Race: Dopey Challenge
Runner: Lydia Schrandt
Race Date: 01/05/2023
Location: Orlando, Florida
3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?
- Getting to run down Main Street and through the castle when it’s all lit up in the early morning hours — it really is magical.
- All the nostalgic Disney tunes along the course.
- The costumes. More than half of participants dress up, and some of the outfits are amazingly creative.
Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you
Running Dopey means waking up at around 2:30am for four days in a row and spending a fair amount of time waiting in the Epcot parking lot and walking a couple of miles to the corrals before the races even begin. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just part of the experience that’s worth being aware of.
Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?
If you’re not too fast, you can hop on rides during the marathon. I was able to ride Expedition Everest, Tower of Terror, Rockin’ Rollercoaster, and Test Track while racing. The cast members were all wonderful and let runners go in the single rider or lightening lane to get on and off rides more quickly. You’ll also find character photo ops throughout the course, and it’s pretty common to buy a drink or a snack in Epcot to carry across the finish line. At Disney Races, it’s better to go for a DPR (Disney PR), which means a slower time because you took advantage of the on-course fun. Some runners even compete to see how much they can cram in without getting swept. This year, one guy rode eight rides and had a sit-down breakfast at a restaurant along the course while still finishing within the time limit.
Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?
I got to run the 10k with my dad and the half marathon with my brother (his first), which was fun. Getting on a rollercoaster in the middle of a race was certainly a highlight as well.
Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner
If you want to DPR by taking advantage of rides/food/character stops, join the Ultimate Dopey Challenge Facebook group. The administrator knows all the ins and outs and gives great advice about where you need to be when to maximize course fun. I found it helpful to stay on property, as then you can take advantage of race buses to and from the start line. I’d rather drag myself onto a bus at 3am than have to drive in and deal with race day traffic. I also spent some time in the parks each day after the race. I think that helped keep my legs feeling loose despite the accumulated miles.
Lessons you learned that will help you next time around
I ended up spending about an hour waiting in the corrals each morning, and two mornings were pretty chilly. I packed throw-away sweats (Disney collects and donates these) as well as mylar blankets, but I was jealous of runners who brought cushions from the dollar store to sit on. The pavement was cold!
Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race
These races attract runners of all ages and abilities, and since it goes through the parks, it can be narrow and crowded at some points. Expect for the first couple of miles to be a bit slow. If you want the best race photos, keep an eye out for the course photographers sitting in little green tents to either side of the course.
Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?
The portions between parks are not particularly scenic, but Disney does a good job of making up for it with entertainment, including live music, big screens showing movie clips, and stops for character photos. Running through the parks is pretty fun.
Difficulty – Is it a tough course?
No. It’s mostly pancake flat with the exception of a few overpasses. There are some sections that are not well lit, and it can get congested at times.
Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?
Yes, Disney does their thing, and they do it well. The volunteers are top notch, as well.
Competition – Is there a strong field?
It’s a pretty big field, with some 16,000 participants in the marathon. The marathon winner this year finished in 2:26:51.
Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.
Registration typically takes place in the spring for the next January race weekend. In recent years, the races have sold out in a matter of minutes. While the race organization is excellent, the registration experience is often frustrating. I ended up waiting in the virtual queue for nearly four hours before they managed to get the site working and open registration. If you get a spot, it’s a good idea to book your hotel right away, especially if you’re planning to stay at a Disney hotel. The races tend to happen on the first weekend in January, so you’re competing with New Year crowds. Florida schools are sometimes still off, as well.
Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?
Typically water and Powerade every 1.5 miles. There were two spots on the course with bananas, two with sports beans, and one place giving out dark chocolate. The medical tents are also well stocked. Volunteers there are ready with biofreeze and popsicle sticks with vasaline on them.
Weather and typical race conditions
It’s highly variable. It was in the 70s and humid for the 5k and 47 degrees for the half. We had 54-degree temperatures at the start of the marathon, but by the end, it was well into the 70s. Prepare for anything!
Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?
It’s Disney, so have fun with it.
Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?
Friends and family have several options for places to cheer you on, including along Main Street in the Magic Kingdom before it opens. The finish line is in the Epcot parking lot and typically has seating.
How’s the Swag?
Usually pretty awesome. For the Dopey challenge, you get medals for each of the four races, plus a medal for the Goofy Challenge (half and full) and a medal for the Dopey Challenge. You also get six shirts, typically long-sleeved and made of a technical material.
The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?
9/10, particularly if Disney holds any nostalgia for you. It’s a race experience you really won’t find anywhere else.