While tens of thousands of runners, walkers, and their support crews are descending on Walt Disney World for the 20th Anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon and the 16th annual Half Marathon this weekend, the Disneyland Resort in California gets the spotlight next weekend with the second running of the Tinker Bell Half Marathon.
One big priority as you count down to the final days before a big endurance event is to carbo-load to provide the necessary energy to successfully complete the distance. No matter when you are scheduled to arrive for your event, think about what you will eat leading up to the big day (or days for you Goofys) as well as after you have crossed the finish line. Fortunately at WDW, there is a wide variety of carb resources available for just about any dietary need.
Countdown to your event
Did you know that you should start carbo-loading at least three days preceding the half or full marathon? While it's tradition that large quantities of pasta are consumed the night before a half or full marathon,a according to Runner's World Big Book of Marathon and Half Marathon Training, eating that one big meal the night before a run can lead to lethargy and major digestive issues in the morning. And if it is the only true prerace carbo-loading you do, you may not have enough energy to avoid hitting the wall. Instead, consider gradually increasing your carb intake during the week before your event, so that your muscles are loaded with glycogen and are ready to carry you safely and strongly to the finish line. And in addition to eating carbs, consider breaking your meals into multiple smaller meals during the day rather than overeating in fewer larger meals.
Nutritionists often say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Pancakes, oatmeal, or whole-grain bagels are all good sources of breakfast carbs and can be found at any of the on-site WDW hotel cafes. While the character breakfast buffets at locations such as Chef Mickey's are great on atmosphere, watch out for sugar-laden temptations and a tendency to overindulge. If you are looking for a more "adult" buffet meal (but still with character), give the 1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian a try.
Everyone seems to have a favorite place in the theme parks for lunch. If I'm looking for carbs and have limited time available, I usually stop by the Katsura Grill in Epcot for a quick bowl of teriyaki chicken and rice. Often rated as one of the top WDW casual restaurants, Katsura Grill is a little hidden gem tucked away by the Japan pavilion. Make sure to stop and admire the beautiful Japanese garden and koi pond which are adjacent to the restaurant. My friend and veteran runDisney runner Mary Harokopus also recommends stopping by the German Pavilion and picking up a giant pretzel before you leave the park. It's a good high-carb snack for late at night or early in the morning before the race.
If you are over in the Magic Kingdom, you can stop in for a tuna sandwich on a croissant at the Diamond Horseshoe or drop by City Hall and make reservations for a traditional pasta meal at Tony's Town Square Restaurant on Main Street USA. And if you are looking for a very quick (but filling) bite, you can grab a baked potato at the food cart in Liberty Square.
There are so many options for dinner at WDW, it's easy to find something that will please just about everyone. Jonathan Dichter, a veteran of several runDisney events, highly recommends the noodle dinner at the Kona Island Café at Disney's Polynesian Resort, or just about anything on the menu at Sanaa at Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas. Several runDisney veterans also recommend Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano in Disney's Hollywood Studios (reservations are recommended) which, similar to Tony's in the Magic Kingdom, features traditional pasta dishes.
What if you're not staying at on-site in WDW, or you find yourself out of the parks and in Downtown Disney? MousePlanet's own Stephanie Wien recommends both the simple marinara pasta meal at Wolfgang Puck Café (don't forget to ask for an Annual Passholder discount), as well as a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup at Earl of Sandwich.
And of course, don't forget to stay well-hydrated on the days leading up to the race.
Here's the hard part of running the full or half marathon at WDW—the races start very early in the morning and you will be on a bus to the race start at least two hours before the race start. While you should eat three or four hours before the start of the race, getting up at midnight to fuel up is usually the last thing anyone wants to do. Figure on two hours before the race at the most, which will give you time to digest most simple foods (this is not the time for waffles or anything high in fiber). Most of the WDW host hotels sell bagels and bananas in runner boxes the day before the event (check with your hotel's cafe for availability); bringing your own instant oatmeal in a carry-along cup would also be advised to "top off the tank." If you purchased the Race Retreat package, you will be provided bagels, fruit, coffee, water, and PowerAde; again, bringing your own oatmeal is not a bad idea. Finally, at least 30 minutes before the race, down an energy gel or one serving of energy chews. One piece of hard-earned advice—do not mix a sports drink with gel or chews. The potential for gastric upset is already high from nerves; this just adds, shall we say, fuel to the fire that you don't need.
The medal is in hand, you are on cloud nine and you are ready to celebrate! Immediately after the race, though, make sure to refuel with light carbs such as a banana or other fruit, as well as protein to get muscle repair started. Chocolate milk not only tastes great, but is an excellent source of protein, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is also a great choice.
Later in the evening, you have all of WDW to choose from for a post-race dinner. Consider Teppan Edo in Epcot for sit-down, fixed-at-your-table Japanese cuisine. Or if you are craving something a little heartier, check out the New York strip steak or the cheese soup at Le Cellier in the Canada pavilion in Epcot. Rae Miller, a veteran of many runDisney events, is also a fan of Le Cellier; sounds like most of the diners there Sunday night will be wearing finisher's medals. Race participants and their support crews will also no doubt be dining at Be Our Guest, WDW's newest table service restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. While reservations are booked solid at Be Our Guest for the next few months, quick-service dining options are available—just be prepared to stand in line.
And to all, a good bite
It's never too early to start planning your menus for the days leading up to the WDW full and/or half marathon. Don't try anything new or different if you are not sure how your body will react; you want to feel energized not drained before you hit the roads. If you're like me, you'll find a mix of bring-your-own noshies and WDW fare to provide the best nutritional balance you'll need to complete 13.1 or 26.2 miles and still enjoy the parks later in the day. You can check out menus for all Walt Disney World restaurants as well as make reservations online or you can call 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463). Just remember to start carbo-loading at least three days prior to your race event, hydrate, and above all, enjoy.
Have a safe and fun WDW Marathon or Half Marathon, and I look forward to seeing you on the courses!