A Day at the Races: 13 Things I Loved About the Walt Disney World Marathon

I ran my first marathon in October and decided to run my second marathon in January the Walt Disney World Marathon to be exact.

So far I’ve run two half-marathons and two full marathons. The two half-marathons, the 2012 Mini Marathon and the 2013 Mini Marathon, and my first full-marathon, the 2013 Indianapolis Marathon, were all in Indiana. I dealt with flat roads, cooler temperatures, and familiar terrain during those runs. The Mini Marathon usually has around 35,000 participants, and the Indianapolis Marathon is significantly smaller than the Mini-Marathon. I love participating in the Mini Marathon and I plan to make it a yearly goal. And I love running in local races, but neither the Indianapolis Marathon nor the Mini Marathon can compare to what the Walt Disney World Marathon has to offer.

Participating in the Walt Disney World Marathon was an eye-opening experience. It’s a great race for all kinds of runners. It became very clear that the runners tend to come away with a passion for the event. Why? Well, I’ll tell you!

Here are 13 things that I loved about running the Walt Disney World Marathon:

  • It’s an Incredible Experience 1 of 14

    Click through to find out why it meant so much to me...

  • There’s a Wide Variety of Races 2 of 14

    One of the best aspects of the event is that there are a number of races available. You aren't quite ready for a full marathon? Not a problem. The Walt Disney World Half-Marathon is held the morning before the full marathon. Want more of a challenge than the full marathon? Also not a problem. People can sign up to run the Dopey Challenge, which is new this year and includes running the 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and full marathon back-to-back-to-back-to-back on consecutive mornings, or the Goofy Challenge, which includes running the half-marathon and the full marathon back-to-back on consecutive mornings. I tried to convince myself to run the Dopey, but in the end, I'm glad that I only signed up for one marathon this time around.

  • There’s Competition, But the Focus Is On Enjoyment 3 of 14

    I had the opportunity to cross paths with a few of the runners who intended on competing for the top prize. The winner ended up finishing the marathon in 2 hours 21 minutes and 39 seconds. My finish time? Well, a disappointing 5 hours and 12 minutes. Even though I was disappointed with my time, I heard many, many people tell family and friends that this marathon was more about having fun and enjoying the run. I saw some finish times range from the 2 hour range to the 7 hour range. Some people were serious about the race and others came out to have a good time, which made it a perfect mix for me. 

  • The Amazing Florida Weather 4 of 14

    My family left Indiana 15 hours earlier than we had planned due to an oncoming snowstorm that was likely going to shut down the roads for at least a day or two. The snowstorm was supposed to be followed up by negative temperatures too. The weather in Florida? PERFECT! I could not have asked for better weather during the race. It was just warm enough that I could wear a tank top, but not so warm that I had to worry about a lot of sweat. The marathon kicks off early enough that the rising afternoon temperatures weren't even a concern.

    Photo Credit: Flickr

  • The Impressive Starting Line 5 of 14

    All the marathons I've been a part of before all had one big start. Runners lined up in their assigned corrals, and when the start gun sounded, everyone slowly moved up towards the start line. Only those in the front corral got to experience being let out of the gate at a runners pace. The Walt Disney World Marathon did things differently. Each individual corral started 2 minutes apart. That meant that each corral had the opportunity to run right out of the gate, and Disney added the extra bonus of having fireworks go off at each start. The fact Disney cared enough about all of the runners, even the slow runners like me, to let all of us experience the fireworks up close was impressive.

  • You Get to Run Through the Parks 6 of 14

    One of my biggest complaints from my first marathon was that miles 1 through 26 were pretty boring, and one of the things I hate most when I'm not having a good run is being bored. The Walt Disney World Marathon knocks out any potential for boredom by setting the race course right in the theme parks. The parks are stretched apart, which allows the runners to hit a park every 6 miles or so. Not only are the runners getting to run through the parks and look at all that Walt Disney World has to offer, but the runners get to enter and exist and run through seldom seen parts of the parks as well.

