Participating in your first runDisney race? Follow these beginner tips (and warnings!) so you don't miss out on any part of the magical experience.

By Dominique Michelle Astorino
February 11, 2020

​The most magical races on earth (aka runDisney events) are some of the coolest experiences you can have as a runner—particularly if you're a Disney fan or just love the parks. But like a kid on Christmas, it's easy to get carried away with everything going on. Between the sugary snacks, parks waiting to be hopped, photo ops, costumes, race day libations, and everything in between, your brain can get overwhelmed… and you might miss out on some seriously awesome components of this event. (Related: Why runDisney Races Are Such a Big Deal)

As someone who's on the way to her fifth runDisney race, I've gone through my fair share of rookie mishaps. Here's how you can learn from my mistakes and have a blast no matter your finish time.

12 runDisney Race Running Mistakes You Don't Want to Make

1. Don't park hop the day before.

I know, I know. I'm telling you to NOT go to a Walt Disney World park the day before your race when the whole reason you're going to this race (most likely) is to spend your days eating Dole Whip and drinking around the world at Epcot. I get it. But going the day before the race, in my experience, has been a mistake. You'll be so tired and your feet will be destroyed from walking around all day and because of that, your race will potentially suck. Sore feet and backs before a 10K or half marathon? Bummer town.

If you have to go to the parks (maybe you're leaving right after your race), just don't park hop. Choose one park, keep it light, and get to bed early.

2. Don't load up on sugar beforehand.

You know the phrase nothing new on race day? I propose an addendum: no sugar-bombing your stomach the day before race day. (Related: The Start-to-Finish Guide to Fueling for a Half Marathon)

I of all people understand the strong desire to bury yourself in Disney churros the moment you touch down at MCO airport—but don't do it right before a race. All those sweets the day or night before a race will leave you with some pretty major digestive distress, and unless you've got an iron gut, you're pretty much guaranteed to get diarrhea on the course. This is a real thing that happens. Heed this warning, and wait until the finish line and day after to dig into the Disney World deliciousness.

3. Make post-race brunch (and dinner!) reservations.

As a Disneyland annual pass-holder, I thought I'd be completely prepared for my first Walt Disney World race weekend, and that eating after the race would be a cakewalk. You just pick a restaurant and walk in, right? Quite wrong. Don't wait until the week—or even month!—before race weekend to make post-race brunch reservations, because they will all be booked up, and you may not be able to get into many restaurants. Seriously, restaurants start to book up as soon as the reservation slots go live: 180 days (six months) out.

I know it sounds insane to make reservations six months in advance, but keep in mind that Walt Disney World is almost always busy, but race weekends draw in more than 65,000 runners (aka additional guests) who also bring their friends and family in tow. (Related: What I Learned from Running 20 Disney Races)

Planning far ahead be well worth it for a glorious post-race meal at resort favorites like 'Ohana, Be Our Guest, and Biergarten. Pro tip: If you're running the Princess race and want to get the full experience, book Cinderella's Royal Table as far in advance as possible—you get to eat inside the iconic castle, which sounds better than any PR.

4. Don't stay too far off the property.

While you may save money staying at a non-Disney resort, I would highly, highly recommend staying in one, at least the night before your race. Why? All Disney hotels offer shuttles to the race start line area. (Related: The Best Walt Disney World Hotels for Runners)

While this may seem trivial (or not worth the extra hundred bucks per night), consider that you have to be at the starting area sometime around 3:30 or 4 a.m. and that many, many roads are closed, and parking options are not necessarily close.

In addition to the shuttle (which, IMO, is reason enough to stay on property), the hotels also have hot coffee in the lobbies at 3 a.m. and runner kits with things like bananas, vitamin water, and peanut butter so you can have an energy-packed but light breakfast before hopping on the bus to the start.

