Walt disney world Dopey Challenge First Marathon
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16 Tips for Running the Dopey Challenge (Full Review!)

Last Updated on January 18, 2024 by Kelly

The Dopey Challenge is a special running event hosted by runDisney at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Over the course of four days, runners complete a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon. We completed the Dopey Challenge, and it was one of the best experiences of our lives! It was also the first marathon we had ever completed. Whether you’re a seasoned runner or just starting out, the Dopey Challenge is definitely a huge accomplishment. In this post, we’re sharing our best tips for running the Dopey Challenge!

About the Dopey Challenge

Every January, runDisney hosts the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. Runners sign up for either the 5k race (3.1 miles) on Thursday, 10k race (6.2 miles) on Friday, half marathon race (13.1 miles) on Saturday, or the full marathon race (26.2 miles) on Sunday. 

Runners that sign up for the half marathon and marathon enter the Goofy Challenge. If you sign up for all four races, you enter the Dopey Challenge. That’s four consecutive days of running and 48.6 magical miles! If you complete all the races, you will receive six medals! (One for the 5k, one for the 10k, one for the half marathon, one for the marathon, one for the Goofy Challenge, and one for the Dopey Challenge.)

The marathon route takes you through all four parks. There are special attractions, live music, and character meet-and-greets throughout the route! Running through Cinderella’s Castle was iconic, but we were just as thrilled to run through the backroads and see the parks from a different angle. (Especially the places we normally wouldn’t see during a visit to Walt Disney World!)

If you’re looking for a fun marathon to run, we definitely recommend signing up for the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World!

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Tips for the Dopey Challenge

1. Prepare Your Body for Early Mornings

One of the best pieces of advice we can give is this: Get used to going to bed early and waking up early. Start doing this well before your trip, because it takes time for you body to adjust!

We had to wake up around 3am each morning. It might be possible to run a race after one night of not getting enough sleep, but for the Dopey Challenge, you’ll have to do that four days in a row!

Your body will especially need the sleep time to physically recover between races. We tried to fall asleep by 7:30pm each night because we had to wake up around 3am each morning. It would be difficult to go to bed suddenly at 7:30pm during the race weekend if you haven’t already started to gradually shift your schedule beforehand.

We spent a couple of weeks shifting our bedtime 15 minutes earlier each night, which was helpful for us.

If you’re traveling from another time zone, you’ll also want to factor in time changes and jet lag. If that’s the case, it can be helpful to arrive to Florida at least a couple of days before your first race so that you can have some time to acclimate to the time zone change.

2. Plan Your Meals

Fueling your body is an important element of race preparation, and you’ll want to make sure that you are not scrambling trying to find an open restaurant at the last minute. Be sure to make your dinner reservations for early in the evening (for example 5pm), so that you can get back to your hotel in time to go to bed early. (If you want to go to one of your favorite restaurants and there is only an 8pm reservation slot available, we wouldn’t do it!) 

3. Stick to the Training Plan

This might be obvious, but you really really really need to run the miles to train for the Dopey Challenge. Don’t do shortcuts. Life will happen and you may need to get creative some weeks during your training schedule, but make absolutely sure that your body is well prepared for a race of this magnitude by building up your mileage safely.

4. Manage Expectations

Set your expectations for the Dopey Challenge in advance. Are you trying to get your best race time? If so, we’d recommend adjusting expectations a bit. If you want to stop and do any of the fun things on the runs (like meeting the characters), you probably won’t make your best time. For us, we decided to run the Dopey Challenge with two goals:

  1. Complete the races
  2. And have fun!

One of the best things about the Dopey Challenge is that you can stop and meet characters and even ride a rollercoaster during the race! For that reason, your race time might be a bit slower than your training time. If you’re trying to go for a Personal Record, you’ll probably miss a lot of fun attractions along the way. It’s definitely a trade-off, so decide ahead of time if you want to run for fun or run for speed.

One thing to make sure is that you can maintain at least the 16-minute pace so that you don’t get ejected from the race for going too slow. If your training miles are at a 15:00 minute per mile pace, then you probably don’t have a lot of wiggle room to stop at all of the character meet-and-greets. Keep an eye on the clock during the race so that you can choose where to stop and for how long.

