My son Alan and I have just returned from one of my most memorable and incredible running events to date- the Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge, a multi day event, involving a 5km, 10km, half marathon and marathon, all within Walt Disney World Florida was running tourism on steroids!
This year was a big year as the event hosted it’s 25th marathon and 5th Dopey challenge, giving bigger cause for celebrations- as if the Americans need an excuse to party- and party we did!
A year in the planning we ran this event to mark my non-running son’s 21st birthday in March ( and I am still not sure that he is converted) . After much training (we followed Hal Higdon’s plan) and some significant injury worries for Alan we headed off on 2nd January, staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort in Walt Disney World. On Wednesday we attended the race expo which in true Disney fashion consisted of numerous long queues- a relatively short queue to pick up race numbers (think Fastrack rides in the theme parks) and then a LONG queue (think 2 hour plus ‘are we nearly there yet’ ) to access the expo Disney merchandise where we quickly learned the eBay value of this collectors memorabilia!
Race days were Thursday through to Sunday, and all started in the same way, with a 3 am alarm call – a long lie compared to some participants since we just had an internal shuttle bus to get to the start line. Runners were under strict instructions to be on a bus by 4 am, 3.30 for the longer races. We chose to live on the wild side and cram theme parks around the races so were surviving on 3-4 hours sleep each night- it is Disney after all. The resultant 160,000 steps counted thanks to Mr Fitbit over the 4 days might have contributed to the lack of DOMS I experienced.
Sadly Florida chose to have some exceptionally cold weather during our stay meaning that the 1.5 hr plus wait to start running was not a particularly pleasant experience. Patio heaters were available in a collection area at the start and daily runners huddled round them, but we quickly learned that the heaters were not actually turned on and that the only heat we were getting was from each other ;). I must be honest and say this was the hardest part of each day for me and became a test of endurance! If you ever go be prepared for all seasons.
There was a great deal of hype each day pre race, concluding with a moments silence for those in active service and everyone singing the national anthem – don’t see the latter catching on here?
The runs themselves were fab. For a few at front of pack this remains a race, but for the majority of the pack this is all about enjoyment and participation. Many at the back are walking and we saw all ages and abilities on each of the days. Throughout the runs there were:
1. Regular character photo opportunities. Yes- we stood in line mid race to get our photos taken! (If you ever participate in the event I highly recommend adding Memory Maker to your holiday package which allows all race photos and park photos to be added to your profile and downloaded for no additional charge on return home- multiple members can be added to one Memory Maker package so no need for multiple packages).
- Fastrack opportunities to ride an attraction on the half and marathon days.
- Great placards with jokes/riddles with the question and answer spaced a few meters apart. These were brilliant for passing the more boring parts of the routes between the parks and as the miles went past definitely helped maintain a sense of humour.
- The best water and nutrition stations I think I have ever seen.
- Amazing support, both with Disney Cast Members (i.e employees who definitely have enthusiasm for their jobs!) and nominated support points for family members to cheer you on.
- Very accurate trackers…which did stop when I stopped running! (GNR runners and Glasgow 1/2 runners will understand 🙂 )
- Very efficient post race provision of medals, water, breakfast boxes and then post race photos.
The 5km and 10km routes run in and around Epcot. Running through Epcot in the dark as the sun started to rise truly was an ‘awesome’ experience. The majority of runners doing these races are in fancy dress and some of the costumes were just amazing.
The half marathon route takes in Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. The marathon takes in all of the parks – Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom. ESPN Wide World of Sports, Hollywood Studios and finishing back in Epcot. I am not normally an emotional runner, but running round Epcot for the final time with my boy, surrounded by incredible support definitely caused a wee lump in my throat.
Finishing the event we were presented with 3 medals to add to our previous days collection. Medals are given for each race, plus one for completing the Goofy Challenge (marathon plus half) and Dopey (all 4 events). And boy these are some medals!!!!
For anyone considering Dopey, or indeed any of the marathon events, would I recommend it? Definitely, but if you go please take your time and enjoy the atmosphere- release your inner child. It’s expensive to enter and obviously to get too- if you want to race this likely isn’t for you. There are very many walkers and a large % of mid pack runners follow the Jeff Galloway run/walk method so there is often congestion- I still can hear the bleeps of the apps counting down to walk on everyone’s phones. Even the pacers used the Jeff Galloway method and huge groups stayed with the pacers throughout the race which added to the congestion in parts.
The final mention must go to ‘the balloon ladies’, who walk the course on the back of the pack at a 16 minute mile pace and they will sweep you if they overtake you on the course. There was mention of sweeping up to the 24 mile marker on the course. While most runners will comfortably beat the balloon ladies easily, even with photo and/or ride stops, it is amazing the trepidation these lovely ladies cause among participants. One way to ensure you have a comfortable margin is to ensure you submit proof of time prior to the event, for races you have completed within the past 2 years which will ensure you are placed in one of the earlier corrals which gives you a good head start.
We may not be home with a suntan, but we have come home with incredible memories and a few new pals we made along the way.