Today was registration day for January Disney World marathon weekend! I myself have signed up for the 10k and half marathon, but this past year I completed the Dopey Challenge. If you’re not familiar, the Dopey Challenge is running 48.6 miles over 4 days. That’s a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon 4 mornings in a row. When I started my training I was looking for all of the Dopey Challenge tips I could find!
Maybe some of you have signed up for the Dopey Challenge this year – and maybe it’s your first time doing it! If so, you probably feel some nerves and excitement. I know I felt both of those things. And you probably have a lot of questions and want to know about the experience! So I thought I would share some of the Dopey Challenge tips I learned myself from training and running it last year.
My top Dopey Challenge tips:
Find a training plan and follow it
This might seem obvious, but I’m in a lot of Disney running groups on facebook and I’m always shocked by how many people sign up for this intense challenge and don’t put in the training they need. Sure, it’s not impossible to finish it without training – but why risk injury or being unable to finish? It’s not smart to attempt it without a solid training plan.
The plan I personally followed is the one shared by RunDisney, and that’s Jeff Galloway’s training plan. It’s about a 6 month training plan so it starts early, but it’s a good way to slowly build up your mileage. Hal Hidgeon’s plan is also a good one. Whatever you choose, make sure you aren’t just training for a marathon but for the Dopey Challenge. That means back to back to back to back training runs. Because until you try to start a long run on legs that have already been running for 3 days, there’s really no other way to describe it. Like many things with running, it’s something you need to get used to.
Run a marathon prior to running Dopey
I realize to some this is a little controversial. Many people run Dopey as part of their first marathon. So it’s just my personal recommendation when I suggest you run a marathon before you do Dopey. There are a few reasons for this, but for me the biggest is the fact that running a marathon is not only an amazing accomplishment but an amazing experience. I wouldn’t want my first marathon to be eclipsed by the challenge because it’s amazingly special in its own right.
I also went into the Dopey Challenge with a much better mental game than I would have had otherwise without a marathon under my belt. I knew I could do a marathon because I’d done one before. And there are things that happen in a marathon, at least for me, that you don’t get running shorter distances – both mentally and physically. I knew what to expect, and that I could get through those things, because I’d done it once before.
Don’t plan to do the challenge when other big life events are happening
Training takes A LOT of time. Your long runs will take hours (and if you’re following a good training plan you’ve also been spending time running the 3 days before your long runs). And I don’t know about you, but after I finish a 15+ mile training run I don’t particularly want to do much else that day. It also takes a lot of mental focus to train. So you need to dedicate a lot of your life to the training for 4-6 months. I often do community theater, which takes a lot of rehearsal time, so I knew when I was training for Dopey I wouldn’t be doing any theater shows. Even Thanksgiving weekend, which I normally spend seeing family, I was out that morning for a 10 mile run, didn’t indulge too much at dinner, and then did a 20 mile run the next morning.
Be prepared for variable weather
January in Orlando is weird. The weather can be all over the place. I ran the marathon there in 2017 and it was 35 degrees at the start. Then the marathon this past year got up to about 85 degrees. Don’t assume that because it’s Florida, it’s going to be hot, or because it’s January it’s going to be cool. The humidity can also be very high, and many people from out of state are not training in high humidity. Plan your race outfits with several options, so you can add or take off layers depending on the weather that week.
If you schedule a run, don’t make excuses
Speaking of the weather, I know it’s tempting to skip a run or postpone it because it’s raining, or cold, or windy. Or maybe you’re not feeling 100%. But unless it’s actually dangerous conditions, or you are truly sick, you should probably do it. Come race day, it may rain. You might have a headache. And you’ll be a little more prepared if you’ve done a training run with those conditions. If you’re in the middle of a back/back/back/back run weekend, it will also mess up your flow and training to skip a day.
Practice in your costumes
Yes, depending on how in depth your outfit or costume is, you might look ridiculous running around town in it. But it’s extremely important to practice running in what you’re going to wear on race day because you need to know it’s comfortable. I had a friend who tried to run in a tutu while wearing shorts and realized that the long tulle caused chafing between her legs. When I tested out my Princess Jasmine costume before this year’s Princess half marathon I discovered part of the fabric on the pants was getting caught on my shoe. I was able to pin it, but if I didn’t know that until I was actually doing the race that would have been disastrous. Even if you’re not planning a costume and just a regular outfit, make sure you test it out on a long run.
Find what water and nutrition works for you
Disney has a lot of water stops on the course, but I always find it better to carry my own – that way I have it when I need it and I don’t have to wait for a stop. Plus if it’s very hot like this year you have plenty. There are different options for this, including handhelds, belts, and hydration packs that you wear like a backpack. Like everything else, test it out during training. Same goes for nutrition. Whether it’s gels, chews, or more solid food like a bagel, experiment with what you need to eat before and during the long run.
Focus on your mental state, not just physical
A marathon is not just a physical challenge but a mental one as well. So take care of yourself mentally. Don’t give yourself a hard time if you don’t hit a time goal during training, or if you have to end a run early. And easier said that done, but try not to let other areas of life stress you out too much. My cat got extremely sick the week before my first marathon and the stress really got to me, so that was a much more difficult run mentally for me. The effects of stress are very real so try to be gentle with yourself, and hopefully the others in your life can do the same.
Take the races before the marathon easy
I don’t recommend running all out on the 5k, 10k, and half marathon. If you want to walk most of the time or even all of it, that’s not a terrible option. You can still run if you want to (I personally felt like if I was doing this challenge I wanted to be running it) but I definitely took it at a much easier pace and took more walk breaks. You’re going to exhaust yourself if you’re trying for a PR all 4 mornings.
Be serious about resting in between races
You’re in Disney World! Obviously you want to go to Magic Kingdom, or go ride Expedition Everest. But you can’t think of Dopey Challenge weekend as a typical Disney vacation. The parks have so much walking and they can be exhausting, and rest is crucial to being in the best shape you can be. Consider just a few hours in the parks or waiting until after the challenge to visit them. Enjoy your resort, have some good carb loading dinners, skip the alcohol, and go to bed early.
I never recommend trying to run a Disney race to get a new personal record or a great running time. It’s a unique experience which is honestly fun. So if you have time to get some character photos, take advantage of that. There’s so much entertainment on course, with DJs, running through the parks, and the amazing spectators. Make sure you remember to enjoy it and appreciate yourself and your body for what it’s doing!
Do you have any additional Dopey Challenge tips? Or if you are a first-timer, what additional questions do you have? I’m happy to try and answer them!