The SATURDAY SIX Looks at the runDisney Phenomenon

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This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at runDisney! Before we start, a little backstory on this article. For years I have wanted to do an article on runDisney. My own experience with runDisney began and ended with the Castaway Cay 5K we did on the Disney Cruise that I sailed on. For me the run itself was fine, but I was much more interested in the Castaway Cay 5K merchandise available on the island. That said, I have many friends in the community who absolutely LOVE runDisney. For whatever reason, every time I was ready to do a SAT 6 on runDisney, something would come up to derail the plans. I resolved to have an article covering the 2022 runDisney marathon weekend (which took place January 5th-9th). Well, I didn’t think it would make sense to do an article on the demise of Shrek 4-D outside of the week it closed, which was the week following the runDisney marathon. So I pushed the 2022 marathon weekend article back one week and was ready to go when out of nowhere the story of the Figment Popcorn Bucket went too crazy to ignore.

So here we were again. It had already been several weeks after the marathon and an article covering that would be beyond dated. So it was time to shelve the runDisney article again. NAY NAY. If I don’t do something now, I’ll always find a reason not to do it. So put on the tracksuit, lace up on those running shoes, and let’s take a more general look at runDisney (with a whole bunch of 2022 marathon mixed in!)

# 6 – The Expo Experience

The runDisney weekends kick off with an Expo held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. The Expo is free for everyone, but mostly is only attended by runners and eBay resellers. The Expo is where runners pick up their bibs, and this is one area where Disney is extremely strict. Each runner must personally pick up their bib with a photo ID. There have been occasions where race bibs have been stolen, a story we covered in the 2017 Theme Park Turkeys of the Year, and one of the biggest rabbit holes I’ve ever been down was discovering the shadowy world of bib thieves.

After picking up their bibs, runners can interact with a large variety of vendors at the Expo, along with purchasing exclusive runDisney merchandise.

runDisney Expo from 2019.  (photo by Jamie Rosemergy)

You can see in the picture below that the Expo contains several photo-ops, and also has Disney photographers available.

runDisney Expo in 2022. (photo by Greg Ryan)
runDisney Expo photo-op. (photo by Courtney Guth)

One popular photo-op is the ability for runners to get their picture taken with large numbers indicating the amount of miles they will be running during the event.

runDisney Expo marathon photo-op. (photo by Greg Ryan)
runDisney Expo 1/2 marathon photo-op. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Some numbers might seem odd, but they are for people doing multiple races and combining the mileage.

runDisney Expo 1/2 marathon plus 10K photo-op. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
runDisney Expo 1/2 and full marathon photo-op. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
runDisney Expo 1/2 & full marathon, 5K and 10K photo-op. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Temporary runDisney tattoos are very high quality.

runDisney Expo. (photo by Scott Sanders)
This ain’t “lick your arm and press down on the paper” type of temp tattoo, this is the real deal. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Castle “ink.” (photo by Scott Sanders)
Pretty dang cool. (photo by Scott Sanders)

There are a limited amount of food and drink options available during the Expo, generally themed to the races themselves. Although 2022 did have a bucket of popcorn with chicken skewers stuck into it for reasons unknown.

Pink Potion Lemonade Beer offered during the Wine & Dine Villains event. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Chocolate medals. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

The official runDisney merchandise is always a huge draw at the Expo.

runDisney Minnie headband. Features silhouettes of princesses running. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Sparkly princess themed headband. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Sparkly princess themed headband. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

runDisney has some super fun-shirts.

Oswald t-shirt. (photo by @BazTastic77)

The Oswald imprint inside this shirt is a level of detail generally reserved for things like Pandora: The World of Avatar or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Oswald shirt. (photo by @BazTastic77)
Oswald shirt. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Great shirt for those supporting the runners. (photo by @BazTastic77)
runDisney shirt. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
That’s a wonderful pun and design. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
runDisney shirt. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
runDisney shirt. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
runDisney shirt. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
runDisney shirt. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

For pressed penny aficionados like myself, the Expo started offering pressed pennies back in 2017.

runDisney pressed penny machine. (photo by Scott Sanders)
runDisney pressed penny designs. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
runDisney pressed pennies. (photo by Scott Sanders)

We have seen a whole bunch of runDisney merchandise at the Disney Outlet Stores over the years. Here’s a sample of some of the items that we saw.

runDisney car magnet. Originally $12.99, reduced to $2.99.
runDisney shoe ornament. Originally $26.99, reduced to $2.99.
runDisney Kids Races Mickey ears. Reduced to $3.99.
runDisney Vinylmation. Originally $14.95, reduced to $3.99.
runDisney Mickey plush. Originally $16.95, reduced to $6.99.

