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How to Survive Your First runDisney Race

Planning to run your first race? Don’t overdo it.

runDisney finish line at Cars Land

Image: Josh Hallett, Flickr (license)

There are two types of people who sign up for public races: Those who intend to take it seriously (i.e. finishing within a certain time bracket or meeting a predetermined goal) and those who are in it just to have fun. Before you put even one sneakered toe on the treadmill, think about what you’re hoping to get out of your race. Do you want to beat your previous time or meet an ambitious personal goal? Are you hoping to cross the finish line without getting swept off the course? Are you just looking for a fun way to pass a few hours in the park?

There’s no right or wrong answer here, so long as you know what works best for you. Once you’ve figured out what you want to get out of the event, you can better structure your training in the months leading up to it. runDisney has several resources for first-time racers on their website, including Jeff Galloway’s customized 18-, 19-, and 29-week training programs, which can be filtered by race distance and are designed to help you work up to a decent pace by race time. Non-Disney alternatives include the nine-week Couch to 5K program for beginning runners and the Hal Higdon marathon programs, which are optimized for runners depending on their experience level.

If you consider yourself a runner already, it’s not a bad idea to complete a few non-Disney races before you head off to the theme parks. Check your local Meetup groups or a Galloway branch and try your hand at a 5K or 10K. If it’s an official race, you can save your proof of time and submit it to runDisney in order to secure better placement in the corrals (note: this only applies to 10K race or longer). Not only will it take some of the pressure off of you prior to a packed runDisney weekend, but it’ll give you a better idea of the kind of pace you should be setting for yourself—and may even inspire you to set bigger goals, too.

While even the bare minimum of conditioning will make your race that much easier, you’re under no obligation to get in tip-top shape by the time the races begin. In fact, there are plenty of people who show up for runDisney weekends without putting in any work beforehand—and if you’re just there to have fun, there’s no shame in taking that approach, either. Disney does say that these are walker-friendly races, as long as you can walk fast enough to maintain a 16-minute mile pace. Whichever approach you choose, avoid cramming all of your training into the 2-3 weeks leading up to the race, as you run a higher risk of injury and fatigue by doing so.

On race day, don’t leave anything to chance.

Start of runDisney race at Disney California Adventure

Image: Josh Hallett, Flickr (license)

It might go without saying, but the better prepared you are, the smoother your race will go. If you’re planning on wearing a costume, practice running in it beforehand and invest in enough deodorant and Glide to prevent painful chafing and discomfort. If you’re staying at a nearby hotel, either on Disney property or off-site, arrange for a wake-up call (assuming that, like me, you’re afraid of oversleeping or missing your phone alarm). If you’d like to listen to music on your run—never a bad idea, though Disney advises guests to stay alert and listen for key announcements that may be made during the race—pre-load your phone or iPod with listening material before the day of the race, and don’t plan on streaming anything through Pandora or Spotify. If you have customary pre-race rituals to complete or a breakfast to scarf down, give yourself plenty of time to do so before rushing off to the race corrals.

In the days leading up to the race, familiarize yourself with the transportation options to and from the race area and make sure you get there early enough to get through security and walk to the corrals without rushing (and expending unnecessary energy in doing so). While there will inevitably be long lines for bag check, security, and bathrooms, don’t fret: Unless you’re in one of the very first starting line corrals, chances are you’re facing at least an hour-long wait after the posted start time for the race, so you should have enough time to get everything taken care of.

You’ll also want to figure out what to bring with you during the race. This can vary from runner to runner, but some essentials include a water bottle, granola bar or energy gels, earbuds, and of course, your phone and wallet (MagicBand optional, depending on the location of your race). Bag check is available, should you want to bring a change of clothes or other heavy items, but Disney cautions runners not to leave any valuable items in the clear plastic bags they provide.

When the corral opens and your race finally begins, keep these three tips in mind: stay hydrated, stay calm (don’t try to run faster than the pace you’ve practiced setting for yourself), and stay aware (practice good race etiquette and look out for character and photo opportunities).

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