Having run every runDisney race on Walt Disney World property countless times, and having a social media name that basically shouts “runDisney fanatic!!” from the rooftops, I cannot tell you how often I get the “I’m running my first runDisney race next week – any tips??” question. And at some point I realized that, having written some version of the same reply, DM, PM, text, or email dozens of times, perhaps it would serve us all for me to put it all into a post.
As such, what follows is what I’d tell anyone and everyone prepping for a runDisney event if I had the chance to talk to them in person.
20. Pick your race weekend. As of the time that I’m writing this (and for quite some time now) there are 4 runDisney race weekends at Walt Disney World – so you can pick what works best for you as far as timing, theming, and distance. For any of these, you can register for one, some, or all of the scheduled races or multi-race challenges. And, if you’re in it for the bling, note that you’ll get a separate medal for every race and challenge that you complete. For example, if you run the Dopey Challenge during Marathon Weekend, you’ll walk away with SIX medals – one for each race, one for completing the Goofy Challenge, and one for completing the Dopey Challenge.
- Marathon Weekend in early January, which consists of a 5K on Thursday, a 10K on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday, and/or a full marathon on Sunday. This is the only weekend that includes a full marathon – and, as such, is also the weekend of the incredible Dopey Challenge – which means taking on all four of these races over the course of the 4 day weekend, for a total of 48.6 miles. You can also choose the Goofy Challenge – which includes “only” the half marathon and full marathon. Whether you’re tackling your first 5K or going in for a full Dopey, marathon weekend is full of incredible energy and is a great way to kick off the year.
- Princess Race Weekend in Late February
Princess weekend consists of a 5K on Friday, a 10K on Saturday, and/or a half marathon on Sunday. This weekend’s Fairytale Challenge is the 10K and Half – for a total of 19.3 miles over two days. As always, you can run as many or as few of the 3 races as you choose. This weekend’s theme is, of course, the princess, and you’ll find that that theming runs from the shirts, to the medals, to the courses, to the costumes on the runners around you. As you can imagine, there’s a ton of girl power on the course this weekend – but there’s no shortage of men out there too, so definitely don’t shy away from this weekend just because you’re a guy. Also note that, other than marathon weekend, this is traditionally the ONLY race weekend where you run through Magic Kingdom during the half marathon – which is a part of why it’s one of my favorites.
- Star Wars Rival Run Weekend in mid-April.
Star Wars race weekend consists of a 5K on Friday, a 10K on Saturday, and/or a half marathon on Sunday. This weekend’s Rival Run Challenge is the 10K and Half – again for a total of 19.3 miles over two days. Here too, you can run as many or as few of the 3 races as you choose. The weekend’s theme is Star Wars through and through – starting with when you register and choose to run for the Dark Side or Light Side. Central Florida’s weather is always unpredictable – but being in mid-April, this tends to be the race weekend that *can* get hottest.
- Wine & Dine Race Weekend in early November.
Wine & Dine weekend consists of a 5K on Friday, a 10K on Saturday, and/or a half marathon on Sunday. This weekend’s Two Course Challenge is the 10K and Half – again for a total of 19.3 miles over two days. Yet again, you can run as many or as few of the 3 races as you choose. The weekend honors Epcot’s fall Food & Wine Festival and you’ll find that theming throughout. Traditionally the half marathon runners will get a party ticket for an after hours event at Epcot on Sunday night. It’s also worth mentioning that the 5K this weekend traditionally goes through Animal Kingdom before sunrise – including Pandora – which offers some gorgeous views.
19. Consider the kids’ races too!!
There’s nothing like getting them started early – so while you’re choosing a race weekend for yourself also consider getting your young children (if you have them) registered for one of the kids’ races that weekend. You’ll normally find everything from diaper dashes to a 1 mile race at ESPN Wide World of Sports on the Friday and/or Saturday of race weekend. And it’s Disney, so they do it right, with a DJ party, loads of activities, and maybe even a little Pixie Dust in the hours leading up to the events. It’s a great way to get the kids involved and interested in the weekend – not to mention a great way to let them bring home a little bling of their own. (And if you’re looking for more ways to get the whole family running at Walt Disney World, I’ve also talked lots elsewhere about the resort fun runs that take place many mornings. You can find my guide to them here.)
18. Be ready for the price tag. Disney races, like all things Disney, aren’t cheap. If you’re accustomed to running your local 5K, the cost of a runDisney event is likely going to be a little shock to your system. All I can offer on this front is the promise that, if it’s something that you can afford, it is worth it. Like all things Disney, it’s almost impossible to walk away from a runDisney event not feeling like you’ve gotten your money’s worth. From the entertainment to the fireworks to the shirts and bling to the courses themselves, these aren’t your everyday running events. They are something to plan your Disney trip around, and you’ll need to budget for them in the same way that you’d budget for any portion of a Disney vacation. Believe me – I’m not making light of the cost and know that it isn’t for everyone. But if you can make it work it is absolutely something that every runner should experience at least once. (And then you’ll be hooked and experience it dozens more times!)
