Sneak in a runDisney Race in your Disney Family Vacation

by Lani Teshima, staff writer

So you have a general idea of how much it costs to train for and register for a runDisney event and how to keep your budget down to a minimum. But what if you want to participate in a runDisney event, and you decide to roll the race into a family Disney vacation? Is it possible to plan for a "regular" Disney theme park vacation that happens to include a runDisney race, but which does not dominate everybody's plans and schedules?

The answer is hearty yes—with a little bit of compromise and planning.

Deciding on the Event

This is probably the most important thing to decide on, because it affects everything else about your family trip. There are two components to this:

Fitness Level

How fit are you now, and how much impact will the race have on your body? Are you relatively new to fitness and plan to make a runDisney half-marathon your "fitness dream come true" and have never gone 13.1 miles? Or are you a veteran runner with many half-marathons and marathons under your belt and who can easily run 10 miles as your normal weekend long run?

If you are a novice runner training for your first half-marathon, a lot of the process will be new to you, that half-marathon might be very important to you, and you might not want your family off enjoying the parks instead of cheering you on during the race. Or you might not know how tired you will be afterwards, and not want to think about planning on doing the parks at all. In that case, you might consider registering for a shorter 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) event for this family trip. It will still give you all the excitement of a runDisney event, but will take less of a toll on your body.

If you're an experienced runner with many half-marathon events under your belt, however, and finishing the course is not even an issue, then you might go ahead and sign up for a half-marathon and plan full days of park-visiting after your race.


What time of year can you take your family trip? Keep in mind that there are no clear runDisney events scheduled during school breaks. The Disneyland Half is the closest, since it happens over Labor Day weekend, but a lot of schools start the new year before that holiday.

Here are the current runDisney events:

  • Second weekend in January – Walt Disney World (Florida). This is the hallmark event, and includes a full marathon. Most kids will be back in school, so taking a vacation with kids will involve taking them out of school. Weather is also iffy during this time; it could either be sunny and balmy, or miserable, cold, and wet.
  • Third weekend in January – Tinker Bell Half Marathon in California. This occurs over the weekend of the Martin Luther King Jr. hoilday but involves taking children out of school if you want to have a family vacation. Weather is cooler but generally nice.
  • Second half of February – The Princess Half Marathon in Florida. President's Day happens the weekend before this event.
  • Early May – Expedition Everest. An oddball that's more akin to obstacle races, this very short event is now offered in a family edition, making it a very family-friendly event. Coincidentally, the following Sunday is also Mother's Day.
  • Labor Day Weekend (early September) – Disneyland Half Marathon in California. If you're willing to pull your kids out of school for a big vacation, you can save one vacation day since Monday is Labor Day.
  • Early October – Tower of Terror 10-Miler. For many, the following weekend includes Columbus Day, a holiday. Also, the main event is held at night, on Saturday. This may strongly affect how you plan your family's trip.
  • Early November – Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon. The Tuesday following the weekend is Veteran's Day, a holiday for most. Like the Tower of Terror 10-Miler, this event is held at night on Saturday.

Whichever event you choose, if you decide to travel with your family, you will mostly likely need to pull your kids out of school. Keep this in mind as you look over the events and locations. Some piggy-back with a holiday weekend, or have a holiday near it, and this may be a deciding factor for you as well.

Also, keep in mind that runDisney continues to expand the offerings for these weekends, but that they are not necessarily kid-friendly. An example is next year's Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend. runDisney introduced a 10K (6.2-mile) event for this, and chose to spread out the events across three days. In previous years, the Never Land Family Fun Run 5K was on Saturdays, which allowed parents to sign their children up for the event. For 2014, however, the Saturday slot is now taken by the Tinker Bell 10K, and the 5K is scheduled for Friday. This means that parents must take their children out of school if they are to do the 5K.

Choosing the Resort/Hotel

If you decide to register for an event in Disneyland, there are plenty of nearby hotels to pick from, and you don't have to stay on-property. Just make sure it's within walking distance of the resort so you can easily walk to the starting area.

If you are going to Florida, the choice gets a little harder. Which on-property resort you decide to stay at can have a huge impact on your travel budget. If you are a Disney Vacation Club member, the decision may be mostly made for you, but otherwise, where should you stay?

