WDW Marathon Weekend 2017: One to Remember

I am back from a somewhat dramatic Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. I had a great time as always. Perhaps even more so as this year really brought out the best in so many of the runners who were down there. Unfortunately it also brought out the worst in others. Continue reading WDW Marathon Weekend 2017: One to Remember

Preparing for Dopey Challenge 2017

Another year, another Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. If you are getting ready to head down, or are already on your way, here are some tips for navigating the week, especially if you are participating in the Dopey Challenge.

It will be crowded

Race weekend falls very close to New Year’s Day this year, so expect the crowds for the holiday to overlap with the marathon crowds for a few days. Even after the NYE crowds begin to tapper off later in the week, remember that Marathon Weekend is one of the largest events hosted there all year.

The Expo

If you are running the Dopey Challenge or the 5K you must go to the expo on Wednesday. In past years there have been stealth bib pickups the morning of the 5K for anyone who was late and could not make it to the expo, but I would not count on this being the case. As with last year, you must go yourself. You cannot have someone pick up your number for you.

Transportation is offered from all of the resorts. There should be signs in the lobby directing you where to find them.

As for the expo itself, it seems like every year they change up the process slightly of picking up your bib, shirts, and bag. Follow the signs or ask a volunteer if you need help. Remember that the vast majority of the people you encounter working the expo and races are volunteers. They are not getting paid to be there. Thank them profusely.

If you are going for merchandise, the earlier the better as it often sells out quickly. The half marathon will likely see its swag sell out fastest as it is an anniversary year.

Don’t Drive

Unless you are staying off property and you have no choice, don’t drive to the start. Disney runs transportation from all of their hotels. Take that. If you must drive, leave early as traffic can get heavy, particularly for the half and full marathons.

This is true for spectators too. Especially the morning of the half and full many roads will be closed and traffic will be bad. Choose your viewing places carefully. For the half and full marathon you can take the monorail between Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, even at that hour of the morning. Also, the spectator viewing area for the half and full isn’t great. You end up not seeing much, and since the course is on the other side of the highway from you, you probably won’t see anyone anyway. You are better off going right to Magic Kingdom, or to one of the resorts along the course, which will be way less crowded.

Get there Early

These races are infamous for their extremely early start times, around 5:30am for most of the races. It will be very early mornings for you this week. While the 5K and 10K start areas are not too far from where transportation drops you off, you have to cross the course to get there, so if you are late, you won’t make it to the corrals at all. The half and full start area are considerably farther from the drop off area. If you think you will be walking off the bus 5 minutes before your start time, think again. Get there early and you will have time to use the facilities, grab some water, and mentally prepare.

Plan for All Weather

The weather in Florida at this time of year can be really unpredictable. I have personally experienced everything from the mid 20s all the way to the mid 80s on race day. If the forecast holds, 2017 looks to be a nice middle ground.

It may still be chilly at the start however, and there isn’t really anywhere to escape it. It might be a good idea to bring some sweatpants and long shirts that you don’t mind tossing. Any clothes left at the start line will be donated to local shelters.

Don’t Try to PR

Despite the courses being mostly flat, these are not good races to attempt to make a personal record. These are crowded races, and the course can get rather congested at points – most notoriously during the 2016 half marathon runners hit a full stop coming through the Castle. Unless you are in the first corral, these races tend to have a slower, more relaxed pace. Take the time to get some character photos, especially at the half marathon if you are running Goofy or Dopey. You need to conserve energy anyway.

Practice Good Running Etiquette

If you are running with others, limit your group to running no more than two wide, especially on narrower areas of the course. If you need to walk through the narrow sections, do it single file. Make sure others can get around you.

Use hand gestures if you are going to stop of cut across the course. Don’t be that person that causes someone else to trip and fall.

Be careful when discarding cups or goo packs that you don’t hit someone else with them.

Don’t Cheat

This should be obvious, and yet it has been a problem. To be clear, the Goofy and Dopey Challenges are not relay races. You must complete all of the courses on your own. It would be a pretty hollow victory if you knew you didn’t really run the whole thing. The medals aren’t that special.