5. Don't skip the expo.

The runDisney expos are huge, and they're insane. Plan a few hours to visit all the different booths, get a shoulder and back massage, sip a frosé with FitVine wine (yes, they have healthy wine for runners at the expo), or buy a tutu and a tiara to wear during a Princess race. There are tons of vendors, photo opportunities, tasty treats, and pre-race activities.

6. Don't miss the exclusive runner food.

Speaking of tasty treats, every event has special food created specifically for runners of that race. Much of this food can be found at the expo, and it includes healthy meals designed by the Disney food team to help runners perform at their best (in the past they've had great protein-centric quinoa bowls and peanut-butter-based protein balls).

The exclusive food also includes alcoholic libations. For example, in the past, the Star Wars-themed Dark Side race has featured a 13.1 Parsecs Pineapple Pale Ale beer, while Disney Princess race weekend featured a berry-tinged glitter beer with actual edible glitter. (Related: 7 Foods That Make You Faster So You Can Eat Your Way to a PR)

7. Don't wear regular running clothes.

Listen: The first couple of times I did a runDisney race, I wore a Disney-print tank top, but essentially all my clothes were regular pieces of activewear. This kind of kills the vibe, and I personally felt like I showed up to a black-tie event in a t-shirt dress. Part of the magic of this race is that you get to be nostalgic and bring out your inner child—so wear the damn tutu. Choose your favorite character, or one you loved as a kid, or one that's hilarious (and Star Wars and Marvel totally count). Go big or go home.

8. Don't forget rain gear: Orlando weather is weird.

You're either going to experience glorious Florida sunshine or a thunderstorm. Florida weather is all over the map. In my personal race experience, it has been temperate and lovely, but you'll want to bring a variety of options for your day-of-race gear just in case the winds change and you end up with a completely different climate.

9. Don't stop for every photo op.

I know this can be tempting, particularly if you're a diehard Disney fan. There are a ton of photo ops along the course with Disney characters, and unless you're starting at the very front of the first corral, you're going to be standing in substantial lines to get that photo. Think: upwards of 30 to 45 minutes. Not kidding.

If you try to take a photo at every single stop—unless you are running sub-6-minute miles—you're going to be out there for like five hours. It's exhausting. The sun comes out (a big deal because the races start well before sunrise), and it gets really hot. Be choosy and only stop at a handful. I set a PR for the longest half marathon of my life (five hours) one year at a runDisney race because I stopped at so many photo op locations and had a running buddy who needed to walk quite a bit. I would not recommend this. (Related: How to Protect Yourself Against Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke)

10. Don't forget a finish line libation.

Those boozy treats from the expo? Many of them are at the finish line. You can toast with a little Veuve Clicquot or sparkly beer—all well-earned!—after you log your 3.1, 6.2, 13.1, or 26.2 miles. Trust me, if you can stomach it (and didn't coat your digestive tract with Mickey ice cream bars the day before) a little bubbly at the end of a race tastes extra special.

11. Don't waste a Park Hopper ticket directly after the race.

My suggestion? Recover post-race, then make the most of that very costly ticket the next day. Typically, my approach for race day is to either do a half-day at one park or spend the afternoon at the resort and downtown (Disney Springs), and then go to the rest of the parks the following day.

Park tickets are *not* included in your bib cost, and I think to maximize the value of a Disney Parks ticket, you want to be there open-to-close. That's just me; you do you, but my suggestion is to not hobble around Animal Kingdom after you've done a half or full marathon. Save it for your "shake out" the next day, and grab a glass of vino at Wine Bar George or sangria at Jaleo in Disney Springs instead.

12. Don't miss the opportunity to raise money.

Did you know you can fundraise your way to a runDisney race bib? You can skip the credit card charge and instead, raise money for a wonderful charity. Each runDisney event has a different charity; for the past two years, I've raised money for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. You pay a small registration fee (typically much, much less expensive than the standard bib cost), and then hit a minimum requirement for your charity via fundraising. It's fun, it gets your community involved in your event, and it makes the race so much more special.

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