Race Review – Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

January 6-9, 2011

This was our first time participating in the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.  We have participated in the Disneyland 1/2 Marathon several times and have considered this event before but the timing of it is a little tough. It takes place the 2nd weekend of January. This is a smart move for Disney since that is the first slow weekend after the holiday rush. It makes it tough to travel to because of that same reason. We were able to make it work this year and are glad we did – Disney definitely knows how to put on events!
For those of you with families, Disney races always have a family component to them – there are kids’ fests and family 5k races so anyone who comes to cheer you on will have plenty to do! 
As for the big races, the 1/2 marathon is done on Saturday and the full is on Sunday. That is nice for a couple reasons: if you are with someone doing the other race (ie. you’re doing the half, they’re doing the full) you’ll be able to see each other race – you’ll actually have a chance to be a spectator.  Most races have the 1/2 & full run at the same time so you don’t get a chance to watch the other person cross the finish line.  In addition, it makes the morning & the race not as busy because you only have one race. This setup also allows people to attempt Goofy’s Challenge – running both races – which is what we did. 

The Expo – The race expo is held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.  We stayed at a Disney hotel (and highly recommend staying on property), so we were able to hop on a shuttle for a quick ride over to get checked in. First stop – registration. Downstairs was registration for the individual races while Goofy’s Challenge runners were directed upstairs. This was a perk for the Goofy people because it was very quiet upstairs and easy to get through registration. We did, however, still have to go downstairs to get our stuff for the race retreat. It would have been nice to be able to get that with our race registration, but was still pretty easy.  We then went over to the expo – the picture you see to the left.  The venue for the expo was smaller than we’d expected – smaller than the one at Disneyland as well as other marathon expos (like the Rock ‘n’ Roll series). The size made some parts feel pretty crowded, as they still had most of the booths we were expecting to see.

The Race Retreat – We debated about signing up for the race retreat – had never done one before and weren’t sure if we could afford it (or if it would be worth the price). So, we originally just signed up for the race.  A little before Christmas we decided to sign up for the retreat as our gift to each other … and, are very glad we did!

*Light breakfast before the race – bagels, bananas, etc. – we didn’t each much at the time, but we did take some stuff for snacks later.
*Padded stretching area – where we spent our pre-race time.
*A warm area to hang out pre-race. It was chilly outside (low 40’s) and it was VERY nice to be able to warm up in a warm area!
*A special gear check – one corner of the tent was designated the gear check area. It was very well organized and all gear bags stayed in the tent. This was very convenient!
*Private bathrooms – they had a separate area for men and women – both had around 20 portapotties, soap & water and a changing area.
*Post race goodies – one day we got a small cooler with a towel and first aid kit. The next we received a water bottle.
*Post race meal – good variety and plenty to eat. Food was buffet style, and included items like scrambled eggs, potatoes, sausage, chicken wraps, fresh fruit, popsicles, bottled water, Powerade, and more!
*Computers to check results or get online and update statuses
*Couches and TVs so you could watch live coverage of the race
*Character Meet & Greet – Pictures taken with characters from Toy Story
*Personalized t-shirts printed on-site.
*Post race massage – the stretching area became the massage area. They were charging $1 per minute for massage and we were a little disappointed by that – figured they could at least throw in a free 10-15 minute massage for the price we paid for the retreat.

The Courses

Outside the race retreat area is where most people met up with each other and waited for the race. There was a place to purchase coffee and light snacks and a huge area for gear storage. From there we had to walk close to a mile to get to our spots in corral A. That walk was very crowded (which helped keep us warm) and there were portapotties along the way, although they got pretty crowded.  We waited to use the bushes that were along the side of the road next to our coral … and, we weren’t the only ones!

The courses were relatively flat – our elevation chart shows there being an 11ft difference from our low point to high point on the 1/2 marathon and about a 25ft difference on the full. There are a few small, rolling hills and overpasses but nothing that should provide a big challenge. There are also a few turns where the road is quite canted – remember to stay on the low side, if you can, in these areas.

Saturday – 1/2 Marathon – For this race you run to and through the Magic Kingdom and come back to run through EPCOT. Since the parks are so spread out, there is a lot of down time – In fact, you don’t reach the Magic Kingdom until almost 6 miles into the race. When you do get to the park, you get a huge adrenaline rush from the big crowds, characters and photographers. You are then in the park for less than a mile and headed back towards EPCOT. You reach EPCOT at about mile 12 1/2, just enough time to run in, to the World Showcase Lagoon and back out.  Although you don’t spend much time in the parks, they did a good job of keeping it entertaining and having support along the way. They had lots of Disney characters along the course, along with parade floats, performers, and even a hot air balloon! We ran this race together – just looking to have a good time and take it easy so we were able to complete the marathon the next day. Click here for our Garmin map & elevation chart.

Sunday – Marathon – All pre-race and starting line stuff was the same. It was nice having done it the day before, we knew what to expect and that eased some nerves that morning. Although the starting line is the same, the route is different – you get to do a little run through EPCOT before heading to the Magic Kingdom. Around mile 2 you enter the park then head out the backlot to where the race started. That is where you pick up the 1/2 marathon route – heading over to Magic Kingdom. Around mile 10 you go through Magic Kingdom. You then have a long stretch of open road as you head to Animal Kingdom – 6-7 miles.  Animal Kingdom is where you have the biggest of the hills – but, it is a fun path through the park.  You then have 4-5 miles before you get to Hollywood Studios. Once you get to mile 23, you have a fun 5k left – Hollywood Studios, a run along the lake where you get a great view of the Swan hotel, and then back to EPCOT where you run around the World Showcase Lagoon. These last 3 miles are very energetic – huge crowd support! Again, although there were some long stretches without the excitement of the parks, Disney did a good job of keeping it entertaining and having plenty of support! Kevin Yee over at Miceage.com has a photo essay of his marathon day. It provides some great shots of the backstage areas you get to see while running, as well as some scenic shots from around the course. Click here for Mindy’s Garmin map & elevation chart.
Kris: 3:29:36

Mindy: 4:17:26

Marathon Monday – Everyone who participated in the full marathon received a free ticket to one park that Monday. We chose EPCOT. We figured there are a lot of longer, sit-down rides and shows. Getting in and out of the rides was a little tough as were the slight hills … but, all in all we were feeling pretty good and enjoyed having that day to play and celebrate our accomplishment!

We did wear our Goofy medal around the park all day. The cast members were very congratulatory and it was neat to see other people wearing theirs as they hobbled around the park, too.

We (actually, Kris) had thought about renting scooters for the day. They definitely would have been nice but we were okay without them.

Since it was a Monday, mid-January, the park was not very crowded.  Thanks to the shorter lines, and a mid-day sprinkle of rain, we were able to see all the attractions in the park, and even managed to get a prime viewing spot for Illuminations, the nightly fireworks show.  Shortly before heading to lunch, we were approached by some of the runDisney media relations folks and were interviewed about our race experience.  We were told the video might be used on the Disney Endurance Sports website, and if we see it, we’ll post a link!

Final Thoughts – Looking back at the weekend, we’re definitely glad we finally made it out for WDW Marathon Weekend.  While not for everyone, Goofy’s Challenge was one of those “bucket list” accomplishments we can look back at and still not believe we did.  Even if Goofy’s is a little too goofy for you, we highly recommend the WDW Marathon Weekend.  From the great volunteers on the course, the unique ability to run through four Disney parks, the post race perks like marathon monday tickets, and the overall organization by the Disney team, we have quickly moved the WDW Marathon Weekend to the top of our list for events we plan to do again!

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