The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend certainly lives up to its reputation as the most Magical Race Weekend on Earth! I hadn’t even completed a marathon when I first heard of the Dopey Challenge, yet I knew it was something I had to do and it didn’t take much to convince my husband Tim or two children, Portia (14) and Patrick (13) to run it with me. We met Michael and Mari-Mar from Travelling Fit at the Gold Coast Marathon Expo in July 2017 and knew straight away we would go through them for it. They had everything planned and organised for us so all we had to do was train for the upcoming races. The best part was we had plenty of time to save before January 2019 and the payments are made in intervals throughout the year, so it is much easier on the bank account!!
We stayed at Coronado Springs Resort, which is a Disney World Resort and found it amazing. The four of us had more than enough space in the room and the resort amenities were fantastic. The complimentary buses to get to the races each morning and the theme parks afterwards were very prompt and definitely the easiest way for us to get around.
Mari-Mar met us the morning of the Expo in our hotel lobby and explained how everything works and where we could meet on race days which was a lovely touch. The race expo is huge and worth taking 2-3 hours out of your day to see everything and get your race bibs. It’s also a nice way to see ESPN World and have to a look before you run around it in the marathon.
The 5km race
The whole family did this one together and had the most amount of fun we have ever had running! The early morning start of 2.45am was not even an issue - both kids were so excited that they were dressed and ready to go well before the 3.30am bus came to take us to the race precinct. We walked the short walk to the bus and quickly realised that as Queenslanders the usual running attire was nowhere near sufficient enough and vowed to add extra layers for the following mornings 10km run.
Travelling Fit had set up a tent were we could all meet and leave our bags rather than do a bag drop, which was a godsend as the temperatures were so cold - it was nice to get inside. After greeting everyone and then getting photos with the characters, we walked over to the corrals that we were assigned to (Tim and I dropped back into the kids corrals, which runDisney has no issues with as long as you don’t go into a faster corral) and all huddled together to keep warm. The entertainment before the race was fantastic and took your mind off the cold and before we knew it there were fireworks released and the first wave was off!! Every wave got their own fireworks to start and the atmosphere was electric. The excitement and anticipation for a 5km race was more like the start of a music concert.
Tim and I had said we would run at the kid’s pace and stop for every character that we could, and this made it so much more fun. This race was not done for speed but for the experience and enjoyment and we loved seeing how much fun the kids were having with each character as we stopped for them and took photos. We finished together and it was so wonderful to see how happy the kids were to get their big shiny medals. We were handed a mylar blanket (emergency space blanket) at the end and quickly got warm again while we ate our post-race snacks and headed back to the buses to our resort for a quick shower before heading out for breakfast at Chef Mickeys and a day at Magic Kingdom.
The 10km race
The 2.45am start was harder this morning after getting up so early the previous morning and spending all day at Magic Kingdom, however the excitement was definitely still there and both kids were dressed into much warmer clothes (thanks to runDisney for the long sleeve participant shirts!!!) and ready to go for the 3.30am bus. We went over to the Travelling Fit tent again, greeted everyone and left our gear bag there, then headed into our corral. We had kept the mylar blankets that we were given at the end of the 5km race and had them wrapped around us to keep warm before the start. It was a very interesting sound in the corrals as all you could hear was the rustle of everyone’s mylar as they danced and moved to the music. Once again, the start came around really quickly and before we knew it the fireworks went off for the first wave and we came to terms with abandoning the mylar blankets before crossing the start. Unfortunately you can’t cross the start line with the blankets on as it interferes with the timing chips, however it does make you run fast at the start to get warm again quick!!
This was the first time either of the kids had run more than 5.7km (Gold Coast) and Tim and I both thought it would be a challenge for them to complete the 10kms. They proved us both wrong, considering the characters were spaced out a bit more and had more distance between them. We collected our bigger medals, new mylar blankets, post-race snacks and drinks and went back to the tent to gather our gear. Both kids were greeted like celebrities and congratulated on their runs by the other runners and the Travelling Fit team which made them even happier!! We headed back to Coronado Springs for a shower then went into Disney Springs for lunch at Terralina Crafted Italian restaurant with the Travelling Fit runners before hitting Animal Kingdom and enjoying the rides for the afternoon/evening!!
