Lace Up for the Course
Check out the course, and check out the shoes
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
by Lani Teshima, staff editor
One of the things that sets the Walt Disney World Marathon
apart is its unique course that winds through all four theme parks. Today,
we take a brief look at the course (and hopefully get you interested in
signing up), but we also look at your fundraising opportunities for the
event, as well as some wardrobe basics for those just starting out.
Run through the World
The Boston Marathon (which just happened yesterday) is known as the
elite event. The New York City and Chicago marathons are known as huge
peoplefriendly events where the entire city turns out to cheer on
the participants. The Walt Disney World Marathon is also famous, not for
its fast course or huge spectator crowds, but because it is the only marathon
that journeys through four theme parks.
If you have visited WDW, you know that this place is huge
is an understatement. It's difficult to comprehend that all the roads,
fields, and marshes around the theme parks and resort hotels also belong
to Disney. But this means that race officials have considerable authority
when it comes to closing streets and rerouting traffic during the event.
This is important, because while the full marathon goes through Epcot,
the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and DisneyMGM Studios, those
portions make up less than half of the distance of your marathon (and
many of these areas create some serious bottlenecks; I'll note them here);
the rest is on Disney roads.
[If you wish to learn more about the Walt Disney World HalfMarathon
course, read Follow the Course,
the previous installment of my WDW Marathon Guide article that takes a
detailed look at the new, revised 2006 halfmarathon course.]
Both the start and finish of the marathon occur in the Epcot area. You
do not start inside the park, although you quickly enter Epcot and run
past Spaceship Earth. At this point, the sun is yet to rise, and you get
to experience Epcot in the dark, with only a few cast members applauding
you along the way. Disney makes sure to pipe in ambient music, though,
so it truly turns into a surreal experience. You quickly hang a left to
run around a portion of World Showcase, then get to turn left after the
Mexico pavilion and leave through a cast member gate to get back to Epcot
Center Drive. For the Disney theme park aficionado, a look at the normally
taboo backstage area is a real treat, and the CM gate at World Showcase
is just one of many on this course.
Bottlenecks include the passage along Spaceship Earth, where you turn
onto World Showcase, and immediately as you are turning left into the
The Magic Kingdom
After several miles of regular road, you approach the Magic Kingdom from
the Contemporary Resort side of the park. But instead of making a grand
entrance through the front of the park, you get another opportunity to
enjoy a backstage area: you enter through a security gate near Space Mountain.
Tread a short distance through this backstage area, then go through a
narrow CM gate, and voila! You are magically on Main Street, near
Tony's Town Square. Since Disney usually leaves the Christmas tree up
until after Marathon weekend, you not only run onto Main Street, but you
find yourself amid a huge cheering crowd of spectators standing in front
of the Christmas tree... With a few Disney characters urging you on and
giving you highfives along this portion of the route, Main Street
is often the highlight for many participants. One word of caution: If
your friends and family members choose to greet you here, warn them that
they need to have something noticeable, like a bright fluorescent sign
or a flag, and they will still be competing with folks carrying signs
and flags. Do let them know what you expect your pace to be, so they can
keep a sharp eye around the time you pass by.
In years past, Disney usually provided multiple character meetandgreet
locations for marathoners in the Magic Kingdom, so you have plenty of
photo ops here. And although the park is not open, since it's closer to
park opening, you are likely to see far more cast members cheering you
Bottlenecks include the gate onto Main Street, coming out through the
mouth of Cinderella's Castle (you bank to the right immediately afterwards).
In addition, there are always professional photographers positioned at
the end of the walkway of the castle, so eyeball the crowds around you.
If you want a photo of yourself with the castle in the background, make
sure you are not immediately behind someone (and make sure to give a smile
and a wave, and show off your running number bib).
The path through Animal Kingdom turns this marathon into a bit of a crosscountry
trail run. Much of the concrete surface in this park is purposely roughened
(with animal tracks, tire tracks, and pebbles) to make it appear like
you paid lots of money to go on a Kenyan safari. So although everything
is paved, it's not smooth. Pay particular attention to your footing, but
keep an eye on the route as well. There are lots of twists and turns through
Disney has brought live animals out for special visits on the back roads
leading up to the Animal Kingdom. With rhythmic African music playing
specifically for the marathoners, this area provides a distinct flavor
to the course. Safari Mickey is almost always stationed near the entrance
of Animal Kingdom (which is where you depart the park on the course) as
well, ready to take meetandgreet photos.
Bottlenecks are located in various areas in the park. In general, be
careful not to hurt yourself here. You are more than halfway to the finish
By the time you arrive at DisneyMGM Studios at mile 22.5, you have
gone through some of the most desolate and lonely areas of the course
(including the brutal and hot outandback to the entrance of
Wide World of Sports), so it's really downhill from here.
