Bursting the runDisney Balloon Lady Bubble

This was first published in August of 2013. As we are circling into another runDisney race season, it’s a good time to share a little light on the mystery of the runDisney Balloon Lady. Bottom line, runners, don’t panic if you see them: they are friends and not to be feared! 

 

Bursting the runDisney Balloon Lady Bubble

First timers running a runDisney race hear about the Balloon Ladies and we panic.  So we turn to the internet to do our expert research.  And find nada.

There’s nothing out there to tell us exactly who they are (and aren’t).

I Googled, I Binged, I even Yahoooooooed! and came up with nothing.  A few grainy images, some back or side shots as they passed by, and many terrifying/tear soaked reports from fellow runners chronicling their encounters of being swept.

Most of us doing the runDisney races have heard of them, have obsessed over them, maybe even had nightmares dreams about them.  Maybe you thought it would look something like this:

 

Now me, I’d like to think they look like this:

 

The truth is somewhere in between.  If you happen to meet them on the course, this is cause for minor concern.  I won’t lie. You are in danger of being swept as they are the pace setters for the race.

The Balloon Ladies start as the last people in the last corral.  When they cross the start line, the 16-minute pace clock also starts.  They keep that pace throughout the race, and as long as you are in front of them or with them, you will finish.  That’s the good news. Stay with them- and you are golden!

The even better news?

They are normal runners like you and me. They run, they walk, they do a lot of races.  And they love the runDisney events. Bonus: they are super nice and not to be feared!

No, those balloons aren't costumes. They are part of the runDisney Balloon Lady equipment and signal that it;s time for runners to move. That means you, Princess! Check out some tips straight from the Balloon Ladies of Walt Disney World. Wine and Dine | Star Wars | Marathon | Goofy | Dopey

Molly and Nancy are the two representatives from the Orlando Galloway program who act as the Balloon Ladies for runDisney at Walt Disney World.  Their friend, Sue, also paces with them.

I was on the hunt to learn more about these ladies of mystery, and after a little internet sleuthing was able to track them down.  I’m good, y’all.  (Not creepy good… no worries, I’m not coming after YOU.  But I do manage to get things done when I set my mind to it.)

Once again- God Bless Al Gore and his internet.

Molly answered some questions submitted by one of my Facebook groups. (Holla, Posse!)

Meet Molly:

I am a 37-year-old wife and mother of 2 (ages 4 and 6).  I have been running since 2001.  I work full time, teach Sunday School at Church and am a Couponer (Not Extreme, but livable).  I had completed 8 Marathons (including 2 Goofy Races, and one when I was 13 weeks pregnant with my 2nd baby).  My Mom is also a runner and we try and run Marathons together whenever possible, but we live in different states, so it is hard.  I have been running with the Galloway Training Program since 2006 and have loved all of the experiences and people it has brought into my life.   I always encourage anyone who wants to run to try it!  With the Galloway group, we have Run/Walk Intervals, and this has helped me continue to run in any condition.  

What’s so scary about that, right?  Totally normal.  Except for finishing eight marathons.  One pregnant.  I thought I was a rock star. But otherwise TOTALLY normal.

No, those balloons aren't costumes. They are part of the runDisney Balloon Lady equipment and signal that it;s time for runners to move. That means you, Princess! Check out some tips straight from the Balloon Ladies of Walt Disney World. Wine and Dine | Star Wars | Marathon | Goofy | Dopey 

