Wondering if runDisney events are worth it? Here are my top 10 reasons why doing the marathons at Walt Disney World or Disneyland are worth the time, money, and training, even if you are not (currently) an avid runner. I know I used to wonder this myself, so hopefully my reasons resonate with those of you non-believers.
I used to be a non-believer. Before the first time I did a runDisney event–the Tower of Terror 10-Miler a few years back–I often laughed at the entry fees and wondered why anyone would “pay Disney to allow them to run.” As are many others, I was incredulous of runDisney, writing it off as not being for me without even giving it a chance.
When I finally did run that Tower of Terror 10-miler, which I signed up for out of a sense of curiosity and so I could write intelligently about runDisney events, I realized my uninformed opinion–like so many of my opinions–was wrong. While I had fun with that, it wasn’t until this year’s Walt Disney World Marathon that I became hooked on runDisney events.
Now, I’m still not as hopelessly addicted as some of the “true crazies” who run 3+ runDisney events per year ;), but I have a better understanding of why runDisney has such a loyal, cult-like following. Here are my top 10 reasons why I runDisney–and why you should consider it, too…
10. Excuse to Visit
There comes a time in the life of every child-less adult where their friends and colleagues begin to whisper, wondering if something is wrong. Well, at least every child-less adult who visits Walt Disney World multiple times per year. Not that the opinions of others who don’t “get” Disney matter, but running a marathon is a totally plausible “adult” excuse for a trip.
More importantly, since those opinions of others really don’t matter, it’s the perfect way to justify it to yourself. Yeah, maybe you do already have two trips to Walt Disney World planned for a given calendar year…but you have to make a quick weekend jaunt to California because you need that Coast-to-Coast medal. Just like purchasing an Annual Pass is an enabler of more Disney trips, so too are runDisney events an enabler. That’s either a good or bad thing, depending upon your perspective…
Planning for a Walt Disney World or Disneyland vacation can be about as much fun (or more fun if you read award-winning* blogs like this one! 😉 ) as the vacation itself. From figuring out where to dine and making reservations to booking FastPass+, there can be a lot of build-up and excitement before the trip.
This is doubly so when the trip includes a runDisney event, as you’re spending extra time at the gym or hitting the streets going on runs. If you’re anything like me, this time is spent thinking about the race, perhaps listening to Disney podcasts, and just generally getting hyped. It makes training a lot more interesting, and heightens the sense of anticipation for that next trip. In a way, this means you’re getting more entertainment value out of your runDisney entry fees…if you want to think about it that way.
From running teams to blogs and podcasts to social media enclaves devoted to the topic of runDisney, there’s a tremendous sense of community among runDisney enthusiasts. While I will admit that I haven’t waded too far into these waters, I know they can be invaluable. And from what I can tell, this is an incredibly welcoming community. No one will judge you if you’re a linebacker-sized male who wears a Tinker Bell costume to the Princess Half–your running compadres will cheer you on no matter what.
As someone who has had great experiences and built some of my strongest friendships through the Disney photography community, I can say that sub-niches like this are a great place to meet others who share at least two similar interests (Disney and, in this case, running), and will be supportive and friendly.
I know several people who are rare character hunters (photo hunters…not the other type) who do runDisney races solely for the rare character opportunities. I mean, where else are you going to see Darkwing Duck?!
The downside to these is that they impact your time (if you care about that sort of thing), and the lines can get longer for later corrals. Because of this, a lot of runners end up skipping them, which is a big reason they are only #7 on this list, and not higher. Rest assured, though, if I see Darkwing Duck on the course, I’m waiting in any length of line for him, and I don’t care if that means I get swept!
6. In-Park Sunrise
One of the greatest motivations a lot of people have for attending the annual 24-hour days at Walt Disney World and Disneyland is being in the park for sunrise. It’s a special time of day to be in the park, period, and that is even more true if you’re running through the park. In the Walt Disney World Marathon, this stretch was basically an energy boost for me, and kept me going strong for several miles after exiting the Magic Kingdom at sunrise.
Even though sunset is basically the inverse of a sunrise, there’s still something very cool about watching dawn give way to the morning light; it’s like you’re waking up with the parks, and it’s a truly beautiful transition to experience. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, because there are always plenty of other runners stopped dead in their tracks with their phones out, capturing the beautiful scene.
The medals you receive at the finish line in a runDisney event are pretty cool, but you know what’s even cooler? Strutting around the parks wearing that bling. If you’ve ever wondered how Kramer felt walking the streets of New York in the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I’m pretty sure you’ll have the answer when you wear your medals into the parks.
