An Open Letter To runDisney

Tower of Terror Trip Report - start

The runDisney support contact form only allows like 3 paragraphs before it cuts off, so upon publication of this post I will be sending them a link. I will also tag them on social media in the hopes someone on the runDisney team might read it.

I am also interested to hear what my fellow runDisney runners think about the letter below. Has your experience been similar or different from mine? What did I get right? What did I get wrong? Send me your perspective via any channel you wish – comment below, email me at fairestrunofall@gmail.com, or DM/tag me on Instagram or Twitter. I’m not vox populi and if there’s anything to clarify, add, or debate, let’s do it!

I’ll get straight to the point: the present runDisney race corral situation is untenable.

The evolution of runDisney corrals has definitely sped up the race start process since I began running in 2013, and for that I commend the organizers. However, the compression of predicted finish times per corral has had a negative impact on the race experience. This relates to not only enjoyment but also safety.

The situation wouldn’t be so bad if not for the recent advent of Club runDisney and the member perk that moves them up a few corrals.* When there were more corrals and this only meant they made it into the first corral without a proof of time, this was not so much of a problem. However, it has come to my attention that Club runDisney members are now placed in the S2 wave, and that explains a lot about my last runDisney experience.

* Edited to note: it has been pointed out in the comments that the Club runDisney numbers are small and that poor corral seeding on a whole is the greater problem. Nevertheless my thesis remains unchanged.

My Tower of Terror 10 Miler was miserably bogged down by crowding. I am a 2:01 half marathoner, just outside of S1 eligibility, and there were people stopping to walk in front of me immediately at the start line. I understand that everyone starts the race at their own pace, and that the run-walk method is popular, but the relative speeds within individual groups should not be that disparate.

The uneven pacing of the runners also caused huge backups at the photo stops. I have observed that lines are always long toward the beginning of the race before the herd thins, but as the herd never really thinned, photo lines never shortened.

These are frustrations but not hazards, and you may dismiss them as such. Yet I also witnessed multiple interactions that were more than frustrating; they were unpleasant and even dangerous.

At one point a wheelchair participant, who had perhaps stopped for a bathroom break or gear check, was trying to get by. There were MANY, MANY walkers to the right, which the wheelchair participant ultimately wound up repeatedly screaming at to “MOVE! MOVE!” until she was finally able to pass.

There were also many faster runners dodging, spinning, and lunging crazily around the slower movers in attempt to get to a clear area. I was hit multiple times, luckily not severely, but it was a long series of accidents waiting to happen. And I’m sure I hit others, because it was borderline impossible not to at times. I know people who have been severely injured in falls and collisions due to race crowding and it’s irresponsible of runDisney, a group planning huge events attended by thousands of people, to assume it’ll work itself out.

I promise you I am not the only person whose experience was marred by the inappropriately seeded course. All around me, at various points during the race, I heard people complaining about the course conditions and how difficult it was to get around.

To be clear, I would never suggest runDisney require faster minimum pace times. Everyone should have the right to participate in a runDisney race regardless of where they are in their fitness journey. But corrals should serve a real purpose, not just arbitrarily divide a large group of people into clumps. That completely negates the point of providing a proof of time in the first place unless you’re able to qualify for the first corral.

(And yes, I realize this is a great motivator to train for a faster time, but that shouldn’t be a deciding factor in whether I’m set up for a good race or not in the here and now.)

I’ve been told that positioning yourself at the very front of the corral is a huge help, and you can bet I’ll be doing it from now on. But shouldn’t everyone’s race, from the first runner across the start to the last, be equally destined for delight?

Besides, this goes both ways. I can only imagine slower runners don’t love being yelled at and mowed down by people whose hurry shouldn’t be their problem.

The current corral system may be easier and make the start procedures more efficient, but given the negative impact to the race experience itself, it needs to be reevaluated and tweaked. Runners who submitted 12 minute mile estimates should not be in a corral with people who submitted numbers under 10 and even close to 9.

Further, if you must provide a corral boost to Club runDisney members, they should get their own corral right before the start group with no proof of time. If they can’t otherwise qualify for a POT corral on their own merits, they shouldn’t be admitted. It’s for everyone’s safety and comfort, and no amount of money can change that.

I realize that runDisney is wildly successful, and as such you may feel that the voices of dissent don’t matter. It is my hope that by publishing this open letter, it will inspire others to similarly raise their voices. Above all, I want runDisney to be a source of joy for all of us, not irritation and risk. Under normal circumstances I love it! I want it to succeed!

So I ask runDisney: please reevaluate your corral placements. We can all wait a little extra time at the start if it means a better race in the end.

