Breaking Up with runDisney

Dear runDisney,

We need to take a break.

Breaking up with runDisney - Group Mouseketeer Costume in front of Cinderella Castle during 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend
Group Mouseketeer Costume in front of Cinderella Castle during 2016 Walt Disney World Half Marathon

We’ve had a lot of great times together, you and me. You inspired me to start running. Without you, I never would have run a marathon, let alone completed the Dopey Challenge (three times)! You introduced me to so many incredible people. You taught me how great running with friends could be, and you inspired me to show others how much fun they could have, too. But lately I feel like you’re taking me for granted. And so, I’m abandoning my Perfectly Dopey status, and I hope you’ll listen to my reasons why.

It seems like you just don’t care about me anymore.

I love how you used to have plenty of characters to meet during the race. But you had just two character stops at the Star Wars 10K, both in the first two miles. You had just one character stop in the last nine and a half miles of the Star Wars Half Marathon (which included 7 boring highway miles).

Breaking up with runDisney - Sabine and Ezra from Star Wars Rebels - the only character stop between mile 3.5 and the finish line.
The only character stop in the last 9.5 miles of the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

You design race courses which require thousands and thousands of runners to funnel down to a narrow one-lane or single-sidewalk bottleneck, but you don’t space us out enough to help those choke points flow.

It feels like you’re testing how far you can go. I think you’ve finally gone too far.

You’re drunk on success and I’ve been an enabler.

Your races sell out in minutes, no matter what you charge. Rumor has it you’re considering offering virtual races, enabling anyone with a valid credit card to buy a beautiful runDisney race medal and participant shirt. I’ve complained in the past, and so have others, but we continue to sign up, which only encourages more of your behavior. But that needs to stop, which is why I’m staging this intervention.

Breaking up with runDisney - Intervention Time

You haven’t been taking very good care of yourself.

Every day, you transport more than 100,000 visitors around the Walt Disney World Resort. You manage transportation for 8 race weekends – more than 25 races – but you had a total breakdown at Star Wars Dark Side Weekend. You abandoned more than a hundred runners at Wilderness Lodge at 2:30am with no way for them to get to the starting line. You made runners line up and wait in a hot, sunny parking lot for more than an hour to catch a bus after the race. Several collapsed and needed medical attention.

You seem less interested in making sure runners can buy highly desirable race merchandise, and more interested in making sure it sells out as fast as possible – even if that means selling cases at a time to resellers who immediately post the items on eBay at huge markups. In fact, your unwillingness to allow runners exclusive access to race merchandise created conditions where fights broke out at the Princess Half Marathon Expo.

You haven’t been communicating.

You’ve always struggled with communication. Sometimes it was just frustrating, like when you wouldn’t release any deferral information until just a couple of weeks before the race. Often it was maddening, like when you assign runners to the wrong corrals, then hold firm to a “no changes allowed” policy. Other times, it was pretty frightening, like when you told me to stand in an open concourse during a severe weather threat.

Breaking up with runDisney - Chaotic evacuation during 2015 runDisney Wine and Dine Half Marathon
Evacuation during 2015 runDisney Wine and Dine Half Marathon

You’ve become increasingly demanding.

You tell me you want $70 for a 5K, and more than $200 for a half marathon. We used to be okay with a quick weekend getaway, but now you’re not happy unless we spend almost an entire week together.

You’ve changed, runDisney, but the thing is, so have I.

I still LOVE running through the parks. I love spending my vacation time and budget at Walt Disney World. And while those were what initially attracted me to runDisney events, nowadays it’s more about the friends I’ll see when I’m there. And since I can (and do!) meet those friends at other INCREDIBLE events around the country, your events aren’t the draw they once were.

Breaking up with runDisney - meeting Chris McDougall at Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon
Team Shenanigans meeting author Chris McDougall at Bird-in-Hand Half Marathon
Breaking up with runDisney - Marine Corps Marathon
Running Marine Corps Marathon with Team Shenanigans

It’s not me, it’s you.

