What to know before your first runDisney event

The first destination race I completed was the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon at Walt Disney World in Orlando. I’d long wanted to participate in a runDisney race, but the timing never seemed quite right and the entry fees are steep. I have a friend who is local to Orlando and she started running fairly recently. After telling her that I’d happily run a Disney race with her, she found out that registration for the Wine & Dine events were coming up soon. We registered over six months before the race and both started training in earnest. My calendar already had two half-marathon distances races in the spring, so I wasn’t worried about being trained and looked forward to a full season of racing.

Tip #1: Book early

Disney races sell out fast! Especially if you want to complete a multi-course event, like the two course challenge or Dopey challenge, you need to register as early as possible. My friend pre-registered with an annual pass, and I registered on one of the first days of open registration. Even though my friend was local to Orlando, I knew that Mr. Vine and I would stay on Disney property to be close to the race course. We did not book our lodging soon enough and were unable to get my first choice (reasonably priced Disney Vacation Club condo). Instead, we stayed at the Swan. Ultimately, that choice worked out just fine because we booked with rewards points, many of which were purchased during a sale on points. We also found very inexpensive flights on Frontier. Guess they didn’t know it was Food & Wine Festival season!

Tip #2: Be sensible about park visits

This might not be a new tip, but I recommend planning any park visits for after your race. For our trip, we didn’t actually spend much time in the parks based on the short duration of our visit (Friday afternoon arrival, Monday afternoon departure with the race on Sunday). We visited Epcot for about three hours for the post race after party. We bought a ticket for Mr. Vine–mine was included in the race admission. But otherwise, we opted not to spend money for park admissions, knowing that our only good day was Saturday, and I didn’t want to do anything too ambitious on the day before the race. My ideal would be to stay for the full week following race day and hit the parks on 4 or 5 of those days. Having been to Disney before, we didn’t feel like we missed out too much by not visiting the parks, and we spent most of our time doing free Disney activities, like walking the boardwalk and visiting Disney Springs, which still gave us the “Disney experience.”

Tip #3: Understand the Expo

In general, I’m not a race expo person. I’m overwhelmed and have a little pre-race anxiety, so I just want to get my bib, and get out. Try not to do Disney that way. The expo, where you’ll pick up your packet, is HUGE! Consider buying whatever race specific swag you’d like. Disney sent a $15 gift card with my race entry and I used it to buy a race-branded headband and towards the purchase of a magnet. You probably won’t have another opportunity to buy this stuff and a lot of the popular items do sell out. If a commemorative souvenir is important to you, pick it up now. Take advantage of the many photo ops, character and otherwise. I’m so glad that I insisted on photos at almost every opportunity. This turned out to be one of the best chances we had for photos. You’re here for the full experience, soak it in! As you might recall, I broke my foot five weeks before race day and was highly uncertain about how the race would go, or if I’d be able to finish. I wanted to take as many photos as possible beforehand, because I didn’t know what other opportunities I might have post-race. Even if you’re perfectly healthy on race day, you’ll probably appreciate these photos later (and you never know what can happen during a race, so grab those photos when you can!). My one regret is not getting a cute champagne flute with a 13.1 mouse ear topper. I planned to get one at the post-race party to celebrate with Mr. Vine. These drinks were sold in the immediate post-race area, but Mr. Vine didn’t meet me there (more on that later) and I was feeling pretty wrecked right afterwards. I couldn’t find the special drinks at Epcot during the post race party, which was kind of a bummer for other reasons (more on that later). So this brings home the idea of: if you see something you want, do it right then, don’t wait because you might not get another chance.

Tip #4: Make use of the 3 a.m. wake up call

I naively thought we would be able to avoid taking a bus to the start line because we were so close to our race course. That’s not true. Plan on taking a bus and understand that you’ll be told to get on the bus by 3:30 a.m. Even for a seasoned runner, used to early mornings on race day, Disney is something else. Everyone warns you about the early wake up time, but fewer people tell you how to make that time work for you. I also did not realize how much extra time there would be at the start line, just waiting around to get into the corrals. There is a right way and a wrong way to spend this time. You should pack breakfast or snack items. I couldn’t eat enough at 3 a.m. when we woke up, but I would have been able to slowly pick at a trail mix or yogurt over the next two hours. I was hungry by the time I entered the corral, over two hours after waking up. That’s never a good way to start a race. This might be the most important tip! You’ll have plenty of time to eat and throw away what you’re not going to carry. I envied the seasoned Disney racers who set up throw away blankets (or, you could pack the blanked into your gear check) and had a festive picnic. Disney also offers character photo ops during this time. I was deterred by the long waits. I should not have been. In retrospect, that was one of the best opportunities for character photos and I just stood around during that time anyway. For a future Disney race, I would line up immediately for either the shortest or my most desired character, snack in line, and enjoy the warm up exercises.

