[Short version] If you read nothing else in this article, know this: If you can already run a half-marathon today, I believe you can successfully complete the Dopey Challenge next January at Walt Disney World.
[Longer version] This past January, Disney held its inaugural 10-kilometer race during Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, and introduced the Dopey Challenge, a brand new multi-event achievement that involved completing Thursday's 3.1-mile Family Fun Run 5K, Friday's 10K, Saturday's 13.1-mile half marathon, and the 26.2-mile marathon on Sunday. Four events over four days with exceedingly longer miles, "Dopeys" would need to complete 48.6 miles altogether. For those who were familiar with Disney's Goofy Race and a Half Challenge that required the half-marathon and marathon, the Dopey is Goofy on steroids.
For someone who isn't already a marathoner, the Dopey Challenge sounds completely insane. Not only are you punishing your body, but you're doing so over multiple days at Walt Disney World, when you could be spending your time visiting the theme parks. I mean, why would anyone volunteer to do something so... dopey?
Are you curious if you can do it? Is the Dopey Challenge reserved for hardcore athletes, or is it something ordinary people can do?
I'm not a trainer or a professional athlete, but if you're in good enough shape to do a half-marathon now, I think you should be able to complete the Dopey Challenge next January. Does that sound too crazy to you? Registration for next year's WDW Marathon Weekend is coming up next month. That gives you nine months to train, and that should be more than enough time—but signing up to do the Dopey Challenge is no easy decision.
Before you decide
Ask yourself some questions before you decide:
- Why – what is your primary reason for wanting to do the Dopey Challenge?
- Training – do you have the commitment to train?
- Time – do you have the time?
- Support – do you have the support of your family?
- Cost – do you have the money to pay for the challenge?
Why do you want to sign up?
Of all the questions you ask yourself, this is probably the most important: Why do you want to do this?
Unlike shorter distances or single events, the Dopey Challenge begs to have a solid reason. Because if you don't, none of the other elements will fall into place. Without a strong enough reason, you might not have the drive to train, you might not want to make time for those training sessions, you might let your (well-meaning but perhaps enabling) family members guilt trip or tempt you into skipping important training sessions.
Some answers can be:
- I want to do something really epic that I will remember.
- I want to prove to myself that I can do something really hard.
- I want to prove to others in my life who doubt my abilities, that I can do this.
- I've had many challenges in my life; I am ready for another big challenge.
- I want to honor someone special in my life with this achievement.
- I want to use it to raise funds for an important cause I believe in.
- I've already done the Goofy Challenge; I'm ready to step it up a level.
Your own reason may not even be something others consider special—maybe you've always wanted an excuse to dress up as Dopey—but whatever your reason, it needs to be a strong one. Because on those days when the weather's bad and your previous day's eight-mile run went poorly, the reason that drives you to be a Dopey Challenger must help motivate you to put those running shoes on and head out the door for your 16-mile training run.
For me, the Dopey Challenge served as a capstone to my weight-loss journey (so I don't bore you, details of my journey are at the end of this article).
Do you have the commitment to train?
As you decide whether you want to do the Dopey Challenge, the word "commitment" will need to become your mantra, and it's one reason why your motivation is so important.
If you've already used a training plan to complete a half-marathon or full marathon, you know how to adjust your schedule for your workouts. The main difference when training for the Dopey Challenge is the incorporation of back-to-back-to-back training days. Regardless of which training plan you use (I personally used Hal Higdon's Dopey Challenge training plan, but many runDisney participants like Jeff Galloway's run/walk method [PDF], and those who signed up for the Runner's World Challenge got access to yet another training plan), they all share the concept of the back-to-backs. Although the miles start out low, your training starts by getting used to running two or three days in a row (and near the end, four days) so your body gets accustomed to running across consecutive days in a pattern that mimics the WDW races.
Maybe you're a veteran marathoner and a 20-mile training run isn't too horrible a thought. But do you run 10 miles a day before your 20-miler? Or 5 miles the day before your 10-miler?
MousePlanet staff and fellow runner Stephanie Wien and Lani Teshima finish the inaugural 2014 WDW 10K race. An accomplished runner, Stephanie successfully completed the Goofy Challenge in 2013. Photo by MarathonFotos.
