Everything You Need to Know Before Your First runDisney Race, No Matter Which Coast You’re on

Thinking about a runDisney race? Here's your pep talk (and your checklist) from someone who's done it more than 50 times.
The author holding some of her runDisney medals (Photo: Megan duBois)
Megan du Bois
  • I’m a Disney super fan who’s participated in more than 50 runDisney races.
  • There’s a lot to consider before you sign up for a runDisney race.
  • These are my tried-and-true tips for racing with runDisney.

Running through the Disneyland or Walt Disney World theme parks isn’t just for fans trying to get to Star Wars Land first thing in the morning—it’s also a major part of any runDisney event. Every year, runDisney hosts multiple race weekends with all kinds of exciting themes and unique medals.

While it might seem daunting to run a half or full marathon, runDisney has a race for everyone, even untimed 5Ks for families and dedicated kids’ races for youngsters up to nine years old. I’ve run almost 55 runDisney races and have learned a ton about making the most of the experience along the way. If you’re thinking about participating in a runDisney race or have already registered and still have questions, here’s what you need to know.

BEST TRIP EVER: 50 Best Family Vacation Ideas for All Ages

You can meet costumed characters along the way during a runDisney race (Photo: Megan duBois)
You can meet costumed characters along the way during a runDisney race (Photo: Megan duBois)

1. RunDisney Race Themes

With the announcement of the 2023-2024 season came the big news runDisney fans have been waiting for: Disneyland races were coming back. Now runners on both coasts can take part in exciting themed races at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. No matter where you run, the themes are unique, the excitement level is high, and the medals are worth wearing around after the race.

And if you can’t make it to one of the theme parks for an in-person race, runDisney even offers virtual runs complete with medals that are sent right to your house. If you’re trying to decide which race to take part in, I’ve broken down all of the themes, dates, and destinations below. 

RunDisney races at Walt Disney World

RunDisney hosts four race weekends at Walt Disney World, and each has a different theme and distance. 

1) RunDisney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend

The in-person runDisney season starts in November with the runDisney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend, where you can choose to participate in a 5K, 10K, or half marathon. Those who really want to take on the weekend can register for the Disney Two Course Challenge, which will have you running the 10K and half marathon on back-to-back days. Wine and Dine is also the only race at Walt Disney World that boasts a post-race party where runners and their friends can enjoy the EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival after the park closes to regular guests. 

2) RunDisney Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

January brings the runDisney Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, during which runners choose among 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon runs. Runners who participate in all four races in the same weekend complete what’s known as the Dopey Challenge and get a special medal just for participating. Each race is themed after a classic Disney character like Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Mickey Mouse, and Goofy.

3) RunDisney Princess Half Marathon Weekend

Every February, runners get decked out in tulle skirts, tiaras, and glittery everything for the runDisney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. This event includes a 5K, 10K, and half marathon themed to favorite Disney heroines like Moana, Mulan, and Tiana. Runners who participate in both the 10K and half marathon often are attempting to complete the Disney Fairy Tale Challenge, which will take them through 19.3 miles of Disney over two days. The weekend concludes with Disney Princess Yoga at Magic Kingdom as the sun rises over Cinderella Castle the Monday following the half marathon.

4) RunDisney Springtime Surprise Weekend

The newest race theme is the runDisney Springtime Surprise Weekend in April, which is meant to change themes each year. As with other runDisney weekends, the event includes multiple race distances from 5K to 10K to 10 miles. Runners can register to do all three races as part of the runDisney Springtime Surprise Challenge and get an additional challenge medal. New for the 2024 season, the weekend will conclude with an after hours party at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park.  

RunDisney races at the Disneyland Resort 

In addition to the East Coast races, runDisney is hosting two in-person races at the Disneyland Resort in California during the 2023-2024 race season. 

1) Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend

The first race for the 2023-2024 season is the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend, which takes place in January. The races are themed after different classic Disney characters like Mickey, Donald, and Dumbo. New runners will enjoy the 5K or 10K distance, and those who are looking for a challenge can participate in the Disneyland Half Marathon, or the Dumbo Double Dare, where you do the 10K and half marathon back-to-back. Kids races are also making their return to Disneyland with short runs and participation medals for those nine and younger. 

Disneyland Yoga will take place at the beginning of the weekend inside Disneyland Park with a great view of Sleeping Beauty Castle. 