The Value Resorts are most affordable for a trip to Florida, and will help you stretch your vacation dollars if you plan on staying for a week. Getting to the course and back to the resort may take a while, though, and it's a little trickier if your family wants to cheer you on.

If you can afford it, consider splurging—for at least the weekend of the runDisney events—by staying at one of the monorail hotels. Specifically, consider the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, or Contemporary resorts; all three of them offer easy access to the monorail to get to the starting/finish area at Epcot (for most races) and all three give your family members access to the race course, so they can cheer you on as you run past. If you want to save a little money, consider pulling up stakes after your race and switching to a Value Resort room.

Scheduling Park and Spectating Time

So you've decided to do a runDisney road race and you're taking your family for a Disney theme park vacation. Well at some point during the trip, your family will actually want to visit the parks. But when? My suggestion is to schedule the bulk of your park-visiting days to after your race is over. You might hobble a bit, but walking about a road race is actually better for your legs, and you won't be nervous about a pending road race. Notice I said "your" park-visiting days. Consider letting your family members run off and enjoy the parks on the days leading up to the road race, but taking it easy yourself by hanging out and relaxing. Get in some pool time, do some very light shopping, and so on.

One way to be efficient is to send your family off to the park on the day you go to the expo to pick up your racing bib. Your family will probably not be too interested in listening to a talk about hydration, anyway, right? And you don't want to leave your family members waiting around bored while you visit the various vendor booths at the expo.

Depending on how strongly your family members feel about being spectators for you, and depending on which race you sign up for and how long it might take, you might also consider race day as park day for your family. They can still come and see you during the race (either along the course or at the finish), but they can still take off for more park fun while you get back to the hotel room to shower, change, and relax.

Once you're refreshed and ready to hit the parks, your family members may already be on day 3 or 4 of park-visiting, meaning they might not be quite as energetic or eager to run to rides themselves, so that you are synced up with their pace. Proudly wear your newly acquired medal(s) and let your family pamper you as you walk around and visit the parks on the days following your road race.


Eating can be a bit tricky before your race. For example, you don't want to gorge on a feast the night before your race when you have to wake up at 3:00 a.m.

My suggestion is to plan for light meals and avoid the buffets before your race. After your race, though, you can hit the feasts with gusto! Consider making a reservation for something like Chef Mickey's for the day of your race; if you run 13 miles, you won't have any concerns about how many pancakes you eat. Just remember to schedule your reservation with plenty of time for you to get back to your room and change. For something like Chef Mickey's, staying at the Contemporary Resort may make a huge difference; it's just a quick hop on the monorail from Epcot back to the hotel.

If a late brunch doesn't work out for you, maybe you can make a reservation at Ohana at the Polynesian for the evening after your race. Just schedule it early enough so you can turn in early and zonk out (and rest that tired body).

You Can Do It!

Doing a runDisney event with friends is fun. And for those who are seriously dedicated, it's even possible to go it alone for a quick weekend jaunt. But for most, it's tough planning a runDisney trip without involving the family. How do you tell your daughter that mom is going to the Magic Kingdom without her "because mommy is running"?

Instead, take your family! They can still cheer you on, but your race need not be the main focus of the trip. With a little planning, everybody can enjoy a "normal" Disney vacation, which just happens to include a parent running a race!



  1. By Drince88

    One note about the 'Where to Stay' Section --
    For SOME of the WDW races, not all hotels will offer transportation to the Expo or start line/from the finish line. This can be a really important consideration when determining your location. There generally will be at least one resort in each category (Value, Moderate, Deluxe) for each budget, but if it's not the big Marathon Weekend (generally the 2nd weekend in January), DEFINITELY look at 'participating resorts' or 'host resorts' for transportation. (You may have to look at the travel packages section, even if you're arranging your own lodging separately, to see what the 'host resorts' are for your race.) They will SOMETIMES add resorts at the last minute, but that's not something you want to risk!

    (Last year for W&D - Beach Club was 'participating' from the start, but we couldn't get a room there at the rate we wanted, so we stayed at Yacht Club, knowing it was a short walk to Beach Club. But come race time, they WERE offering buses from Yacht Club, so saved us a couple of steps.)

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