The Dopy Challenge is a four day event at Walt Disney World Resorts.
- Thursday - Pluto's 5k
- Friday - Minnie's 10k
- Saturday - Donald Duck's Half Marathon
- Sunday - Mickey Mouse's Marathon
In completing the Half Marathon and full Marathon, Dopey Challenge participants also satisfy the requirements for the Goofy's Race and a Half Challenge. This results in six medals, six t-shirts, and four extremely early mornings. I had a lot of fun doing the events, but once is certainly enough for me. It was a unique tour of the parks, getting to run through two for the half marathon and all four for the full marathon; however, circling Epcot two additional times for the 5k and 10k made the final return trip at the end of the marathon torturous. Getting up at 3:45 for four mornings in a row put a huge damper on enjoying the rest of the trip. Combine that with the overall cost, and I cannot see myself doing the challenge again; however, I would consider doing the Goofy Challenge, again.
My Experience and Lessons Learned
If you are reading this post, you probably already know enough about the challenge that I don't need to spell out all the details. The runDisney website does a sufficient job describing the event beyond what I wrote above. I ran the Half Marathon with my girlfriend, but did the other three races by myself. There are a couple of key lessons that I definitely learned (the hard way) that would have greatly improved my experience.
Submit your Proof of Time Qualifying Results
This is something that I missed when I registered. For the Chicago Marathon, the organizers send out multiple emails reminding runners to log into the website and add their Proof of Time. Since I didn't do this, I was stuck at the back for all four races. It was awful. As someone who can casually run a 24 minute 5k, I was stuck behind all of the walkers — all of which seemed perfectly happy walking six wide through the narrow parts of the course. The 10k was just as bad. The half marathon was as bad, but I noticed it less, since I was running with at my girlfriend's pace, and she was perfectly content slowing to a walk during the bottlenecks. For the marathon, it was absurd how often I was running through and around large groups with zero course etiquette.
If you are in a later corral for any of the races, expect to be standing around for a very long time. It was at least 41 minutes between the race start and when I was on course for the 5k, 49 minutes for the 10k. For the half and full marathon races, it was over an hour. If you are staying at Disney, take the latest possible bus you can, and take your sweet ass time getting to the corral. It is close to negligent how long it takes to get everyone onto the course. Additionally, expect significant delays throughout the race. The course narrows to just a single lane on a narrow access road throughout many different parts of the course. I understand the need, from an operations standpoint, for this (their employees still need to get to work); but the bottleneck brings athletes to a complete standstill.
This Isn't a Race, It's a Guided Tour Of Disney
It wasn't until I was halfway through the Half Marathon that I had the realization that these aren't races, like every other running event I had done. Instead, this was a paid, self-guided tour through the various parks at Disney World. There are no awards for overall place or age bracket places; few people are attempting to qualify for Boston. The entertainment along the course is, in fact, designed to delay you - who can pass up a picture with your favorite Disney characters? The challenge is also a great way to pad the number of participants for the 5k and 10k, and to convince runners to stay at the parks a few extra days. Especially with the expo being on Wednesday, you have to be there for at least
four five nights - because who is going to go home Sunday night.
You Will Get Sick Of Seeing That Damn Golfball
Since all four races start and end in the Epcot parking lot, you will have to run through the front, and around back of Spaceship Earth four different times. Come the end of the marathon, you are going to loathe seeing that geodesic horror once more. After I finished the marathon, I had the choice of which park we were going to visit, and while I would have liked to walk around Epcot, I hated the idea of seeing it yet again that I chose to go to Animal Kingdom instead (had a wonderful time there, too).
Extend Your Trip An Extra Day
A friend who works for Disney said that the second weekend in January used to be the slowest weekend at the parks, which is why that weekend is now Marathon Weekend. It is now also one of their business non-holiday weekends. However, I can attest from experience that nearly everyone goes home on the Monday after the marathon. The park and the resort we lodged at were both nearly empty. Park lines were almost nonexistent and there were no crowds at restaurants during peak meal times. If you can afford to stay an extra day, definitely plan on spending Monday doing all of the things that you would normally have to wait in long lines.
Enjoy The weekend
In spite of all of these early mornings, terribly long corrals, mediocre race support, and exhaustive expense — it certainly was a fun weekend, made all the better by the company and the visits to the parks. I am glad to have done it, but more at being able to say that I've done it. In the future, there are certainly bigger challenges that await the ambitious feats of endurance I might undertake (Ragnar, RAGBRAI, Ironman, etc).