2) Disneyland Halloween Half Marathon Weekend

The newest Disneyland event is the Disneyland Halloween Half Marathon Weekend, which will take place in September. The race will include a 5K, 10K, half marathon, and challenge. Additionally, you can take part in yoga and kids can run in races just for them.

Virtual Races

If you can’t make it to Walt Disney World or Disneyland during the actual race weekends, runDisney does have a fun alternative with virtual races. With these runs, you complete them on your own time at home and still get the same medals that are handed out to finishers of the in-person races. 

Virtual races in lieu of in-person races are set for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend, the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend, the Disney 

There are two other virtual races that take place throughout the year that are solely on your own with no in-person alternative. The first is the runDisney Virtual Series, which takes place every summer. This set of three 5Ks always has a different theme, and if you do all three as a challenge participant you get an additional medal. The second completely virtual race is the 12Ks of Christmas, where you’ll be running a 4K. This race series does come with a 12K challenge where the challenge medal doubles as a Christmas tree ornament. 

Coast to Coast Race Challenge

One challenge that’s on many runDisney fans’ bucket lists is the Coast to Coast Race Challenge. Starting in 2024, when you complete any 10-mile race or longer at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland in the same calendar year you get the Coast to Coast challenge medal. Virtual races do not count towards getting this elusive challenge medal, so if this is something that you want to do, you’ll need to register for in-person events.

2. RunDisney Registration Tips

Besides the actual training for your runDisney race, the hardest part of any runDisney event is getting registered. The best way to guarantee a spot in the race is to have an active runDisney account (which should be the same login as your Walt Disney World or Disneyland accounts) and be logged in just before registration opens. The time is always posted on the runDisney social media pages and on the runDisney website weeks before any event registration.

MAGICAL VACATIONS: The Ultimate Guide to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando

You can register more than one person at a time, but you will need to be quick because races often sell out quickly, especially challenges and new races. You are not officially registered until you get a confirmation email from runDisney with a confirmation number and a receipt.

Pro-tip: You may want to try registering on multiple devices and browsers at the same time. After you get in on one, close down the other tabs and windows so you can focus on getting your information in quickly.

3. Booking a Hotel and Packing for a runDisney Weekend

Rooms at the Disney World hotels in Orlando and at Disneyland hotels in Anaheim often fill up quickly for runDisney weekends. The best way to guarantee your spot is to book your room a week or so before registration. If you don’t get into a race that you were trying to register for you can easily cancel or modify an existing hotel reservation at a Disney-owned hotel. 

FIND A DEAL: 12 Best Hotel Booking Sites for Cheap Prices

If you plan to stay at a theme park hotel that’s not affiliated with Disney, booking a room right after registration isn’t always necessary. Just have a plan when you register so you’re not disappointed when rooms are sold out or prices are more expensive closer to your travel dates.

Packing for a race can also be stressful, especially if you’re flying into Orlando or Anaheim. One way to ensure you have everything you need is to pack all of your race gear in one carry-on bag and pack everything else you may need for your trip in a checked bag. If you’re driving to Orlando or live close to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, the same idea applies, but you can bring as many bags as you want. If you’re planning on running in a costume (see item four, below), make sure you’ve got room to pack it before committing to anything too complicated.

4. RunDisney Costumes

One of the best parts about a runDisney event is the costumes. Yes, costumes. Part of the fun is that many runners make elaborate costumes that take weeks to prepare, all to wear it just for a few hours. While runDisney does allow almost anything when it comes to costumes, there are a few things that aren’t permitted, such as masks that cover the entire face, capes that drag on the ground, and group costumes that connect people together (think things like connected monorail cars or a two-person Slinky Dog costume).

BEYOND DISNEY: 10 Best Theme Parks in Orlando for Every Age Group and Interest

When making costumes, you should always consider how comfortable it’s going to be on race day. The untimed 5Ks are best for large, bulky costumes that are a little harder to run in, while a themed tank top and shorts are going to be more comfortable for longer distances. And always check the weather for your race date before committing to any costume that might run hot. I’ve done multiple races where rain or excessive heat have ruined my plans to wear a costume and I end up wearing shorts and a tank top instead of the fun outfit I had planned.

RunDisney hosts multiple race weekends where you can win unique medals (Photo: Megan duBois)
RunDisney hosts multiple race weekends where you can win unique medals (Photo: Megan duBois)

5. RunDisney Health and Fitness Expo

After arriving at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, the first place you’re going to want to go is the runDisney Health and Fitness Expo. The expo is where you’ll find official race weekend merchandise, pick up your bibs and race T-shirts, and have time to do a little shopping with other running vendors and companies. The operating hours of the expo vary by race and day, so be sure to check the runDisney website for the most up-to-date information.

