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Walt Disney World Marathon Guide
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Lani Teshima, editor

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 people–friendly 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 Disney–MGM 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 Half–Marathon course, read “Follow the Course,” the previous installment of my WDW Marathon Guide article that takes a detailed look at the new, revised 2006 half–marathon 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 backstage gate.

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 high–fives 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 meet–and–greet 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 on.

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).

Animal Kingdom

The path through Animal Kingdom turns this marathon into a bit of a cross–country 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 this park.

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 meet–and–greet 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 line.

Disney–MGM Studios

By the time you arrive at Disney–MGM 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 out–and–back 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, which—if you're like me—look 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 half–marathon), you will put in enough miles that you want the cushioning—and breathability—of a real running shoe (many walking–shoe models are made of all–leather 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 well–worn 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 stripped–down models that are made of really lightweight materials for those gazelle–types 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 running–shoe 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 bright–colored shoes and do some trail running, trail shoes are a good bet.

Be a Cinderella—try 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 try–on 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 changes.

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 gobbley–gook). And whatever you do, do not buy shoes from the large mega–marts 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 model—and 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:

  • Asics
  • Brooks
  • New Balance
  • Mizuno
  • Saucony

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).

Next time

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 moving—there's still room!
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 Half–Marathon, 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.


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