It breaks my heart to leave you in this condition, but maybe it will encourage you to reevaluate the choices you’ve made. Maybe you’ll see how damaged our relationship had really become. Maybe you’ll realize that I’m important to you, and you’ll start making healthy choices which demonstrate that you want me back. Or perhaps you’ll decide we’re both better off if we remain apart.

So I think it would be best for us to take a break. I’m sure have no problem finding a replacement for me and my vacated Dopey Challenge entry. Honestly, it’s unlikely you’ll even notice that I’m gone. But maybe, hopefully, you’ll get the help you need.

Chris Smith

About Author:

Chris Smith, a.k.a. @DopeyRunr, started running in 2013. He has since completed the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 Dopey Challenges, and dozens of other marathons and half marathons around the country.

61 thoughts on “Breaking Up with runDisney

  1. Great post! I’d be very interested in a “great runs that aren’t Run Disney” list if you’re thinking of future post topics. I wanted to fly down from Boston for the Princess Half but after reading several posts like this I think I’ll spend my money elsewhere come registration this fall.

  2. Couldn’t have said it better myself. After 5 years, I’ve got plenty of WTF rD stories – from standing next to porta potties for hours in a corral, to running the most boring stretch of road in the dark with no entertainment over and over and over again… Always wondering “Who runs rD and why don’t they ask, why don’t they care?” They don’t run the races, they don’t get the runner pov. I loved my DL race, but I was in A. My friend was a lot further back and, consequently, had a not so magical experience. Anyway, thanks for bringing our voices together.

  3. Truth be told these events are not really that good. They are not for runners as they are much too crowded and offer poor support.

    Send a compliant to Run Disney and . . . . . . absolutely nothing happens. They may have some 20 year old intern call you back and attempt to placate you or more like belittle you.

    The only way to make a difference is for a big number of people to stop running these events. It won’t happen you say? Don’t be so sure. Locals like me and my group have walked away from them a long time ago. Many, many locals have followed our lead. Ya thousands still do these but eventually the word will get out about them.

    1. Hey, Bill Rodgers! Boston Marathon Champion and Team Shenanigans commenter! 😉

      When you’re the 800 pound gorilla you can throw your weight around, and that’s kind of what runDisney has been saying: “if you don’t like the lack of customer service, you can pound sand because there’s a long line of people eager to take your place.” Maybe the tide is starting to turn…

  4. I only live about an hour and a half from Disneyland and I have done both Disneyland and Disneyworld races. I have actually done more Disneyworld races because until the last few years most of the races were at Disneyworld. As many people have said these 2 races are very different. Disneyworld- Getting up at the crazy early hours to catch a bus and walk a mile plus to your corral then WAIT sometimes an hour for the race to start. Disneyland- LOTS of hotels within walking distance of the start line or if you stay at any of the 3 Disney hotels you can see the corrals from some of the rooms(they are on the street in from of your hotel). The race route at Disneyland is about 2-3 mi between both parks. They have had high school bands, Disney characters, and parade floats running at all the races I have done. (There are a few tight places IN Disneyland/California Adventure but not out on the streets.) Then you head out to the city streets where more bands and many spectators are. This was something I missed in Florida. When I couldn’t race but went and wanted to cheer my friends I could only see them in a few spots. In CA you can map out several places to catch your runners. Disneyworld I got bored with the long roads between the parks. Luckily the other runners are dressed up and keep me entertained :-). I think everyone who loves Disney should do it at least once at both parks as they are so different :-).

  5. Funny how you say Star Wars was the straw. For me it was great! I had said it was going to be my last Disney (hugh star wars fan). I loved all the characters that were out on the course (heading into Hollywood and at ESPN. No lines. Great photos ) Had absolutely no wait in line at the expo. Got all the merchandise that I wanted, with again no wait. I already have my calendar marked for early registration for next year. Sorry to hear that some didn’t experience the same, but I also know so so many that did.

