Walt Disney World Half Marathon Race Report

My parents never had a TV in the house as I was growing up, so when other kids talked about Disney movies, I was the weird-dumb kid.

Then one day I saw the Little Mermaid at a friend’s house. Her parents were babysitting, so they sat us down in front of the TV (how Mexicans babysit) and played Disney. My friend was restless and soon moved to her toys, but I was hooked. I had never seen anything like it.

I went on to watch other Disney movies, and they blew my little mind. Before Mulan and Pocahontas, I didn’t know that women could run with men. Or fight wars. Or grow a pair…. of legs. I wanted to be just like them.

Apart from fueling my ambitions, I never did buy into the Disney experience. I didn’t desire to visit Disneyworld and I never played with dolls. Instead of princess dresses, I just wanted to be let outside. I’d build my own castles.

So when Shacky suggested a few months ago that we run the Disney Goofy Challenge—a half marathon followed by a full marathon the next day—I took it as a great training opportunity and a new running experience.

We flew into Florida on Thursday and arrived late at night. After finding our way to the hotel, we settled down for bed and headed to the race kit pickup on Friday morning. The crowds were massive.

I hate crowds, so I was slightly frazzled with the process, although Disney did an amazing job at organizing the pickups. We were in and out as fast as possible and even managed to find our friend Emil in the crowd.

I didn’t take the time to browse the race expo because I didn’t want to spend more money than I already had, and I don’t always trust myself with running gear and a credit card. We did get some sweet gear in our goodie bags—three long sleeve tech shirts. One for the half, one for the marathon, and one for the Goofy Challenge.

Crazy expo crowds

On Saturday morning, I was feeling great. I hadn’t run since Across the Years, and I was eager for more miles. Our hotel didn’t offer a shuttle, so we got up at 2 a.m. to drive to the start (race started at 5:30, but we’d have to wait at least 30 more minutes for our wave to start).

This was by far the earliest I’ve ever gotten up for a race. It was still 11 p.m. (as in, the day before!) San Diego time. That’s said, I’m a hardcore early bird and I like running in the dark, so I didn’t mind too much.

The race instructions said that if we weren’t in our corrals by 5 a.m., we wouldn’t be admitted to the race. So we had a lot of time to stand around and freeze. The parking was massive, but again Disney was extremely organized so we ended up with a great parking spot and plenty of time to sit in the car before heading over to the race.

Race morning was cold, but not as chilly as it had been in San Diego. Plus the crowds helped keep me warm as we moved in cattle-like droves to the start. From the parking lots to the race corrals, it’s a good 20-minute walk. But the atmosphere was lively and there was good crowd-energy, so it didn’t feel long.

People were shuffling along in their elaborate Disney costumes: glow-in-the-dark wings and fairy dust and sparkles and wands. Dudes in princess dresses were lifting up their shiny skirts to pee in the bushes for some laughs.

I wanted to kick myself for not executing a proper costume plan for Shacky and I. He would have been Beauty and I could have been The Beast.

Our bibs were soon checked, and we were funnel to our appropriate zones. We were the fourth wave to start.

I’m not a fan of huge crowds or sold-out marathons, so I was eager to just start running and recover some of my personal space. It was still dark when we started running, but once we did I felt great.

I though we were running faster than normal, but Shacky said we were on a steady 10-minute per mile pace. We were also doing a lot of weaving through the crowds, snapping pictures of awesome costumes.

Woody. I tried to pull the drawstring behind him, but it didn’t work.

There was music and floats and spectators cheering on the sidelines, urging people to run faster. There were old fashioned cars and people on stilts and those old bicycles with the really big front wheel.

Shacky commented that Barefoot Ted might like to own one of these.

When we saw Disney characters we loved, we’d stop for photos:

  • Mickey
  • Goofy
  • Phineas and Ferb
  • Winnie the Pooh’s house
  • Some lady that looked like my grandma

The atmosphere was joyful and lively. I didn’t even feel like I was running.

I was shocked to see the first aid station less than 3 miles in. Both the Disney events were incredibly well supported as far as aid, which was great because I didn’t have to carry any hydration at either event. Instead, I wore my hydration vest with a spare pair of shoes in it so I could run barefoot as much as possible.

At one point I saw a station and ran in for water, only to find that it was a medical aid station. They were offering pills and Vaseline and some other gels that I had never even heard of, all before mile 5. I asked Shacky what the hell they were for, and he said they were for relieving muscle soreness.

I probably shouldn’t have scoffed, but I did a little. Really? Popping pills at the third mile? I wondered if there were people who ran these races for the Disney experience, who maybe really weren’t properly trained.

Then I was shaken out of my thoughts by the most awesome sight of my running career—the Disneyland castle right in front of me!

This one from the movies.

Maybe I’m an idiot, but I didn’t actually realize there was a real castle like that (it’s real, right?). I felt like jumping up and down.

We ran through the park which is set up like a small town, with the Disneyland castle in the background. We were running towards the castle.

The sun was starting to rise and there were spectators cheering us from the sidelines and my grandma’s double was dressed up like the olden days. It was surreal. I felt like I was in a happy dream or in a movie.

My grandma also looks like the maid from Family guy. This is her double.

All the princesses were near the castle—Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. I didn’t slow down to take my picture with them because those bitches never did nothing cool. You went to sleep and woke up after a long time? Really? That’s what you did?

I’m more of a Mulan fan. That girl fought the fucking Huns.

They had a ton of photographers at this spot. As soon as you passed the castle, you could make a quick left turn and get a photo right in front of the castle with a race photographer. There was a fast-moving line and a box outlined in tape that you had to stand in. The camera guy was clicking so fast, you had about half a millisecond to pose. I wish I could have looked through all those pictures and laughed because most people weren’t ready.

There were two more times when I wanted to freak out during these races:

1. The Villains

We passed a stretch of very respectable Disney villains. They were blasting the song “Bad to the Bone” and dancing around to it. I wish I could have gotten their autographs but I was frightened. My favorite villain is the fat octopus in the Little Mermaid, but she wasn’t there because she can only breathe underwater.

2. The Green Soldier

From Toy Story. He was very green and that made me happy. I think he was plastic too. I like them because they say, “NO MAN LEFT BEHIND!” Which is true for trail running as well.

These guys mean business.

At mile 10 something unexpected happened. I hit a wall. WTF (Well That’s Fantastic)??!!

I never hit a wall this early! But I suddenly felt the weight of Across the Years on my legs and my body reverted to the same way it felt at mile 45 of that 24-hour race. I had 3 miles left.

Shacky pushed me through this stretch. He kept encouraging me forward, “Just a few more to go!”
“Almost there!”
“This is the final corner!”

I didn’t always reply, but I fed off his encouragement. I had to put on my power face and just power through it. Like that bitch Mulan.

The finish line was sweet, but I had never felt this tired after a half. I was really starting to get concerned about the marathon the next day. So instead of walking through Downtown Disney, I opted for the hot tub at the hotel, jammies, and an early bedtime.

Read Part 2: The Marathon!