Use Photopass

This is the first year at Marathon Weekend where the race photographers will be Disney Photopass photographers (previously they contracted out to MarathonFoto). This means that annual passholders from the gold level up will have their photos included at no additional cost. So be sure to stop for a few. Just remember that these are meant to be quick photos. The races are still timed after all. Again, don’t be that person.

Dopey Challenge 2016 Recap

It’s a little hard to believe that it has been five whole years since I went down to Walt Disney World for my first ever marathon. Initially I thought the 2011 race would be a one off. But then the next year I wanted to run the Goofy Challenge. The year after that was the 20th running of the marathon. The year after that was the inaugural Dopey Challenge, and with it my chance to be a legacy runner.[1] Oh runDisney, you sure know what you are doing.

This was also the first year that I stayed at my own resort. During last year’s race Will and I purchased a Disney Vacation Club membership at the Polynesian. In a way this was me coming full circle, as the Polynesian was the very first resort we stayed at on my first Disney World trip 30 years ago.[2] The resort did not disappoint. The studio rooms, the only type offered outside of the massively expensive bungalows, are significantly larger than those at my parents’ home resort, Bay Lake Tower.

Photo of me on the balcony of the Polynesian then and now.
What a difference 30 years makes.

Another major difference on this year’s trip is that it was our first trip to Walt Disney World since the release of the new Star Wars film. And oh wow is Disney pulling out all the stops for this one. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has basically been swallowed by the franchise, and this is before they build the actual Star Wars Land there. It’s a great time to be a fan.

As always the race week[3] begins with a trip to the expo.

Mickey’s Health and Fitness Expo

The WDW expo is big. Really big. It is probably the second largest marathon expo I have ever attended, second only to the New York City Marathon. If you are running Dopey, you really have no choice but to go on the first day. While this means you get to see it when everything is fresh, it also means that it is incredibly busy. For some reason the layout is a little different every year, making it more or less impossible to be an expert at navigating. While I appreciate the attempt at separating where things are done (bib pickup separate from pins, separate from shirts, etc) it got almost confusing this year, requiring me to backtrack and wait in line again twice. The line for official merchandise was insanely long. Though, for the first time, I did not buy a single thing there.

Long lines at the expo for packet pickup.
A very crowded expo.

Walt Disney World 5K

The 5K course was unchanged from last year. My one complaint about both the 5K and 10K was the fact that there was no monorail transportation offered this year. Given the extra cost in staying at a monorail resort, this was quite disappointing. Even worse at the 5K was that the buses had to wait for the course to clear, which led to rather long lines for the earlier finishers. But beyond that the race was enjoyable. A nice, easy, flat 5K is a great way to start the Dopey Challenge.

This year I had a small group to run with. My cousin, his wife, and some of their friends were there for the races as well. Normally I am by myself at the start, so this was a nice change.

My with friends and family at the finish line.
It’s nice to finish with a group.

Walt Disney World 10K

The weather in Central Florida can be unpredictable at all times, especially in January. Sometimes it’s really cold (2015). Sometimes it’s really hot (2013). This year’s 10K was rain. Lots of really cold, really persistent rain.

Upon arriving most of the runners, including your’s truly, went straight to the (empty) merchandise tent. Thankfully this space was large enough for us to stay dry, at least until the corrals. After that though, there was no escape. The rain was on and off for the rest of the race.

My favorite moment in the 10K was my photo with Darkwing Duck and Launchpad McQuack. These are two very rarely seen characters these days. I was one of the last people able to even get this photo before the rain forced them back inside.

Me with Darkwing Duck and Launchpad McQuack.
Nice to get a photo with rare characters before the rain forced them back inside.

Walt Disney World Half Marathon

Of all the races this year, the half was the most special for me because my husband Will ran it along with me. This was his first ever half marathon.[4]

The upside was that I had someone to run with who could help keep me at a proper pace to not overdo it and end up in trouble at the full marathon. The downside was that he was placed in a very far back corral. This was the furthest back I have ever started, and I would rather not do it again. There was a lot of walking right out of the gate, and the course was much more congested than if I had started in the corral where I was assigned. The worst moment was running through Cinderella’s Castle. Not only did we have to walk through it, it was like walking through a crowded subway exit at rush hour. Even bag check had a barely moving line this morning. The marathon was quick by comparison despite being a very similar number of runners.

