Disneyland vs Walt Disney World Racing | runDisney

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I’ve been talking to a friend making her way to Disneyland for the first time for Tinker Bell weekend. She’s asked about rides, shows, and places to eat.  She’s a Walt Disney World runner and is curious how the races stack up. Disneyland vs Walt Disney World racing: which is best?

Disneyland! No, wait, Walt Disney World! Ask any runDisney runner and you will get an earful as to why one park is a better running experience than the other.

There is no clear consensus- I’m convinced that it boils down to geography. By number, there are more Disney World participants so you probably hear that it’s better more often.

But it’s not. Ahem.

West coast represent! Anywhoo…

Here are my observations after running coast to coast for the past five years.

runDisney at Disneyland vs Walt Disney World: the differences in racing on each coast.

Are the races like night and day?

Walt Disney World Racing

Bigger races. The capacity at the races is much larger. For example, the Princess Half Marathon had around 20,000 finishers this year.

Long stretches of highway. A little boring, but you aren’t wasting energy on twists and turns in the road, right?

Less fan support due to the highway miles. The fans pack Main Street, USA however. And that’s an impressive sight!

More characters on the course since Disney owns all the roads. A huge plus for the runDisney fan. You stay inside the Disney bubble the entire race.

Earlier starts: be on that first bus at 3 am. Seriously. 3am.

Transportation is necessary to the start and at the finish- unless you are going straight into Epcot to celebrate!

Long walks to the corrals. From drop off at the bus to the starting line at Princess Half Marathon you cover an extra 1.5 miles.

Race retreat is offered at some races.

Weather is generally hot and humid. It’s Florida.

Post race massages. Bring a little cash, and you can get a rub down before you head to your bus!


Disneyland Racing

Smaller races. The Disneyland Half had around 13,000 runners last year.

Less highway, more city streets. It’s a mullet race: party in the front (the time in the parks) and business in the back (city streets).

More variety. Every race has a different route for the half marathons. Some of the 5Ks and 10Ks are different as well. The 10Ks and 5Ks are almost all in the parks- which sounds great, but be prepared for tight areas and bottlenecks.

HUGE local support. High School bands and cheerleaders, classic car clubs, Red Hat Society, and Girl and Boy Scouts line the courses.

Fewer characters. Disney doesn’t have rights to the roads as they do in Orlando, so the characters are limited to where they can appear. Once you leave the parks, you will not have official character stops. Walt Disney and Michael Jackson have been known to appear, however, in the form of crowd support on the city streets.

Sleep in: Disneyland races take less effort and planning to get to the start. Most racers can just walk from their hotels to the corrals. No bus, no fuss, no muss!

No race retreats- but I did get a FREE massage pre-Disneyland Half in 2013. I don’t remember that option at the Walt Disney World races.

Weather can be lovely. Southern California typically has less humidity and mild temperatures year round. Hey, it’s why people pay the big bucks to live there!

However, the 2013 Disneyland Half was one of the hottest race weekends I’ve experienced… so it’s obviously not a rule.

BOTH COASTS: Balloon ladies/men who will keep a 16-minute mile pace. Be sure you stay ahead of them, no matter which coast you are one!

Do you run coast to coast? Can you think of anything I’ve missed?

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  • Mallory says:

    After the first Tink, I HATED DL races based on that experience. I hated the city streets. It was the first half I finished and I was very nervous after being swept the year before at Princess. Plus my husband was deployed so my head wasn’t in the right place. I said I would never run there again unless they offered something new to get me to Tink again. Last year with the pink C2C, I gave it another try for the new medals. I fell in love with it after this year’s race. Now that it is a more established race, the community support was amazing. I was seriously struggling around mile 8 with being light headed and needing something to eat. Just then, there was a tent handing out red vines and orange slices. Then around the corner there were pretzels and animal crackers(and more) and it was just what I needed. You never get that at WDW because there is no place for people to do things like that on property. I was worried about having all the park time at the beginning but it ended up making it my best half so far. It forced me to pace myself for the first half since it was crowded and tight. Then once we were out of the parks, I actually got faster each mile and felt great after the race. Now I’m signed up for Avengers and Star Wars. There are still things I love about WDW races but DL definitely has a lot more pros now that I have had a better race there.

  • Thanks for the post from one Blog Hop writer to another. I have done over a dozen races at WDW and the Disneyland Half will be my first in CA. So your article was great for me. You nailed the points for the WDW races. Since I live in SC it will be nice for cooler temps and less humidity! By the way, I love your picture of the person holding the sign for race registration $175, only $37.40 to go, that was hilarious. I’ve never seen that one before. Well check out my post at http://wp.me/p2Esuo-16b on the Disneyland Weekend Medals. http://wp.me/p2Esuo-16b
    Again, great job and thanks!

  • Danielle says:

    I LOVE the later wake up calls for Disneyland races – especially with the time change coming from the east coast it barely even feels like getting up early!

    And you’re right, while there are less Disney characters, the local entertainment and support on the courses out in Disneyland is really great!

  • I can’t believe I haven’t done a Disney race yet. One of the reasons is the 3 am start that’s just silly! Love all of your race outfits ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Greg says:

    Great post Patty! Even though I don’t have much experience with the East Coast races, your list seems pretty spot on.

  • I think this pretty much covers it! I’m a WDW gal, myself…but I absolutely do appreciate the ease and convenience of getting around (and, like you said, sleeping in just a bit!) at the DL races! I also like DL because I can plan my race-day strategy a bit better. During my “party in the front,” haha, I know I’ll be stopping for characters and enjoying my time in the parks…and then knowing it’s mainly highway after that, I can pick up the pace and focus on getting to that finish line!

