Inspired after reading See Sam Run’s blog on past/future challenges, I thought I’d give a little write-up of my experience in 2016 where, in my first trip Stateside, my younger brother and I had got it into our heads that four ‘races’ in four days was a good idea.

This all started for me a couple of years earlier when, as we runners are want to to, I’d started looking one race I’d like to do one day, which led to another I’d like…you know where I’m going with this.  Just realising there was a marathon around the Disney parks was nutty in itself, then I heard of the Goofy Challenge (half marathon on Saturday, marathon on Sunday) with three medals and got quite excited.  Then on looking into it a bit further, discovered the Dopey Challenge (Goofy with bonus 5k & 10k runs on Thursday and Friday respectively) now existed.  Think of all those medals, and all those t-shirts… Oh my.

My brother needed no convincing.  He’d been over a few years earlier – and been to a Wrestlemania that I’m not at all jealous about – and was all for going back.  I didn’t even try to talk him into the running aspect of it, but he was fairly insistent (as I remember it) on doing the lot despite not being too aerobically gifted when we signed up in the April, ahead of January 2016’s event.

So on to the races.

They start really, really early.

My first photo on the Thursday – 5k day – was at 4:55am, and we’d already woken up, had  breakfast, got the excellent busses from the Sports Resort to Epcot for the start, and got through security.  What I’m trying to say is, be prepared for early starts.

My 5k plan was simple: blast it, and hope for sub-20.  I’d been ill over Christmas and had barely ran for 3 weeks, but I really wanted this milestone for the first time outside of the UK.

After a big build up, including the first of many renditions of the national anthem (something of a novelty for us Brits, who aren’t half as patriotic!), we were off.  I went out hard and tried to hang on.

It wasn’t to be.

I lasted a measly 2k before my legs decided my lungs were letting them down with this whole “Oxygen” thing, and that was that.  I’m taking this as Disney’s way of telling me off for trying to take one of their events semi-seriously!  Still, I got my medal and a neat little breakfast box full of mostly inappropriate but delicious food.  Once my brother finished, we went back for second breakfast.  Sam and Frodo would’ve been proud.

2016-01-07 06.39.57
Tempting fate?!
2016-01-07 08.39.32
So bad. So good.

We spent the day at Hollywood Studios, being sure to see the Fantasmic Show & Fireworks later on. None of my photos even remotely do it justice but trust me, it was worth a later night to see it!

And then on to Friday’s 10k run.  The plan was take it fairly easy, and enjoy the sights.  Time to not pay attention to time.  Time to enter into the spirit of things.

It rained.  We got wet.  But I did behave, coming in with a modest 44:47 (my 5k was around 20:50 in the end, incidentally).  My brother’s feet blistered, and he still had 39 miles to do on them.  Ouch.  I also made sure to stop for a few poses with some of the characters on the way round!  That’s really what makes these races stand apart from anything else.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around Animal Kingdom.  The first I’d see of Cinderella Castle would be when we ran around the Magic Kingdom and through it for the Half Marathon on the Saturday.  It was well worth the wait:

2016-01-09 06.14.47
Already running for 48 mins, and it’s only 6:17am!

The Half and Full both start at 5.30am.  This can make fuelling a little tricky – who the hell wants to be stuffing their face at around 3am?! – but having swallowed a banana and a muffin, it was off to Epcot once again via the shuttle bus.

Quite unexpectedly (it might have been common knowledge and I’d paid no attention), Paula Radcliffe of women’s marathon record fame was at the start line and gave an interview.  I don’t think she said anything earth-shattering.  Fair enough.  After a third rendition of the anthem, we were underway.

This third day is a bit of a funny one.  With a marathon to follow, this should be a conservation of energy.  I fully intended to stop for all characters I recognised, and generally pace to around 1:45.  That went more or less to plan, and finishing 346th of over 21,000 runners had the added bonus of no queues to get the photos I was after!  The staff were all kind enough to take photos using my phone as well as the official ones, and plenty more to come the following day.

My brother finished about an hour later (I finished in 1:40).  From there, it was yet more park wandering followed by a Cirque du Soleil show at night…the perfect preparation before a super-early start for a marathon!

But hey, we were there for the experience, and we were on holiday.  It was a blast, and I wouldn’t change a thing about that.  (I might contradict this at the end…)

2016-01-10 05.19.46
Things got real.

Marathon morning was upon us.  The longish walk to the start line tackled, I got into my pen in good time.  Armed with a running belt with two ‘holsters’ for water bottles (one filled with 3 SIS gels), I was as ready as I could be for the miles ahead.  The final anthem was sung, fireworks went up, and the race was underway.

Not that is was any kind of race for me.  Priorities were:

  1. Finish; I want those bonus medals!
  2. Lots more character photos
  3. Sneak under 4 hours, in keeping with all my earlier marathons

I was reasonably confident of hitting all points.  I started out at what felt a pretty relaxed pace, and made sure to stop everywhere I saw characters I recognised.  Turns out my Disney knowledge is slightly less than perfect (I’d tell you know I missed if I knew)! Particular highlights included Mary Poppins – for the second time – Jafar and Scrooge McDuck. Turns out, even as a guy, I like the bad guys…that said, Jasmine, Belle, Aurora, and of course, Minnie Mouse were out in force.  And I managed this with the main mouse himself when passing through the ESPN section:

2016-01-10 08.16.24
Mickey all ready for some Soccer Ball

I found the second half of the run a real slog.  I did get to the point I was doing the maths in my head to make sure I could still reasonably comfortably hit the target, and despite increasingly frequent walk-breaks, the numbers were good.  There was also a welcome boost when my distinctive top got me a shout-out from a fellow BCRC member from across the motorway – we hadn’t managed to meet up outside of the races for various reasons, so this was a bonus!

After many miles on motorways, it was an absolute relief to be back at Epcot, where the characters came thick and fast – well, okay, they stayed where they were and I got to them as quickly as I could, but there were lots of them – which gave me that extra ounce of energy.  Just shy of 50 miles in four days will take its toll on you!

The finish was a blast.  By this time it was a nice, clear day…the only race for me to finish when the sun was up!  And had one final photo left in me:

2016-01-10 09.34.26
Stopped to pose with Minnie before finishing the Challenge!

And it was done.

It felt pretty sweet to pick up both the Goofy (HM & marathon combo) and Dopey medals along with the Micky one.  I trooped off to collect my bag – which was quick and easy for me each day – and found somewhere to sit, sip my drinks and stretch a little.  After being ill so recently, I was pretty chuffed at my performances over the few days.  My marathon time may have, as you’d perhaps expect, been my slowest ever at 3:54 but everything else was roughly where I’d wanted it to be.

2016-01-10 11.26.24
The 2016 Collection!

Some final thoughts (it’s been a long post, well done if you’re still here!) on the good and bad of the weekend:

Negatives:
– It starts really early.  I am not a morning person!
– Oh, the motorways.  I get that you need to travel between parks somehow, but they’re so boring!
– Have I mentioned that sleep can be tricky due to having to set alarms for the middle of the night to race?…I have? Ah, never mind then.

Positives:
– If you love Disney, and don’t hate running, you’ll love the experience
– If you love running and medals, and don’t hate Disney, you’ll love the experience
– The busses from/to resorts for the races were great
– The organisation was very smooth all weekend
– Seeing the characters out on course for photos was brilliant

This was a first to Disneyworld for me, and I’d probably have done less during the day if I’d been before.  That’d probably be my top tip!  That, and get in the habit of an early night so you’re not brain-dead the next day…

Some photos of the weekend to finish.  I’ll be back with a Chicago report in just over a fortnight!