Whether you are an experienced runner, or have never run a day in your life, a Disney race may be for you. In fact, Disney Half Marathons have more first time Half Marathoners than any other races in the world, so regardless of where you may find yourself, you will not be alone. I love Disney races. I have run every distance they offer, and have done several of the challenges, and I’m not in great shape. In fact, the last Disney race I ran, I was 80 lbs overweight. Truly anyone can do a Disney race, you just have to be prepared. Here are a few tips to help you make sure that you have a magical time.
When I say anyone can do it, I mean it. However, if you just decide that you are going to do it and don’t prepare, it can make the rest of your vacation miserable. You will be struggling just to make it through the parks, and it will not be a magical time. Fortunately, RunDisney puts out training plans for all of their races. They use interval training which is also known as the run/walk method, which I personally love. Not only do I use the RunDisney plans for their races, but also for any other race I do. If you don’t like their plans, do a quick google search and you will find plenty. Just know that the more you train, the better time you will have.
2. Stay Hydrated.
Florida races can be very hot. (I haven’t done one at Disneyland, but that is on my bucket list) It is easy to become dehydrated. Fortunately, Disney races have plenty of water/powerade stops. Some would say too many. Make sure that you keep plenty of fluids in you.
3. If you can hold it, use the restroom in the parks.
Keeping hydrated also means that there is a decent chance you will have to take a pit stop at some point. I have never seen so many port-a-johns as at Disney races. They have hundreds of them at the start and finish and plenty all along the race course. However, the one thing that Disney has that most races don’t is real bathrooms on the course. Every time we hit a park, we make sure to stop at a restroom because, let’s face it, a bathroom with running water is always nicer than a box with a hole in it. Bonus tip: I tend to not stop at the first restroom in the park, because the lines are often the longest.
When I asked my family, what tips they had to make a Disney run magical, the first thing my 14 year old daughter yelled out was “Biofreeze!” For those who don’t know about Biofreeze, it is essentially a fancier version of Bengay, and they have it at every medical tent, which are almost as frequent as the water stops. Don’t be afraid to stop and get help if you need it. Each station has professional medical people that can help with things as simple as chafing and as dangerous as heart conditions. The medical care is top notch. As far as the Biofreeze goes, my daughter’s advice is, “Put it wherever you hurt. Use a lot of it. Use it often.”
5. Dress the part
When you head out to the race, you will see people in all sorts of gear. Some will be dressed up in the fanciest of racing gear, while others will have even fancier costumes. Have fun. I’m personally not a costume type of person, but I will often wear different colors, depending on the theme. For example, at the Star Wars Dark Side Half, I wore all gray, and ordered a green magic band. My round belly was the Death Star, and the magic band represented the laser shot out of it. Others were more fully dressed in costumes, but mine was perfect for me. Word of Warning: Train at least once in your costume. My daughter wore a tutu for the Princess half for exactly ½ a mile, before it became annoying. That is something that you can take off, but other costumes may not be so simple. Know what it will be like before you run.
6. Stop for characters, or rides, or McDonalds
Disney offers opportunities that most races don’t. They have characters out on the course, and not just the run-of-the-mill characters you see in the park, but Disney characters rarely seen. For at least two races, the Dark Side Half and the Mickey Full Marathon, the course goes on an overpass next to a McDonalds. If you finish going over the overpass, at the end you can cut through the grass and get a quick breakfast. If you’re slow enough, you will also run into the parks just as they are opening. That is a great time to jump on a ride. I have taken breaks to ride Mt Everest and Tower of Terror. How many people can say they have ridden a thrill ride in the middle of a running race?
7. Take your time
Obviously, if I’m willing to stop and get character pictures, eat some McDonalds, and ride rides, I’m not that worried about my finishing time. Particularly if this is your first race at that distance, you already know you are going to set a personal best. While some go for time, Disney races are for me a celebration of the training and hard work I did to get to that point. To help you take your time, follow tip 8.
8. If possible, get a qualifying time
You start a Disney race based on your estimated finishing time. The faster people start first, while the slower people and those without a qualifying time start in the back. The last people to start are a group of women that are called the balloon ladies. They walk an approximately 16 minute mile, which is the slowest you can go without being removed from the course. If you run a race before Disney and can prove that you can run faster, than the other paces, you will start closer to the front. The 16 minutes/mile clock doesn’t start until the last runner crosses the start line, which means the closer to the front you are, the more time you have to play and enjoy yourself on the course.
9. Don’t be afraid of the balloon ladies
First, I used to think the balloon ladies were a myth. That is until my wife forgot her inhaler one race, and her asthma kicked in about a mile and a half into the 10K. It was about mile 4 that we met the balloon ladies. They are nice. And they told us that we needed to speed up, which we were able to do by doing very short run/walk intervals. If you meet the balloon ladies, it is not the end of the world.
10. Have fun
At about mile 18 of my first full at Disney, I saw a man wearing a shirt that read, “DLF>DNF>DNS.” Below it, it said Dead Last Finish is greater than Did Not Finish is greater than Did Not Start. Running a race is ultimately a competition against one’s self. If you have taken the time to train and made it to race day you have won. When you cross that start line, you will have accomplished something that literally billions of people have not. Even if you get passed by the balloon ladies and end up being pulled from the course, the fact that you started, and didn’t finish is better than most. And when you finish, you will have accomplished something many only dream of. As it turns out, the person who finishes last will be able to wear the same medal around the park as the person who finishes first. The point is to do your best and to enjoy it. If you follow these 10 tips, then running at Disney can be another magical part of your vacation.
Neal Jones is a seasoned Disney fan and a runDisney enthusiast and expert. He's been a great friend and advocate to Magic Bound Travel and has been with us since the very beginning.