Don’t forget, you can follow FRoA on Twitter @fairestrunofall and on Instagram @fairestrunofall. If you have any questions or thoughts, leave a comment or email fairestrunofall@gmail.comSee ya real soon!

2 Comments

  1. (Apologies for any grammar/spelling mistakes . . . I’m writing this last, but didn’t have time to proofread.)

    I’m a long-time participant in RunDisney events, recognize the situations you describe, and fully sympathize. I run slightly faster than you, but not by much, and probably wouldn’t make the proof-of-time cutoff using the McMillan calculations. Unfortunately, the difficulty comes from the general race ethos regarding RunDisney races, and I can’t figure out a way to alleviate the problems you mention.

    (One quick initial comment – there are so few Club RunDisney platinum members [to only ones who get a corral advancement] that I think their effect is marginal. I do a lot a lot of data analysis with regards to RunDisney numbers, figuring out assigned versus starting corrals, DNSs/DNFs, etc., and while those getting an advanced boost contribute to the issue you mention, I don’t think it’s by any significant margin.)

    The big issue is that RunDisney races are unlike any other race. By this, I mean that for all other race weekends, the great majority of people running want to put in a good effort and/or time. They’re not all running for a PR, and there are some run slower than they would as part of a longer training plan, to run with friends or family, etc., but in general, people attend other races mostly to run and get it done. This is especially true for those who run more quickly (I’m thinking your pace or faster).

    For RunDisney races, this all goes out the window. Using the clock time and actual time fields, it’s possible to calculate when people start and finish. I cannot tell you how many runners that submit proof-of-time run nothing like anything resembling their normal pace. There are many super-fast runners who work hard throughout they year, submit a proof-of-time to get into an early corral, and then take it easy on the course. Some are interested in character photos, and will run to one after another, then wait. Within one of two characters, they’re already running amongst later corrals. There are even a number of RunDisney participants who aim to start at the very front of the first corral and to finish with or behind the balloon ladies. For no other race would this happens.

    All this means that a great number of RunDisney participants lie with regards to their anticipated pace. Some of these are the fast runners that I mention above – they have a proof-of-time that will allow them in the early corrals and they use it. Some who don’t have a proof-of-time will make a claim to run just under the POT deadline so as to get into the earliest corral as possible.

    While there are certainly some ethical implications to this, it’s certainly known that this is happening by RunDisney. I cannot think that anyone looking at someone with a Dopey registration in which they enter a sub 4-hour marathon time thinks, “Well, I guess they’re going to run it that quickly.” Unfortunately, though, there’s really no solution. If a proof-of-time is asked for, then it has to be abided by. This is the reason why they’ve changed the POT requirements – they’re trying to figure out a way, but nothing seems to work.

    As I said to start, I’m in roughly the same boat as you, and fully sympathize. There are certain things that RunDisney can do (Don’t put the path between the Boardwalk and the Studios early in a race!), but I don’t see really any way to address large-scale crowding. I always suggest to friends that are wanting to run not to think of RunDisney as a PR race, a quick race, or even one that should be done if time is an issue. It can be a wonderful experience (I keep coming back), but it can be a tough one for someone who really wants to run.

  2. I agree with you and I also agree with the other comment here. My understanding is that the Club RunDisney people are a pretty small number (like, only a few hundred) so it really doesn’t cause too much of an impact. The issue is more in not requiring proof of time and not starting people correctly.

    But the bigger problem, which I’m sure many people would be mad at me for saying, is the amount of people who sign up for RunDisney events with frankly no interest in running. It’s become an event rather than a race and that’s so evident by the costumes that are so ridiculous you could barely move in them, let alone run, or the amount of posts in FB groups from people who have never run in their life and are signing up for Dopey challenge because so many other people do it and they want medals. And the only way you fix that problem is by doing things like requiring more proof of time (especially for longer races) and lowering the minimum time. And Disney will never ever do that. Because you know who is spending all the money on merchandise and signing up for all the challenges to get every medal, etc.

    That’s not to say that there are plenty of other circumstances – runners who are now injured or just want to enjoy the character stops so they will be slower, people working their butts off to train, etc., I’m just saying it feels like there are A LOT of people who have no interest in running now doing these events for other reasons.

    I’ve thought about this a lot. I will probably do less RunDisney races in the future because as a runner I want to actually run races. I thought about trying to approach them as an “experience” and not really running or worrying about that. Which is what I did for the Expedition Everest 5k, and quite honestly I hated it. It was SO packed with people and everyone was just strolling along. It was more crowded than during the day in the parks and I had the thought that I could just walk through the parks on my own outside of a race and it would be the same. The character lines were massive. It was like 30-40 minute waits. I know there are some cool characters out sometimes but it’s not worth it to me especially when it was characters like Goofy and Mickey.

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