20 Years Running
by Michael Truskowski
When the Walt Disney World Marathon was first run in 1994, a few thousand runners took part. This year, for the 20th running of the race, over 20,000 took part in the 26.2 mile run. Not to mention the other 40,000 or so participants who participated in the weekend’s other activities, such as the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, the Disney Family 5K, and the Kid’s Races. As the sport of running has gone mainstream, the runDisney events have become some of the most popular on the Disney Parks calendar.
My first Disney marathon (and my first marathon ever for that matter) was the 2011 Walt Disney World Marathon. Last year I stepped it up and ran my first Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge. The Goofy, for those who may not be aware, is comprised of both the Walt Disney World Half Marathon AND the Walt Disney World Marathon. That is a combined 39.3 miles over the course of two very early mornings. This year I went one step further, and ran my first “Dopey” challenge. Unlike the Goofy, the “Dopey” is not an official event. But every year several thousand Goofy runners add the Disney Family 5K to the weekend’s events, completing a 42.4 mile weekend.
As always, the weekend began with a trip to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for the Disney’s Health and Fitness Expo. A visit to the expo is required for all participants to pick up their race material. The expo is also the place to hear from running experts, as well as shop for all kinds of gear, including a massive official merchandise booth (bring money, LOTS of money).
I had last run the 5K in 2011. The course was the same this year, with the only change being that the race now has a corral system at the start. It is still an untimed “fun run”, but the corral system is meant to help ease congestion by putting the faster runners in front (much the same as the system used at both the half and full marathons). There were 5 corrals, A – D, with D being split into two, one for runners only and one for the stroller division. The 5K is the only race that allows strollers, or anything not carried directly on the runner’s body for that matter. I was in corral A, so I do not know what effect this had, but they did seem to put a good amount of time between corrals, as the stroller division was beginning right as I was coming across the finish line.
Morning two of waking up at 2:45am was for the Half Marathon. This was the first year I did not have monorail transportation to the start of the race as I was staying at Fort Wilderness. Much as I love the campground, I think I will be going back to the Contemporary next year as the buses certainly did add some time getting to the park. If you have never run the races before, fair warning: You have to get there EARLY. If you are any later than about 4am, you will be late getting to the start line. We got there before 4am and still managed to be a bit late, although that was due to much worse than usual congestion on the walk from the staging area to the start line (which is not a short one).
One of the highlights of this year’s race was that the Castle Dreamlights were turned on when we ran up Main Street and through the castle. This was not the case in previous years, so I was very happy to see it this time (yes, this race begins so early that after running from Epcot to Magic Kingdom, it was still night).
The marathon is always the premier event of the weekend, and so much more so this year due to it being the 20th running. Among the 25,000 runners who gathered at the start line were 95 people who were known as “Perfect 20s”. These 95 people have run each and every Walt Disney World Marathon since they began in 1994.
The course was changed for this year to celebrate the 20th. Rather than going through Epcot immediately after the start, the course instead followed the half marathon exactly up to Magic Kingdom and out. The first truly new experience was when the course entered the Walt Disney World Speedway. The course wound around nearly the entire length of the track, passing many of the race cars and exotic driving experience cars along the way. Exiting out of the speedway, the course then resumed its normal direction toward Animal Kingdom.
By this point, I was really feeling the heat, and essentially downgraded my own race to a “fun run”. I stopped for many more pictures than I had in the past, which was a lot of fun. But the most fun moment of the course took place in Animal Kingdom itself. I had seen runners leaving the course to ride Expedition Everest in the past, but I was always running for time, so I bypassed it. This year, as time was no longer a consideration, I decided it was worth losing 5 minutes to hop on. It was just after park opening, and the ride had just started running for guests. But the normal crush of thrill seekers in the morning was not there, as they would have the cross the course multiple times, leaving the line empty except for the runners. I felt that coaster more than I ever have before, and it was a blast.
The most significant change was next. Instead of turning back to go to Hollywood Studios, we kept going and entered the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. A full three miles of the race took place here. We got to run through almost every part of the complex, including the baseball field (which reminded me a lot of the Disneyland Half Marathon course running through Angel Stadium). Leaving the complex we passed mile 20, which was a special mile this year to commemorate the 20th running. Mickey, Donald, and Goofy were all on stage, and large puppet characters were out along the sides. The mile marker had every medal from previous years along the sides.
After this, the course returned to normal, heading through Hollywood Studios, past the Yacht and Beach Clubs, and through Epcot to the finish. I was over an hour and a half off my normal time, a combination of all the stops and the general slowdown of the heat. But I got my special 20th anniversary medal, and my Goofy Challenge medal.
I always feel so much better after the Disney Marathon than most others, mainly because, being in Walt Disney World, I don’t end up falling asleep. Instead, I get to walk off the pain by heading out to the parks. It is always great fun to see everyone wearing their medals around the park, with everyone saying congratulations to random strangers.
It has been amazing to see how big runDisney has become even in just the last few years. Only a week later, the Tinker Bell Half Marathon took place in Disneyland, meaning many runners already have their Coast to Coast medals. The Disneyland Half Marathon sold out in only one day. I missed it, so will definitely be using the early registration option at the Expo next year. This was not my best marathon (okay actually it was my worst), and the weather made it extra challenging, but in a way it was the most fun. It was my 5th full marathon (it would have been my 6th had this year’s NYC Marathon not been canceled due to Hurricane Sandy). I fully intend to go back next year. If you want to join me, check out www.rundisney.com. Registration will open in the next few months. You can also sign up for other races such as the Princess Half Marathon, the Expedition Everest Challenge, the Tower of Terror 10 Mile, and the Wine and Dine Half Marathon. So get training, and see you on the course!
Michael Truskowski has been a Disney fan for over 25 years. As a technology nerd, he has always been inspired by the innovations in the parks, particularly Epcot. He has completed two Walt Disney World Marathons (including a Goofy Challenge) and counting. He currently lives in New York City. Read more at www.michaeltruskowski.com