Race Review: 2018 Dopey Challenge at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend (1/3 – 1/7/2018), or: “I’m just glad to be here, happy to be alive…”

OK. The 2018 Dopey Challenge at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. Let’s do this!

. . .

OK, yes. The Dopey Challenge was over a month and a half ago at the time of this publication, and yes I’ve slacked big time. So now that we’ve established and acknowledged that, and not shown a single ounce of contrition, let’s move past it and talk about the whos, whats, and whys of Run Disney’s signature event, their flagship race weekend, the crown jewel in their… crown. And other such metaphors.

So for the uninitiated, let’s posit a brief description of The Dopey Challenge: every January, Run Disney and the Walt Disney World resort host the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. This is a mammoth event, consisting of a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Marathon, each on consecutive days. Participants can run in any combination of events: a single race, multiple races, or ALL of them. People who register for the Goofy challenge elect to run both the Half and Full Marathons. And then those who are nutty enough to register for Dopey… they are doing them all. All four races. 48.6 miles in four days.

We here at HokeyCorp Industries Ltd (entirely fictitious) decided to go entirely Dopey, because (a) we’ve never done it before, (b) 2018 represented both the 5th Dopey Weekend and the 25th running of the Marathon, which meant special bling and celebratory what-not, and (c) our Dopey buddies pressured us into it. So there you have it.

Now for those of you who have been following Hokeyblog for a while, you may remember that I had ranted against The Dopey Challenge in the past. And you might be calling me a callous hypocrite filled with self-righteous woe-is-me’itis and indiscriminate, capricious poo-poo’ism. All I can say is that, given that I’m taking a Run Disney break for an undisclosed period of time, I figured I would go out with an explosive finish.

And I did. So let’s start talking about it.

Before I do, though, I’m going to level expectations early: I’m not going into my usual level of depth and detail with each race. The reason for that is because I’ve reviewed these races multiple times in the past, and believe you me they’ve barely changed one iota since 2012. So while I’ll definitely provide summaries for each event, I won’t be going through all their ins and outs. Instead we’ll be providing general summaries and photos of what each day was like; more about the overall experience rather than the technical details. I’ll also provide links to previous reviews of each race so if you want to dig deeper for further information, BOOM! Easy access.

So to quote the late, great Marty DiBergi “Whaddaya say? Let’s Boogie!”

Wednesday – The Expo

If you’re running The Dopey Challenge, you really need to be up at Walt Disney World no later than Wednesday. Your races begin on Thursday, so you want to make sure you have all your bibs, shirts, swag, etc. before then. Living in Fort Lauderdale, I’m only a quick 3 hour jaunt away from Walt Disney World, and was able to leave around 2 in the afternoon. I arrived at my resort by 5PM, checked in to my room, waited outside the lobby for my pal Trixie to pick me up, and together we drove over to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to hit up the Race Expo.

Our first stop was the HP Field House to pick up our bibs:

The Expo was massively crowded earlier that day, but by the time we arrived (around 6PM) the crowd level was very manageable. How manageable, you ask? Let’s just say Trixie and I didn’t have to wait in any line whatsoever to take photos with this guy:

Our next stop took us to the Dopey registration kiosks, housed in a separate pick-up area from other kiosks. Good for crowd management, I imagine. The wait time was super short, and I was in possession of my bibs, shirts, and race swag in no time at all:

After you get your bib, they take a photo of you holding it up. This way, they can identify you after the Goofy and Dopey races are completed, to ensure that you are actually the person running the races with that bib.

And of course there was the swag. For the Dopey Challenge, this included six shirts (one for each race, one for the Goofy Challenge, one for the Dopey Challenge), a commemorative 25th Disney Marathon luggage tag, and, for the first time I can recall, complimentary snap-on bib buttons. I used those buttons all weekend. They held great and were so much easier to use than the usual safety pins.

The next stop was the Jostens Center to hit up the massive vendors and speakers area of the Expo:

Trixie and I had our priorities straight and made a straight bee-line for the immediate necessities:

We worked the expo floor for a while, stopping to chat with the inimitable Jeff Galloway:

We also chatted away with the Running Zone crew, they who put on the Space Coast Marathon and Excalibur Events:

There was even zero wait for Trixie to get taped up at the KT station:

Afterward we hit up the Art of Animation food court to grab dinner, and then called it an early evening. The next day was Thursday and that meant one and only one thing:

Thursday – The Walt Disney World 5K

Previous Review: The 2014 5K

Did I mention that all the races start at 5:30 AM? And that you have to be there, at the latest, about an hour before hand? Because that bears repeating.