The 21.1km, Half Marathon Morning
The alarm went off at 2.45am and Tim and I got up and left the kids asleep in bed. We figured they could sleep in and catch a bus to meet us at the end of the race or at one of the parks depending on what time they woke up and when we finished. We got ourselves on the 3.30am bus and did the usual meet, greet and bag drop at the Travelling Fit tent. The weather was a complete contrast to the previous two mornings and I left the jumpers and mylar blankets at the tent with our bag as it was so much warmer. The start line for the half marathon was quite a distance away from the 5km and 10km starts, so we made our way over earlier to get into the corrals in time.
Tim dropped back from “B” coral to “D” coral so we could run together, and we could feel the difference in the mood from the crowds compared to the 5km and 10km races. People were a little more focused and it was feeling more like a race start than a party atmosphere. The entertainment was just as good and the fireworks to start the race made the previous two mornings seem like sparklers.
The entertainment on course was amazing, there were marching bands, gospel choirs, school bands, DJ’s and all the characters were out for photo stops. We entered the sign to go into Magic Kingdom and along with every other runner, stopped to get selfies before heading into the actual park. I have never experienced an emotion while running like I did when I entered Magic Kingdom and ran up Main Street. It was packed with spectators cheering you on and we got there while it was still dark so to look up at Cinderella’s Castle with the lights on was quite special.
We ran through Epcot (same as the previous two day’s) to finish and collected our even bigger medals and our gear and went back to the resort to see what the kids were up to. Obviously they needed a sleep in as we woke them as we opened the door!!! We showered and had breakfast then it was over to Hollywood Studios for more fun.
The 42.2km, Full Marathon Morning
Yet again the alarm woke us at 2.45am and we all got up. The weather was so much warmer again so it was just shorts and a singlet for today’s running attire. We had purchased the chEAR Squad package for the kids so they could see us finish the marathon, which included food and drinks, blankets and reserved seating at the finish line. We met Mari-Mar from Travelling Fit at the tent and she said she would take both of the kids into Magic Kingdom so they could see us run through there (in a specially reserved chEAR Squad area) and didn’t have to worry about where to go. One more reason I knew that Travelling Fit were the right company to book with!!!
We left the kids at the tent and walked over to the corals with Sharon, another Travelling Fit client who was doing her first marathon! Once again Tim came back into my coral so we could experience the run together again and before we knew it the fireworks went off and it was time to race. We entered Magic Kingdom and kept our eyes peeled for the kids and Mari-Mar and would have missed them totally as there were so many people if they weren’t yelling our names so loudly! I think for me personally, this was the highlight of my run seeing the kids and being cheered on by them. We stopped and had a chat and Mari-Mar took a photo of us all together in front of the castle before we continued on and Mari-Mar took them back to the finish line so they could see us finish. It was awesome to know they were safe and having as much fun as we were!
From Magic Kingdom we ran through to Animal Kingdom where I was hoping to get on the roller coaster, Expedition Everest, however we had arrived 40 minutes before the park officially opened so unfortunately had to give that a miss. We then ran to ESPN Wide World of Sports then into Hollywood Studios which had opened to the public by then so the crowds cheering you on was a great boost. The next part of the marathon around the World Showcase was quiet emotional for us as we realised we were nearing the end of our runDisney experience and we didn’t want it to end! We ran for the last time through Epcot and past the gospel choir to come around the corner to the finish line and the kids cheering us on!!
We collected the marathon medal (even bigger again) and Mickey Mouse Ears, cool towel, drinks and post-race snack before getting our names checked against our bibs to enter the challenge tent. We got our Goofy medal first then our Dopey Medal (the biggest medal). It was very surreal to have finally completed something that we had been planning for so long, it was hard to think it was all over! The kids had our 5km, 10km and 21.1km medals with them as well as their 5km and 10km ones so we lined up for photos with Dopey and all of our medals together before heading back to the resort for a shower so we could get to Epcot for the afternoon.
Travelling Fit organised a post-race dinner at The House of Blues in Disney Springs after the marathon which was awesome. It was great to catch up with everyone after the races and see how they all went and have some food and drinks all together without the thought of a 2.45am start the next morning!! The whole experience is something that we can’t wait to do again and we have been lucky enough to make some really nice friends in the process.
Travelling Fit made it so easy for us, everything went to plan and the holiday was perfect!!!