All of the coaches will tell you that there is room for flexibility in your Dopey training plan—with the exception of those long back-to-back weekends. Once you start your training (anywhere from four to six months before the event), other things you do on your weekends will have to be placed lower on your priority. For many people with very busy schedules and family commitments, it's not the miles you run during the race that's the tough part; it's being able to commit to this training.
Do you have the time?
Hand in hand with commitment to train is making time to train. While a marathon training plan allows for a lot of flexibility (for example, you might switch up your plan so your week's long run happens on a Wednesday rather than on the weekend), as you move into November and the heart of your Dopey training, many of your weekends will be shot and you won't be able to plan to do much else.
If you are firmly committed to your training, you make time, even if it means adjusting your whole life around your runs. Although that won't be the case for your entire training period, there will be some weekends where you will simply not have enough time to do everything you need to do.
What if your training plan calls for a Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday sequence that falls over Thanksgiving weekend? You can make some adjustments, such as making sure your 18-mile Sunday run happens the weekend before Thanksgiving, so you can do a lighter "recovery" weekend that only involves a 12-mile Sunday run.
In my case, I went on a two-week vacation to Western Europe in November. It was a wonderful trip, but it also involved a lot of adjustments to my training schedule (and I am eternally grateful to my travelmates for being so understanding and accommodating). And although I knew I could maintain my fitness level by just running a couple of times during the trip, I chose to try to stick as closely to the actual training plan as I could. That meant I had an 18-mile run smack in the middle of the trip—and having to pass up a good part of the day when my travel companions visited Disneyland Paris (while I ran around the resort).
In addition to the time you need for training, you also need extra vacation time for your trip to Walt Disney World. My husband and I were joking that we spent more time at Walt Disney World during our January trip for my Dopey Challenge than we had in many years. If you're used to catching a red-eye on Friday night for a Sunday race, you will need to make sure you save up enough vacation time for at least a full week at WDW (between getting there in advance of the 5K to get your racing bibs, and so you can avoid flying immediately after you finish your last race).
Can you get the support of your family?
Unless you are a single person living alone, training for the Dopey Challenge will have a major impact on your family members. Before you register for the Dopey Challenge, it is imperative that you sit down with your family and ensure that you have their support.
It's easy for your family members to automatically nod their support. "Oh honey, that's so exciting! I'm so proud of you!" But make sure to explain to them what this entails—specifically, the long runs that will have you away from home for hours every weekend. That you will go many weekends where you don't have any completely idle days. This might mean your family will have to agree to pitch in on things like household chores, grocery shopping, or cooking. Explain that there may be times when this cuts into "mommy time" (or "daddy time"), or there may be fewer Friday night date nights when you have to wake up early to hit the pavement.
Take the time to explain to them that there will be times when you want to do something fun, but you can't because your training takes precedence. They need to understand that they shouldn't try to undermine your training by telling you that it's OK to skip a day. While it is OK to make minor adjustments, some things are not flexible, like your main weekend long runs.
Do you have the money to pay for the challenge?
Five hundred and thirty dollars. That's how much it costs you to register for the 2015 Dopey Challenge. It's a lot of dough. It's actually $25 more to sign up for the Dopey Challenge than if you just registered for the four races individually (but if you do, you get neither the medals nor participant shirts for the Goofy and Dopey challenges). Are you willing to spend over $500 for four days worth of races at Walt Disney World? Keep in mind that price does not include your hotel accommodations, airfare, or park admission. And the only food that's included is the water and Powerade you get on the course, and the little prepacked snack box you get after you get your medal.
If you're used to smaller local races that still give you a finisher's medal and tech shirt for a more affordable price (maybe $50), $530 is really exorbitant. Add anything extra, like a race retreat package, or spectator packages for your family (as well as a longer hotel stay) and the Dopey Challenge becomes a big deal—especially when you consider that you likely won't be spending as many hours in the parks on those four days as you normally might.
Would you rather take a non-racing trip to Walt Disney World, and save your racing for smaller races? If you're on a tight budget, it's an option worth considering.
If you feel an intense desire to do the Dopey Challenge, you need to plan your budget well. Maybe it means passing up a couple of the other runDisney races, or just passing all the other runDisney races for the rest of the year.
Am I glad I did it?
Hell, yeah! What do you think?
