NEW YORK, January 29, 2013 — Hot dog! It’s one of Mickey Mouse’s favorite phrases and it couldn’t have been more appropriate for the 20th Anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon on January 13, 2013. The mercury climbed to unseasonably warm temps, with a high of 81 degrees and humidity near 100 percent.
But the heat didn’t stop the 20,000 finishers — myself included. Dressed as Cinderella in Rags with Jacques the Mouse by my side (played with gusto by my husband, Phil Hospod), I ran around the world — Walt Disney World, that is.
It was a magical run punctuated by an army of Disney characters, spectators, and volunteers who helped make it a fairy tale run to remember.
Running in Costume
There’s nothing like running a Disney race in costume to get you in the spirit. There’s an added bonus: getting shout outs from spectators and Disney cast members. Throughout the race, we kept getting cheers for Cinderella and her mouse, which buoyed our spirits and helped us go the distance.
Walt Disney World Marathon: The Start
Disney races start notoriously early. This one began at 5:30 a.m. The reason is twofold: to get as many runners through the parks before they open and before the weather heats up.
After a 3 a.m. wake-up, we got to the starting line before 4:30 a.m. From the corral, we watched as running legend Frank Shorter, Disney training consultant Jeff Galloway, and other luminaries took the stage. Finally, Mickey Mouse took the mic for the countdown. At 5:30 a.m. we were off to the sights and sounds of fireworks.
Miles 1-5: To Magic Kingdom
Though the humidity was near 100 percent, the heat wasn’t too bad before the sun rose. My husband, Phil, and I slowly worked our way toward Magic Kingdom.
Along the way, Disney stationed many marching bands, a DJ, some cheering stations, and Captain Jack Sparrow with his pirate ship. A surprisingly large number of spectators made it out early in the morning to cheer us on.
Mile 5-6: Magic Kingdom
This is where the real fun began. The sidewalks along Main Street USA were packed with spectators.
We stopped for photos in front of Cinderella Castle, stilled decked out in the Castle Dream Lights that go up for the winter holidays.
Then we waved hello to Buzz Lightyear in Tomorrowland before visiting with Alice and the Mad Hatter in Wonderland and Belle and Ariel at New Fantasyland.
Next we saw Prince Mickey and Princess Minnie at Cinderella Castle before running through it.
In Liberty Square we snapped a shot with Tiana and Naveen, then ran out of the park.
But not before pausing for one more photo with Princess Aurora and Prince Philip of Sleeping Beauty fame.
Miles 6-10: The Speedway
The next few miles carried us to the Walt Disney World Speedway. This was the first year in over a decade that the course included the Speedway—as part of the 20th anniversary celebration—and I can’t imagine the race without it. It was spectacular.
The banked one-mile track was packed with vintage cars, racecars and characters from the movie Cars. We ran the service road inside the track and, of course, stopped for more photos.
Miles 10-13: Animal Kingdom
The sun began to rise while we were in the Speedway, cresting over the horizon shortly after. Then it got hot.
So we took advantage of photo stops with characters like Mary Poppins, a group of Disney villains, Peter Pan and Wendy, Pocahontas, and Chip and Dale.
After Mile 12, we entered Animal Kingdom where we saw Safari Mickey and Pluto, Safari Minnie and Daisy, and a collection of some of cutest petting zoo animals I’ve ever seen. In Animal Kingdom we ran past Expedition Everest, Discovery Island and Dinoland USA.
Mile 13-17: On to ESPN
Did I mention that it was hot? That there was barely any cloud cover? And little shade between parks?
My husband and I added generous walk breaks in addition to our character stops. We walked through every single water station, stopped to use the restroom, and popped into a medical station to apply sun block.
Disney kept the entertainment pumping with music, actors, and more, and we kept moving forward.
Mile 17-20: ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex
After a few miles on the roads, we were glad to reach ESPN Wide World of Sports. The Sports Complex was also new to the course for 2013 and proved to be was a great addition. I can’t imagine those three miles without it. I hope Disney keeps it in the mix in the future.
It was motivating to see other athletes practicing on the soccer fields and baseball diamonds in the heat, and it was fun to run on the track too.
It gave us a “sensory tickle,” a term Walt Disney used to describe a tangible change of environment that often signaled moving from one themed area to another. We learned that on the Keys to the Kingdom tour at Magic Kingdom the day before the race.
Every time the marathon course took us from asphalt to concrete to grass to dirt to track to gravel or some other form of pavement — there are many surface changes throughout the race — my husband or I would shout, “Sensory tickle!” giving ourselves a giggle. It was a fun way to get through a marathon.
