Whether you want to run a 5K or a half marathon, you can do that at Disney Parks!
California's race weekends are on hold, but in Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris, you can run a race through the parks before they open! The full schedule is on runDisney.com. The races are fun but they are timed if you run anything longer than a 5K because they have to re-open the roads. You get chip timing for the 5Ks, too, but I find that they aren't as strict about it since you're never on an open highway.
If you can walk or run a 16 minute mile or less, it's a great inclusion to a Disney vacation - but do note that registration opens up many months in advance and they sometimes sell out quickly depending on the race weekend.
The races start early; typically around 5-6 a.m. depending on which race you do. However, it's certainly a unique experience that I would recommend, even if an early wake-up call isn't your thing. But, if this is your first race, I'd recommend starting off with a local run because the size of runDisney events can make them very overwhelming for beginners! So if crowds can tend to stress you out, start small.
It's also worth noting that they do encourage dressing up! Picking out a race outfit inspired by a character is one of my favorite parts of the whole thing! I ran the 2017 Walt Disney World 5K in a Gravity Falls costume and did a coronation Elsa inspired outfit for the 2018 Princess Half Marathon.
There are characters along the course that you can get a photo with, but do remember that for anything longer than a 5K, it is timed and they do "sweep" people off course. At WDW, they have "balloon ladies" (literally a few women with balloons attached to them) who are the unofficial pace keepers of the event. They are the last people to go in the last corral, so as long as you're in line with them or ahead of them, you should be good to go! Because of this, I recommend taking photos with characters on course during the 5K events so you don't have to worry about it on longer runs because lines can get long and eat at your time!
Sweeping is done to ensure Florida Highway Patrol that the roads are back open, since a good chunk of the longer race courses happen on the highways as you run from park to park. That being said, don't be surprised when you have to go up an overpass on course; I'll forever have a love/hate relationship with Osceola Parkway after the (now discontinued) Tower of Terror 10 Miler!
Q: What’s the deal with the expos?
A: runDisney expos are held the whole weekend, starting the day before the first race! The schedules for these are always posted in advance on runDisney’s website. The expo is your one-stop place for everything: your packet pickup (your packet includes your bib, shirt, gear check bag, etc), official race weekend and runDisney merch, and a vendor hall that’s basically comic con for runners!
It is not unusual for the expo to be mobbed with a crazy line for a few hours upon opening on the first day - people tend to get into a frenzy and worry about official event merchandise selling out - but it calms down by nightfall or the day after. While eBay scalpers have been an issue in the past, I’ve noticed there’s been enough merchandise for everyone there regardless of this - so much so that I often see race weekend merch at the local Disney Character Warehouse outlet a few months later! So don’t worry, your likelihood of snagging an “I Did It!” shirt is pretty high despite the early bird chaos.
They also usually have character meets at the expos (for example, rotating princesses and Princess Minnie at Princess Half 2018) so keep an eye out for those!
Pro tip: bring cash instead of your cards! Not only will this help you set a spending limit, but prevent potential card fraud/skimming. I know quite a few people who had their cards compromised at the Princess 2018 expo so it’s better to be safe than sorry moving forward!
Q: With a 5:30 a.m. start time, when should I be at my corral?
A: Check the bus schedule if you’re leaving from Disney property and relying on that - it’s in your event guide when those are released - but plan for an early wake up call! I like to try to be there for 4 a.m. at the latest - but preferably closer to 3:30 for my own comfort - but others feel more comfortable pushing it a bit closer!
Q: What are challenges?
A: Challenges let you register for multiple events at once - usually the 10k and half, but more options are available like the Goofy and Dopey Challenges during WDW Weekend - and you get an extra medal for completing the challenge! This is a fun way for more experienced runners to challenge themselves and, if you’re a mid-packer like me, get some photo ops on a shorter course so you don’t stress it as much.
Q: What about virtual races?
A: Disney does offer virtual races! As someone who became largely comfortable with running with Hogwarts Running Club’s virtual events and now hosts virtual events through Bombshell Fitness, I’d highly recommend giving the virtual runs a whirl if you’re new to running and just want an untimed fun way to work towards a goal and get a medal for doing it!
Q: When do I register?
A: Many months in advance! Registration sometimes sells out in minutes (like the 2018 Wine and Dine 5k), or sometimes you can register right before the race happens (like the 2018 Star Wars Dark Side half and First Order Challenge). Keep an eye out for race registration calendars and plan (and budget!) accordingly!