Ever since I started running and found out there was a Disney Marathon it has been a race I had on my bucket list. This year with a few friends from my club we did the Dopey Challenge, which was a 5k, 10k, Half Marathon and Marathon on consecutive days.
Whilst I would jump at the chance to do the race again it did have some negatives, but these were far outweighed by the positives.
The cost ($550 for the Dopey) is a massive amount (it was even $85 for just the 5k) and you need to be on the ball for registration (via Active.com) as the Dopey Challenge sells out quickly despite the cost. The weird thing after that was other than an email confirming my entry I didn't hear a single thing about the race: no reminders at all. The only communications were via RunDisney on Twitter and Facebook.
Registration was from midday on Wednesday (the day before the 5k) at ESPN World of Sports. Photo ID was needed for number pick up, and Dopey runners had to have a photo with their race numbers so that they could check that the same runner had completed all races. There was a large queue for number pick up but it moved quickly and took around 20 minutes. The large Expo was also really busy but manageable and there were a few freebies. The disappointment was that the official Run Disney race merchandise was in a different area and on the Wednesday the queue just to access this area was over 2 hours so I gave it a miss. I called back on Saturday after the Half Marathon and still didn't buy anything as it was expensive ($42 for a t shirt, $85 for tights, $95 for a jacket). Race T shirts (included in the entry price) were collected with the race numbers. The 5k was a cotton T-shirt, but the others were good quality Champion long sleeve of technical t-shirts. Dopey runners received 6 in total (5k, 10k, Half, Marathon, Goofy Marathon and Half Challenge and Dopey Challenge). We also received a 25th anniversary marathon Disney luggage label and some Disney bib clips. The race information was a download from the Run Disney website.
The races all started at 5.30am and you were advised to be parked between 3.30 and 4am, and in your pen by 5am. I hadn't realised how much the getting up early would affect me. I was ready for the running, but by the afternoon after the half marathon felt unbelievably tired due to the early mornings. We also had freak weather conditions - it was below freezing for the first 3 races (which probably helped me as I'd been training in similar conditions for weeks), but it meant that I struggled a bit when the temperature rose to 18C half way through the marathon.
The race areas were extremely well organised. As you would expect, security was tight and all bags were thoroughly searched before runners and spectators could enter the race village. Only official transparent Run Disney bags could be checked into the baggage store and the volunteers would not accept a bag without checking it to your race number.
Despite the large number of people participating, portaloos were plentiful and the queues were so much shorter than any large race I've ever run in the UK (20 people for 4 toilets was a long queue).
The race village also had charity tents and some food and drinks tents for those who had paid extra for this service ($99 for runners and $85 for spectators which included a breakfast and post race food / message, and for spectators access to the best seating at the finish line). There was also the opportunity to have pre race photos with Disney characters and my group queued for 5 minutes for a photo with Goofy.
The starting pens were well organised but only the marathon runners and Dopey challengers had to prove a race time for their pen allocation. This meant that although I was in the correct pen for the marathon the Dopey runners were too far back for the other races. My 5.40 marathon time put me in the second pen from the back in all races (pen E for the 5k & 10k and pen G for the half and full), and I started between 30 and 45 minutes after the official race start.
From the very start it was obvious that many of those doing single races had greatly exaggerated their race times to start as far forward as possible so that they wouldn't be caught by the sweepers running at 16 minute mile pace from the last pen. For the 5k there were walkers with pen A on their numbers who finished at the same time as me despite starting 30 minutes before me!
The start itself was well organised with each pen divided into sub pens, and these being started with a countdown and spectacular fireworks at 2 minute intervals. The shorter races were very close to the race village, but the starts for the longer races were on a 3 lane dual carriageway at the back of Epcot and were a 15-20 minute walk away (there were also plenty of portaloos in this area).
These are not races for PB hunters but that was as I expected. I went with the intention of taking my time, enjoying the atmosphere and unique race routes and stopping for photos when I could. At times when the course narrowed I was frustrated by large groups of walkers who were taking up the entire width of the road so that runners were having to overtake on the grass verges, but this was not a particular problem for the marathon when time proof was required.
The race routes were fantastic. All started and finished in the car park at Epcot and included a run round Epcot lake; the 10k also added a lap of Disney's Boardwalk; the half was Epcot and Magic Kingdom and the marathon Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, ESPN and Hollywood Studios. Running round the parks was fantastic, especially through iconic parts like Main Street and through Cinderella's Castle in Magic Kingdom and around the lake and sphere at Epcot. As you would imagine the on course entertainment was brilliant, with characters regularly on the route (though we didn't join the queues for photos) and music from speakers as well as live choirs and marching bands. I loved it!
Toilets en route were plentiful but busy, and we found it easier to use the theme park toilets which were only slightly off the official route (they were also more comfortable and you could get a wash to cool down).
The water stations were approximately every 1-1.5 miles (19 stations for the marathon) and for the longer races were well stocked with Cherry Powerade (which tasted vile but did its job) and water. The food stations for the marathon were disappointing as the first one wasn't until half way and although there were 4 in total two of them were bananas which I'm allergic to! The other two were Jelly Belly Sport Beans, and there was also an unofficial chocolate food station in Hollywood Studios, which was a lovely surprise!
The race photos were the best I've ever had, and as we had 14 day Disney parks tickets were included in the PhotoPass package we received free of charge with these tickets. Without the theme park tickets, photos were $16.95 each or $189 for all.
The finish area was well organised and all finishers received a space blanket, bottle of water, bottle of Powerade (not Cherry thankfully) and a goodie box containing tortillas, cheese dip, dried fruit, apple puree and chocolate, as well as the top quality medal.
There were lots of photographers after the finish where you could have photos with an "I did it" paddle or with the Disney characters.
As you would expect for these races the bling was awesome. Massive medals that are really heavy (a billboard advertising said "Run 26.2 miles, gain 9.6 ounces"). For the 25th anniversary marathon all finishers also received special edition "Mickey Ears"
I would definitely love to do these races again and would recommend to anyone who could afford it. Although expensive, it was worth every penny / cent.