# 5 – Race Entertainment/Photo-ops

Once it is time for the actual races themselves, Disney goes all out. With race announcers and DJs, what would be an interminable wait before each race starts is actually an enjoyable experience.

Ursula welcomes runDisney participants. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Race announcers Creigh Kelley and John Pelkey. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Race announcers Carissa Galloway and John Pelkey. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Polynesian Revue entertainment on the runDisney course. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

We have done our fair share of article on photo-ops with characters at both Disney and Universal. For some, photos with these characters are just as important to their theme park vacation as rides and shows. The runDisney races have characters and photo-ops throughout the courses.

Pocahantas. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Snow White. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Various photo-ops can be moved around depending on the race.

Belle and Beast meeting underneath a monorail track. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Belle & Beast along with Chip. (photo by @HeatherW25)

Many times these are characters you don’t see that often at the parks, if at all.

Suzy and Perla from Cinderella. (photo by @BazTastic77(
Mulan and Li Shang. (photo by @Heatherw25)
Grand Floridian Wedding Pavilion-themed character meet.  (photo by @Heatherw25)
A who’s who of Disney male heroes. (photo by @HeatherW25)
Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, Hook and Smee. (photo by @HeatherW25)
Clarice. (photo by @BazTastic77)
The Cantina Band outside Star Tours for the Wine/Dine Half Marathon. (photo by Brooke McDonald)

One thing to keep in mind is that some of these photo-ops can be popular.

runDisney Minnie Mouse Line
Line to take a photo with Minnie Mouse.

But it’s not every day you can take a photo with a bonafide Theme Park Turkey of the Year Award Nominee.

José Carioca. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

runDisney has had race weekends themed to the Marvel and Star Wars brands.

There’s even an occasional runDisney event out in California, where the SAT 6’s Editor-in-Chief got a chance to take photo with her favorite superhero. (photo by Megan Stump)
Jabba the Hutt. (photo by @baztastic77)
Ride Vehicle photo-op. (photo by Greg Ryan)
Maleficent float from Festival of Fantasy. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Orange Bird statue. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
The mile markers themselves can make for fun photos. (photo by Greg Ryan)
For one runDisney event, an Oswald cartoon was played for runDisney participants. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
The Cadaver Dans perform at a runDisney event. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

# 4 – The Big Picture

Another huge part of the runDisney allure is the fact that you are running on Disney property! From the 5Ks all the way to the full marathon, the runDisney races cover a lot of Walt Disney World’s 43 square miles. Let’s hop into the blogger-in-the-sky copter with @bioreconstruct to get a bird’s eye view of what this means….

From the 2022 marathon. The yellow line is the course from Magic Kingdom area on backstage roads to Animal Kingdom. Green arrow at bottom is guests leaving Animal Kingdom. The route overlaps until the top green arrow, where the course continues onto Western Way and Blizzard Beach. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Mile 21 of the 2022 marathon is located here near Blizzard Beach. Course does a U-turn on Buena Vista Dr. at right, then a loop through the Blizzard Beach parking lot before continuing onto Disney’s Hollywood Studios.(photo by @bioreconstruct)
A close up view of the Blizzard Beach parking lot shows that this is also a water stop for runners. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
A DJ is also performing at the Blizzard Beach parking lot. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
The distance that the marathon goes through DHS is relatively short. Arrow is at a runner with arms raised in air for a photo by official photographer in green tent. The course heads backstage here at right. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Here are the runners backstage at DHS, ascending a hill inbetween Tower of Terror and the drained Fantasmic theater. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
The right arrow is pointing at runners entering DHS, while the left arrow is the course near mile marker 23.(photo by @bioreconstruct)
Entering EPCOT from backstage at the UK Pavilion. Course continues over France Pavilion bridge and around World Showcase into World Celebration. The Course passes by the main EPCOT gift shop, through the breezeway, then backstage at Mission: SPACE. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

The finish line of the WDW marathon is in the EPCOT parking lot.

Arrow at finish line. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Expanding out, we can see that after passing over the finish line, finishers walk through a barricaded route. Here they will be able to get some post race food along with meeting friends and family members. At the top right of this photo are busses with bring guests back to the Disney resorts.

Arrow at finish line. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Here is the finish line from a runner’s POV.

Finish Line. (photo by Greg Ryan)
Disney has plenty of photos taken of runners taken throughout the course, but definitely one at every finish line. (photo by Megan Stump)
“We did it!” (photo by @anniehufflepuff)
Pretty dang cool! (photo by @bioreconstruct)

# 3 – Unusual Sights

runDisney events often give runners a unique look and experiences at Walt Disney World that most of us day guests will never see.

