On Friday, runDisney announced a rare decision to cancel one of its races because of weather. The half marathon, part of Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, was scheduled to start at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, and the anticipated weather was looking pretty dicey with a line of thunderstorms from the country’s winter weather expected to cross the state while volunteers were setting up and while runners were waiting in corrals.
The threat wasn’t necessarily the rain. Despite the caution needed to run on slick surfaces and the uncomfortable feeling of running a long race in heavy, soaked clothing that chafes, those weren’t the deciding factors, we’re told. It was the possibility of lightning in what is commonly known as the Lightning Capital of the United States.
And such a threat was fresh in the minds of runDisney organizers and runners alike after lightning forced the 2015 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon to be delayed and the distance shortened to a little more than a 10K. Certainly everyone wants runners to be safe, but there is a lot of frustration involved when a solution cannot be found for runners to participate in the races in which they have invested a lot of time training, money and travel to complete. For those not familiar with runDisney half marathons, they cost almost $200 per person and runners — especially first-timers — often train for at least six months in preparation for the race.
That’s what happened in 2015 and again this weekend. The runners, including my own son and husband, of course understand that safety comes first. Frankly, it felt a little patronizing to be told that over and over by non-runners who had no understanding of what was involved in the preparation for this event. But what they wanted was the opportunity to run the race — even if it had to be delayed — that they had worked so hard and sacrificed for. That did not happen.
Still, it was amazing to see how both runDisney and fellow half-marathoners did step up after the cancellation was announced. runDisney events are scheduled to take place rain or shine so refunds are not freely given by the organization. However, in this situation, runDisney gave runners the choice of a refund of their entry fees in the form of a gift card; two one-day park-hopper tickets for Walt Disney World; the ability to transfer registration to another runDisney half marathon within the next 24 months; or the option to convert this weekend’s registration to the full marathon on Sunday. In addition to selecting one of these options, all registered runners did or will receive their medals.
But runners are a tough bunch and they want to earn their medals, not just be handed them. Many decided to pound the pavement (unofficially) at their Walt Disney World resorts on Saturday for 13.1 miles. Some even organized impromptu half marathons with volunteers who handed out water and toiletpaper finish lines for each runner to break at the end of his or her journey. Others ran on treadmills to fulfill the commitments and honor the pledges they made to certain causes.
Finally, the runners honored each other’s hard work preparing for the race by wearing on Saturday the yellow half-marathon tech shirts that came with their race packets. Cast members and fellow Walt Disney World guests expressed their solidarity, too, at the hotels, theme parks and the runDisney expo. Disney prepared for the elevated crowd level on the last day of the expo, which normally is the least crowded, by adding character meet-and-greets and other entertainment. Perhaps, most importantly, staffing allowed runners to efficiently redeem their refund options and return any unwanted merchandise, giving everyone the opportunity to leave Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend on a positive note.