  • Y’all.  She’s doing DOPEY.  I might be developing a little crush on Molly. Do you act as the Balloon Lady for all the Disney races?  Yes, I do all of the Disney World ½ and full Marathons.  This year will include Dopey!
  • How did you become the “dreaded Balloon Lady?”  How long have you been one?  Have you done every Disney race since?  I have been a Balloon Lady since 2010, shortly after Disney World started using “16 min Pacers.”  Our local running store that runs the Disney Races, Track Shack, was looking for helpers and a friend, Sue, asked if I would help her. Later I asked Nancy to help me with the full marathons because Sue only wants to run half marathons. 
  • Do you know how much fear you strike in runners?  We are not mean, and do not try and strike fear in people.  We warn them and push them as much as possible.  We want them to know that we are just like them.  We are out there to complete the mileage and be a “visual” for other runners as well as the Disney Cast Members.  
Is everyone paying attention here?  Go ahead and read that part again.  I’ll wait.  They are out there — just like you— to complete the mileage! Not scary.  Not mean.  Just runners like you and me.
  • What’s the funniest/most amusing comment you have heard when people see you?  We have been bribed many times to slow down, but most of all people play the game with us.  When they hear us coming/talking/yelling, they turn to us and say “NOT YOU AGAIN” and then they run way ahead of us.
  • Do you buy your balloons?  What kind do you prefer?  We do buy our balloons, we try and find some that are Event Related…unless someone wants to be funny and get a “Happy Birthday Balloon”!!!!  I carried one once and was wished Happy Birthday for 26 miles.  So I went along with it.  The local Dollar Store balloons are great!
Dollar Store? Come on runDisney, can’t we do better than that?! Hook the ladies up with some signature balloons! I think they need one of these at the next race.
Walt Disney World balloons

  • Have YOU ever been swept from a race personally?  I have not ever been swept, but a couple of times we have been “behind” the Disney pace and have had to sprint to get to the next mile marker.  It is almost more stress on us to “keep” the pace, not be too fast or too slow.  But they will hold us at a mile marker if we are too fast.Do you train holding balloons?  No, we do not train with balloons…but many of the local runners know us, so they ask where they are.
  • How do you train mentally or emotionally? It must be a roller coaster of emotions… We train with our local running groups, and all 3 of us are Pace Group leaders, so we are helping our groups during every training run.  We have our good runs, our bad runs, and our learning experiences every run, just like everyone else.  I remember 2 years ago; it RAINED for every long run that we had, and we just went with the flow.  You are not going to stop a race when it rains, so you might as well train in it!
Alright, Molly.  Sigh.  I think she’s talking to me here. Does she know about my rain aversion?  Point taken.  I’m working on getting out there myself in all kinds of weather! See- the Balloon Ladies are a wealth of runner knowledge and encouragement!
  • What are your favorite stories/experiences from races?   We LOVE to see people who are struggling stick with us and FINISH!    
  • What keeps you coming back? The appreciation we get from the runners at the end of races, the hugs, photos, and gratitude is such an amazing feeling to know that we helped someone achieve their goal! 
  • What do you like to wear at your races?  Ever dress up in costume?  I usually just wear a tank top (because EVERY Disney race is HOT at some point), running shorts and a skirt.  I do layer sometimes with throw away clothes if it is cold.  Personally, costumes are a pain!  And if you don’t train in them for 2-3 LONG runs…DON’T wear them in a race!  We see so many costumes on the ground.  Plus you chafe in area’s you never thought you could. 
  • Do you ever stop for pictures? HECK NO!!!!  We have NO time.  Pictures and potties are MAJOR time killers!!!!    
Ahem.  Don’t. I. Know. It. 
  • What do the lines look like at the end of the race?  They are usually long until they hear us or see us.  Then sometimes they thin out, but some people are only there for pictures, and when they get picked up by the bus and don’t know why— it is so frustrating!
  • How do you pace yourself? We use GPS watches, and I print the Cliff Bar Pace Charts (and because I am a nerd, I laminate them).  That way we know what time we need to be at each mile marker…and we can speed up or slow down if needed. 
I am seriously crushing.  Laminating her pace chart.  LOVE this lady! 
  • Are you ever tempted to slow down just a little bit?  If we are ahead of pace yes!  But on purpose NO.  If we find we are starting to slow down, and it is hot, cold or crowded, we do play mental games all the time, but we talk a LOT which helps!  Getting our minds off of what we are doing for hours on end is the best thing we have found.  And we usually wait at the Start Line for 30 sec-2 mins AFTER everyone has crossed the start line to go
  • There are people that fear you, but there are also ladies who want to BE you!  Are you recruiting members of the Balloon Lady Posse?   Ha!  That is funny!  We are just three friends, and we are not recruiting, but people ask us ALL the time!
Photo: Paul Riccardi  NOT an official balloon lady, but he plays one at the Disney races. 
I had to include this picture because I love it so! Mel is a runner with PbRC, an online running group. He’s NOT the Balloon Lady or affiliated with them, despite the screams of horror I witnessed at the Princess Half Marathon this year when people saw him.  But he does keep a 16 min pace and starts in one of the last corrals- but not always the last corral.  Keep an eye out for him if you are looking to stay ahead of the official pacers!  And like Molly, he’s a super awesome, nice guy!  He’s showing off his sweet Gangnam Style moves coming across the finish line- don’t you love it?  I am convinced that the back of the pack is where the party is AT!
  • You are a Disney Cast Member- true or false? False, none of are.
  • Do you get to hang out with the VIPs in the race retreat?  Ha!  I wish!!!  I have never been in the race retreat.
Walt Disney World Balloon Ladies

