When Disney puts on a race, they don’t just plan one running event: they’re Disney races. As the world’s largest media empire—Disney sits at No. 1 on the Fortune 500 list of entertainment companies—they orchestrate an entire weekend of festivities that everyone in the family can enjoy, from first-time runners to marathon masters, kids to adults, and even spectators. That’s one of the best parts of Disney race weekends: there is something for everyone.
At Disney’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend from Feb. 24-26, my family is putting the Disney races to the test. At least one family member will be participating in every Disney race distance offered during the weekend, including the Princess Half Marathon, Tangled Royal Family 5K and Disney Royal Family Kids’ Races. We’ll also hit the Pasta in the Park Party at Epcot and Disney’s Fit for a Princess Expo. This is my third Disney race weekend, but the first with my nephew and niece. It makes me happy to pass along my love of running to another generation. But more than that, I think it’s important to include kids in fitness events from an early age.
My nephew and niece love to run. What kid doesn’t? I think it’s something innately born in us that gets trained out as we grow older and lazier. But kids never seem to walk anywhere. They’re always running. They’re the reason pools have signs that read, “Walk, don’t run!” For kids, run—along with skip and hop—is the default gear.
My niece and nephew are no different. From an early age, my nephew started calling his sneakers his “speed shoes.” When he was 3, he saw me run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in his hometown, and when he was 4, he sat atop my sister’s shoulders and cheered me on to a personal best at the ING New York City Marathon.
“Go, Auntie Karla, go!” he yelled and gave me a high five as I spotted them at Mile 17.
My sister had brought him to New York as a special treat. He later asked me if he could run a marathon with me. I promised him that if he wanted to, someday he could. I got misty-eyed at the thought.
Now, he’s just as excited to be running a race of his own as he is to be at Disney World. Imagine that.
As I tucked him into bed upon our arrival at Disney, he asked excitedly, “Is my race tomorrow?”
“No, sweetie, your race is on Saturday,” I said. “That’s a few days from now.”
“Oh,” he said with visible disappointment. “But you want me to win right?”
“It doesn’t matter to me if you win. I just want you to have fun,” I said.
“Well, I want to win!” he said, his eyes twinkling.
He’s only run one other race—a kid’s run at the R Baby Mother’s Day 4 Miler in New York City’s Central Park in 2009. He was just two-and-a-half.
But so few of the races I run also have kids events to go along with them. Of the 10 largest race festivals in the country in 2010, the last year for which data is available according to Running USA, only one has races for kids—the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. Of the top 50 race festivals in the country, only 15 have kids events. For all those other race weekends, I think that’s a missed opportunity.
It’s not just that I want to pass my love of running on to my sister’s kids. If they grow-up to hate running, that’s fine too. Really, I just want to set an example for them. I want them to see being active and exercising as a fun, regular part of life. It was an example that my parents set for my sister and me—one that has served me well my entire life.
But simply watching your parents isn’t enough. I think that participating in something with your family is a stronger motivator. When I think back on my own childhood, what I remember most is swimming with my mom and biking and hiking with my dad. My dad also golfed, but I never developed an affinity for the sport since I never did it with him. But tackling my first triathlon was easy having grown up swimming and biking with my parents.
So we’re making our annual family trip to Disney a family fitness trip. Running Disney races is something we can all do together.
As a kid growing up, my dad took my sister and me to Walt Disney World in Florida every year. I waxed nostalgic about it in a previous column. My mom, who dressed as Tinker Bell for more than one Halloween as a child, was also Disney fan, having grown up in the ‘40s and ‘50s when Walt himself was overseeing classics like Cinderella and Peter Pan. She passed that love along to my sister and me, who are now paying it forward. We’ve been continuing the tradition of the annual family trip to Disney. This February will be our third, as my nephew and niece are now 5- and 3-years-old respectively.
First, my sister will be running her very first race: the Tangled Royal Family 5K, which runs through Disney’s Epcot theme park on Saturday, Feb. 25. She’s run for exercise on and off throughout her life, but probably wouldn’t describe herself as a runner. My sister is a former soccer player, dancer and cheerleader.
But when I told my sister about the race, she was enthusiastic.
“It’ll be good for the kids to see their mom running a race,” she said. “And it will be fun!”
Then we’ll head to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, where the kids will do their best to “win” their respective age categories in the Disney Royal Family Kids’ Races.
Finally, on Sunday morning at 5:45 a.m., my fiancé and I will run Disney’s Princess Half Marathon. The kids and I will cheer on their parents in the 5K, then the grown-ups will cheer on the kids in their 100- and 200-meter dashes, then they’ll all cheer on Uncle and Auntie in the half-marathon. That’s a whole lot of cheer being spread around.
I can only hope that by incorporating some running into our annual family trip, the kids will start to associate with fitness the same warm, fuzzy feelings they already have for Disney. With luck, they’ll see exercise as something that’s enjoyable, and not a chore. If nothing else, I suspect our whole family will have a ton of fun in the process. So bring on the Disney races. My family is ready to take their marks and go.
Disclosure: As a member of the running media, I’m attending the Princess Half Marathon courtesy of runDisney. But as always, all opinions are purely my own. I really do believe in being honest about my experiences and Disney is no exception. For more information read my Disclosure Policy