    1. Those “Characters” you mentioned were 501st Legion. Non Disney fan club that Disney uses frequently at WDW due to their costumes are far superior to what Disney uses and to avoid paying the high hourly cost of the Disney performers. Every single one of them except the R2-D2 nd Chewbacca stops.

      I belong to the 501st and work for Disney over 25 years. If they need Star Wars, they come to us in the 501st always. It cost them nothing but printing up 1 comp guest pass per trooper. I won’t comment on the Expo as I was only there to pick up my bib. Other 501st members were in line for the opening and every single thing Chris mentioned happened and then some.

      Wife and I have been doing these Disney races on and off since 2008 but at the price Disney charges vs the slightly under $25 per person cost for the bibs, medals, and t-shirts, when we decided we can spend 1/3 of the price on local Halfs and 10Ks and still get the same quality medal and not have to move at a snails pace to to over crowding. In addidtion the 501st does many other races in Central Florida so we atill get our pictures taken with superior quality characters. Win/Win for us.

  6. Thank you for such a well-written post. My first runDisney event is going to be the Wine & Dine in November, and I’m beginning to wish I had known more about these issues before I registered. But this is a bucket list item for me, and if my experience echoes that of the Star Wars weekend, it may be my first and last rd event.

  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, they seem to be so accurate and will written! I love running and Disney World, but runDisney is definitely taking advantage in certain areas. After I “hopefully” register for Dopey 2017 (I haven’t done this yet – and its a definite bucket list) I will most likely look elsewhere – as you said – there really are INCREDIBLE events put on in other places.

    1. I think about 3:30 (which they had informed runners was the deadline for making it to the corrals on time) they finally sent buses over. Supposedly they had been parked at Ft. Wilderness waiting on instructions for hours.

  8. I hear you in so many levels my friend, but to be fair I think you should specifically direct your breakup to Disney World.
    Disneyland has given me a much better experience and that’s why I don’t think it’s worth my money and effort to go all the way to Florida anymore.
    Disneyland has more flexibility in their parks to give a better experience for runners. The amount of runners is less, it is more time in the parks, you have all Main Street for yourself (WDW gives you half), you are walking distance from start line and the support in Anaheim is so awesome!
    I would encourage you to at least give them a chance or not to generalize that all RunDisney is the same.
    Come to Star Wars!!!

    1. You may be right, but I’ve never been to Disneyland, and for the price of a cross-country flight and a week for my family in California, we probably wouldn’t schedule our first visit around a race weekend.

  9. This. All.of.this. RunDisney was what finally motivated me to run a half marathon. That and it was a night race (W&D), since I’m not a morning person. I absolutely loved wine dine the first couple years. Even in the torrential downpour we had in 2014. I understand the weather had some weird circumstances last year, but the whole sign-up process, the bad corrals, the lack of communication, the merchandise, etc. I’m glad I had already made the decision to break up with runDisney before I found out that wine and dine had totally changed this year. It’s just another example of their greed. Instead, my family is just going to spend a week at Disney, without having to worry about racing, expo, etc. We can just have fun in the parks. I do agree though, for all of us who are breaking up with them, their just seems to be somebody taking our place so they don’t seem to notice. 🙁

    1. I’m not trying to start a movement or convince anyone to join some kind of boycott. Everyone should make their own decision. For me (and as I’m learning, for a growing number of people), Star Wars Dark Side was the straw that broke this camel’s back.

  10. Chris – I had almost this exact conversation with a friend of mine a week ago. I was at the Wine and Dine weather debacle last year and the Dark Side this year and had the same experiences. I got a friend to sign up for the Dark Side 5k and 10k with me, and I’m embarrassed that she will have those events as her RunDisney experience. I’m also “breaking up” with WDW races and cutting the Disneyland Resort half and Tinkerbell half out of my regular runs for similar reasons. I especially hate starting way back in the pack for Tinkerbell and having to stable through slower corrals and narrow walkways for the fist their of the run. I’ve registered for the Paris half as well. It’s being operated by a their party under the RunDisney banner and it is arguably an even worse experience so far. My hopes are not high. Time to find some new races and new vacation destinations. Honolulu half, Great Wall marathon and San Francisco are are on the list.

