If you are considering running one or more of the races during Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and you have an annual passport for either Disneyland or Walt Disney World, early registration opens at noon (Eastern) next Wednesday, April 16. Registration for the general public opens a week later, at noon (Eastern) on Tuesday, April 22.
In the meantime, if you want a guaranteed spot in the Dopey Challenge, there's a way you can sign up today, through the Runner's World Challenge.
Runner's World has done a lot to improve its Challenge offering for WDW since last time and has added quite a few more benefits (see the complete list at the end of this article). The price has gone up a little, but the biggest change is that Runner's World is only offering its the 2015 WDW Challenge program for the Dopey Challenge. That means if you were planning on signing up for the Runner's World Challenge for just the half-marathon, just the full, or even just the Goofy Challenge, you're out of luck.
In addition to the plastic wristbands you collect as you finish each Dopey Challenge segment, you also get a special Runner's World Challenge wristband, which gives you access to the Race Retreat tent over the weekend. Photo by Lani Teshima.
What exactly is the Runner's World Challenge?
The Runner's World Challenge is Runner's World magazine's way of offering its expertise to runners who sign up for races who want additional training and support. At minimum, you can sign up for the generic Challenge program for a fee, and you can time it to a race you've signed up for.
Runner's World also offers its Challenge program for several races throughout the year. They charge a fee for you to sign up for these event-specific Challenge programs, and the fee includes the price for race registration. For the extra cost of registering for a race through the Runner's World Challenge, you get a list of additional benefits.
Exclusive pre-race walkout to the starting area is probably the single best perk of the Runner's World Challenge. From the Race Retreat tent, did you know the starting area is just a short five-minute stroll? It is, if you get to take this special shortcut through the woods. Photo by Lani Teshima.
How much does the Runner's World Challenge cost?
The Runner's World Challenge is not cheap. As an example, the regular early-bird registration price for the Walt Disney World Marathon Dopey Challenge is $530. If you sign up for Dopey through the Runner's World Challenge, the price jumps up to $995, essentially doubling the cost.
What do you get for the additional cost?
The Runner's World Challenge essentially upgrades your registration to a concierge-level package. Well before the races, for those who don't already belong to a running club or online running forum, there is an online community you can participate in with other Runner's World Challenge participants, which offers you a chance to be a part of a community, to have participants to talk to, staff you can ask questions of, and so on.
You also have access to a number of training plans based on your level. You can get this plan as a PDF, but there is also an online calendar where you can easily follow what you're supposed to do for your training.
Once at WDW for marathon weekend, you start seeing the benefits of the Runner's World Challenge, including access to the Race Retreat tent, private porta potties, ticket to the Pasta in the Park party, and a shortcut to the race starting area (which for some people seem to be the best perk of all).
Benefits, advantages, and improvements from last time
MousePlanet staff member Stephanie Wien participated in the WDW Half Marathon through the Runner's World Challenge, and offers five particular things she really liked about the Runner's World Challenge:
- Getting to meet all of the Runner's World staff at the events – If you're an avid reader of the magazine and online content, you will get to meet many of the people that you have gotten to know through print and pixels. The staff were good about mingling at the various dinners as well as before and after the events in the Race Retreat tent.
- Reserved area of Race Retreat tent – Not only do you get access to the Race Retreat tent, which provides a climate-controlled area with seating and food before and after the race, but you have a special corner just for the Challenge participants with couches, tables and chairs. No need to try and stake out a spot somewhere in the tent.
- Escorted walk to the start area – No need to walk out to the corrals any earlier than necessary, which is an especially good perk in inclement weather. The Challenge group is escorted by staff through a shorter path to the corrals, saving time and legs from extra walking.
- Accessibility of training advice prior to the event – I didn't post a ton on the message board, however I was able to post questions directly via email and get feedback from Runner's World experts via Jennifer Van Allen, the Runner's World Challenge coordinator. That was a great perk.
A rare sight and one only visible to cast members and race crew. Runner's World Challenge participants also get to walk past the starting line of the race as part of the pre-race shortcut. Photo by Lani Teshima.
In addition to these benefits, the people at Runner's World made some changes to the 2014 Challenge:
- The 2014 event allowed you to sign up for the Runner's World Challenge for just the half-marathon or just the full marathon. It's possible that most people chose to sign up for the Dopey Challenge through Runner's World anyway, and offering just this one package means pricing is less confusing, and the trainers can focus on developing training plans just for people doing the Dopey Challenge.
