A year ago, staff writer Adrienne Krock wrote an article that looks at budgeting for runDisney road races. So you've got your running shoes and GPS watch, and you've started planning for your runDisney events, and you notice that everything is starting to add up. You knew this was going to cost more than your local 10K, but does a runDisney event really cost a lot of money? Let's take a look at some factors.
Destination event pricing
Prices for 2014 runDisney events for adults start at $95 for a 10K, with the price of marathons and half-marathons starting at $160. If an event doesn't sell out right away, registration prices go up periodically, up to $190 for late registrations.
Participants do get some nice take-home items, including a Champion brand tech shirt and hefty medal. On anniversary years, Disney often updates the medal design as well.
The price may be steep, but those who make a runDisney race their destination/vacation event may be able to justify the price as part of their travel budget. After all, a ticket to Epcot costs more than a ticket to your local amusement park, but that doesn't prevent a lot of people from vacationing at Walt Disney World.
However because registration fees are so high, there's one group of runners who may feel priced out of runDisney events: Local residents. Unlike annual passes for Florida or Southern California residents, Disney does not offer discounts for locals to register for their races.
There's also a hidden gotcha for local runners: runDisney does not print official instructions on how to pick up race bibs on race day. This is apparently a trend with destination races, since they want to encourage participants to show up the day before the event (thus ensuring at least one night's hotel stay). [The good news is that runDisney does (or has in the past) made race-day pick-up available at a small table at the starting area by the tents. I think it's just that they don't want to advertise this.]
Registration prices for runDisney events are actually higher than runDisney's closest competitor, the Rock 'n' Roll series of endurance races, which typically start at $110 and go up to $175.
If you're looking for something a little closer to home, a little less expensive, and offering the excitement of a large race with lots of entertainment, the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series is a great alternative, with events in over two dozen cities in the U.S..
If you're interested in something even less expensive, there are myriad options by way of local and regional events, many of which provide both shirts and medals. For those who want a Disney experience for the race itself, though, the fees will not get any lower.
One option, if you want a taste of a runDisney event without the high price tag, is to sign up for a Family Fun Run 5K. You can register for these for as low as $60, although there is no discount for children, the medals are made of rubber, and the shirts are 100% cotton.
Another "hidden cost" of runDisney road races is the lure of event merchandise. Most road races offer participant/finisher shirts, and some of the larger races sell official merchandise at their expos. But how many of these events sell gear designed specifically for the event? And I'm not talking about just the race itself, but that year's event specifically.
At most runDisney events, you can go to the expo and buy "I did it!" T-shirts; these are always designed for the specific course and the event year is printed prominently on the gear. You can also find tech shirts with various designs for the events (again, marked for that specific year), as well as workout jackets and hoodies. You can even purchase children's T-shirts that have messages like "My mom finished the Princess Half Marathon" and so on. For parents traveling with their children, how can you possibly resist? You know you want your daughter to be wearing one of those shirts while you walk around with your shiny medal.
In the past few years, Disney has teamed up with purse maker Dooney & Bourke to offer designs specific to runDisney events. For a while, the rush to get one of these purses wreaked havoc at the expo. Fortunately, Disney now lets you pre-order the purses if you've registered for the race, bringing civility back to the purse counter at the expo.
Purse-shopping may have calmed down, but the expo turned into a madhouse at the Walt Disney World Marathon expo this past January when they announced a new partnership between Disney and New Balance for limited edition runDisney running shoes. Apparently New Balance didn't realize how high the demand would be, and didn't bring enough to the expo. You can still find them on eBay (but for an overinflated price of $400—ouch), but people were paying $125 for them at the expo.
If you wanted to buy a basketload of official event merchandise (including an "I did it" T-shirt, a tech shirt, a jacket), the bill could easily come out to a few hundred dollars. Add a purse or runDisney shoes, and you're looking at an extra $500 from your event budget.
Even if they sold lots of official gear for your local half-marathon, I suspect most people wouldn't shell out that much money. But for a runDisney event? Especially one that you roll into a big family vacation, that serves as a culmination of a lot of sweat and miles? Yep; time to add the cost of race merch into your budget.
Traveling with family
One big difference with a runDisney event is that it encourages runners to travel with their family. runDisney offers Kids Races as well as the Family Fun Run for all of its longer distance events, but more than that, there is the inherent pull of the Disney theme parks. Parents, have you ever gone on a trip to a Disney theme park for a road race without your children? How did they react? Did it involve a lot of pouting, a lot of promises to bring home souvenirs (or a "we will all go next time")?
More than likely, the big runDisney event you signed up for will entail your traveling with your immediate family members. Now, your quick weekend trip to run a half-marathon has turned into a family vacation. Maybe not a two-week-long family mega-vacation, but maybe a five-day trip, flying in on Wednesday or Thursday and staying through Tuesday, with your spouse and children. And unless everyone already has annual passes, this means you need to budget to pay for admission media for the parks, not to mention meals. Do you already have a general budget ballpark for when your family goes on a Disney theme park trip? Your runDisney event budget will need to account for this, too.
The price of magic that inspires
In my opinion, the biggest draw of a runDisney road race is the magic of Disney as a way to inspire and motivate the ordinary person into a healthier lifestyle. Familiar and friendly Disney characters like Mickey and Donald beckon us to don a pair of running shoes and get off the couch, to train our bodies to go 13.1 (or 26.2) miles for a runDisney event.
So while a runDisney event will cost more than a local road race, the benefit to a sedentary person feeling enough of a pull from Disney magic to decide to set a goal ("I'm going to get back in shape and lose the weight I gained from having a baby, and train so I can finish the Tinker Bell Half Marathon!") is invaluable. To borrow from a credit card ad campaign:
Registering for the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon: $160
Buying official event merchandise so you can be reminded of your accomplishment: $500
Paying to bring your entire family for a week's vacation in Walt Disney World: $2,000
Smiling at the camera with Mickey Mouse while your child helps you hold up your finisher's medal: Priceless