Disney has revised its course over the past few years a bit to allow
more time in the Studios, which is a good thing; when I ran it in January
2004, I don't remember much of it other than that I went through it (and
also that they'd advertised hard candy at a candy station
right before entering the park, but all they had when I went passed were
Smarties, whichif you're like melook like the leftover little
pebbles of sidewalk chalk that they are). For next year, you come in through
a back CM gate and cover pretty much the perimeter of the park, exiting
through the main entrance with the big Sorcerer's Hat behind you.
Bottlenecks: By this point in the route, even narrow passageways should
not be too much of a problem since bunching up is minimized with everyone
stretched out over the course.
Marathoners used to run over the wooden planks on Boardwalk, but Disney
changed this portion so you now run the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts instead.
Disney gets huge kudos for this move, because running on drastically different
surfaces like that at mile 24 was just a miserable experience for me.
Choosing the right shoes
Hey, have you looked outside lately? It's springtime! Get up off your
couch and let's head outdoors! Jogging (and walking) require some of the
fewest pieces of equipment, so your initial investment is pretty low.
If you are just starting up now, let's take a quick look at what to wear
on your feet.
Ignore everything you read about walking shoes. If you're going to walk
enough to train for a marathon (or halfmarathon), you will put in
enough miles that you want the cushioningand breathabilityof
a real running shoe (many walkingshoe models are made of allleather
and do not provide enough ventilation). Do not even remotely consider
using a cheap pair of running shoes from an off brand or a
generic from a discount store. These may be fine for window shopping in,
but you risk developing major problems with your feet, ankles, knees,
hips, back with bad shoes. This is one area where you cannot cut corners.
That said, good running shoes can range from $60 to $150, with most of
the good ones falling well within the range. In addition, running shoes
are like cars; manufacturers introduce new models every year, so you often
find last year's model at a great discount. As long as these shoes aren't
used, they are perfectly fine. Avoid returns or used shoes, even if they
look clean. A competitive ultramarathoner can easily go through a pair
in two months, and the shoes might look barely used on the outside (but
have flattened midsoles where you should be getting lots of support).
Types of shoes
There are several different types of running shoes, including:
- Cushioned shoes are geared primarily towards folks who
want good midsole cushioning and arch support.
- Motion control shoes are worn primarily by folks whose
heels don't wear evenly on their shoes. Take a look at your wellworn
shoes. Are the insides of the heels worn down more than the outside?
If so, you are a pronator, and you want to consider getting
this type of shoe.
- Stability shoes are geared to those who don't pronate
quite so much, and who are looking for some stability and cushioning
in their shoes.
- Racing shoes OK, so most of us never need racing shoes.
These are strippeddown models that are made of really lightweight
materials for those gazelletypes for which an extra four ounces
can make a difference in their finish times. Believe me, if you are
reading this and are wondering if they will help you, they won't. Most
people just wear their regular running shoes for their timed events.
- Trail shoes look like a runningshoe version of
hiking shoes, with extra traction and sometimes water resistance. Trails
shoes are good if you do most of your running on trails or on unpaved
surfaces. For some, the added benefit is that trail shoes often come
in subtle earthy tones; if you want to avoid fluorescent or brightcolored
shoes and do some trail running, trail shoes are a good bet.
Be a Cinderellatry them on
Most cities have running shoe stores; stores that are owned by runners,
that specialize in running gear, and are staffed by runners. For your
first pair of running shoes, plan to spend an afternoon visiting one or
more of these to find the right pair of shoes for you.
Visiting a running shoe store, plan to spend some quality time working
with a salesclerk. Most people suggest you do this in the afternoon when
your feet are swollen. Consider bringing a pair of socks with you (preferably
the pair you plan on jogging in). Not only will you be able to size your
shoes with the right thickness sock, but you will avoid having to wear
the store's tryon pair (and who knows when it was washed?).
If you had an old pair of sneakers or athletic shoes, consider bringing
them with you. A knowledgeable salesclerk can tell a lot about the biometrics
of your feet by looking at your worn pair of shoes. Explain to them what
you plan to do (mostly walk? Walk/jog? Jog? Training for a marathon?),
and allow them to let you try out many different shoes, not just different
brands but even within one brand, since individual models each
fit differently. A knowledgeable salesperson can make sure you fit in
the shoes well. A good running shoe store will let you try the shoes on
and let you walk or jog in them around the store (or the block); this
is your test drive and it is very important, since you are likely to put
400 to 500 miles into them. Many such stores also have liberal return policies, so hold onto your receipts, even if you've taken the shoes out for a bit of exercise.