5. Get a Support System

This will likely be one of the biggest accomplishments of your life and it will not be easy. Running with the support of a friend, partner, or family member can get you through the tough training miles. For us, the Dopey Challenge was an incredible bonding experience! Even if you’re not running with a partner, your support system can help motivate you each week to achieve your training.

6. Pick Up Your Race Packet

When you’re planning your trip, you’ll need to make sure you arrive a day or two before the races start to pick up your race packet. No one else can pick up your race packet for you, so you have to make sure you’re physically present. With flight delays and potential weather difficulties traveling in January, it might be a good idea to arrive to Orlando at least a couple of days early so you don’t miss out on getting your bib.

7. Consider a Grocery Delivery Service

If you’re like me, I like to keep my food choices consistent for race day. When traveling, that can be difficult. However, if you use a grocery delivery service, you can have your groceries delivered right to your hotel room. Check out Vacation Grocery Delivery. This company delivers to Disney resorts. Because the races start so early in the morning, there’s really no time to go out to breakfast or anything. Instead, we ate oatmeal that we prepared in our room. We also packed bananas and granola bars.

8. Bring Lots of Layers

You might think of Florida as a warm tropical destination, but during January it can actually get quite cold! I was surprised just how cold it was in the early morning, and I was definitely shivering in the dark. Be prepared for cold weather or even rain, as well as warm weather. For our races, I wore a thick long-sleeve running jacket for the morning portion, and then wrapped it around my waist after the sunrise. Another option is to bring clothes that you plan on donating, and then shedding the layers as you run.

Also make sure that you have at least 4 different running outfits. If you only have 2 pairs of running pants, then that only gives you 2 options if it’s cold out. (And believe me you won’t want to do laundry when you finally make it back to your hotel room.) I thought I might wear shorts while running, but because it was so much colder than I expected, I wore running pants for each of the races.

9. Don’t Wear New Running Shoes

Race day is not the day for new running shoes. While they might look shiny and pretty, they will kill your feet. Instead, bring running shoes that have been broken in… shoes that you know are comfortable. (These are my favorite shoes!)

10. Practice Your Hydration and Nutrition

During your training runs, practice your hydration and nutrition plan. You probably don’t want to eat new foods, gels, or drinks for the first time during the race, because you won’t be sure how they’ll feel when you run. 

11. Lay Out Your Clothes the Night Before

Because you’ll be waking up so early in the morning, you’ll want to do as much as you can the night before to speed up your routine and maximize your sleeping hours. Every night before we went to bed, we would lay out our race clothes for the next day. We’d also put our race bibs on top of the pile, fill up water bottles, and re-stock our running belt. Finally, we would put out any snacks, breakfast items, or utensils.

12. Pack Bandaids 

There are some medic tents along the race route if you need any medical attention. But if you get a blister in between those tents, you’ll want to have a bandaid or two handy. 

I personally ran with a running belt with two mini water bottles and a pack of energy chews

13. Save Time for Napping

After you run each race, you might find that you want to go back to the hotel and take a nap. When I ran the Dopey Challenge, after each race I went back to the hotel, cleaned up, and took a nap. My husband didn’t feel like napping, but my body really wanted to nap to help physically recover between the races. Listen to your body, and give yourself some time if you feel like you want to take a nap.

14. Consider Wearing a Themed Outfit

A lot of runners choose to dress up in a special costume for their race day. We saw people running in tutus, and we also saw people running in custom-made shirts. If you want to dress up, make sure to practice running in your outfit in advance to make sure it’s comfortable. (We used Body Glide to help prevent chaffing.)  

15. Consider Buying an Orlando CityPASS

If you’re planning on visiting multiple Orlando attractions during your trip to Florida, we definitely recommend looking into a CityPASS to save money!

16. Plan for Post-Race Photos

After we completed the Dopey Challenge, we brought all 12 of our medals (6 each) to Hollywood Studios on our last day to get some professional photos with the Memory Maker service (separate cost). They were a bit heavy to carry around, but we were so glad we did it because they became some of our favorite photos from that weekend!

lots of disney medals! Dopey Challenge Walt Disney World
Look at those medals!

Why Sign Up for the Dopey Challenge?

