Think you can’t run a half marathon? Mickey Mouse says you can! Since 1994, when the Walt Disney World Marathon was launched, runDisney has been inspiring people of all ages and abilities to set – and achieve – serious health and fitness goals. And this is especially true for women – those Moms out there who want to channel their fitness motivation into a magical family vacation at the Happiest Place on Earth!

runDisney inspires women to lead healthier lives

Shannon Entin and Jessica Bunn at the 2012 Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon.
Photo by Shannon Entin / Over 40 TravelingMom

runDisney Inspires New Runners

Runner’s World magazine calls runDisney events the perfect races for new runners because there’s less pressure, no qualifying time required and runners can enjoy the sights of a Disney theme park while world-famous Disney characters cheer them on during the race.

Ann Lefebvre of Cary, North Carolina, ran the Princess Half Marathon at Walt Disney World as a new runner. “I didn’t really expect to finish the race since I had only started running and I was just there for the experience. I was so impressed with everyone’s willingness to support each other. I thought it would be a nightmare and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of comradery that I have ever seen. I finished the entire race because I didn’t want it to end. It really isn’t about physical stamina, it’s about mental attitude. I kept going because it was enjoyable and memorable and that distracted from physical discomfort. I hope to be able to experience something like that again.”

Disney Star Wars Half Marathon

Running through Hollywood Studios park at Disney’s Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon.
Photo by Shannon Entin / Over 40 TravelingMom

My first runDisney race was the Wine & Dine Half Marathon in 2012. I couldn’t think of a better way to stay motivated to run than to be working toward a trip to Disney World. I’ll never forget the magical moment when I ran through the now defunct “Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights” show in Hollywood Studios. Complete with holiday music and fake snow, that surreal portion of the run remains one of my most vivid memories.

The Disney entertainment experience also inspires former runners to try it again. “The excitement of running through the parks and staying in one of the resort hotels is such a treat,” says Jessica Bunn of Raleigh, North Carolina. “The two half marathons I did at Disney were the beginning of my return to running. That was four years ago and I have since joined three run clubs and done countless races.”

Through runDisney.com, participants get access to official training consultant Jeff Galloway and official nutritionist Tara Gidus, who both share tips on how to train and how to make finishing a race achievable to runners of all ages and athletic abilities.

“Training for these events shows me that my body can do so much more than I thought it could,” says Christina McMenemy of Columbus, Ohio, publisher of AMommyStory.com. Christina recently completed runDisney’s Dark Side Challenge: a 10K and half marathon in the same weekend. “I was that kid in high school who came in last when running the mile in gym: wheezing, red-faced, and trying not to vomit. I had accepted that I just wasn’t athletic. But then I found runDisney, and more importantly, found the Jeff Galloway run-walk-run method and I’m still shocked that I can do 19.3 miles in a weekend. It’s really empowering to know my nearly 40-year old body is accomplishing more than it did at 20, and that motivates me to keep going.”

The word is out that you don’t have to be in tip-top shape to run this ‘race’, according to Desiree Miller of Atlanta, publisher of StressFreeBaby.com. “I have been part of other half marathons and it stinks to feel like everyone is faster and in better shape than you. That’s not the way a runDisney event makes you feel. It’s all about encouraging others, enjoying your time outdoors and knowing that no matter how slow you are, you’re faster than your friend sitting on her couch. The information sent before the run and shared on the web site can walk anyone through the training and make it possible to go from couch to finish line.”

Love the cheering and support at runDisney events!

Cheering on runners at a runDisney race.
Photo courtesy of Disney.

Explosive Growth

Runners worldwide have clamored to sign up for these popular race weekends and recent runDisney races have been selling out in record time. The 2016 Wine & Dine Half Marathon at Walt Disney World sold out in 34 minutes and the 2016 Rebel Challenge (10K and half marathon) at Disneyland sold out in 24 minutes. In terms of the number of runners, runDisney has become one of the largest race organizers in the United States. In 2015, more than 230,000 people participated in runDisney races. Most races are 65 – 70% women.

runDisney events inspire healthier living.

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Photo courtesy of Disney.

Many race weekends feature runDisney kids’ races, a family fun run 5K, a 10K and a half marathon, along with a health and fitness expo with inspirational guest speakers. “We’ve had more and more people who want to run with their families, and that gave birth to the family fun runs, the 5Ks, and the addition of kids’ races during the weekend,” says Tina Trybus, Marketing and Sales Strategy Manager for Non-Leisure Sports and Youth Programs at Disney. “And when you have that many days of activity while people are enjoying a combination of the parks and achieving milestones, it definitely lent itself toward the health and fitness expo. [The race weekends] keep growing as consumers’ interest and needs grow.”

Participants love the character stops, costumes, and live music along the course, and getting to see the parks in a way they never have before. I was interested to see how the parks connected to one another and found it fascinating to be able to travel those “back routes” on foot. During the recent Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon, I ran through the World Showcase at Epcot, Disney’s Boardwalk Resort, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. The 13.1-mile race ended at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports where medals, music, characters, cold/wet towels, and a post-race snack waited.

To serve more people, runDisney has just launched a Virtual Running Shorts program. Runners can sign up online, complete a 5K run on their own, and receive a medal by mail. While you won’t get to experience running through a Disney park, you can get a taste of accomplishment that might move you to train for a longer event. My daughter is more motivated to eat healthy and run with me now that she can get a medal from Mickey!

Fun for the Whole Family

runDisney inspires families to run together and be healthier.

Christina McMenemy with her daughter and husband at Disney’s Star Wars Dark Side 10K.
Photo courtesy of Christina McMenemy.

runDisney provides some serious motivation to get your entire family on the bandwagon toward a healthier lifestyle. Eat well, exercise, and… go to Disney? Yes, please! Plus, when you burn all those calories running, you don’t feel guilty enjoying an extra Dole Whip (or two) once you get to the parks!

“Whatever encouragement a person finds to be more active is great,” says Jessica Higgs, a physician from Peoria, Illinois.  “I think [the fact that] many people can turn these runs into a fun family and/or friends trip – making it a true experience rather than just an event – is helpful.  I have run several long distance races already, but never 50 miles in 4 days. I am using the Dopey run in January to celebrate my 40th birthday, and my entire extended family is coming along. A few are running some of the races with me.” Dopey Challenge participants run a 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon over the four-day race weekend.

Training for these races can lead other family members to make healthy changes, too, according to Christina McMenemy, whose daughter ran the Dark Side 10K with her and her husband a few weeks ago. “[Your] training should optimally involve both exercise and nutrition – meaning you’re making healthy lifestyle changes in pursuit of a runDisney goal. I’ve noticed that these changes don’t happen in a vacuum: training for a race has led to other family members making healthy changes as well, and I’ve even inspired a few Facebook friends to take up running!”

After running a dozen runDisney races Cathy Coloca of Pembroke Pines, Fla., now runs 5K’s with her six- and nine-year old children. “Even my youngest, at 3, just ran her first 200 meters at the Star Wars Dark Side race,” says Coloca. “Now my girls won’t let me run a 5K without them, even though it requires them to get up at 4 a.m. and even stand around waiting for the corrals to start in temperatures below 30 (for Princess 2015), all without complaint! That’s saying a lot for girls born & raised in South Florida!”