RunDisney races are like no other but in a good way! I was totally skeptical before signing up for my first runDisney race, but after I crossed that finish line, I was immediately hooked! Since then, I have ran every runDisney race available at Walt Disney World at least once. Think of a runDisney race as a fun-filled event, but one that requires planning and preparation. Walt Disney World typically has four weekend events per year, and although the general process is similar, the race courses, theming, medals, and merchandise vary. Before we get into the tips, here is a quick overview of each of the events.
Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend
Takes place within the first two weeks of January
5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Full Marathon, Goofy’s Race, and a Half Challenge, Dopey Challenge
This is the only event that includes a Full Marathon
Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend
Takes place in February
5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Disney Fairy Tale Challenge
Star Wars Rival Run Weekend
Takes place in April
5K, 10K, Half Marathon, Star Wars Rival Run Challenge
Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend
Takes place in early November
5K, 10K, Half Marathon and Disney Two Course Challenge
Many races such as the Princess Half Marathon and most 10K’s sell out quickly. If you have your heart set on a specific race, sign up for updates so you will be alerted when registration opens. It is not uncommon for races to completely sell out, so the earlier you can sign up, the better.
Book your hotel early!
Noticing a trend here? Race weekends attract thousands of people, and hotels will sell quickly. The closer to the race date, the more expensive the hotels can potentially be.
Highly consider staying at a Disney Resort hotel
Even though I live in Orlando, I often stay at a Disney Resort hotel for race weekend. With many road closures, traffic can be highly congested, and for certain races, parking can be difficult. After training for six months, the last thing that I want is to sit in traffic on race day and stress about missing the start. The resorts provide shuttles to and/from the expo and start/finish line. They run frequently and are very reliable. Since the shuttles run back and forth throughout the morning, your spectators can also hop on board and enjoy an easy ride to the finish line. Plus, aside from transportation, it’s fun to immerse yourself in the full Disney experience!
Be prepared to wake up early….then wait
Most races begin at 5:30 am, but if you are staying at a resort, you are typically required to be on a shuttle bus by 3:30 am. Even if you are driving to the start line, don’t plan on driving up 15 minutes before the race. You will need to allow time for traffic and the walk to the start line. For me, that means waking up at 2:30 am! Here is an overview of my morning for the full marathon:
2:30 – Wake-up and prepare
3:15 – Walk to shuttle bus pick-up area (you may see a long line of people, but buses were plentiful)
3:45ish – Arrive at the staging area. Here you will find bag drop-off, concessions, a stage with entertainment and character greets and photos. There is typically a minimum of four character greetings. The lines can be long, but if you have time to kill, it is totally worth the wait. Plus, this is your opportunity to get some great non-sweaty photos!
4:30 – Start walking to corral. Don’t worry about warming up before your race because you will get to enjoy a whopping half mile walk to your corral! Okay, maybe it isn’t half a mile, but it sure seems like it! The start line location will actually depend on the particular race.
5:30 – Race officially begins, but this is for the runners in the elite corral (more about corrals and placement below).
6:15 – It’s time for my corral, and I officially cross the start line.
Yes, you read that correctly. I woke up at 2:30 am and did not begin the race until nearly 6:00 am. Luckily, the process is similar for almost all of the races, so after the first one, you will be totally prepared for the next one. The greatest thing to remember is that it is all part of the experience, so enjoy it! There is a DJ as well as entertainment at the staging area, so meet the characters, take photos and be patient.
Submit your proof of time by the deadline
For the full and half marathons, it is suggested that you submit your proof of time from a previous race before the deadline. This is so that Disney can place you in the proper corrals. Submitting your proof of time is not mandatory; however, if you do not submit your time, you will be placed in the last corral. What does this mean? Approximately 20,000 participants run in the Disney races, and as you can imagine, it takes a long time to get those people across the start line. The solution for this is to place runners in corrals based on their previous race times. The fastest runners are placed in the corrals near the front, and the slowest runners and walkers are in corrals near the back. Corrals are released every 2-7 minutes. So, for example, the Elite corral will begin at 5:30, Corral A will begin at 5:32. The further back, the longer the time between starts since there are far more runners. You should receive an email with your corral letter 1-2 weeks before the race. Until then, you wait…and agonize.
If you plan on walking all or part of the race, then starting in the later corral is perfect for you. However, if you have to goal to run the entire race, the last corral could be very frustrating for you. Again, the key is to plan ahead.
