runDisney: A First-Timer’s Experience


Today is Global Running Day and I thought it would be the perfect time to discuss all things runDisney. Trust me when I say that runDisney is unlike any other race you have ever been in. Having been in the position where I hadn’t done one before, I’ll admit I was a little intimidated. I had been in two 5k’s before runDisney and had been wanting to run the pavement at Walt Disney World for as long as I could remember. Registration for the 2019 Princess Half Weekend opened up, and I knew it was time. I decided that the Disney Princess 5k would be the perfect race for me to dip my sneakers into the runDisney pool, so that is what registered for.

First thing’s first, anyone can participate in a runDisney race. I don’t run daily, and I’m certainly not a professional athlete. I workout when I can and try to eat as healthy as possible, but I’m also a mom of two boys, ages 4 and 5. I have my hands full and the source of most of my exercise comes from chasing them around. To anyone reading this, I want you to use my experience as motivation that if a 35-year-old mother of two can do this, so can you. It’s my goal to provide you with details from my experience as a runDisney first-timer, as well as give you some general information on what happens during race weekend. For a more comprehensive overview of events, you can visit runDisney’s website.

Alright, enough with the inspirational stuff, let’s dive into it!

Registration/Obtaining a Run Disney Bib:
When it comes to planning a Walt Disney World vacation, I always recommend using a travel agent. Their services are free and they will assist you with anything and everything. In my family, I’m usually the one arranging our family vacations. Taking on that responsibility, I’ve found it can be stressful and I wasn’t enjoying my vacation as much as I should. That’s where using a Disney Travel agent comes in handy, and you will instantly wonder why you didn’t use one sooner.

Using a travel agent, you can also book your entire runDisney weekend through them, and part of the package includes your bib and race registration. I recommend using Academy Travel, for all your runDisney or Disney vacation needs. Checkout their website and even obtain a free vacation quote- You can also fill out the form at the bottom of this post, to request information.

The runDisney website also allows you to register there. I strongly encourage you to follow runDisney on all social media platforms, especially Facebook and Instagram. They announce the latest news and race registration openings, directly on those sites. Once a runDisney weekend is open for registration, it fills up fast. You want to make sure you are on top of everything. (Pro Tip: Annual Passholders and DVC Members can take advantage of early registration. There is a time when you can register before the general public. If you are either of those and are thinking about running, that would be the time to register).

Race Weekend:
It’s here! The weekend you have been waiting and training for. As a first-timer, I quickly realized that there are several other things to do and see that weekend, than just the race.

If you are traveling with your family, as most runners are, I’m going to suggest something that you might not want to hear, but you need to- leave your family sleeping in the room. Do not wake them and make them come to the race, to watch you cross a finish line at 6:30 in the morning.

As a first-timer, part of this whole vision I had was that my loved ones would be cheering for me at the finish line and everyone would celebrate this big accomplishment. Then reality hits. You realize that the crowds are massive (the 2019 Princess 5K had over 15,000 people and that was just that one single race), and even though it’s easy for you to hop on a motor coach at 4:00 in the morning, it might not be for your entire family. In my particular case, we were also vacationing during race weekend and having little kids, I didn’t want them up that early. I knew that come mid-morning, it would be meltdown city. The thought of them not being there got me down a little, but there is beauty in making this all about you and relishing in your victory. I feel as though moms rarely get alone time, let alone the chance to just be in the actual moment.

Trying to get around the 27,000 miles of the Walt Disney World Resort, can be daunting in itself. Add a runDisney event into the mix, and it can be confusing to anyone who hasn’t experienced it before.

Complimentary transportation by motor coach is available from all Disney Resorts. Starting with the Health & Fitness Expo, to the last race of the weekend, you can rely 100% on runDisney transportation to get you there. Upon arriving at your resort, you will find several informational signs in the lobby and throughout, regarding transportation and other race weekend times and information. The first-timer in me was relieved to see the answers to all these questions I had, on a sign when I first walked in.

Motor coaches run every 15-20 minutes, and begin 30 minutes before the opening of the expo and 2 hours before the race begins.

You can drive yourself, or take an Uber. However, the crowds are in full effect during runDisney weekends. Crowds also mean there is more traffic than usual, and parking can be difficult. If you have access to the runDisney motor coaches, I highly recommend using them.

Health & Fitness Expo
The expo takes place a few days before the races begin, and is held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. This is where you will also go to check in and receive your race bib, sign off on all forms and waivers, and receive your race t-shirt. Initially, I didn’t see the point of going to the expo. I planned on checking in, receiving all of the above, and heading back to the resort as quickly as possible. All of that changed the moment I saw all the excitement and experienced the energy of the Health and Fitness Expo.

