Don't Fear the Sweeper

by Adrienne Krock, contributing writer

runDisney required—as many timed running events do—that Tinker Bell 10K participants maintain a minimum 16-minute-per mile pace, with stragglers at risk of being "swept" and transported directly to the finish line area (so race officials can close the course and open the roads to traffic) without official recognition of race completion.

Almost immediately after the 6.2-mile race in Disneyland this past January, message boards and social media blew up. runDisney, they said, had swept the course early.

Had runDisney in fact swept participants who were moving faster than 16 minutes per mile? Not according to its official online results posted after the 10K.

Those whose entries lacked a finish time (indicating that they may have been swept) showed an average pace of 18:42 or slower per mile, almost three minutes per mile slower than the allowed 16-minute pace, and interestingly, mirroring the sweep time of runDisney's other road races.

At any typical runDisney event, officials typically sweep about 1 percent of participants—but for the Tinker Bell 10K, it comprised 3 percent. While still a statistically low number, this represents a threefold increase.

Reports, both anecdotal and on message boards, reveal that many slower participants seemed unprepared for a timed event, and were genuinely surprised that they were swept at all. Perhaps race officials were caught off-guard and were overwhelmed by the unusually high number of slower participants—but many who were swept expressed frustration at being treated poorly by cast members at the sweep points.

When I registered for my very first half-marathon in 2009 for the Disneyland Half, I set my #1 trainig goal: not getting swept. I knew I was just barely at the pace, so I was paranoid that I'd be swept. I joined message boards and asked questions, not just to prepare my body to complete 13.1 miles, but to maintain a pace that kept me ahead of the sweepers. Almost five years and nine Disney half-marathons later, I no longer fear the sweeper, even though I still maintain a barely minimum pace. You, too, can be prepared to not fear the sweeper.

What happens when you get swept?

Despite the best plans, preparations and strategies, you may be swept during an event. Knowing the process may better steel you for the inevitable disappointment, and motivate you to push a little harder along the way.

Race officials ride bicycles along the course. Towards the back of the pack, they usually announce how far behind pace the participants are. The mile markers have slots to hold flags. Officials place brightly colored flags, often orange, in the mile markers to alert runners when they are behind pace. If you see the race officials and flags, you are most likely cutting it close. During one race, I saw race officials ride by and called out "Oh, no! I don't want to see you!" The official laughed and said, "Don't worry! You're still 2 minutes ahead of pace." His reassurance helped.

When race officials stop runners, they have a van or bus to transport the runners to the family reunion area near the finish line. The bus may be parked across the path to let runners know that they are being swept. Runners needing medical attention when they are swept, may receive it right away or at the finish line.

Several runners I spoke to about their experiences being swept agree that, in their experiences, the runDisney crew treated them well. Terri White and her family have participated in several runDisney events in both Disneyland Anaheim and Walt Disney World. Terri has been swept at three runDisney events, among others she completed. Terri said, "At the Walt Disney World Half in 2009, I was the last person… and I had my own posse! Police cars, buses, vans, bikes, all encouraging me to continue. It was amazing. In the end, they did pick me up, and told me they'd been following me for a while, cheering from the van," she said. "I've never been swept without lots of warning."

Before completing several runDisney and Half-Ironman events, Brandi Morgan was swept three times as well. At the 2009 Disneyland Half 10-mile mark, Brandi boarded a bus with about 10 to 15 runners. "In 2010 I was swept in the snow tundra at Walt Disney World Donald (half-marathon) at the mile 4 marker. There were lots of us, maybe 200-300 people by the time people caught up. We had to wait about 10 to 15 minutes for the buses to arrive." If runDisney sweeps a larger group than they expect, the wait time may be longer. Consider that even with a 30- to 45-minute wait, without being swept, at an almost 19 minute pace, most swept participants are still at least an hour away from the finish line. Being swept in a large group will not delay your finish line arrival by much, if any, time.

runDisney events over a 5K are not "fun runs"

If the only runDisney race you have done is a 3.1-mile 5K, you may not appreciate the seriousness of the 16-minute-mile pace at the longer, timed events. I know friends and family who completed runDisney 5K events in over one hour, clearly over pace. The minimum age for 5K participants is younger than for the longer races, and they really do cater more towards a relaxed atmosphere. runDisney markets the 5K distance as "family fun runs," usually entirely within parks and away from city or resort streets, so the impact on road closures is much less complicated.

