After participating in our first runDisney race, we often start to plan the next one. And maybe even the next one. Soon, we have quite a collection! However, there are a select few who have experienced the magic from the very beginning.
Alan Young is among the exclusive group who have participated in every Walt Disney World Marathon, beginning in 1994. Not only that, he has also run every Disneyland Half Marathon and he even participated in the one (and only) Disneyland Marathon! His wife, Grace, also participates in many of the races.
I have had the pleasure of becoming friends with Alan, and he graciously offered to answer a few questions on his 25+ year experience of runDisney races. Take a look!
What was the very first Walt Disney World Marathon like?
Alan: The first marathon weekend also included a 5K, which was a few laps around World Showcase. Joan Benoit, Alberto Salazar, and Bill Rogers were among the participants.
The marathon started near Epcot, then went through the park and World Showcase, followed by the Epcot resorts. However, the Boardwalk area was under construction. We then made our way up to the Magic Kingdom and headed towards the Grand Floridian. That was it for the spectators (until the finish), the parks and generally the built areas. We ran toward what is now the Animal Kingdom on Bear Island Drive, turned around and ran back to World Drive, then on to Osceola Parkway. The course continued on Victory Way, turned around and headed back to World Drive, and finished in the Epcot parking lot. We were done with the parks in the first 13 miles.
The field was obviously much smaller, as was the Expo. At the finish, each of us received a nice medal. Keep in mind, this was during a period when there were very few finishers medals (even marathons like Los Angeles and Honolulu didn’t give out medals).
How have the races changed over the years?
Alan: The addition of the half marathon during the weekend was quite interesting, since it was originally part of the marathon. The start was divided on the left and right sides of the road, staying separate through Epcot until we merged by Test Track. When the marathon runners kept going toward Bear Island Drive, the half marathon ended in the nearby parking lot. Eventually it was decided to hold the half marathon on Saturday, and the rest is history.
As for overall changes to the runDisney races: more runners, crowds, support, challenges, more bling, bigger Expo, course changes, the start of runDisney, new theme parks, able to run through the parks when they are open, corrals, chip timing (this was huge!!!), and notoriety.
What keeps you coming back year after year?
Alan: I have never been athletic, but enjoyed running/jogging/run-walking. Prior to the Walt Disney World Marathon, I even signed up for a marathon and was denied entry due to my expected finish time being too slow. (Imagine what that does to one’s psyche.)
I wanted to run at Walt Disney World, and it was my wife’s first marathon. We felt like it was a safe course, and headed back the next year. After 4 years, I wanted to see if 5 was in me. And we continued! I have also met a lot of wonderful people through running, especially Disney races. We have even been asked to participate in a few commercials and press parties for the races.
A supportive running spouse and terrific running group also make the miles a lot easier. The group we train with has been together for years!
Which do you prefer when it comes to runDisney races: Walt Disney World or Disneyland?
Alan: Since Disneyland is in our backyard, having the races here is terrific. That being said, it is something else to go to Walt Disney World and feel like you are in the Super Bowl or World Series. Not just as a spectator, but on the field yourself.
What is your favorite runDisney memory?
There are many memories! Receiving the 20th Anniversary ring on the stage and being introduced with the “Perfect Marathoners” is something I never could have imagined or even dreamed about. We also had our bib numbers retired. (Fun fact: Jeff Galloway only wears two rings – his wedding ring and his 20th Anniversary Marathon ring!)
Watching my wife finish her first marathon is also a wonderful memory. Over the past 24 WDW Marathons, I’ve run with the flu, my back out, a torn hamstring, fallen down at Animal Kingdom and hurt my rotator cuff, ran the race with too small shoes and finished in the bitter cold. However, the faces and jubilation of people finishing, particularly the first timers or ones that never thought they could do it, are the most precious.
Want to hear more of Alan’s experiences? Listen to the March 2017 episode of the Let’s Run Disney podcast!