I woke at 3:15 that morning, and quickly got refreshed and dressed, making sure to layer up. Why, you ask? Because it was 30 degrees out. And I am a South Florida native, which means I am entirely a tropical iguana when it comes to cold weather. This meant a cap, gloves, compression pants, compression shirt, and race jacket. But not before I took my Handsome Boy Modeling School selfie shot:

Then I went out to my car and had to spend five minutes defrosting the sucker. Did I mention this is FLORIDA?

The drive over to the Staging Area at Epcot took only a few minutes. I parked and walked over to the Concessions area, as I needed some coffee. Actually, I needed two coffees. One to drink, and one to keep my hands warm. I was FREEZING. My fingers were so cold, they were beginning to burn. I’m a South Floridian; I was so not used to this. Look at the frost all over the table:

Look at the frost all over the runners!

I was so damn cold I returned to my car and pulled out my New York City Marathon poncho. I was so pleased with myself for keeping this in the car. This thing was lined and heavy and wrap-around and kept me toasty for a while.

I walked over to the corrals and met up with my Team Shenanigans buddies. They were almost entirely dressed up as Cone Alley safety cones, which was a lot of bright orange, making them easy to spot. We walked/lightly jogged the entire 5K together, getting plenty of shout-outs from the race announcers and a few fans of the podcast.

The 5K took us through Epcot, which was picturesque as hell that morning, if certainly nowhere near as warm:

Did I mention it was still absolutely freezing cold that morning? Queen B herself, walking the entire race in a thin orange bodysuit, looked like she was in the early throes of hypothermia. I lent her my poncho while we waited in line for photos. Who says I’m not a giver?

BEFORE…

… and AFTER!

And speaking of photo ops, we hit up as many as we could while in Epcot, pausing with the Genie, Jiminy Cricket, the Brother Bear crew, and more:

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Listen, you’re paying top dollar for this 5K; get your money’s worth. We spent over 90 minutes enjoying it. I even crossed the Finish line in a mock run and received my 5K medal from my buddy Anita:

 

But can we have a moment of silence and compassion for the sad individual who froze to death in their car that morning?

So that was the 5K. We just had a bunch of fun with it, as you can probably tell. I spent the rest of the day casually strolling the Magic Kingdom, meeting up with buddies, and then heading for an early dinner at The Wave before calling it an early evening. I had to rest up for the next morning’s 10K.

5K PROS: Super fun, lots of photo ops, a chance for a super early morning stroll through Epcot, the race is untimed, making it walker and family friendly.

5K CONS: Crowded and narrow. If you’re planning on running for time or a PR, you might want to save that for another 5K.

With that, we move on to:

Friday – The Walt Disney World 10K

Previous Review: The 2014 10K

The morning was just the same: up at around 3:15 AM, dressed warmly for the super cold weather, and out the door, but not without that selfie:

This time we were quite lucky; temperatures were only in the mid to upper 30s. This veritable heat wave ensured that I did not require the utilization of my NYC Marathon poncho, but I still froze my tuchas off anyhow.

I planned on meeting the Shenanigans crew for the group photo, but arrived pretty early, and took advantage of it by heading over to the character photo-op area. With almost zero wait, I got photos with these guys:

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As soon as we gathered enough troops around us, we finally got that team photo. Can you tell things were still rather frosty out?

I decided to run the 10K, not necessarily for time but as a good warm-up for the next two day’s events. This meant run a mile, walk a minute throughout the entire race. No stopping for photos or for anything, really, except hydration. I bid adieu to most of my pals except for Kristen. This California Girl (and scientist!) was also in Corral B and made for a most awesome corral buddy, and we kept each other entertained until it was time to cross that Start Line.

The Walt Disney World 10K is an odd duck. The first three and a half miles are pretty dull; you spend much of it running up and back Epcot Center Drive, turning on Overpass Road into the Epcot backstage area, and finally into Epcot itself. Those miles were an easy, spread-out run. Once in Epcot, it gets understandably more crowded. Still, as much of that section is a repeat of the previous day, you can find those character photo ops if you want them.

I’ve always enjoyed running around the Crescent Lake resorts; in the early morning darkness, the entire area is beautifully lit up. Especially around the Boardwalk, where there is a sizable cheering crew. The Boardwalk planks can get a little slippery if it’s particularly moist out. Just watch your footing.

Back in Epcot there was a turnaround point just past the Spaceship Earth attraction, after which you turn into the backstage area that leads you into the parking lot and the finish line.

Check out Captain Jazzhands behind me!