Periodically go back and visit the running shoe store, especially if
all the running/walking has made you considerably fitter, lighter, and
a more hardcore athlete. Your shoe needs change as your level of activity
Note: At least for your first pair of running shoes, I would discourage
you from shopping at the large sporting goods stores; most salesclerks
are not knowledgeable specifically about running (and don't be duped by
their ability to spout out marketing gobbleygook). And whatever
you do, do not buy shoes from the large megamarts or box stores;
they either don't carry real running shoes, or they carry brands such
as Reebok or Nike, which while they make good running shoes, also make
really cheap shoes that are meant more for casual walking (and you can
bet which type the large box stores carry).
Purchasing shoes online
There are a number of reputable Web sites where you can purchase running
shoes. That said, never purchase a brand new model of shoes you
have yet to try in person. My suggestion is for you to first visit a running
shoe store, get properly outfitted for your particularly needs. Feel
free to ask the salesclerk whether you are a pronator or a
supinator (someone who wears out the shoes on the outside
of the heel), and and get help the exact model for you. Then (and only then)
should you go online and purchase the same exact modeland then only if you can save money even after shipping costs (or they sell a different color of the same shoe, and you want some variety).
Warning: Please do not go to a running shoe store, take up an
hour of the salesclerk's time to find your right shoe, then leave without
purchasing it so you can save money by purchasing it online. That is a
terrible way to treat your most ardent local supporter. Buy at least one
pair of shoes (and accessories, if you need), and purchase shoes online
only as replacement, or alternate pairs.
Purchasing shoes online only after finding a model, buying one
and knowing the correct size for a manufacturer's specific year's model
shoe. Although I've purchased running shoes from both Shoes.com and Zappos.com,
the de facto online running shoe Web site is Road Runner Sports (link).
They have been in the mail order running shoe business for decades, and
really know their stuff.
Big name brands
Air Jordans may hold a lot of glam for some folks, but I don't think
they are good to run in (and at $200+, I can buy three pairs of perfectly
fine running shoes). While you may already be familiar with Adidas, Reebok
and Nike, the following are very good and reputable running shoe manufacturers:
- New Balance
Each brand shoe has distinctive logo markings. If you end up buying one of these brands, you will find yourself looking at other people's running shoes to see if they're wearing your brand. Trust me on this one.
Two pairs are better than one
When you go shoe shopping, consider buy two pairs instead of just one.
You can either find two different model pairs, or two pairs of identical
shoes. Either way, by alternating their use (pair #1 on Monday, pair #2
on Tuesday, pair #1 on Wednesday), you give them more than a full day
to recover from the pavement pounding. This allows you to
extend the life of your shoes to longer than if you wore out one pair,
then bought the second pair.
How long/how far?
In general, running shoes are good for up to around 500 miles. If you
are running or walking 25 miles a week, this means you probably want to
replace your shoes no later than after 20 weeks, or five months. If you
alternate between two pairs, however, you may very well be able to use
those two pairs for a full year, getting a little bit of extra mileage.
If you are a heavier runner/walker, you might consider replacing your
shoes more frequently (as quickly as 300 miles for some).
There are a couple of easy ways to track the mileage on your shoes. You
can keep a runner's log (which also logs how many miles you run, how long
it took, and so on) that keeps tabs on the miles for each pair.
Or if you're like me, you can take an extra sharp permanent marker and
make tick marks on the inside of your running shoes. For every mile that
I run in the shoes, I make a single tick mark (and for the fifth mile,
a diagonal tick so I have clusters of five tick marks). I write this along
the inside ankle area of the shoes, starting with one shoe and moving
to the other shoe when one side is filled. This way I can ensure that
I am tracking the mileage correctly (which may be particularly handy if
you are rotating through two identical pairs of shoes).
Now that we've got you outfitted with real running shoes, let's take
a look at what else to wear. Let's also start taking a look at what you're
eating, including how to eat healthy while visiting the parks.
Haven't registered yet? Get movingthere's still
Visit Disney World Marathon and register now (link)
while you can.
[On a more personal note, although I am already registered for the 2006
WDW HalfMarathon, I just registered for the Marine Corps Marathon,
scheduled for October 30, 2005. Everyone I've spoken to tells me it's
a wonderful course that winds through the most famous landmarks in Washington,
DC. Somehow I felt compelled to join 29,999 others in its 30th annual
event, but don't ask me why. I'm not particularly looking forward to having
to slog through all those long weekend run again, but at least I will
have much more sympathy for the WDW Marathon entrants next year. I promise
to show up on Sunday morning to cheer you on.]
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lani here.