The Disney World Half Marathon was on Saturday, January 11th. The half marathon was a part of a race weekend held every year at Disney World. This race weekend features a 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon and kids races. Many runners choose to participate in the Dopey Challenge which has racers running in all four events. There’s also the Goofy Challenge, running the half marathon and then the full marathon. Keep in mind these events happen on consecutive days and begin at 5:30am. Yikes! The early mornings are a challenge in and of themselves. This year I ran in the half marathon. This was my 6th runDisney event, but my first in 7 years. During my hiatus we added two more small people to our clan, which let’s be honest affects the training schedules and the finances to run these events. When we were tossing around the idea of heading down to Disney in January instead of the previous discussed February, I knew I wanted to get back on the runDisney train. Our son was born on January 17th of 2019 so I figured the half marathon would be a manageable distance for me. I spent the whole year postpartum gearing up for this event. It was a fantastic goal, that kept me getting out the door and on the road. But enough about me, let’s talk about the race.
This post is going to focus on the race itself, I’ll discuss the expo and strategy for getting into the higher corals at a later date. We are Disney Vacation Club members, so we stayed at a Disney resort during race weekend which meant we had door to door pick up and drop off. I was up and at my bus by 3:15am. I had my breakfast with me and ate it on the bus while we drove to the pre-race event area. There were over 20,000 runners participating in this race and at the pre-race event area there were also supporters which made for quite the crowd. From the bus I walked to the event area, at which point I went through security. Security was checking any item that had a zipper on it. I was wearing a belt so that included me. It took about 15 minutes to get through here.
After that I started my porta-potty parade. I stopped at the first one that I saw and then walked a little further and then stopped at another. I drank a lot of water that morning because of the heat that was being called for. The pre-race area had lots of entertainment, water being handed out and places for people to take pictures. I opted to start walking towards the starting line. I knew from years past how long it takes to walk to the starting line. It takes anywhere between 15 minutes to 20 minutes depending on which coral you are in to get from the pre race area to the starting line. I was situated in my coral, coral A with 30 minutes to spare.
While I waited for the race to begin, we were entertained by a variety of different announcers. Some would go into the crowd getting runners to share their stories of what brought them to this race, and WOW there were some truly incredible tales that humbled me. One person reminded us that this is something we GET to do. Not everyone has the ability, the finances, the support to come and participate in these spectacular runDisney events. A perfect note before taking those first steps on the race course. About 10 minutes before the race starts who do I run into but friends from little old Moncton, New Brunswick! Arran and Sean were running the Dopey Challenge, and are much faster runners than I, so we grabbed a quick shot before running our own races.
You knew the time to begin was coming near because Mickey, Donald and Goofy were now on the stage. There was a countdown and then fireworks. Each coral gets a countdown and fireworks, there are 5 corals and the starts are approximately 5 minutes a part. The official start time is 5:30am but depending on which coral you’re in you may not cross the starting line until 6am.
The elites and wheelchair racers started out first and then it was our countdown. Fireworks went off and then the road was ours. It was still very dark out, because it was 5:30am, but there were plenty of lights on to shine our path. At the very beginning the route was lined with supporters. Many with signs and sound makers to cheer us all on. I was so glad to be there. The day before I had very much been dreading the early morning but in that moment it all felt worth it. I already had a plan to stop and take pictures at each mile marker, as is mine and Jeff’s tradition. I also thought I might stop at certain characters along the route, it they were significant to me. I wanted to complete the race in 2 hours and 30 minutes. I figured that would give me enough time to get back to our resort and showered before needing to get the kids to their races at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. It was also a pace that I felt would allow me to enjoy our next three park days.
At each runDisney race there are a multitude of characters found along the route. Some are common and beloved characters. Others are obscure and rarely seen characters. At each of these character spots there are two cast members, one with a Photopass camera and another who will use your smart device or camera to take a picture for you. There can be huge lines to see these characters. Being in the first coral the lines were very small, but I’ve seen it with 50 people in line to see characters. The cast members do a very good job of getting people through quickly. The very first set of characters on the half marathon route were Esmerelda and Clopin. I had never seen these two characters from Hunchback of Notre Dame and there were only 4 people in line so I stopped and grabbed a pic. The next character I saw was Jack from Pirates of the Caribbean. Not an important one for me so I keep trucking. When I saw soldiers from Babes in Toyland I had to stop. This is one of my all time favourite films and seeing these larger than life characters was a highlight.
I ran past a few characters in the Magic Kingdom and as we exited the park. There was Pinocchio and Chicken Little and Goofy and Mickey. The next characters I stopped to take pics with were Lightning McQueen and Mater. This was more for my son than for myself. The latter part of the race didn’t have many characters, it wasn’t until we were in the final miles nearing and running through Epcot that there were characters.
Horace was there and made the cut for me to stop at, as well as Panchito from the Three Caballeros. All in all I got some great photos and saw a couple characters I’d never seen before.
Along the route there were water stations after each mile marker. The first couple water stations had just water and from then on there was both water and Powerade. There were so many volunteers handing out water, filling the cups, and picking up after the runners. It’s truly incredible to see how many people help to make these events possible. Because of the heat of the morning I chose to stop at each water station. There were stations lined on each side of the road. As with any race I try to grab water from someone in the middle of the group instead of the first couple volunteers. This way I can grab my water and then walk while I’m drinking it without tripping the person behind me. I stopped at each water station along the route to make sure I was prepared for the heat.
The route is mainly on the highway between Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. The first 5k is fairly flat, with a little down hill when you’re going from one highway to another. When we got close to the Magic Kingdom we entered the Ticket and Transportation area which is close quarters. There were many supporters here. What impressed me at this part of the race was the cushioning they put around the big lights. I remember running just outside of Hollywood Studios constantly dodging these massive lights worried about banging into one of these concrete boulders. Well done Disney! The route travels past the Contemporary resort before heading into the Magic Kingdom through Main Street U.S.A. Running down this strip there’s people cheering, the lights of the castle were glistening and the Magic Kingdom was dressed for the holidays. Tears were streaming down my face. The route goes through Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, back through the castle, Frontierland and then out of the park through the back. It’s here where you have to be very careful. This is where they store the floats for all the parades and there are cords and random things that runners could easily trip on if you don’t stick to the laid out path. Just as we were leaving this section I saw a runner go down and really hurt his knee. The next part of the route was flat but becomes very angled almost like a speedway. With the rising sun there’s no shade, living runners open to the suns rays. In the final 5k you climb an on ramp, run over the highway and then finding a little relief before one final climb. This climb is the last tough part as the route heads into Epcot. In the park there are countless weaves and turns as we run through the Future World and then into Mexico. Because Epcot is under such major renovations the finishing miles left much to be desired. We ran through the backlot of the park before stumbling upon the finish line.
The finisher area had plenty of stands for spectators to cheer in their runners and Chip n Dale were at the finish line while I ran in. The finish line characters change during the course of the morning. After being awarded my medal I walked past the medical tent and to the food station where there was ample food boxes filled with treats. After this stage there were plenty of washrooms and a family meet and greet area. Beyond that was the bus pick up where there was a constant flow of buses picking up runners. I only had to wait 10 minutes for my bus to pick me up. Much better than the 45 minutes we had to wait back 2013.
I loved this race. I was so happy to be back running the roads of Walt Disney World resort. The only thing I was missing was having Jeff running alongside me. It is so fun to participate in these events but sharing them with someone makes them all the more enjoyable. I look forward to whatever event we do next.