17. Register early. Once you know what race you want to run, find the registration date and be online to register as soon as registration opens. Also note that annual passholders and DVC members will usually be able to register as much as a week before other registrants – so if you have either take advantage of that opportunity. Registration for runDisney events can be unpredictable – sometimes registration is still open days before the event and sometimes the races sell out in minutes – so while you might get lucky if you wait, if you know it’s something you want to do get the registration done ASAP.
As far as the ins and outs of runDisney registration, they recently changed the system to make it a part of their own site. You can find an ins and outs guide to that new system at this link.
16. Proof of Time. Proof of time seems to be one of the things that confuses new runDisney registrants the most, and it shouldn’t. It’s basically just submitting your personal best officially timed race from the last couple of years to Disney so that they know how fast you’ll probably run and can put you in a starting corral accordingly. You’ll generally need to submit a 10K or longer for proof of time for a half marathon and a half marathon or longer for proof of time for the full marathon. No proof of time is required for 5Ks or 10Ks.
Note that submitting proof of time is *not* necessary. It’s just a way to get yourself a better starting corral for your half marathon and/or full marathon. Because so many people run the runDisney races (we can be 25,000 or more strong at the gates) they can’t just let everyone start at once. Instead, they organize the runners into corrals and release them to start in waves. The fastest runners will be in the Elite or A corral, and it goes down the alphabet from there. The good thing about this is that if you can get yourself into a higher corral, you’ll get out onto the course earlier before it gets more crowded. You’ll also get a head start on the infamous and dreaded “Balloon Ladies” that pace the pacing requirement (see below) and sweep anyone that falls behind. Because the Balloon Ladies don’t start until the end of the very last corral, you can get a jump on them by starting in an earlier corral. For these reasons, even if you aren’t fast by any means, if you have any prior races at all it’s usually better to submit a proof of time than not.
You generally won’t need to enter your proof of time information at the time of registering. Just take note of the deadline and you can return to your registration later and add it then.
15. Pacing. “How fast do I have to run?” is probably the question I get most often when it comes to runDisney races. The quick answer is that the 5Ks are untimed and you can more or less walk or run them at any pace – which is one of the many reasons that I think the runDisney 5Ks are wonderful – and the 10Ks, half marathons, and marathon require an average 16:00 minute/mile pace. Understand that Disney needs to close down roads and otherwise staff and maintain the course for the duration of the event, so for anything above a 5K (which generally occurs before sunrise in a single park) they do need to know that the race will have an end.
Shout out to (the super fast!) Zack Hudson for this picture with the Balloon Ladies.
The Balloon Ladies – literally a group of ladies that walk in the back at a 16 minute mile pace holding balloons – hold up the back line of the racers and if you fall behind them you will get swept – meaning that they will pull you off the course and drive you to the finish line. Keep in mind, though, that the Balloon Ladies don’t start moving until the end of the last corral that is released – so if you can submit any proof of time at all to get placed in a higher corral, you are getting a jump start on them. The last wave of the last corral for a runDisney half marathon can leave an hour or more after the first wave – so imagine how much extra time you can be buying yourself beyond the required 16 minute mile pace if you leave even a corral or two before the last runners.
Gratitude to James Hansen for his balloon lady pictures!!
14. Train for what you’re running.
I don’t care how many marathons you’ve run. (Well I do – but not to this end.) Waking up at 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning 4 mornings in a row during a Disney trip and running a total of 48.6 miles is a different animal. And those wakeup times – and, for any challenge, the consecutive early morning wakeups – hold true for any runDisney event. If you are training for a 10K/half marathon challenge, make sure your body has experienced back to back long runs. If you are running the Dopey Challenge, this is all the more important. Running a full marathon the day after running a half marathon (the day after running a 10K the day after running at 5K) is no joke. You are starting a marathon on tired legs so you’ll want to know the ins and outs of how that feels and be practiced in the best ways to help your body recover. (Walk, stretch, take Epsom salt baths, use a foam roller, HYDRATE, etc etc etc.)
13. Test your costume and know the rules.
Love to Tiffany Marie and Stephanie Bullock for their always amazing race outfits.
Running in costume – and seeing everyone else’s amazing outfits – is one of the best things about running Disney. First off, though, you do *not* need to wear a costume and will not feel out of place at all if you don’t. As many people (at least) don’t wear them as do. But if you *do* want to wear a costume, feel free to go as crazy as you want – but remember that you need to be able to run in it!! If it chafes a little when you walk around in it, you will be rubbed raw in a marathon. If it gets a little annoying during a short run, you are going to want to tear it off during a half marathon. So just make sure that you do a test run in whatever you plan to wear to make sure that you are comfortable in it.