At 10K events and longer distances, the runDisney times much more strictly to the minimum pace. Do not plan to stroll through a 10K or longer with the same mindset as a 5K fun run. These are more seriously timed distances.

There are many reasons for time restrictions at the longer distances, most of them related to vehicle road traffic. Keeping roads closed costs money, and causes traffic congestion and aggravation with nearby businesses and their customers, as well as the neighboring community. Disney tries to minimize the impact on park operations and road closures with pace limits as well as early start times (runDisney events notoriously begin well before dawn).

Unlike its longer races, runDisney historically did not time its 5K participants, although this has recently changed. For example, for the 2015 Star Wars Half Marathon weekend at Disneyland, runDisney has added this note in its pacing guidelines: "The Star Wars 5K is NOT a timed event but in order to receive a finisher medal, participants must maintain a 16 minute per mile pace requirement." Therefore, keep in mind, while participants will still be allowed to finish the 5K at a slower pace, apparently they now plan to enforce the pace when awarding medals at this distance.

The author with her son Matthew and husband, Kevin with their medals after the 2014 Tinker Bell Half Marathon. Matthew finished his first half marathon in less than half the time as his parents, but all three wear the same beautiful bling. Photo by Adrienne Krock.

Prepare to pace yourself

You need to monitor your own pace along the way, especially if you are close to the 16-minute pace. There are many different tools available to monitor pace. If you have a smartphone, you can use an application like RunKeeper but there are others available, too (many are free). That said, be aware that you get what you pay for. Smartphone apps can be unreliable. Anecdotally, some apps have enabled an "auto-pause" feature during races, rendering them useless to accurately report your pace. Many runners I know personally experienced frustration with phone apps and upgraded to the next level, GPS-enabled watches from companies like Garmin and Timex.

You may not even get past the starting line until 15 minutes or more after the elite runners at start of the race, so calculate accordingly when you see the timer clocks at the mile markers, which reflect the time elapsed from the race beginning. And while you an sign up for text alerts announcing your pace, they are not a reliable method for monitoring your pace due to the high volume of messages the system must process.

The course is longer than you think

After the Tinker Bell Half Marathon, my friends and I compared the distances our various devices recorded. My Garmin watch recorded 13.6 miles. My husband walked with me and his watch recorded 13.8 miles. Our friend recorded 14 miles on her RunKeeper app. These distance differences will affect your pace. When I passed the 5K mark, my watch said that I already walked almost 3.4 miles. This is due to a combination of things, including both technical and physical; your app or watch may track slightly differently, and the course is measured at its shortest points—most people add extra distance to the course by not taking the closest corners on turns (tangents).

If you train to the 16-minute pace, you should not expect to get swept, even with this discrepancy. But this is one reason you should not count on too much of a cushion. Factors beyond your control can affect your pace. For this reason, many coaches, experienced runners, and even runDisney, recommend training to a 15-minute pace.

Getting side-tracked

You may get side-tracked, especially at a runDisney race. Many people stop for photo opportunities. From characters along the route to sights such as the castle or favorite scenery throughout the parks, these opportunities cost time. Spots with lines such as character photos take more time, but even selfies can slow you down. I limit most of my personal photos to opportunities with no lines or selfies. You may have time for a photo or two, but keep your pace in mind.

Frannie Baker (DisneyFunFamily4 on the MousePad message board), and Adrienne Krock pose for a runDisney photographer, without slowing down. Photo provided by Adrienne Krock.

Even if you do not plan to stop, you may still have access to photos of yourself from the race, taken by a professional photo service for the event and available for purchase. The photographers will capture your picture on the course without you needing to stop for the photos.

Restroom stops also cost time. I have to confess: For my first several events, I never stopped for a restroom break. Ever. I feared stopping for a restroom break, losing time taking off my clothes or worrying about electronics falling into toilets (or, worse, porta-potties). The first time I stopped for a restroom break, I had no choice. When I returned to the course, I felt so much better that my pace improved. I turned to my husband and announced: Never underestimate the power of an empty bladder. But, remember: Restroom stops eat up time, too.

If you run with a group of people, here is one strategy my friends and I often use: If only one of us has to stop, or if at least one person does not have to stop, the rest of us keep moving forward on the course. The person that stops then pushes up the pace to catch up with us down the road. It means a little more work for that person to catch up but our overall pace stays mostly on track.

Plan for crowd management strategies

You may find yourself managing crowds during events. Plan to expect it and expect to plan for it. Before the race even begins, arrive at your assigned corral early. Many runners start lining up in the corrals as early as an hour before the race begins. Move as far forward into the corral as you can, in order to give yourself more time.

