Howdy loyal readers, fellow Dopeys, and prospective Dopeys! Seems like eons have passed since Sandy and I completed the 2018 Dopey Challenge, and believe me I have had this recap on my mind since crossing the finish line back in January. However, travel, other race events, and commitments just kept me from having time to sit down and compose my thoughts. “So why write it now?”, you ask. “This is all old news, right?” Well, yeah, actually it is old news. On the other hand, early registration for Marathon weekend (and Dopey) 2019 is coming up this week, and regular registration opens next week. I’ve seen lots of prospective Dopey runners asking things like, “Is a Disney race a good first marathon?” or “Should I take on Dopey if I have never done a full marathon?” Since Sandy and I fall into both those categories and would answer both those questions with, “yes…if”, I felt sharing our experiences might help someone who is planning to take on Dopey in 2019.
Instead of my normal “Homer-esque”, epic narrative style, I have decided to compile a list of Pros, Cons, Regrets and some Tips based on our personal experiences.
- Disney Races have a very generous time cutoff ( a big plus for the novice, run/walker or even walkers)
- There are pace groups for every pace (all the way down to the cutoff pace)
- The cutoff is very well defined. Stay in front of the “balloon ladies”… simple
- The courses are mostly flat
- The Disney race experience is like no other
- Disney Swag
- On-course character stops/photo-ops (a great distraction, even if you don’t stop)
- Running through the parks (all 4 parks on marathon day!)
- Well supported races with great volunteers (and the aid stations are stocked and open until cutoff time)
- Runners are well received by cast members (with some occasional “extra magic”)
- It’s a great vacation, and an awesome race event all rolled into one
- Disney puts on a great event, thus setting the bar pretty high for everything to follow (not necessarily a reason not to do it, but you have been warned)
- The courses are very crowded (especially farther back in the pack)
- EXTRA early mornings (most say the 2:30 am wakeup calls, four days in a row are the most difficult part of Dopey)
- Even though these are very “pace friendly” events, you may miss some of the post-race activities if you are slower (like us)
- Last but definitely not least… COST. The race fees alone are twice that of most non-Disney races. Couple that with the extra expense of being at Walt Disney World for at least a few days… need I say more?
Regrets (or what we would do differently next time)
- Make sure you get all the commemorative items you want on your first trip through the expo. We realized after completing Dopey, that we didn’t really have anything that said: “I did it!” We felt weird buying the “I did it!” shirt before we had well, done it… but in retrospect, we should have. Even if you are waffling, just buy it, there is an excellent aftermarket for runDisney stuff in case you end up with something you don’t want/need.
- Take your time on the 5k. There is no time limit, and most of the characters on the 5k course will be repeated throughout the other three races. We somehow fell into race mode for the 5k and regrettably didn’t stop much for pictures. We should have. As the races get longer, the time you have for stops gets shorter. Enjoy the 5k… take ALL the pictures.
- Train to be fast enough between stops, to be able to take advantage more of the character stops/photo ops during the longer races. (See my corral placement tip below)
Our take on some common dilemmas
- Disney Transport vs Driving to the races/parking – We chose to stay at Fort Wilderness (in our motorhome) during the races because we thought we would use Disney transport. We ended up doing exactly the opposite and drove our vehicle to the races each morning. There was hardly any traffic, we arrived at the races in plenty of time, AND we got to be in our nice warm vehicle, instead of waiting in the cold for a bus. (See my tip on weather below)
- Is staying on-property worth the extra expense? – Again, we chose to stay on-property during marathon weekend mostly for access to Disney transport, which we didn’t end up using (at least not on race days). You do pay a premium for staying on-property but there are some perks to staying at a Disney resort. Most Disney resorts (Fort Wilderness included) have mapped out running paths/routes, which proved nice for workouts leading up to marathon weekend. As mentioned before, the cast members were extra nice when they learned you were a participant. You may not get this kind of treatment off-property, although I have heard of some pretty cool pre and post race perks provided by some other hotels/resorts in the WDW area. Another word of warning: when staying at Fort Wilderness, especially farther back on the property (near the lake) you can hear (very well) the MK fireworks AND the Electrical Water Pageant EVERY night, just about the time you should be getting to sleep in anticipation of that 2:30 am wakeup call! Just sayin’
- Say YES to the Race Retreat add-on if offered. This is a very nice perk, which offers early entry to the expo (this alone is worth the cost) and indoor waiting area (on half and full marathon days) which is an invaluable perk when the weather turns foul. Warning: if you are slow (like us) you may miss the post-race retreat activities on marathon day. The tent was closed by the time we finished the marathon (note: we were ahead of the cutoff time)
- We highly recommend the Galloway training programs!
- Work for a good proof of time for corral placement. The better the corral, the more time you have for stops… and the better your experience will be.
- Prepare/pack for ANY weather. This is the second year in a row that we have been at WDW in December/January. One year we were buying more shorts, the next we were searching for thermal underwear and mylar blankets. Don’t expect the forecast to be accurate until the night before, and even that is a long shot!
- If you are fairly slow, we recommend taking the character pictures (the ones at the start/finish area) BEFORE going to your corral. They are they after the race, but they don’t stay around very long, and we missed them after the half and full.
If I were asked to come up with a mantra for enjoying a Disney race experience, it would be this: Train well, pack even better, and slow down and enjoy!
I hope you have found this information helpful. If you have a question about a particular concern not addressed here, please feel free to post it in the comments below. If you have a tip or other advice, I urge you to post it here as well.
Good luck to those running Dark Side this month. Hope to see some of you at Wine & Dine in November!
Don’t forget, early registration for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend 2019 is rumored (think Wine & Dine) to begin on Thursday, April 12 and general registration is set to open on Tuesday, April 17, 2018.
Stay Dopey, my friends.