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Lani Teshima, editor

Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Toby?

A practical guide for the slower-than-hare-paced marathoner

Friday, September 9, 2005
by Lani Teshima, staff editor
If you were on the fence about registering for the Walt Disney World Marathon or Half-Marathon, you took too long—registration for both events has received capacity. Hopefully you won't hesitate so long for 2007.

The Walt Disney World Marathon and Half-Marathon have always been known as friendly events. Up until this past January, it was also generally considered a beginner-friendly event. This changed when 200+ slow participants were unexpectedly halted from continuing on the event course into the Magic Kingdom for being too slow (see my article about it here).

Initially, response seemed pretty polar about the incident. Some were angered at what they thought was an inconsistent application of the rules, while others were unsympathetic to the walkers. Regardless, most people agreed that the shutout could happen again, and those who were determined to give it another go realized they had to make sure they picked up their pace.

In today's article, let's see how Disney remedied the problem, then look at pacing and how we can improve on our speed

Disney responds, in its own way

The stragglers who were shut out in January never got the public apology they were hoping for. And although a number of participants (as well as fundraising charities) made their dissatisfaction known, Disney has never publicly acknowledged or apologized about the incident. Instead, Disney, in its own way, has changed a couple of things with the 2006 event that make it somewhat clear that they are aware that they ran out of pixie dust last January, and are doing what they can to minimize the trauma that happened in front of the Magic Kingdom.

1. Split dates

Part of the reason so many people ended up lagging behind was because the event had gotten so big over the past years that the bottleneck at the beginning miles caused some serious stagnation—enough to delay a back-of-the-pack participant by as much as 20 minutes.

Beginning in 2006, Disney has split off the marathon and the half-marathon into two separate days altogether. In the past, both events started simultaneously on parallel roads and merged after Mile 3; now, the only people on the course will be running the same event as you. Not only does this mean fewer people on the course altogether (at least for the first half of the course for marathoners), but all the participants will be keeping a pace based on the same course distance. That is, someone who is only running 13.1 miles tends to go at a much faster pace than a marathoner, who must hold back and conserve energy for a distance twice as long.

The primary disadvantage with the split date format is for groups or families who have traditionally run a mix of the two events on the same day. Now, if Dad is running the half-marathon and Mom and the teenage son are doing the full marathon, the family now has to basically write off both Saturday and Sunday as race days. Before, Saturday—although you didn't do much—still gave you time to enjoy the parks. The other disadvantage is that those participating in the half-marathon may now have to take an extra vacation day from work in order to arrive on Friday (instead of Saturday) to pick up their race packet.

One inadvertent disadvantage: Large running clubs that have historically enjoyed their own pasta dinners or get-togethers on Saturday now have to decide whether to pull their meets forward to Friday, or instead have a post-race/pre-race event on Saturday afternoon.

2. Changed half course

The most profound change comes in the form of an alteration in the half-marathon course itself, with the entrance to the Magic Kingdom occurring at Mile 5 instead of Mile 10. While the slowest of the pack may still get picked up along the course, chances are quite slim that walkers will miss out on enjoying the iconic jog down Main Street among a throng of well-wishing friends and family members.

Keep in mind, however, the only course that has changed for 2006 is that of the half-marathon; the full marathon course is still identical to years past, meaning that marathon walkers must still keep pace in order to avoid getting picked up before (or after) the Magic Kingdom.

3. Explicit and detailed pacing instructions

Disney has required a minimum pace of 16 minutes per mile for both the marathon and half-marathon. And in the past, they have provided pacing information, although it was somewhat buried in the fine print. Disney provides instructions for the 2006 event as well, but it has now considerably expanded on the information. In the past, the following is about what you got:

“All Athletes entering the Marathon and Half Marathon must be able to maintain a 16-minute per mile pace throughout the race, finishing the Half Marathon in 3.5 hours and the Marathon in 7 hours. Anyone not able to maintain a 16-minute per mile pace will be picked up and transported to the finish…”

In addition, there was information about how the pacing timer was started not based on the starting gun, but on when the “last person” crossed the starting line. And because Disney did not explicitly provide information on where or how often it would monitor its courses, discussions were primarily word-of-mouth passed on from previous slower participants.

For the 2006 event, though, Disney has gone over its pacing requirement instructions with a fine-tooth comb. The result is this considerably long addition, which has never officially appeared before this year:

“All Athletes entering the Marathon and Half Marathon must be able to maintain a 16-minute per mile pace throughout the race, finishing the Half Marathon in 3.5 hours and the Marathon in 7 hours. Anyone not able to maintain a 16-minute per mile pace will be picked up and transported to the finish. For example, if you do not reach the 10 Mile mark by 2 hours, 50 minutes, you will be escorted to the finish line. The time it takes the last entrant (who was at the start line at 6:00 a.m.) to cross the start line will be added to the overall 7-hour limit ensuring all participants a 16-minute per mile pace. In order to successfully complete Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge and to be eligible to receive a Goofy medal, you must complete both the Marathon and the Half Marathon on pace.

