Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Jan. 9-10/10
Goofy Challenge (1/2 marathon Saturday, Full marathon Sunday)
“Just think, next weekend we will be racing in shorts and a t-shirt!” My training and racing partner, Ed said as we lumbered through the worst winter run of the year. Turned out those were famous last words because the next weekend we were heading to beautiful, sunny and warm Florida to compete in the Goofy Challenge at Disney. Only it wasn’t so sunny or warm…
After getting off the 3:30am bus in the staging area of Saturday’s half marathon, one of the volunteers jokingly said, “Welcome to Disney, Alaska”, words that held true for the whole weekend. Luckily, I found one of my running friends in the crowds and we soon made the long trek to the start line. During the more than 1k hike from the staging area (bag check, info, finish line) to the start line, it began snowing! Snowing, in Florida- crazy! Throughout the races, we endured snow, sleet, and rain but above all, freezing cold temperatures. It was -5 deg Celsius at the start of the races. It was miserable but how could you complain when you are at the happiest place on earth?
I felt kind of sorry for the native warm weather folks who were not used to running in this extreme weather but at the same time, I did not pack all my warm running gear either (I think it was wishful thinking on my part as I did look at the Florida forecast before I left and it said it was going to be cold and rainy. But, how could that be in Florida? I also followed a few Disney marathon blogs and people were discussing what they were going to wear like lined pants and toques and at the time, I scoffed at them thinking, “oh, poor Floridians, can’t handle a little cold”- well it turned out they were right!) A neat feature of the Disney marathons is that they promised that all discarded clothing would be collected (huge bins near the start) and donated to homeless shelters across Florida. I bought a few jogging suits to wear as throw-away clothing as I was told by previous attendees that it was quite cold in the predawn hours waiting for the 5:50am race start. I ended up wearing my throw-away clothing for the entire ½ marathon and again for ½ of the full marathon and luckily I had bought a headband and gloves at the race expo. In fact, racers were actually picking up the discarded clothing and wearing it themselves or making new friends by huddling with each other under hotel bedspreads! The race expo, by the way, had a lot of fantastic product and deals but was extremely busy. I was also told that they had next to nothing available in terms of race attire by Friday afternoon which was extremely disappointing to some. I went to the race expo Thursday afternoon and there was tons of gear available but a huge line-up too.
Weather aside, what I will remember most of the Goofy Challenge is the amazing camaraderie with other runners that I experienced there. We talked to so many people (on buses, at the expo, at the parks, during the runs and even castmembers) from so many places across North America, all coming to Disney for their very first or their 50th marathon. The running culture was alive and well and by far, the most welcoming I have ever felt. I have never seen anything like it and was totally motivated by it. It helps too, that by completing the Goofy Challenge you become somewhat of a celebrity! Post races, everyone wore their medal (s) proudly as they toured the parks or ate in restaurants. A great conversation starter for sure as you are waiting in line but sometimes just a quick nod from people let you know that, yep-you did something amazing. The buzz was so wonderful that as soon as we got home, I immediately signed up for next year and my husband wanted in too (even though he had yet to run a marathon, although he is a runner). He was that motivated by the people and the weekend! (*they say that the weather goes in cycles and are predicting next year to be warm!).
If you have children, the Kid’s marathon is a great way to make them feel a part of the whole weekend! For a mere $10 kids of all ages got a Disney t-shirt and a finisher’s medal and “competed” in races ranging from the Diaper Dash to the Mickey Mile. Our oldest daughter (5) had so much fun being involved but our other daughter (2), well, let’s just say she had to be carried across the finish line crying (but who could blame her? She’s two and was freezing cold and sopping wet!)
Most aspects of the race were beautifully organized and professionally run, after all, that is what Disney does best. The few glitches at the half marathon on Saturday (unstructured bag check, chaotic post race nutrition tent and not enough timely buses heading back to the resorts) were immensely improved for Sunday’s marathon. It also helped that Sunday’s event ended in sunshine, while the 1/2marathon ended in the pouring rain. The water stations were timely and well-run (even if the cups of water were frozen and they had to dump powdered Gatorade on the ground to give some traction on the ice forming there!). There was even a chocolate aid station, which was very well-received going into the final theme park, Hollywood Studios. The volunteers were absolutely amazing (almost like the Disney castmembers themselves!) There was much entertainment en route (fireworks at the start line, high school bands and cheerleaders, 1-man bands, encouraging and conversation-provoking Sharpie signs, and of course plenty of costumed characters to stop and get your picture taken with). Not to mention the incredible fan support, especially standing out there at 5am in freezing temperatures! For the marathon, you traverse through all four theme parks and there was not really any “boring” sections of the road that made the 63.3k seem as “easy” as a regular Sunday LSD!
I was a bit apprehensive of nutrition going into these races as we were on the Disney meal plan and on vacation, but found a very good Make-Your-Own-Pasta café at the Port Orleans Riverside Resort that we ate at the night before both races. There also was plenty of fruit and veggies available and I was able to snag a bagel the night before to eat on race morning. I was also nervous about how the legs would hold up (especially because I was not able to train properly in the weeks leading up to the races due to injury) but to my surprise and delight, I was not sore at all. I have been more sore post half marathons! I attribute this a number of things: slowing down the pace and enjoying the races by taking in the sights and atmosphere, having an ice bath after Saturday’s race, walking around the Downtown Disney Saturday afternoon and evening (in other words, keeping active), plus lots of stretching and lying with my legs elevated .
Oh, I forgot to mention the BLING you receive for completing the Goofy: A Donald Duck shaped medal for completing the 1/2 Marathon, a Mickey Mouse shaped medal for completing the Full Marathon and a Goofy inspired medal for completing both! I had total medal envy when friends showed me their medals from last year and my medals (and experience) inspired a group of my running friends to sign up for 2011!!!
All in all, a fantastic event and the trip of a lifetime! If you are looking for a fun (maybe not the best race for a PB due to number of participants and the narrows of the actual course), destination run, the Disney Marathon Weekend is a great experience!