Posted on Jan 7

39.3 Miles of Fun: runDisney’s Goofy Challenge

By: Justin Stone for New Balance

39.3 Miles of Fun: runDisney’s Goofy Challenge

Most vacations don’t involve running 13.1 miles one day and then 26.2 the next. But some participants at the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend are just a little bit “goofy.”

Taking place every January just outside of Orlando, Fla. at Walt Disney World, Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge, or the “Goofy” as its fans call it, is a special challenge where runners attempt to complete a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday. Taking runners through four parks in Walt Disney World, participants not only receive finishers medals for the half and full marathons, but also get a commemorative medal celebrating the accomplishment of covering 39.3 miles in a single weekend.

The Goofy Challenge was recognized as an official offering by runDisney (the running arm of Walt Disney’s Parks and Resorts department) in 2006. Prior to that year, the half marathon and marathon races were held on the same day and course. Over the years, it became clear there were some runners who just wanted a little bit more. Runners at runDisney events started to talk among each other, asking what it would be like to take on both a half marathon and a marathon over the course of a weekend. Disney, seeing the interest, obliged and created an official challenge.

Some may think that only a small number of runners would find this exciting, but the Goofy Challenge is one of the most popular races runDisney offers, often selling out well before the individual races. In fact, the challenge has grown so popular that, for the first time ever, New Balance has expanded its runDisney shoe collection to include a sneaker dedicated to the challenge that is only available at runDisney events in Florida and California.

For most participants, signing up for the race happens months in advance when expectations are lofty at best. Getting ready for the “Goofy” requires a high level of dedication and effort. It is not uncommon to put in over a 100 miles a month to be ready for the arduous undertaking.

Gail Savidge, who has completed every Goofy Challenge since its inception and is a member of the “Perfectly Goofy” club, recalls the first time she signed up for the Goofy Challenge.

“Initially, it was ‘How bad could it be?’ I hadn’t completed a half [marathon] or a full at sign up time, so what did I know,” says Savidge. “It really was challenge to myself – to see if I could do it.”

Jenn Lazzaro, who has completed two recent Goofy Challenges, said she uses it as a way to motivate her to run more.

“I used to hate running and never wanted to run more than three miles,” says Lazzaro. “However, after my first half marathon in 2010 and full marathon in 2011 at Disney, I had so much fun I figured I can push myself and enjoy two days of running through the [theme] parks.”

Every runner has a different strategy on how they plan to navigate a course on a race day. Since these runners take on significant distances concurrently, they have to add an extra layer of their race strategy to determine how (or if) they finish.

Lazzaro takes an approach that lowers her typical pace for the half marathon, conserving energy for the following day’s marathon.

“Our goal is to take it easy and not push too hard,” says Lazzaro. “I usually never do a run/walk for half marathons, but we did for the Goofy ones and it worked out great.”

Savidge understands the importance of conserving energy, but her strategy differs by focusing on performing well in the half marathon and taking a more leisurely approach to the marathon.

“I like to run the half at the pace I would if I was just running a half,” says Savidge. “That way, the ‘concerned about my time’ part of me gets some satisfaction. Then for the full, it’s really about listening to my body and adjusting as necessary.”

The hopes of a PR, or personal record, aren’t key motivators, since there is just so much to see during the races. The on-course entertainment Disney provides and running with friends are what keep Savidge and Lazzaro moving forward, the runners say.

While the Goofy Race and a Half challenge is certainly exciting, neither runner will be participating in 2014. Not content with just running 39.3 miles, both Savidge and Lazzaro will be attempting the inaugural Dopey Challenge. The Dopey includes a 5k (3.1 miles) and a 10k (6.2 miles) as well as the half and full marathons, totaling over 48.6 miles over the course of four days.

Photo: Participant Jenn Lazzaro posing proudly with her Goofy medal at the 2013 challenge. Courtesy Jenn Lazzaro.

Warrior PF-Flyers Dunham Cobb Hill Brine Aravon