Disney’s Dopey Challenge
4 Races in 4 Days!
January 7-10, 2016
I have been wanting to sign up for Disney’s Dopey Challenge since I started running Disney races a couple years ago. But running 4 back-to-back races that doubled in length (5K, 10K, 13.1, 26.2) was very intimidating. Last year after running my first full marathon, I decided that ‘yes I can do this’. A few of my friends from the Sub-30 Club (an awesome online running club that motivates and inspires runners of all levels to turn their beast mode on) were also running these races. The encouragement was motivating. After signing up, I had a little less than a year to train. That was plenty of time to build up my endurance and strength to conquer all those miles. Last year I ran the Runner’s World Half & Festival races which were also back-to-back races. Then I ran the Marine Corps Marathon with a PR. Two weeks later I completed the Outer Banks Marathon with another PR. These last two races qualified me for the Marathon Maniacs. The training alone was enough to prove to me that I had this and will be able to complete the challenge. My coach Michael from Run Nerds Rock created an effective training plan tailored to me and it worked.
I arrived at Disney on Wednesday because my first race (5K) was the next morning at 6am. I landed at 2pm, picked up my rental car and headed on over to the expo. It was not too crowded. I picked up 2 bibs and 6 tech shirts. The 5K and 10K races shared the same bib. The half marathon and full marathon races also shared one bib. The expo was a lot of fun. They had all sorts of RunDisney merchandise and I met great people.
Runner’s World had a booth at the expo and I ran into and chatted with my friend Bart Yasso. He helped relieve my fears of taking on this challenge and reminded me that I did a similar challenge (affectionately dubbed Dirty Hat Trick) at the Runner’s World Half & Festival in October which was a 3.8 mile trail run on Friday, a 5K and 10K on Saturday, and a half marathon on Sunday. I felt a lot better. Although the thought of the full marathon was still a little daunting.
Then I met up with my wonderful friend Gelcys from Runner Unleashed. I was so happy to see her. She’s a strong and determined athlete that never gives up. She has been an incredible source of inspiration and motivation for me. She also had previously recommended the Bonnet Creek Resort as the hotel to stay at for Disney races. This was where I decided to stay. The location was great and the price was even better.
I went to bed at a decent time since my first race was at 6am at Epcot. Since I didn’t stay at a Disney resort, I rented a car using my own transportation to the first 2 races. The Hilton Bonnet Creek provided shuttle service to the Half and Full Marathons only. Not a big deal as it worked out great. I wanted to get to the race with enough time not to be rushed to the corrals. I was prepared for the early wake ups and knew they were part of this challenge. For the next 4 days my wake up time was 2:30am! Ouch!
Disney’s Dopey Challenge (48.6 miles of fun!)
Day 1: 5K (3.1 Miles)
I got to the race with plenty of time for the 6:00 am start time. The parking lot was not too full. The temps were brisk and humid but it felt very refreshing. I walked up to my corral and waited for our turn to the starting line. The announcers counted down and the gun went off! There are no fireworks for the 5K. I’m off running!
I decided to run this race a little faster but not go all out since I had 3 more to do in the next 3 days. The 5K course was wonderful. It was still dark because it was so early but it was a nice quick run through Epcot. I made my way through Epcot’s Future World and then on to the International World Showcase.
It was very beautiful seeing a few of the countries of Epcot with their torch lights lighting up the streets and spectators along the sidelines cheering you on. I remember how grateful I was that they were out there so early cheering us on. There were plenty of Disney Characters along the 3 mile route and loud cheerful music to keep you entertained.
At the finish you are given a finisher’s medal made of a flexible plastic material and a very cute picture of Pluto. I also found out that the finish times for the 5K are only recorded for Dopey Challenge participants. It is considered a fun run and not a race.
I really loved this event, though. It’s not too often I get to run a 5K. It was a great introduction to this challenge.
Day 2: 10K (6.2 Miles)
This time the race started earlier. From now on the rest of the races start time was 5:30am. The weather forecast for Orlando kept changing but when I woke up it showed rain for most of the morning. This time the wait in the corrals was freezing. I saved my malar blanket that they gave out at the 5K and wrapped it over my head and around my shoulders to protect me from the rain and wind. I recommend bringing some with you since Florida’s weather changes so frequently. Next time I will order these Heat Reflective Emergency Blankets on Amazon for about $5.00. It’s worth it.
Once the race started I was able to warm up by mile 1. Then it started to downpour! The course was winding throughout Epcot and the scenic World Showcase again but to add the extra 3.1 miles they took us out of the park into the highway and back again. The ramp was the only hill of this course. Even with all the rain there were spectators out cheering us on! I was so impressed and happy to see them all.
By mile 4 I felt my left foot arch start to ache and I realized I didn’t tighten my shoes very well. The puddles and soaked feet didn’t help with my shoes too loose. Unfortunately I kept on running thinking I had only 2 miles to go and it could wait. I should have stopped and fixed my shoe because by the end of this race my foot hurt and was feeling tight which meant it was swelling. Not a smart move with 2 more races to go.
After a shower and breakfast, I went to Animal Kingdom with my friend Michelle (who was running the Goofy Challenge). We rode 2 rides but I had to come back and rest my foot. It was still pouring out too. By the way, take the Kilimanjaro Safari ride at Animal Kingdom when it rains. All the animals were out. It was wonderful to see and experience.
When I reached my hotel I crashed and took a long nap. My foot was swollen. I wrapped my foot in KT Tape and elevated it for most of the afternoon. My friend Gelcys helped me find a good wrap technique for swelling.
For this race I wore Newton Running shoes Distance IV and INKnBURN’s Flutter Tech Shirt and Leaf Shorts.
