I remember when the very first Walt Disney World Marathon was run 20 years ago. I was actually working at Disney and I remember a co-worker who ran in it. And it was small compared to it now. A little over 7,000 runners gathered in 1994 for the inaugural event, and this past weekend, over 26,000 gathered for a 26.2 mile run through all four Disney parks. It has now turned into a huge weekend celebration with a 5K race, a 10K race, a half-marathon followed by the full marathon over a four-day span. In past years, many runners would run the half on Saturday morning then the full marathon on Sunday and this is called the Goofy Challenge. I mean you have to be Goofy to run 39 miles in two days right? Well, this year was the first year for the 10K (6.1 miles) so Disney introduced the Dopey Challenge– a challenge for runners to complete all four races in four days- that’s over 48 miles! I mean it’s one thing to be Goofy- but now you have the opportunity to be DOPEY!!
We volunteered a few years back for the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon. We worked at a water stop handing out water and Power Ade to the runners. We had a blast and in the end we got a cool windbreaker jacket and a one-day one-park pass to any of the Disney parks. This year Chad and I decided to volunteer again, this time at the full Disney marathon.
Our call time was 3am. Luckily, we slept most of the early evening Saturday so we were alert and ready when we left the house at 2:30am. We were assigned to the water stop at the 0.8 mile mark (yes, you read that right- there was a water stop less than a mile into the 26 mile race.) The reason they had a stop so early is because many of the runners had been gathering very early for the 5:30am start time, some as early as midnight so there was a need for some hydration early on.
We were brought by bus with about 100 other volunteers to one of the roads that lead into Epcot and we set up tables and water right on the road. First off, we got these cool lime green windbreaker jackets (and it was cold by Florida standards so these were much appreciated!)
We are also given a bunch of snacks. Not the healthiest but enough to keep us not feeling hungry.
After we set up our water tables, we waited for the start of the race. At 5:30am, we saw the fireworks over Epcot and within 4 minutes we had our first batch of runners. We saw the fireworks over the trees 15 times as they had 15 corrals of runners participating in the race.
As runners came through our station, it was still so dark and very hard to see them until they were right next to us. This picture is so dark so you can see what we were seeing. It didn’t help that we had a huge light right in our eyes.
While it was getting colder as the morning went on, and hardly anyone took water so early into the race- we cheered and laughed at some of the outrageous costumes. Girls dressed as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum or as their favorite Disney Princesses, guys dressed like Minnie Mouse, Aladdin, Goofy and Dopey passed us by. My favorite was the couple dressed like Lumiere and Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast (of course- Lumiere holds a special place in my heart.)
Perhaps the most impressive part of the whole experience was watching the cleanup. After the last runner passed through our station, trucks showed up and had the area cleaned up in about ten minutes.
We had collectively about 36 tables set up with water and Power-Ade cups, most of which went unused. Two guys on each side of the road picked up the tables filled with water and dumped them into a truck trailer. Then a truck sweeper came by and swept up all the discarded and crushed cups the runners threw on the ground as they passed through.
Within ten minutes the road was re-opened and the sun had come up. We were back on the buses, driven back to the Volunteer headquarters, given our park passes and sent on our way!
We were lucky that our water stop was so early into the race so we had a rather short shift. Chad and I were having grilled catfish, eggs and hashbrowns at Cracker Barrel as the first runners were crossing the finish line! When you volunteer at the major golf event, you as the volunteer often has to pay upwards of $90 for your volunteer shirt, passes and credentials. Disney doesn’t charge us anything and they pay US in return with a jacket and park passes.
Perhaps the greatest thing I walked away with is inspiration. We saw real serious runners, people running for charity and people who were running a full marathon for the first time. Even at mile one there were walkers. I have enjoyed participating my half marathons and have never had a desire to run a full one. This weekend has changed my views.
Disney is very walker friendly and has me inspired to maybe sign up for my first full one. Maybe. If I am going to ever do a full, I have decided that Disney is the way to go. Who’s with me?