FAMILY FUN: Your Guide to Discovery Cove, Orlando’s Only All-Inclusive Theme Park

If you’re most interested in official runDisney race weekend merchandise, make sure to get to the expo early on the first day it’s open. Unsurprisingly, the expo often runs out of merchandise for the larger races early in the weekend, so doing your shopping early allows you to have the best variety of merchandise, including pins and magnets.

Pro-tip: Currently the health and fitness expos for every race are using a virtual queue to get into the merchandise location at Walt Disney World. To enter the virtual queue, you’ll use the Walt Disney World app on your phone to snag your spot in line, just like you would for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind or TRON Lightcycle/Run. When your group is called you can shop for all of your themed race merchandise. Virtual queues are only used for day one of the expo.

6. Transportation to and from the Races

When it’s finally race day, there are a few ways to actually get to the start line from a Walt Disney World hotel—you can drive yourself or take a bus. Depending on what time the race starts, buses may be operating as early as 2:30 in the morning.

WATER WORLDS: Blizzard Beach vs. Typhoon Lagoon: The Ultimate Guide to Disney’s Water Parks in Orlando

If you prefer to be in your own space before or after the races, consider driving yourself. Most runDisney races start and end at EPCOT, so you’ll be driving to the EPCOT parking lot, which is fairly easy to get to. Driving also saves you time because the shuttle buses tend to wait until they’re full before leaving for pick-up or drop-off. At Disneyland, most people walk or take a ride share to the start line. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to the starting point so you aren’t late. 

7. Corrals

Once you get to the race staging area, you’ll notice the lit balloons marking each corral. Your corral letter is on your bib, and that’s where you should head once you get to the race. If you’re in an early corral, plan to get in it about 30 to 45 minutes before the start of the race, because corrals do close and if it does and you’re not in your assigned corral, you’ll need to move to the next open one.

Make sure to celebrate after you complete a runDisney race (Photo: Megan duBois)
Make sure to celebrate after you complete a runDisney race (Photo: Megan duBois)

8. The Racecourse

All along the racecourse there’s plenty of entertainment, from Disney characters to DJs and even gospel choirs to keep runners encouraged. Participants are allowed to stop at any time to snap photos or take videos with characters and entertainment. Just be sure you move completely out of the road or course to take pictures so you don’t block other people from getting by you.

LOAD UP YOUR E-READER: 33 Books Like Harry Potter to Binge on Your Next Vacation

If you’re looking for photos of yourself running, runDisney has you covered with Disney PhotoPass photographers taking photos all along the course. When the races are done, you can link your bib number to your My Disney Experience or Disneyland account to see all your pics. Full instructions on how to do that are located on the back of every bib.

9. Crossing the Finish Line

The best part of any runDisney race is crossing the finish line, which always feels like a big party. There’s music playing, Disney characters cheering everyone on, and plenty of volunteers handing out medals. There are also Photopass photographers here, so be sure your bib number is clearly visible to get the best photos you can of your accomplishment.

MAKE MEMORIES: 20 Best Places to Go with Kids This Year

Once you cross the finish line be sure to keep moving forward so you don’t block up the area. After you get your shiny new medal, you’ll get your post-race snack box and a bottle of water or a sports drink. Then you’ll be back in the staging area where you can meet up with friends and family, or head back to your hotel.

10. After the Race

When the race ends, be sure to take time to celebrate, whether that means enjoying some Disney thrill rides or treating yourself to a nice meal. Because no matter what length race you’ve completed, you’ve worked hard and deserve to celebrate. And you just happen to be in a great place to do just that.

As an avid runDisney participant, I’ve run in my fair share of races and worn a lot of costumes that match the race themes. There really is nothing like a runDisney event. The memories made on the course will last you a lifetime, and some post-race Mickey waffles are pretty great, too.

More from FamilyVacationist:

Megan duBois
Megan duBois is the Senior Theme Park Editor for FamilyVacationist. She's also a freelance journalist who covers theme parks, cruising, family travel, and wine tourism for outlets like Conde Nast Traveler, Business Insider, Forbes, Travel + Leisure, The Points Guy, and National Geographic. You can reach her via email at megand513 [at] gmail [dot] com.