly. If you have your heart set on any particular set of races, this will get you early access to them–so say you want to run all three races during Princess Weekend. You’ll be able to grab the 5K and the Challenge (10K and Half Marathon, together) the week before general registration starts. Worth noting that the Gold Level Club runDisney Membership, which was $613 for the season, would have gotten you ONE early registration per race weekend, so you could grab any one individual race or challenge for each registration that opens during your membership season. That includes the Dopey Challenge during Marathon Weekend.
- Expo perks, including streamlined bib pickup and early access to merchandise.
- Streamlined bib pickup. I’ve never minded waiting on line for my bib, but if you’re a stickler for time I’ll admit that the streamlined bib pickup process offered to Platinum Level Club runDisney members is pretty stellar. Instead of waiting in a long line for your bib and then heading to the main expo floor in another building to get your race shirts, you head upstairs at the new AdventHealth Arena, where you first enter ESPN Wide World of Sports, show your ID, and get a reusable Club runDisney bag with your race bib(s), race shirt(s), and some other things like safety pins and an edible treat of some sort. (Wine & Dine it was a crispy treat, Marathon Weekend it was a (very rich) brownie.) This streamlined bib pickup process is unique to the Platinum Level.
- Early merchandise access. You’ll get early access to merchandise at Expos with Gold or Platinum Level membership. Another thing that’s changed over the years is how quickly the official runDisney merchandise sells out. They’ve tried to manage things a bit more fairly this year by establishing a virtual queue to shop on the first day of the Expo, but if you’d like to bypass that altogether and guarantee yourself access to whatever merchandise you’d like (within Disney’s purchase limits to curb resellers, etc., of course) then a Gold or Platinum Level Club runDisney membership is worth considering.
Other Notable Benefits of Club runDisney:
- Upgraded corral placement. Truth told, and I’m just being fully transparent, I don’t love that this is for sale. Corral placement is done for crowd control and safety and to let the fastest runners get out ahead of any real bottleneck so that they can run for speed without dodging crowds. In order to get into an earlier corral, you traditionally have to submit a proof of time from another race that shows your expected pacing. I’m really proud to have earned a solid proof of time during the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 seasons and am in Corral A for that reason…but the very limited number of people with Platinum Level Club runDisney membership also get priority placement. So if you want the extra cushion ahead of the balloon ladies (who don’t start pacing until the last runners in the last wave of the last corral get started) or you really want to grab all of the characters on the course before the lines get too long, Platinum Level membership will help to get you there.
- Club runDisney jacket. The membership package comes with a very nice Club runDisney jacket each year, All Club runDisney levels get this.
- Club runDisney virtual 10K. All Club runDisney levels get this.
Expo really was smooth sailing because of the Platinum Level perks. I arrived just before 8:30 a.m., grabbed my bibs and shirts quickly, and walked downstairs to the official merchandise area. We were able to get in starting at 8:30 a.m., ahead of the first people in the virtual queue, who would get in starting at 10 a.m.
I don’t typically buy a ton of merchandise, but it was great to have my choice of items. The Dopey jackets this year sold out so quickly–within the first hour of general opening, I heard that all they had left on the floor were the XL and XXL sizes, and those were all gone soon after. I’m sure it’s challenging to control, but I do wish the rules to prevent resellers were better enforced. It’s tough to see items on eBay that should have been available to runners at Expo.
I ended up hanging out for a while after to see friends and grab some fun pictures with the characters and race signage, but my to do’s at Expo were done before 9 a.m.
2024 Marathon Weekend – 5K Course
The 5K is always my fun race. Silly as it might seem to wake up before 2 a.m. to show up at a race at 3 a.m. to run 3.1 miles at 5 a.m., it’s the best kickoff to a race weekend. The mood is more relaxed, they are totally untimed (within reason) so you can go as fast or slow as you want and stop for all of the characters along the way, and then, if you plan to run other races as well, your body clock is a bit better set for the rest of the weekend. I always say that every Disney fan should experience at least a runDisney 5K at least once. It’s such a different way to see the parks and it’s accessible to virtually everyone.