“Marathon Pace Points: The following are points on the Marathon course that you must reach by a certain time. If you do not reach the following points by the indicated time, you will be picked up and transported to the finish line. The time allowed to reach each point includes a 16-minute per mile pace plus 10 minutes to allow for all participants to cross the start line.”

Half-Marathon Requirements
Mile Mark Location Description Time Allowed
3.5 WDW Speedway 1:11:00
6.3 Magic Kingdom Security Gate 1:56:00
8.1 MK Parking Lot (Daisy) 2:25:00
10.2 World Drive Ramp to Epcot Ctr. Dr. 2:58:00
Full-Marathon Requirements
Mile Mark Location Description Time Allowed
2.7 Epcot Main Entrance 0:53:00
3.3 Backstage Epcot at Test Track 1:03:00
5.5 Epcot Ctr. Dr. Bridge 1:38:00
8.3 WDW Speedway 2:23:00
10 Contemporary Resort 2:50:00
13 Floridian Way 3:38:00
18 Animal Kingdom 4:58:00
20.5 Osceola Parkway 5:38:00

These explicit time allowances are new, and assume that the slowest person can get to the starting line in 10 minutes. Hopefully this is possible with the splitting of the two events.

On a side note, the Magic Kingdom Security Gate is listed as being at Mile 6.3 in their pacing requirements for the half-marathon, but a very close inspection of the revised course map for 2006 shows that Mile 6 is located approximately inside the Magic Kingdom, near Frontierland... so unless Disney has moved its security gate to the Big Thunder queue area, I'm not sure what's going on. Take a look at the official map PDF yourself (here) and tell me what you think. Maybe there's something going on that I don't know.

How to Improve Pacing

If you plan on jogging the entire distance with very few walk breaks, more than likely you probably don't have to worry about being swept. On the first year that I ran the WDW Marathon, I jogged at a snail's pace and still finished with half an hour to spare. Pacing requirements become more of a concern if you are a walker—especially if you are not a competitive speed or race walker. If you are a recreational walker who enjoys a strolling pace (where perhaps you walk with your friends and can carry on a conversation during your walks), you need to know that there is a real possibility that you will not meet the pacing requirements.

As you start training for the marathon, make sure you not only train for distance, but for speed as well. Try this test: Go to your local high school track, and see how fast you can walk a lap. If you can “woggle” (a walk/jog/jiggle), all the better. Bring a watch with you that has a second hand on it (or these days, a cheap digital watch).

Can you complete a lap in four minutes or less?

See how you feel after doing this; that pace converts to a 16-minute mile, and that is the slowest pace you must maintain for the entire length of the Disney marathon, not counting any stops [one lap around the track is a quarter-mile]. Now, consider that you may wish to slow down at the water stops, use the restroom, or take a quick meet-and-greet snapshot with a character, and those could easily eat up your precious minutes.

If this pace is very difficult for you and you want to avoid getting swept, you need to seriously look at improving your pace in the next four months (and the time to start is now, not next month!). You might want to learn some of the techniques racewalkers use to pick up the pace (and don't worry that racewalkers look goofy; it is amazing how fast a racewalker can walk!). Sites such as RaceWalk.com (link) and the Walking page at About.com (link) provide step-by-step instructions (pardon the pun) on how to improve your walking pace. The main thing to remember is that by incorporating such simple movements as bending your elbows at 90 degrees and learning to take smaller, faster strides, you can be on your way to a faster pace. You can also Google for terms like “marathon walking” to find sites that are helpful for walkers.

It's not easy for runners to improve on their speed—there are very specific sprinting exercises (such as intervals and fartleks) that runners must do in order to condition their bodies to run faster. Walkers, on the other hand, can do a lot to improve form and incorporate racewalking (or speedwalking) movements to drastically increase their pace. You don't have to become a hare—but with consistent training and persistent effort at maintaining and improving your pace, reaching a pacing goal of 15 minutes per mile will afford you a luxury of not dreading being swept at Disney in January. If Mickey represents the full marathon, Donald the half, and Goofy for both events, then be your own Toby Tortoise and don't give up!

Next time

Our October installment will see registrants starting to really gear up in their training, and starting to look at some trip planning. We'll look at the best resorts to stay at for the marathon, what to take into consideration about visiting the parks as part of your marathon trip.

Are you visiting WDW in early October for the International Food & Wine Festival? If so, sign up for Disney's Race for the Taste 10K and get a taste of what it's like to participate in a running event at the resort! The course starts at Disney's World World of Sports, and travels through Disney Studios and Boardwalk before winding up in Epcot. Registration is a reasonable $35 and space is still available. You might even see our own Mike Scopa there—Mike is training for the Disney Half, and seems very excited at getting this “dress rehearsal” next month. For more information, visit Disney's Race for the Taste Web page (link).

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lani here.


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