Morning fireworks. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Staging for fireworks. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Staging for fireworks. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

How many times can you be on the monorail and see something like this below you?

runDisney marathon. (photo by Greg Ryan)
Runners about to head into the Magic Kingdom parking lot. (photo by Megan Stump)
Entering the Magic Kingdom in the early morning hours. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Going through Cinderella Castle with absolutely no one around. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Later in the day the experience can become even more surreal with cheering spectators. (photo by Greg Ryan)
A fleet of Minnie Vans and port-a-pottys outside EPCOT. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Sunrise at World Showcase can be a truly special experience. (photo by @HeatherW25)
Running UNDER Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Backstage of Soarin’ Around the World.  (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Backstage at Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure.  (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Harmonious during the day, with the Eiffel tower and the Walt Disney World Dolphin in the background. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Harmonious. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Harmonious screens. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

runDisney events are one of the only times you’ll be able to see the Harmonious barges using their fountain effects during the day time.

Harmonious. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Because of the great weather, the fountains created a rainbow.

Harmonious. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

# 2 – The Balloon Ladies

Runners in a runDisney race are expected to keep up a 16 minute/mile pace. “The Balloon Ladies” are runDisney participants with Disney balloons that are the unofficially the visual end of the race. Fall behind the balloon ladies and you will most likely be exited from the course by other race officials. Keep in mind, many people enjoy taking photos throughout the course, and as we saw above, sometimes these can take a little time…

The feared balloon ladies. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
The Balloon Ladies. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
The Balloon Ladies. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
The top arrow is at the Balloon Ladies behind Expedition Everest on the left. Guests behind the Balloon Ladies are likely to be exited from the course. The bottom arrow is a race official likely advising  a walker. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Closer view of the Balloon Ladies. (photo by @bioreonstruct)

The bus in the middle of this photo is used to transport runners who have been exited from the course to the finish line area.

runDisney marathon. Photo taken near Western Way and Coronado Springs Resort. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Balloons are also used to give participants a bearing on where things are located, such as event busses to take them back to resorts.

Balloon signage. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Balloons at a runDisney event. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

# 1 – The Medals

There are some out there who will tell you that the act of running itself is its own reward. The adrenaline, the exercise, and the release of endorphins will make you feel better than ever. To that I say NAY NAY. The reason to run is for the medals.

runDisney medals are straight up E-Ticket

Pluto 5K, Oswald10k, Donald half marathon, Mickey full marathon, Goofy half-full combo, Dopey all four races. The Mickey, Goofy, and Dopey medals have additional ribbons for perfect completion of all prior years for each event. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Disney Princess themed medals. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Disney Villains themed medals. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Marathon Mickey Ears with medals. (photo by @BazTastic77)

You have to love runner Heather Winfield, who has her nails match the race’s theme.

Minnie Medal. (photo by @HeatherW25)
Belle medal. (photo by @HeatherW25)
Belle medal. (photo by @HeatherW25)
Snow White medal. (photo by @HeatherW25)
Pocahontas medal. (photo by @BazTastic77)
Star Wars medal. (photo by @BazTastic77)
Oswald medal. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Minnie Mouse medal. (photo by @anniehufflepuff)
Rapunzel Elena of Avalor medal. (photo by @BazTastic77)

What’s even better than the medal? Getting your picture taken WITH the medal!

Two champions! (photo by Scott Sanders)
Chef Pluto with two medal winners. (photo by Scott Sanders)
Sleeping Beauty medal with Sleeping Beauty. (photo by @HeatherW25)
Oswald medal with Oswald. (photo by @HeatherW25)
runDisney participants can get very creative with their pictures! (photo by @HeatherW25)

Okay, you’ve taken a picture of your medal. You’ve taken a picture of your medal with a character. You’ve even taken an appropriately themed photo of your medals in the park. What else is there left to do?

Duh, take a picture with your medal next to a PIZZA CONE.

Oswald medal with a pizza cone. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
Donald medal with pizza cone. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

A pizza cone food truck was available post race for the 2022 marathon and should basically be located at all the four Disney parks 365 days a year. The pizza cone is essentially a reimagined version of the classic Disney HANDWICH.

Let’s put one of these at each hotel too. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Back at home, many Disney runners display their hardware.