I learned that when I have a strong enough goal, I can meet it head on. Now I know anything is possible if I set my mind to it. I set a firm goal, committed to it, gathered and used various tools (training plan to gear). I woke, ate, and slept Dopey for many months. No matter what I did, a part of me was always focused on Dopey. This was a big deal to me—the weekend of the races itself was just a culmination of all the effort it took to get there.
Would I do it again?
To be completely honest, I think I can pass. It cost a lot of money, and it took a lot of work to train. I'm happy with my results, and I have nothing more to prove. I've done it once, I don't need to do it again. Completing the Dopey Challenge gave me the ability to see beyond it, so now I set higher goals. Maybe not this year, but one day, I would like to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That's a lofty goal, but one I can try to work for—and I can thank the Dopey Challenge for opening my eyes to bigger possibilities.
Too expensive money-wise—not just the challenge, but the number of days in the resort
One issue I have is that it's too expensive. There are other runDisney events if I want a Disney race experience (and we've already registered for this year's Wine & Dine Half Marathon).
We spent eight days at WDW; longer than we've stayed in over a decade. Long enough that my husband upgraded his Disneyland Annual Passport to a Premier AP that covered both resorts. The problem with that is that the runners themselves cannot enjoy the parks in the same way as normal; walking and visiting the parks is fine but you need to limit the time and scope so as not to become exhausted. That means just doing a handful of rides and calling it a day at midday. I don't need to do that again.
Getting up four days in a row at 2:30-3:00 in the morning
More than anything, having to wake up that early four days in a row is what makes me not want to do this again. It's particularly hard for West Coasters, since you're essentially waking up at midnight.
Even your family members who are supporting you will need to get up early to catch the spectator bus, which starts at 7:00 am. For four days.
Would I encourage you to do it?
Yes! If you're ready for the next step, if you're ready to really challenge yourself, when you find a strong reason that pulls you to it, do it. Sign up! Everyone who loves a runDisney race and who wants to do something epic should go Dopey.
Is It Better to Be Dopey Than Goofy?
I realize next year's Goofy is the 10th anniversary, and a lot of people will want to sign up for that. But keep in mind that you get a Goofy medal and shirt when you sign up for Dopey.
If you can afford the extra time to stay at WDW and pay extra for the higher registration price, if you're certain you can go solidly faster than the minimum 16-minute-mile pace (and by that, I mean being able to train for 14- or even 13-minute miles—primarily because being swept in any of the pace-required events may disqualify you from earning your Dopey achievement), if you're going to bother training for Goofy, you should sign up for Dopey.
Essentially, if you are going to train for Goofy, it's not that much more to train for Dopey.
As long as you train with the back-to-back-to-backs... get your body used to running on tired legs. Learning how much to rest, what to eat, and so on, is very similar to Goofy. If you can train for Goofy, you can train for Dopey. Your only true limiting factors will be cost (registration is more expensive than Goofy, you have to stay more days at WDW so hotel costs are higher) and time (extra vacation days).
... and all those people you saw walking around with their Dopey medals looking calm as a cucumber? You know they were all beamng with pride. There was the "Dopey nod" (and I must admit to having done it myself)—people with Dopey shirts and medals all acknowledged each other in the parks with either a smile or a slight nod of the head. Talk about an exclusive club.
You will forever be "that guy" (or "that gal") that completed the Dopey Challenge. People will ask you questions, and ask you for advice. People will look at you like you're crazy. You can do a show-and-tell and show off all your medals, and people will be ooh and aah at your very special collection of bling.
But most of all, you will know you conquered the toughest challenge runDisney threw at you—you will forever be a winner... a Dopey one at that!
MousePlanet readers Daryk and Kim Price ("VegasPixie" on the MousePad discussion boards), with Lani Teshima, relax after completing the Dopey Challenge. After completing the Dopey Challenge, Kim also felt the desire to push towards a new goal, and successfully completed an ultramarathon just weeks after Dopey. Photo by MarathonFoto.
My weight had always fluctuated widely over the years. I'd tried so many diets; some worked, some didn't—but they were always, always temporary. I was even successful in losing good amounts of weight at times—usually by augmenting my dieting with jogging, even completing full marathons on roughly 10-year cycles (that corresponded with my yo-yo weight).
