Hot dog! It’s one of Mickey Mouse’s favorite phrases and it couldn’t have been more appropriate for the 20th Anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon on January 13, 2013. The mercury climbed to unseasonably warm temps, with a high of 81 degrees and humidity to match.
But the heat didn’t stop the 20,000 finishers—myself included. Dressed as Cinderella in Rags with Jacques the Mouse by my side (played with gusto by my husband), I soaked in the sun as I ran around the world—Walt Disney World, that is.
It was a magical run punctuated by an army of Disney characters, spectators, and volunteers who helped make it a fairy tale run to remember.
For the 20th Anniversary edition of the Walt Disney World Marathon, runDisney changed the usual marathon course to include two new elements: a run around the Walt Disney World Speedway and a jaunt through the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, including Champion Stadium—the Atlanta Braves’ spring training home.
The course started just outside of the Epcot theme park and worked its way north to Magic Kingdom between Miles 5 and 6, where runners were treated to a jaunt through Cinderella Castle.
Then runners headed south to the Walt Disney World Speedway between Miles 8 and 9 for a run around the racetrack.
From there, the course continued to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park between Miles 12 and 13, before heading to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, between Miles 17 and 20.
Participants ran around the track, past soccer fields, baseball diamonds and through Champion Stadium as part of the 20th Anniversary celebration of the race.
Runners then went north into Disney’s Hollywood Studios between Miles 22 and 24, before charging on to Disney’s BoardWalk area, past the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts and into the World Showcase at Epcot between Miles 24 and 25.
The final mile of the race took runners “around the world” at Epcot before heading straight for the iconic Spaceship Earth attraction. At Mile 26 runners met a gospel choir who ushered them out of the park and into the finish chute.
Running in Costume
For anyone contemplating doing a runDisney race, I highly recommend running in costume or some fun accoutrement like ears or wings to get you in the spirit.
There’s an added bonus: you get shout outs from spectators and Disney cast members. It really buoys your spirits.
Throughout the race, we kept getting cheers for Cinderella and her mouse. I’d say that about half of the people cheering for us knew specifically that we were Cinderella and Jacques. Another quarter knew we were Cinderella and her mouse—they just weren’t sure if it was Jacques or Gus. And maybe a quarter had no idea at all.
We got some funny cheers. “Go Elf on the Shelf?” That was my favorite wrong guess.
Walt Disney World Marathon: The Start
After catching a 3:30 a.m. ride to the start with members of the media contingency, we got to the starting line before any other runners had a chance to file through. What a great photo op!
While waiting for the start, I saw some of the top elite competitors, along with Joe Taricani of The Marathon Show, who was doing early morning interviews before the race.
Soon, we were ushered into the corral and watched as running legend Frank Shorter, Disney training consultant Jeff Galloway, and other luminaries took the stage.
Finally, Mickey Mouse took the mic for the countdown. At 5:30 a.m. we were off to the sights and sounds of fireworks.
Miles 1-5: To Magic Kingdom
Though the humidity was near 100 percent, the heat wasn’t too bad before the sun rose.
My husband, Phil, and I slowly worked our way toward Magic Kingdom in the dark, stopping for a few photos and Vaseline along the way.
Along this stretch of course, Disney stationed many marching bands, a DJ, some cheering stations, and Captain Jack Sparrow with his pirate ship.
A surprisingly large number of spectators made it out early in the morning to cheer us on. Spectators, you rock!
Mile 5-6: Magic Kingdom
This is where the real fun began.
The sidewalks along Main Street USA were packed with spectators shouting themselves hoarse.
We stopped for photos in front of Cinderella Castle, still decked out in the Castle Dream Lights that go up for the winter holidays.
Then we waved hello to Buzz Lightyear in Tomorrowland and started making lots of photo stops.
We visited with Alice and the Mad Hatter in Wonderland, Belle and Ariel in front of New Fantasyland and waved hi to Prince Mickey and Princess Minnie at Cinderella Castle.
Then we ran through the castle, paused for another pic there, out to Liberty Square and snapped a shot with Tiana and Naveen, then ran out of the park.
But not before pausing for one more photo with Princess Aurora and Prince Philip of Sleeping Beauty fame. We stopped for so many pictures that we logged a 15-minute mile split.
