Moving On

I’ve read a few race recaps from the Dark Side Challenge and apparently I’m the only person who enjoyed it.

In some respects, though, I think the narrative regarding runDisney can be easily summed up as “moving on.” A lot of people started running around the same time I did, around 2012. It’s been theorized that part of the uptick in running over the past 10 years can be attributed to financial instability and the recession in 2007/2008. That people have more time to run, they need a way to relieve the stress of an uncertain financial future and when you’re funemployed you’ve got a bit of free time on your hands but no money so running seems like a viable option.

In the runDisney narrative, though, I think that what I’m reading in the general disappointment with the Dark Side Challenge and race weekend is an aging out of the runDisney phase. A lot of people are like me, we started running in 2012 and we really, really liked Disney and Disney was what inspired us to run in the first place. For some of these people, they transitioned into just generic recreational runners. Those individuals came to find running a hobby worth pursuing on its own without the castle or they now consider themselves more “serious” athletes than previously, and I think what we’re seeing is that they’re moving on from Disney as runDisney shows its own limitations.

The financial recession itself receded and overall, Walt Disney World has become more expensive as attendance has gone up–the marathon and the perks that came along with running it were a way to “put heads in beds” at empty hotels. I mean, yay for unemployment under 6%, but at the same time that affects the reality of how Americans (and foreigners) travel. It makes shit more expensive when more people have the money to spend on a luxury item like a marathon.

The reality now is that there are really only so many ways, even in the large expanse of Walt Disney World, to plot a 13.1 mile or 10 kilometer course. Much like New York Roadrunner has 10+ races that all run varying distances on the exact same stretch of Central Park, it’s fun after your first race but after the 9 races in one calendar year that you need to get into the marathon, it’s boring and old and all you’re left with is a choice over what themed overlay you want. At Disney, you can pick from Star Wars or Princesses, at New York Roadrunner you decide Pride Run or park beautification on your t-shirt.

And I think the reality is for a lot of people who have been diehard runDisney fans, it’s not so much that runDisney has changed a lot, but rather that they have. They consider themselves “runners” now, not just “people who run in Disney.” They want less crowded courses because they want to PR. They want to see a different course because they’ve already run some iteration of this one 3 times this year and that’s after 1 race weekend. And perhaps equally as important, they’ve experienced other races. Where once this group of individuals only ran at Disney and had only that as their frame of reference, they’ve experienced the amenities other races offer at a different, much lower, price and demand those at Disney. If anything, simply by requiring proof of time more stringently than in the past, runDisney has forced its participants to experience other races and compare them to Disney ones and that comparison is not always in Disney’s favor.

The pervasive ethos of entitlement is something common to people who love Disney, and I get it, it’s a lot of money to spend. More and more people are doing the math and it’s just coming up short, the excitement they had the first time they ran through the castle isn’t there for 14th time. So it’s time for them to move on, to find new courses and new places to make them excited about paying money to run.

Have you ever grown out of a race?


10 thoughts on “Moving On

  1. I don’t think outgrown…more like lost patience with a race. My favourite race used to be running the Fargo half in May….but then it got popular….and it became a nuisance in from picking up your race kit to trying to get back to your car after the race was over. I still feel very sentimental about it but my “I can’t miss it” attitude about the race has decreased.

    As for rD…I think some of it too, arguably, is that people are expecting too much…esp for a “brand” that doesn’t even have a theme park yet…(ie Star Wards). At least with the more generally branded Disney races, you can play up all these different characters and pull ones people remember from childhood, etc….it’s kinda hard to create Hoth in sunny, humid Florida. lol…I think they want immersion and it’s just not possible yet…and when you combine that with the same course and the crowds and the expense…people start complaining.

  2. Very well written. I couldn’t agree more. You thematically solved the problem people are having with RunDisney. Some need to move on. For me, I started RunDisney in 2015, so it’s still fairly new to me, and there are many races I haven’t done yet. But I can see for those started back in 2012, how it may be a bit redundant. I ran in the Star Wars Half Marathon: The Dark Side this year too, and I actually really enjoyed the point to point course. I’m not sure why so many didn’t enjoy it. I’m glad you did!

  3. I enjoyed the Dark Side Half in a different way than I’ve ever enjoyed a runDisney race because I flew in from Philadelphia the afternoon before and flew home just a few hours after finishing. The logistics of trying to squeeze as much as possible into a 22-hour trip – making it to packet pick-up in time, getting a Manhattan at Belle Vue Lounge, YeeHa Bob, a bit of sleep, the race, post-race drink at Jock’s – became an great, memorable adventure in itself!

