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.

Health and Fitness Expo

I have to admit that I was a little worried about the expo this year after hearing of the rather disastrous experience at Disneyland this past September. Like Walt Disney World, Disneyland had two inaugural races (the 10K and the 10K + Half Marathon “Dumbo Double Dare”) which led to massive lines, confusion, and hours long waits to pick up race numbers. Disneyland also saw nearly all inaugural merchandise picked clean before most runners were even able to get into the building. I also had the additional stress of having to pick up numbers for everyone else in my family thanks to flight delays from the polar vortex. So I was a little tense on the bus heading to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. Like in past years, number pickup took place in the HP Field House (along with one of two official merchandise areas), while shirt pickup, vendors, and presenters were located in the Jostens Center.

Runners are welcomed to the HP Field House for packet pickup.
Runners are welcomed to the HP Field House for packet pickup.

I am very happy to report that I had no trouble working my way through the expo, picking up everything I needed, and getting all the merchandise I could want. Disney was smart by having the Dopey and Goofy participants pick up their pins and shirts in separate areas all within the HP Field House rather than forcing them to visit several different shirt pickup stations over in the Jostens Center (although Dopey Runners still had to pick up their 5K shirts there).

The official merchandise was well laid out as usual. I chose to go to the larger area in the Jostens Center rather than the HP Field House, although it seemed like this year the line was actually longer in Jostens, which has not been my experience in past years. I was surprised to see so little for the 10K despite it being its first year. There was more Dopey merchandise of course, but still less than I expected. I was not totally thrilled to see more generic merchandise creeping in. For example, you could not buy a Dopey Challenge shot glass. All you had was a “Marathon Weekend” option. Due to the sheer number of races, I think its time to extend this area out a bit. It was feeling rather crowded this year.

A busy expo floor at the Jostens Center.
A busy expo floor at the Jostens Center.

But all in all it was a good experience. I managed to pick up my mother’s 5K bib, my sister’s 10K bib, and my two bibs for the Dopey Challenge (one for the 5K and 10K, the other for the Half and Full Marathons), as well as 8 participant shirts (one for each of them and six for me – one for each race as well as the Goofy and Dopey).

One piece of merchandise I did not purchase were the official runDisney New Balance shoes that were all the rage this year. The lines were very long, and by the time I got to the expo they were handing out times to come back and purchase them later (yes, FastPass for shoes is now a thing). I never made it back to the expo and they did not have the shoes available anywhere else.

Disney World Marathon Week 2014-024

Disney Family 5K

For the 5K we got to sleep in, and by sleep in I mean sleep until 4am. Something you should know about the runDisney races is that they start early. Very early. The 5K had the latest start of them all beginning at 6:15am. We boarded the monorail (they run for all the races, an advantage of staying at a monorail resort, otherwise it’s buses) and made our way to Epcot.

Good morning Epcot.
Good morning Epcot.

The course itself remained the same as in past years. You start in the Wonder parking lot, turn right and run backstage toward the park. Run under the outdoor portion of Test Track, enter the park behind Mexico and make your way around World Showcase. Then its up to the front gate, back into the parking lot, and finish at the same finish line the same finish line that all races in the series use. Weather was okay that morning although it did start raining during the race.

As with last year there was a corral system in place allowing for staggered starts to ease course congestion. There were 5 corrals, A thru E. Each corral was large and I feel they would have benefited from the change made to the larger races (see below).

This was my mother’s first 5K, so I had planned to take it slow anyway. But this became much more important after an early December accident I had on a training run. I sprained my right ankle pretty badly and wasn’t even sure I was going to make it to the races at all. But I healed well enough to run, provided I took it easy. My mom and I ended up walking basically the entire course. While the 5K officially has the same 16 minute per mile pace requirement as all the other races, for this one it is pretty relaxed. We ended up near a 20 minute per mile and had plenty of time to spare (the final finisher did not come through for another 30 minutes). So if you are hesitating to sign up for this race due to the pace requirements, don’t worry about it. You will have plenty of time to finish this one.

