Post One: Challenge Preparation
I can’t honestly tell you what made me think that running the Dopey Challenge was a good idea. The only way I can summarize the logic behind this decision is as such: I have run several marathons. What’s harder than a marathon? Clearly I should push myself and do something EVEN BIGGER with my next goal.
Disney’s Dopey Challenge is an incredible race series that consists of four events: a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Full Marathon on four consecutive mornings in early January. This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Disney Marathon Weekend, and the 5th anniversary of the Dopey Challenge, so it was with gusto that I signed myself and my husband up for the challenge.
A Dopey Idea
While conquering the distance of 48.6 miles over the course of four days is one thing, there’s an added degree of difficulty with Disney races: they begin at 5:30 in the morning. In order to be in your corral at the recommended time of 4:45 AM, you generally have to be setting your alarm somewhere in the neighborhood of 3:00 AM and be out the door by 3:30 at the latest. If you stay on Disney property, you are required to be on the bus to the start by 4:00 AM. Having run the 2016 Glass Slipper challenge (a 10K followed by a half marathon), I had some familiarity with several consecutive mornings of Disney wakeups. But two mornings and four mornings are, apparently, very different beasts.
When I trained for these events, I started with a solid base. I came off the Marine Corps Marathon on October 22nd and Dopey occurred over the weekend of January 3rd – 7th. That gave me 11 weeks from marathon to marathon to recover and re-vamp my training. Mostly, I focused on cumulative fatigue. I knew that running so many miles pre-marathon would put a huge strain on my body and I wanted to prepare for that. I did back-to-back long workouts, looking to simulate the feeling of running on tired legs.One thing I did not do (that I probably should have) was roll back my wakeup schedule. When we ran Princess in 2016, we spent several weeks slowly acclimating to early wakeups. One week we would wake up at 7:00 AM, the next at 6:00 AM, and so on. The earliest we got up was 5:00 AM (because I am not a morning person and rising earlier than that in a New England winter is just torturous).
For Dopey, we found various excuses not to get up early. Traveling, the holidays, illness… and endless litany of reasons. I do think this cost us on race day and as painful as those few weeks of waking up earlier were, I would definitely reinstate them were I to attempt this crazy feat a second time.
Cold Weather in Florida
We got to Florida early so we could hit the theme parks, pick up our bibs, and relax before the races started. Much to our horror, what was forecast as the perfect running weekend began to take a turn towards the frigid. During the week before the race, forecasted temperatures at race-start plummeted to below freezing; a true cold snap for Florida. As we watched the temperature forecast drop, we decided there was only one route to take: an emergency trip to the outlets provided some much-needed cold gear base layers to keep us warm on the run.
Lesson learned: pack for any weather conditions, even if your race is in Florida and even if the weather report tells you otherwise!
VIP versus No VIP
While there are various VIP experiences that one can purchase for Disney’s race weekend, we opted to go the old-fashioned route: we purchased nothing in addition to our bibs. Some VIP packages come with early entry to the expo, special tents and bathrooms at the start line, food at the finish line, exclusive character meet and greets, etc. For us, the price didn’t justify these perks.
The tents at the start are located in the runner’s village which, for the longer races, can be over a mile from the actual corrals. Even VIPs are expected to be in the corrals at least 45 minutes before race start, and we didn’t want to wake up even earlier just to ensure we got our money’s worth from the VIP tent. The finish line food tends to get picked over by faster runners and is cleaned up promptly (there was the high likelihood we wouldn’t even get to it in time because we were planning fairly slow races). On the whole, we just didn’t see a need for extras.
Bib pickup for Disney races is actually a bit of a hassle. The expo opened on Wednesday and our first race was on Thursday. Though we got to the expo within an hour of opening, it was truly a madhouse. Crowds of people formed never-ending lines to get into the various places we needed to go to pick up bibs, race shirts, and race merch. To make matters worse: it was both cold and raining, and all of the lines for these things were outside.
We started with bib pickup which, once we got through the line, was surprisingly smoothly. An extra tip for those who decide to run a Disney Challenge: for multi-race challenges, you need to ensure that you get your photo taken at bib pickup. This allows RunDisney to put your picture on record, and they check it against you when you finish your race and collect your challenge medal. It’s a measure to make certain that the same person runs all the races and that people aren’t selling their bibs to others.
While we definitely wanted to pick up some official RunDisney merch, the line to get into the official merchandise area was way too long to justify waiting. RunDisney actually has a huge problem with this: there is a steady flow of limited release RunDisney merchandise that gets bought out by re-sellers on the first day of the expo only to be sold for inflated prices on eBay. As annoying as it is, we didn’t feel like fighting the eBay sellers to get into the merch building so we decided to come back the next day.
The rest of the expo is fairly standard with just about everything you might expect. One incredible feature is the ability to meet Jeff Galloway; Disney’s official training partner. He is perhaps the most gracious and kind run-lebrity I’ve had the privilege to meet, and I was so grateful to have the opportunity to chat with him (albeit briefly).
Disney requires Proof of Time for corral assignments and neither of us are particularly fast runners. My POT put me in corral C for the 5K and 10K and corral E for the Half/Full. Mike, my husband, got put in E for the 5K and 10K, and G for the Half/Full. Disney requires a 16 minute per mile pace requirement for all races (and begins this clock when the last runner crosses the start line). This means that corral assignments are fairly important if you plan on adding any “Disney magic” to your race.
Because Disney races aren’t just running; there’s a bit of a Disney twist. All along the race course, you’ll find character stops: photo opportunities with Disney characters that you don’t usually see out in the parks. Princesses, yes, but also villains, heroes, anti-heroes, you name it and they’re probably out there! Best of all, each character stop comes with a magnificent backdrop, and music that spills out onto the course so those pictures come out awesome (and even if you don’t stop for a photo, you get a little burst of pixie dust as you run by).
Unfortunately, lines can get long for picture stops (especially if you’re in one of the back corrals). The clock doesn’t just stop when you do, so pausing for a 30-minute line can mean the difference for some between being swept and the finish line. It’s a delicate balance that you want to hit just right to ensure maximum race enjoyment.
So here we were, paused on the brink of Dopey greatness. Ready to start our journey towards 48.6 miles. And how did it go, you might ask? Stay tuned for the next installment in this three-part blog series.