Eventually, I would fall off the wagon and gain all my weight back, plus more. By 2012, I was a wobbly Weeble who topped the scale at 200 pounds on a short 5-foot-2-inch frame, suffering numerous obesity-related issues like high blood pressure, sleep apnea, perpetually sore feet, and constant knee pain. The specter of diabetes was peeking around the corner. My feet hurt all the time from the weight, and any physical exertion (like a short jog) found me icing my knees and rubbing my shoulders from bras that didn't provide enough support.
Worried that my medical issues would only worsen, I made a very personal decision to get weight loss surgery to try to get my overeating under control. After a lengthy process that involved consultations with physicians, nutritionist and psychologist, in June 2012, I got a procedure called a Vertical Sleeve Gastrectomy. This form of laparoscopic (minimally invasive) surgery made my stomach smaller so that I could no longer gorge myself all day long. This was an irreversible, permanent procedure (unlike the LapBand, which many people have had problems with), or the more drastic gastric bypass (which typically yields bigger results but is also known for many undesirable side effects).
In order for the weight to come off, however, I was given strict nutritional guidelines as well as orders to start exercising regularly.
About a month after surgery when I was given the OK to exercise, I hit the gym in earnest. When I told the doctor that I had already signed up for the Disneyland Half Marathon months in advance and that the race was only three months after my surgery, his half-jokingly told me to wear a helmet in case I pass out (since I was on a very low-calorie program).
I didn't pass out. By the time the Disneyland Half happened, I was already off my blood pressure medication, and had lost over 30 pounds. I felt great. In fact, I finished the race in slightly under three hours, shaving 45 minutes off my time from the WDW Half just eight months earlier.
As I neared the finish line and saw how fast I was, I started to cry. I felt so overwhelmed with a mix of emotions, joyous at my faster time, but sad that I had let myself get so out of shape and overweight over the years. I vowed that I would continue to run and to work on my weight loss.
By the time I hit my one-year post-surgery anniversary date, I had lost 85 pounds and achieved my goal weight. I also discovered that running kept getting easier, and most surpringly, I kept getting faster. I augmented the runDisney races with other non-Disney half-marathons, and eventually set a personal record. My fastest time of 1:51 was essentially two hours faster than my times from before!
One bad habit I'd developed over the decades was once I'd "reached my goal" of completing a full marathon, I felt like I was "done." I gave myself this excuse to stop working out, and it was one of the ways I slowly became sedentary again. After a while, I joked that I only ran marathons once every 11 years, because that was my big weight yo-yo cycle. Having recognized that that was no longer an option for me; if I wanted to keep losing weight and getting in shape, I needed to keep pushing myself. And thus was created my goal for the following year: To complete every single runDisney half-marathon. There were five of them altogether, and it would force me to continue exercising.
After successfully running the WDW Half, Tinker Bell Half, and the Princess Half, Disney announced the inaugural Dopey Challenge for the following year. It sounded absolutely crazy, but the more I thought about it, the more I saw it as an ultimate achievement. How better to follow my "year of half-marathons" with a multi-day challenge?
I was more confident than ever that I could complete the Dopey Challenge. But to be very honest, it had been over 10 years since I ran a full marathon, and I was still pretty nervous about the prospect. But as my capstone to my weight loss journey, I decided it was significant enough; I was fully committed to the training.
Thanks to my sticking to the training plan, I successfully finished the Dopey Challenge, and walked away without even feeling sore afterwards.
Some people might say that weight loss surgery is "cheating," and I commend people who can lose weight through diet and exercise alone. The thing is, something like 95 percent of people who lose weight that way eventually gain it all back. I know; I was on that cycle for decades. In a way, permanent weight loss is harder than quitting smoking—because you can't just quit eating. Imagine an alcoholic being told that they can't get drunk, but they have to keep drinking half a drink every day, and think how hard that would be.
I describe my surgery as the third leg of a stool, with diet/nutrition being one leg and exercise being the second. No matter the length of each leg, a three-legged stool is always balanced, and it never wobbles. Having found this firm foundation, I was able to push myself.
Weight loss surgery is no magic pill. The weight doesn't just go away on its own. If I stopped exercising today and started drinking milkshakes all day long, I know I could easily gain all my weight back. Instead, I have completely changed my lifestyle, and fitness is now my priority. After all, how else would I ever qualify for the Boston Marathon?