    That said, I know some people who may be “moving on” from runDisney. For the most part, they dipped their toes into recreational running by doing their first tentative races at Walt Disney World and now they’re looking to graduate from some of the things that made runDisney events an ideal place for them to start out. I do a lot of races in my region, but I specifically run at Disney for (a) the unique medals, and (b) an excuse to go to Disneyland and Walt Disney World. I doubt I’ll tire of either anytime soon!

    • That is amazing–I would need a vacation after that trip, it sounds both exhilarating and exhausting. But you’re totally right, changing it up and doing things differently gives the weekend a fun, new adventure vibe.

      It’s good, graduation is good–the running industrial complex owes a great deal to runDisney!

  4. Love this post, Nicole. You captured a lot of my own thoughts. In some ways, runDisney has changed since my first race in 2011. The races themselves have become bigger, which leads to the inherent logistical challenges of transportation, course crowding, etc. I wholeheartedly agree that once you’ve run the courses a few times, the experience remains relatively stagnant…not necessarily in a bad way, but it’s just quite similar. I think one of the reasons I loved Dopey Challenge weekend so much was that everything was new for me – the 5k, the 10k, and the marathon. And running the half at a slow pace for photos was a blast. The registration insanity coupled with the cost are big deterrents for me these days. I’m just not in the same “life” place I was a few years ago when planning race weekends 8-10 months out is a good option.

    • It’s a big, expensive commitment and honestly as delightful as the challenges are those early morning wake ups are just… I’m ok with going back to work so I can sleep in til 6:30. Plus, as nice as it is to run familiar courses, I understand that people want a new, exciting course and their families want to go somewhere else on vacation.

  5. I have a bit of a different perspective, possibly because my experience is on the other coast and partly because I started them a bit earlier than you’re talking about. Disney was not my first. I did my first marathon in Kona in June 2006. Then to prove I wasn’t a one-hit wonder, I did a second in LA in March 2007. It wasn’t until after that that I discovered the half marathon. I first did Disneyland in 2007, and it was my fourth race, but second half. I did it because I was with a running group that was doing it. At the time it was slightly more than any other local race – $20-$30 and you could register up to maybe 2 months out. I did it again in 2009 with a friend who wanted to do her first half. I didn’t find the race to be anything spectacular. It was just one more local option. I went back to Disney in 2012 when they introduced the Tinker Bell race. That was the first time I did a costume race and I had so much fun I started doing them regularly at that point. It was Disneyland 2013 where things started getting out of control and they have been ever since.
    So I have actually seen a huge change. ‘It’s not you it’s me’ is the wrong approach in my eyes. It really is them.
    The thing I’ve been noticing is that the theme doesn’t matter. It’s ultimately the same experience over and over again. Out here they seem to be having fewer character ops and trying to keep them more in line with the theme of the races. Star Wars out here cracked me up because so many reviews said the best part was the cosplay groups out on the course. Um. Okay, but why am I paying Disney $200 to see people out in a public park? That was kind of the last straw for me in terms of really being ticked over the money grab.

    • I 100% agree with you, runDisney has a lot of flaws and things have changed it hasn’t remained the same over the last 4-5 years. Generally speaking, I find that people have a much more positive view of the Disneyland races and I can understand why, because it’s park but then it transitions into a local race on streets with people out. But weirdly enough, the “local” part is something I thought made DL better. The World ones never makes that transition from park to local race with people just hanging out on the side cheering so it lacks that energy, if that makes sense? Plus, the World races usually have people who come from out of state and include in their trip airfare, park passes, hotel, food, etc. so it’s not just a race but a full on trip which makes it a) more expensive, b) more work, and c) early. fucking. wake up calls.

      I have kind of mixed feelings on the characters and lack thereof. I understand wanting more characters on the course, especially during Star Wars which was completely lacking in them (I still assert that the 2013 Tower of Terror 10 miler had the most and best character stops), but I also understand from a crowd control perspective you can’t have people waiting 45 minutes for BB-8 pictures and then complaining about getting swept, hence BB-8’s appearance at the expo. And putting them at the end also gave slower runners the opportunity to get character photos without worrying about maintaining their pace, which was a nice thing to do.

      Realistically, they should absolutely put more effort into on course entertainment that doesn’t require waiting in a 30 minute line for a picture with R2-D2, they should make expo merchandise available for pre-order, and they need to cut the number of runners they have participating. I’d in particular be interested to see what would happen if they capped it by pace. The crowding is always in the middle to back of the pack of runners and I imagine Disney attracts a lot more 12-13 minute milers than it does 6-7 minute milers.

      And just generally, I want people to stop walking 2-3 across.

    • It’s interesting that you said Disneyland 2013 – that was the first Dumbo Double Dare, right? That’s the first time I can recall people getting shut out of a race just a couple of hours after it went on sale, but maybe I’m misremembering?

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