Weather was better at the half, though it was so foggy that the course was nearly invisible at times. We did not even bother with a photo in front of Spaceship Earth. You could not see it!

Despite the weather and crowds we still had a great race. It just goes to show how runDisney really have some of the best possible first timer races.

Me and Will with our finisher medals.
We did it.

Walt Disney World Marathon

Holy humidity batman! And lest you think this is just me rationalizing a slow race[5] even the winner commented on how difficult a run it was this year due to the conditions.

Starting in the right corral meant the congestion was not nearly as bad as at the half. The course was slightly different this year as the removal of the WDW Speedway meant that roughly one mile of course had to be moved elsewhere. The corse throughout the Magic Kingdom was expanded, now going through New Fantasyland and the area of Frontierland directly in front of Big Thunder Mountain, as well as an out and back section that was added before entering Animal Kingdom.[6] It will be interesting to see next year with the Studios under massive construction. We are likely to see another course change to compensate.

Speaking of Studios, another change was the indoor section through what used to be the costume shop on the old tour. With the tour gone, the windows were simply covered over. It was rather dark inside, with the only lighting being what I can only describe as a nightclub style party lighting. It was cool, but you could feel everyone slowing down to avoid tripping. Likely the last year for this part of the course too.

After six marathons, five Goofy Challenges, and three Dopey Challenges, I guess it is safe to call me a runDisney maniac. I cannot wait to do it again next year.

Me with the 6 Dopey Challenge medals.
Bling!

  1. Disney legacy runners, also called Perfect runners, are those who have run a particular race or challenge in every single year it was offered.  ↩
  2. Back then there were only 3 hotels and the campground. And no DVC. Or marathon for that matter.  ↩
  3. It is still called marathon weekend despite that fact that the majority takes place during the week now.  ↩
  4. Thought it was not his first runDisney race. He did the 2011 5K with me.  ↩
  5. I have log ago given up on this race being fast ever again. The multi race Dopey Challenge essentially makes that impossible. Speed really isn’t the point of Dopey anyway.  ↩
  6. This section of the course really did feel like a “makeup mile”.  ↩

Disneyland at 60

I am a huge fan of the Disney Parks. If you know me this is not a surprise. I have been to Walt Disney World over 30 times, Disneyland in California 3, and one trip to Disneyland Paris. The original park in California opened 60 years ago today. It almost goes without saying that Disneyland changed the entire amusement park industry. Themed areas, attractions with storylines, and deeply immersive experiences are now something we have come to expect when walking through the gates of a theme park, usually to be let down. But Disney continues to deliver.

The company has had its ups and downs to be sure. Disneyland in the late 90s and early 2000s was literally beginning to fall apart due to horrific mismanagement. But since new leadership took over just before its 50th anniversary, the resort has again been flourishing. And this revitalization has expanded to all of the parks around the world. Right now is probably the most exciting time for the Disney Parks since the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971.

I love Disney Parks because I grew up with them. But I also love the parks for their increasingly rich diversity of people and technology, both major interests of mine. Disney has been a very pro-gay company since the 90s when they faced down – and won – a boycott by the Southern Baptists. They offered marriages for gay couples at their wedding venues as soon as they could, and ceremonies before it was even legal. There is literally an entire ride devoted solely to the idea that we are all more alike than we are different. The Disney parks are for everyone.

So happy birthday, happiest place on earth.

Disneyland-Michael-Will

An Open Letter to runDisney on the Future of the Dopey Challenge

Dear runDisney,

Almost as quickly as the 2015 Walt Disney World Marathon ended, rumors began to circulate that next year will be the final year of the Dopey Challenge. As with so many rumors, especially related to Walt Disney World, these are unsourced, unconfirmed, and for all I know completely unfounded. But if the rumors are true, or even if the end of the Dopey is under consideration, I urge you to reconsider and allow this wonderful, magical challenge to continue on.

I can certainly appreciate and understand how difficult it must be to manage the race weekend. I am in a near constant state of awe at how well run the event is. I cannot imagine the stress and planning that goes into pulling off something of this magnitude. But it is precisely this that brings so many runners back year after year in spite of ever increasing registration costs. The quality of the race makes it worth the price of admission, just like the parks themselves.