I finished in 1:01:47, which was around where I expected to land. I ran well but I didn’t run hard; I still had 39.3 miles to go in the next two days, and this was a simple warm-up. That didn’t stop me from posing with my medal, of course:

The rest of the day was pretty relaxing. I met the gang for a brunch buffet at the Trail’s End restaurant at Fort Wilderness, which comes highly recommended.

Afterward I was feeling a bit of fatigue in my Achilles tendon, so I put the kibosh on hitting up any parks that day and relaxed it back at the resort. Boots was finally able to drive up that evening, so I was excited to meet up with her. I grabbed dinner to go from the Pop Century Food Court and went to bed early again. Boots arrived around 9 that night, and was asleep soon afterward. We both were going to deal with that 3AM wake up call.

10K PROS: First half is expansive and less crowded, photo ops if you want them, more strolling through Epcot, a scenic run around Crescent Lake.

10K CONS: First half is also pretty dull, race is timed which means if you want to stop for fun and photos, you’ll need to be aware the clock is ticking, Boardwalk can be slippery.

OK! Let’s go ahead and hit up:

Saturday – The Walt Disney World Half Marathon

Previous Reviews

There were two differences this morning, as opposed to the previous days. I didn’t have to dress *quite* as warmly, and I didn’t have to take a selfie as Boots was more than ready to capture my early morning essence.

It was a steamy 38 degrees that morning, so my attire consisted of compression shirt, long sleeve tech shirt, compression pants, and the usual cap and gloves. I was starting to get used to these tundra-like conditions. My body was mutating to adapt. This was indeed disturbing, but never mind all that because Boots and I were excited to zip on over to Epcot and begin the third day of happy funtimes.

By then we were getting used to seeing the same faces day in and day out, but since these were buddies it made dealing with the cold that much more enjoyable. Highlights included meeting my Facebook buddy Dianne for the first time:

As well as my fellow Beatles-, Bond-, and Cookie-loving pal Ian:

I also met up with my friend Emily, a local buddy and always-familiar presence on the South Florida and Disney running scene. We were planning on running both the Half and Full together over the next two days.

For any race, and especially Disney races, it’s always good to have a race buddy.

For the Half and Full Marathons, the corrals are located out on Epcot Center Drive, which means you’re going to be walking for upwards of a half mile or more to get to your corral. Everyone was huddled up pretty tight; it was a cold, windy morning after all. We dropped back to Corral E and killed time until it was our turn to cross the Start Line.

Emily and I agreed ahead of time that we were running very easy for the Half. We decided upon a slow and steady 3:1 interval, plus stopping for whatever photo ops we wanted. And while we didn’t stop for that many pictures, we certainly enjoyed ourselves. It was a great morning for a run.

The first five miles of the race are pretty straightforward. You head out for a mile down Epcot Center Drive, turning north on World Drive as you make you way toward The Magic Kingdom. And it was right on World Drive when I stopped to take a picture of *THIS*:

This was actually a hot-air balloon with a Mickey face printed on it. I probably should have stopped to take a better picture of it, but alas. We certainly did stop and wait in THIS line:

For a picture with THESE guys:

There were plenty of other photo stops, but we kept trucking on, passing the Mile 5 marker and working our way into The Magic Kingdom — the “money shot” of the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. There’s nothing like that magic moment when you turn right on Main Street to see the throngs of cheering spectators and the castle in the background:

 

Boots was waiting in her usual spot at the Hub, near the turn into Tomorrowland, and captured this action snapshot with our buddies Bill, Jennifer, and Trixie.

 

On a nice cold morning with the castle sparkling with its icicle lights, with the festive music blasting throughout the park’s speakers, along with the cheering spectators, the cast members and characters waving you on, and of course just BEING in the Magic Kingdom itself, it makes for a really magical time.

After you leave the Magic Kingdom, the rest of the race is pretty routine (and a bit anti-climactic). You basically shoot down World Drive, turn on Epcot Center Drive, head back to Epcot, go a bit through Future World, and return to the Epcot parking lot where you reach the Finish Line after 13.1 Miles. After having run this so many times, my mind basically went into autopilot. Emily and I decided to take it easy for the rest of the race, even walking a portion of it just because why the hell not? Plus I got to bump into my buddies Ines!

We finally made it to Epcot, ran the loop around Future World, and headed out backstage to reach the Finish Line.

 

And of course I had a race highlight by finishing right behind my good pal (and good luck charm!) Bea, completely by accident!

We finished with a leisurely fun time of 3:11, which in my opinion was perfect. We wanted to take it easy and have fun, and we did!

