There are only two things that cause any disruption to Disney World in Florida. One is the odd thunder storm known to frequent this tropical area on the East Coast of the USA, the other is the Walt Disney Marathon. The Disney organisation recognises the efforts of every person who undertakes the marathon by delaying the opening of their four theme parks to ensure that the 16,000 entrants who take on the 26.2-mile course can run through the parks without fear of tripping over small children.
The course starts in one of the many Disney World car parks then heads through Epcot and The Magic Kingdom where the run down Main Street USA and through Cinderella’s Castle forces all but the most elite runners to recall their earliest memories of watching Disney cartoons and dreaming of life as Cinderella or Prince Charming. The run then takes to the back roads of the Disney estate before entering Animal Kingdom, snaking its way to the Disney MGM studios before finishing with a three-quarter lap of Epcot and the magic of getting a Mickey-Mouse-shaped medal, a definite keeper. This year’s marathon was the 15th staging so a one-off medal added to the uniqueness of the event.
Traditional Disney characters around the course means there are ample opportunities for photographs. It may mean a slower-than-normal finishing time but the chance to get plenty of photographs to impress friends and family can sometimes mean so much more. Plus how many marathons do you run knowing you will see global superstars? The half-marathon course uses only Epcot and The Magic Kingdom but provides equal opportunity for photographs and ends with a Donald-Duck-shaped medal, again a keeper.
All smiles: RW's very own Goofy runners
As can be expected from a company that deals with roughly 60,000 guests per day, the race organisation is first-rate and on a par with the FLM. Registration packs are sent out well in advance to international runners and once at the race each process is so well managed that you can be sure of a worry-free run. There are 6am starts for both the half- and full marathon so arriving three days before, I didn’t find the 3am wake-up call too much of a problem. Once at Epcot there are plenty of stewards to help take care of any minor issues that can sometimes blight a race.
Corrals are properly marshalled and everybody starts off at the same pace within each corral meaning that the last corral is over the start line within 20 minutes. There are plenty of water and food stations dotted around the course and bands, cheerleaders, even a choir help motivate you around. The crowds can be sparse on parts of the marathon course - spectators cannot access some of the back roads - but within Magic Kingdom and the other main areas of the course, there are plenty of people to support you and shout out your name (your name is printed on your race number).
Over the last three years the half- and full marathons have been split between the Saturday and Sunday. This has allowed the creation of the Goofy runner - a runner who finishes sub-3:30 for the half-marathon and sub-7:00 for the full marathon. To recognise this effort, Disney has created the Goofy medal - a favourite within my collection. Die-hard souls now also add the Family 5K (run on the previous Friday morning) to ensure a clean sweep of medals.
The Walt Disney Marathon has become a firm favourite for me and I would recommend everyone gives this race a go, even if it’s just for the medal.
Slowfoot's Top Transatlantic Tips...
- It’s a great race. The medals alone make it worth it.
- You may need a hat and gloves, even though this year's marathon finished in temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Think about wearing a sun hat for the marathon.
- Take it easy in the half-marathon - you will need your energy the following day.
- Take a disposable camera for all the character photos on route.
- Start on the right-hand side in the half-marathon if you want to high-five the Disney characters.
- Get a massage after each event. It costs just $1 per minute and helps recovery.
- Arrange to meet up with fellow forumites if you can.
- Don't feel you have to do back-to-back runs in training if you're worried about injury. I cross-trained on a bike before going out for a run.
- Try and avoid the theme parks the weekend before the race if you can. It's still a holiday period in the US so the queues can be huge.