The runDisney Health & Fitness Expo features official runDisney event merchandise as well as exhibitors offering the latest in running footwear, apparel, nutrition, and technology. The expo is free and open to the public, it’s also family friendly. I made a mental note that next time I want to bring my husband and boys along. It’s a great way to have your family members be a part of the magic that is runDisney.

Race Day
I think the more appropriate thing to say is, race morning. It goes without saying that runDisney has some of the earliest start times you will ever have. The parks do not shut down because of the race, roads don’t close either. To keep up with park opening times and normal traffic patterns, runDisney begins their races at 5:30 am. If you’re like me, you are doing the math in your head. To wake up, eat a light breakfast, get ready, get to the transportation line and get to your corral, you need to wake up around 2:30 or 3:00 am- depending on how fast it takes you to do all of the above.

You also want to make sure that you try to get to bed at a somewhat early time the night before. I was there on vacation with my family, so that was a tough one. I would have loved to end my night early in the evening, but that would have taken away from my family’s vacation experience. I ended up getting to bed around 10 the night before, but my mom brain didn’t shut off until about midnight. So yes, I got roughly 2 and 1/2 hours of sleep before my very first runDisney race. Here’s the good news, by the time my alarm went off, I awoke like a child on Christmas morning. The adrenaline kicked in and I was off and running. I’m confident that first-timer or not, you will be the same way.

I headed to my corral around 4:00 am. Although the race didn’t begin until 5:30 am, time flew by quickly. I seriously enjoyed all the pre-race festivities runDisney had in place. The runDisney announcers were wonderful and very entertaining. You will also have fun checking out everyone’s race attire. I wore what I was comfortable running in, my compression leggings and a tank. I dressed it up a little by adding pops of Snow White on my shirt and in my hair bow. I did have a tutu that I brought for the race (During my pre-race research, I noticed lots of runners dressing up as princesses and wearing tutu’s. I purchased one, in fear of feeling left out). However, I decided to ditch it last minute while I was getting ready that morning. Whatever you decide to wear is totally up to you, as long as you are comfortable. Besides, where else can you be in full costume in a race, and it’s completely acceptable? I should also mention that I did not feel out of place by not wearing a tutu or some crazy race costume. The energy of the pre-race events is so electric, you don’t have time to worry or think about anything else but being in that exact moment and enjoying every minute of it. You will also meet tons of new Disney loving friends, so that also helps the time go by.

Immediately after the race started, and I was running, I found myself trying to run slower. I knew that it was going to take me about 40 minutes to finish the 3 miles and this was such an epic moment for me. I was living a dream that I had for so long, which was running in a runDisney race. The course is awesome, it’s mostly behind the scenes of Epcot, you come out at the Mexico Pavilion and then the course has you running straight toward Spaceship Earth. The sight of Spaceship Earth at 6:00 am, all lit up, is enough to bring anyone to tears. The race ends as you circle Test Track, back towards Spaceship Earth and then out to the side parking lot.

As soon as I saw that finish line and the crowds cheering, I started crying. Happy tears, of course, but tears none the less. When they say “every mile is magic,” it truly is magical. I was greeted by a race volunteer who handed my medal and a box full of healthy snacks and a water bottle. I exited towards the parking lot, where I was able to sit down and just reflect on the major goal I had just accomplished. The motor coaches were already running and I joined the designated line for my resort. As we pulled away, I instantly regretted not signing myself up for the 10k. It was just such a wonderful experience, I didn’t want it to be over.

I will say this- if you ever have the opportunity to participate in runDisney, take some advice from the movie Coco and “seize your moment!” If you are like me and have this goal of running but feel you can’t or are intimidated, I encourage you to use my story as an example. You don’t have to finish first, you don’t even have to run the entire time (Pro Tip: Google the “Galloway Method.” You’ll thank me later), but when all is said and done you will be hooked. I’ll warn you that there is no going back, and no race will ever compare to runDisney. You’re probably rolling your eyes at me right now when I say that, because I rolled my eyes to others who tried to tell me the same thing. I look forward to the day I can tell you “I told you so,” when your first runDisney race is over and you have this new obsession. I ran one Disney race, a 5k, and two weeks later I signed myself up for the 2019 Wine and Dine Half Marathon. Yes, I said HALF marathon. Like everything else with Disney, you get wrapped up in the magic, you feel encouraged and you can’t help but want to be a part of it all.

Several race weekends are now registering for the remainder of 2019, through 2020. There has never been a better time to participate in runDisney, and you won’t regret the experience. I begin my training for the Wine and Dine Half, in August and I look forward to sharing the entire training experience with all of you! In the runDisney community, you are never alone. You instantly share this common love of something with thousands of people. You got this, we got this- now let’s get running!        

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Kristi is the Media and PR Director for The Kingdom Insider. She's a lifelong Disney fan and grew up spending her family vacations at the Happiest Place on Earth. She resides in Florida with her husband and two boys, ages 4 and 6.


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