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Life is full of a lot of incredible firsts—a first Disney Park visit... the first steps out the door and down the block on a first distance run or walk. And for tens of thousand athletes each year, there is a happy blend of both Disney and running as they participate in their first runDisney distance event. And to get some feedback and thoughts from first-time runDisney event participants, I gathered a virtual focus group consisting of runners, walkers, and one crawler's mom to learn more about their journey to earning their first runDisney medal.


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In our previous articles, we found out how they got started, what they thought about both extra activities and costumes, and their feelings as they crossed the starting and finish lines. In this article, we asked the focus group about their impression of the entire runDisney weekend: Did the runDisney event meet your expectations? What highlights and lowlights stand out for you?

Gabrielle (Gabbie) Rimmaudo from Florida, completed her first half-marathon at age 22 at the 2013 Disney Princess Half Marathon, and has been running since May 2012. Gabrielle writes:

The runDisney event exceeded my expectations. There were a lot of parts of the race that I felt could not be put into words because of how special Disney truly made it for me. It was just the overall "feeling" I got during it from the days before at the expo to the finish line to post park fun after the race!

There are multiple highlights of the runDisney weekend that stand out for me. This includes a special dinner at Be Our Guest [restaurant in New Fantasyland] with my friends the night before the race. During the race I also got "proposed" to by a charming young gentleman with a glass slipper outside of the Grand Floridian, which is also a great memory I have. I also had a great experience running under Cinderella's Castle; it was truly memorable and special. Post-race, we had a great day in Magic Kingdom, where our waitress at one of the restaurants bought us a celebratory ice cream treat for completing the race. Disney really knows how to make your experience memorable!

I think the downside to the weekend would be the organization of the expo. It was kind of hectic and hard to get around, especially with the runDisney merchandise tent. However, I was expecting the mayhem!


The Disney Princess Half Marathon weekend expo. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

Fe Caldejon is from Washington state, completing her first half-marathon at age 55 at the 2013 Disney Princess Half Marathon. She moved to the U.S. from the Philippines when she was 25 and has been walking for exercise for the past five years. Fe writes:

Yes, the Princess Half Marathon actually met and exceeded my expectation. It was really fun and entertaining to see a lot of characters along the way, but also to have a lot of support and cheering from the crowd, Disney workers and volunteers.

Just spending time with my girls, and enjoying all the characters and cheer squads along the race.

The expo was too crowded when we picked up our packets. There were a lot of great booths but it was so hard to walk around and really enjoy the expo. It was my first time to the expo but it seemed really unorganized. We were worried that the run might be the same way but it ended up to be a fun event, though a little crowded at some parts of the run.

Amanda Mills is from Texas. At age 21, she completed her first (3.1-mile) 5-kilometer fun run during the 2013 Disney Princess Half Marathon weekend. Amanda just recently took up running and has a half-marathon on her to-do list of in the very near future. Amanda writes:

My grandma said that it was somewhat of a letdown because she was used to things being more organized and running smoothly. I have never been to an event like this so I have nothing to compare to. I had a great time and didn't know what to expect. Even though the expo was crowded on one side and empty on the other and the buses arrived to the event late, I didn't mind any of it because i had a positive attitude and wanted to enjoy myself. What I didn't expect was so many costumes. My grandma usually goes all out for races even when no one else dresses up. The outfits were so cute and creative!
The run, the expo, the long days at the Walt Disney World parks, the safari at Animal Kingdom… I can't pick one thing that stood out because this was my first time experiencing Walt Disney World. One thing that was very cool was talking with Cosmopolitan magazine was at the expo. Unfortunately, we weren't able to speak with them again because we were late for the half-marathon Sunday morning due to the buses.
I agree with everyone—the expo was a disappointment. It was just not organized well at all! Also, the buses took so long to take us to the half on Sunday. It felt like everyone was passing us and we were just stuck in one spot not moving at all.

Christina Verduchi is from New Jersey. At age 34, she completed her first half-marathon at the 2013 Disney Princess Half after a 50-pound weight loss. She has been running since August 2012 after last lacing up her running shoes 10 years earlier. Christina writes:

The only complaint I had about my half marathon—it was too short! Go figure. I was just trying to finish this race, but it went by so quickly. I wish the Princesses were more visible on the course, and the picture lines were shorter, but what can you do? There were a lot of runners and walkers for this race. I would say limit the amount of runners more, but if they did that, I may not have had a shot at running it next year.
My friend Tracy and her mom, Heidee, driving up almost four hours to spend race weekend with me. I hadn't seen them in a few years and for them to be there to support me—was incredible. Seeing my husband's sign for the first time and laughing (it said "You'll Get There"—our motto for each other each time one of us was frustrated on our weight-loss journey). Only being able to sleep two hours the night before the race and laying out my outfit 18 different times to make sure I didn't forget anything (I didn't, though!). Riding Soarin' with Kristin. Meeting all of the Princess Posse ladies who are now friends for life. Telling Sean Astin about Katy and having him sincerely tell me that she and her family would be in his thoughts. He is one of the kindest people you'll meet. Having Jeff Galloway pat me on the back. Having Ali Vincent interview me for her TV show! Running alongside her and realizing we're the same pace! Meeting numerous people along the course because of my Katy sign and having them tell me they'll keep her in their prayers. Having strangers encourage me and being able to encourage strangers. Having to park in "Athlete Parking"—the first time I've ever been called an athlete! The parking lot attendant guy say "Princess Ariel, We have a tank set aside for after the race should you need it." I love Disney people! Having my Facebook notifications go out of control during the race from so many friends rooting me on in real time. The Gospel Choir! Should I go on? Because I can!


