In April, Holly wrote about her first 5K, the Disney Princess 5K. As with all Disney things, once you get a taste, you’re sure to want more. The ultimate RunDisney goal? The Dopey Challenge. 48.6 miles run over four days—a 5K (3.1 miles) on day one, a 10K (6.2 miles) on day two, a half marathon (13.1 miles) on day three, and a marathon (26.2 miles) on day four. Having each run six marathons and two Dopey Challenges, Emily and I are here to give you 10 Steps to Your First Dopey Challenge.
1. Get Excited
Even before signing up, get excited. You’ll need that excitement to get the courage to sign up. A Dopey Challenge is an amazing (but grueling) experience. You’ll have four straight days of running through the parks, cheering fans, snapping pictures with sometimes-unique characters, and accomplishing something you probably didn’t think you were capable of. It’s going to be a Magical time, and you should be excited.
2. Sign Up As Soon As Possible
We always sign up for major races as soon as possible, usually at the moment they open. The Walt Disney World Marathon is one of the most popular races in the United States (and the world, for that matter). The past few years, Dopey Challenge availability has been a little better, and RunDisney has opened up more slots as time went by, but if you are certain you want to run the Dopey Challenge, plan to be at your computer when registration opens.
3. Try to Compartmentalize This Trip
For most of us, a Dopey Challenge comes with an additional Magical challenge: planning a great Walt Disney World trip. If you’re running the Dopey Challenge, the first priority of your trip should be the Dopey Challenge. You could run the Dopey Challenge and have an amazing four days filled with parking hopping and new restaurants, but it would exhaust you across the board.
If you can make an extended stay of it, splitting your stay between park-focused and Dopey-focused days is a good plan. Combining Dopey with New Year’s Eve is ideal. If you can’t make an extended stay of it, that’s okay! Consider a resort day, a guided tour of one of the parks, or anything you don’t usually do (Fantasia Gardens, anyone?).
The caveat to this is that 5K day and 10K day you’ll be done with the races in time for a full day of adventure. So you will have time to enjoy the parks. But remember, you’re waking up near 3AM and you have two big races ahead of you—don’t go overboard.
4. Run a Half Marathon Race
Yes, there is running involved in preparing for the Dopey Challenge (sorry!). You can’t run a marathon if you can’t run a half marathon, and running a half marathon race, not just a training run, is a great way to understand some of the basic challenges of long-distance running. You’ll learn about how your running gear handles over longer distances (good 5-mile gear might not be good 10-mile gear). During a half marathon, you’ll get some early tastes of how your body holds up over longer distances. You might start to learn about fueling on the run.
By the way, when Emily and I finished our first half marathon, she immediately said she didn’t want to run a marathon. This is a classic reaction—you’ll get past it. A few weeks later, we had signed up for two marathons, including the Dopey Challenge.
5. Run a Marathon Race
People do the Dopey Challenge without marathon experience, so it can be done, but I don’t recommend it, especially if you want to fully take in everything Dopey has to offer. Training runs, even up to 20+ miles, don’t give you a true sense of how tough the marathon can be on race day.
Training runs (if done properly) are also useless for understanding your limits. Almost all first-time marathon training is broken into two concepts—running long and slow to know what running for hours and hours is like, and running short and fast to know what running at your goal speed feels like. You combine these only on race day. This means until race day, you don’t really know what you’re capable of, and that’s going to matter when it comes to enjoying the Dopey Challenge, as we’ll see.
Training runs also don’t give you any sense of how enjoyable a marathon can be. The energy of the other runners, the cheering of the crowds, the hilarious signs, and the joy of finishing—a training run has none of these. At several marathons I’ve wondered during training why I do it, only to be reminded during the race of how truly great it is. You’ll want those memories when training for Dopey.