The characters in the staging area before and after the race might have been my favorite part of the morning: Pluto (for the race medal), Clarice, Clara Cluck, Oswald, the Ugly Duckling, and Dopey.
It was chilly but manageable with some throwaway sweatshirts, mylars or blankets, and Hot Hands. (When it’s cold, grab some inexpensive items to bundle up–you can drop them before the start and runDisney will collect and donate them.)
Then we started the race in Corral A, a wave or two from the front, and just had a great time.
I got home and tried not to nap at all so I’d be tired early that night. Didn’t exactly work–I was still up until almost 10 counting the hours left until my alarm would go off again, but it is what it is.
2024 Marathon Weekend – 10K Course
The 10K was COLD!! But manageable again with some throwaway clothes. I actually kept my sweatshirt on until well into the race…which worked out beautifully because I got a twinsies photo with Hyacinth Hippo from Fantasia.
I was planning to run with my friend Theresa for the next day’s half (more on that below) so I ran over to Expo again to meet up with her and get things situated that afternoon. Then I popped over to the Boardwalk Villas, where my family was staying, before heading home to, again, not fall asleep until close to 10. Best laid plans and all that. I was ready to turn in when some news rolled in about the next day….
The (half of a) Half Marathon
Modified 2024 Half Marathon Course – 7.1 Miles
We’d known going into the weekend that the weather for Saturday morning’s half marathon looked dicey. Thunderstorms were expected to roll through at some point that morning and races can’t be happening while there are lightning strikes in the area, so everyone was just hoping to get to run at all. Every time we checked the forecast it said something different.
At around 6:30 p.m. on Friday evening, as we were all getting situated for the night, news rolled out that the course had been cut to 7.1 miles to try to get everyone through before the weather picked up. We’d also be starting 15 minutes earlier to try to get us all through sooner.
The new course was basically from EPCOT toward Magic Kingdom and back…but without the run through Magic Kingdom itself. That moment entering Main Street is such a special one and everyone had worked so hard to prepare–I really felt for everyone who’d planned to do this as their first half marathon or first course into Magic Kingdom. That said, we were so lucky to be running at all, and by reducing the miles early, runDisney was able to rework the course and relocate a lot of the characters and other course entertainment to the remaining miles.
The half marathon was a new experience for me, too. I had the opportunity to act as a guide for the first time for my dear friend, Theresa. She’s a strong runner but visually impaired and couldn’t navigate the dark course alone, so I ran beside her as an AWD (athletes with disabilities) guide.
We started in Corral C, which made for a much more crowded course, but we still had a great race. I was so proud of Theresa for completing her first runDisney race.
But perhaps the most moving part of the whole event that morning was what happened after. With 6 miles cut off our course, so many of us crossed the finish line and just kept running. A huge group of runners just kept circling the lot as the wind and rain picked up. As the weather worsened, it became clear that runDisney had made the right decision. In fact, the end of the course, including the entire portion around World Showcase at EPCOT, ended up getting cut off for the people toward the back of the race as getting everyone off the course and out of the storm got to be more urgent.
By the time runDisney came over the speakers and announced that they needed to clear the staging area too because of the weather, I was at around 10.5 miles. At that point I was so close to 13.1, and already so soaked through, that I figured what the heck and finished the last couple of miles in the rain at home.
The rest of the day I just tried to be smart. My friend Lou Mongello had a silent auction to benefit Make-A-Wish as a part of his Dream Team Project, and I attended that, but otherwise I just tried to rest and recover. I took an epsom salt bath, iced my foot, and was in bed by 7 p.m. Finally, a half decent night’s sleep.
The Full Marathon
2024 Marathon Weekend – Full Marathon Course
The morning of the full was supposed to be chillier but dry. We should have known that something was up when temperatures were in the 50s and 60s instead of the 40s when we woke up at 1:30 that morning.
The staging area was upbeat and we even got to hear the Dapper Dans do the National Anthem before the start. It made me wonder why they’d never done it before a race before–it seemed like such an obvious and awesome choice.
