Walt Disney World – a vacation destination with many meanings to so many families. When most people think of Disney World, they automatically assume it’s a theme park for children, but it’s much more than that. It’s a world where parents and children can spend time as a family, where grandparents can take their grandkids, where couples of any age can get married and/or honeymoon, and where families can have reunions. There is something for everyone to enjoy, and Disney has seemingly unlimited ways to advertise tourism to different targeted age groups.
I recently took a Disney World vacation, and runDisney was the main reason I went. runDisney is a way that Disney gets avid runners to visit the parks—a “runcation” is what some participants call it. Runners come for race weekends and stay after to enjoy all the parks have to offer. runDisney has become a brand within the Disney brand and partners with the Make-A-Wish foundation for the races. runDisney has its own social media accounts and posts blogs following the races with pictures of participants and events along the race route. There are currently four runDisney race series at Disney World in Orlando and one in Disneyland Paris. Disneyland Paris is the most recent and first international runDisney race series to be added in 2016.
runDisney started in 1994 with one race—the Walt Disney World Marathon with less than 6,000 runners. Compare that to the over 25,000 runners that registered for the 2018 Walt Disney World Marathon to celebrate its 25th year. Since 1994, Disney has added multiple race series and challenges to accommodate every kind of runner. To promote runners to sign up for multiple races, Disney offers the opportunity to get a Coast to Coast Challenge medal. To receive this medal, a runner must complete a half marathon or marathon at both Disney World and Disneyland in the same calendar year. They’ve also added races for children to appeal towards families so that every family member can join in on race weekends.
Running a half marathon in Disney World was on my bucket list for years. While working at Disney World during my Disney College Program in 2015, I was working in Epcot, which meant working during runDisney race weekends. This only convinced me more to want to complete the Disney Princess Half Marathon. The Disney Princess Half Marathon is the largest women-focused running event in the U.S. Women, and some men, from around the world travel to Disney World to dress up as a princess and run 13.1 miles at “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Most of the course is on the highways on Disney property, but you also run through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot parks. In the summer of 2017, I finally signed myself and my fiancé up for our first half marathon.
On the runDisney website, there are tools to help you on your running journey. Training guides for every race event and length are available along with a virtual coach, the founder of the Galloway Marathon Training Program, Jeff Galloway. Galloway provides running tips and a weekly workout schedule to prepare you for the race. This allows Disney to reach people who are not avid runners so that they can feel prepared for the race. Since most participants do not live near a Disney park, the website provides easy access to resorts and hotels to stay in as you gear up for your run as well as transportation to and from the resorts and parks. Your race registration fee includes a T-shirt, medal, goodie bag, and more, and during the race, you will be treated to entertainment at every turn.
Now that I’ve completed my first half marathon and runDisney race, I see why these races are so popular despite the cost. runDisney likes to advertise that “Every Mile is Magic,” and they aren’t lying. Along the course, there are DJs playing music, character meet and greets, photo opportunities in Magic Kingdom and Epcot, enthusiastic cast members and fans cheering for you along the way, and even a choir singing just as you’re approaching the end of mile thirteen. The race bling is also a big plus. This year was the 10th anniversary of the Disney Princess Half Marathon, so each medal was themed towards a specific princess.
In addition to tips and tools to help you prepare for the races, Disney strives to reach all ages. The races themselves bring people to Disney that might not have visited the parks otherwise. By making the process so seamless, they target people who are Disney fans that are not avid runners all the way to people who love to run but are not avid Disney fans. Disney really strives to be there for you every step of the way and makes every moment of the process magical for everyone involved.
runDisney races are unlike any other, and that’s what makes them stand out. From the registration process to post-race, Disney makes the experience magical with all the details. One of the best details about the princess run was having the Fairy Godmother count us down at the starting line. If princesses aren’t your thing, that’s okay. Disney has many other themed races such as Star Wars, Superheroes, Tinker Bell, Wine & Dine, the original Walt Disney World Marathon weekend, and more. This definitely won’t be my last runDisney event.