By Mary Jo Collins
Imagine a day of fun, magic, characters, and visiting the theme parks of Walt Disney World. You may think this is just the average day in Orlando, but for some this day includes lifelong achievement and completing a mission. Crossing the finish line at the Walt Disney World Half Marathon and Walt Disney World Full Marathon on back to back days can only mean one thing… You are GOOFY! On Saturday January 9, 2010 and Sunday January 10, 2010, completing Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge became the highlight of my running career. Honestly, it will be a highlight of my life. It was something that I never dreamed possible. Not only had I finished a half marathon, but a full marathon as well just the next day.
The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, usually held the second weekend in January, includes a Family Fun Run 5K, Kids Races, the Walt Disney World Half Marathon (13.1 miles) and the Walt Disney World Marathon (26.2 miles). Upon completion of these races, there is some serious bling involved. Donald Duck is the sponsor of the Half Marathon and his image is emblazoned on the medal. Mickey Mouse heralds the Full Marathon as his race with the Mickey medal as the prize. And for those crazy enough to attempt the Goofy Challenge, racers receive not only the Donald and Mickey medals for their races, but also the coveted Goofy medal for completing both within the time guidelines. I love all three of my medals and have been accused of sleeping with them. I haven’t actually done that yet, but I did wear them to work when I got home. They are a badge of honor that I will always cherish.
This year’s races will probably go down in history as having the coldest weather for a Walt Disney World Marathon weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, racers were greeted with a balmy temperature of 28 degrees at race start. During the Half Marathon, it sleeted, snowed, and rained in that order. These weren’t conditions that most people signed up for. Running in Florida with Mickey Mouse should be warmer! However, most racers did come prepared with warm clothing. Walt Disney World actually promotes runners to just drop their top layers of clothing to the side of the road to be picked up for charity. 26,000 pounds of clothing were shed. These items added up to 30,000 pieces of clothing which included hats, coats, gloves and sweatshirts. Disney launders and delivers these pieces to Central Florida organizations such as Harvest Time International, Salvation Army and Coalition for the Homeless. I just think this is fantastic and shows us that Disney does great things for those in need.
People ask me all the time how I prepare for races. First let me get something straight, I am not an expert runner. I have never claimed to be. However, I have run a lot of races over the years. I have found there are as many opinions on training as there are pins in the parks. Everyone has a different approach and a lot of them work. You have to find what works for you. For the scope of the discussion here, I am not going to get into every nuance of running and the training needed to complete a race, but I will give a few pointers.
-There are numerous websites that can help you get a program designed for your lifestyle and goals. Some of them that I have found helpful are www.runnersworld.com, www.halhigdon.com and www.jeffgalloway.com. They each have programs that are designed with different levels of expertise and training programs for different distances.
-The best advice that I can give someone is never miss your “long run”. The goal for this weekly run is to train and acclimate your body to a longer distance than the week before.
-Stick with your program. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that don’t take the training serious and they don’t finish.
-During my training for the Goofy Challenge, I always had my ipod loaded with motivating music and interesting podcasts (such as the WDW Radio Show). The long runs can be, well, long and entertainment helps keep you moving.
All the runners met in the Epcot parking lot on both days. The music was pumping and the smell of excitement and anticipation was in the air. For items that you didn’t want to throw to the ground, there was a bag check. We were provided with a bag at the Expo to place items in to be picked up at the end of the race. Your bib was proof of ownership of your bag.
When the time had come to go to our corals, all the runners slowly walked over to the race start which was almost a mile away. Once the runners were in their designated places, the tension was mounting. As the gun was fired, Mickey and friends waved at us as we crossed the start mat. The race was timed by a D-tag chip that was placed on the laces of our shoes. When you crossed the starting mat, your official time began. Your time at other points in the race was being recorded as well. Now, throughout both races I could hear my name being yelled by complete strangers along the race course. I am not exactly a celebrity, but all racers had their names printed on their bib. For the half marathon, the course took us to the Magic Kingdom and back to the Epcot parking lot for the finish.
After completing the half marathon and the first third of the challenge, I was even more nervous about the next day. The full marathon consisted of all four parks starting at Epcot parking lot, then Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney Hollywood Studios and finally back to Epcot. Since I had run the full marathon last year, I was familiar with the course and knew where problems might occur. I will admit the day was tough and I promised myself the pain was only temporary. Mentally, I had to take each mile one at a time and just enjoy the ride. Thankfully, I managed to press through the first 25 miles and the end was coming soon. The many friends that I saw in Epcot made for an emotional finish that I had not anticipated. The many months of training flashed across my eyes. The Goofy medal was going to be mine and the uncertainty leading up to that moment was all behind me. I HAD DONE IT!!!
Facts about the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend
- Disney’s Health & Fitness Expo was a three-day celebration focused on health and fitness, located at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. The event involved celebrity runner appearances, seminars on training, racing, and nutrition, along with the opportunity to experience the latest in running and fitness equipment.
- A variety of Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend merchandise was available for purchase at Disney’s Health & Fitness Expo.
- Beverage Stations were plenty throughout the courses and provided water and Power Ade.
- Medical Stations on the race course provided Vaseline for blisters and chaffing, analgesics, and sports cream for muscle pain. Consultation and assistance was available to those with other conditions that had arisen during the race as well.
- Food stations were found throughout the course that provided fruit, energy gels, and even candy.
- Music and entertainment were spread throughout the course, even hot air balloons during the marathon.
- CHARACTERS!!! There were lots of characters in unusual outfits or characters in groups that aren’t usually found in the parks.
- For an additional charge, there was a special VIP lounge at the end of the race that had a special post-race meal and special Meet and Greets with characters.
- For an additional charge, fans could join a special cheering group that allowed them special seating in the grand stand at the finish line.
- Post race food and drinks was available, as well as Meet and Greet opportunities with marathon-clad characters. Hot chocolate or coffee would have been a real treat this year.
The Ultimate Park Hopping Experience
Now, you may think that you are an all-star in Walt Disney World trivia. You may have eaten at every restaurant in Walt Disney World and can recite the menus by memory. And you may have every pressed penny from every machine on property. Well, I am here to tell you that your repertoire of Walt Disney World experiences cannot be complete until you have tried your legs at the Walt Disney World Marathon or better yet the Goofy Challenge. Not only will you have a magical time running through all four parks, but you will feel good about getting yourself in shape. Hope to see you at a Disney race soon!