We started the race all the way at the front of Corral A, so we had a gloriously wide open course from the start. I felt pretty good all things considered and was pacing about a 9:30 minute mile for the first 10-15 miles, just trying to be smart with pacing but also wanting to put as many miles behind me as I could while my foot was cooperating. Magic Kingdom was amazing. The crowds who showed up to cheer were so full of energy and I loved running through TRON into Storybook Circus. The course was clear. I started sliding in and out of some character stops–lines were short to nonexistent so I popped in and out of each one in a few seconds, rarely even bothering to take out my own phone since I always end up liking the Disney PhotoPass pictures more anyway.
The weather was supposed to be clear–but at around mile 14 or 15 I started to feel a few suspicious (large) raindrops…and by the time I was running through Disney’s Animal Kingdom at mile 15 we were in a full on cold, torrential downpour. Our clothes were soaked, our shoes and socks were soaked. I had water running down my face to the point that I could hardly see. At one point during it I made the mistake of popping into a restroom–by the time I rejoined the course a few minutes later it was still pouring but my body temperature had dropped substantially–so I was freezing cold and just so miserable. I’m laughing about it now but I would rather not feel that way again any time soon.
I was swelling a bit toward the end and, I bet in part because of the temperature changes, feeling a little sick to my stomach. At one point I walked up to a medical tent–they were swarmed with people trying to ease the wet clothing induced chafing with petroleum jelly–and asked if they had “any Pepto or anything” and a godsend of a woman gave me two chewable Alka Seltzers that saved me.
For the rest of the race I was feeling pretty rough but just kept moving. I slid into character stops, walked a few times, and just counted the miles. At around the 4:45 mark, I very, very gratefully crossed the finish line. My foot hadn’t been a real issue the whole time. I’d had other issues along the way, of course, but the worst of my fears hadn’t come to be.
I grabbed my stuff at gear check, never so happy to have packed dry clothes and Oofos, plopped myself down on an old mylar on the ground in the reunion area, and peeled off what I could of my gross wet clothes. By the time I’d gotten a coffee and found some other friends who were finishing, I’d recovered enough for a few celebratory pictures and to drive myself home.
I’m so grateful to have been able to run this weekend. You realize when your body doesn’t cooperate that…well…in order to run your body has to cooperate. I’m so grateful for my running community. I’m in awe of all of you–your decision to do this crazy thing that hurts so much just because you want to do hard things. I am sore–but it’s my chafed skin and my overworked quads. Not my bones and my tendons. It’s stuff that heals. I’ll take it.
That said, I was originally supposed to go to Disneyland this coming weekend for the return of their runDisney races. After a lot of soul searching, and then some very simple honesty with myself…I am opting to stay home. There are a thousand reasons. My body needs rest. We’ve been traveling a ton in the past few months. My mom leaves Saturday after an extended visit. My husband is traveling. My kids start soccer Saturday. The friend that I was originally traveling with had to cancel.
But at the end of the day, I could have worked around all of that. And if I’m honest with myself, I’d just rather be home. It’s been months since I had a quiet weekend just me and the kids and that’s basically just all I want to do at this point. And while I’m grateful to my body for staying strong through Dopey despite the training season, I think it now deserves more than a few days to heal. I’ll be cheering all of you on from here in Florida. I can’t wait to see what the return of the Disneyland races turns out to be like and am excited to see if this is an event that the kids might like to travel to do with me in 2025…
* * * * * *
I hope this has been a helpful recap of the event – whether you wanted to relive it too or are preparing for a race weekend of your own. Please let me know what more I can answer for you about these runDisney race weekends, or anything else, and, as always, be good to each other.
* * * * * * *
You can find my complete guide to running trails on Disney World property RIGHT HERE.
* * * * * * * * * *
Please join me on Instagram for my day-to-day adventures living a mile from the magic.
* * * * * * * * * *
I take pictures, too!! If you’re missing home (or love someone who is) and are looking for a way to bring the magic home, I’d love for you to check out my prints over at Thousand Circles Images.