Everyone has something they’re looking forward to doing in their life—those bucket-list moments you just can’t wait to experience. around which emotions are big. For some, it might be a special family travel adventure or multigenerational vacation. For others, a honeymoon or the birth of a child. For me, it was crossing the finish line of my 50th runDisney race at Walt Disney World.
My Road to runDisney Race # 50
Before the pandemic hit, I was set to cross the finish line of my 50th race during the 2020 Star Wars Rival Run Half Marathon Weekend. Alas, that race was canceled due to COVID-19. And as more races were delayed, went virtual, or canceled outright, I began to worry my 50th runDisney race might never happen the way I’d envisioned.
But over time, a semblance of normalcy (or at least a “new normal”) returned to Disney during the pandemic, and after a year of delays and disappointments, in-person runDisney races finally returned.
READY, SET, GO: 10 Things You Should Know Before Your First runDisney Race
I registered for the 5K and 10K of the Walt Disney World marathon weekend, which happens each January, knowing I wanted to cross finish line 50 in 2022. Those two races would be race numbers 47 and 48. While it wasn’t 50, it was still so special because I crossed both finish lines with my dad, who completed his first 10K that weekend.
Anyone who’s registered for a runDisney race knows that registration is easily the hardest part of the race. Thousands of people are vying for a very small number of spots, and races often sell out in minutes. So when it came time to register for the new series, the runDisney Springtime Surprise race weekend, I was nervous. I already knew that the races were going to sell out fast because the themes were ones that had been retired and fans had been asking for them to come back for years.
The 5K was set to be the Expedition Everest Challenge, which included a scavenger hunt through Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. The 10K was the Race for the Taste themed to the popular Pixar movie Ratatouille. The race that most people were excited about was the Tower of Terror 10-Miler, which ran through Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
When I finally got through to register, I was pleased to see that the “challenge” option (which meant participating in all three races over four days) was still available. I paid, got the confirmation email, and got to work planning and making race costumes, which are a big part of the runDisney experience.
Then the time finally arrived to head to Walt Disney World for the runDisney Springtime Surprise race weekend. My first stop was the runDisney expo, which is held at ESPN Wide World of Sports. For me, this is the absolute worst part about any race weekend. The lines for merchandise are always long, and my anxiety level rises as I walk through the vendor area at the expo to pick up my race T-shirts. As much as I’m against Disney up-charges for things like Disney Genie+, I would happily pay for my race gear to be delivered to my Walt Disney World resort hotel if it meant I could skip the expo.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: The Best Disney World Hotels for Families of 5+
After the expo, I checked in to my home-away-from-home for a few nights, Disney’s Contemporary Resort. I love staying here for the proximity to Magic Kingdom and the fact that the monorail travels right through the main building. The room was spacious, with enough space to sleep five guests even though there were only three of us (I brought my parents along with me). Each of the rooms in the main building has been completely transformed and now have fun theming to the Pixar film The Incredibles.
Crossing the runDisney Finish Line
On Thursday night, it was time for the Expedition Everest Challenge 5K. I got dressed in my costume, which was the iconic Imagineer Joe Rohde, and drove to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park for the race. This was my first ever night race at Walt Disney World, and it was fun, but the scavenger hunt portion of the race got canceled and the course was shortened due to impending bad weather in the area. Luckily I finished just before it started raining. Race 49 was in the books!
Runners had Friday off, so Saturday was the big day for me. It was race 50. I was slightly nervous because I was in the last start corral. I knew I was going to need to go slower to keep some energy for my race on Sunday. My 2:30 a.m. alarm went off, I got dressed as Fairy Godmother from Cinderella, and drove myself to EPCOT.
The fireworks went off at the start line and I was off for 6.2 miles around EPCOT and the Boardwalk for the Race for the Taste 10K. The race course was exceptional, though the weather was incredibly humid. It was like breathing through a wet sweater, which was not ideal for running.
ULTIMATE GUIDE: Everything You Need to Know About Disney Genie and Genie+
Throughout the course, volunteers and Disney Cast Members were cheering for all of the runners. I tried to race by and thank each of them for getting up so early to be there to cheer all of us on. Disney characters were stationed every so often taking pictures with runners, though I didn’t stop for any characters since the lines were long and they weren’t rare characters that can’t ever really be seen in the parks.
As I raced closer to the finish line I began to get emotional, which is rare for me. I remembered when I started runDisney races in 2013 with the Mickey and Minnie Mouse Royal Family 5K as part of the Princess Half Marathon Weekend. I was so proud of myself for accomplishing 3.1 miles. Little did I know then that I would go on to complete four half marathons, and so many more 5Ks and 10Ks.
I rounded the corner near mile six to see the finish line in sight, heard the crowd cheering, and the announcers telling runners how proud they were of all of us as we crossed the finish line. After nine years, and more miles than I care to add up, I did it—I’d completed fifty runDisney races. As I continued through the shoot to get my medal, I was overwhelmed with emotion knowing that I did something I once thought was impossible. I collected my medal, sent selfies to my friends and family, and made my way back to my hotel room.
Sunday morning was another early wake-up call to get to the Tower of Terror 10-Miler. This was easily one of the best race courses I’ve ever done with runDisney since it ran through Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land at Hollywood Studios. The theme was so good and I hope runDisney does this race again. I finished the race, even though my legs were tired from the day before, and collected my medal for race 51 as well as the challenge medal indicating I did all three races for the Springtime Surprise weekend.
DISNEY VACATIONS: The Complete Guide to Disney Vacation Club (DVC)
After completing all three races, I my medals around the hotel to take pictures and eat lunch at Steakhouse 71, a new eatery at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Somehow our waiter at the restaurant knew that I had completed 50 runDisney races the day before and brought two 50th anniversary cupcakes to the table right when we sat down. Cupcakes as a lunch appetizer are always a good idea, especially when they come with Mickey-shaped sprinkles.
Why runDisney Matters to Me
What continues to draw me in to complete more runDisney races isn’t the medals (though they are a nice perk) but rather an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. I’m so thankful that I have the ability to compete. While I’m never going to be first, I always finish. I’m also thankful for the friends and family who continuously support me and cheer me on as I attempt to cross more finish lines.
As I look ahead to the 2022-23 runDisney race season which starts in November 2022, I’m looking forward to registering for the runDisney Springtime Surprise race weekend again, especially since the race theme will be changing every year. Here’s hoping that one day there will be another Tower of Terror 10-Miler or another Star Wars Rival Run race weekend.