I just got back from Orlando where I ran the Dopey Challenge last weekend. Before I went, I spent a lot of time researching questions I had and decided that once I got back, I would write a blog post so that future runners would have an easier time than I did.
1. Sleep becomes a luxury.
I’ve done runDisney races before, and knew the 3 AM wakeup calls are rough—but when you’re doing Dopey, you get so nervous about getting up on time, whether or not you can do it, and fighting sensory overload from the parks that it’s hard to get the sleep you’re used to having at home. Plus, if you’re not on Eastern Time, you’ve got to adjust to a time change on top of all of that.
If you’re coming from the West Coast, come early. We did a stint in Virginia before heading to Orlando, and not only did it ensure that I had warm clothes with me (see #5), but it also allowed me to be adjusted to an East Coast bedtime before Dopey started. For during the challenge, plan on naps—and prioritize them over meals and time in the parks.
2. Train for the miles you put on your feet in the parks, too.
This was almost my downfall. I was trained for the races (for the first time!) but neglected to plan for the effect that going to theme parks every day would have on my legs. The first day, I didn’t wear my orthotics, and even after fixing that problem, I could feel the tightness in my calves from standing in lines. From Wednesday to Saturday, I had over 50 miles on my legs—before toeing the start line of the marathon. By mile 20 of the full, my legs were toast, and I developed shin splints for the first time in my life.
Walk for at least three miles after each run during your Dopey simulation. It will help your body be ready for the extra stress. It’s also not the worst idea to walk two miles before any of your Dopey simulation runs—on half and full marathon days, I had 5000 steps before I even got to my corral.
3. Disney quick service food can, and will probably, make you sick.
Runners typically eat a pretty clean diet with little processed food—I eat a pretty salad-based diet, myself. However, Disney makes it hard to eat like that while on property, and you may struggle to get the nutrition you need while you’re there. I was so sick by the end of the day Friday that we took a Lyft to the outlets so that we could find food that I could keep in my body. Believe it or not, McDonald’s set better in my stomach than Disney quick service food.
If you’re going to eat on property, stick to traditional restaurants and avoid quick service like the plague. If you have to do quick service, stick to things that would have the minimal amount of preservatives. (Think simple sandwiches, pizza, and vegetarian items.) If that’s not palatable, there are several Panera locations close to Disney property.
4. Bring running clothes for all weather.
Every year that there’s been a Dopey Challenge, there’s been at least one day that’s been cold or rainy. In this year’s case, expo day was raining/sleeting and Thursday and Friday below freezing. When planning your costumes and packing, make sure you have options for if the temperature drops. Otherwise, you’ll be joining the horde shopping at Wal-Mart or the outlets in search of warm layers.
5. You can be swept until you’re on the Boardwalk.
If you’ve runDisney before, you know about the balloon ladies. If not, the balloon ladies are super nice volunteers who help keep the official 16 minute/mile pace for Disney. They start at the very back of the last corral, and you just need to stay ahead of them to be allowed to finish. Disney can pull you off the course at any point if you are behind pace or are struggling, but most runners consider the last major sweep to be when you’re “safe.” For the WDW Marathon, that point is when you cross onto the Boardwalk in front of the Swan and Dolphin. Some people in my training groups got swept at mile 24—so make sure you’re training with keeping pace in mind.
6. Have a spectator.
This was my first race with a true spectator. My husband met me along the course three times before the finish to take my non-throwaway layers, to give me something to look forward to during the run, and to cheer me on. Outside of marathon day, he was instrumental in curbing some bad panic attacks, keeping me positive, and most importantly, guiding my 3 AM stretch sessions every morning. If you’re doing Dopey—or even just the Marathon—for the first time, I can’t begin to express to you how important it is that you bring a spectator with you.
7. Race retreat is totally worth it.
On the morning of the half marathon, I was questioning if it was worth it—I was able to get into the expo early, but by no means was that worth the extra money I paid. Being able to sit on a chair, have my shin splints iced, and enjoy some chocolate milk in air conditioning after the full marathon was totally worth it. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I got a private pep talk from Doctor Strange before the Marathon either. If I were to do all of this again (which I probably won’t!), I would only buy race retreat for the full marathon.
8. Don’t over plan.
I had grand dreams of character breakfasts and adventures around the parks that were traded in for extra naps and the shows like Country Bears Jamboree by Thursday afternoon. Each time you cancel a sit-down restaurant reservation, you get charged $10/person, so overplanning comes with a price tag. We were lucky and had a cast member waive one of our fees when I got sick, but we still had to pay for our Tusker House cancellation on the morning of the 10K. And it doesn’t just include breakfasts—we canceled two of our four dinner reservations in favor of going to bed earlier and eating offsite.