Monday, January 11, 2010

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

A year ago my husband and I registered for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. The marathon weekend includes a kid's fun run, a 5K, a half marathon and a marathon. Some people participate in all events and others in just one or two. We have friends who are serious runners who have participated in the two long runs in the past and they convinced us to sign up. We liked the idea of traveling to a destination and enjoying a vacation while we were being active. All of the information that we found on websites and message boards was all very positive about the marathon weekend and what a great experience it was. As best we can tell, everyone lied or has a different idea of fun than we do.

On race day, Disney transportation picks you up from your hotel between 3-4 am. You are then bussed to a parking lot where you stand around for an hour or so while a DJ pumps techno music and says encouraging things. You then walk with the other 17,000 runners the two miles to the start line. You start the race somewhere between 5:30 and 6:20 depending on what corral you are in. You stand in a holding pen with the rest of your corral until you are released. Even if you visited one of the thousands of port-o-potties before the race, you will probably have to go again during the race. Bathrooms will be randomly placed throughout the course so if you're lucky you can wait in line for 5 minutes to use a port-o-pottie and then resume running. If you are unlucky then you will squat behind a tree that faces one of the parking lots where spectators have lined up and give everyone a show. If you are really unlucky, running this early will stimulate your bowels and you will have to go #2 during the race or quite urgently after the race.

The registration for the half marathon is $125. For people who regularly participate in road races, you know that often the best part of the race is the swag that you get from it. For such a hefty registration fee (the average road race is usually $15-25) we were expecting some great free stuff. A long sleeve technical shirt and some trial size free samples of power bars and athletic tape were it. The post race food was meager and the biggest disappointment of all. Apparently a bagel is too much to ask for after running 13 miles. There were tons of items available to purchase at the Disney Expo that you had to attend to get your race number and in the post race area. I wasn't aware that the $125 fee was my registration to go to a really expensive shopping mall.

In addition to the cost of the race is the cost of your stay at Disney. It is highly recommended that you stay in a Disney resort or it will be almost impossible for you to get around on race day and for the other required pre-race activities. If you plan to eat inside the parks the Disney Dining Plan is much cheaper than buying each meal individually. And of course, you need admission to each of the parks. For our 4 day, three night weekend, including race registration, hotel and dining packages, flight and airport parking/transportation, spending money and park admission we spent around $2,500 on this trip. Disney did not provide any discounts to people who were registered for the races. You would think there would be some sort of discount for runners but clearly the "D" in Disney stands for dollar.

The race was poorly organized. Catching the right bus to and from your hotel, getting around pre and post race, even the organization of the event itself was horrible. It is hard to believe that Disney has been running this event for years and continues to expand the field of runners every year with the level of chaos that exists. You would think that with $$2,125,000+ in registration fees from the half marathon alone that Disney could put on a better event.
The worst part of the race is that while Disney separates runners into different corrals based on their estimated finish times but they did not enforce this designation at race time. My husband and I average 11 and 12 minute miles, respectively, for long races. This pace put us in the last corral with runners that average anywhere from 10 to 17 minute miles (which is a problem in itself). We spent several miles weaving through the thousands of walkers that were participating in the race. We figured we would be free of the walkers and slow runners after 2-3 miles but spent the entire race passing people. It was clear that people who did not belong in the faster corrals had lined up and started where they weren't supposed to. We heard this same complaint from other runners who are much faster than us. In some sections it was impossible to pass people because of how narrow the paths were. In these areas you either had to slow down until you could get past these people or off-road it. Many people injured themselves running in grass, gravel and other uneven surfaces along the side of the course. There were a few times where I just gave up and walked because I was expending too much energy passing people. Disney should either schedule a separate race or have separate lanes for people who are not serious runners and plan to stop throughout the course or enforce the corral designations and add more corrals to prevent the gridlock.

There were people talking on their cell phones, taking videos of the race and stopping at every potential photo op to pose for pictures. This only added to the gridlock. If you can do these things during a race then you aren't running. If Disney billed this event as a fun run and not as a race then that would be acceptable. But to bill it as a real road race for serious runners is a disservice to those of us who trained for it. My husband and I finished 10-15 minutes slower than our expected finishing times because of the congestion. It is frustrating that we have to justify our race times to everyone we know with the long drawn out story of how crappy the event was. Now we have to look to another half marathon to show how fit we actually are.

If you are looking for a walk/run event that is not competitive and want to spend thousands of dollars to get up at the crack of dawn to wade through 17,000+ strangers for 2-3 hours and then enjoy a fruit cup and a banana for your efforts then this is the race for you. Not to mention the joy that your body experiences after running for hours in the days after/before you have been/will be walking around the parks for hours and the children, old people, rude people, inexperenced travelers, foreign people (its not asking a lot that at least one member of your party speak the language of the country that you are traveling too) and just plain annoying people that make travel and particularly amusement parks less fun.


  1. SORRY you didn't have a good time. I would have been sorely p*$$.....well you get the idea. I'd never been tempted to run a marathon on vacation but I'm sure people will google
    Disney race and see your post!!

  2. Thanks. I just wish someone would have been honest with me before I signed up. Hopefully I can prevent a few people from having the same experience. Incidentally, 23,000 people registered for the race so Disney made more than $3 million!! Disney raised the price of registration to $135 for next year's race and I'm sure they will offer the same crap.

  3. Lord, this sounds like a huge mess. I'm not a runner, you couldn't pay me to participate in a marathon, but even I would expect more from Disney.

    "everyone lied or has a different idea of fun than we do"
    this made me crack up :) :) :)