This is our second year of basically wintering in DisneyWorld. It’s a pretty awesome thing to be able to finish schoolwork and hop over to Disney for a few hours. A few times last year, we came across groups of Crazy Runner People. We would see them in the Epcot parking lot dressed in sparkly tutus and other flashy costumes, and then later walking around the parks sporting big, dangly medals. I thought it was fun that they went all out and had fun with this running thing, but I didn’t have the least bit of interest in being one of them.
Then I turned 40 this year. And apparently my mid-life crisis involved taking up running – and signing up for two Disney races. Last Thursday was the first of those races – the Disney Marathon Weekend 5K. Our whole family has been working since October to get ourselves ready for a 3.1 mile run, and we successfully made it both to the event (you have to be there by 4:30am!!) and across the finish line!
There is a ton of information out there about Disney races, but I still found myself surprised by some of it, so I thought I’d share my experiences here in case it helps someone else preparing for a first Disney run!
A Disney race weekend starts with the runDisney Health & Fitness Expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. At least during the January marathon weekend, the expo takes place from Wednesday through Saturday. You have to go to it to get your race bib, and our race was on Thursday, so our family went on Wednesday. In all my years of going to DisneyWorld, I’ve never had any reason to go to “that place for athletes,” so I was curious to experience it for the first time. Parking was pretty easy; there were the same lines to enter as at the parks, but they don’t charge at this one. (They also didn’t seem to know how the special tricks of parking a giant dually in the Disney-style parking lots, but I got that one worked out.)
There were three buildings I needed to visit: the Arena, Field House, and Athletic Center. The Arena is the spot to buy any official runDisney merchandise, and I had read those items can run out, so we started there. Upon entering the Arena, there was lots of clear signage directing you where to go for different purposes (including ChEAR Squad, Race Retreat, and Runner Tracking), but I thought it was strange to be following signs for “runDisney Merchandise Queue.” Sure enough, after quite a walk, we entered a large room that was one giant line of people waiting to enter the part of the arena where you can shop for runDisney Merchandise! I definitely questioned whether it was worth waiting in that line, but ultimately decided that I did really want to at least see the options, and quite possibly buy something. So wait I did. It was probably 15 minutes before they let anyone in (I’m guessing a big group was let in just before I arrived), and they let about half the crowd in at that point. I was in the second group that went in – I probably waited around 25 minutes total.
There were sections of merchandise for each of the race categories, plus general Marathon Weekend items and general runDisney items. There were lots and lots of great shirts, in addition to pins, ornaments, medal displays, hair bands, etc. We picked out a few items, made it through the check-in line much more efficiently than any Super Wal-Mart, and moved on to the Field House.
The Field House, where we picked up race bibs, was very easy to navigate – we were probably in and out of there in 15 minutes. First, there was a row of printers for those of us who needed to print out our waivers. (Mine were sitting at home on the bed, ready to go out the door. Not so helpful at this point.) Next, we entered right into a big open room with probably 60 or more separate booths. You just looked at the number at the bottom of your waiver and found the booth for that number. We did each have to go to a separate booth, but each one either had no line or a very short line, so it didn’t take long. At each booth, we signed for and received a bib and a tiny baggie with four safety pins.
Our last stop was the Athletic Center. I knew we would spend the most time in this building, because it housed all the different vendors and has workshops going on all day. We first made our way straight to the back right corner to pick up our t-shirts. Here, we got in line based on t-shirt size. The volunteer then tore off the top tab of the bib and handed us a large, clear bag with a t-shirt inside. We stepped aside to try the shirts on, because you can easily exchange them if need be. The clear bags are for “baggage check” at the race event, if you need to leave things behind while you race. On race day, we had our truck right there in the parking lot, so we just left our things in it.
After getting our shirts, we strolled through some of the vendors. Here there’s everything you might need for a race day – shoes, gels, magnetic pockets (we bought one of those – it’s awesome!), shirts, on and on and on. We started getting hungry about this time. I hadn’t been clear on whether there would somewhere to buy lunch at this. If I was a good, prepared Momma, I would have brought lunch with us, but alas, I did not. Thankfully the upper floor of the Athletic Center has a grill where we were able to buy some lunch.
The workshop area is right outside the Grill, and running expert Jeff Galloway was doing a Q and A when we finished eating, so we joined in for part of that. I also wanted to attend the next session, a general info session about the race weekend, but I knew the kids could only handle that kind of thing so long, so we went back to the vendor floor. There were some interactive games the kids had fun playing, and some free gifts/samples we took advantage of.
After about half an hour of that, we went back up for the second half of the general info session. Both sessions I attended had some useful info, but neither would have been a major loss if I missed them. There were two other workshops I wanted to attend, but didn’t make it to. One was about foam rolling and one was a group art lesson with a Disney artist – Character Queen would have LOVED that one! We could have gone back another day to shop more or do the workshops we missed, but we just didn’t have room in our schedule.
We spent probably three or four hours at the expo. We certainly could have spent less time if we were just going to pick up our needed things. And we certainly could have spent more time, shopping and attending workshops. I was stunned by the runDisney merchandise queue, but other than that, the lines and crowds weren’t bad. Overall, I thought the expo was well-organized, and a fun experience.