If you’re wondering what the Dopey Challenge is, it’s a runDisney event held at the Walt Disney World Resort during the January Marathon Weekend. The challenge is held over a four day period: day one is a 5K (3.1 miles), day two is the 10K (6.2 miles), day three is a half marathon (13.1 miles) and the last day is the full marathon (26.2 miles) – that’s a total of 48.6 miles in 4 days! This sounds insane, but to a lover of all things Disney it’s a fun filled weekend!
Well what can I say? Mother Nature had her say on how the 2017 Dopey Challenge was going to play out! The night before the half marathon, runDisney cancelled the race due to severe weather predicted for the area in the morning. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise as it was to be my first full marathon, but I had trained and felt confident that I would be able to do the 48.6 miles in four days. So let me recap how the four days played out for me at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.
Day Three – Half Marathon – January 7, 2017 – 5:30 am start at EPCOT – weather 72o/43o
Since the half marathon was cancelled, I tried to sleep in this morning, but at about 7:30 am, I heard thunder! I quickly calculated where I would have been on the race course – just beyond Magic Kingdom and out in the open. I was glad they cancelled the event. Many runners ran the 13.1 miles in the rain on their own. All day there were posts on social media of people running 13.1 miles around resorts and impromptu cheer squads, water stations, and character stops being set up. I decided to run my 13.1 miles later in the week.
In the afternoon, we headed over to the Magic Kingdom to meet the WDW Radio Running Team Make-A-Wish family. The temperature was slowly dropping all day, and it continued to rain. It was really nice to meet our family, and the mom plans to try running with her son in his wheelchair.
Day Four – Full Marathon – January 8, 2017 -5:30 am start at EPCOT – weather 53o/37o
[2:45] AM comes pretty early! And boy, was it cold! Good thing I checked the forecast the night before as I had to totally change what I was going to wear for the full marathon. There’s another reason to try again in 2018 – I still have to wear my costumes: Daisy Duck for the half and Dopey for the full. Today, I wore several layers of clothing, plus a plastic poncho to keep out the wind. It was only 35o when I left my resort. The Team met again and managed to get in a group picture before heading down to the corrals. It is approximately 3/4 of a mile from the parking lot to the starting corrals. I’m not going to lie – even as a Northerner, I was cold! We were packed into the corrals trying to stay warm, but every once in awhile a, gust of wind would burst colder air onto us.
Finally it was our turn. Jill and Sue (my fellow Team mates), and I started in corral “I”, and we did not cross the start line until just after [6:00] AM. Our plan was to run for 30 seconds and then walk for 30 seconds, aided by a GymBoss timer. The first destination was Magic Kingdom, which is over 6 miles away. It was fun to run down Main Street, U.S.A and have friends cheering us on. Then it was off to run through Cinderella Castle and on into Frontierland. There are magical potties (flushing) in the theme parks, which gave a welcomed break after waiting over two hours before the start.
Next, we were headed towards Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I had never run this route before, so I had no idea what to expect. There were, of course, character stops and quite a few high school marching bands placed along the way. There were even several DJs on the course to keep things interesting. It was fun to run backstage of Animal Kingdom before entering the park in Africa, near the Kilimanjaro Safari. By the time we arrived in AK, the park was open, so we had to stay within a trail marked for runners only. I really wanted to ride Expedition Everest, but the single rider line was over 30 minutes, and we feared getting swept for not keeping the 16 minute/mile pace and not finishing at all. So, it was on to ESPN Wide World of Sports. Not sure what the actual distance was between the two, but it seemed like it took forever to get to ESPN. We had to run on a long road and past a great deal of construction. We could see other runners that were ahead of us after they ran through ESPN.
ESPN had to have been the longest 4 miles I have ever run. We just kept winding around field after field. By then, we were getting tired, especially my friend, who kept telling us to leave her behind. But we decided we were in this together, and Teammates don’t leave each other. After leaving ESPN, we were back on the road headed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Along the way, there was a Green Army Man from Toy Story encouraging people to make it up the hill. I’m glad he didn’t say anything to us about how slow we were moving!
Our last Park was Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Again, guests were milling about the Park, but they were good at keeping a path for runners. We only had a short distance to cover inside HS, and then it was over to the BoardWalk area for a lap around Crescent Lake. It was nice to have people cheering us on once we were in a park or around the Boardwalk. Some people would even call out your name since it was printed on your bib.
After leaving the BoardWalk we entered Epcot through the International Gateway where my husband Greg, Andrew, Lou Mongello, Beci Mahnken, and others were there cheering us on for the last few miles. We even had fellow Team members who were not running the full cheering us on. Finally, the end was near as we approached Spaceship Earth and the finish line. What a great feeling to clasp hands with Sue and Jill as we crossed the finish line together after 26.2 long miles!
I’m not going to lie – the course was long, difficult at parts, and cold. I’m kinda glad they cancelled the half, but I know I would have made it, as I trained very hard for my first Dopey Challenge, which was key to finishing and feeling good. The 26.2 miles would not have been as easy if it were not for the WDW Radio Running Team members who volunteered to be at each of the four Parks to pass out “food” to the Team. Their encouraging words are what kept me going all day.
After celebrating my finish and getting photos taken, I headed back to my resort for a quick nap, lunch, and a shower. Then we headed out for a Team meet up to tell our tales of the event and to say our good-byes until the next runDisney event.
Dopey Challenge 2018 here I come!
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(Dopey Challenge, full marathon image, and course maps ©runDisney. Photo credit Aileen Bacon, Donnie Crook, James Hansen, Jennalyn Jeager, Deanna Mongello, Sue Passauer, all other photos are personal property of author.)
To learn more about Vanessa and see her recent posts for the WDW Radio Blog, click her author link above!