6. Plan Your Costumes
Costumes are a much bigger part of RunDisney 5Ks and 10Ks than half marathons and marathons, but plenty of Dopey Challenge runners wear costumes all four days (Emily does, I usually do 2-3 days). This takes major planning. You’ll need to include the costumes in your packing plans. You’ll need to make sure the gear is acceptable to run in (a bigger issue for the longer races). You’ll need to account for weather (we’re Chicagoans with 6 total marathons behind us, and the 2017 Walt Disney World Marathon starting feeling under 30 degrees was our coldest). And you’ll likely need to make at least two costumes from running hear (Halloween attire simply won’t be good for running a half or full marathon).
7. Expect to Take it Easy…
If you read Jeff Galloway’s marathon training program and Dopey Challenge training program, you might notice a big difference between the two — Dopey Challenge has only a single training plan for the goal of surviving. There is no “run your fastest marathon” or even “run your fastest Dopey Challenge”, your goal for your first dopey, at least, should be to survive. Race-by-race, this means:
• The 5K and 10K are going to be especially boring. From the front corrals, you can easily walk the 5K, including character stops (more below), and finish with time to spare.
• For the half marathon, run your first 10 miles a little slower than your Dopey marathon pace, or at marathon pace, treating it otherwise exactly as you will the first 10 miles of the marathon, including when you’ll walk, how many character stops you’ll do, when you need an aid station or bathroom, and when you need to fuel.
• For the marathon, plan to run slower than your typical marathon pace.
8…But Not Too Easy
Character stops. They’re a huge part of a RunDisney race. They’re the most important part for some runners. They also can take a long time. The longest we waited in line for a character stop was 15 minutes for patriotic Mickey, Goofy, and Donald at the 2017 10K. That’s over 30 seconds per mile added to our pace if the race were a marathon. Most lines are only three minutes, though. RunDisney doesn’t announce stops ahead of time, so you won’t know when they occur or who will be there, making planning for them impossible.
The easiest way to deal with the uncertainty of character stops is (1) to understand your capabilities and marathon plan ahead of time (see steps 5 and 7) and (2) to adjust your plan as you go through character stops. The second part of this is critical. If you wait in line for 15 minutes at miles 9.5, don’t then take a walk break at mile 10!
Character stops are partly why we think running a marathon prior to Dopey is so essential. You do not know what to expect for a marathon until you’ve done one, and if you don’t know what to expect, you won’t be able to adjust it for the added complexity of character stops.
9. Stay Loose at the Parks Between Races
There is a lot of Dopey debate about this one, but we’re fans of staying loose at the parks between races. You’re at Walt Disney World, enjoy the scenery! Walking a few miles will not ruin you for marathon day (don’t exhaust yourself, though), tight legs will. This shouldn’t be a big problem if you follow the above tip for taking it easy the first three days.
10. Have Fun!
Your goal for Dopey is to survive, not to survive miserably. During a Dopey Challenge, you can take photos with characters, enjoy treats handed out my generous fans, spend time with live animals, give high-fives to kids with mickey gloves cheering you on, maybe ride rides, and stop for Disney treats along the way. One of my favorite Dopey moments was Snow White having to ask me to put my beer down at mile 25 of the marathon before taking a picture with her. That happened, and it wouldn’t happen anywhere besides the Walt Disney World Marathon.
Few marathons are setup to offer you a better time than the Walt Disney World marathon. Even if you’re pressed for time, take a minute to snap a picture while you’re in Animal Kingdom. Grab a Mickey Ice Cream bar from a vendor during a walk break in Hollywood Studios. Do something you can’t do at any other race! Because it’s not a true Disney experience without just a touch of Magic!
Do you have RunDisney Dopey Challenge or marathon tips or questions? Sounds off in the comments!
Mahalo, Ken (Mousehacking.com) and Emily (LattesAndRunways.com) for sharing your experience and tips on how to prepare for the Dopey Challenge! It has been an honor to have you both as guest writers on my blog! Hope to see you on the course at the next Run Disney event.