The 2017 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend took place January 4-8. With over 82,000 runners expected to take part in the four days of races, it is the flagship weekend of the runDisney race series. The weekend included an untimed Family Fun 5K and timed 10K, Half Marathon, and Marathon races, and daily kids races of various lengths. Runners can complete the Half Marathon and Marathon as part of Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge; to further up the ante, runners can complete all 4 races on consecutive days as part of the 48.6-mile Dopey Challenge, which was my approach.

Packet pickup for the races took place at the Health and Fitness Expo at the Wide World of Sports Complex, beginning on Wednesday. In a departure from previous years, runners who purchased Race Retreat for the Half Marathon and/or Marathon were granted early access to packet pickup and merchandise on Wednesday morning. As a result, the first day of the expo had shorter operating hours than in the past, while still needing to process all Dopey and 5K runners that day, along with any runners of other races and non-runners who wanted to visit on the first day.

In an effort to further distribute Expo crowds, some of the races held their packet pickup in the covered areas beneath the baseball stadium. Due to the number of people involved, the Marathon Weekend Expo uses more space than any other runDisney Expo; it’s safe to assume that the new cheer arena (currently under construction) will be used for future Expos upon its completion.

Anticipating heavy crowds, we arrived at the Expo early. As has become typical for the Expos, the doors opened a few minutes early, granting us access to the merchandise before it got picked over by other runners and eBay scalpers. We were also able to pick up our packets and race shirts with minimal waits. As we were leaving, busloads of runners were streaming in to the facility; photos on social media later in the afternoon showed queues to enter buildings that looped around the soccer fields, which we were lucky enough to have avoided.

The 5K course began Thursday morning in the Epcot parking lot, with approximately 10,000 runners taking part. After following the perimeter of the lot to Woodpecker Lane, runners entered backstage, passing beneath the outdoor portion of Test Track, and emerged into the park next to the Mexico pavilion. The course proceeded around World Showcase, with a detour through International Gateway and the backside of the United Kingdom pavilion before following the central path into Future World. With a quick loop around Future World West, runners crossed Innoventions Plaza and exited the park near Spaceship Earth, continuing to the finish line in the parking lot.

In the grand scheme of the Dopey Challenge, the 3.1-mile race seems more like a technicality than a true endurance competition. As has become tradition, I walked the race with my parents and friends, taking a “brisk mosey” pace. The weather Thursday morning was cool while we waited in the start corrals, but it was very comfortable once we started moving and the sun came up. In general, it was a nice low-pressure way to start off the weekend’s races, helping to ease the pre-race jitters.

Although the race itself was pretty uneventful, it’s always fun to start the morning off by watching the sun rise over World Showcase and gawking at the long lines for character photos. The Illuminations torches are lit, the popcorn lights on the buildings are turned on, and upbeat music plays throughout the park, giving the event a generally fun atmosphere. Since it is the least strenuous of the weekend’s races, it’s often host to the most elaborate costumes, reflecting the low-key approach many runners take to the untimed event.

We finished the race in 1:00:03, before heading back to the hotel to get ready for a day in the parks.

The 6.2-mile 10K course began in the Epcot parking lot, sending runners west through the park’s toll plaza. After a U-turn onto Epcot Center Drive, runners proceeded to Overpass Road and entered backstage, similar to the 5K course the day before. Starting between Norway and China, runners circled World Showcase, exiting the park for a lap around Crescent Lake on the boardwalk. The course reentered the park near the United Kingdom pavilion, and headed into Future World, passing around Spaceship Earth before heading to the finish line in the parking lot.

The 10K took place on January 6, identified as Topsy Turvy Day in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, so I dressed as Clopin, recycling my costume from the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon. Because he is a relatively obscure character and the course offers limited spectator viewing areas, I wasn’t expecting much recognition, but I was pleasantly surprised by the number of cast members (of a certain age) who knew who I was; one even made the Topsy Turvy Day connection on her own. In general, the cast members were very enthusiastic during this race; it seemed like a lot of them were brand new College Program and International Program folks who were genuinely thrilled to have a chance to interact with some guests, even if it was very early in the morning.

I often claim that the 10K distance is one of the most difficult for me, since it’s short enough to be run at a pretty fast pace but still long enough to require some patience and strategy, particularly since I still had two other races ahead of me. Because the first half of the race is along uneventful highway roads, I knew I started out a little faster than I would like, so I intentionally slowed myself down on the way into the park. Running in the park and on the boardwalk offered plenty of opportunities to stop for photo breaks, and reducing my pace let me soak in more of the atmosphere. In a multi-day event, it’s practically impossible to go too slow (short of not maintaining the minimum required pace and getting swept) during the early races, so I had to continually remind myself to take it easy and treat this as a shakeout run.

Vanilson Neves from Sao Paulo, Brazil won the men’s division in 31:40; Mason Cathey from St. Petersburg, FL won the women’s division in 37:19. I finished the race in 56-minutes even. 11,292 finishers overall.

After the race, we headed back to the hotel for showers and power naps before heading out for the parks. With consecutive days needing to leave the hotel by around 3:30 a.m., any extra moment of sleep can help. We had a great day in the parks, blissfully unaware of the unprecedented runDisney news that we would get that evening, leaving a huge impact on the weekend.