Happy runDisney Race Week! Do we have any runDisney novices or first timers out there? If so, you might be wondering what to expect during a runDisney course. Before my first race, I spent lots of time doing research, watching youtube videos and reading anything I could about the course.
Yet, there was still a handful of surprises I encountered along the way. A few of these things didn’t come as ‘shocks’, but it would be super helpful to know about them before I had started. If even to just paint a picture of what was in store for me along the course. Let’s dive into the general details of what to expect on a runDisney course.
Mostly Flat Course:
RunDisney races, those held in Walt Disney World, are traditionally run on mostly flat courses. Now, the definition of a ‘hill’ often changes from one runner to another runner. I come from Michigan where the hills are plentiful. When I have a chance to run in Florida to me everything seems flat. That being said, it would be wrong of me not to mention the few slight changes of elevation I noted on multiple runDisney race courses.
Let’s start with the parks. If you are a long time Disney fan you are probably aware that the Magic Kingdom guests experience actually sits on the second story. You are not on the ground floor when you are experiencing the parks. Disney created this facade in order to have an underground tunnel system for cast members to utilize. This is especially important for cast members in costume. The underground tunnel system, or utilidor system, enables Disney cast members to get from one spot in the park to another without disrupting the current magic guests are experiencing.
How does this affect you as a runner? Well, when you are entering the Magic Kingdom, you are going uphill slightly. It is a gradual uphill, but it is an uphill none the less! Due to changes in elevation at the Magic Kingdom and the other Disney parks, there are a few slight up hill climbs you’ll encounter throughout your run, depending on the parks you race through.
Second, the overpasses provide a decent uphill grade during your runDisney races. Due to running the entire race within Walt Disney World, you won’t be spending 100% of your time running in the parks. They just aren’t large enough to cover an entire marathon. Instead, in addition to the parks, you will be logging a few miles between the parks. This means running on the Walt Disney World roads and highways, which all include overpasses.
Overpasses have a nice ‘on-ramp’ that creates an uphill grade. You’ll for sure see it and your body will know what is happening because your heart rate is going to elevate. Just ease yourself up, little-by-little, and before you know it, you’re at the top! Plus, if you are near the end of your race, you might encounter my favorite runDisney race character: a green army man! Usually positioned at the top of the on-ramp, he’ll be there waiting for you. If you’re working hard he will cheer you on. If he thinks you aren’t giving 110% effort, watch out, you might be stopping to do a few push-ups. Especially if you stop and ask for a picture. Push-ups might be guaranteed!
Then, after you go up, as we all know, what goes up, must come down. Enjoy that downhill!
This one is most likely a given along a runDisney course. Odds are, you already knew there were going to be characters along the way. The part might not have known is that you don’t have to stop for the characters if you don’t want. If you’ve seen videos of runDisney races, it might look like the characters are in the middle of the course causing bottlenecks of runners waiting to grab pictures. I’ll call this a little optical illusion. The characters aren’t in the middle of the course, but on the course sidelines. There is ample space for runners to stand on the sidelines near the characters without blocking the course. Cast members are present with the characters and help to direct the flow of traffic.
What if you do want to stop for pictures? Will it take a ton of time? Depending on the character and where you are in the race, it could take a little bit of time to get through a character line. It all depends on how popular the character is and how many runners have made it to that character before you.
To my knowledge, Disney doesn’t release a list of characters before the runDisney races, so it is always a surprise as to which characters you will meet. That being said, you’ll have to make a decision on the fly as to whether or not you want to stop and take a photo.
Don’t Pass All the Characters
If the line isn’t too long and you’re interested in a photo with a particular character, I’d say stop! The Disney Photo Pass photographers are very efficient and you’ll be on your way quickly. On average, most lines don’t get too long. There are definitely exceptions to the rule, however. During the Princess 1/2 marathon I encountered a line of about 30-40 runners for the Princesses. So, it definitely all depends on the race and who is popular!
In case you didn’t put two-and-two together and figure out what it was going to be dark at your 5:30am race start, surprise! It’s going to be dark! Depending on the time of year, the darkness might last for a while or it might be over in the first few miles. Either way, be prepared for at least some low lighting.
Disney does a decent job lighting up most parts of the race. However, I did notice that during the 2018 Wine-and-Dine 1/2 marathon, some of the lights during the first few miles weren’t on or working. Therefore, it is super important to be aware of your surroundings. Watch you feet and be sure to keep ample distance between you and the runner in front of you. In case there are any sudden stops you’ll be able to catch yourself and readjust your footing.
I am only saying this because once your legs get moving it can be hard to stop them! Once during a marathon my legs were in such a groove that they couldn’t stop. When another runner stopped out of the blue right in front of me, I crashed into her and still couldn’t stop! It was messy. Just make sure to give yourself ample space so you can avoid any runner collisions, especially in the dark.
