What happens when runDisney cancels a half marathon at Walt Disney World?


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.


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2 Replies to “What happens when runDisney cancels a half marathon at Walt Disney World?”

  1. My son was supposed to run the Half. He ran the 10 K on Friday. He will use his refund to run next year. He was satisfied with the refund policy.

  2. One key demographic missed in a lot of the race cancellation post-mortem is the WDW Resort cast members who played no role in the race – organization, decision to cancel or, clearly, the weather. Many of these folks were left to field questions from understandably disappointed and some angry race registrants. Clearly a race the scale and distance of the WDW Half Marathon required collaboration among a vast array of groups including Reedy Creek, Orange County Sheriff’s Department and a number of differing casts from around WDW property. The intense logistics of trying to reschedule such an event in a short enough time frame to satisfy race registrants (some of whom could have been scheduled to depart the next day) and not disrupt Park and Resort operations made it nearly impossible to develop a solution that would have “pleased everyone”. My hat is off to the race organizers for making a decision that was clearly in the best interest of the safety of all those planning to be involved (runners, volunteers, spectators, among many others) and really went a long way to try to “please everyone”. Congratulations to all of the registered racers on the major accomplishment that is training for a half marathon!

    KRISTIN: Hi, Kendra. While I certainly agree that the runDisney races are a huge interdepartmental undertaking, I don’t think that enough was done to offer runners the opportunity to run their half marathon. Obviously, the race could not be run at the originally scheduled time because of weather. But why wasn’t there a contingency plan in place to delay the race? This is, after all, the 20th year for the event. It’s not like it’s a new and unfamiliar situation. And it was clear from the number of runners who were out running 13.1 miles on their own on Saturday that they were not looking for a perfect situation. They just wanted the opportunity to complete their run after a significant commitment to training and preparation.