Emily and I had a fun time running that Half. It’s amazing how much you can enjoy a race when you remove any and all expectations of time, pace, and challenge, and just enjoy the hell out of it.

Boots and I chatted with our buddies afterward for a bit, and soon skidaddled to get some food, rest, and relaxation in. We returned to Epcot later that afternoon for the Team Shenanigans meet-up. Everyone gathered in Mexico for booze, photos, and a ceremonial trip on the Three Caballeros boat ride. I certainly enjoyed the heck out of all the proceedings, as well as snagging my beloved Avocado Maragrita with ground up Habanero peppers in it. Magnificent.

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Well three down, one to go. And with 22.4 miles behind us, we weren’t even HALF WAY DONE with our total mileage for the weekend.

HALF MARATHON PROS: Lots of character stops, EVERYTHING IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM (seriously), plenty of race support, cheering spectators everywhere, plenty of room on the roads, mostly flat, perfect for first-timers!

HALF MARATHON CONS: Long walk to the corral, bit of a wait to get started if you’re not in an early corral, Cone Alley can get extremely clogged, same course as Princess Half, second half is nowhere near as fun as the first.

This of course finally takes us to:

Sunday – The Walt Disney World Marathon

Previous Reviews

Well by gum! It was my fourth morning of waking up at 3AM to go run some ridiculous race, and I wasn’t even remotely tired of it yet! Plus it was even warmer now… the morning started in the low 40s! What what??

I still had the cap and gloves, but the rest of my race attire solely consisted off shorts and a long-sleeve tech shirt. I knew it would warm up into the upper 50s/low 60s by race end, and I knew I’d be more than warm enough by then. And I was right.

Still… that didn’t help Emily and I much early that morning, as you can probably tell from this photo:

At that point I was done with the team photos and early morning kibbitzing. I love my pals but I slept in until 3:30, got to the Staging Area at 4:30, met Emily, and we walked over to the corral. That was the extent of my socializing before the Marathon. Shocking, I know.

 

Our race began just before 6 AM. If you thought our Half Marathon pace was leisurely, our Marathon pace was literally a stroll through the parks. The strategy was very simple: run 3:1 intervals for four miles, and then walk every fifth mile, stopping for any and all photo ops we wanted. And I’m here to tell you, that was the best decision we made. For the entire 26.2 mile sojourn I never felt tired, winded, sore, or grumpy. I never hit a wall. Of course, I finished in 6:31, nearly two hours off my PR, but, as you will see, I got my money’s worth and then some.

The first stop was The Magic Kingdom. Everything up to and including that portion of the race was exactly the same as the Half Marathon. This time around, though, they had different characters at each character stop. Kudos to Run Disney for shaking things up and making the experience fresh for repeat runners.

Boots, as usual, was waiting for us at the hub for a photo-op.

Our stops in the Magic Kingdom included Tweedledee and Tweedledum, as well as Sebastian from The Little Mermaid:

 

After leaving the Magic Kingdom and surviving the clogged narrow confines of Cone Alley, I managed to find (and get a smooch from) my buddy Laura at her cheering area:

Just after Mile 8, the course turned west on Bear Island Road as we began the four mile trek to Animal Kingdom. The Bear Island Road stretch — the stank coming off the Water Treatment area notwithstanding (SPOILER ALERT: Poo!) — is one of my favorites throughout the race. It takes you through the shaded, well-forested section of the property, just as the sun is beginning to rise. It’s a wonderful moment of quiet serenity; occasional DJs and entertainment, but mostly just the sounds of you and other runners.

After a quick out-and-back on Western Way, the course takes you straight into Animal Kingdom, where you’ll reach the halfway point right in the middle of the park. Emily and I celebrated by grabbing us some Safari Amber ales right next to Expedition Everest:

We proceeded to walk with our beers for a bit, not a care in the world.

Right outside of Animal Kingdom, probably around Mile 14.5ish, I found a wondrous oasis in my friends Jennifer, Kit-Kat, and Kristen:

They were cheering there with snacks and hugs and everything. Maybe it was my own personal happiness, maybe it was the ale flowing through my veins, maybe some kind of early morning delirium, but I happily stayed to chat with them for a bit. Jennifer had some of her delicious “Christmas Crack” with her, and it totally hit the spot. I was sad to leave but had such a fine time hanging out with them that I skipped away, very daintily!

I kid you not.