- Access to the Pasta in the Park Party has changed from Saturday night to Thursday night. This drew a huge complaint from Dopey participants, who felt that having a carb-loading party just hours before they had to wake up for the Sunday marathon was unreasonable. Although Runner's World offered to allow Runner's World Challenge participants to switch party tickets to Thursday night, the official program for the Challenge was still on Saturday night. Changing this to Thursday will mean a lot more participants will be able to attend to meet RW staff and listen to their talks.
- 2015 participants get a copy of the Runner's World Complete Book of Running, which was not offered last year.
Drawbacks, disadvantages, and cost breakdown
The single biggest drawback is that the package is quite expensive, at almost double the cost of regular registration for Dopey.
That said, we believe that's really truly the only drawback for the Runner's World Challenge. It is the experience of those of us on the MousePlanet staff who signed up for the Runner's World Challenge last time that, except for a few small hiccups, the benefits offered through the Runner's World Challenge is very good. In fact, unless you are on a very tight budget, we actually encourage you to seriously consider signing up for the Runner's World Challenge for your Dopey experience.
There are benefits to the Runner's World Challenge that are hard to put a price on, but breaking down the various perks, you get the following:
- Registration for the Dopey Challenge – $530
- Runner's World Complete Book of Running – retails for $22.
- Access to the Race Retreat area on both Saturday and Sunday – $200
- Pasta in the Park Party ticket – no price is yet listed at the runDisney site, but will probably range from $50–$90
- Runner's World Challenge tech shirt – likely retails for around $30
When you add up all these perks you can price out, you wind up with a difference of only $138. That means that for $138, you're getting all the other additional benefits, like your training plan, access to a separate packet pick-up counter at the expo, a designated area within the Race Retreat tent reserved just for the Runner's World Challenge, and exclusive pre-race walkout to the corrals. We think those extra perks are worth $138.
[Author's note: The following was added after initial publication.] In addition to the above priced items, Dopey participants have access to the Family Reunion Breakfast on both Thursday (after the 5K) and Friday (after the 10K). This is held in the same location as the Race Retreat tent. Tickets for this breakfast are priced at $39 for adults, which means the Runner's World Challenge premium is only $100, making it an even better deal.
Runner's World Challenge versus the Race Retreat package
If you don't want to spend the extra $500 but want additional benefits, one option is to purchase the Race Retreat package. For Dopey, that will only set you back $200, and you get access to private porta-potties, a lounging area, and the hot foods in the retreat tent.
The Race Retreat tent, in addition to offering many food options as well as plenty of seating, also includes special character meet-and-greet opportunities. The author shows off her medal while standing with the characters from Monsters, Inc. Photo by Disney cast member.
This is particularly relevant if you plan only to register for anything other than the Dopey Challenge, since the Runner's World Challenge is only available for Dopey this time around.
If you're signing up for Dopey next January, we heartily recommend that you consider signing up for the Runner's World Challenge. You're already going to be getting up at 2:00 a.m. for four days straight, you will want to pamper yourself as much as you can.
Our only caveat is that if you are attending with friends or family members, they will need to sign up for their own Race Retreat, Runner's World Challenge, or one of the expensive ChEAR spectator packages to access the Race Retreat tent. That can wind up costing a lot altogether.
While at first glance the price of the Runner's World Challenge looks prohibitive, once you break down the cost, it's relatively reasonable. When you take all your other costs into consideration, the extra $500 is neglible.
Stephanie agrees: "When I did the cost breakdown comparison to the straight cost of the runDisney extras, it didn't seem that much more of a cost, especially given the additional support during training. I enjoyed it so much, I plan to do another Runner's World Challenge event, although I'm not sure I will do it at WDW."
The following are the details, as published by Runner's World:
The $999 package includes:
Runner's World Challenge Registration Package Fees:
Dopey Challenge - $999.00
* Registration subject to availability. Dates, times, and prices subject to change. All races and corral placement are subject to eligibility requirements and capacity limits. Registration fees are nonrefundable. Runners who've already purchased entry to the Dopey Challenge will have their registration fee refunded if they purchase a Runner's World Challenge package. Advance reservations required. All events and event elements (including but not limited to Pasta in the Park Party), including but not limited to location, menus, attractions and entertainment are subject to availability, and may change or be canceled without notice.