Walk in the park.
Walk in the park.

As always they had characters out on he course for some one-of-a-kind photo moments. One character in particular stood out. Dopey was out on the course. And boy was he popular. He was right near the beginning of the Germany pavilion. The line stretched all the way to the miniature trains on the other side. There had to be 150 people in that line. I spoke with someone who waited over 25 minutes for that photo. Much as I would have loved it, I skipped that one.

Overall it was a great race but I do have one major complaint. And I was part of the problem in a way. The Dopey runners basically swallowed this race. Of 10,000 participants, 7,000 were Dopey. The “family” aspect seemed diminished this year. In fact, the stroller division was eliminated entirely. Now I intend to continue to run Dopey, but if they are going to include it in this race, perhaps they can expand the field to include more people. The 5K is a great race to use to introduce someone to running and I would hate to see it become little more than a warm up for the elites.

My mom's first finish line!
My mom’s first finish line!

Also, its time to elevate this race to full status. It’s expensive, and even though it remains officially an untimed race, Dopey runners did have their times recorded. But it still gets you only a cotton shirt and rubber medal, unlike the other races in the week. Something to consider for next year runDisney.

My time: 1:03:08 – A personal worst for me, but a personal record for my mom, so we will just split the difference on this one.

Disney World 5K 2014-15

Walt Disney World 10K

No more sleeping in. From here on out its rise and shine at 3am. The remaining races all have a 5:30am start time. Next up was the first ever Walt Disney World 10K. The breakdown of runner was similar to the day before (10,000 runners with about 7,000 Dopey runners).

The 10K start line.
The 10K start line.

It used the same start and finish line as the 5K, but instead of heading toward Epcot directly it went out through the parking lot entrance gates first, then back toward the park. The 10K also featured a run around Crescent Lake, past the Boardwalk, Yatch Club, and Beach Club. Another unique part of this course was running backstage in Future World right between the show buildings for Soarin and Imagination.

It was humid for the 10K.
It was humid for the 10K.

I did a lot more running in this race than in the 5K. Still slow but it helped a lot to not irritate my ankle. It was pretty humid at this race, and the course did have one big hill and narrow section on the roads heading back toward the park (the Half Marathon passes this same way). It was a nice race, and both my sister and I enjoyed it. It’s a nice challenging distance without being too physically challenging to those who are not regular runners. And unlike the 5K, this one comes with a proper medal.

The course passes all of the Epcot resorts (except Caribbean Beach).
The course passes all of the Epcot resorts (except Caribbean Beach).

I do have somewhat mixed feelings about the course. Looking through the lens of someone running only the 10K it was pretty nice. But for those of us running Dopey, it kind of felt like the 5K with a tacked on portion through the parking lot at the beginning. Boardwalk was nice, but that early section through the parking lot was not particularly memorable. Also the corrals were probably at their worst for the 10K. It took a long time between each corral starting, longer than it did at the 5K. There also seemed to be very few character photo stops along the course. There was also a congestion problem between mile 1 and 2.

I should add that this was the point where you could very easily spot the Dopey runners. At the end of each race, Dopey runners had to stop and get a wristband to show that they completed the race. So after the 10K most Dopey runners looked like escaped mental patients.

My time: 1:30:31 – Personal worst number 2!

Disney World 10K 2014 Finish

Walt Disney World Half Marathon

So I will fully admit that of all the races in the Dopey Challenge, this was the one that worried me the most. Even when not recovering from an injury, the half is a very tricky distance when you have a marathon the next day. This is what happened to me the first time I ran Goofy. I went way to fast in the half and paid dearly for it the next day in the marathon. A half marathon is a long distance and running just it alone is often enough to tire you out for a few days. But here there is a marathon the next day. Also I had family to help pace me for the first two races. From here on out I was running solo.

