What's the Deal with Disney Races?

Run Disney. It’s a thing. In fact, many people run only Disney races and have no experience outside of Run Disney. It seems like there is a new Disney race every year, or a new bonus medal, and they always sell out.

Those are the facts. From there, you’ll find camps of people touting the fabulousness of Disney races and running several of them each year. You’ll also find people who avoid Disney races at all costs. Some of these people have run them in the past, some have not. Well, I think it’s a good idea to try something before you judge it. I won’t listen to someone rant and rave over an event if they’ve never been a participant. I have been a participant, though. I’ve run several Disney races and I’ve run on both coasts. My last one was January 2013, so it has been over a year. Still, I think I’m qualified to offer some insight.
The Pros
Disney races are fun. They appeal to the child in all of us, and bring us back to some happy, childhood memories of Mickey Mouse and others. Many people run in costume as Disney characters. Many people see these races as a 13.1 mile or a 26.2 mile party. It’s fun to run through theme parks. It’s fun to check out other people’s costuming creativity. It’s fun to stop mid-course to pose for a photo with Donald Duck or Jiminy Cricket.

Me as Cruella de Vil at the 2012 Tower of Terror 10-Miler

There are fireworks at the start of the big races; this was from WDW Half Marathon 2013

Disney races draw a lot of first-timers. If running at Disneyland or Walt Disney World gets someone off the couch to run their first race, then that’s great. It’s a non-threatening atmosphere for a new runner, and may just turn them into a repeat racer.

With Minnie at 2012 WDW Half Marathon; the next morning's full marathon would be my first in 5 years

Disney races have generous time limits. That’s another boon for first-timers or slow runners and walkers. Almost anyone has a chance to finish a Disney race and feel the satisfaction of crossing the finish line. I was so grateful to be able to finish the 2012 WDW marathon, my first marathon in 5 years; I was injured and had to walk the last 16 miles.

Scot and I with Ruth and Jay after 2013 WDW Half Marathon

Disney races have great medals and t-shirts. Every race is associated with a different Disney character or theme, and the medal and t-shirt for the event reflects that. The medals are creative and high-quality. They become collectors’ items for those who choose to display them. They make a great memento from a sometimes tough race.

My medals from the 2012 WDW Marathon Weekend races: 5K, half marathon, marathon, Goofy

Disney races are located at Disney. That’s a no-brainer, right? These races are located either at Disneyland in California or at Walt Disney World in Florida. When you’re done with your race, you’re right there in the middle of vacationland. You can spend time with family or friends discovering or re-discovering the theme parks. You can be a kid for a day or more.

At Cinderella's Castle the day of the 2013 WDW half marathon; we wore ourselves out at the parks and our feet hurt before the next morning's marathon

Disney races are social. With so many participants, how could you possibly not meet a new friend? If you’re not already running a Disney race with one of many unofficial Disney-themed running groups, you’ll probably still find someone to socialize with before, during or after the race. And after the races, finishers wear their medals as they walk around the parks, so you can always spot a fellow runner and you’re instantly a part of a community. I have made many friends through Disney races, and I value that aspect of the events.

Celebrating 2012 WDW Marathon at Epcot with a very young Disney Pacebook Running Club (PBRC)

The Cons
Disney races are expensive. Yes, they are. I run a lot of races and see a lot of race prices, and Disney registration fees rank right up there at the top. You might feel like you get a lot for your money, but it’s a fact that you’re paying a premium just to participate. And then, you’re probably also paying hundreds more dollars for theme park tickets, hotels and other travel expenses. Disney races are not for everyone, because not everyone can afford them.

Feeling like kids posing with Mickey Mouse during 2013 WDW Marathon Weekend

Disney races are crowded. The registration numbers are high, so there are lots of people staring the races in many corrals with staggered starting times. There often isn’t much elbow room in the beginning miles of a Disney race. Add to that the fact that many slower runners move up into fast corrals in an effort to "beat the clock" (I'm not editorializing here...it's simply a fact). This means that faster runners may need to weave and dodge around slower runners. And there are many natural bottlenecks on many of the race courses. These are due to the layout of the theme parks, or the way the course is sometimes routed from a wide road onto a narrow sidewalk. If you need lots of space to run unencumbered by other participants, or you're chasing a PR, Disney races may not be for you.