Tip #5: The finish line

If it’s important that a loved one cheer you on or meet you at the finish line, buy chEAR Squad. It’s stupidly expensive and includes a bunch of things you probably don’t actually want. But the race setup is such that it’s very difficult for your friends or family to meet you at the actual finish line without it. And if you’re not going to get chEAR Squad, make a good plan with your non-racing friends for where you’ll meet and make sure they understand bus cutoff times if they are heading to the finish line area. Also insist that they sign up for runner tracking so they know where you are on the course. In my post race state, I was very annoyed that Mr. Vine wasn’t at the finish line to meet me, I hadn’t seen him on course when I ran by the Swan, and he wasn’t even at our hotel room when I got back. I’m over it now, but at the moment, I was not happy. Seeing him at the finish line is one of the best parts of any race for me, and given how triumphant/exhausted I felt after this one, it was a bummer not to have him there. Text messages were not going through while I was on-course and immediately after, which added to the frustration. I found out later that he was on the sidelines where the course passed the hotel (but did not see me) and he tried to get to the finish line area, but the buses had stopped running. Also, the post race snack box was one of the worst post race food options I’ve ever had. It added insult to injury because I was starving! If you crave a particular post race treat, put it in your gear check. Another finish line tip I wish I’d employed was to use my own gear check. I shared with my friend who would finish before me, but that meant I didn’t have a bag to put my own gear in when I changed. We did this to save time, but Disney does everything so efficiently, it would not have been a problem to pick up my bag. Because I carried a bunch of stuff in my hands, I left my running shoes on the bus (I had changed into flip flops). The shoes were coming up on replacement, so it wasn’t the worst thing ever. But it still wasn’t awesome. I also left my dirty tank top and compression socks in my friends’ bag.

Tip #6: Relax and enjoy!

Despite your best laid plans, things might not go exactly how you want them to go. The after-party took place during a torrential downpour. It rained so hard, that we bailed after only about an hour. I was very disappointed about all of the yummy food and wine festival treats I wasn’t going to get. I was more disappointed about the character photos we weren’t going to take. Because of my foot rehab, I planned to run/walk the race. My friend, who was healthy, wanted to run her first-ever race to the best of her ability. I totally supported that! But this meant we wouldn’t be running the race together as we originally planned. Instead, we would meet up at the finish line. I was so focused on trying to get through the race on a still-healing injury, and what’s worse, with a full five weeks off training. As a result, I didn’t stop for a single character photo. The one I really regret missing out on was Marie from Aristocats. She appeared less than two miles, maybe less than one mile, from the finish line. I remember feeling like if I stopped, I didn’t know if I could go on. My quads were cramping at that point (a consequence of inadequate training), even though my foot felt good. I was also irrationally afraid of not making the required pace at that time. This is a reiteration of my earlier tip to seize the moment–do what you want to do, even if it seems the line is too long or you think you can do it later. While I was on course, the idea of stopping for character photos seemed more annoying than it had in my head before the race. Early in the race, I wanted to make time while I felt good because I knew that if my foot started hurting, I’d have to walk, which could put me at risk of not meeting the pace requirement. Later in the race, I just wanted to finish as soon as possible and I felt like character photos would prolong my discomfort. My foot was fine, but the race was not a comfortable experience due to the break from training while my foot was healing. I’m still not sure how I’ll feel in a future Disney race about the on-course character photos. But I will say that Disney brings out some really fun, unexpected characters during the race. One thing I did so right was to book spa appointments for after the race. I had a pedicure (which I’d been craving ever since breaking my foot) and my friend got a massage. Her husband sweetly sent us a plate full of chocolate covered strawberries. We also indulged in the kitchen sink ice cream sundae at Beaches & Cream later that evening (video link, because a picture is not enough!). Due to our smart hotel location, we were able to walk from our hotel, to Beaches & Cream, and then to Epcot. We took the boat back on account of the rain.

Whew, it was almost a half marathon to get through all of those tips! I enjoyed the runDisney experience and would like to do it again. My friend and I are kicking around the idea of taking on the Dopey Challenge in the not so distant future. Destination races, and Disney is no exception, require a big commitment, financial and otherwise. I hope you enjoyed this tips and that they help you smooth out some of the wrinkles that were part of my first runDisney event.

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