The one time I met the balloon ladies on the course: 2016 Marathon. And they passed me, but we were safely past the sweep point at this time. Phew!

Thanks to Molly, we’ve dispelled some Balloon Lady myths.  I hope you have a better understanding of who they are, and who they are NOT.  They ARE there to support and encourage and keep the pace required by runDisney.  They are NOT there to scare, torture or freak you out.

Now about those folks on bikes, a whole other story.  They are the official sweepers, and they don’t mess around.  If you see this:

RUN!

ETA 1/6/15:  I thought I should update this post a bit.  Here are a few additional links talking about the balloon ladies (yes, they are still the same ones!)

Encounters with the Balloons Ladies

Balloon Man at Disneyland

Be Polite: Balloons Ladies are runners too!

 

Ps- After this post runDisney did start providing balloons to the ladies.  WTG readers!

Have you ever met Molly, Nancy, or Sue? Did they help you get through the race? What balloon would YOU want to see them carry?

Comments

  • Amy Albers says:

    Love it! Great job bringing the balloon ladies to light, Shenanigans!

  • Abby's Road says:

    LOVE THIS! Great detective work!

    But now I’m confused, they AREN’T official runDisney?

    Even so, someone needs to get these ladies official balloons and access to VIP, STAT!

    • Longhorns2 says:

      They are NOT official runDisney. That is correct! And amazing, right?! The balloon thing- might have something in the works there. 😉 They need balloon sponsors! lol And I agree- they ARE VIPs!

  • That is so awesome!

    I have been terrified of the Balloon Ladies. I don’t know why. I probably kind of thought they were more like your first image, rampaging to sweep people, than just a trio of awesome-sounding runners providing a really cool service.

    Thank you for sharing about this. I’m not saying I hope to be seeing Molly, Nancy or Sue on the race course (sorry, ladies!) but I would love to see them finish (from the safety of the completed side of the finish line, with my medal in hand).

  • Beth Barbara says:

    LOVED THIS POST! I haven’t met them personally, but did see them on the course. As I have said before-they were nice, and got my butt moving. I’d love to meet them someday-EXCEPT during a runDisney race!

  • I’ve seen the balloon ladies as a race spectator, a volunteer, AND a runner. They do seem nice and normal. But I’d rather not see them at all in my next few races, if I can help it. 🙂

  • Jill Barnes says:

    Great interview! From all the twitter gab about “the balloon ladies” I totally thought they were runDisney peeps (unpaid interns or something!). I must admit, I am slightly disappointed through, I thought there would be more balloons. 😉

  • I used to be terrified of the “Balloon Ladies” but now they are my official Galloway Group Leaders! They are both incredible nice women. I strongly disapprove of the heavy-handed way the runDisney SAG patrol “thins the herd” (Officers with guns using force? Really?) but the Balloon Ladies are the best!

    I think they absolutely should use “official” DISNEY balloons, easily recognizable by the participants, provided by Disney. I also think the least Disney could do is give them access to the Race Retreat. Although, by the time the 16-mile pacers cross the finish line, the Race Retreat tents are being broken down. 🙁

  • Great info Patty! Great to know that they are just like us…well kind of. Wonderful post.

  • Karen Seal says:

    This is a great interview! I’ve never seen the balloon ladies (thankfully), but I think they have the coolest job, ever! Great detective work! :0)

  • April S says:

    Wow, great detective work! I can’t believe runDisney doesn’t hook them up with official status plus race retreats! Not even balloons?

  • Just read this post again. Love love love it. Such a great topic. I can’t believe they aren’t official employees. They totally should be or at least get a free race entry or something.