Not only is walking around the Magic Kingdom like a boss a great feeling, but wearing these medals makes for great photos in the parks, especially at character meet & greets. I’d also highly recommend wearing the medals to your place of work once you get home to show your athletic prowess to your coworkers, and to establish your authority (again, like a boss…Andy Samberg style).
4. Cronuts & Turkey Legs
Scientists these days seem to theorize that exercise is healthy for you. They also are saying calories actually do count on vacation! I don’t know about all that, but I do know that if this so-called “exercise” can help offset the copious amounts of cupcakes, cronuts, and fried meats I eat while at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, then that’s probably a good thing.
I’m only half-kidding. I really dislike exercise and eating healthy, but training for runDisney events is about as good of motivation as any for me to skip that trip to In-N-Out Burger or to spend a bit of time in the gym. This makes participation in runDisney events “good for me” in the long term, which is probably the objectively #1 reason for doing them.
3. Pixie Dust High
I cringed a little when I wrote those three words because that saying is so overused. However, I can’t really think of a better way to put it. You know that feeling you get when you watch the Kiss Goodnight? Or when a row of Cast Members are waving to you with Mickey Mouse hands saying ‘See Ya Real Soon’ at the end of the night? Well, imagine that, except over the span of an entire race course. This is probably the safest, most euphoric, and prolonged high known to humankind.
For me, runDisney events are like “Disney Utopia.” Much like I envision the parks when I view photos from the 1970s, with everyone seeming happy and dressed up, runDisney events are all of the magic of Disney without any of the meltdowns, temper tantrums, or sense of entitlement. Everyone–from runners to spectators to volunteers–is happy to be there. Everyone is supportive of one another. Everyone is positive. Part of what gets me through these events is the “high” I get from the people around me, and the smile that puts on my face. It’s an intoxicating feeling, and it really is something you have to experience firsthand to truly understand.
2. Different Side of Disney
For Disney fans, that special feeling you get when you step into the parks never wears off. No matter how frequently you visit, it never becomes commonplace or mundane. The way you visit and your priorities when visiting do change. Namely, it becomes less about doing attractions and more about doing “other stuff.”
runDisney is the perfect “other stuff.” From visiting the ESPN Wide World of Spots for the Expo to attending seminars and pre-parties to getting to run through back stage areas and just generally being part of the runDisney community, it is a different side of Disney that encompasses so much more than running. You can take an entire trip centered around runDisney, averaging 1-2 attractions per day (that might sound like heresy to some), and still have an incredibly satisfying vacation (assuming you like to run on vacation).
Not to get overly sentimental again, but you gain a sense of accomplishment from runDisney races unlike anything else you can possibly experience in the parks. The closest I had previously come to feeling the same sense of accomplishment at Walt Disney World as I did when I finished the Marathon is when Sarah and I (mostly me) finished the Kitchen Sink at Beaches & Cream all by ourselves. (I’m not going to lie, eating all that ice cream was much more satisfying!)
Kidding aside, there are actually several times when I’ve felt a sense of accomplishment at Walt Disney World or Disneyland. When we execute a “perfect” rope drop and do 5+ attractions before 10 am. After the end of a gorgeous sunset when I’m drenched in sweat because I scurried around capturing as many photos as possible. When I can barely stand at 2 am after a full day plus Extra Magic Hours. All of those are silly, fun types of accomplishment. Completing a runDisney event is totally different, and actually makes me feel proud. I feel like I have conquered something, and proven something to myself. I know it’s not climbing Mount Everest or something like that, but we all have our goals.
Every time I cross that finish line, I feel like I “defeat” one of those nagging, self-doubting voices in my head. (I seriously paused at this sentence for like 5 minutes trying to think of a way to reword it to make myself sound less crazy, to no avail. I think we all have these “mental gremlins,” so hopefully I don’t sound too crazy.) Finishing a runDisney event instills in me an unparalleled sense of confidence, and is the #1 reason why I happily pay Disney money to “let” me run.
As promised with these runDisney posts, here’s a quick update on my Walt Disney World Dopey 2015 training: the last few weeks weren’t good for ‘in the gym’ training, but I hiked 10+ miles per day in the Canadian Rockies and walked an average of even more than that at Walt Disney World, in both cases, carrying 20+ pounds of camera gear. Back to the gym this weekend for “real” training…
If you’re planning on getting into runDisney, read my runDisney Race Reports (plus other running-related posts). Also be sure to check out my runDisney Packing Tips post for what you should use to train, and what to carry on race day.
For additional planning resources, the best places to start are our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and Disneyland Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!
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Okay, runners, why do you runDisney? Anything I’ve overlooked that brings you back again and again? Anything on my list you would really emphasize or place higher? For those runDisney newbies, what interests you the most about runDisney? Any questions? I’d love to hear feedback from other runDisney enthusiasts!