Plan to visit the expo
The expo is located at the Wide World of Sports and typically opens the day before the first race, which is the 5K. You MUST visit the expo to pick up your race bib (a friend or relative can not pick it up for you), so again, plan to arrive in plenty of time the day before your race (or sooner) to visit the expo. If you are staying at a resort, you can take the shuttle, or there is plenty of parking if you opt to drive. The expo is where you will find your race merchandise as well as vendors. The setup varies per race, but the merchandise is typically broken up into two buildings. One holds the licensed runDisney merchandise (this is where you will find the I Did It! Shirts, magnets, pins, etc.). The second building is typically where you will pick up your race t-shirt and gear bag (the clear plastic bag that you can use for gear check on the day of the race) and also where you will find third-party vendors. Take your time and visit the booths where you will find everything from shoes, cute running shirts, glittery hair bands, and sports gels.
As a tip, it is suggested to pick up your bib first (follow the signs). You will then pick up your race shirts in the vendor merchandise building.
Make reservations for restaurants
Unless you are planning on eating at one of the quick service restaurants, you should make your make your reservations for restaurants early. This includes restaurants at Disney Springs, the parks and the resorts.
Check the runDisney website 2-3 weeks before the race
RunDisney will release the official event guide, course maps and your corral assignment 2-3 weeks before the race. Your bib number will be located on your waiver which you will need to print, sign and bring with you when you pick up your bib. There are computers available at the expo if you need to print your waiver, but it is easier to print ahead of time and bring it with you.
As a tip: Figuring out your corral can be tricky! Typically, 2-3 weeks before the race, runDisney will release corral assignments on the race website. Once you have your bib number (located on your waiver), you can check to see which corral you will be in.
Don’t expect a PR
Unless you are in one of the front corrals, I wouldn’t expect a PR. There are large crowds that will often cause slowdowns. Also, you will typically find long lines for the restrooms and character greetings. I like to think of a Disney race as a fun experience and try to take it all in as opposed to focusing on a PR.
Take LOTS of photos
On several occasions, I’ve regretted not taking enough photos before, during, and after the race. There are many characters before and during the race, even some that I have never seen before. Take the time to stop and capture as much of the moment as possible. There are PhotoPass cast members all along the course (look for the neon green tent) and, at most character stops.
As a bonus, if you have a valid PhotoPass subscription on the day of your race, your digital race photos will be included!
Be prepared for possible chilly or even cold weather
Yes, even Florida gets cold in the winter. Disney World Marathon Weekend is in January, and the Princess Half Marathon is in February, so there is a chance that it will be cold at the start of your race. For the 2018 marathon, it was 45 degrees at the start of the race. I was beyond cold! Luckily, I took a throwaway sweatshirt and gloves, and by mile three, I was ready to shed them. I did, however, see many people shivering in shorts and t-shirts because they didn’t realize that the temperature would be so cold. The bottom line is to be prepared. A throwaway shirt is never a bad idea, plus they are all picked up and donated after the race.
Plan ahead with your spectators
There are many areas for your family and friends to see you throughout your race, especially for the half and full marathons. Study the course map beforehand (which you will typically receive a few weeks prior), and plan the viewing locations based on your anticipated pace and time. For example, in past full marathons, Animal Kingdom was halfway through at miles 12-14. By the time I got there, the park was open, and there were people inside. The parking lot at Animal Kingdom is also a great place to watch. There are also many spectators at the Boardwalk and Wide World of Sports; however, since these areas are near the end, it would be difficult for your family and friends to make it to the finish line in time.
There are many opportunities at finish line for your family and friends to see your grand finish. Disney also offer Spectator packages which you can view on the website.
Get ready for a sweet medal
I have to admit that Disney medals are pretty cool…and heavy! Each one is unique and very themed.
Grab your post-race snacks
After you cross the finish line and receive your medal you will proceed to an area with snacks and photo-ops. The specific snacks vary (at recent races cheese has been replaced with hummus for instance) but there is typically bottled water, Powerade, bananas and a snack box.
Check out the discount coupons in the Digital Event Guide
The Digital Event Guide will be available 2-3 weeks before the race and contains savings to many Disney Springs restaurants and shops. Make sure that you check it out and have your bib with you in order to receive your discount.