  • Jennifer says:

    Great list – I can’t wait wait to go Coast to Coast (though it’s gonna be a couple of years).

  • Josette says:

    I have only done one WDW race, the Princess half this year and that humidity was something this CA girl was not used to but hand’s down for me, the best part of any of the various races is running through Angel stadium during the DL half marathon. Running through there and being high-fived around the field by all the boy scouts is just AWESOME! and it’s in the perfect place where you need that motivation.

    And even though I only live 40 minutes from Disneyland, I always stay down there just so I can sleep in a little and walk to the starting line.

  • Amanda says:

    Less humidity, for sure. I’ve only done Tink so far, and it was in January, but I loved all the on-course cheering and spectating at DL. I’m slow (holla) so I don’t typically stop for photos because by the time I get there, there are serious LINES (runners, please have your camera out and ready before you get to the character. mkaythanks), so it was energizing to see all the signs and people – that’s always my favorite parts of the the WDW races. I also really prefer that it’s mostly wide open city streets plus less runners, so I didn’t ever feel like I was in a bottleneck. There are many miles of the WDW courses where I feel kind of squished in. One major benefit of WDW, though – for WDW Half, WDW Full, PHM Half, and W&D Half, you hit in-park bathrooms after a few miles of running (and again around Mile 9 of W&D!). If you’ve gotta go, or it’s super-hot, those flushing toilets and running water are AWESOME. At Tink, once you were out of the parks at Mile 5, you’re SOL unless you divert into one of the businesses on the local streets. I

  • Heidi says:

    On thing more to add-Disneyworld races seem to have more bottlenecks especially through the parks. I don’t notice them as much at Disneyland races. I really love the west coast over the east coast races just for the fact you can get to the start so much more easily.

  • This is a really great post! Very thorough. I think each coast has its own pros and cons but I love them both! I know a lot of people complain about the stretches of highway at Disney World, but I find them easy to zone out on so I actually don’t mind them at all lol!

  • I loved running through the streets of Anaheim. I liked the visual variety over the long stretches of ‘nothing’ at WDW, and I also really loved the support from the locals. It was my first time running a race where folks just showed up to watch.
    That said, WDW is pretty great…

  • Fellow blog hop ๐Ÿ™‚
    I loved reading about the difference, who knew there could be so many! I’ve never been to WDW but being that it’s so much larger I can see how there would be much more runners. This will be my first runDisney race so I’m excited and (super) nervous!

  • Nerissa says:

    This was such an interesting read! Thank you for sharing! I’ve done two at Disneyland so far but have not done any at WDW so I was curious to read about the differences. (I even showed my husband your list!). It seems like they both have their pros and cons- I like that WDW has more characters! Perhaps we’ll get around to doing a run there sometime! ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh and I love your running outfits!

  • I’ve done several Disneyland races before, but ran my first WDW race at this year’s Princess Half. The weather actually didn’t bother me too much, surprisingly, but that extra 1.5 miles to the start and the loooooong lines for the buses back to the hotels – Disneyland definitely won on that front! Overall, runDisney is great wherever the race is! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Very good insights! I love both, but there is definitely something appealing about rolling outta bed and walking to the start at disneyland!

  • Audrey says:

    Omg you are right – Disneyland is totally the mullet half marathon. Never thought of it that way before. The 2:45 wake up for WDW is just killer. I mean, it’s the middle of the night for crying out loud. That’s why I’m wining and dining in Nov.

  • DIStherapy says:

    I’m so happy you choose this topic Patty- you have the chops, and you nailed it! runDisney events at Walt Disney World and Disneyland are muy magical, but each in their own way. For me, the streamlined nature of races in Anaheim, plus the overwhelming support from its residents are standouts. In Orlando, I find the total immersion, with characters throughout the course, scratches my Disney itch. I think whether traveling east or west, it is important to mange one’s expectations. Happy vs. magical- it’s all GREAT!!

  • I love the company at WDW races don’t you? LOL. I hope at some point I can make the cross country trek to a DL race.

  • Sherry says:

    Nailed it! And I love that I can say that now that I know the differences, too! It’s like an East Coast-West Coast rap showdown, only no one got shot LOL. Great job as always, Patty!

  • Breanne says:

    LOVE that you commented on the 2013 Disney Half weekend – holy heck, that was one of my worst run experiences ever. UGH. I’m doing my first C2C in 2016 (Princess will be my first experience at WDW too and then Tink) so I loved this post. Bummed to hear about the “boring highway” parts for Princess. I would have expected better crowds/spectators/support there.

    • patty says:

      Yeah- there’s not a whole lot out there. Some random bands (like an accordion band?) and a few other things, but not the same as what DL provides.

  • Emily says:

    Iโ€™ve never joined any Disneyland races before because I can’t wake up at 3.am. This was such an interesting experience! Thank you for sharing!

  • Natalie says:

    Running? Being on the bus at 3:30 IN THE MORNING? Um, this experience is not for me. LOLOLOL But I really love that Disney has so many wonderful experiences that there is truly something for everyone! Your photo is a hoot. I am sharing this with my sister in law who IS one of those people who runs for fun and would have no problem being excited and ready at 3 in the morning. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Patty Holliday

If she isnโ€™t chasing her four kids around Northern Virginia, Patty is chasing four bars on her phone to share her authentic and fun stories on social media and her blog, My No-Guilt Life. Sheโ€™s also one half of the Marvel Moms, an online community for discussing the Marvel fandom. You can catch up on her runDisney fun at No-Guilt Disney.

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