I love Disney World. It is a magical, wonderful place, and now that our kids are the perfect age for theme parks, I plan to happily hand this fine organization my money at least once a year. So, when selecting a Florida marathon, the Walt Disney World Marathon in early January seemed like the obvious choice. All four Smiths took off for Orlando on New Year’s Eve, and we spent a week soaking up all things Disney before our run the following Sunday. The trip was fantastic, and even through it was unseasonably cold and sometimes rainy, it’s been my favorite family vacation to date.
Jim and I ran the marathon after spending seven days in the parks with our kids, so I wasn’t expecting a super- strong performance. Despite having an amazing trip, both of us were pretty vacationed- out by race day. Getting to and from the parks is a production in and of itself, and making it to the expo at the Wide World of Sports is even more of a challenge. (We gave up on the shuttle service and took Lyfts.) Race morning was also a circus. The marathon began at 5:30, and we were encouraged to load our resort busses by 4:00. This ended up being ridiculous advice as we then had to spend an hour standing around a parking lot in freezing weather waiting to enter our corrals. We could have queued up for an hour to get photos with characters in their athletic wear, but again, we’d just spent a solid week getting photographs with these guys.
The actual corral area was more fun than most. The WDW Marathon is a huge event with over 25,000 participants—many of whom were there to walk the course, get their picture taken with the cast members, and just have a good time. There was music, a jumbotron broadcasting images of Mickey doing stretches and interviews with runners, and a pretty solid fireworks show to begin the race.
Overall, the run itself was almost exactly how I had heard it described by previous participants: really fantastic while in the parks, but pretty underwhelming everywhere else. I have also heard that this marathon tends to be either very hot or very cold. We hit it on a cold day, and I didn’t do a very good job dressing for the day. It was in the 40’s for most of my run, but since we began at 5:30 in the morning, I hadn’t taken into account the fact that the sun wouldn’t come up for hours. I was uncomfortably chilly in my shorts and tank top for the majority of the race.
We began our run near Epcot and made our way along the main highway to the Magic Kingdom. This park was definitely the highlight of the race. There was a HUGE cheer squad stretching from the entrance to Cinderella’s Castle, and getting to run through this castle while it was fully lit up surrounded by thousands of supporters was one of the best marathon moments I’ve had. The entire Magic Kingdom section of this race was fantastic, but unfortunately, it only comprised about a mile of our total race.
We exited the park through a side gate and then began the many, tedious miles spent running on service roads and Florida highways in the dark. The course was very will lit, and there were character photo ops and plenty of runners on the course to keep things fun, but this is not what you picture when you think of the Disney Marathon. And while the majority of the course is flat, we did have to run up and down a few highway overpasses which were in no way fun. (Note: the one redeeming quality of the steepest overpass was a Green Army Man from Toy Story standing at the base of the hill shouting at us all to, “Get up! Move faster!”)
The course took us through both Universal Studios and Animal Kingdom, but we were only in each of these for a very brief time and didn’t get to tour the main sections of the parks. We also wound our way to the Wide World of Sports complex where the expo had been held. This was a fairly decent section of the race as it broke up the highway running and allowed us to run around the baseball fields and track. Most of the classic Disney characters were also present for photo ops.
The final stretch of the marathon ran along the boardwalk surrounding Epcot and the World Showcase. This section was a close second to the Magic Kingdom and an awesome way to finish the race. Many of the princesses were out in their home country areas for photographs, and running by Spaceship Earth (or ‘the giant ball’) as we rounded the corner to the finish was spectacular. It was about 9:00 when I hit this leg of the race, and the park had just opened to guests. The influx of people cheering along what had otherwise been a course with few spectators was also a welcome change.
In summary, I’m very happy that I ran this marathon, but it’s not one that I’m dying to do again. Going through the parks—especially the Magic Kingdom and Epcot—made up for the rest of the run, though just barely. I think that a 10K or maybe even a half would be a more enjoyable distance at this location as it would cut out some of those highway miles. Something else that I found rather interesting about this event was the extremely large number of walkers and joggers. Disney really caters to athletes of all abilities, which is great. I was just surprised to be the 355th finisher at such a large event.
The one thing that I wish I had done differently was to stop and get more photos with the characters on the course. All of the pictures that I did take ended up being linked to my photo account, so I didn’t have to pay additional money for them. Being as far up in the race order as I was, there were also no lines at any of the character stations. I avoided most of these at the start of the race as I was worried about my finish time, and I’m glad that I stopped more towards the end to get my souvenir shots. I’m still kicking myself for passing up Maleficent early on in the course; that photo alone might induce me to run this damn thing again.
As another added bonus, this marathon was such a family friendly experience. There were kids’ races held on multiple days, and my boys had a blast doing the Disney mile (and getting a high five from Mickey at the finish line.) I’d definitely sign them up for the 5k as well if we ever come back to do this again. We also had the opportunity to take a family picture with our respective medals and Safari Mickey at our hotel after our races. It wouldn’t even have been possible for us to bring the kids with us if it wasn’t for Disney’s in room sitting service.
This was not a record- setting marathon for me by any stretch of the imagination; I actually ran one of my slower times at Disney. I think that it’s possible to run a fast race on this course, but the combination of a week at the park, the cold weather, a bathroom stop, and character pictures didn’t do me any personal favors here.
** Race Highlights: The pre- dawn run through Cinderella’s Castle with the enormous cheer squad and running around the World Showcase in Epcot while all of the princesses were out.
** The Downside: ALL the miles that we had to run on service roads and highways.
Sub 4:00 State #24, BQ State #23
Finish Time: 3:36:18
Overall Place Within My Gender: 73/ 10,824
Total Training Miles: 5,172
Shoe Total: 17