  • There’s Great Crowd Support the Entire Time 7 of 14

    The crowd support throughout the Walt Disney World Marathon was very impressive. There were bands playing music throughout the course, as well as several DJs, and even a local Corvette club brought their cars for the runners to gawk at as they ran by. The Magic Kingdom was lined with guests to cheer us on and the parks that were closed were lined with park employees. The crowd support was tremendous from the start of the race all the way to the finish.

  • The Characters Are Everywhere 8 of 14

    I had never seen anything like this in a race before runners stepping off to the side to stand in line so they could take pictures with various Disney characters. Me? I looked at the characters as I ran on by, but it's proof that some people run the Walt Disney World Marathon for personal records and others run it to have fun. There were a few characters, like Phineas and Ferb, that I almost stopped for, but I feared if I stopped I wouldn't be able to start again.

  • Frequent and Well Staffed Water Stops 9 of 14

    When the Walt Disney World Marathon started, I was a little concerned because there didn't seem to be many water stops. My concerns turned out to be unfounded. The longer the race went on, the more frequent the water stops became. Water stops were usually lined on both sides of the street/path with Powerade and water. There were so many volunteers available to handout the water that it was never a problem to grab a cup or two. Disney also had plenty of medical stops, something I had never seen on a marathon course before, where people could get some lube for chafing or other creams to help with sore spots. There was even a water stop that offered water drenched towels to help the runners cool off.

    Photo Credit: Flickr

  • A Wide Variety of Food Selections 10 of 14

    The marathons I've run in the past haven't had much a food selection. In fact, outside packets of energy goop, which I can't stand, I've never had anything offered to me other than water and energy drinks. The Walt Disney World Marathon shocked me with all kinds of offerings throughout the course. I had the worlds most tastiest bananas at about mile 18. I had some excellent chocolate bars at about mile 21. I took a few pretzels handed out by the crowd at mile 25, and I made sure to snag a bag of fruit snacks at mile 23. I'm not exaggerating when I say that having those options available kept me in that marathon. Without them my body, which had gone a few days without food just before the marathon, could not have finished the 26.2 mile race.

    Photo Credit: Flickr

  • The Runners Can Stop and Ride the Roller Coasters 11 of 14

    I'd heard a rumor that some of the roller coasters would be open and available to the runners and it turned out to be true. The coasters have shorter lines available to the runners, which is not something I encounter much at theme parks. But for some reason, I completely forgot about this at the time and I ran right on past them. I even remember thinking halfway through the race, "it sure would be nice if they opened some of these rides and let the runners have some fun." I slapped my forehead like an idiot when my wife asked me if I had ridden any of the open roller coasters.

    Photo Credit: Flickr

  • Finishing With Lots of Support 12 of 14

    I don't know what went into the planning of the Walt Disney World Marathon, but the course plan was laid out perfectly. The race finished at Disney's Epcot theme park, and before the race I wondered why it didn't stop at Disney's Magic Kingdom theme park. Turns out, the people at runDisney know what they're doing. The race finished in a spot that allowed the last two miles or so to be lined with people, which wouldn't have been able to take place in the Magic Kingdom. The rows of people, many of whom were handing out pretzels, water, chocolate, and anything else runners may need (most were wearing plastic gloves), began well before Epcot as the runners made their way towards the boardwalk, and it only got more crowded from there. Nothing helps with those last few agonizing miles like people who call you out by name letting you know that you can finish, and the Walt Disney World Marathon had plenty of people who did just that.

  • The Medal Itself 13 of 14

    Getting the courage to even run the Walt Disney World Marathon was kind of tough considering just a few days earlier I had been in the emergency room incapacitated due to vertigo symptoms. Just two days before the marathon, I couldn't walk in a straight line, and I couldn't see anything past 12 feet. But runDisney knows how to produce a quality medal, and I told my wife I didn't care if I had to crawl across that finish line. I wanted one of those Walt Disney World Marathon medals.

  • The Comradery Amongst All the Runners 14 of 14

    One of the best parts of running the Walt Disney World Marathon is that many of the runners hangout in the parks with their family and friends that day and the day after. The runners are easy to pick out because they wear their medals and lots of passerbys and park employees congratulate the runners for finishing their races. Getting congratulated after a grueling 26.2 mile run is always welcomed and appreciated.

    Photo Credit: Flickr

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