Disney Marathon Primer

by Lani Teshima, staff writer

Every January, tens of thousands of people descend on Walt Disney World to fulfill a dream: To complete the 26.2-mile WDW Marathon or 13.1-mile Half-Marathon. Before you dismiss them as fitness crazies or health nuts, consider this challenge: YOU can enter the long-distance event, and YOU can complete it successfully!

Disney has been offering the marathon for well over a decade now, and it has built a reputation as both fun and beginner-friendly. How many marathons can you think of where you are encouraged to take snapshots with Disney characters along the course?

If you are a seasoned runner, jogger or walker, consider registering for either of the events now. If the closest thing to exercise you've done in your adulthood is exercising your right to vote on Election Day, it's not too late to get up off your couch and do something for yourself. The pride and sense of accomplishment you feel from getting in shape will be priceless, and it will change your entire outlook on life. The amazing thing about the human body is that the more you push yourself, the more your body will give; the WDW marathon is filled with “ordinary” folks of every age and size!

Marathon basics

Disney experienced some growing pains in the last few years as the events continued to grow in popularity. Disney used to hold both events simultaneously, but for the first time, Disney has split the full marathon and half marathon into two separate days for 2006, with the half on Saturday (January 7) and full on Sunday (January 8). This accommodates more participants in each event and alleviates some of logistical issues Disney experienced in the past.

As before, all participants must maintain a 16-minute-per-mile pace at all times, and you must complete the full in 7 hours (or the half in 3.5).

What is it like?

The WDW Marathon and Half-Marathon (“the full” and “the half”) are the only running events at those distances that travel through Walt Disney World. Both events wind through backstage areas normally off-limits to park guests, and the full goes through all four theme parks. Spectators (usually consisting of friends and family members, and local running afficionados) are allowed access to key areas along the course, and cheer the participants along. Cast members from all departments also come out in full force, and costumed characters pose for snapshots at various spots along the course. The course distances are certified, and finishers are timed electronically (using the ChampionChip system).

Which event do I want to do?

If you have run a full marathon before, the WDW Marathon should be a piece of cake. There is almost no elevation change (save for a few overpasses and underpasses), and the weather is traditionally quite nice. The organizers have a solid reputation for providing more than enough aid stations, portable potties, medical tents, and liquid gel to keep experienced runners happy.

If you have never done a marathon, the decision may be a bit more difficult. For some, the full is too daunting; the half providing a reasonable distance. For others, the full may be a challenge, but one they wish to test themselves with. By no means is a full marathon easy; it normally takes about four months to train for one for individuals who are already in sporting shape, and longer—upwards of a year—if you are completely sedentary. That said, most who train in earnest can complete a marathon, albeit slowly.

In the past, participants of the full marathon who chose to finish at the half-marathon finish line for various reasons (lack of training, illness, etc.) could simply turn off at 13.1 miles. However because next year's events are held on different days, we're not yet sure how Disney will handle this. Keep in mind, however, that you cannot switch races that weekend, and running the wrong event will lead you to disqualification (that is, registering for the full but running on Saturday for the half, and vice versa). For now, assume you're either doing the full distance, or you'll not finish at all.

What do you get when you finish?

Besides the personal satisfaction in knowing you have achieved a difficult goal, there are other rewards. Each person who completes the course within the alloted time gets a finisher's medal: A Mickey head-shaped gold medal for the full, and a Donald head-shaped gold medal for the half. Finishers also get a finisher's certificate in the mail noting their official finish time. In addition, each finisher gets a mylar space blanket at the finish line, as well as water, Powerade, and a huge armload of healthy fruit (and not-so-healthy muffins and other sweets). Official photographers also take posed photos of you showing off your medal.

How much does it cost to register?

Full marathon: $95, and you must be at least 18 to enter.

Half marathon: $85, and you must be at least 14 to enter.

Disney cast members and Disney Vacation Club members can save $5 on registration, but cannot register online. Cast members should pick up registration forms at Company D or by calling (407) 938-3398. Disney Vacation Club members should call (407) 938-3398.

How do I register?

Go to the Web site for Disney's Wide World of Sports (link) and follow the link to either the full or half marathon. You can either register online, or print out a PDF form and mail your registration in.

I've never done a (half) marathon before

This WDW Marathon Guide will run monthly here on MousePlanet, and you'll get various tips on how to train and prepare for both the full and half events, with articles timed to coincide with your various needs as we progress through the year. While I can't guarantee that you will complete either (or quickly enough to meet Disney's pacing requirements), I hope the information here will help light your path.

