Park Hopping is my cardio. Seriously. I hate getting on a treadmill or going for a run, but put me in Disney and all of a sudden I can do it all day, every day. This eventually translated into registering for my first RunDisney Princess 5K in 2018. Yes, there are people who do a half marathon that weekend, or a 10K, or all three in the Dopey Challenge, but for me signing up for a 5K was and is still a big deal.
Despite my love/hate relationship with running, all my RunDisney experiences have been positive. Registration begins about 8 months in advance. These races to fill up quickly, so I suggest if you are interested in a future RunDisney event, setting an alarm on your phone for when the “waiting room” opens up. February 2020 will be my third year participating in the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend and I registered in June 2019 when the general registration pool opened up. If you are looking for early registration, I suggest looking to see if any charities are sponsoring the race. In both 2018 and 2019, I ran as a partner with the Children’s Miracle Network. While this does come with a fundraising obligation prior to the race, it also comes with a free T-shirt, a breakfast during Race Weekend, and early registration. Every dollar you raise will turn into another $10 donated by Disney to the 170 children’s hospitals associated with this nonprofit. More importantly, I was running to make sure that these kids were going to get the happily ever after they deserved.
No matter what race you register for, I advise training. This is really not my forte, but it will only help you. My actual favorite kind of prep for the race is planning the costume my friends and I will wear as we run. This is much more my speed! Each year for the Princess Run, I travel down to Florida with 4 of my best friends. It has become a tradition and one of our very favorite weekends of the year. The first year we participated, my friend Erin and I did an Ursula/Little Mermaid costume. This past year, Erin, Donny and I were the Three Caballeros.
My other favorite kind of prep is booking our resort! We have stayed at all three All-Star Resorts over the course of this weekend. Another suggestion for you… book a preferred room! Why? Think about how tired you are after a race. Now add park hopping until you drop to that. The last thing we felt like doing by the end of the weekend was ending each day with a nice long walk to the back of our resort. While normally this is a walk that doesn’t bother us, this particular weekend the rooms seemed so far away.
The day before the first race of the weekend, which is the 5K, all participants in any of the races are expected to head over to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex to pick up their race packet. Bussing is provided from your Disney resort. Here you will receive your race t-shirt and bib number. The expo is also where you can purchase all of your race merchandise. They have an entire building dedicated to just that. I suggest getting in line early, they also have an entire room dedicated to just configuring a queue because of how high in demand this merchandise is. I love the race merchandise and each year I make a point to add a pin for my collection, a Christmas ornament, a shirt, and more!
The expo also has music, food, characters to meet, and much more! My favorite has definitely been meeting the human versions of Jacques and Gus with a glass slipper in front of Cinderella’s carriage. We always block out a few hours of our day and dedicate it to the expo. Be prepared for crowds and to be patient and flexible. It is just about impossible to predict how many people from your category will be showing up to pick up their race packet at the same time as you, when the best time is to buy merchandise, etc. My best advice to you is to go with the flow! Year 1 we went in trying to form a strategy and year 2 with a little more experience under our belts, we just went in and went where the cast members suggested we go first. Year 2 was a much more enjoyable experience.
Expo tip: there are numerous vendors at the expo. If you forgot anything at home or need a new shirt, leggings, running shoes, sports bra, etc. this is the place to get it! You name it, it’s at the expo.
The night before the race. Our first year, we killed ourselves bouncing back and forth from the expo to the parks, to Disney Springs and more. The second year, we hung out by the pool and then enjoyed the Festival of the Arts Dining package, relaxed, and went to bed at some reasonable hour. We didn’t have to worry about dinner because of our reservation. Wake up call for the race is usually around 3:00 or 3:30 am. Again, by staying on Disney property, there is the benefit of complimentary bussing over to the race at this hour of the morning. Dining is NOT open at this time in the morning. The night before I highly recommend grabbing a muffin, breakfast bar, or something to have with you the next day before the race. If you have a resort refillable mug (and you should!) fill it up with water or juice for race morning and keep in your mini fridge as well. Your stomach will thank you for it!
Bussing for the race is located out front of your Disney resort. You can’t miss it; it’s a fleet of busses. They will take you to the parking lot of Epcot where the race will begin. Since it is so early in the morning, Disney does a great job at waking you up and getting you PUMPED. There is a stage, DJ, coffee for sale, and princesses rotating in and out to meet! Despite the fact that by this point it is not even 4:00 am, I look forward to it year after year.
Your bib number will tell you what corral you are in. From there the cast members and DJ work through the corrals and divide the people up into waves to spread out the number of participants starting the race at the same time. Every wave in every corral gets a firework shotgun with their own Disney song. It’s magical and yes, I tear up year after year.
Throughout the race, whether you are doing a 5K, 10K or Half Marathon, there is Disney music playing, TV screens showing some of your favorite Disney clips, volunteers cheering you on, and characters to meet along the way. Running through Epcot as the sun is rising and each country lit up as if IllumiNations just ended is peaceful and magical. Representatives from each country are out waving their flags and encouraging you to keep going. The characters along the way are usually rare characters and stopping to meet them is the perfect break if you need it. We have seen Mushu, Sebastian, Belle and the Beast together, Baseball Goofy, Dopey, and more out on the course!
There are also PhotoPass photographers everywhere on the course! I highly suggest purchasing Memory Maker for this event. Your bib number has a code that links to your account and all the photos from the race that you are in will show up within 24 hours once you link them. These are once-in-a-lifetime photos that cannot be recreated and I am very happy I have them.
Crossing the finish line is just as exciting as the start of the race. There are bleachers filled with spectators to cheer you on, Disney music playing, the DJ from the prerace celebrations cheering you on, and you receive your finishers medal. After the race, there are spots for photos, boxes of breakfast snacks, music, and complimentary transportation back to your resort. We were back at our resort ready to enjoy a day at the pool by 9:00 am.
It is tradition to wear your medal around Disney for the weekend. Cast members and guests will say “congratulations” or talk to you about the race and it really gives a feel of comraderie throughout the parks and resorts. We meet and have the chance to talk to so many people this weekend. Some people are there for their first time, others come year after year. And the places people travel from for this race are astounding! The amount of encouragement and positive vibes throughout this weekend are contagious and just another way to feel the Disney magic.