Unless you live in central Florida or Southern California, it’s obvious that attending a runDisney event is going to require a lot more effort than a marathon or race local to you. With events selling out within 24 hours of registration opening there has to be some reason people keep making the trek and investing their time, money and training into runDisney races. In fact there are many runners who make it a point to attend only runDisney events and most of the runners I know of have a runDisney event on their wish list if they haven’t already competed in one. Why is that? What has Disney done so right that keeps people coming back year after year? For us it was being able to turn a race into an entire family vacation complete with warm weather, some friendly competition and all the magic that Disney Parks has to offer.
While I’ve only been to Walt Disney World’s Marathon weekend once, it didn’t take long to realize what Disney does right it comes to races and events (and I wasn’t even the runner!) Here are a few examples of what Disney is doing right when it comes to running.
Their Races are Fun – Above all else, runDinsey races are for fun. With photo opportunities and character appearances all along the race course, Disney isn’t expecting any world records to be broken at their events. Not only does Disney have a number of initiatives in place to help people get fit, eat well and stay active — they have found a way to make getting and being healthy fun, too. Cody was so bummed he missed his opportunity to ride Expedition Everest as he ran through Animal Kingdom. What other marathon course allows you to ride a roller coaster at mile 13? I didn’t talk to a single runner who was more concerned about their finish time over just having a good time.
Their Medals are Amazing – Cody’s first full marathon medal is really ugly, and no one would argue that fact with either of us. It’s small, poorly made and the most awful color of orange. Cody’s runDisney marathon medal on the other hand is big, sturdy, really shiny and really well designed. Before the race he joked that even if he had to crawl to the finish line he was going to get that medal. What makes the medals even better is the satisfying clink they make against one another, meaning if a runner competed in more than one race he or she could clink their accomplishments throughout the parks.
Opportunities for Additional Medals – Cody runs in the Indianapolis Mini Marathon each year, and while the first 500 finishers get a special medal — the other 34,500 runners all get the same medal. During any runDisney event, runners have the opportunity to earn multiple special medals — up to six on marathon weekend. If a runner completes both the half and full marathons they get their two medals for completing the races as well as an additional ‘Goofy Challenge’ medal. If a runner completes the 5K, 10K, half and full marathons they receive their four medals for the races completed, the Goofy Challenge medal as well as a Dopey Challenge medal. That’s a lot of medals! The one catch is that a runner has to be registered to complete either the Goofy or Dopey challenge in order to earn the additional medals. Similar opportunities for multiple special medals are available during each of the race weekends. I just registered Cody for the Disneyland Dumbo Double Dare – a 10K and half marathon in the same weekend resulting in 3 medals PLUS a coveted coast-to-coast medal for finishing a major runDisney event at each park in a calendar year. (It should make up for his lost chance at a Dopey medal.)
Every Runner Is Celebrated – Cody wasn’t exactly at the front of the starting line, but it didn’t matter because when it was his corral’s turn to start fireworks were still set off in honor of them setting off on their 26.2 mile journey. No matter what medal a runner was wearing in the parks, they were congratulated by cast members and other runners alike. Where else can you wear your medal around for a few days after you earned it without looking slightly crazy?
Kids Had Their Own Race – In addition to 100, 200 and 400m dashes for kids 8 and under, there was a Mickey Mile available for kids 13 and under. The greatest part of the Mickey Mile was it was treated just like an adult race, with a tracking bib, announcers, photographers, supporters all along the course, music and big flashy finish line with Mickey Mouse, snacks, and drinks. Even better? The medal was really cool. Addie ran her first mile race back in October and upon crossing the finish line was given a ribbon. A ribbon? Sorry, but if I’m going to run you’re going to give me a medal I can wear around my neck, same goes for my kid. Parents could run with their kids, but Addie went solo and clocked an impressive 9 minute mile. The sheer pride and happiness that little girl showed upon completing her race was enough for me to go back and have her do it again.
Even the Supporters Had Their Own Club! – If you were a die-hard supporter of a runner you could join one of the ChEAR Squads that could include everything from a t-shirt and clapper to reserved seating at the finish line. Just another way to let everyone feel included and involved, even if not everyone was up for running.
Exclusive runDisney Merchandise – Did you know about New Balance’s partnership with runDisney? Each year they make special shoes inspired by Disney characters that are only available for purchase at a runDisney expo. The shoes sell out before the weekend is over and people can be seen all over the parks wearing them. I’ll admit, I’m a little bummed I didn’t get a pair of Minnie shoes in time. In addition to the shoes — shirts, pins, hats, glasses, hoodies and every other Disney collectable possible was available in the expo with specific designs exclusive to the events that weekend. I picked out a limited edition 2014 runDisney Vinylmation complete with his own little medal for Cody as a “Congratulations on surviving the race!” gift.
Even More Opportunities to Be Involved – There were several events including pasta parties, breakfasts and race retreats that could be added on in addition to a race registration. If you wanted to go to Disney and be completely immersed in everything race weekend had to offer, you could do just that with a stay at a Disney resort hotel and passes to the special meals and events. If you just wanted to show up on race day, collect your medal and go home? You could do that too.
The Energy and Excitement – It was fun to be united by medals and runDisney shirts for one weekend. People of every size, shape, color and age wore the medals they earned with their own two feet (or hands in the case of the wheelchair racers.) Was it enough to convince me to give a runDisney event a try? Nope, but you’d better believe I’ll be supporting Cody from the sidelines as he earns his four medals this August in Disneyland.
For more information about runDisney events and to find out about what’s available at each one including training programs and results from past races, check out runDisney.com.