Running into the Disney Woods: The Happy Haunted 5K Run

I am no runner. I’ve tried many times and usually quit because I cannot motivate myself to continue running for exercise. Anytime I have seen ads for runDisney, I never pay attentio, because it just doesn’t interest me… until my nephew, Owen, ran the Happy Haunted 5K Trail run last October.

Owen was in Disney World for October 2014 because his sister was getting married at the Wedding Pavilion. His mother is an active runner and Owen was going to try something new. Plus, Owen is an outgoing and athletic thirteen-year-old so he figured he could handle a 5K run.

His race started off at the Wide World of Sports Complex where runners were grouped into corrals based on letter designation. Owen warned don’t plan to come first if you’re not in the ‘A’ corral unless you’re really fast. This type of run is all about developing your time, not your place.


Circling the track for a couple of laps, Owen then headed into the woods following the marked trail. This is where the fun begins. You see, the woods have a little character in them — literally. Disney characters were set up at five stations where you could stop and get pictures and autographs. The Wicked Queen from Snow White was terrifying runners too. Owen even tried to take a bite out of her apple but got a stern finger wag from her. Owen loved his run through the woods passing the likes of Brer Fox and the Big Bad Wolf. He even noticed the Imagineering touches to the course like bug sounds projected to try and add an extra creepy factor in the eerie race through the haunted trail. When Owen crossed the finish line, he was greeted by Mickey and Goofy who enthusiastically took pictures with all of the finishers.

When Owen told me about his race, I couldn’t help thinking how much I wanted to compete in a runDisney event. I mean, this isn’t your standard long distance run. Instead, Disney characters cheering you on and you get to compete in the most magical places: a Disney Park. Who wouldn’t want to tie their running shoes up and get ready for a run?

I started exploring and found that runDisney events change constantly. Since the first marathon in 1994, runners have come from everywhere in the world to compete in these events that take competitors through the Disney Parks. The main events for this year are the Princess Marathon and new runs based on Star Wars and Marvel. There’s even a 5k challenge on Castaway Cay if you are taking a Disney Cruise. The Princess Marathon has been around for a few years, but some events don’t stay long… like Owen’s — The Happy Haunted 5K Run wasn’t on the runDisney calendar for 2015.

If you ever wanted to see highlights of a runDisney event just go to YouTube where there are numerous examples. I can’t help but think about the one of a kind experience Owen had last October. Plus, Owen now has a unique Disney souvenir: his medal.

If you are interested in participating in a runDisney event, check out You can customize your whole vacation around the race you wish to do. Thousands do this every year. My nephew offers some advice for future runners: Owen told me how his school cross country run almost killed him, but he felt great after the 5k because he took breaks throughout the course stopping to meet the characters. He never saw it as a race, but an adventure. It almost makes me want to get to the starting line of a future race.

Bill Gowsell
Bill Gowsell has loved all things Disney since his first family trip to Walt Disney World in 1984. Since he began writing for Laughing Place in 2014, Bill has specialized in covering the Rick Riordan literary universe, a retrospective of the Touchstone Pictures movie library, and a variety of other Disney related topics. When he is not spending time with his family, Bill can be found at the bottom of a lake . . . scuba diving