    1. You mentioned the Paris half being run by a third party under the runDisney banner… I believe they are all like that. Track Shack does Orlando. Spectrum Sports Management does Anaheim. After doing both Star Wars (my first events), Spectrum appears to be a far superior outfit.

      1. That’s a good point. Somehow though I thought the runDisney folks in Orlando were even further removed from the Paris logistics than in the US.

  11. Thanks for this well-written article. I’m a legacy runner on Princess and want to hit that 10-year mark before I give up on that and I would like to do the Kessel Run. My burnout on rD came as a perfect W&D when we received a plastic spatula for our five years of participation. I hated Avengers because they said they never received my proof of time and I was placed in the last corrals for my first Challenge. It disgusts me to see exclusive merch on eBay and Disney unwilling to do anything about it. Last straw was no Pirate ship on the Princess course! I really wish rD cared enough to send out a survey but I think they are afraid of what they will hear.

    1. The “perfect” status is neat, but at the end of the day, it seems to me more about gaining approval or accolades from other runners. I’m not running for others – I’m running for myself, so while the decision to give up Perfectly Dopey status was hard to arrive at, now that I’ve made that decision, I am at peace with it.

  12. I sorta feel the same and that’s after being Perfectly Goofy through 10, One Dopey and this years Princess fiasco.
    I loved running at Disney in 2004 through 2010 and then it started to slide. You could see it happening but couldn’t stop it.
    Maybe one day I go back but runDisney but there will have to be some serious changes first.

  13. I was signed up for Star Wars 10k, but it was going to cost $600 to fly home from Vermont to participate. It said on the race site that they don’t let friends pick up packets even with a signed permission/drivers license copy like in past. I called and asked if I could get my shirt. They said no, they give them away!!!!

  14. I have run 2 Princesses, Wune and Dine, Twilight, the Marathon and Dopey
    It was the Dooey and my sin’s registrations for the 5K, 10K and Half that same weekend that put me over the edge. I live in Florida. The cost of a 5 night stay and registration fees plus food
    ( I bought food for breakfast to cut costs)
    Still came close to $2000. It’s when a friend of mine said to me that for what I paid for that long weekend I could go to Europe I did just that and ran the Paris marathon
    I am so done with runDisney
    Especially looking at the cost this year Why is the Half the same price as the Full?!
    The Chicago Marathon costs only $185 There are so many places to run and at a much lower course. Think of all the great places you can go and see

  15. You hit the nail on the head Chris. There was little or no magic for the Dark Side weekend. I just did the half so I could run a full race with my daughter after the Wine and Dine race became a 7 miler. The best I can say is two fold – the World Showcase bathrooms were welcome after keeping hydrated in the corrals for an hour necessitated an early stop and at least in corral H the 13:00 pace kept you out of most of the jams on the course that the later corrals seemed to have as we doubled back on them coming out of Animal Kingdom. I made peace with the early start and did my carb loading at lunch on Saturday and went to bed at 6:30 pm that night for my 2:30 am wake up call. As a local now I can rationalize that, but if I was there on vacation that would be a real buzz kill. I think the R&R Savannah on W&D weekend will overrule a fall Disney race given this experience. I hope rD hears you and corrects their course before it’s too late

    1. I was on a bus at 2:30am for the Half. It’s nuts, but I understand from a logistics standpoint why runDisney needs to start so early. If you’re going to use “every mile is magic” in your marketing, you ought to try to achieve that beyond large TV screens.

  16. Really good article. There are a lot of us feeling this way. I’ve run 12 races at WDW weekend in the last 4 years (2x Goofy, 2x Dopey). rD was great in the beginning. It’s what got me into running. The meetups and all the other events were special. Now it’s become so bloated and sterile. Also, I’m so burned out on rD because they haven’t bothered to change their races hardly at all. I think I can repeat (word for word) everything that they have (and will) say while we are in the corrals. In addition to all the character placements and other entertainment. I’ve cut back to just running the marathon because of that. And yeah, I get much more enjoyment out of other (less expensive) races at this point. For example, it’s only $110 for Shamrock in VA Beach…1,800 finishers (no crowding)…4 free beers and a beach party at the end….and a finisher shirt, hat, and beach towel.