People run the Dopey Challenge for lots of different reasons. Some want to challenge themselves physically. Some want the medals. Some want to have the experience of running through the Disney parks. All we can say is, whatever the reason, it’s totally worth it!

One of our biggest reasons we had for signing up for the Dopey Challenge was because we wanted to have a unique Disney experience. We’ve gone to the parks numerous times for the rides and food, but we had never participated in a runDisney race. Signing up for the Dopey Challenge allowed us to have a Disney experience that was unlike any we had before! We got to see the parks in the early hours, we got to experience all of Disney’s entertainment for the races, and we got to have the experience of running through Cinderella’s Castle. 

We completed our Dopey Challenge back in 2015, and to this day, we still talk about how fun it was to run those races. As a couple, it really brought us closer together. We trained hard together and when we crossed over the last finish line, it was an achievement we celebrated together. We treasure the memories from those races. We framed photos of us completing the race, and we put together a display for our medals as well.

Undercover Tourist  

Packet pick up for the Dopey Challenge Walt Disney World RunDisney Race
Picking up race packets the day before the races

Getting Ready for the Dopey Challenge

Once you decide to run the Dopey Challenge, you need to plan for three things:

  1. Securing your race registration
  2. Following a solid training plan and building up your running base
  3. Planning the details of your Disney trip (flights, hotel, restaurant reservations, etc.)
The marathon race course for the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World
That’s a lot of miles!

Race Registration for the Dopey Challenge

Our primary piece of advice is to make sure that you register for the Dopey Challenge the minute registration opens on the runDisney website. Race registrations sell out quickly! Because the marathon race weekend only happens once a year, it would be a shame to miss it.

I had to work the day race registration opened, but thankfully my husband was able to block that time in his schedule and purchase our registrations right when it opened. They sold out quickly, so be sure to purchase your registration as soon as it’s opened! We were excited and nervous to be  officially signed up. Just signing up was a thrill!

The Dopey Challenge is definitely an expensive race. We recommend that you budget for the race well in advance. Calculate how much money you will need for the race registration fee, hotel, and transportation/airfare. Then start saving! In 2021, the Dopey Challenge registration fee was $600 without processing fees.

Training for the Dopey Challenge

We followed a training plan to help our bodies prepare for the race incrementally. It takes time for the body to adjust to that many miles of running. There are a variety of marathon training plans to help prepare you. You can also check out runDisney’s official training plan, which was created by Jeff Galloway. The most important thing is to make sure that you give yourself enough time to build up your running mileage safely to avoid injury. Having to leave the race weekend early due to injury would be incredibly disappointing. I’ve seen it happen, and you will want to do all you can to prevent that scenario from occurring.

We started training for our Dopey Challenge about six months in advance. Neither of us were expert runners. We each had completed one half marathon prior to completing the Dopey Challenge. We found that following the training plan helped us to be successful!

For the longer races, you’ll need to have at least a 16-minute-per-mile pace. If you’re too slow, the “balloon ladies” will ask you to leave the race course. As you’re training, make sure that you are able to run faster than that 16-minute-per-mile mar.

Race day for the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World
Race day!

Planning your Disney Vacation for the Dopey Challenge

You’ll also need to plan the details of your Disney trip!

Book Your Flights

If you’re flying into Florida, get those flights booked! If you are able to arrive early, I think it’s a good idea to arrive two or three days in advance of the races. We didn’t have extra vacation days, so we arrived the day before the first race. It wasn’t ideal, but it didn’t stop us either.

Choose a Hotel for the Dopey Challenge

  Booking.com

We recommend staying on Disney property so that you can easily commute to the race entrance at Epcot each morning. We stayed at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside and enjoyed a convenient bus ride to the entrance every morning. The races start extremely early in the morning. When we completed the races, they began at 5:30am, and runners needed to enter the corrals much earlier than that start time. We were getting up between 2:30-3am each day. If we could do it all over again, we would book a hotel within walking distance of Epcot. (For example, Disney’s BoardWalk Inn).

