Navigating the Walt Disney World Marathon Health and Fitness Expo

by Stephanie Wien, staff writer

For most of you, the countdown to departure for Walt Disney World marathon weekend is in the single digits. If you’re new to road racing, your nerves might be on edge thinking about the large amount of unknowns awaiting you. Even if you’re a road racing veteran, you might not have had the pleasure of running at Walt Disney World before. This article aims to lift at least one part of the mystery of Walt Disney World marathon weekend: what to expect at the Health and Fitness Expo.

Every person who is participating in a running event will need to head to the Expo to pick up his or her race bib and other race materials; there is no pick up at the start lines. If a participant cannot be there in person, he must fill out a form authorizing someone else to pick up his materials. In addition to participants, any spectators who purchased ChEAR Squad packages will have to pick up their materials in the HP Field House. The Expo is held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, in the HP Field House and Jostens Complex. There is free parking available at the Complex, but be prepared to walk during busy times at the Expo. The other alternative is to take the complimentary bus transportation provided specifically during marathon weekend from all Disney resorts. All buses for the Expo will be marked as Marathon Weekend Transportation and run approximately every 20 minutes, transporting participants for one half hour before and after the operating hours of the Expo.

Once you arrive at the Complex, head up the long walkway toward the HP Field House, which will be on your left. There will be plenty of signs to show you the way, and volunteers on hand in case you get confused. Once inside the HP Field House, signs will direct you to the area where you pick up your race bib. Proceed to the booth that corresponds to the bib number indicated on your waiver. You will need a photo ID and your signed race waiver with you. To save time, print, sign and date your waiver at home before your leave for the race; you can look up your waiver on the Disney marathon website. If you have preordered any race pins, you will pick them up along with your bib.

Before you leave the Field House, check out your B-tag timing device attached to your bib by passing over the sample timing mats. These mats are the same as the ones that will be on the course during your race. If your tag is working correctly, your name will appear on a nearby screen. Be careful with your bib; the B-tag is not removed like previous year’s D-tags were, and any damage may affect the timing of your race. While at the Field House, it’s also best to check on your bib for your assigned corral. If you think you’ve been assigned to a corral that is slower than your anticipated race time, go to the help desk to make any changes. You will need proof of time to change to a faster corral, so have a printout of an official result within the last year to show at the desk.

When you’ve received your bib and cleared up any issues, head over to the Jostens Center, where the bulk of the Expo is located. Follow the signs to shirt and goody bag pickup first, located toward the back of the Expo. The shirt size you selected during registration is indicated on your waiver form, so proceed to the corresponding tables for your race (5K, half marathon, full marathon, etc.). If you are participating in multiple races, you will need to pick up a bag and shirt for each waiver you printed. Your goody bag will likely contain a large amount of advertisements and perhaps some samples from the various race sponsors, like a Sharpie marker or some Clif shot blocks. The clear bag you receive will be used for bag check on race day if you choose to leave any items like a change of clothes or recovery food and drink. You will receive a sticker with your bib number on it that you must stick on the bag so that it can be matched to you at bag claim.

Once you have your bib, shirt and goody bag, you’re ready to tackle the rest of the Expo. The Jostens Center floor is filled with booths from various vendors giving out samples, selling just about every running-related item possible, and trying to get you to register for upcoming races. The official race program (pdf) contains a list of vendors as well as a map of where they’re located within the Jostens Center. Take a look at the map before you arrive at the Expo, especially if there are any vendors you don’t want to miss. It’s best to take an inventory of your items on arrival at your hotel before you head to the Expo, to make sure you didn’t forget gels, Body Glide, or other essentials. If there’s anything you’re missing, you can probably find it at the Expo. Spend some time wandering around, checking out the fun running-related products on offer. You may even find a bargain, although most vendors don’t offer any deals off their normal prices.

My suggestion is to first head to the official runDisney merchandise area if you are at all interested in any race-related merchandise. The popular items, like the “I Did It” shirts, often go quickly so don’t be hesitant if you see something you like. The range of items typically includes performance wear, t-shirts, hats, barware, pins, plush, Vinylmation and more, and is generally grouped by race, so all the Mickey marathon gear is together in one place, the Donald half in another, and so on.

Some of the highlights from past years include:

  • Clif bar – Clif gives away samples and tastes of its various products. In addition, they sponsor the pacing teams. If you are going to be in a pace group, you might meet your group leader at the booth. They also have paper bracelets with pacing split times that come in handy even if you’re not joining their groups.
  • The Stick – If you’ve never tried a Stick, you’re in for a treat. It’s a great self-massage tool, and the people who staff the booth will gladly demonstrate it for you on whatever might be ailing you at the moment.
  • KT-Tape – If you are interested in trying out this sports tape, or if you have a nagging injury that you concerned about, the people at the KT-Tape booth will demonstrate how to apply it for your specific problem, and the tape should last through race day. Be sure to sign up when you arrive though, as waits can be long when the Expo is busy.
  • Lasting Commemoratives – This vendor offers framing service for your race items, including medals, bibs, and photos. There is a wide range of products, and if you order at the Expo, they usually waive shipping costs. If you select an item that includes the medal or bib, they will provide a duplicate in the framed item so that you don’t have to give up the one you receive on race day.
  • One More Mile – Their products, including t-shirts, hats, and bumper stickers, carry amusing sayings, like “I’m only doing this so I can post a picture on Facebook,” or “This seemed like a good idea three months ago.” You’re likely to get a good laugh while browsing their selection; it’s a great place to get a gift for yourself or another runner.

Be careful when spending time at the Expo that you don’t tire yourself out too much with all of the standing and walking. If you’re interested in resting, you can head back over to the Field House, where the speakers series holds its events. The schedule, located in the race program, includes a long list of big names, including Jeff Galloway (runDisney official training consultant), Hal Higdon (author, Marathon the Ultimate Training Guide), John Bingham (author, An Accidental Athlete), and Keith & Kevin Hanson (coaches of the Hanson-Brooks Olympic Distance Project). The sessions with race director Jon Hughes (Thursday 4:00 p.m., Friday 3:00 p.m. and Saturday noon) reviewing the course and providing tips for race day may be of special interest to new participants. Sitting in on any of the presentations is sure to get you fired up and inspired for race day!

The Expo hours are Thursday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. – 7 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Due to the large number of participants, it’s hard to predict when the Expo will be less busy. I recommend going as soon as possible on arrival at the resort, especially if you want the largest selection of merchandise. Showing up earlier in the morning is also a way to avoid some crowds, which tend to build later in the day, especially on Friday. In general, it’s best to go prepared to wait in line at several points along the way. Most of all, soak it in and enjoy; it’s all part of the Walt Disney World marathon weekend experience!