The Dopey Challenge is a unique event. Every time I tell someone who has not heard of it before their jaw hits the floor. It would be a terrible shame to see it disappear.

I have an additional motive here which is entirely personal. Right now I am a “Perfectly Dopey” runner. Yes, there have only been two, but given that I could never be in the perfect club for anything else, I fully intend to return every single year for as long as this challenge continues. There are over a thousand other runners who are in the same boat. I went so far as to purchase an annual pass purely to be able to register early and make sure I do not miss any year. If the Dopey Challenge were to end it’s very likely I would take a year off marathon weekend from time to time.

For many other runners, Dopey is something to aspire to. They are training, and training hard, to one day complete the challenge. Maybe in 2016, maybe beyond. I think a lot of people would be devastated if the chance were to pass them by.

I don’t know if the rumors are true. For all I know it was something a few cast members started spreading and it got out of hand. But if there is truth in this, or if it is even under consideration, I would ask that you please reconsider. I love the Dopey Challenge. It is an unparalleled event that sets runDisney head and shoulders over almost every other running organization. It is pricey, it is exhausting, and it is difficult for runners and organizers alike. But that is what makes the challenge worth it. I pay the entry fee happily. I wake up at 3am for a week happily. I look forward to this event more than anything else on my calendar. Please keep it going beyond the 2016 edition. Please allow this truly magical moment to continue to be experienced by veterans and newcomers alike.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Post Lucas Star Wars

Joe Hogarty at WDWNT writes about George Lucas’s non-involvement in the new Star Wars movie.

The problem that I have with George Lucas now is that he really has lost his way and he has been surrounded by yes men for so many years that he thinks he can do no wrong. I am very grateful for George Lucas in that he created the stories and characters for ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Indiana Jones’ but ever since the ‘Star Wars Prequels’, I have come to the conclusion that he is not a very good director or story teller.

I agree. Lucas is someone who’s creativity thrives on restraint. Once he was so successful that he had none, things did not turn out so well. His imagination and ability to create a literal galaxy from nothing are incredible. But his skills as a writer and a director are indeed questionable at best.

I cannot imagine what it must feel like to have the thing you created, and the thing most inextricably tied to your identity, passed on to the next generation. But that is the sign of a successful franchise. It’s why Star Trek, Doctor Who, and James Bond have outlived their creators and are still wildly popular today. It’s the reason Disney’s own characters have remained.

This infusion of new talent will be good for Star Wars. We always loved the universe as a whole, which is why it has been in so many forms of media for so long. All of Star Wars, even the much maligned prequels, stands to benefit.

Dopey Challenge 2015 Recap

Not that many years ago I was unable to run a single mile. I was out of shape and viewed physical fitness as a punishment. Over the years I gradually morphed into a runner. In 2011 I finished my first marathon at Walt Disney World. I have been back every year since. 2015 marks a milestone for me as this was marathon number 10.

WDW_Marathon_2015_Castle

With runDisney I went from running a marathon, to running the two day Goofy Challenge, to running the four day Dopey Challenge. This is the second year for the Dopey event, and I registered the moment I could to make sure I maintained a perfect streak. Here is a recap of my race weekend. Continue reading Dopey Challenge 2015 Recap

Preparing for Dopey – Strategy for a Multi-Day Race

One of the unique aspects of the Walt Disney World Marathon is the ability to take part in more than just one race. In fact, this year runDisney is celebrating the 10th running of the Goofy Challenge, which combines the half marathon on Saturday with the full marathon on Sunday. Last year they added a 5k on Thursday and a 10k on Friday to form the Dopey Challenge. The multi-day races have proven very popular and lots of runners will be taking part for the first time.

The most important advice I can give is that you cannot expect to run all four races at your normal speed. You will wear yourself out too soon. I did this in my first Goofy Challenge a few years ago. I went too fast in the half and paid dearly for it the next morning in the full. Due to an injury last year I wasn’t able to run any races at full speed, but this ended up working to my advantage, as I was much more comfortable in the full marathon than I would have otherwise been.