2014Half Marathon Start

So I made a very conscious effort to keep running slowly and taking a lot of walk breaks. This was both to keep from overexerting myself before the marathon as well as re-injuring my ankle, which was a constant fear for me the entire week. I said that it would be my worst half marathon time ever, and it was. As with last year’s sweaty marathon, I took a lot of opportunities to stop and get character photos.

The weather at the Half Marathon was pretty humid, although thankfully not as hot as the forecasts were predicting. It was incredibly foggy though. In fact, many of the higher fireworks at the start were barely visible.

I mentioned earlier a change to the corral system for this year and this was the first time we got to see it in effect. Right at the start actually, just walking to the corrals was way better than in past years. Last year the walk from the staging area to the start corrals, which is about a mile, barely moved. We were packed in shoulder to shoulder the entire time, and I barely made it to the start on time. This year I was able to walk at a normal pace on the way to the corrals for both races. Whatever runDisney did to lessen the congestion here it was much appreciated.

Waiting in the Corrals
Waiting in the Corrals

As for the corrals, they were much smaller this year, and there were a lot more of them. Last year the corrals went up to H, this year they went all the way to P. This meant that most of us moved pretty far back. Last year I started in corral C, this year I was all the way back in J. This was done to allow for greater crowd control along the course, and it really did work this time. Unlike at the 5K and 10K, the corrals were released pretty rapidly, with only a few minutes in between each. This had the nice effect of spreading out the runners much better. I like this change, and hope they stick with it (not to mention figure out a way to bring it to the 5K and 10K).

There seemed to be some technical problems at the start for the Half Marathon. A great aspect of the runDisney races is the banter and entertainment while waiting at the start. But an entire section of speakers barely functioned, and sound kept cutting out at other times. Even worse, one of the corrals (I think it was either E or F) did not get fireworks at all. Normally each corral gets its own fireworks for their start, which was the case this year as well. Except that one time when they didn’t go off. Kind of anti-climactic for those in that corral. Mine worked thankfully. And thank you corrals, for the first time I can remember, there was no backup at the start. We started at a normal pace and at no point did it feel overcrowded. Thank you!

Stopped for a photo with Jack Skellington.
Stopped for a photo with Jack Skellington.

The course remains unchanged from previous years. Start at Epcot, head out to World Drive and toward the Magic Kingdom. At mile 3 you enter the Magic Kingdom parking lot and run through the Transportation and Ticket Center, under the waterbridge, and past the Contemporary. Enter the park at mile 5, up Main Street, through Tomorrowland, into Fantasyland and through the Castle, through Frontierland and exiting backstage at Splash Mountain at mile 6.

Running to the Magic Kingdom past the Contemporary.
Running to the Magic Kingdom past the Contemporary.

For some reason the trumpeters who normally are stationed on the Castle balcony were absent this year (for the full marathon as well). I know its a minor omission, but it did make that moment feel just a little less special.

2014 Half Castle

After exiting the Magic Kingdom is the section of the course everyone loves to hate. I have heard the name “Cone Alley” recently, and that pretty much sums it up. It’s about a two mile stretch where the two lane road is down to only one lane for runners. The other is for the poor Magic Kingdom cast members trying desperately to get to work on time. I have sympathy for them here, logistically it’s a terrible trade off. But this part of the course is just awful. Especially if you are further back, it is basically a walking zone, it’s nearly impossible to get past anyone due to it being so narrow. I’m not sure what Disney can do here. The marathon suffers the same issue. The new start corrals helped a little here, but it has less of an effect at this point than at others.

Things finally expand back out once you get to the Polynesian and head back to world drive. The final section of the course, beginning around mile 10, is the most difficult. The mostly flat course takes a turn for the hilly when you arrive at the overpasses leading back into Epcot. It is also the point on the course where less experienced runners start to struggle a lot. Many will “hit the wall” here and dramatically slow down, making the final run to the finish that much more difficult. It did not help that the humidity was pretty high by this point.

Running through Epcot.
Running through Epcot.