Especially fun was rounding the bases at Champion Stadium during Mile 20. An announcer shouted my name over the loudspeaker as I ran by and spectators dotted the stands.
Mile 20: The Anniversary Celebration
Champion Stadium came just before the Mile 20 Marker, which was decked out to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the race. Both sides of the course were lined with giant Disney puppets like Lumiere, Genie and Sebastian. Mickey, Minnie and Pluto danced on stage and posed for photos with runners. And music pumped through the air.
Mile 20-23: Hollywood Studios
The next few miles of road held DJs, an announcer shouting out runners’ hometowns and green Army men from Toy Story motivating us up one of the race’s few hills.
After pausing for a picture with one of the Army guys, we reached Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The park provided some welcomed shade, and spectators lined the course from there to the finish.
Mile 23-26: Epcot
We ran onto the BoardWalk and past the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts into the World Showcase at Epcot at Mile 25.
This was it: the last mile of the race.
We stopped for photos with Belle in France, Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco, Mulan in China, and Dopey in Germany before pressing on to Spaceship Earth, where we stopped for one last picture before the finish.
Mile 26.2: The Finish
At Mile 26, a gospel choir greeted us with a rousing song and the finish line was in sight.
We crossed in 5:50:21. We made 32 photo stops, 20 water stops, 3 bathroom stops and 2 medical station stops, not to mention other walk breaks. It’s a far cry from my 4:28 marathon personal best time or my husband’s 3:03. But we weren’t out to run a marathon that day; we were out to enjoy one. And we certainly did.
Volunteers placed medals around our necks. The 2013 Walt Disney World Medal is so substantial that I started getting a neck ache wearing it after the race. It’s the most spectacular race bling I’ve ever received, with two spinning elements that depict Mickey Mouse of yesteryear and today.
The After Party
That evening we hit the Downtown Disney Cool Down Party. Downtown Disney was a bastion of merriment with live music, race banners for some more photo ops, and discounts for marathoners at many of the restaurants and attractions, like Disney Quest and Characters in Flight. It seemed like all the marathoners had turned out. Downtown was packed.
Aside from all the characters I already mentioned, many other Disney characters lined the course: Buzz Lightyear and Jessie from Toy Story, Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio, Genie from Aladdin, Wreck it Ralph, Duffy the Bear, the Monsters, Inc. gang, a few Incredibles, Rafiki from The Lion King, the Country Bears, Lilo and Stitch, Jack Skellington and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, some Christmas elves and more.
With 25,000 entrants and a little over 20,000 finishers, this was the largest Walt Disney World Marathon in the event’s 20-year history. I never felt too crowded, and I started in the front and finished near the middle, so I experienced a large chunk of the field.
But I’d also say the race is probably nearing capacity. The course narrows at a few points and that’s where you feel the pinch. With any more runners, it could feel crowded. If Disney expands the field again next year, they’ll need to add additional corrals. As it was, there were eight corrals for runners, each with its own start, and one for wheelers.
Having run four Disney races and having interviewed race director Jon Hughes about the logistics of putting on such an event, I have no doubt they’ll sort it out if it comes to that.
With the heat, this was the most difficult of the six marathons I have run. But at the same time, it was definitely the most fun. I thoroughly enjoyed the course, the characters, and the entire experience, as the goofy grin in all my race photos attests.
The race organization from buses to aid stations and characters to volunteers is second to none. Disney thinks of every last detail and executes the whole race exceptionally well.
The only detail they missed at this event was anticipating the demand for merchandise at the race expo. Much of the 20th Anniversary race merchandise sold-out before the expo was over, leaving many runners sad and empty-handed.
The same can be said for New Balance, who produced just 1,000 pairs of the new limited edition runDisney New Balance shoes. They sold out in hours at the expo. Lesson: never underestimate how much merchandising Disney fans are willing to buy. But that was one misstep in an otherwise flawlessly executed race weekend.
I’d heartily recommend this race to any runners looking for a marathon that will keep them entertained and smiling.
Come to the Walt Disney World Marathon for a magical fun run that will make you feel like a kid again.
Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runner’s weekly lifestyle web show about running. She has completed six marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.
- Jan 13, 2013 -- Lake Buena Vista, FL - U.S.A Disney Marathon Photo by Preston Mack / WDW photo
- (Jan. 13, 2013) Athletes run through Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom park Jan. 13, 2013 during the 20th Annual Walt Disney World Marathon presented by Cigna at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The 26.2-mile race coursed through all four Disney theme parks and through the Walt Disney World Speedway and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. A record 65,000 runners took part this year in a variety of Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend events, including the Family Fun Run 5K, Mickey Mile and runDisney Kids Races, along with the half and full marathons. (Todd Anderson, photographer)
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