Miles 6-10: The Speedway
The next few miles carried us to the Walt Disney World Speedway. This was the first year the race used the Speedway, and I can’t imagine the course without it. It might have been my favorite part.
The one-mile track was packed with vintage cars, racecars and characters from the movie Cars. It was a marathon car show.
I spent that entire mile of the race admiring the cars, waving hello to owners, thanking them for coming out, and, of course, stopping for photos. We got a great picture with Mater from Cars and some pics with a few sweet rides.
Miles 10-13: Animal Kingdom
The sun began to rise while we were in the Speedway, cresting over the horizon shortly after. Then things started to get hot.
So we took advantage of photo stops with characters lining the road like Mary Poppins, a group of Disney villains, Peter Pan and Wendy, Pocahontas, and Chip and Dale.
After Mile 12, we entered Animal Kingdom where we saw Safari Mickey and Pluto, Safari Minnie and Daisy, and a collection of some of cutest petting zoo animals I’ve ever seen. I stopped to pet some of them and say hello.
In Animal Kingdom we ran past Expedition Everest, Discovery Island and Dinoland USA.
Mile 13-17: On to ESPN
This is where the race got hard.
Did I mention that it was hot?
That there was barely any cloud cover?
And little shade between parks?
Somewhere along the way I started to feel overheated, so my husband and I started adding walk breaks in addition to our character stops. We walked through every single water station, stopped to use the restroom, and popped into a medical station to apply sun block.
Mile 17-20: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex
After a few miles on the roads, we were glad to get into some greenery again. ESPN Wide World of Sports didn’t disappoint. It was motivating to see other athletes practicing on the soccer fields and baseball diamonds in the heat, and it was fun to run on the track too.
It gave us a “sensory tickle,” a term Walt Disney used to describe a tangible change of environment that often signaled moving from one themed area to another. We learned that on the Keys to the Kingdom tour at Magic Kingdom the day before.
Every time the marathon course took us from asphalt to concrete to grass to dirt or track, and we could feel the difference in our feet, my husband or I would shout, “Sensory tickle!” giving ourselves a giggle. It was a fun way to get through a marathon.
The Sports Complex was another great addition to the course for the 20th anniversary of the race. I can’t imagine those three miles without it. I hope Disney keeps it in the mix in the future.
Especially fun was rounding the bases at Champion Stadium during Mile 20. An announcer shouted my name over the loudspeaker as I ran by. Spectators dotted the stands and runners seemed to be smiling from ear to ear.
Mile 20: The Anniversary Celebration
Champion Stadium came just before the Mile 20 Marker, which was decked out to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the race.
Both side of the course were lined with giant Disney puppets like Lumiere, Genie and Sebastian. Mickey, Minnie and Pluto danced on stage and posed for photos with runners. And music pumped through the air.
We stopped for some more photos before pushing on to the last six miles of the race.
Mile 20-23: Hollywood Studios
The next few miles of road held DJs, an announcer shouting out runners’ hometowns and some green Army men from Toy Story motivating us up one of the few hills of the course.
After pausing for a pic with one of the Army guys, we reached Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The park provided a little shade and some excitement to keep us moving forward.
Tons of spectators lined the park and the rest of the course from there on out.
We stopped for photos in Streets of America and in front of Mickey’s Sorcerer Hat before moving toward Disney’s BoardWalk area.
Mile 23-26: Epcot
This is where the race got difficult for me.
After drinking so much Powerade at all the water stops and eating nothing but Clif Shot gels to keep me going, I started having GI distress. Wow, that was painful!
We made another pit stop, then kept pushing on. I moaned as the cramps attacked my gut and actually started running faster—not that I was running fast by any stretch of the imagination. I was just ready to cross that finish and get some real food into my system.
But I managed to keep smiling and waving to people as they cheered us on.
We ran onto the BoardWalk and past the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts into the World Showcase at Epcot at Mile 25.
This was it: the last mile of the race.
We stopped for lots of photos that last mile—with Belle in France, Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco, Mulan in China, Dopey in Germany.
Phil made one last pit stop and then we pressed on to Spaceship Earth, stopping for one last photo before the finish.
