Having just completed the 2009 Disney World Goofy Challenge, it occurred to me that I put more time and brain work into preparing for this trip than any other previous race… and I’m talking about all those things you have to do in addition to the actual training. This is probably because the idea of running two races in one weekend is such a foreign concept that it just seemed like there were more details to nail down and things to watch out for. Therefore, I thought it best to jot down some of these things before I forget them so they might be of use to future entrants.
(A quick word for those who don’t know what the Goofy Challenge is all about: The Disney World Marathon Weekend in Orlando has a few events, but the most notable are the half marathon on Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday. If you sign up to run both of them back-to-back, that’s called the Goofy Challenge.)
Registration for next year’s Goofy Challenge opens immediately after this year’s event, and fills up fairly quickly. The result is you need to commit to this thing almost a full year in advance, which is probably good as it gives you ample time to plan your training strategy.
When you register, pay very close attention to what you are doing! You need to specifically sign up for the Goofy Challenge; if you sign up individually for the half and the full, you will not be entered as a Goofy runner.
Our normal running schedule is to run Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with a long run on Saturday. To prepare for Goofy, we wanted to add a longer than normal run prior to the Saturday run so we could get our legs used to the idea of logging double-digit miles on consecutive days. Starting in late summer, we shifted things around to running our regular runs on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then adding a 10-miler on Friday before the regular Saturday long run. The first couple weeks were a bit tough, but we quickly started seeing significant benefit from the Friday run and it undoubtedly played a big role in helping us finish Goofy in a decent time.
Speaking of time, we certainly did not shoot for any PRs during this weekend. Our plan was to do the half about 30 minutes slower than normal and the full about 45 minutes slower. If, however, I had been trying for a PR, I would have gone out even easier on the half and saved (almost) everything for the full.
Both the half and full marathons start at 5:50 a.m., with hotel shuttle buses begining at 3:00 a.m. If you’re from the west coast – like us – you might want to consider getting to Orlando a couple days ahead of time to acclimate a bit to the eastern time zone. We flew in on Wednesday, which helped quite a bit. By Friday we were able to get to sleep at a nice early time to be ready for the early start time.
You will likely be staying at one of the many Disney World hotels, but choose carefully. I would strongly recommend staying at the Port Orleans Riverside or French Quarter, or the Old Key West. Why? How does an extra 90 minutes of sleep sound?!
Officially, you are supposed to catch one of the marathon buses from your hotel to the start area. That’s all well and good, but doing so means you could end up standing around in the chilly night area for up to two hours after they drop you off in the Epcot parking lot. We stayed at the French Quarter, and both mornings we took a quick five minute walk to the start area. No Disney employee (whoops, cast member) will acknowledge that you can do this, but they also won’t prevent you from doing so. We would get up at 4:30, get dressed and have our pre-race snacks, then leave at about 5:10. That would give us plenty of time to find our corral and take care of any last-minute stretching.
One caveat: There are no sidewalks on the roads between the hotels and the start area so you will be walking on the shoulders of a busy road for a few minutes. Stay off to the side and you’re be fine. Also, approaching from the east like this can make it a bit difficult to get to the official corral entry gates. You’ll either have to jump the barricade (not that I would ever suggest you do such a thing) or walk south until you can enter with the rest of the crowd.
Generally speaking, we don’t like large races (large being anything more than a couple thousand people). These, however, were so well run and supported that the crowds really didn’t cause us any major concerns. There are a few points where it got a bit tight as everyone compressed down to single-lane roads, but it was rare for us to feel pinned in and unable to maintain our pace (unlike, for example, New York and Chicago).
There are a lot of water stations along the route… almost too many. In fact, we were skipping every other one towards the end. If you’re the type to carry your own water during races, you might want to rethink that for these races; they have plenty, and you can enjoy not having that unnecessary pound or two of water strapped to your waist.
We found ourselves getting a bit bored during the first part of the full marathon, then realized it was because much of it was on the same route as the half the day before. Once we exited the Magic Kingdom, however, we were on new roads with new sights and things picked up a bit.
Let’s face it, the real reason for doing the Goofy Challenge is for the hardware. As you probably know, you come away with three medals: one each for the half and full, then one more for completing the Challenge. They’re big and clunky far from attractive, but maybe that’s why we go through all this to get them.