From the April 2013 issue of Runner’s World
Kisses from Snow White, high-fives from Donald Duck and a send-off from Mickey Mouse… it’s the Disney World Marathon
By Kerry McCarthy
“So I was running along quite happily when all of a sudden Captain Jack Sparrow jumped out of nowhere and chased me down the road with his cutlass glinting in the sun.” It’s not often you find yourself telling such a tale – in fact, if your friends are like mine you’ll be more used to the sight of their eyes starting to glaze over as soon as you even mention the R word – but if you ever do the Walt Disney World Marathon, you’ll find yourself fully stocked with equally weird and wonderful anecdotes.
Let’s get one thing straight right away: if you’re a dedicated club runner for whom running is a serious business, for whom splits, lap times, VO2 max readings and PBs are the be-all and end-all, then this is not really an event worthy of your consideration. You had probably guessed as much from the name of the race.
For everyone else, the experience of running through Disney World is exactly as magical as you might imagine it to be.
What does that mean? It means Mickey Mouse giving a rousing (if high-pitched) start-line speech and firing the starter’s gun, backed by a spectacular fireworks display, to get things under way. It means cartoon characters springing up everywhere on the course. Disney theme tunes pumping out of the speakers on the way round. Crowds swelling tenfold and going absolutely bonkers when you run through one of the four main parks, giving you an adrenaline rush like no other you’ve ever had. Plus lots of American spectators.
I’m a big fan of US races for one main reason: Americans make for phenomenal race spectators. They roar you on, making eye contact and giving you personal encouragement at the top of their voices. They even jump onto the course and run with you if they feel you need a boost, as well as waving hilarious placards that they’ve spent ages making not for friends, but for every runner taking part.
The Walt Disney World Marathon is no different and, if anything, the effect is heightened by the fact that everybody spectating is on holiday and already in high spirits.
The race starts in the darkness of 5am so as not to disturb the park-goers for more of the day than is necessary – and to protect runners from the notoriously strong January Floridian sun.
If you’ve not been to Disney World before, it’s essentially an enormous tract of private land (75 square kilometres) in which are housed four main theme parks connected by large roads. It’s impossible to walk from one park to another – you have to take a special park bus. A fair chunk of the race was run on these wide, undulating dual carriageways, on the way taking runners through the parks of Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.
There are so many sights and sounds that it is impossible to document them all, but particular favourites include high-fiving Donald (why does he wear a towel when he comes out of the shower?), racing Goofy for about 50m, laughing at the 30-kilometre mark where a troupe of characters were digging graves for those who had hit the wall – many runners flopped into a headstoned grave for a photo opp – and the thrill of running through the castle in the Magic Kingdom and receiving a kiss from Snow White on the other side. Not to mention the giraffes, wildebeest, camels and who knows what other animals, who looked on curiously as we charged through the (whiffy) Animal Kingdom. And, finally, the gospel choir stationed a kilometre from the end to push you through that final agonising kick for the line, where Daffy was waiting with a hug for anybody who needed one.
If ever there was a marathon where the idea is to take your time and soak it in, this is it. Fast, slow, young, old – anyone looking for some fun in their running will love it, and I suspect even a few avowed running curmudgeons would be secretly charmed, too. Do it!
RUN IT: rundisney.com/disneyworld-marathon
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