Also be aware of the runDisney costume rules when you plan your costume. You can find them on the runDisney.com website – just look at the link for your specific event under “Race Policies”. Here is an example of what they look like:
12. When and where to stay. If you want to build your race weekend into a longer trip, it usually makes more sense to do the runs first and extend the vacation after the races are over. That way you don’t have to try to deal with early bedtimes and wake ups, eating in a long-run-friendly way, and potential race-related nerves while you try to enjoy days in the park. Instead, plan to get to Walt Disney World by early in the day the day before your races start so that you can get to Expo for bib pickup, get to sleep very early, knock out your races, and then enjoy a few relaxed days in the park – or poolside – after the runs are over.
I also very strongly encourage staying on property (i.e., at a Disney resort) for the races. Race mornings involve early early travel, road closures, and lots of traffic, so driving can be stressful. If you’re staying at a resort, you will have regular bus transportation to and from the Expo and to and from all of the races, which makes the whole process much much easier.
One last note on the vacation planning front – if you are coming with family make sure they know that you will be focused on the races for that portion of the trip. You will need to be taking care of yourself, getting to bed very very early, and waking up in the wee hours to go run. You don’t want to ruin your race experience by trying to do too much on those days and you don’t want to be disappointing them unexpectedly either.
11. Arrival and Expo.
Per the above, you’ll be arriving at Disney by early in the day the day before your first race. Once you get to your resort, you’ll want to head to ESPN Wide World of Sports with your signed waiver (you’ll get it via email) and your ID to pick up your race bib and explore the merchandise. If you’re staying on property, you’ll be able to take a complimentary bus there. If not, you’ll need to drive, so allow time for possible traffic and parking.
Above all, make time to enjoy the Expo, explore, and take advantage of some of the photo ops while you’re there!
10. Keep that plastic bag! When you pick up your race bib(s) and race shirt(s) at Expo, you’ll also be given a clear plastic drawstring bag. Keep it!! It’s what you’ll bring to the races to check any items that you don’t want to carry with you on your run. Since you’re often waiting to start running for several hours, it’s often good to bring things along like layers of clothing, portable phone chargers, food, and water, and if you don’t want to have to carry them with you on the run it’s very easy to use the bag check system…so long as you have that clear plastic bag.
9. SLEEP. If I had to give one single piece of advice to anyone running a runDisney race – especially if it’s a challenge involving multiple race mornings – it would be to get. sleep. You are going to be waking up at around 2 a.m. to get to the corrals in time – and after all of your training and preparation you aren’t going to want to cut that too close. This is an early wakeup any day – but it can be a brutal way to start a day that you’re running a half or full marathon. And for things like the Dopey challenge, where you’re waking up at that time four mornings in a row, culminating in a full marathon the day after a half marathon (the day after a 10K the day after a 5K), you can really hurt yourself – much less ruin your experience – if you aren’t well rested. This means getting to bed as early as possible the nights before your runs. Your family will need to understand this.
Also consider what works for you as far as sleep aids. You won’t want something that stays in your system – but if there’s anything tried and true that helps you relax and get to sleep earlier than usual and leaves you feeling fine in the morning, bring it along. For me, melatonin and a meditation app do the trick when I’m trying to get to sleep ridiculously early before the first race.
8. Getting to the race. If you are staying on property, you’ll want to take advantage of the buses to get to the start line and back to the resort after the race. (Like I wrote above – this is a great reason to stay on property for runDisney events.) If you are local or are not staying on property, you’ll want to leave plenty of time to drive to the corrals and make sure to talk to the information desk at Expo (or perhaps the concierge at your hotel) to make sure that you are aware of any road closures that might affect your drive and know what alternate routes to take. (This is less an issue for the 5Ks, which are pretty much all within one park – but for the 10Ks, and very much for the half marathons and full marathon, you will need to know what roads will be open for travel.)
7. Get your cheer squad ready too. Cheering areas can be busy and difficult to access at the races too – for example people often start heading to Main Street in Magic Kingdom as early as 4am to cheer races that pass through there – so make sure that your personal cheer squad is also in the know about where to go and what to do. You can study the course maps and talk to the people at Expo for advice on where is best for them to go and what is the best way for them to get there.