Will you run or walk with friends? Do not plan to run or walk side-by-side. Side by side means that people who need to pass you will need to pass between you. Worse, if you need to pass someone, it is much harder to pass side by side. During the Tinker Bell Half, my group of three walked in tandem, that is, in a line, for most of the event. This allowed us to pass others easily and gave others a path around us. At times we had people in between us, but we all stayed within line of sight of each other. During less crowded parts of the course, we stayed closer to each other and even sometimes side-by-side. We could talk to each other when we wanted to, without much problem, even in tandem.

Do not be afraid to pass people. If the entire course stops, obviously, pushing past people will not help you. But when you have room to pass, do not limit yourself to the speed of the people around you. When you need to pass someone, running etiquette suggests announcing your approach to the person who might not see you coming. This may also prevent someone from stepping to the side and inadvertently cutting you off. I usually say something simple like "On your left!" Some runners put a hand in the air when they pass others, to increase their visibility. Don't forget to add "Thank you!" if you can.

Make an adult decision

I always share my standard disclaimer with anyone in my group at the start line: At any time if my pace becomes too slow, my friends may continue ahead without me. Likewise, if I find my friends' pace too slow for me, I may decide to pick up the pace and continue without them. We call these "adult rules" .

I have had friends stay behind with me, even when they could finish faster without me. I have walked slower than my ideal pace because I decided ahead of time not to push myself too hard. But I know myself: If I were ever swept because I stayed behind with a friend, I would be very angry and upset. I do not want to cause someone else to be swept or be swept because I stayed behind with someone too slow. That strategy may not work for every runner. But be aware of this ahead of time and decide beforehand how you might handle that situation. Think about it before the race begins, when you have time to make the right decision for you.

The mile markers have permanent flag decorations. The pace warning flags, not shown here, are fabric. I have no a photo of the mile markers with the warning flags because if I see a flag, I do not stop to take a picture. Photo by Adrienne Krock.

May the course be with you

Do not be discouraged—be empowered. We back-of-the-packers are a courageous lot. Those elite runners may quit after only an hour and a half, but we persevere, taking two times as long (or longer). But at the end of the race, we complete the exact same distance as the fast runners, and runDisney gives us the same beautiful finisher's medal.

If you need encouragement or have questions, visit the Team MousePlanet forum at our MousePad message boards. You will find many helpful runners—and walkers—with experience to share, willing to answer your questions and cheer you along the way. Plan, train, and prepare and you, too, can bring home the beautiful runDisney bling.



  1. By StormalongSavvy

    Thanks for the great article! One more tip for restroom breaks: if you can make it into a park, you'll save a lot of time. Know the course beforehand and determine if you will be passing restrooms while running through the park segments. During the Princess Half, my stop in Tomorrowland took 3 min. compared to a 10 min. stop my group made at a single port-a-potty on the road. Lots of stalls means a fast-moving line! Unless you're a guy running in the Princess, only to find the men's room also crowded with women; then it sort of backfires.

  2. By Mermaid

    Great article! I like to think of myself as a runner, since I ran Cross Country and Track in high school. But, let's get real- that was 15+ years and a lot of lbs ago. I want to get back into it. I actually started training for the first Tinkerbell half and then found out I was expecting K! Well, that was 3 years ago and I have done nothing since then. When I go on walks with DH and the kids, I get really bad toe numbness/pain. That is holding me back from even trying, which I know- excuses, excuses. I feel myself getting close to that motivated point, this article about the back of the packers gives me inspiration that I can do it.

  3. By adriennek

    SS: That's a GREAT tip. If we have to "go" in the parks, we predict where the next in-park restroom will be and try to hit those. There's one particular restroom in Anaheim that we almost always hit.

    Mermaid: Come over to the Team MousePlanet forum!! We are not doctors. We don't give official medical advice. Don't take it as official medical advice. But.

    Toe numbness and pain? Been there, done that! I'm not the only one. We can share some strategies that have worked for us!! Maybe we can help? I now have shoes with a "wide toe box" and I lace my shoes a funky way to make sure the toes are getting enough blood flow. (It could just be that your laces are too tight on the top of your foot!)

    You can do this. We can help.

  4. By Drince88

    Also, Mermaid - make sure your shoes are the right size and for your type of running. My 'street' shoes are a 10W, my running shoes are a wide-toe-box-style, in an 11. (With going up the size and getting shoes that run wider, I can actually avoid the W on the end of the size - but I go up the size for the length, not the width.