So I finally finished my longest half marathon ever and got yet another wristband. Despite the Goofy runners now joining us to get theirs as well, there were no backups for me to get the band. I didn’t have anyone at the finish waiting for me this time. I knew it would be a long race and being day three of four, I didn’t care if no one was there.

My time: 3:23:08 – Chop an hour off and I still wouldn’t be happy with it on a normal race day. Personal worst number 3!

Disney World Half Marathon 2014 Finisher

Walt Disney World Marathon

Finally the big day was here. Waking up my body really wanted me to say forget it and crawl back in bed. Seriously getting up and out was a real challenge this time. For some reason they decided to open Contempo Cafe later than they had in past years. A lot of the runners, myself included were already gone by 4am.

After three days of taking it very easy, I was ready to finally run, at least as much as I could. I didn’t want to risk re-injury, but at least this was the last race, so as long as I finished it was no longer a concern about the next morning. So with this race, while I still went slower than normal and took more walk breaks, I did not hold back to the same degree.

The weather was beautiful for this race. After a week of scary forecasts, the heat did not come. No repeats of the 2013 sweatathon. Also the haze was gone. It was a much more pleasant waiting for the start. Other than seeing the same Cigna ad and runDisney video again. Seriously, Goofy and Dopey, change it up guys. But at least all the fireworks went off (up to and including corral J anyway, after that I wasn’t there to see).

Fireworks for the start of the marathon.
Fireworks for the start of the marathon.

The start of the race is identical to the half marathon up until mile 8. Cone Alley was not as bad at the marathon compared to the half. I think there were two reasons for this. The first is that I was going much faster at the full and was further ahead, and the second is that the marathon usually attracts more experienced runners who know how to properly take walk breaks without being in the way (although this by no means includes everyone in the marathon).

Castle photo with the dreamlights on.
Castle photo with the dreamlights on.

Right after mile 8 is the speedway, which was a new part of the course from last year. I don’t love this part of the course. It sounds more interesting than it ends up being. In reality it feels like a long, boring track run in high school. Yes, they have the cars out, but compared to theme parks and characters, they are not as interesting. And it still has a really terrible entrance to the track which requires you go down and up a very steep and narrow hill under the stands. It also exits over the grass on the roadway, which still bore the scars of the race the next day as I took the Magical Express back to the airport.

The best on ride photo of the trip.
The best on ride photo of the trip.

Then comes the long run to Animal Kingdom. For the second year in a row I took a few minutes out of the course to ride Expedition Everest. It was actually before 9am so I figured it would not be open, but I ended up on what was probably the second ride of the day. It was fun, although my train had a brief scare when our train stopped at the top of the first lift hill for a few seconds. It would have been a lot of angry people getting off if we didn’t get out Dopey medals due to a ride breakdown. On the way out of Animal Kingdom I stopped for a photo with Mickey. Usually he has a very long line, but I waited only about three minutes.

Photo with the Mouse at Animal Kingdom.
Photo with the Mouse at Animal Kingdom.

Then comes the worst part of the course, the highway. Its long, hilly, and boring. But then it leads to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. This was another new part of the course last year that has been maintained. Like the speedway, I don’t really like this section of the course either. It sounds fun, but it takes up an entire three miles. That’s a long time to be in there. It doesn’t so much feel that your are running through it as it feel you are a lost guest frantically looking for the exit.

The baseball field is really the only interesting part of the WWOS section.
The baseball field is really the only interesting part of the WWOS section.

Then its in to Hollywood Studios. One of the challenges that runDisney faces that no other marathon does is that they need to deal with theme parks that will be open to regular guests, some of whom may not have any idea that it was going on. I swear this was new this year (unless I somehow totally missed it in past years) but it seems Disney figured out a better way to get guests through the park without disrupting the race. Instead of having people dash across the crosswalks at gaps between the runners, they instead split the course with a small island in the middle. Cast members would direct the runners to all go to one side, while guests were free to move between the island and the other side. Once the island filled, runners would be redirected to the other side, emptying the island and repeating the process. It was genius.