Carry a Light
If low light and visibility make it difficult for you to see, just take out your cell phone. You can turn on the flashlight and shine the area by your feet until the lighting improves.Bonus, if you plan on having your phone out for character photos it will be all ready for you!
Alternatively, you could use a headlight to light your way. If you decide to use a headlight just double-check with the runDisney costume guidelines to make sure it is welcomed. Also consider you might not want to carry it later in the race.
If you’re aiming to get a personal record during your runDisney race, odds are you’re already thinking about running the tangents. What exactly are tangents? Well, each race, including runDisney races, are usually measured by the shortest distance to get form the start-line to the finish-line. This means instead of hugging every curve at all the various turns throughout the race, the actual race course goes down the middle of all the twists and turns. The result is the quickest and shortest way from point A to B.
RunDisney races are notorious for having lots of tangents, or twists and turns, throughout their parks. They add to the atmosphere of the park during the daytime. To be honest, I find the twists and turns to be a lot of fun as they keep your mind busy. You’re constantly looking at various details and rides. It’s probably one of the reasons you signed up for a Disney race, due to all the exciting ‘Disney’ that will be around you.
Follow the Tangents for a PR
However, if you want your fastest time, you better focus on keeping your eyes straight ahead to pick out the tangents. Instead of hugging all the curves, be sure to cut straight down the middle of the curves. Let’s say you are running a half marathon on Disney property. You want to run 13.1 miles, not 13.5. You aren’t going to be getting extra credit for running extra. Keep things straight and steady!
Not an Open Course
RunDisney races have a ton of perks. You get to run through the parks, see your favorite characters, fireworks! One thing that they don’t have a ton of are spectators. Don’t get me wrong, depending on the course you are running, there definitely are pockets of people who are cheering the runners as they blaze by. Yet, there are definitely dead spots.
The dead spots are more due to course design than by lack of people willing to get up at the crack of dawn. (I’m being serious, runners are crazy and those who support runners might be even crazier!). It can be difficult for spectators to get to some of the different view areas and there aren’t a ton of viewing areas to begin with.
If your race includes running through the Magic Kingdom, spectators are able to cheer you on as you run along Main Street, USA. Or if your race includes a loop around the Boardwalk area hotels, you will definitely see some runDisney race fans. However, if most of your time is spent running through the parks and the highways and streets, you might only encounter little pockets of fans here and there.
You Will Be Supported
Don’t fret though! The cast members who are present in the parks, the characters and those spectators who are able to find a way to cheer along the course are going to support you like crazy. It’s amazing how a little bit of cheering can carry you a long way. I remember finishing up the Princess 1/2 marathon one year and a volunteer at an aid station started cheering for me. H commented about how I was still smiling at 12 miles in. His simple words helped me refocus and realize how much fun I was having, allowing me to stay strong all the way to the finish-line.
Be sure to tell the volunteers thank you as you run along the course. If you focus on someone or something other than yourself it will help to make the miles move by faster and take your mind off of any discomfort you may be experiencing.
RunDisney races are packed full of first time runners. This is great! In addition to many of the first timers, many veteran runners use the run-walk method. Created by Jeff Galloway, who is the official training partner of runDisney races, the plan allows runners to complete the various races using interval training. Run-walkers will run for a set amount of time and then walk for a set amount of time.
In proper walk-run etiquette, the runners should raise their hand when they are approaching a walking interval, signaling they are about to stop. Most should be on the right side of the running pathway, but this doesn’t always happen. As with many runners, a running fog might take over their brain and cause run-walkers to forget to signal. As mentioned above about leaving ample distance between you and another runner in the dark, be sure to follow that advice during the whole race. This way you are able to keep yourself from running into another runner.
Fun side-story: When I was running the runDisney Princess 1/2 marathon in 2016, I ran next to Jeff Galloway for about a mile. In true Jeff Galloway fashion he was using his run-walk method. Yes, he did raise his hand to signal he was slowing for a walk!
Refreshments Served Along the Course
As mentioned in other posts, Coca-cola is the main beverage sponsor of Walt Disney World. Therefore, Dasani and Powerade are found along the course. The staggering of the beverage stops varies among the different course. Typically, they refresments are offered every few miles.I have found that it is usually lemon-lime Powerade during the runDisney races, but it is not guaranteed that this will be the flavor provided during future races.
In addition, Clif Shots have been offered at various races. It is a nice little pick-me up in the later miles of the race. Be sure to check with the official race website and at the expo to determine the exact location of the various products.
Additionally, if you aren’t sure how your stomach might handle these different products, you might want to bring along your own. Particularly something you have used during training. Save your stomach the trouble of trying something new on race day.
There ya go! What to expect on a runDisney race course. There is a lot that goes into runDisney races and hopefully you’re now more prepared than ever.
Beyond all the planning and prepping, be prepared to have the time of your life! RunDisney races are some of my favorite running races ever. I love Disney and being able to run through the parks is a ‘dream come true’. The saddest part about runDisney races? When they are over! …but that just means it’s time to start planning the next race!