What should I do now?

Decide the following:

  1. Do you want to give it a try and train do to a (half-) marathon next January?
  2. Which event do you want to commit to?
  3. Register for the event you decide on. Note that registrations are non-transferable and non-refundable, and you may not change your mind.

Once you have registered, you're all set! After that, it's just a matter of training, and making your travel arrangements later this fall.

…OK, so there's a bit more to it than that, but you get the idea.

So now I registered. What do I do?

If you are already exercising, great! Keep it up; we'll visit marathon training later. If you're still on the couch (or your computer chair), here are some great resources for you to check out for now, since preparing mentally is as important as training physically:

John “The Penguin” Bingham (link)

John became an adult onset athlete and caught the marathon bug in his middle age years. Best known as a columnist in Runner's World magazine, John continues to waddle his way through marathons.

John has written a number of wonderful and inspirational books for the adult onset athlete, including:

The Courage To Start : A Guide To Running for Your Life (Fireside, 1999. ISBN: 0-684-85455-4; link).

No Need for Speed : A Beginner's Guide to the Joy of Running (Rodale Books, 2002. ISBN: 1-57954-429-0; link).

Marathoning for Mortals (Rodale Books, 2003. ISBN: 1-57954-782-6; link)

John has spawned numerous “Penguin” groups around North America, and most of them communicate online. For the WDW Marathon, the most relevant is Team Penguin–Disney on Yahoo Groups (link).

Hal Higdon (link)

When I decided to take up running again in 2001 and challenge myself to training for the 2003 WDW Marathon, I went to Hal Higdon's Web site and used his novice marathon training schedule. In my opinion, his training schedules are rock-solid, regardless of your level (he also has intermediate and advanced schedules). In addition to the full, he also has a training schedule for the half-marathon.

Hal has published numerous books, but this one is considered his primary and comprehensive guide:

Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide (Rodale Books; 1st edition, 1999. ISBN: 1-57954-171-2; link)

Jeff Galloway (link)

Many beginners like Jeff Galloway's system of combining jogging and walking. And although I've never tried his system myself, I have heard good things about it from many people.

Jeff has also published some books, including:

Galloway's Book on Running (Shelter Publications; 2nd edition, 200. ISBN: 0-93607-027-7; link)

Marathon: You Can Do It! (Shelter Publications, 2001. ISBN: 0-93607-025-0; link)

Other books

First Marathons by Gail Waesche Kislevitz (Breakaway Books, 1999. ISBN: 1-89136-911-3; link) – Unlike the rest of the how-to-train books, this book is full of inspirational tales, as Kislevitz profiles dozens of people—from beginner to Olympic medalists—on what it was like to complete their very first marathon.

4 Months to A 4 Hour Marathon by Dave Kuehls (Perigee; 1st ed edition, 1998. ISBN: 0-39952-415-0; link) – This book provides a straightforward recipe for training.

The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer by David A. Whitsett, et al. (McGraw-Hill; 1 edition, 1998. ISBN: 1-57028-182-3; link) – This book delves into the mental aspects of training for a marathon.

Team MousePlanet (link)

MousePad, MousePlanet's own discussion board, has a forum devoted just to health and fitness. Join us there to talk about food, exercise, and more. Let everyone know that you're registered for the full or half. Some MousePlanet staff are planning on entering the 2006 event.

W.I.S.H. (link)

The DIS boards has a forum, called W.I.S.H. (“We're Inspired to Stay Healthy”) for those who want to get motivated to be healthy.

Future topics

We'll visit the following topics (and more) in the coming months:

  • Choosing the right gear
  • Hitting the road (start getting active)
  • What to expect along the WDW Marathon courses
  • Finding a fundraiser to run for a cause
  • Staying motivated
  • Imagining yourself there
  • Avoiding getting swept for being too slow
  • Eating, feeling, and being healthy
  • Choosing the best training plan
  • Starting serious training
  • Avoiding injury
  • Making wise resort reservations and vacation plans
  • Volunteering at the events
  • Putting in the long miles
  • Seeing the light at the end of the training tunnel
  • What to expect once you're there

One final note. I'm not a certified trainer. The information in the WDW Marathon Guide should not replace the professional advice of your family doctor. Make sure you get a check-up before you start any exercise program!