Running a marathon makes you part of a pretty exclusive club. Less than 1% of the population of the world will ever achieve this. For those of us who have, Disney has made an even more exclusive club, one that a very small, but very proud group of people will join. There is only one thing you can call someone who will wake up at 3AM, twice, to run a total of 39.3 miles- Goofy.
Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge is an endurance event that is, for many, the ultimate Disney experience they will ever have. The challenge is to run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon on Saturday morning, then return to the start line on Sunday to complete the Walt Disney World Marathon. About 7,000 runners out of the 56,000 who participate in Marathon Weekend will take part in the Goofy. These runners are the most fanatical of all those participating in the runDisney events.
Saturday morning, up bright and early and to Epcot for the Half Marathon. The half is the largest event of the weekend in terms of number of participants, nearly 26,000. It would not be a Disney event without fireworks, and you will get plenty at the start line. Runners are assigned to a corral based on their expected finish time, and each corral gets the full starting treatment (timing devices in your race bib ensure that only your total net time is recorded, regardless of how long the clock was already running when you began). The race heads from Epcot, up World Drive, to the Transportation and Ticket Center. Hundreds of spectators will be out early to cheer you on as you make your way toward Magic Kingdom. One of the more difficult aspects of the course will be the roadway under the water bridge, just before the Contemporary Resort. That hill may not seem very steep on the bus, but trust me, it is.
Running through Cinderella Castle is the highlight of the race for most. Be sure to stop in front to get a photo. There will be multiple race photographers there to take your picture, so you won’t lose very much time at all. Once you leave the Magic Kingdom via the backstage area behind Splash Mountain (ever wanted to see what Splash Mountain looks like from the back?) the course narrows are you head toward the Grand Floridian and Polynesian resorts. Then it is back down World Drive to Epcot.
The most difficult section of the Half Marathon will be at mile 10. There are three long uphill climbs here as you go over several overpasses to get back into Epcot. Then it is a quick run through Future World, and out to the parking lot to the finish line. Congratulations Goofy runners, you are one third of the way there.
My sister joined me in the half this year, her first (and possibly last) race. She may have been nearly an hour behind me, but she got her Donald medal (this year was a special design to denote the 15th running of the half marathon). That medal was around her neck for the rest of the trip, as well as the “I Did It!” shirts that you can purchase at the expo (you didn’t expect Disney to miss putting a gift shop here did you?)
Sunday morning, up early again. The full marathon begins the same way as the half (Mickey starts the race instead of Donald), although you do get to run through Epcot first before heading up to Magic Kingdom. Unlike the half marathon, the course takes a turn through backstage areas on the way to Animal Kingdom. Most notably, runners pass the recycling station for the resort at mile 15.
One of the things that the marathon really makes you appreciate is the size of Animal Kingdom. Once you enter the backstage gates of the other parks, you are in the middle of guest areas very quickly. Not at Animal Kingdom. There is more than a mile of roadway before you exit backstage. I always get a kick out of the guests who arrive at Animal Kingdom that morning and are unaware of the fact that the marathon will be interrupting their morning. Of course, the ones who run through the crosswalks (please follow cast member directions so we don’t hit you) are treated with no wait times at Expedition Everest.
After a very cold week, it got very warm for marathon weekend, and the long, treeless section of the course between Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios was particularly grueling this year. It was quite a relief to get into the Studios. Having a crowd in the park to cheer you on definitely helps make the last, brutal miles seem easier. One thing I will say about the Goofy Challenge is that you should not run for time. Both the half and full marathons were quite a ways off from my best performances, as I did not want to push too hard in the half, and felt some of the previous days pain in the full.
The big prize, aside from the sense of accomplishment, is the medal you receive at the end (even if you come in last, you get the same medal as those in front of you). For the Goofy, you are rewarded with three, a Donald medal for the half marathon, a Mickey medal for the full marathon, and the much coveted Goofy medal for completing the challenge. Wearing this medal around the parks after the race is over will earn you many congratulations from cast members and guests alike, and even other runners (those without Goofys) seem to look up to you.
One benefit of traveling to Walt Disney World for marathon weekend is that you get to experience holiday hangover time. It is not easy for me to make it down to the parks during the holidays, but I still got to experience the Castle Dreamlights, and the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, as well as decoration property wide. Although the Christmas background music did start to get somewhat tiring by January 9th.
Probably the hardest part of the entire weekend was waking up at 3AM two days in a row. This is probably the first time since I was a small child that I was in bed by 8PM. This was my third full marathon, and 12th half marathon, but putting the two together was a much bigger challenge than those prior events were. But the sense of accomplishment vastly exceeds the pain. Many of my friends are runners, but none have attempted a race like this. Not to mention the chance to see Walt Disney World in ways few guests ever do.
The runDisney events have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, with all races reaching capacity before event day. In addition to Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, there are the Princess Half Marathon (Walt Disney World) and Tinker Bell Half Marathon (Disneyland), which are women focused events (but men can run too), The Expedition Everest Challenge, the newly reimagined Tower of Terror 10 Mile, the Disneyland Half Marathon, and the Wine and Dine Half Marathon. Complete any two of at least a half marathon on each coast and receive the special Coast to Coast medal as well. For more information and to sign up to run, visit www.rundisney.com.
There is something else that is important to be said as well. This is a challenge that you the reader can probably complete. That statistic I mentioned earlier about how many people will ever complete a marathon is only part of the story. Of the people who make it to the start line, 98% of them will finish. It takes training and determination to be sure, but you do not need to be an Olympian to do it. I only started running three years ago, and now have over 3000 miles logged and six runDisney medals hanging on my wall (and a New York Marathon too). If you want a Disney experience that is truly unique, and will have your friends amazed, consider signing up for one of the events. Start with a 5K, you may just find yourself going Goofy in the not too distant future.