Crossing the finish line (and for the first time all week at a decent time for me.)
Crossing the finish line (and for the first time all week at a decent time for me.)

I felt really good coming through Epcot, and finished much faster than I thought I would. It just goes to show how weather can really affect the way you run. On a recently sprained ankle, not only did I finish faster than last year, but it was by over an hour. Certainly not my best marathon, but way better than I would have thought heading out. I was thrilled. Finally no more wristbands, Dopey and Goofy runners were directed toward chutes where volunteers handed out the extra medals. Thanks to my mother for brining the other three that I finally got the picture that made it all worth it.

Six medals, count em!
Six medals, count em!

My time: 5:46:08 – Not a personal worst. In fact I beat both my 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon (heat) and my 2012 Walt Disney World Marathon (illness and overrunning the half). It was a really nice end to things to finally break that streak.

Stray Observations

  • I expected security to be heightened after the events in Boston last year, but really all that seemed to be different was that runners and spectators now had to go through a bag check before even entering the staging area. Thankfully runDisney had plenty of security on hand and the lines for this never really got long.
  • Given that Dopey runners had to be there all four days, it would have been nice if there was more music variety at the start. I got a little sick of hearing The Cupid Shuffle and The Fox by the end of the week. In fact, it probably fine if we forget that The Fox ever existed in the first place.
  • Between the 5K wristband, the 10K wristband, the Half Marathon wristband, my MagicBand, and my FitBit, I think my arms were more tired than my legs.
  • The Castle Dreamlights were off for the Half Marathon and on for the full Marathon. Last year they were on for both, two years ago they were off. Make up your minds.
  • The warm up banter led to an interesting moment. The announcers would ask “Who is running Dopey” and the Dopey runners would cheer. Then they would ask “Who is running Goofy” and the Dopey runners were not entirely sure how to respond.
  • Everyone needs to stop using the words just and only as in “he is just running the marathon” or “she only did 39.3 miles”. Seriously.
  • The midway point of the Dopey Challenge was mile 1.9 of the marathon, so stop telling us we are “halfway through” at the 10K finish line.
  • Perhaps a class in running etiquette would be helpful. Way too many groups of five running across in the middle. Also, I appreciate your use of hand signals, but if you do it after darting in front of me, there really was not much of a point was it?
  • The Sweet Caroline section (where they play a song on a loop, guess which one) was moved from World Drive outside the Studios to Cone Alley. It gave my subconscious the incorrect impression that we were much farther along than we were.

Wrap Up

It is really quite amazing how big runDisney has become in the past few years, even just since I started running with them. Marathon Weekend has become a huge event on the Walt Disney World calendar, taking what would otherwise be a rather quiet post holiday period and bringing in hundreds of thousands of people. I am not sure whether this is mostly Disney fans who wish to run or runners who are looking for a new challenge. I suspect the majority is the former, but the latter makes up a large portion too.

These are great races for first time runners and I always recommend that people who want to get into running start with these. You don’t need to be super fast, and they are easily the most fun races you will ever run. I was surprised by how many Dopey runners were also running their first marathon. More power to them, but my recommendation would be to not start with the multi-day challenges. Get a marathon under your belt first before trying something that difficult.

Yes, it’s expensive, and you have to get up early, and flying in January is often more difficult than running the races, but I love these events and I have no intention to skip a year anytime soon. runDisney has really matured over the last few years into quite a powerhouse for the Disney Parks. I am always amazed by just how well they pull off what to most other people sounds like a logistics nightmare.

As of this writing the dates for next year are not up. I am assuming the Dopey Challenge will return. I hope so at least. I cannot wait to try it out when at full potential. The runDisney races continue to be among my favorite. A month before I thought I may not be able to even get there, but I finished strong.

The runners and their bling!
The runners and their bling!
The Dopey Challenge was last updated February 1st, 2014 by Michael Truskowski