Day 3: Half Marathon (13.1 Miles)
I started the day with a fantastic cheer squad at the Bonnet Creek Resort. I couldn’t believe how many cheerful resort staff members were up at 2:30am to cheer us on with music, breakfast, and encouragement as we mounted the buses. Amazing! They did that on both days!
I splurged at sign-up and purchased the Race Retreat package for the last 2 races when I signed up for the Dopey Challenge. I would say it is worth the money. You are paying for convenience and pampering but when it’s raining and you’re tired, convenience matters and it’s so worth it.
The Race Retreat package provides a warm enclosed large temperature-controlled tent away from the rain. They provided breakfast of bagels, bananas, oranges, coffee, water, PowerAde, hot cocoa, and spreads (peanut butter, jams, etc). This package also included bag check, dedicated porta potties, Disney character meet and greets, and a First Aide station. I grabbed some Tylenol and surgical tape from the First Aide table and reinforced my KT Tape wrap around my foot. It helped tremendously. I ate my traditional race breakfast of bagel with peanut butter and sliced bananas on top.
For my long runs I take my own fuel hydration and had my hydration bottle filled with Tailwind Nutrition. I also eat dried dates as a source of nutrients. I was ready! With plenty of time to spare I met up with my friends and walked to the corrals. I was running the Half Marathon with my friend Will from GoodWillRunnin. He’s a blast and a great guy. He made the 13.1 miles so much fun. Will really works hard on his training and goes out of his way to help others.
In the corrals the wait wasn’t too long. My plan with Will was to run 10 minute miles. That way we had enough energy for our Marathons the next day. He was running the Goofy Challenge (half + full marathon).
The plan worked well for the first 7 miles. Then my foot started to ache and some of the paths started to narrow in and out and got crowded. There were several bottlenecks that were difficult to get through so that slowed us down too. The biggest one was at the Disney Castle. It was understandable and not a big deal. We weren’t heart set on a specific finish time.
By mile 10 Will’s leg started to cramp and I could feel my foot start to swell. Since we were here to have fun we decided to move onto intervals and enjoy the race more. We had a blast. Disney races are so much fun. This 13.1 mile course took us through Magic Kingdom Park, then on to Epcot, through the international World Showcase and Future World. The race finished in the shadow of Spaceship Earth. We finished the race on high spirits. Will beat me by 2 seconds 😉
After the Half Marathon run I was really nervous about this full marathon the next day due to my foot. I was smart and didn’t walk too much during the day. I took Advil for the swelling and kept it wrapped up.
I did go to Hollywood Studios, though. My dinner plans, thanks to my friend’s Michelle keen Disney skills, included the “Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular at Hollywood Studios”. I have never seen synchronized fireworks like this before. If you have time when visiting Disney Orlando, you must see this!
For this race I wore Newton Running shoes Motion IV and INKnBURN’s Run or Die Warrior Tech Shirt and Liberty Shorts.
Day 4: Marathon (26.2 Miles)
The final race was here! I was going to finish! DNF was NOT an option. My thoughts were “My foot will hold out for 26.2 miles!”
Final race – last early morning wake up! I took the hotel shuttle to Epcot. I got there with enough time to enjoy Race Retreat. With my nice breakfast and taped up foot I walked over to meet my friends and head on over to the corrals.
I was able to see the start line from my corral which made the wait more exciting. This time the corrals were started a lot faster than previous races. Within the half hour I started my last race of the Dopey Challenge, the marathon!
I ran with my friend Mike who was awesome! He broke down the race for me by taking a picture of the mile markers. This was brilliant. It made the marathon go by so much faster. This reminded me of the quote “Run the mile you’re in”. It made me look forward to the next mile. We were having so much fun that somehow I missed mile marker 9 and was pleasantly surprised when I saw mile marker 10 instead. That’s when you know you’re having a blast. My foot was holding up. I stayed fueled and hydrated and made sure I had Advil for the swelling.
This race is truly the best part of the Dopey Challenge. The atmosphere was super energized; the runners around you loved being there. The costumes were so creative. Mike wore INKnBURN’s R2 tech shirt and he received the best comments throughout our run. It was very entertaining. We had so much fun. The spectators were incredible and fueled us with their energy as we ran.
The marathon course took us through four Walt Disney World theme parks and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Some folks don’t like the Sports Complex but I really liked it. They announce your name as you run through and film you so you can see yourself running on their huge video screen. The spectators at this section of the race were awesome and motivating, yelling your name as you ran on by. This is where they handed out sponges dripping with cold water. WOW! That was so invigorating! I can still remember how wonderful that felt.
The course took us through Magic Kingdom Park, and then through Animal Kingdom, through Hollywood Studios, and then back to Epcot through the international World Showcase. Once you see this part of the race and glance over at the Epcot Spaceship Earth across the lagoon you know you’re almost at the finish line! Just like in my first Disney marathon this part of the course made me very emotional. I had 47 miles behind me at that point. I was finishing the Dopey Challenge!! After run/walking for most of the race I literally got a surge of energy once I saw the finish line and ran as fast as my feet would allow. Woohoo! 48.6 miles DONE!!! I did it! It wasn’t easy but I did it! Mind over matter!
For this race I wore Newton Running shoes Motion IV and INKnBURN’s Miko Tech Shirt and Bloom Shorts.
Would I take the Dopey Challenge again?
YES!! I had a spectacular time. Yes, it’s a challenge but that’s why you do it. If it was easy it wouldn’t be as rewarding. My training has been on point throughout the year. My friends and family have been a tremendous support. I am so thankful! Going through all this training has really taught me that if you put your mind to it and put in all your effort – you are unstoppable.
Here are a few more pics from this amazingly fun weekend!