Christina's husband Cal and best friend Tracey cheered her on along the course. Photo by Christina Verduchi

The expo. I hate to pick apart one of the best weekends of my life—but the expo was super crowded and I just got my packet, got pixie dusted, and left. Aside from that, everything was a dream for me and I know that every non-Disney race is going to pale in comparison.

Katie Uppman from California, ran the 2013 Tinker Bell Half Marathon, while her son, Henry, completed his first runDisney Kids Race (the Diaper Dash Division) at the age of 6 months. Katie writes:

I would say it met expectations. I did feel like we waited forever in line—it was supposed to start at 9:00 a.m. according to the volunteers, but the first round didn't start until more like 9:45. Also, the photographs were terrible. At the end of the race, Henry pulled himself up on Minnie's nose and gave her the most adorable kiss. Not a single photographer caught the shot. Erik tried to get it from behind, and we can see all five photographers looking around or checking their cameras. Parents especially go crazy over pictures of their kids, and I would have bought a million copies of that picture. I also wish there had been video of the race. It was so short that I don't think it would have been that hard for them. They videotaped the finish lines of the half and full marathon last year, so I know it's a possibility—I think it would have been great for the kids' races. I did think the plastic medals were perfect—he spent the day chewing on it—and his shirt will fit him until next year! Lastly, the price was actually super reasonable—just $20. That made this mama very happy.

It was Henry's first visit to the park, so that alone is super special. I myself had a wonderful Tinker Bell Half Marathon race and will be carrying the adrenaline rush into my next event. But in regards to Henry's race, it was just awesome to see our kid participate in his first endurance event!

The picture situation wasn't great, as stated above. And I really, really wish they would open the expo before the first race on Saturday. If the first race is at 9, open the expo at 7. It's very difficult to get to the expo on Friday night by 6 or 7 in the Los Angeles traffic when driving down that day, and I know a lot of moms on the runDisney Facebook page were freaking about not being able to pick up their kids race packet before the race. If they could open the expo just a little earlier on Saturday, that would solve that anxiety issue. Everything else was wonderful!

Kristin Roberts from Florida, and is 35. She completed her first 5K at the 2009 Disney Princess Half Marathon weekend and finished her 6th 5k at the 2013 Princess Half Marathon weekend. Kristin writes:

It was pretty amazing. I met some fantastic people who have been encouraging me along my journey through running ever since. The only thing my friends forgot to go over with me was how to deal with the sheer size of the participant pool. I had done some reading up on running etiquette but that was thrown out the window. When you're dealing with 5,000 of your closest friends you have to work things out on the fly. You have visitors from around the world participating in these races, people new to racing and people with kids or special needs. You figure out quick how to work around stuff. Overall though I wouldn't trade my Disney races for ANYTHING.

Just crossing the finish line and being able to say "I did it" afterwards. I know to some a 5K isn't a big deal. We're can be the "stepchildren" of race weekend—everything tends to focus on the marathoners (and deservedly so) but for some, just accomplishing a 5K is monumental and is an accomplishment that everyone should be proud of!


Kristin Roberts (right) at her first runDisney 5K in 2009 with a couple of new friends. Photo by Disney cast member.

The expo has become more chaotic each year as more racers are allowed to participate. It's not even worth the time and effort to try to look at the vendors. It's a challenge just getting there, getting your race packets and getting out. The volunteers are wonderful though, and do a fantastic job—it's just the crowds are enormous. You have to be prepared and bring a lot of patience.

Sounds like we have a consensus that the expo definitely needs work!

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

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(Send an email to Lorree Tachell)

Lorree is known to her friends as the RunningFool. Of the 60+ half marathons she's run since 2006, a third have been Disney/runDisney events. She is a Disneyland Half Marathon Legacy Runner (meaning she has run it every year since its inauguration) and a Disney Princess Half Marathon Perfect Princess. Lorree also hopes to continue her legacy / perfect streaks with the Tower of Terror 10 Miler, as well as the Wine & Dine and Tinker Bell Half Marathons. In January 2013, she completed her first full marathon at the 20th Anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon and despite her declaration of ‘one and done’, in January 2014 she completed the Inaugural Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World. "Yes, I do love running the Disney parks; there is something very special about a runDisney event.