The 2012 WDW Family Fun 5K was an untimed event, so Michelle, Elizabeth and I took our time and posed with all the characters
Having fun with the grave diggers at the 2012 Happy Haunted 5K Trail Run

Disney races are a racket. Or more softly stated, they're kind of addictive. No one forces you to run them over and over, thereby paying Disney hundreds of dollars over and over. But something about the Disney marketing and the race hype can suck you in. And they sell out so fast that you often need to make a quick decision the day registration opens. You may run the same race, or all of the races, over and over and get the same experience each time. You’re more broke, but you have lots of collectible medals and shirts. But you might be thinking, why did I do this again? Or, not. You might be someone who chooses this as their favorite hobby and is perfectly happy with that.
My Disney Race History
(The three races above were historically considered the unofficial “Dopey” challenge; of course the half and the full are officially the Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge.)
(I earned my Coast to Coast bonus medal at Tinker Bell for running on both Disney coasts in the same year.)
(The 5K was in the morning and the 10-miler was late that night.)

(I repeated the WDW marathon weekend races a second year in order to do them with Scot.)
I was actually kind of “Disney’ed out” after my 2012 races. I had fun (see the Pros above) but was also weary because of the Cons. I only decided to run again in 2013 because Scot hadn’t been to Disney since he was a kid, and we thought it would be fun to do together. I have not registered for a Disney race since the 2013 marathon, even though I’ve been tempted. The Dopey Challenge is now an official event and includes a 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon. There’s now an Avengers race, and there’s now a Star Wars race. Plus several others I haven’t ever done. I may come back to Disney and run some more. I haven’t ruled it out. I’m just taking a break to focus on other race goals.

Question: Have you run any Disney races? What was your favorite, and why?


  1. I've only done one Disney race. It was the WDW marathon in 2002. Deb and I built a big vacation around it, buying a 4-day 4-park pass. I hating having to arrive at the start three hours before the race, but other than that I loved the race. Running through the theme parks made it a bucket list race.

    1. Agreed. Getting up ridiculously early is another Con that I forgot to mention. But I can understand why they need to do do it that way logistically.

  2. I did the Goofy Challenge in 2013 and had a blast. I love Disney.

    I will however probably never do another Disney race. The cost has gotten out of control. I can't help but think Disney is mocking runners by calling the series Dopey, because you must be Dopey to pay $100 to run a 5k or a 10k, but to each his own.

    As far as the extra medals go, one would think that you are getting a deal by going with the series rather than register for each race individually, but you are actually paying MORE. That Dopey medal costs you an extra $20!

    1. Yes. Extra medals and t-shirts = extra cost. Every cost is passed on to the runner. And that's fine if someone wants to pay it, but not everyone wants to, or can.

  3. I've never ran one - because I can't afford it... but I see the wake up times for these half marathons as a BIG CON... that's crazy.

    1. Yes, it's very early. In part, it's to beat the heat and humidity. And at WDW in particular, it's because most races require runners to walk about a mile to the starting line, even after being dropped off by the shuttle bus or self-parking. Ugh!

  4. I've run too many of these to count. Full, Half, Goofy, 5ks oh my. Last one was the Princess HM so I could get a princess medal for my daughter. Made her very happy. Sadly that was the one that may have finished it for me. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the races and the atmosphere but catching a bus at 3am, trying to sleep in the start area and being tired in the parks that night doesn't make for a great vacation for my family. Lots of great races out there to experience. I may run another one at Disney but it will have to be something really special.

    1. I was tempted to register for the new Star Wars half, but didn't. Maybe another time...but only if I combine it with a bigger trip.


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