What You May Not Know About the Set Up Process for Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

Michelle Maretti runDisney Disney cast member

walt disney world marathon 2013 finish lineDid you know that runDisney has to apply for a parade permit from Reedy Creek before they can setup on Walt Disney World Resort roadways for a race? Reminds me of a marathon sign I saw once….”Worst Parade Ever!” Though as far as I’m concerned, runDisney puts on the best “parades” ever!

While most of you are packing your bags and double checking that you have enough GU to get you through your Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend race, an army of folks over at runDisney and Track Shack are busy building the nerve center for the largest sporting event in Central Florida.

Today I had the privilege of getting a behind-the-scenes look at the setup process for the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend from Senior Sports Manager at Disney Sports, Michelle Maretti and Doug Heitman, Track Shack Staging Manager.  I must mention at this point that I had no idea how involved Track Shack was from a logistics standpoint at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.  Maretti says of the Track Shack team members, “They’re basically cast members without name tags…”

wdw marathon weekend setup

Maretti gave me a look at what I dubbed her ‘runDisney Bible’ which was a packet of 30 some odd pages of highly detailed timelines encompassing every aspect of what it takes to put on the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.  It was hard to even wrap my head around the volume of events that have to be perfectly choreographed to ensure that the weekend goes off without a hitch. Timelines for setup are driven by Reedy Creek and there is a specific schedule that is used to manage the event. Michelle said that this year they are actually ahead of themselves.  “My mind is already on 2014”, she said… “We work on it year round.”

walt disney world marathon set upMaretti also explained that the event set up is a committee structure and there are several committees and partners that meet once a week year round for an hour and a half.

Another bit of information…Marathon weekend is always scheduled the weekend before Martin Luther King Day, so depending upon when Martin Luther King Day falls, is where Marathon weekend falls. This critical date determines the amount of days that the team has to set up for the race. 2013 is the only year where runDisney will have this long of a period of time for setup…10 days in total. Disney Company Operations can not let runDisney into Epcot’s Imagine and Wonder parking lots until after the conclusion of the peak Christmas and New Year holiday season.  This means that Maretti and her team can not start setup until January 1st…January 1st at 2 p.m. to be exact.  In 2012, the start of Marathon Weekend races was January 6th, which gave the team merely 5 DAYS to complete set up for an event that draws close to 100,000 athletes and spectators. That’s half the time they were allotted in 2013. To say the team works miracles would be an understatement.

Michelle Maretti runDisney Disney cast memberAnother integral part of the race weekend is what Disney is best known for…the entertainment!  Maretti says, “Entertainment has more set up than anyone and on top of that, they have to come up with the show.”  Entertainment is also involved in making the staging area presentable. They will come in and tell set up where to put in greens packages and the different visual elements to make tent city look ‘guest-friendly’.

When asked about the challenges the planning team faces with runners being in the Disney theme parks during operating hours, she says that Magic Kingdom is the only park that runners do not run in while the park is open. There is a runDisney liason assigned to each park to make sure that plans are in tandem with the course director’s and that liasion knows the paths that the race is going to take within the parks.  They actually set the cones for runDisney on race morning.  They identify where crosswalks are needed and how many cast members are need to staff those locations and they work with entertainment as well.

Though marathon weekend planning is an ongoing year round fluid process, there are still timelines that need to be respected.  Six to five months out runDisney is asking race partners what they require. Doug Heitman figures out what everyone needs and how is he going to make it fit into only 2 of Epcot’s Parking lots.  It’s serious business.

Some changes that the race will see this year…Race Retreat doubled in size over 2012 and its sold out! The Cheer Zone also doubled in size.  The finish line has been shifted ever so slightly over and Heitman also pointed out a new tent for the wheelchair athletes to stow their everyday use chairs in while competing.  Another big change is the exclusion of port-o-potties on the road that connects the staging area to the start corrals. The team made the decision to take these out because during princess marathon weekend the lines for the port-o-lets stretched across the road where runners were trying to walk to get into their corrals.  Rest assured that there will be port-o-lets near the entrance to the corrals and around 500 or so in the Epcot parking lot staging area.

Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend is no small affair. Hats off to all of the cast members and volunteers who make this event as amazing as it always is!

For more info on Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend visit runDisney.com.



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