The Dopey Challenge is a 4-day endurance event held over Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend each year since 2014. It involves running the four Marathon Weekend events: 5k (3.1 miles) on Thursday, 10k (6.2 miles) on Friday, Half Marathon (13.1 miles) on Saturday, and Full Marathon (26.2 miles) on Sunday for a total of 48.6 miles in 4 days. The recommended training plan by runDisney’s official trainer Jeff Galloway is 29 weeks (more than six months) long!
You don’t have to be an athlete to understand that attempting this will take a toll on your body. Still, if you plan well and spend time figuring out what works for your body, you can make it through without injury or even significant pain! Below are some body care tips that I used while training for my very first Dopey Challenge – and spoiler alert, not only did I finish, but I did so without so much as a blister or chafing. I was barely even sore! Impossible you say? No way, say I. Even if it’s your first marathon like it was for me, you can get through it without destroying yourself!
- Train: THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT. You don’t have to use the runDisney training plan, but you DO need to find a plan that works for you. If you prefer to train your own way, I still suggest you look at the structure of a challenge training plan, and design one that both increases your miles and lets you practice back to back long runs.
- Shoes: Make sure you have well-fitting shoes. Get fitted at a specialty running store if you possibly can – they have the skills and knowledge to make sure your shoes work for your body and gait. Splurge on the expensive shoes and break them in properly before wearing them in any race. If they don’t work for you, TAKE THEM BACK. Most running stores will exchange shoes you have worn (within reason). I learned the hard way that you shouldn’t keep trying to “make fetch happen” – I wore a pair of shoes that I KNEW didn’t work for me during a half marathon at home about a month before Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and lived to regret it.
- Gear: You never – NEVER – want to wear a piece of gear for the first time on race day. Whether that’s a costume piece, hydration backpack, phone case, fuel belt or headband, you want to know that it works for you before the big day. Make sure your pants don’t slide, your socks don’t bunch, your shirt accommodates your sweat. That way you will have no surprises on race day!
- Nutrition: This is a big one. I’ll trust for the moment that your daily meal plan works for you and talk specifically about race nutrition. In keeping with tip number 3, you want to make sure you don’t try anything new on race day! First off, make sure you give your body some fuel to start on. High protein and some fat – such as peanut butter with animal crackers – works well for me. Many people like protein bar products, but I prefer to use food products. For hydration, I like to switch between water and Gatorade, but you should experiment with how your body responds. To prevent cramping, I use pickle juice shots (bananas will also work) before a run and about halfway through if I’m going more than 15 miles. For longer runs, I eat mixed nuts, bacon jerky, honey sticks and pretzels at regular intervals. The combination of protein, fats, sugar and salt works to keep me going without upsetting my stomach. You may prefer Gu, jelly beans, gummy fuel or other running products and that’s fine, but the goal is to make sure you can tolerate whatever you’re using, and then stick with what works.
- Body Care: I’m a huge believer in treating your body with respect and love. If you’re going to ask it to do this incredible feat, you need to make sure you prepare it. I see a chiropractor weekly and a massage therapist monthly. They help me ensure that I am recovering well from the rigors of training and working through the side effects of physical exertion. I completed my entire 9-month training program for the Dopey Challenge without injury. I did have a minor hamstring strain, which was resolved without a training gap between my chiropractor, my massage therapist and my Healthy Moving coach. I encourage you to look into any physical support services that make you comfortable, and use them regularly to keep your body in top form.
Once you have your personal plan in place, all you have to do is work it! As you train, keep your plan in mind. Don’t skip steps that your body needs and above all, listen to your body. If it’s telling you it needs to go slower (or faster) or take a day off, obey those urges (just don’t take TOO many days off!). Learn the difference between discomfort and pain. Push through the first and give in to the second – running through actual pain invites injury. Also remember that though it can be tempting to run around the parks all day while you’re at the runDisney weekend, it’s important to get a good night’s sleep before each race – the 2AM wakeups can be harder to handle than the running! Don’t eat anything the day before that you don’t normally eat, either.
On race day, remember to keep adrenaline and excitement at bay and RUN YOUR RACE. Don’t give in to that urge to push harder than you have in training. Trust your preparation, your plan and your body.
It’s also important to make space for the unexpected. If you get ill or have a demanding physical issue on race day, adjust to that. Maybe it means going slower, or even dropping out of the race. Things like that happen and they can be a HUGE disappointment, but keeping perspective is important. The race is just one day, your body is forever. No medal is worth doing permanent damage by pushing past what your body can do. Most importantly if this happens to you, remember that YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. You have already won by putting in the work. That mindset will take the pressure off and enable you to focus on what’s important, which is achieving your goal.
Once you finish the races and get home, give your body time to heal. It took me about 5 days to get my eating and sleeping back on track after the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. Be gentle, keep moving and give your body what it needs.
One other tip for the long races: break them up mentally into sections, and then run one section at a time without worrying about what’s next. For the Full Marathon, I divided it into 5 sections and planned to run just one piece at a time. Sometimes it was even smaller than that – one mile, one interval, thirty seconds at a time – but I kept going, and it really helped me get to the finish without being so overwhelmed.
Once you cross that finish line, CELEBRATE!! Take photos in the parks – PhotoPass photographers are usually really excited to help you capture your achievements. Have a great meal, meet up with friends, whatever makes you happy. You’ve done the work, and you deserve to party! My post-Dopey Challenge celebration included a beer at Territory Lounge with my friend Jen on Sunday night, and a photo session in Magic Kingdom on Monday morning.
Want to see the photo highlights of my trip? Follow me on Instagram at @amillertx and look for the hashtag #AlyVsDopey2018 – and comment below with your personal challenge and your plan to work for it!
*None of the above information should be substituted for medical advice. Always consult your physician when considering a distance event
(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)
To learn more about Alyson and read her recent posts for WDW Radio, visit her author page by clicking the link on her name at the top of this post.