Hey everyone! I’m getting ready to head down to Walt Disney World for the runDisney Star Wars Rival Run Weekend, and that makes it a great time to give a quick primer on what runDisney is, and what these events are like for those of you that might be interested in trying one (or who happen to be at the resort on a runDisney weekend). This will be the first of two articles: this one will focus upon choosing a race and all of the other planning-related things you do prior to race weekend. The second part will look at the race weekend itself. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in!
What is runDisney?
Perhaps you’re a Disney Parks fan, and you’ve heard about runDisney, but aren’t entirely sure what it’s all about. Well, as the name would suggest, runDisney refers to a collection of running events that take place primarily in and around Disney parks and properties. For Disney fans who are also runners, it provides the incredible combination of being able to not only run, but do it in the shadow of iconic Disney landmarks. For any Disney fan, however, these events are a wonderful and fun way to experience Disney parks in a unique way. Above all, they are a great time. Yes, they are races in the technical sense, but the better way to think of them is as fun runs — the pace you are required to maintain is relatively relaxed, photo opportunities abound, and there is a ton of on-course entertainment.
Who Can Do a runDisney Race?
As a preliminary matter, while they are a lot of fun, runDisney events are indeed road races, and necessarily require some level of physical exertion. You should be healthy and able to meet the minimum pace, just as you would for any organized run. People do get removed from the race just like any other race on account of injury or failing to maintain pace. Running can be tough on your body.
With that said, runDisney events require you to maintain a 16 minute/mile pace, which is pretty generous. If you’re in reasonably good physical condition, you can easily complete a 5k at that pace with a combination of running and walking, or even walking quickly. When doing the Princess Half Marathon last year, I came upon a woman at about the 11 mile mark in a walking boot. They also have registration available for wheelchairs and handbikes. The point is, provided you give the distances the respect they deserve and do the training, you can probably do a runDisney event. These events are above all a lot of fun, and they are appropriate for most anyone that wants to do them.
With THAT said, there are a few age restrictions to be aware of:
- The Marathon and any Challenge including the Marathon are limited to runners 18 years or older;
- Half Marathon runners must be 14 or older;
- 10k runners must be 10 or older; and,
- 5k runners must be 5 years old and able to finish the race on their own.
What Race Should You Do?
runDisney currently hosts 4 race weekends per year at Walt Disney World:
- Marathon Weekend (early January)
- Princess (mid-to-late February)
- Star Wars (early April)
- Wine & Dine (early November)
Each of these weekends includes a 5k race (Friday), a 10k race (Saturday), and a half marathon (Sunday). Marathon weekend, as the name would suggest, also includes a full marathon that snakes through all four parks and around Disney property. That race is held on Sunday, so the other races all shift back one day, such that the 5k is on Thursday. Additionally, there are races for the kids on Saturday, ranging from the very short (for crawlers) up to a one mile run.
All of the runDisney events are huge and will attract thousands of runners, but broadly speaking, the Princess races will attract a disproportionate number of women. The other weekends are fairly balanced, though, and because the Marathon weekend is the only weekend that includes a full marathon, it’s going to attract serious runners that want to do that distance. Regardless, you can expect all of the race weekends to attract everyone from competitive distance runners to walkers, and they are all appropriate for all audiences. Thematically, Marathon Weekend will touch broadly upon all things Disney, and the other races are themed to their namesakes, so if you’re a big Star Wars fan, for example, you might gravitate towards the Star Wars races.
As between the different distances, there are a few differences you might care about beyond that some are obviously longer than others. For one thing, the 5k is not chip-timed, while the other races are. Also, while there are some variations in the specific courses, if you’re running a 5k, you’re running in Epcot — all of the current 5k courses go primarily through Epcot. The longer courses have more variation: for example, the Princess Half Marathon typically starts near Epcot, runs through the Magic Kingdom, and then returns to Epcot to finish. The Star Wars Half Marathon course, on the other hand, starts near the Magic Kingdom, runs through Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, and then finishes at Epcot. The courses do change over time, but you can get a sense of what course you’ll likely be running by searching Google for prior years’ courses. If there’s a particular park that you’d really like to run through, you’re obviously going to want to pick a course that is likely to go through that park, and that may also mean a longer distance race.
Disney also offers challenges for those that want to push themselves and/or collect medals. Every weekend except for Marathon Weekend currently offers a special challenge medal for those that run both the 10k and Half Marathon — run 19.3 miles over the course of two days, and you’ll get the medals for those races plus a challenge medal. The truly hardcore, however, gravitate to Marathon weekend, which offers the Goofy Challenge — run the half marathon and the marathon for a total of 39.3 miles, and you’ll get an extra challenge medal for your efforts. Several years ago, however, some sadist decided that wasn’t enough of a challenge, and the Dopey Challenge was born. Do the 5k, 10k, Half Marathon, and Full Marathon, for a grand total of 48.6 miles spread over four days, and you’ll get six medals — one for each race, the aforementioned Goofy Challenge medal, and then yet another special medal for completing the Dopey Challenge. You can also add the ADDITIONAL challenge of carrying six heavy medals around your neck.
Speaking of medals, the hardware that runDisney passes out for their races are legit. This is not going to be some flimsy, generic disc on a string that you get for doing a 5k around your local park, these are large, well-designed and unique medals that make a great keepsake. I think generally speaking, the more substantial the race, the more elaborate the medal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean better — they all tend to be great, just different.