Mile 26.2: The Finish
At Mile 26, a gospel choir greeted us with a rousing song and the finish line was in sight.
We crossed in 5:50:21 at a 13:22 overall pace.
We made 32 photo stops, 20 water stops, 3 bathroom stops and 2 medical station stops, not to mention other walk breaks.
It’s a far cry from my 4:28 marathon personal best time or my husband’s 3:03.
But we weren’t out to run a marathon that day; we were out to enjoy one. And we certainly did.
The After Party
That evening we hit the Downtown Disney Cool Down Party.
Downtown Disney was a bastion of merriment with live music, race banners for some more photo ops, and discounts for marathoners at many of the restaurants and attractions, like Disney Quest and Characters in Flight.
It seemed like all the marathoners had turned out—Downtown was packed and a feeling of celebration was in the air.
Aside from all the characters I already mentioned, many other Disney characters lined the course: Buzz Lightyear and Jessie from Toy Story, Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio, Genie from Aladdin, Wreck it Ralph, Duffy the Bear, the Monsters, Inc. gang, a few Incredibles, Rafiki from The Lion King, the Country Bears, Lilo and Stitch, Jack Skellington and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, some Christmas elves and more.
There were also acrobats, marching bands, DJ’s, and music galore.
My only disappointment was not seeing Cinderella. I understand that not every character can be out all the time at every race. After all, there are hundreds of them.
But my husband and I were dressed in homage to her. In fact, we didn’t see a single character from Cinderella throughout the entire race. I know the Fairy Godmother was in Epcot, but she must have been on a break when we ran by. Perhaps that’s what happened with Cinderella too. It would have been cute to get a before and after picture with her.
With 25,000 entrants and a little over 20,000 finishers, this was the largest Walt Disney World Marathon in the event’s 20-year history.
I never had any trouble finding room to run, and I started in the front and finished near the middle, so I experienced a large chunk of the field. (Even though I had a corral C bib, I was put into corral A as a member of the media. We kept to the side of the course letting faster runners pass us out of the start.)
But I’d also say the race is probably nearing capacity. The course narrows at a few points and that’s where you feel the pinch. With any more runners than were already out there, I could see it feeling crowded.
If runDisney expands the field again next year, they’ll need to add some additional corrals to spread people out. As it was, there were eight corrals for runners, each with its own start, and one for wheelers.
Having run four Disney races and having interviewed race director Jon Hughes about the logistics of putting on such an event, I have no doubt they’ll sort it out if it comes to that.
There were so many runners I’ve met via Twitter or other Disney races that I ran into over the course of the weekend, meeting some of them for the first time. There wasn’t a place I went—my hotel, the expo, the Walt Disney World Marathon Meetup, even on the course itself—that I didn’t bump into another blogger.
Here’s a shout out to all of them, listed by blog, of course: Kelly at According To Kelly, Amanda at Disney Every Day, Erin at For the love of Disney running, Marcia at Travel, Run, Eat, Carrie at The Boot Camp Blog, Toni at Black Girls Run, Ashley at Black Girls Run, Karen at iRun, Heather at RunningWithSass, Jenn at Eat.Sleep.Run.Disney, Malinda of Twins Run in Our Family, Rachel of Runners Tales, Andrea of See Mommy Run and Mary Jo of MoJoDisney. And a shout out to Angel, a reader who spotted me on the course. Hope you all had great races!
With the heat, this was probably the most difficult of the six marathons I have run. But at the same time, it was definitely the most fun.
I don’t know how runDisney manages to keep topping themselves, but they do.
I thoroughly enjoyed the course, the characters, and the entire experience—as the goofy grin in all my race photos attests.
I’d heartily recommend this race to any runner looking for a marathon that will keep them entertained and smiling.
When it comes to large marathons, save your personal record attempts for big city course like New York, Philadelphia, or Chicago—I’ve run them all and PR’ed at them all. Come to the Walt Disney World Marathon for a magical fun run that will make you feel like a kid again.
Click on any photo for a slideshow view.
Disclosure: As a member of the running media, runDisney provided me with complimentary race entry, hotel, park tickets, airfare and some meals (like the Pasta in the Park Party) for the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. 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.