Growing up as a kid I was able to visit all of the Disney and Orlando theme parks. From time to time I remember those days, especially when I come across old photos from the trips. Because of that, I was always interested in running one of the Disney races once I started running back in 2013. Since I didn’t know the timing of the race or how quickly it sells out, I missed out on the chance in 2014 and 2015 but was determined and prepared to get into the race this year!
The initial experience was crazy in itself seeing the site crash 20 minutes before registration even opened at noon. After about 30 minutes of waiting for my turn in the queue, I was registered for the race. As the race got closer I used local 5K’s, 10K’s and half marathons to help train for the race. Then the race weekend finally arrived.
I was nervous about everything race related because I had heard a lot of negative reviews and comments about other racers experiences in previous years but I was very impressed with how everything was organized and handled. The packet pickup and race expo were held at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports. I was able to easily park, walk right to my designated line to get my bib, and then right to my designated spot to get my shirt and other items. I liked how there were a few food options there as well since I was pretty hungry by the time I got there.
The morning of the race was pretty much just as simple. The event guide provided directions and warned everyone that using a GPS or mobile app would most likely lead you to take road that were blocked so their directions got us right to where we needed to be and pretty quickly. Once we got in, we hung out listening to the DJ, took a picture with Chip N Dale and waited until it was time for me to head to the start line. Thankfully I got to the porta potties early because even though I feel they had enough, the lines for them still became long pretty quickly.
When you leave the waiting area, you head down a road that leads you to the corrals. It’s about a half mile walk with hundreds of more porta potties available just for the runners and plenty of space to stretch and warm up before entering your assigned corral. The race starts with the wheelchair racers, then a 1 minute wait between corrals to try and help lessen the crowded course and need to weave around slower runners and early walkers. Thankfully I was in corral C so I only waited a couple of minutes before getting to start but I can see why someone in a further back corral can get tired of standing around a lot and waiting for a long time to finally get to start.
The course was pretty cool to me. Though you do run through 5 different parks, there is a good majority of it that consists of the roads and back streets that connect the parks. But I feel like they did a great job of keeping you entertained during those areas of the course. There was definitely a lot of characters for you to take pictures with if you wanted, or at least see as you passed. Music was playing almost the entire time and definitely at each mile marker.
We ran through Magic Kingdom first which was pretty cool with all of the spectators cheering you on and then topping it off by running around and through the beautifully lit castle. Then you get to Animal Kingdom. The only negative I had with that area was that I we only saw some lambs that they had brought out and it smelt horrible because of the animal poop; but it did make us laugh and run a little faster. I believe some of the later corrals got to see more animals which is understandable so I wouldn’t expect many to be up and out at 6 in the morning. Running through the rest of the park was cool though.
Then you run through the ESPN Wide World Of Sports park which had one of my favorite moments. Part of the course has you run on to the main baseball stadium along the warning track which was nice because it was softer than the road and felt good for the moment. But the best part which gave me chills was all the people in the stands, screaming and cheering you on. After you leave that park you end up going through Hollywood Studios which goes by pretty quickly but running down that main street with all the tall building surrounding you was awesome. The street is designed to be like New York and then they have Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” song playing. It was an awesome moment for me to experience.
You then run through Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resort which was really cool with all of the guests cheering you on and encouraging you. Then you get to Epcot for the finish which tops it all. Running past the famous Epcot ball, the crowds screaming and cheering you as you get so close to the finish line. It really gave me chills and it was even more special to see my wife and sister along the gate right before the finish line. As you cross the DJ announces your name and you pass Donald Duck and Goofy at the finish line.
The aid stations were honestly some of my favorite moments as these volunteers were unlike any others I have encountered. Very friendly, encouraging and prepared. Between water, Powerade, Bananas, Clif Gels and the medical stations with tubs of BioFreeze, I was very impressed. Pretty much every mile you could count on getting what you needed and it was nice for them to make sure you understood when you were at the final aid station so that you knew to stop and get extra if you felt you needed it.
Disney puts your name on your bib automatically so it was even more cool to have random spectators and volunteers cheering you on by name. At times I would get confused and look up thinking I knew the person because they were calling me by name. It was funny but made it feel more personable and sincere. There were so many moments I felt beat up, weak, finished, but those comments and words of encouragement pushed me on.
Emotionally I finally broke down at the final aid station because the 4 hour pacer passed by me as I was taking one of my walk breaks to try and conserve whatever energy I had left to finish. My goal was to finish at least ahead of the 4 hour pacer and when I got passed, I was disappointed and gave up on the goal. But as I started to run again, the music blasting through Epcot motivated me a little and then I saw the pacer just ahead of me. That last mile was one of the toughest I’ve done mentally and physically but I was determined to finish ahead of the pacer. Even though I knew because of the staggered start times that I was still technically going to be slightly over 4 hours, that pacer was my goal and I worked too hard to just let it go without at least one final fight. When I crossed the finish line I fought back the tears but eventually I just gave up and let it out. Between the cramps, aches, pains, excitement, joy and relief, I emotionally broke down and let it out and it felt great.
As I look back at the clips I recorded and the photos they took during the race, I realize this is a race that I doubt can ever be topped for me personally. It’s also a race that I can see myself returning to do every couple of years. It was hands down the most fun and encouraging race I have ever been a part of. Going forward, I will always consider everyone I talk to to do it at least once. Even if you are not a huge Disney fan, which I do not consider myself one anymore as I have grown older; I would still recommend it because the other runners, the spectators, the volunteers and more just make the race so awesome in my opinion.
Finally I will add, that if you like to run races for the medals, the finisher medal is pretty sweet and is also now my favorite so far. I highly recommend everyone giving this race at least one chance and only hope you have the same or an even better experience than me.