While a lot of these tips may seem like givens for any race weekend, the one thing I notice is that with runDisney, a lot of what may seem like common sense to an experience runner gets tossed aside (and even experienced runners have fallen victim to that, too). To help you know what to expect in a sea of tutus and sneakers with tiara gems on them, I’ve compiled my personal list of dos and don’ts for runDisney events so that way, even if race day is overwhelming, at least you can stay cool and confident.
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DO train properly!
I know this seems like a given for any race, but you’d be shocked how many times I hear people say, “I totally didn’t train for this race at all!” or, “I trained a little bit, but I still feel extremely underprepared.” With any race, you’re going to want to train properly, but the beauty of runDisney races is that you get the schedule so far out in advance and likely, you’re signing up really far out in advance, too. Set a countdown on your phone with an app or hang a calendar in your home or office with a countdown on it, whichever helps you more, and make sure you find the right training plan that works best for your needs.
I know it can be hard to squeeze in the time to do so, but you’ll thank yourself race day. When I was training for my first half marathon, I was still living in Fort Myers, where it’s generally even more hot and humid than Orlando, and I’d be running late at night with my parents - who were also running the Space Coast Half with me - to get the long runs in and beat the summer heat. Our runs wouldn’t end until around midnight, but I went into my first half marathon with so much confidence that I was barely nervous. You don’t have to go out in the middle of the night like I did, but take a look at your schedule and find what works best for you. Who knows - maybe there are some local runs happening that fall in line with your training schedule!
DO a trial run in your costume before race day!
You may feel silly running around your neighborhood or on the treadmill in a tutu and tiara or in a modified Chewbacca onesie, but it is well worth it to do a few test miles in your outfit before race day. I’ll never forget at Princess Half Marathon, there was a heap of abandoned tutus - both purchased and homemade - on the side of the highway as you were entering the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot.
Want to incorporate something on your head without something as bulky and potentially uncomfortable as a tiara? Try a nonslip headband! Plenty of companies, like Sweaty Bands, make great nonslip headbands with fun designs. You can usually find them at the runDisney expos!
DO make sure you’re prepared for any kind of weather!
The weather changes you can experience in Florida can be crazy sometimes, especially if you’re running WDW Marathon Weekend or Princess Half Marathon weekend. I always like to get a mylar blanket that I can easily get rid of once I start the race, or you can get a cheap jacket at Goodwill and toss it (all clothing discarded along the course is collected and donated, so don’t worry about that!).
DO get up early enough so you’re feeling ready to run and not rushing!
Every race, without fail, I see quite a few people literally sprinting to the corral because they arrived late. If you’re worried about sleeping through your alarm, try getting up early the day before. Incorporating another race into your weekend, whether it’s to run or to volunteer, may be beneficial if your race isn’t the first (but it's important to know yourself to know if this will or won't help!). Otherwise, make sure you get to bed early enough to be well rested so you aren’t literally bolting through the Epcot parking lot at 5 a.m. Getting to your corral early enough will help you feel less nervous since it’s one less thing to worry about. Don’t sweat the bathrooms while you wait. There are plenty all throughout the start area!
DO show off your bling at the parks!
Since it’s unfortunately socially unacceptable to wear your race medals to the office, show it off at the parks after your run! Give yourself plenty of time to relax, stretch, foam roll, or however you like to recovery, but it’ll actually help move the lactic acid around if you leisurely enjoy your favorite park. Another perk to this is getting the characters to sign your medal! One of the reasons my Princess Half Marathon medal is my favorite is because Snow White - that year’s featured princess - signed the back of it, giving it an extra special touch (and a pretty cool character meet and greet interaction!). There are also locations where you can have your medal engraved; I got mine done at Disney Springs.
DON’T worry about the balloon ladies!
All across the internet you’ll see tales of people being swept by parade buses after falling behind the pace keepers, a group of women that are the last ones to cross the start line at any runDisney race marked by some balloons that they tie on to their outfit. I’ve got some news for you: they’re super nice, they’re not the official pace keepers, and you can still finish the race if you end up behind them. After all, that’s what happened to me at the Tower of Terror 10 Miler in 2014. I was seriously out of shape and on top of it, I was practically trampled at the start line by an overeager man twice my height, so even if I was in shape, I would have been hurting from the way he stomped on my ankle, causing it to twist and be in sharp pain for the rest of the race. Right after mile 7, I fell behind the balloon ladies. While people did get swept at the mile 7 point, I was lucky enough to have just missed that bus, and I ended up finishing the race and crossing the finish line. The whole time, I was waiting for someone to pick me up, as did a group of women around me doing the same pace. Yet, no one ever came and we finished together, much to all of our surprise. While I wouldn’t recommend falling behind the balloon ladies if you can avoid it, do know that it’s not the end of the world. Just do your best to catch up to them and keep pace with them so you can finish the course if you’re feeling up to it.
DON’T forget about race etiquette just because it's Disney!