    1. At least in the last 5 years or so, I don’t think runDisney could ever compete with other events strictly on a “value” basis. Like you pointed out, pre- and post-race amenities are far better at lots of other events. Courses elsewhere are laid out without 1-2 mile stretches that force you to walk due to over-crowding. The list goes on. What I see is a shift in runDisney’s perception of the consumer from a valued partner in a premium running entertainment experience to simply a number in a spreadsheet that is easily replaced.

      1. Right there! You hit it with that last sentence. Thank you for the article. It says what we’ve all been thinking these past few years.

        1. Thanks- it took me quite a while to figure out what (apparently) a lot of people could already recognize.

  17. You are so right about so many points. It’s so much money and a huge time commitment. I have kind of limited myself to one runDisney race weekend a year, and most likely it’s in Orlando because I’m only two hours away, so that cuts travel costs. I really, really, really want to do the Dark Side. With my family. For my 40th birthday next year. But gosh, It’s hard to stomach the expense, the wakeup, the chaos and knowing that I’m just not that important to rD in the grand scheme of things.

    1. To add to that: for us Upstate New Yorkers, 2017 Dark Side weekend comes at the end of our Spring Break week, so flights back will be $300-$400 one way (round trip airfare is usually about $250-$300).

  18. Very well written, and I agree on the WDW races. I might attempt the marathon, but that will be all for the WDW races for awhile. I feel differently about the DL races though, I will continue the DL races for awhile. They are a bit easier without having to deal with such early wake ups, bus transportation and such. I also like the courses at DL a lot more. Yes, Star Wars Dark Side was a joke,and I won’t be doing it again, at least not for a long time.

    1. Thanks! It would be interesting to see how much different a race weekend would feel if it didn’t mean 2am wake up calls.

  19. Well stated. Dark Side was a total bust for me as well. As a 6 year old in movie theatre in 1977, I set my hope far too high for this, I guess. I did have a blast during the 5K. (I always run in costume, even non-rD events). I ran the 10K harder than I should have cuz I wanted it done. By mile 9 or 10 of the half, we were done. The only reason I’m going to do this half again next year is because I can afford to do Kessel. My east coast peeps assured me the Light Side is much, much better. I have other races, including US and Canadian Rock n Rolls this year. But, you are saying what many of the loyal have been saying. Thank you!

    1. Yes, I’ve heard the same about the Light Side being way better. The $200-ish 3-Race Tour Pass is an incredible bargain for the price of one runDisney event!

  20. Great post. You can pretty much expand this logic to the entire Disney Parks these days. Clearly their priority is to make a buck, above anything else. It’s gotten exceedingly expensive to visit the parks and runDisney is a microcosm of the greater problem

    1. That’s true to some extent, but you can’t replicate the Walt Disney World theme park experience anywhere else, really. Distance running events, on the other hand, are in many cases much better at other venues.

    1. Thanks, Laura. I think a lot of people feel the same way, and I don’t judge them for choosing to continue participating, but I just can’t.

  21. This is what I have been trying to put into words for a while. After the disaster of that was the Tower of Terror 10 miler a few years ago, followed up with the First 10k through Disneyland park that ran out of cups for water during a humidity and heat wave…not to mention the lack of real food following the races and the 2:30 am wake up calls for every single race. I am off the runDisney, and will keep my magic to the parks and cruise line. Time to do races for half the travel cost and entry fee elsewhere!

  22. I completely agree Chris. Dark Side this year was not on my radar at all until I had so much fun in January, so when registration opened up over Princess weekend I jumped on it! I had a blast during the 10k, but it wasn’t because of the course or characters, it was because of who I was running with! The 1/2 was extremely boring and there is a good chance I would have gotten swept if not for the group of shenanigans I ran into entering Animal Kingdom. It’s the people who are making these weekends what they are, not the races anymore.