Medal rack. (photo by @anniehufflepuff)

Or, if you’re like @bioreconstruct, you have too many to display…

2009 runDisney medals. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
2010 runDisney medals. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
2012 runDisney medals. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
2013 runDisney medals. (photo by @bioreconstruct)
2014 runDisney medals. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

Honorable Mention – Leave the Memories Alone….

A Wine & Dine race in 2013 passes by the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. (photo by @bioreconstruct)

So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX Takes a Long Awaited Look at runDisney! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out the THEME PARK ENJOYMENT INDEX, giving a monthly recap of all the theme park news you need to know (and a lot more you don’t need to know, but we’re gonna tell you anyway). You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).

If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following: 

The runDisney Experience: Planning a runDisney Trip (by Jamie Rosemergy)

The runDisney Experience: Race Weekends (by Jamie Rosemergy)

Dos and Don’ts at a runDisney Expo (by Kristina Murphy)

Lessons from my 1st runDisney Event (by Kylene Hamulak)

Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, Digital Maestro Scott Walker, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, artist @SonderQuest, the mighty maven of merchandise Hedgehog’s Corner, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and “the Dadalorian” Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, charter member of the Universal Four @Nitro230, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Absolutely no help was added by SeaWorld Influencer @SuperWeenieHtJr. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will  enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.

NEXT WEEK… The return of an annual tradition. Kicking off with ROB YEO!

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8 thoughts on “The SATURDAY SIX Looks at the runDisney Phenomenon

  • January 29, 2022 at 10:24 am
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    Wonderful article! I’ve always been interested in the runDisney phenomenon as someone who would much rather spectate… just one question, I think the Disney Princess 5K 2019 medal is meant to be Elena of Avalon? It looks more like her then Rapunzel to me! Great article again! 🙂

    Reply
    • January 29, 2022 at 11:30 am
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      That one is on me. I can’t believe it because I’ve seen so much Elena merchandise at the Disney Outlet Stores I should have realized it. Great catch. Thank you.

      Reply
  • January 29, 2022 at 11:14 am
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    I did the 2009 marathon. There is really nothing like it, particularly for Disney fans.

    Reply
  • January 29, 2022 at 3:21 pm
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    So – I am going to be at WDW in February when the Princess Half Marathon event is on. I will be there with my husband and neither of us are marathon or half marathon runners and we don’t know anyone who will be taking part in the Princess Half Marathon – we have been to WDW lots and lots of times but never when there’s been a runDisney event before. So I have a few questions – 1) are we allowed to buy any merchandise? 2) are we allowed to have photos at any of the photo opportunities? 3) are we allowed in the parks to watch the runners running through – and if so how to we know where we should be at what time? I would expect the answers to questions 1 and 2 will be no – but just thought I’d ask lol

    Reply
    • January 29, 2022 at 10:31 pm
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      1. If you want to brave the expo (it’s at ESPN), they won’t stop non-runners from buying merchandise. There will be very little to no race merchandise for sale anywhere else.
      2. Most of the photo-ops are on the course and non-runners are not allowed anywhere near the majority of the course. Also the race starts at 5am, most of the course will be closed and cleaned up by 10-11am.
      3. The most likely place this might happens is at the entrance of the Epcot (the finish is in the parking lot). It will be the very back of the pack (the winners will finish around 6-7am) and is as a runner it’s fun to run through all the spectators, but if you want to actually get anywhere in the park it will be hard, it creates a huge traffic jam. In reality most of the race takes place too early to be viable and the course officials won’t let you get anywhere close

      Reply
    • January 30, 2022 at 9:58 pm
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      You can get more info if you search for “Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend”. There is a “Spectator Information” section which so far only says “The spectator experience continues to be evaluated. Please check back closer to the event for more details.” Most of the course is on roads in WDW, so access can be a problem. Little of the course is in the parks (Magic Kingdom and Epcot) and is mostly before the parks open. “noguiltdisney.com” has recommendations for cheering locations and possible ways to get there. The best place is probably the finish which is usually in the Epcot parking lot. If you are staying at one of the monorail resorts you should be able to walk to the course – very early in the morning. Keep in mind that the race starts at 5:00am and the last finisher will be about 9:00am.

      Reply
  • January 29, 2022 at 4:17 pm
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    I completed the marathon in 2011. Just before Animal Kingdom, Davy Crockett was stationed for encouragement, etc. I am not fast, so by the time I got there, he’d been there for HOURS. There was a speaker playing the Davy Crockett theme, and as I went past, I heard him say “Oh, they’re playing that song again. Just can’t get enough of that song.”

    Reply
  • January 31, 2022 at 4:58 pm
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    should have had an honorable mention for the box of snacks (and how it’s changed over the years). #plasticcheese

    Reply

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