Marathon Weekend 2023: in the Rearview Mirror

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a week since the great summit of runDisney fans convened in Orlando. I’m personally still on a cloud from a sucessful Dopey Challenge, and I see race memories every time I close my eyes. I’ve got 90s grooves on autoplay in my head (I2I and DuckTales, I’m looking at you).

As with all things, there were highs and lows, but for me at least, it was mostly highs.

The Expo

I was lucky enough to get into town on time and with all my luggage, so everything started out on the right foot. I had early access to the merchandise at the expo, so I headed there bright and early on Wednesday morning to take a look. I’ve never been to the very start of the expo before so it was a bit of a different experience from what I’ve seen in the past. I have heard rumors about the “eBay” shoppers that hit the merchandise hall at the start and wipe it out. I was hoping that description was a bit of an exaggeration, but unfortunately I walked into some madness that morning.

Club runDisney Platinum members got access to shopping at 8:30 and Gold members entered at 9:00. I was in the arena just after 9, and was a little unprepared for what I saw. People were just scooping up armloads of everything the could get their hands on and were retreating to a corner where they were trying things on and/or facetimeing their shopping clients for feedback on the loot. Cast Members were scrambling to restock the hoodies, jackets and Loungeflys that were flying off the racks. I’m not the kind of person that is going into this for the hassle of reselling items, so I grabbed the few things I wanted (which incedentally ended up selling out) and got out of there with my sanity in tact. There were lots of complaints on social media later in the day that people had missed out on choice items, and it’s was rather sad to see said items available on eBay at the same time. One example is the Mickey-shaped Dopey 48.6 car magnet I grabbed for $9.99. That same afternoon after they sold out, I saw one on eBay for $40. Sad face.

I skipped the vendors in the main expo area, so I don’t have any commentary to add there. Someone else will have to fill you in.

The line for bib pickup was unlike anything I’ve seen before. Not only did it extend out of the building and wrap around a courtyard, it then ran the full length of Wide World of Sports all the way to the parking lot. Whoa. This was a bit after 10:00 a.m. It was moving quite quickly, but wow am I glad I was there early. Note to self: never go to expo at 10:00 a.m. on day 1!

Race Conditions

We really lucked out with the weather over the course of the 4 days. Mornings were quite chilly at the start line, particularly on Saturday for the Half Marathon. I picked up a great pro tip observing some of the other racers. Sure, you can bring old clothes to discard at the start of the race or a mylar blanket, but the real winners were the ones that showed up with discardable bathrobes. Hats of to you, my friends! Living remotely, it might be tough for me to bring 4 disposable bathrobes on the plane if I keep flying Frontier. I still have a comic vision in my mind of wearing so many bathrobes on the plane that I can’t straighten my arms. It’s evoking of Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story crying, “I can’t get my arms down!!!”

Race officials were concerned about Marathon heat and humidity on Sunday and “yellow flagged” the race. They’d had some challenges at previous races so they wanted to throw some caution out there proactively. I think this is why the corrals on Sunday seemed to be released quicker than on the previous days.

I drew some unfortunate corral placement for the weekend, and waited nearly an hour to start during the first 3 days, but on Sunday, I crossed the start line in about 40 minutes, so that supports my theory that they were trying to move runners through as quickly as possible.

Anyway – the weather turned out to be not so bad on Sunday, and they didn’t need to shorten the course or get overly watchful for heat exhaustion. There were lots of challenges on the course, but thankfully the weather really wasn’t a main contributor.

“Obstacle Courses”

Much has been already been bitched written about regarding the crowding on the courses, bad runner etiquette, etc. etc.. I’m not going to go there. If you’ve run a Disney race, you know it’s not about getting to the finish line as possible. It’s about music, fun, great costumes, meeting your spirit animals and general good vibes. I won’t be lining up in the complaint department, however I will say that I personally saw 2 runners go down tripping on uneven surfaces, and a few others who were being treated. runDisney does their best to move a LOT of people through a lot of fun experiences and don’t-miss locations. At the end of the day, though, running a race, any race, is not without some risk. That’s why we sign waivers.

The obstacle I really wanted to address though was the “hard sweeps”. Race officials were not playing around this time and there was very little leeway given to stragglers. There was an “unofficial” guideline (rumor? myth?) in the past that once you were inside Epcot you were safe. Not anymore. I don’t necessarily agree with this approach, but there was a hard sweep point set up about a quarter mile from the finish line, no joke. So it’s true that you’re really not safe until you’re in the finsih line chute. That being said, I read an unofficial stat that approximately 25% of the marathon registrants did not cross the finish line.That doesn’t mean that all of them even started. I did see another number with a bit more math behind it that said more than 5% of the starters were swept. That’s higher than in previous years. In that perspective, finishing really means something, no matter what the struggles or pace.

Lines for the character stops during the shorter races were ridiculously long. I know there is a mentality that once you’ve spent a certain amount of time in a line, you’re not going to give up. Honestly, that’s not a very sane approach if finishing the race is at all important to you. There was a line for Darkwing Duck (super rare character) somewhere in Epcot. Race officials warned people in line (I heard this with my own ears) that the Balloon Ladies were coming and runners would be swept if they fell behind. Unforunately I heard a number of stories where people in that line in particular didn’t heed the warnings and ended up with a DNF. For their sake, I hope they’re happy with their decision. If that happened to me, I’d just be mad every time I saw the picture.

All the Feels

I personally got everything I hoped for and more. Coming into this season, I had 2 goals beyond finishing:

Goal #1: Get some character stop photos

In the past, I was just too fearful at my turtle’s pace to risk stopping in a long line. Working with a faster partner, we devised a system that worked really well for us. He would run on ahead and look for character stops. If he found a good one, he’d wait in line until I got there and I could join him for the pic. I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but in our situation it was a great solution. Also, the lines for characters were plentiful and short on marathon day. I got more pics than I ever imagined possible – some of them I even dared to get on my own.

Goal #2: Cross the marathon finish line with a margarita in hand

This was only possible again thanks to my running partner. 3 years ago when I last ran the marathon I wanted a margarita and was sorely disappointed to see that everyone else wanted a margarita too. Getting in that line might have jeopardized my finish, so I passed. It was sad, but a picture, snack, or even a margarita is not even close to being worth risking a Dopey medal.

My fast-running friend surged ahead and grabbed the drinks and met me close to the exit of Mexico. It was orange in color, flavored like mango, a little melted, and everything I dreamed it would be. Knowing we were safe from the sweepers, we walked the last bit into Future World and took it all in. This was the emotional moment I’d dreamed of. Not my first Dopey, but let’s be real… Dopey is always a big deal. A lot can go wrong. By the time I got that glorious margarita, I knew there was no stopping me. My legs were on fire. No big deal. My feet hurt. No big deal….

I just ran 48.6 miles in 4 days in my Happy Place. With my people. With my friends. I got my challenge medals. So did my friends. I met thousands of amazing people. I saw costumes that made me ponder, “Why didn’t I think of that?” I heard stories of resilience and bravery. I found out that when people hear the DuckTales theme, there are thousands of other people (not just me!!) who also sing “woo-ooo” in response to the call of “DuckTales”! It was a fairy tale ending to nine months of planning and dreaming.

“Double Dopey”. My new designation. Way more significant to me than any professional credentials.