Whether it is the first or fifth time that you have clicked “register” for the Dopey Challenge, the thought of training for the event can seem overwhelming. After all, you are training to run 48.6 miles over the course of less than 4 days!
In 2014, I participated in the inaugural Dopey Challenge. Since this was a new venture for myself, I laid out a training plan to help not only get my legs ready, but to wrap my mind around running a 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon in one weekend! After a lot of training, I was able to run all 4 races and felt great throughout. (In fact, my marathon resulted in negative splits, which is rare!) Here are a few of the tips I learned along the way:
Get your support team in place.
It’s no secret that the training for Dopey is extensive. Make sure that you have your support system in place! This includes your family (since there will be large portions of the weekend when you will be hitting the pavement) as well as friends. Know who you can call when things get tough or who you can celebrate your milestones with. If you can, find a great sports therapist who can work out your muscles if needed. Make sure that those around you understand why you can’t stay out late on Friday night, or who can help watch the kids. Your support team goes beyond race day – they are a part of your training too!
Find a reasonable training plan.
Running 48.6 miles (including a marathon at the end) is not something most runners can just wake up and do. Find a training plan that will fit with your schedule, but also prepare you for the 4 races. Due to the nature of the Dopey Challenge, it likely will include at least four days of a running each week. Jeff Galloway creates a plan specifically for the Dopey Challenge, although there are many others that you can make some adjustments to as well. (In those cases, take a marathon plan and add in a longer run the day prior to the marathon long run.) Helpful tip: if you can, training for and completing a fall marathon really helps with the Dopey Challenge training!
Block out time for the back-to-back runs.
Without a doubt, the most important part of your training plan are the back-to-back runs. You need to prepare your legs to run double the distance while being tired from the day before. Focus on the half marathon/marathon back-to-back in particular, running half of the distance of your long run the day prior to that long run. For example, run a 6 mile run the day prior to your 12 mile long run. This should continue throughout your training cycle, so make sure that you are able to block out the time needed (Friday/Saturday or Saturday/Sunday, depending on your schedule).
Get at least one “mini-Dopey” scheduled.
Many runners who have completed the Dopey Challenge state that a “mini-Dopey” at the peak of their training was key. Around 3-4 weeks before the big race weekend, schedule 4 days in a row where you mimic the Dopey Challenge. (If you really want the full experience, plan to wake up early in preparation for the early transportation and begin your runs around 5:30-6 am.) A great example is running 3 miles on Thursday, 6 miles on Friday, 10 miles on Saturday, and 20 miles on Sunday. (Note: Jeff Galloway’s plan often includes higher mileage, so plan accordingly.) Not only is this great for your legs during the peak of training, but it also gets you in the mindset that you CAN complete the challenge!
Work on your fueling too.
It’s not only your legs (and mind) that need to prepare for the challenge, you need to make sure your fueling is set as well! This is not always an easy area, so take the time throughout training to try a few different options. From a few nights before to recovering after the marathon, there are a lot of areas to think about:
Before the Run
- Carbs are often the food choice the night (or even a few nights) before a long distance. There are many ways to get carbs, so find out if pasta, pizza, potatoes, or another carb is what works best for you. Don’t forget to include some protein as well! And if it looks to be on the warmer side, add some extra salt. Even more importantly, make sure that you are hydrating!
During the Run
- Again, this will vary from runner to runner, but you will want to ensure that you are getting fuel during your run, especially the longer distances. There are many options out there, from gels to chews, natural foods to liquid mixes. During your training, try these out and find what sets well with you and gives that extra boost when needed. Don’t wait until you are hungry to fuel, it’s too late at that point! Tip: bring more fuel than you would normally need during a half marathon or marathon, as many Dopey Challenge runners find themselves taking in more fuel during the later races. As a reminder, water and Powerade will be on the course, along with gels during the half marathon and marathon. Bananas and chocolate are also provided on the marathon course.
After the Run
- It is also important to make sure that you take in fuel once your run is over! This will help with your recovery between races, in particular. A protein/carbohydrate mix is recommended and should be taken within 15-30 minutes after you are done. Try out a few options (many fueling brands offer a post-run mix) and be sure to bring it along.
Find a good podcast (or ten).
You will definitely be spending a lot of time on the road (or treadmill), so make sure that you have items to help you through the mileage! One of my favorite ways to help pass the miles are podcasts. There are thousands of options on iTunes and Stitcher Radio, so search for a topic and give them a try! From Disney podcasts to recaps of your favorite TV show episodes, there are surely many that you will enjoy. Another option are audio books, which are readily available on Audible.
Grab a training buddy.
When training as much as you are, sometimes a running buddy is just what you need to push you when things get tough. Find someone nearby who can run with you (or even bike alongside). Whether it’s during the shorter weekday runs, the long runs, or a portion of either, having someone to chat with can be just what you need. After all, they may even choose to join you at Walt Disney World for one (or all) of the races!
Focus on what works for race day(s).
Throughout your months of training, be sure to take note of what is working really well. Is there a piece of clothing that just fits right? Is there a certain flavor of gel that puts an extra pep in your step? Is there a mileage point where you really need a power song? Make note of these so that you can bring that information with you on race day. Focus on what you can control! (Not the weather – that’s up to Mother Nature.) While there will be entertainment along the way throughout the Dopey Challenge, it never hurts to have everything you can in your arsenal to power through the challenge!
The training is doable if you have a plan and the right mindset. (Never push yourself to injury, though!) Once the training is complete, it’s time to take your victory lap around Walt Disney World – FOUR times!