The Walt Disney World Marathon's first ombre quarter century
jogs a lot of fond memories.
Great things often happen because someone believes in an idea and sticks with it. This was certainly true for Walt Disney and his artists, who built one idea upon another. The – and all the excitement that followed it – began with a small group of people who knew that the world's greatest resort destination was the ultimate "runtopia."
The Walt Disney World Marathon was officially given the green light in 1992, though discussions began 10 years earlier between Walt Disney World Cast Members and a select group of race management experts led by Jon Hughes. Today, with more than 40 years of experience producing running events, Jon continues to be the executive race director.
"There was no question in our minds that this was the ideal place for a marathon," Jon recalls as he takes a few moments from overseeing the recent Tinker Bell Half Marathon at Disneyland Resort. "Everything an ideal race event needs—places to stay, great things to experience on the route—it was all in one place."
"Hey everybody, it's Sue!"
When the signal to start sounded at the first Marathon on January 16, 1994, less than 6,000 runners began the 26.2-mile experience (there are now more than 45,000 throughout the race weekend). One of them was Susan Reinhardt, who today at the age of 70, has run every race at both the and Disneyland Resorts!
"When I was growing up, girls weren't brought into as many sports as the boys," she said. "We would play volleyball and a few other things, but nothing like the boys got to do. I really got involved in running later in life. I joined running groups and enjoyed how it relieved stress. When I run, I solve problems in my head. I can think of so many things on a run, then before I know it, I'm back home.
"Running has also broadened my life, because I've now traveled to races in Aspen, London, Paris, Stockholm—and I'm not an Olympian, just a regular person who loves adventure and meeting new people. I've made friends for life."
"Every event is a show in itself"
One of Jon's favorite aspects of planning runDisney events is working with the Disney Entertainment Cast Members. "They're so creative, so full of ideas," he says. "Characters and musicians, actors and singers. Even the race volunteers at the various water, food and first aid stations will cheer, sing and dance enthusiastically for the participants.
"There are a lot of things they add on every year, and some things that have become traditions that runners expect to see every year. One of the little touches is a place on World Drive where runners can hear the song "Sweet Caroline." That's a little nod to Boston, which is one of the running capitals. At Red Sox games, people sing it before the seventh inning stretch. That's the sort of thing that Disney didn't have to do, but it makes some people smile so they do it anyway.
The runners themselves provide some of the most magical moments. "Once there was a man who crossed the finish line and we were worried for a moment because he immediately dropped to one knee as soon as he safely got out of the finish area," Jon recalled. "It turned out that he was proposing. There have been countless proposals, honeymoons on foot, anniversaries, birthdays and other landmark events in people's lives. Almost every event brings new stories, some funny and others very touching."
The joy of a "personal best"
Running doesn't have to be competitive for it to be a triumph, since the act of doing it is a victory--or in Disney terms, a dream come true. "We welcome ability levels from people who have never run, or would rather walk, all the way to Paula Radcliffe, the current world record holder in women's marathon, and they all rave about the experience. One year we had 17 members of the same family in a race. Many times, three generations will be running, or walking, together.
Every year since it began, the Walt Disney World Marathon is voted one of the top marathons for beginners. "There is a unique camaraderie among runners," said route operations manager Tom Ward, who has also been with the event from the beginning.
"Seeing first timers finish never fails to get us all choked up. They'll cry. We'll tear up, too. They can come from anywhere in the country, or the world, it doesn't matter. We celebrate along with them."
What better place for a happy ending than right here?
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