Decide if You’ll Go to the Parks

If you’re like us, you can’t imagine a trip to Disney without going to the parks. However, be prepared to have a very different park experience during the race weekend. You will be exhausted, and your feet will likely be sore, so you’ll want to avoid logging too many miles at the parks. You’ll also want to return to your hotel for an early night’s sleep, so you won’t be out late at the parks either. We spent about four hours each day at the parks. It’s up to you to decide if that’s ‘worth it’ for the admission price. If you can extend your trip and go to the parks after the marathon weekend, I think that would be the best bet if you want to do a lot of rides and activities. Be sure to purchase your Walt Disney World tickets in advance! 

Make Dining Reservations

It’s also a good idea to make your dining reservations in advance. You don’t want to be left scrambling for food after a long day of running! We made lunch reservations and early dinner reservations. We tried to get back to our hotel room by 7pm each night so that we could go to bed early. 

Research what dining options are available at your hotel and their hours of operation. If you’re going to the parks, make sure to get dining reservations. (Unless you plan at eating at quick-service locations.)

After we crossed each finish line, we received a medal and a snack box. The snack box definitely helped hold us over until meal time. During our trip to Disney, the snack boxes included chips and cheese dip, shortbread cookies, electrolyte powder to add to water, and packages of dried fruit.

For breakfast, we brought granola bars and oatmeal cups. The oatmeal cups were great because all you need to do is add hot water and they are ready to eat!)

After one of the races, we booked a character dining breakfast at the race site. It was a separate cost, but we were really glad we did it! They had a large event tent set up, and inside there was an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. (The pancakes post-run hit so good!) There were also several characters, so we also got more photo opportunities. 

Marathon start line Dopey Challenge Walt Disney World
Dark outside when the races start!

Recommended Products for Dopey Challenge

Here’s a few things that we recommend for race day:

  • Running shoes: I’ve been using the Brooks brand for years and love these running shoes. (I’ve linked the exact pair that I use now!)
  • Running belt: You’ll need a place to store your cell phone, room key, water bottles, etc.
  • Energy chews: For extra calories for long runs, I’d eat an energy chew every three miles or so. These are the ones I used… I really like the orange flavor! Just practice with them during your training runs in advance of the race to make sure you like them.
  • Leggings: Make sure you have a comfortable pair of running pants or shorts.
  • Running shirt: Don’t wear a cotton shirt, which can chafe. Instead, make sure you wear something that is moisture-wicking.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Dopey Challenge worth it?

Completing the Dopey Challenge is absolutely worth it. We think it was one of the best experiences of our lives! What we liked most about it was the opportunity to see the Disney parks from a new angle. Although the race registration is expensive, it was definitely worth the money for us. We’ve never regretted doing it.

How hard is the Dopey Challenge?

The Dopey Challenge is extremely difficult. It’s one of the most difficult running experiences you can do, and it’s definitely the most difficult challenge that runDisney offers. Over four days, you will run 48.6 miles. It took us six months of training before our Dopey Challenge, and we were still incredibly sore after we completed the races. (It felt like I was running on needles for the last two miles of the marathon!) Although it’s hard, it is definitely an achievement to be proud of and it’s a lot of fun!

What do you get for completing the Dopey Challenge?

When you complete the Dopey Challenge, you’ll get to take home 6 medals and 6 race shirts! You’ll receive one for each of the following: 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, Goofy Challenge, and the Dopey Challenge.


Summary: Our Experience Running the Dopey Challenge

The Dopey Challenge was definitely one of the best things my husband and I did together. We spent months training for the races, and it felt like such a huge accomplishment when we crossed over the finish line. We supported each other every step of the way.

We also had a blast running through the Disney parks. One of my favorite memories of our race was on marathon day. We were nearly finished the race, when we saw the Fairy Godmother. We stopped for a photo, and she gave us the encouragement to round the corner and finish the race! Some other highlights included running down Main Street and seeing tons of spectators cheering us on, running through Cinderella’s castle, and hearing the gospel choir near the end of the big races.

We hope that this post inspired you to train for the Dopey Challenge!

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Hi, I’m Kelly!

After studying abroad in Spain, I became passionate about international travel. Since then, I’ve traveled to 6 continents and 36 states within the United States. When I’m not travel blogging, you can find me hiking, reading books in Spanish, or playing cribbage. I hope my blog inspires you to see the world!