Signing Up and Proof of Time
Signing up is a straightforward enough process — go to the runDisney site, follow the appropriate links, and complete your registration. Note that registration occurs many months prior to the race, and races can fill up quickly. If you really want to do a particular race, it’s a good idea to check the runDisney site well in advance to figure out when registration will start, and then get online at the earliest opportunity to sign up. If you’re an Annual Passholder, DVC Member, or member of the military, you will have an opportunity to register prior to the general public, so make sure you take advantage of that — those early registration dates are listed on the site as well.
Generally speaking, Disney will assign you a corral based upon your anticipated finish time. For the half and full marathons, however, there are preferred corrals that are available (the first 6-7 corrals), but you will be required to submit proof of your time from a qualifying event to be placed in these corrals. You can do this at the time of registration, but you can also submit it at any time thereafter up to the deadline to submit proof of time. This is also done on the website. You’ll need the name, date and location of the race, your time, and the website where the results are listed so runDisney can verify it.
runDisney will accept times from events that are 10k or longer for proof of your anticipated finish time. For the half marathon, the anticipated time must be 2:45 or less to be in the preferred corrals. For the full marathon, your anticipated time must be 5:30 or less.
Lodging & Park Tickets
Just as with any Disney trip, you need to figure out a place to stay, and you need to have park tickets if you plan to visit the parks while you’re here (note: you do NOT need a park ticket to run through the parks during the races themselves). This aspect of a runDisney trip is essentially the same as planning any other Disney trip, except to note that there are a limited number of rooms set aside for discounted packages (which can even include your race registration) for people that are in for a runDisney event. Call Disney at (407) 939-iRUN (4786) or check the runDisney site for the race you’re doing for more information. They do sell out, however, so if you plan to take advantage of them, don’t dawdle.
That rule applies regardless of whether you intend to take advantage of those package deals, by the way. Race weekends can be very busy, rooms can be scarce, and rooms that ARE available — particularly those on Disney property — can cost well in excess of what you would usually expect to spend. As soon as you know you’re going, it’s wise to get something booked. I recently explored changing my room about two months prior to Star Wars weekend, and found that the smattering of rooms that were available were going for as much as six times what I know to be a normal price for those rooms. If you need a room, don’t wait.
Should you stay onsite or offsite? As always, it’s going to depend upon your own preferences, but setting aside personal preferences regarding things like cost, amenities, etc., most people typically find the experience of being onsite to be easier when it comes to getting around to the races and related activities. Disney provides bus transportation from resorts to the Expo, and between the resorts and the races on race days. In my experience, the buses are quite efficient (more so than the regular Disney transportation), there is definitely a sense of camaraderie on the buses both before and after the races, and transportation and traffic will be one less thing you’ll have to worry about on a morning when you’re already going to be up super early and have a lot on your mind. With that said, I get it, there are more things to consider and it’s not such a massive difference that I would say you should move heaven and earth to stay onsite. Lots of people stay on offsite hotels and do just fine, but if you’re otherwise on the fence, I would think the added convenience would tip the balance towards an onsite resort.
After you’ve registered, the most important thing to do prior to race weekend is to TRAIN. Disney magic can only take you so far, and regardless of what race(s) you’re doing, you need to get your body ready for the experience. Telling you how to train is frankly beyond the scope of this article, but there are ample resources out there to help you get ready. Former Olympian Jeff Galloway has partnered with runDisney and has put together training schedules for everything from running your first 5k to running the Dopey Challenge. Check them out if you’re looking for a place to start!
Corral Assignment and Waivers
Two to three weeks prior to the race, runDisney will release waivers for the various races, which you can obtain by entering your last name and birthday on the event site, as shown below.
These need to be printed out, signed, and provided at the time of bib pickup to obtain your bib. The waiver will also include your bib number; if you’re running the half marathon or marathon, you can use your bib number to determine what corral you are in. For other races, you’ll be advised of your corral placement at the time you pick up your bib.
To me, one of the things that separates a runDisney event from a garden variety race is the effort that people put into their race day attire. You’ll see a LOT of people in costume, some of which are astonishingly elaborate. Pinterest is a great place to look for ideas and instructions on building a run-friendly outfit. The primary piece of advice I have for you here is just to remember that you’re still running a race, and want to be comfortable in doing so. Weather in Orlando can be unpredictable, so you want to make sure that whatever you wear can be adapted if it’s unseasonably hot or cold. ESPECIALLY when you’re dealing with heat, a costume that doesn’t breathe and traps heat can actually pose a safety risk. The same is true with any costume that doesn’t allow you to move freely. Also, make sure that you’re adhering to Disney’s costume policies for races. Check out a few highlights:
Yes, that’s @DopeyRunr running as Spaceship Earth.
If you’d like to recreate Mindy’s Han Solo outfit, instructions are here.
As you can see, LOTS of people dress up and some really get into it. It’s a big part of what makes runDisney events special, so definitely include it in your planning!
In closing, I want to offer a huge thank you to Twitter users @glassj3n, @ryanrmx, @raisinglasvegas, @GabrielVeasey, @Courtney_Guth, @_kimhanley, @Donnaquack18, @OneGoldenSun and @FairyTaleMindy for their assistance with this article!
So, I’m sure you have lots of questions, like:
- What time do I need to get up (spoiler alert: really, really early)?
- How much time should I plan on being at the expo?
- Will there be water and bathrooms on the course?
- How will I get to and from the races?
- What’s with these scary balloon ladies I’ve heard about?
I’ll answer these and many other questions in the next installment, which is focused upon what to expect on race weekend itself, from the expo to the actual races. With that said, if you have any questions about the pre-race stuff, or if you have topics you want to make SURE I cover next time, please let me know in the comments!