    Great article, Adriennek!

  5. By stan4d_steph

    Quote Originally Posted by StormalongSavvy View Post
    Thanks for the great article! One more tip for restroom breaks: if you can make it into a park, you'll save a lot of time. Know the course beforehand and determine if you will be passing restrooms while running through the park segments.

    This is a great tip. I make a point to study the course map of any race to make mental notes about where the restrooms are (if any), and also where the water and fuel stations are. That way you can make a plan ahead of time and be prepared.

  6. By MickeyDogMom

    Great job, Adk!

  7. By GrannyGear

    Great article! I wish I had read something like it before going to the Tinkerbell 10K. We got swept unexpectedly. We never saw the pacers and were passed by by the bikes as we entered Disney property, but did not know enough to know what that meant. No one ever told us we were behind pace and as beginners we did not have electronic trackers. Thanks for giving others the heads up ! Personally, if I ever run another RunDisney event it will be a 5K. It broke my heart to run by all the cool photo ops and still get swept. It seems totally un-Disney to put out all that eye candy for only elite runners while all us slowpokes just get to glance at it as we chug by. Doing the CHOC Walk in October. That is probably more my speed

  8. By stan4d_steph

    One other option to smartphone apps and expensive GPS devices is a basic sport watch, preferably one with a lap feature so you can check your split times at the mile markers. You can find basic ones under $30 at Target or other big sporting goods stores. Also, you can use a pacing calculator to know your expected clock time at each marker. Pacing bands are usually available at the Clif Bar area of the expo, but there may not be one for your desired pace. It's best to have your times in mind to avoid having to do math.

  9. By Bobcat

    Very well written and equally informative!! May I add, and I know this may not be everyone's cup of tea but if you are indeed worried about the possibility of being swept, register for a local race. Sure you try to maintain proper pacing requirements during training with whatever plan you choose but testing your abilities and your runDisney race strategy in a race day environment may go a long way in determining what aspects of training you may need to work on.

  10. By olegc

    Great article - especially for first timers like ME! It's definitely a fear I have - and a goal of mine to FINISH and not get swept. Thanks again...

  11. By DLDixie

    I was just wondering... do those who get swept not receive a medal? That would make me fear the sweeper...

  12. By olegc

    Quote Originally Posted by DLDixie View Post
    I was just wondering... do those who get swept not receive a medal? That would make me fear the sweeper...

    yes I believe that is correct. you get a medal for finishing. if you are swept, you're not finishing.

  13. By Drince88

    I believe Disney has offered medals at some races to those that get swept.
    Personally, for me, I wouldn't accept one if I was swept.

    (Full disclosure, I DID accept a half marathon medal when I only made it to mile 13, before my body said 'nope, not going any further' and ended up with an ambulance ride AND overnight stay in the hospital. I'm going to change the medal to 13.0 instead of 13.1. If I'd stopped when I should have, around Mile 10, I would not have accepted it.)

  14. By stan4d_steph

    Quote Originally Posted by DLDixie View Post
    I was just wondering... do those who get swept not receive a medal? That would make me fear the sweeper...

    I saw people at a runDisney race that had likely been swept that had medals, and I know of one person personally who received one after being swept. I don't agree with the policy, but it appears to happen. I don't believe it is guaranteed.

  15. By RunningFool

    Quote Originally Posted by stan4d_steph View Post
    I saw people at a runDisney race that had likely been swept that had medals, and I know of one person personally who received one after being swept. I don't agree with the policy, but it appears to happen. I don't believe it is guaranteed.

    I know of one who was swept in the marathon as part of Goofy. She received marathon medal but not the Goody Challenge medal.

    And of course, there was the person on FB who posted how cool it was to run a mile or two in the half marathon, get picked up, receive the finisher's medal and be taken to the finish line where she jumped back in and crossed the line just to get her picture taken (and lord knows how that totally messed up finisher's tracking and rankings in her age group). Not surprisingly, she didn't see the issue with that strategy.

  16. By Bobcat

    Quote Originally Posted by stan4d_steph View Post
    I know of one person personally who received one after being swept. I don't agree with the policy, but it appears to happen. I don't believe it is guaranteed.

    A friend who was in my group running her first half was swept and received a medal as she was getting off of the bus.

