Destination Disney


The Case for Racing Out of State

Photo Credit: Preston Mack, Walt Disney World

It’s 3:00 a.m. on a February Sunday morning, and instead of peacefully sleeping like most Florida vacationers, I’m lacing my running shoes, pinning on my race number, and nervously chewing ClifShot Bloks before dashing to the shuttle bus. Don’t mistake me, I’m not a morning person, but on race day…everything is different.

So what motivates reasonable adults like me to travel across the nation sans children to the country’s most epic amusement park? One word: runcations. After catching racing fever in 2011, my Saturday mornings quickly filled with local 5Ks and half marathons, but it took Disneyworld’s Half Marathon last January to initiate me into the cult of destination racing. From perfectly coordinated shuttles to costumed characters and bands staged throughout the courses, no one does it like Disney. After finishing the half I understood why so many sacrifice sleep, vacation time, and hard-earned cash to travel for a race—and I couldn’t wait to do it again.

Yes, running 26.2 miles in a day still intimidates me, but this year I dipped my toe in the proverbial marathoning waters by signing up for Disneyworld’s Inaugural Glass Slipper Challenge: a 10K race on Saturday followed by the Princess Half Marathon on Sunday for a total of 19.2 miles. It took little convincing to get my friend Kelly to come along, and we flew to Orlando on race weekend undertrained, but fully prepared with Sleeping Beauty and Snow White costumes—it was a princess race after all.

At 5:00 a.m. on half marathon day, we joined 26,000 other racers at the starting line following a pre-race, emcee-led dance warm up. Shuttles arrive on-course about an hour before the run starts, so moving and grooving Top 40 tunes is an excellent way to pass the time and warm cold muscles. The bang of fireworks and a wave of the Fairy Godmother’s magic wand signified our corral’s start, and we took to the scenic course. Though sore from the prior day’s 10K and feeling drenched by the 100% percent humidity, every mile was magical. We ran past swamp lands, down Disney’s Main Street, through Cinderella’s castle, and alongside Epcot’s iconic ball before crossing the finish line together.

The enthusiastic spectators, fellow costumed participants, and hundreds of volunteers at the finish made us feel part of Disney’s vibrant racing community, and I still get teary-eyed thinking about Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy escorting the half marathon’s three final finishers across the line. In a sport where personal achievement is everything, seeing these women reach their goal was an inspiration.

If you have yet to pack your bags for a race getaway, read on for five reasons you should take a runcation, particularly to Disneyworld or Disneyland.

1 Warm winter running conditions.

Goldilocks would approve of Florida’s winter racing climate where temperatures are not too cold, not too hot, but just right for half or full marathons. Bonus: if you’re fast enough you can finish the race before the sun’s up!

2 Racing and roller coasters.

The kid in me can’t get enough of thrill rides, so running in a theme park is a no brainer. Since the races begin early, you can hit the highlights of all four parks in a day, and high five other race finishers sporting their medals in ride lines. If you’re a parent, bring the kiddos along and pair your passion for racing with a family vacation. Don’t skip the Animal Kingdom! This peaceful park is a favorite for grown ups and kids a like.

3 On-course entertainment and post-race awesomeness.

Fireworks, pirates, kites, high school bands, villains, princesses, dancing, and DJs…you’ll see it all at a Disney race. The constant entertainment makes running with music nearly unnecessary, and sign-toting spectators keep you motivated. After crossing the finish line volunteers pass out medals (three in all for Glass Slipper Challengers), wrap your aching body in ice, and hand you a box of tasty, healthy snacks you can eat while lounging in a beach chair. Plus, there are princess photo ops for the Disney obsessed.

4 Altitude advantage.

Looking to run your first half or full marathon? Wasatch runners live at about 4500′ elevation, and if you race soon after arriving in Florida, the extra oxygen at sea level makes the distance seem easier.

5 Welcoming to every racer.

Are you a speed demon? Or a total newbie? Disney is for you. They motivate and support racers of every ability level, and you just need to finish the course averaging 16-minute miles (akin to a brisk walk for most) to complete it.

For more information on upcoming Disney race dates and pricing visit The Glass Slipper Challenge is over for this year, but will return next February. You can race sooner or closer to home signing up for Disneyland’s inaugural Avengers Half Marathon Weekend on November 14–16, 2014. Registration opens soon so don’t miss out!

Runcation Do’s and Don’ts

Make every step of your escape great, from packing to the finish-line celebration, with these simple suggestions.


  • 1 Follow a packing list. Forgetting your running shoes for a marathon = runner’s worst nightmare.
  • 2 Fly in on Thursday for weekend races. You’ll have Friday open for expo shopping, packet pickup, and exploring.
  • 3 Bring favorite training and racing foods along. Finding them at a race expo or store in a new place can prove daunting.
  • 4 Tote your phone. When you race with Disney and most other big events, photographic opportunities are endless, but the pros can’t catch everything. Whether you want a shot in front of Cinderella’s castle or one with the Gospel Choir at mile 12, bringing your phone or a tiny camera is the only way to guarantee you’ll capture it.
  • 5 Get oriented early. Check out the course map, start line info, and race shuttle schedules so you can wake up confident of where and when you need to be in place. There’s little worse than missing the race because you are lost or stuck in traffic.


  • 1 The old adage is true: nothing new on race day. Did you train with it? If not, don’t race with it. Wearing the limited edition Disney running shoes you purchased at the expo may seem like a good idea, but the odds of a blister-free finish are not in your favor.
  • 2 Don’t skip sleep. It’s tempting to forgo shut-eye when you’re visiting the Magic Kingdom, but even one night without rest can affect athletic performance, reducing your shot at netting a PR. Eat early and take time to unwind so the time change and early wake-up call won’t be such a shock to your system.
  • 3 Don’t fly out the day of your big race. Race first, play after. You’ll want time to swim in the pool and relax before reconnecting with reality.
  • 4 Don’t forget the Body Glide! Cover any areas where clothing rubs with an anti-chafing cream or spray the morning of. For two-day events, be sure to wear a different bra, shorts, and socks for each race. They’ll rub differently so you’ll be less likely to have irritation in one spot. Unfortunately, I have scars from learning this the hard way.
  • 5 Don’t expect a PR. Destination races are an experience, and it’s worth adding a few minutes to your finish time to enjoy the spectacle and snap photos with Prince Charming, men in tuxes, and evil queens along the way.

About Author

Jenny Willden is the Managing Editor of Outdoor Sports Guide and a self-proclaimed gear and grammar nut. She's a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the Adventure Travel Trade Association. A lover of adventure and travel, she's happiest when riding horses or snowboarding in Utah’s mountains. Follow Jenny’s exploits on Twitter @jennywillden or Instagram @jlwillden.

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