Disney is a magical place. It’s commonly called the “happiest place on earth.” While they are mostly referring to the parks when using this quote, the same can be said of running the runDisney race events. RunDisney has inspired many first time runners to complete distances they probably would never have considered prior to learning about runDisney events. It’s beginner friendly, fun and a totally inspiring way to keep in shape. While I’m not an “expert” on runDisney events, I have run several different ones (2014 Tower of Terror 10 miler, 2016 Princess Half & Star Wars Dark Side Challenge, 2016 Wine n Dine 10k & the upcoming 2017 Star Wars Light Side 1/2) and continue to do so every year, so I thought I’d share some tips for beginners here.
Race Start: GET THERE EARLY. Yes, the race itself begins at 5:30am, which is pretty early, but combined with traffic (if you’re driving from an off site hotel) and the buses that shuttle you to and from races from Disney property, you want to make sure you leave your hotel earlier than you think you need to. The last thing you want to do is get stuck in traffic and risk missing the start. Corral walk out (where the corrals begin to walk to the start line) begins an hour prior to the official start of the race (4:30am), so you need to make sure you have enough time prior to that to go to the bathroom (there will be long lines), get some last minute stretching in, and mentally prepare yourself for the race. I recommend arriving at the parks no later than 4 am. Which usually means you have to leave your hotel no later than 3:30am. Don’t worry, there will be time to sleep after the race.
Dress Up!: While this isn’t a requirement, part of the magic of Disney is the ability to emulate your favorite characters on the race course. Disney encourages participants to dress up and run in costume, and you will see far more people in costumes than regular running clothes. It’s just more fun and a better experience (IMO) if you do something out of the ordinary for Disney races. You can find information on the costume restrictions and regulations on any of the “runner info” pages for each race, but I’ve also linked it HERE. So far I’ve gone as Ursula from the Little Mermaid, Ariel (also from the Little Mermaid- I’m obsessed), Chewie from Star Wars, Darth Vader inspired Star Wars and the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.
Bring Your Phone: There WILL be characters on course and you most likely will want to stop and take pictures with a few of them. While there are also Disney photographers at each character stop, it costs a lot to purchase your photos from Disney, so it’s better to have you own camera with you. Even if you don’t think you’ll stop for characters, bring it just in case. I didn’t think I’d stop at the Wine n Dine 10k, but couldn’t pass up a photo op with the Genie! (Disney frequently has characters on course that are not seen in the parks too.)
Fueling: Usually I’m an advocate of bringing your own fuel on course, just in case the race isn’t well stocked or they don’t have what you like. However, I’ve never brought my own fuel to a Disney race. One thing Disney is excellent at is taking care of their athletes. They have water and powerade approximately every 1.5 miles during a half marathon course, and every 2 miles during the 10k. They also have Cliff gels or shot blocks at every 3-4 aid stations during most half marathons. If you don’t have any medical issues that require you to bring your own supplies, leave it at home. It’s much easier to focus on running and picture stops when you don’t have to carry extra stuff with you.
Balloon Ladies: You may frequently hear runDisney veterans discussing the “Balloon Ladies.” What’s a Balloon Lady you ask? They’re otherwise known as the course ‘sweepers’ and are there to ensure everyone is keeping to a 16:00/mile pace. That’s the pacing requirement for the runDisney events, and while its a generous limit, you will have a lot of people who don’t make that cutoff. They don’t start the Balloon Ladies until the very last person has crossed the start line, so you do have some time. Just be sure to factor in your breaks from taking character pictures and such. In the Star Wars 10k, the first two characters I saw were R2D2 and Chewie- so of course I stopped for pictures. By mile 3 of my race, the Balloon Ladies were almost at mile 2.5! I had to forego a picture with Darth Vader and haul ass. I made it in time, but it was my worst 10k time to date (but I also had the most fun on this course!).
Finish Line/Reunion Area: Disney has the best “swag” when it comes to races. Their medals are awesome, their snack boxes are delicious with a variety of stuff in them to suit everyone’s needs. After you cross the finish line and get your medal, there’s usually a medical tent to the right hand side where you can go to get ice packs, bio freeze and other medical issues taken care of by their very competent staff. I’ve used their ice packs before on my knees and ankles after half marathons. There is also a clear path to the water, powerade and snack boxes along the finish chute; a place to take finisher photos is directly after and there’s a clearly marked family reunion /meet up area after that where people who are waiting for you can meet up with you. Or you can wait there if you were running with other people who are in different corrals/faster or slower than you. RunDisney is extremely organized.
Proof of Time: When you register for a runDisney race, make sure you are putting in an accurate proof of time. RunDisney checks them, and when your time can’t be verified, they will put you in the back corral. Being in the last corral can give you a disadvantage when it comes to getting character pictures or keeping ahead of the balloon ladies, so if you’ve run any 10k course or longer that was timed, make sure you enter your results and link to the results page of the website.
Most Importantly, Have Fun! Disney races are meant to be fun, not serious! Of course there are some elite runners who will use Disney races to get qualifying times to other events (especially Florida courses because they are flat and fast), but for the most part these events are meant to be fun and entertaining. I don’t ever go to Disney to PR- I go to have fun and take pictures and do things on course I can’t do at other courses. Disney races can be expensive, and many people are hesitant when it comes to registering for that reason, but I think they are so worth it.