  17. By adriennek

    Following up on Running Fool's post about the Goofy Challenge medal - I am aware that at the Dumbo Double Dare race, runners who were swept from the Half did not get the Dumbo Dare medal nor the Coast to Coast medal. In short: If the medal requires a wristband, they cut off the wrist band and you do not receive the medal. I interviewed people who refused to accept the finishers medals when they were swept. I have mixed feelings about whether or not I would accept a medal for an event I did not complete, if it were offered to me. I know another story where a woman at a Disneyland Half marathon was pushed down on the course, by a passing runner, who did not even STOP to see if she was ok, 1/2 mile from the finish line. She hurt herself badly and was not able to finish the event because of her injury. When a teenaged half marathon finisher met this lady at the airport, she gave the woman her medal. Now me? Injured by another runner within a half mile of the finish? I would've accepted THAT medal! (The post-script is that runDisney and Mickey traveled to Washington state to deliver a replacement medal to the heroine from the airport, at an assembly at her high school. Oh, and the teenager is the daughter of Terri White, quoted in the article!) I know Drince's story about her DNF and I'm personally very glad that they insisted she keep her medal!

    That said, I strongly dislike this policy for a number of reasons, that I won't all list here.

    It is a change in policy - they did not always give the medals anyway. I am on a Facebook group where a woman at a WDW race posted pictures of herself, after the race, wearing the medal, posing in WDW parks. In her post, she admitted that she did not finish the event. I'm also aware of a guy at the anniversary of the Mickey marathon who was at the Orlando Airport wearing a Mickey Medal. A group of marathoners struck up a conversation about the marathon and the guy revealed that he had been swept.

    It's one thing to accept the medal, but to wear it around as if you'd earned it? Holy cow. Totally not cool, in my not at all humble opinion.

  18. By Malcon10t

    Great article. Very helpful for new runners.

  19. By fairestoneofall

    Great article! I wish it were around when I ran my first in 2012. I no longer fear the sweeper, but I did for my first one!

  20. By JunkieofER

    Great Article Adrienne!!!!! :hug: and I'm not just saying that cuz I was quoted!

    Truly though I wish when I started I had all this info! It would have helped my standing at the start line nerves CALM DOWN!

  21. By adriennek

    Quote Originally Posted by JunkieofER View Post
    Great Article Adrienne!!!!! :hug: and I'm not just saying that cuz I was quoted!

    Of course not. Thank you for your willingness to share your story and for your inspiration.

  22. By Lani

    Quote Originally Posted by stan4d_steph View Post
    This is a great tip. I make a point to study the course map of any race to make mental notes about where the restrooms are (if any), and also where the water and fuel stations are. That way you can make a plan ahead of time and be prepared.
    One huge advantage with the in-park bathrooms: They are not porta-potties, but real flushable toilets. With sinks. Just be aware the lines could get a little long in them, as well (but they sure beat porta-potties).

    Quote Originally Posted by Bobcat View Post
    ...if you are indeed worried about the possibility of being swept, register for a local race.
    This is probably the best tip. If you've NEVER done a race/fun run/fun walk endurance event, the runDisney ones can be completely overwhelming. The Disney events are so huge and they can easily feel overwhelming... and there's too much to take in.

    If you are new to this whole thing, signing up for a local 5K or 10K (and incorporate it into your training) will make a huge difference, because then you'll have some experience and know what to expect.

    You can also use these earlier local races to get a sense of time. Maybe you can walk/jog/woggle/run the 16-minute-per-mile pace on your own, but being in a race environment you can actually put your pace to the test.

    This is NOT the same as signing up for a "virtual race" (where you sign up at a website than just report your mileage online); you want to sign up for a race where they have a physical start line, finish line, and mention something about timing chips.

    Quote Originally Posted by DLDixie View Post
    I was just wondering... do those who get swept not receive a medal? That would make me fear the sweeper...

    I don't think Disney used to have firm policies for its 5K races, but they've added clarifying wording now that says walkers need to meet the 16-minute pace in order to earn a finisher's medal. Implied in that notice is that those who are swept would not get a finisher's medal.

    Keep in mind that the way Disney defines things, the event shirt you get is your PARTICIPANT shirt, whereas the medal you get is your FINISHER medal. The medal is not guaranteed, but earned, whereas you get the shirt simply for registering for the event (and going to the expo to pick it up, along with your number bib).

  23. By Disneyphile

    Race bathroom break tip for the ladies:

    I folded and stored a couple of these in my belt for Tink, and they work very well with no mess.

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