Here is my strategy for this year’s Dopey Challenge.

  • 5K – Run at almost normal pace. This race is short enough not to have any long lasting effects for the rest of the week. I will slow down if I feel I need to though, no pushing through for this one.
  • 10k – More of a jog than a run. I am thinking pull about a minute per mile off my normal pace for this distance. Maybe even more depending on how I feel that morning.
  • Half Marathon – This is the one to sacrifice. It is the day before the full marathon, and you will already be tired by this point. Do not run the half like a normal half. I will treat this as a run/walk, and most likely finish nearly an hour over my standard half marathon finish time. And that is fine. Seriously you can really ruin it here. A great strategy is to use the half marathon as your photo race. I will stop for many photos along the course. Since I am already sacrificing the race anyway, the extra time really doesn’t matter. This way I don’t need to lose time the next morning.
  • Marathon – Back to full speed and hopefully it all pays off. If not I may ride Everest again. If it’s open when I am passing it that means I am off pace anyway.

A general tip that I cannot emphasize enough is to sleep. These races start early. For most you will be getting up around 3am to get to the start on time. And get there on time. You don’t want the added stress of possibly not making it. If you are still on your way to Epcot after 4am you very well may be late. If it is after 5am it is almost assured.

The Disney races can get somewhat congested. In particular at the start line, through the Magic Kingdom, and definitely when exiting out the back of that park (the Mickey Miles Podcast refers to this part of the course as Cone Alley. It will make sense once you see it). Do not waste energy trying to zigzag around people here. You will end up spending way more energy than you should and it can easily come back to haunt you later. It will open up faster than you think, don’t worry.

Hydrate, especially if it is hot. A large portion of the course is on the highway in the sun (now you understand why this race is in January). Disney is pretty good about the water stations, but I would not skip many, if any.

Be sure to properly stretch after the race is over. Go to the medical area if you need to. It is massive and packed with volunteers. Almost as soon as you sit down someone will be attaching ice to you ankle, knee, or wherever you need it.

And most of all, enjoy the races. This is supposed to be fun after all.

Preparing for Dopey – What to Bring

Next week is Marathon Weekend at Walt Disney World. I will be there as always. If you are one of the tens of thousands of runners who will be taking part in the race next week, it’s time to start getting ready to head to Florida. A big question on any trip to Disney is what to pack, but more so for this event.

Weather is a big question, as it can be all over the place at this time of year. I have run races at WDW that range from below freezing to summer temperatures. Also keep in mind that the races start very, VERY early. You will be in the Epcot parking lot at 4am, so even if it is warm during the race, there may still be cold weather to contend with. It is a mistake, however, to dress for the morning. The temperature will rise as the race goes on, as will your own internal body temperature. The best strategy is to bring layers for the morning that you can discard at the start line. RunDisney collects clothes from the start line and donates them to local charities. Some people bring trash bags to wear at the start. The forecast currently shows temperatures in the 60s for next week so definitely shorts are the way to go.

While nutrition is available along the course of the longer races, it is still a good idea to bring your own GU Packets down as the nutrition stations on the course are rather far apart. Yes, you can buy them at the expo, but it will be cheaper to bring your own down.

I run with my phone, so I will be bringing my armband. I usually also pack a small camera to put in my runner’s belt. The phone is inconvenient for photo spots. If you plan to stop for photos along the course be sure to have a camera with you. Most photo spots have official race photographers there, but not all do.

If you are running a multi-day challenge, be sure to pack an outfit for each day. You will not be pleasant at the end if you reuse clothes.

And above all, Bodyglide.

Walt Disney World Gets Apple Pay This Wednesday

According to WDWNT, the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida will be rolling out Apple Pay this coming week, covering just about everything you can possibly pay for there. The only exception is table service dining, which will be added later.

I can’t wait to use it next month when I am there for the marathon. Disney has been heavily pushing technology into the experience at the parks, most notably with the RFID “Magic Bands” that have replaced everything from park tickets to room keys to FastPasses. A showcase for technology was a big part of the original idea for the Florida Project, specifically at EPCOT (originally an ultra-modern city of the future). I am glad to see that they are still embracing this part of Walt’s vision.