As I previously mentioned, I’ve been trampled at a runDisney race before. I’ve seen women sitting in the corrals have others literally walk over her, their butts literally on the seated’s head, to try to rush to the front of the corral to avoid the balloon ladies. I’ve seen a group of women at the Princess Half Marathon walk together in a line of seven, all holding hands and singing a song together. While I understand that a runDisney race can be an emotional moment for people for a variety of reasons, the middle of the course as people are trying to get by is not a safe way to cherish that moment together by holding hands multiple people across. I recommend saving any emotional race day moments you want to have as a group for after the race; that way, you can also celebrate your accomplishment of finishing together and it becomes even more special. Or, if you know you want to have a bonding moment along the course, pick a spot based on the course map and when you get there, step to the side where you're not in the road so you can be respectful of the runners around you.
Runners who don't do this: this is all the more reason to be aware of your surroundings. I always go into a runDisney race anticipating that absolutely no one is going to be aware of their surroundings so I can act proactively in case of a potential accident.
If you’re running with a group, sticking to pairs of two to run side-by-side is the general rule of thumb. When transitioning from running to walking, raise your hand high so anyone behind you that’s running will know that you’re about to slow down and hopefully not barrel into you. If you can, shift to the side of the road - some people will tell you to go to the right side, but at a runDisney race, just focus on not causing an accident. This is not just for your own safety, but for others as well.
Also, if you’re a faster runner, don’t just blow through people who are walking! While it can be aggravating to see someone in a higher corral than they should be for their pace, it doesn’t give you an excuse to be rude either… something I’ve seen at many a race, but especially runDisney ones because I think people forget that most people’s priorities for the runDisney courses is to have fun!
DON’T just plug your headphones in and go!
This ties back to race etiquette a bit in the regards of your personal safety and the safety of others around you. runDisney races will have moments where they announce a sharp turn ahead, and regardless, the sheer volume of people makes it dangerous to shut yourself off to anything other than your running playlist. I recommend either keeping the volume low or investing in a pair of headphones that don’t rest in your ear, but on the jawbone like the Aftershokz. I invested in a pair of their Trekz Titanium, which use bone conduction to transmit the sound to you. These are great because I hear my music perfectly, but can also be completely aware of my surroundings. They also rest pretty comfortably around my neck (as pictured) when I'm not actively using them before or after I start running (or I feel like listening to the sounds of the theme parks during a Disney race!) and their battery life has proven to be impressive.
DON’T worry about character photos!
One of the most frequently asked questions I get about runDisney races is, “I’m afraid I’ll fall behind the balloon ladies if I stop for character photos, but I really want them! Can I realistically?” My honest answer is that it all depends. If you’re running the 5K, they aren’t exactly strict with your pace, so enjoy whatever characters you stumble upon that you want a photo with. I've seen a lot of people say to try to prioritize your character photos, but it's often random (you can kind of predict who will be there based on past years, but there's no guarantee) so you're better off just playing it by ear rather than stressing over when you will or won't stop for a picture.
Depending on the length of the lines, your pace, and your corral placement, the likelihood of being able to take a bunch of character photos and not get swept will vary. If you want photos but don’t want to risk it, I recommend snapping a selfie near the line to get the character in the background, getting some photos at the expo (more on that here), at the start line, and/or at the finish (some of the characters will be there after crossing, but oftentimes there are characters waiting for you at the finish that will happily stop for a selfie, like my photo with Knight Donald above). So, really, there’s no sense in worrying about it since it can be so unpredictable.
*The 501st Legion and Rebel Legion are charity organizations that consist of screen accurate Star Wars cosplayers (including myself, my fiancé, and my parents!). The 501st and Rebel Legions are usually invited “troop” the Star Wars races at Disney (and have been at all of them in the past), so if you’re worried for time but want photos, I highly recommend opting for photos with the Legions, as the lines are usually quicker since it’s not an official photo stop hosted by Disney.
DON’T try anything new on race day!
I highly recommend packing your own fuel versus relying on whatever they pass out at the runDisney races. Sometimes it’s sports beans from Jelly Belly, sometimes it’s Gu energy gels, but if you haven’t tried it before, mid-race may not be the best time. This is true for any race event, not just runDisney. If you don’t want to carry your own fuel on race day, really explore the vendor hall. In 2018 and 2019, I’ve been able to try sports bean samples thanks to a sponsor handing them out at the expo, which was great because that’s what was passed out when I ran the half marathons I did in 2018 at Disney World.
Hopefully, you’re feeling a little more prepared as you approach your first runDisney event! My first half marathon was not a runDisney race, and for that I am grateful. Not to say they’re a bad first option, but they are on a whole other scale of a local race that, while just as fun, would be less stressful than the sheer beast that is runDisney.
What’s your favorite part of a runDisney race? Let’s chat!
Jessica is a huge Disney and Star Wars nerd who channeled that love into motivation to lose 75 lbs.