  • Anonymous says:

    I run with Nancy and Molly and the Orlando Galloway program. Both are super ladies who are great to train with. There are times when I will volunteer for a Disney race and not run it. I always know when my shift at one of the water stops is about over when I see Nancy and Molly come by. 🙂 That surprised me about the balloons too. Hey Disney, hook the ladies up with some of the official Disney balloons.

  • Kim says:

    What a great post! I had no idea that they weren’t official Disney folks! I love how encouraging they are to get folks to the end. 🙂

  • Thank you, so much for this!!! =)

  • Longhorns2 says:

    Thanks for reading everyone!

  • What a great post! I really thought they were hired by disney. So let me get this straight, they can’t really remove people from the course? Thet are just there for motivation? They paid for the race like everyone else and will get a medal too? What great people!

    • Longhorns2 says:

      Not the Balloon Ladies. but the Sweepers— the guys on bikes— they are the ones that coordinate the removal efforts. The Balloon Ladies are there to visually make sure everyone knows where they stand on the pace!

  • Dyan says:

    Phew! I have never met or seen them, but have heard about them. Good for them!! 🙂 However, I saw those bicycle dudes with the orange flags on multiple occasions during the first 7 miles of my first Disney marathon in 2010. They scared the hell out of me and I think I almost cried… At mile 5 they warned me I was only 1 minute ahead of the pace and by mile 7 they told me I was now 5 minutes ahead of the pace… It only got better from there, but good golly was that scary!!! Btw, I finished at 6:58:23 – talk about cutting it close 😉

  • Aka-Chan says:

    I’m well acquainted with the ladies and the bikers… having been swept twice, and outrunning them multiple other times. The first time I was swept, I was threatened by an officer – it almost stopped me ever returning to a runDisney event. The second time (this past January), I knew I wasn’t going far, having been injured and undertrained. The ladies, AND the sweepers, were very nice and I was actually joking about the whole experience. I’m also Dopey this coming January – hopefully if I see them, I will be able to fall into step with them at the very worst! LoL

  • Laurel says:

    I’d be curious to know if they completed the marathon this year. I got swept at Mile 14 and I didn’t see any balloons!

  • Artney says:

    Thank you for sharing experiences. I will be participating in my 2nd half marathon and my FIRST Run Disney Half in Feb! I’m so nervous and excited! When I did Mercedes Half-Marathon (Birmingham, AL/Feb ’13) we had a balloon lady. I was in the last corral so I was so nervous about keeping up or passing her. Thank God I DID! I seem to be a little more nervous about the Princess Half, but this has helped ease my nervousness.

  • Interesting article. One of the first Disney races I did was the Goofy, and during the marathon, we had what we termed the “Grim Sweeper” behind us – I thought that was what it was in all the races! It was actually someone dressed as a witch and she was holding a LOT of black balloons – impossible to miss! Then these last couple of races I just saw someone with one balloon, then for the Princess Half, someone with several mickey-shaped balloons.

  • Emy says:

    Thank you for this article!! I have done at least 10 disney races and only encountered with Molly and either Namcy or Sue once (2013 ToT at mile 8). They were really nice and since I was going back to the park (HS), I was safe from being swept. I sure do hope I wouldn’t see them again at my upcoming half in January, but if I do, I know I can count on them to get me to the FINISH!!

  • Bill Percival says:

    I think, IMHO, they should carry Dory balloons (just keep running/just keep running).

  • Rebekah says:

    My mom had a great experience with the balloon ladies at the marathon weekend in January. She participated in the half and full. During the full she began to have trouble with her blood sugar. She slowed her pace and found herself amongst the balloon ladies. They were kind, encouraging, and motivating. Mom walked almost two miles with them. They wanted her and others to succeed! Mom finished 14 miles that day before she medically had to stop. I’ve very thankful for the kindness and encouragement they showed her.

  • Neula says:

    I ran away from them during my first RD race in 2014. ?

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Patty Holliday


Patty is a 40-ish mother of four living in Virginia. A bit geeky, sometimes sarcastic, lover of a candid confession. She's trying to love running, she swears. But much like her marathon, it’s taking a very long time. Ahem. She's searching for the perfect way to balance family, work, travel, and fitness. Perfect defined as high on fun, low on guilt.

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