6. You will be waiting around.
You’re going to need to get to the corral area very early – you’ll find the required times and bus schedules at your resort and in the race guides on runDisney.com. But understand that Disney is trying to organize tens of thousands of runners – so you’re going to be waiting for a few hours before you start. Keep this in mind and dress and bring things accordingly. Don’t worry about getting bored though – you’ll find tons of entertainment, from DJs and dance parties to character meet & greets to people watching to stage announcers in the start area. You can also opt to pay extra money for access to a race retreat with a heated (when necessary) tent, coffee, bagels, separate port-a-potties, etc. (For what it’s worth, I’m always running around with friends, dancing, and taking advantage of character meets before the races, so I don’t usually bother with paying extra for the retreat tent, but plenty of people do it – so go with what’s right for you.)
5. Plan for every weather contingency. This is central Florida, so weather is, by definition, unpredictable. Sometimes it pours for 3 minutes and then the sun comes out for the rest of the day. Sometimes it’s in the 80s for marathon weekend and sometimes you’re waiting in the corrals in 17 degree wind chills. (True story. That’s what we dealt with for Dopey in 2018.) Plan accordingly. It never hurts to grab a few throwaway ponchos in case of rain. I also go to Goodwill, particularly before January’s marathon weekend, and stock up on super cheap sweats and hoodies to layer over my running clothes – not to mention hats, gloves, HotHands, and mylar blankets. In some of the coldest race conditions, we’ve also cut strips of mylar to put in our shoes so that our toes didn’t freeze while we waited to start. (Affiliate links.)
Disney actually collects the discarded clothing that people drop before and during the race and donates it to charity – so you can rest assured that anything that you discard is going to a good place. During marathon weekend 2018, they actually collected, laundered, and donated more than 13,000 lbs of clothing. And I wouldn’t be surprised if 12,000 of it was mine. It was COLD out there….
4. Practice race etiquette – and be patient with others.
Part of the beauty of runDisney events is the extent to which they attract all walks of life. You’ll find novice runners here – and you’ll also find seasoned ultramarathoners. While this inclusiveness is amazing, it’s also sometimes a practice in patience. The courses can be packed, so be aware of the runners around you. Put your hand up to signal if you’re switching from running to walking or vice versa, walk on the right edge of the course so that others can pass safely, don’t walk in groups across the course in a way that prevents others from maneuvering around you, and on and on. And if you happen to be a seasoned runner dealing with a novice that doesn’t know the rules of the road, practice kindness (and perhaps use it as a teaching opportunity 😉 ). We all started out once.
3. Get Memory Maker/PhotoPass and Watch for the Photographers.
On any Disney trip you can purchase Memory Maker as an add on for your trip. It also comes free if you have an annual pass. Memory Maker lets you download every single PhotoPass photographer’s picture of you from your trip – including the ones from the race course. You’ll find the photographers at meet & greets with characters before, during, and after the races, and stationed in bright green tent enclosures throughout the course. Get Memory Maker for your race trip – and then keep and eye out for these photographers throughout your runs and make the most of those opportunities. Make sure your race bib is showing, because that’s how they’ll match you to your pictures and get them to you. (There will be a code on the back of your bib to link them to your account.) Also never hesitate to pull your own phone out at the character stops and have them take a picture with that, too!!
After the race is over there will also be PhotoPass photographers after the finish ready to take pictures of you with your medal. Make sure to take advantage of them!! Those pictures will be included with your Memory Maker package, too.
2. Don’t plan on PRing it.
If you finish a runDisney race in record time, you’re doing it wrong. These races are not cheap – and you should be savoring every moment and getting your money’s worth. Enjoy the course. Don’t stress your speed. Stop for character pictures. Enjoy being with your running partners. Take a moment and look around you on Main Street, U.S.A. or Pandora or World Showcase or anywhere else and just breathe in the magic of it all. You can PR a cheap local race when you get home. Enjoy this one.
1. Stick with what works for you. And above all else – aside from dealing with the particular quirks of runningDisney – don’t doubt what works for you on any given day. If you’ve never done a long run without a Camelback and don’t feel comfortable relying on water and Powerade stops, wear your Camelback. If the thought of wearing a costume on a run gives you hives, wear your usual comfortable gear. If you have a particular method for preparing before or fueling during or unwinding after, stick with it. This isn’t a race on the moon. It’s just a race at Disney. It’s wonderful and different and special in a thousand ways – but in the end, despite all of the scheduling and planning and characters and fireworks, it’s just another run. Don’t let it intimidate you at all. There’s no set of races in the world as welcoming to all levels of runner than Disney. If it’s ever crossed your mind to try one, give it a go. I promise you won’t regret it.
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I have been runningDisney for years and adore helping others catch the bug. If you ever have a question never ever hesitate to reach out. I am always more than happy to try to help.
Good luck to everyone going into marathon weekend next week and every other race in the coming year. Can’t wait to see you out there!! Good luck and good speed-
And gratitude to the family and friends that love us enough to support these crazy ideas.