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.

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.

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.

The Dopey Challenge

Disney World Marathon 2014-34Last year for Marathon Weekend I joked about having run the unofficial Dopey Challenge. Basically you took the Goofy Challenge and added in the 5K for a three day, 42.4 mile challenge. Well no joking this year, runDisney decided to take Dopey legit and premiere a whole new race in the process. For 2014, Marathon Weekend was extended by a day with the addition of the Walt Disney World 10K. This gave runners four possible distances to tackle – the 5K (3.1 miles) on Thursday morning, the 10K (6.2 miles) on Friday morning, the Half Marathon (13.1 miles) on Saturday morning, and the Marathon (26.2 miles) on Sunday morning. The Goofy Challenge remains as the combination of the half and full marathons. But if you wanted to be as, well, dopey as possible, the Dopey Challenge debuted as a four day, four race, 48.6 mile endurance event like no other.

So of course as soon as I heard that this was going to premier I jumped at the chance to sign up, which was a smart move. The Dopey Challenge filled to capacity (about 7000 runners) in about a week when it opened for registration last spring. In addition to Dopey, I had some family there running with me, albeit shorter distances. My mother joined me for the 5K, her first race, and my sister joined me for the 10K after having tackled the Half Marathon two years ago.

Here is a recap of the week from the eyes of a now four time veteran of Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, and, as of now, a Perfectly Dopey runner. Continue reading The Dopey Challenge

Walt Disney World Marathon

After three days of personal worsts, I finally broke the streak with the final race of the week, the marathon. Yes, my best race of the week was the most difficult. In fact, I finished nearly a full hour ahead of last year’s race. And that was on a recently sprained ankle. How did this happen? Well, I think there were two main reasons.

  1. Because I was afraid of my ankle causing problems for me at the last race, I took the first three extremely conservatively. This meant that I come marathon morning, I still had energy. In fact, I felt warmed up, rather than at the end of a difficult journey.
  2. It was quite a bit cooler and less humid than last year’s race. Last year was just brutal. This year was pleasant. The weather can have a massive impact on endurance sports.

In a way I am even more upset as I think that without the ankle injury I probably could have had a PR this weekend. But hey, I am glad to just have finished, something I feared would not happen about a month ago. And now I am a “Perfectly Dopey” runner. Can’t wait for next year.

I will have a much larger article for WDWNT and cross posted here soon. But first, after four days of 3am wake ups, it’s time to rest.

Marathon Finish Epcot

Walt Disney World 10K

Day two of the Dopey Challenge. Karen and I ran in the inaugural Walt Disney World 10k this morning. We actually ended up being a nice team. In paced her up, she paced me down. The ankle is holding, although it added half an hour to my 10k time. But I will take 1:30:30 over no finish at all, which is where I was a month ago. Humid, but otherwise a pleasant course. Too narrow in several sections but that is a general issue with the WDW races. Now I am on my own from here though. Two more 3am monorail rides. Half marathon tomorrow.

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