Unfortunately I also lost Emily during that exchange. So at that point I pulled out my earbuds and started listening to some Playlists on Spotify as I continued to trek my way east on the Osceola Parkway. For many, this is the beginning of the “long, boring, and draining” stretch between around Mile 15 (leaving Animal Kingdom) and Mile 23 (entering Hollywood Studios). That’s eight miles of a whole lot of nothing, including the lowest point of the entire marathon — the three-mile jaunt in, around, and out of the ESPN Complex.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: make your peace with the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Yes, it sucks, yes, you’re tired, and yes, it never seems to end. But at least you get to take a photo with Joy and Sadness:

You get to cross Mile 20 right on a baseball infield:

Plus if you’re lucky, you can grab a free beer or two from a spectator in the parking. Boy was that most welcome.

At that time I was listening to Rob Leonard’s Sunday morning “Free 4 All” show on WHPC (“The Voice of Nassau Community College”). I even called in to make a request for some Supertramp. I think he found it quizzical but amusing that someone was calling his Sunday morning radio show (broadcast from Long Island),¬†making a request from Orlando while running the Walt Disney World Marathon. I think that might be a radio first? Well anyway…

The rest of the race was a breeze. After leaving ESPN, we ran back up Osceola to World Drive, and taking the exit ramp onto Lake Buena Vista Drive. From there the course ran through Hollywood Studios:

And from there it was a mile jaunt to the Crescent Lake-area hotels (Boardwalk, Yacht Club, Beach Club) and a final return to Epcot just before Mile 25.

I made a concerted effort to enjoy the heck out of myself once I reached Epcot, and that meant stopping for photos and, more importantly, celebratory cocktails throughout Epcot. But the first thing to do after reaching Mile 25? Grab a no-wait photo with Princess Aurora herself:

Boots was waiting for me there, capturing photos and surprising me with this awesome poster she made:


After that I walked casually throughout Epcot, chatting with Boots (me on course, she next to me on the sidelines). I was having a blast with my leisurely stroll around Epcot. This included more photo stops with Jasmine in Morocco:

And the Voices of Liberty in America:

By the time I hit Germany, I had to stop for a big soft pretzel and a perfectly dark and frosty Warsteiner beer:

“I think I have time for this…”

 

All the noms

Both fellow runners and spectators were impressed with my late-game libations and proclivities. I think I overheard “THAT’S the way you run a marathon” at least a half dozen times.

One final photo-op with Mulan in China:

My final stop in Epcot was the Mexico Pavilion, where my friends in Team Margarita were waiting! Kim, Jen, Anita, and others from Team Shenanigans graciously offered to serve frozen margaritas to any team members running the marathon, provided they prepaid for the drinks and gave the team a rough estimate of when they’d be arriving in Epcot. Let me tell you, they were doing the Lord’s work. I got my margarita, hung out for a few minutes, then bid adieu to finish the last half mile of the marathon and finish my Dopey Challenge.

And wouldn’t you know, I ran right into my pal Michelle, and we decided to finish the marathon together. I don’t think she was too surprised to find me double-fisting alcohol at that point, which says so much about me that it hardly abides the telling…

With that, we worked our way to the Finish Line, and in a Hokeyblog first, I crossed a marathon finish mat with a cold margarita in one hand and the lingering remnants of a pretzel in the other.

Given this was both Michelle’s and my final marathon, I found it kind of poignant that we finished together. Righteous!

Well… that was it then. I did it. Four races in four days. 48.6 miles throughout the Walt Disney World property. The site of my very first marathon back in 2013, as well as my seventeenth and final marathon. I’ve retired from that distance, and I did with drink in hand. I was ebullient beyond words!

MARATHON PROS: Run Disney’s only full marathon, running through all four theme parks, the Bear Island Road stretch of the race, a huge amount of photo ops and on-course entertainment, you can grab cocktails at multiple points, you can even ride Expedition Everest if you want to, and that final run through Epcot provides plenty of food, drink, and fun.

MARATHON CONS: The Osceola Parkway portion can seem long and trying, ESPN Zone is nobody’s favorite, with all the twists, turns, and boredom, the first 8 miles are the same as the Half Marathon, and when you’re done with it the race weekend is all over…

And that, my friends, was that. The 2018 Dopey Challenge at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. What an absolute blast. Certainly, the fun didn’t end there, as we stayed at the resort until Tuesday, enjoying the parks, the nightlife, the entertainment, and time spent with good friends. Will I do the Dopey Challenge again? Probably not. As much as I enjoyed my time that weekend, it’s still a sizable cash and time commitment, even if I hadn’t given up full marathons. But the experience alone was so worthwhile and upbeat, one that I treasured so immensely, I urge anyone reading to try it at least once. But for me, it’s time for some new experiences. So thanks for the memories, Run Disney. I never say never so it’s adios for now. And here’s the video:

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