    I won’t be back for Dark Side next year and coming home and immediately having January 2017 early registration open up was hard to swallow. If it wasn’t for it being the 20th anniversary of the Donald 1/2 which is the first runDisney race I did for the 15th anniversary, and my friend wanting to run that as her first 1/2, I would not have signed up. I even had my first full marathon planned for January 2018 and right now I’m kind of Meh about it. The only other runDisney event I may do in 2017 is the Disneyland half to get my coast to coast.

    It’s time to start looking at other races, in other states with my friends…Flying Pig next year anyone!?

    1. Flying Pig is on the short list for sure, along with Ragnar. Can you imagine Team Shenanigans at Rock n Roll Las Vegas? So many options once calendars and budgets are free from runDisney.

      1. Flying Pig is a great, the expo alone was wonderful. Nerd Herd Running did the half for Rock n Roll Las Vegas, and really enjoyed it. (Part of the race course is a letdown after running the strip, but it is a flat course that never felt crowded)

  23. This is so true on so many levels. After coming off an AMAZING marathon weekend, I was sad I was going to miss out in 2017. But after Dark Side weekend my thoughts have changed and I’m not sad at all. Happy to be getting all the Disney race weekends out of the way this year.

    I’m interested to see how the Disneyland Half Weekend goes in September to see for myself how much different Disneyland races are from WDW ones.

    Wish I could join at Bird in Hand this year, but hoping you guys do it again in 2017! I already have it on my radar!

    1. Thank you Chris! My thoughts exactly. I broke up with RunDisney this year after 3 Wine and Dines and 1 Disneyland Half. From one Jess to another–Disneyland was different….the only time you’re in the park is the first 2 miles, after that it’s the streets of Anaheim. It was super entertaining (marching bands, cheerleaders, classic cars, and more) but it wasn’t “Disney” enough for me. It was my first time to DL so I enjoyed being in the parks afterward. However, I did feel like the setup, corrals and finish line were way better organized. Have fun!!

      1. I keep hearing Disneyland is different, which is strange, because it’s the same division of The Walt Disney Corporation organizing both! Why can’t they make it better in Orlando?

        1. Some of the things that make Disneyland different, there’s no buses to the start line. Everything is closer together, so you can walk to the start line and the finish line. In Orlando because there are so many people and they are staying so much farther away, you have to have the buses. You have to walk almost a mile or more from the bus to just get to a coral. We did the inaugural star wars race in Anaheim. I loved the raced. I really enjoyed seeing Anaheim. Sure we left the park after 2 or 3 miles, but you do that in Orlando too. But instead of boring highway or back lots you really got the feel of the town. Star Wars Dark Side was my 6th Disney race, and by far my least favorite. My sister saw the magic of the finish line at Princess and wants to run her first half marathon. After that, I’m done with Disney for a while.

        2. I think there was only about 2 miles in the parks for Star Wars Dark Side Half. There’s plenty of opportunity to increase that, but it would mean paying for more cast members to be in the park, so instead, we run loops around the Epcot and Animal Kingdom parking lots. :/

  24. Perfectly put. As a first time runDisney particiant at the Dark Side Challenge, I didnt get hooked. I wasnt “wowed”. The events lacked the Disney Magic to keep me coming back.

    1. Thanks for reading. I was thinking about your corral issues when I wrote this. There used to be something special or extra that came with the premium price – call it “pixie dust” or simply exceeding expectations, and that really seems to be missing.

  25. This is really well written, and you’ve expressed a lot of how I’ve been feeling as well. I’m doing Tinker Bell next month at my mother’s request (when your mom tells you what you’re doing on Mother’s Day, you listen), but after that, I have no runDisney races on the horizon. I used to be a superfan. Now, not so much.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. It wouldn’t take a lot for runDisney to win me back, but I’m not really sure they’re interested, and that hurts a little.

Leave a comment, if you dare!