When I was in Walt Disney World for the runDisney Princess Half Marathon in February, I had the privilege of sitting down with Faron Kelley (director of marketing and communications for Disney sports), in his office to talk to him about the booming popularity of runDisney races.
At first it was hard to focus on the interview because his office is filled with fun runDisney and other Disney sports memorabilia and photos. I probably could have looked around forever, but thought that might be rude.
me and Faron
Disney has been hosting a series of endurance events for many years, but it seems the past couple of races in particular have really shown a sharp increase in participation. I had my suspicions as to the cause of this upwards trend, but I wanted to confirm them and who better to ask. As it turns out, there is no one particular reason that these events have become highly coveted, but instead a web of factors that keep people coming back for more. These are the main reasons for the boom Faron and I discussed in our interview:
The vacation component: Disney is the epitome of a destination race. What better place to bring the entire family to cheer you on as you run, then spend some time together playing in the parks? runDisney decided that the one overarching factor that makes a race an official runDisney event would be the fact that it runs through the theme parks. Some would think running would just be for adults, but runDisney does a fabulous job of including the kids, too. From the kids races to the 5k family fun run, these events are not just for mom and dad.
Social Media: Being a social media junkie, this factor is the one I was most interested in, and the one that I thought had a huge influence on runDisney’s popularity. Not only did runDisney create a beautiful website, but they also opened up a YouTube channel, Facebook Fan page, and Twitter account. Faron did agree that he thought social media was the most effective tool runDisney was using to reach its fans. He commented that it is so much easier to communicate and send out messages to runners through these mediums, and in a quick and effective way. It also allows runners to “talk” directly with runDisney as well as give feedback on its Facebook wall or by tagging it in a tweet. The website gives a lot of useful information from race tips to travel to registration. Having details readily available is no doubt driving the social media boom for the brand.
Faron loved when I mentioned the social media meet ups as a driving force behind race popularity. These social media events are held in conjunction with most races, and offer the most passionate runDisney fans a chance to have a back stage, up close and personal encounter with the brand. He loved it when I told him stories I have heard about the lengths people have gone to in order to try to secure a coveted spot at one of the meet ups. The amount of tweets and blogs posts that are brought about because of one of these special events shows just how loyal runDisney fans are.
What’s included: When you runDisney, you don’t just get a t-shirt and a boring medal. Instead, you are treated to a one of a kind entertainment experience that can only be described as magical. A big reason I run (as well as many others I am sure) is the amazing organization runDisney has at every race. You never hear about them not having enough bathrooms or running out of water. The races start on time, and have plenty of volunteers. They are constantly striving to make a better race experience for all. I have also been told runDisney is making strides to make sure the race course is not too crowded. I was so happy to hear this and love that they take feedback from fans seriously. On top of smoothly organized races there is of course the bling. Disney medals are heavy, and amazing. Their bling is well thought out and beautiful, and the perfect reward after a race. Runners also have access to a great health and fitness expo, tech shirts, and on course entertainment. runDisney merchandise that is sold at the expo is also very popular, and a tangible reminder of the race. Faron even told me that New Balance said runDisney races have a higher demand for merchandise than even races such as the Boston marathon! (Think: runDisney/new Balance shoes).
Pricing Structure: The pricing structure for races has changed in recent years, motivating people to sign up for the races more quickly. Tiered pricing is used and dates are given for price increases. Everyone loves to get the best value for their money possible, so this is part of the reason why the races are filling up more quickly than in years past.
Atmosphere: runDisney races are amazing races for beginners and running veterans alike. It’s a fast course so you can PR, and it’s also very non-intimidating for newer runners. Jeff Galloway, the official runDisney training consultant, teaches the run-walk-run method to help get beginners across the finish line. He is very supportive and encouraging, motivating people to give running a try. These events have a fun light atmosphere, and make for a great first big race.
With the Walt Disney World marathon weekend registration opening in a matter of days, there has been a lot of speculation as to just how quickly the events will sell out due to the factors mentioned above. Will there be another record sell out like for the Dumbo Double Dare? That is yet to be determined. However, I CAN give you some percentages, given to me straight from runDisney, about how they are pacing with Wine and Dine registration. These numbers are as of March 14th, when Wine and Dine registration had only been open for 72 hours:
-Registration for the Wine and Dine half was already pacing 71% ahead in number of registrants than at the same time last year.
-The 5k is pacing 130% ahead in number of registrants than at the same time last year.
-The kid’s races are pacing 37% ahead, for a grand total averaging out at 76% ahead for the whole weekend.
WOW! I would say runDisney gained some major popularity in the past year. Here are a couple of other numbers to knock your socks off:
-The post on runDisney’s Facebook Fan page announcing Dopey has been shared over 2,529 times, which runDisney believes is a record number of shares for the Facebook fan page.
-The runDisney YouTube video announcing Dopey’s Challenge has almost 65,600 views!
**If you are wanting to sign up for the currently open races such as the Tower of Terror 10 miler or the Wine and Dine Half, don’t wait! Sign up before the price increases and before these events are sold out due to popularity!
QOTD: Why do you think runDisney races are so popular? Will you be running one this year?
Lori (Once Upon A Run) says
Yes, several in fact! runDisney made my list of reasons I love to run (http://onceuponarun.net/2013/02/14/10-reasons-to-love-running-everyday/) and it started in with my first 5k in 20ll (at Disney, of course).
I will be doing the 2014 half, and only the half (only??) :-p I’ve got a countdown going until registration.
Amanda @ Run Principessa says
Can I PLEASE be you when I grow up? This is a really cool interview and I really want to do a runDisney race. It’s crazy how they are so popular while they’re still very pricey. I understand, I do. But sometimes it just won’t work out! Scholarships? 😉
I neeeed to do one mo’
and bring the child.
I am super excited, my 2nd runDisney event will be the Tower of Terror 10-miler in October — it can’t get here fast enough! :0)
great interview. hope to run the dopey this coming year
cheryl tullis says
I ran the Tink in 2012. It was amazing. I love Disney but this put it on a whole new level. They do it up right. I am not running one this year but we are visiting the park. I love my time at disney. When race weekend comes they try to get your whole family involved. Thats how Disney rolls.
Patty Holliday says
So about that assistant position Heather… when can I start? 😉
Very cool interview. I got a chance to talk to Faron for a moment at the Princess Meet Up. Fantastic guy! I think the runDisney races are so popular because it’s an entire package: fitness, fun, and family!
Karen :0) says
Looking forward to Dumbo! :0) Can’t wait to be in Disneyland again! Great interview!!
Karla @ RunKarlaRun.com says
I think another reason the races have boomed in popularity is that Disney is attracting a lot of beginners to the sport–people who started running just so they can run through the parks. I hear a lot of people tell me they ONLY run Disney or started running to run Disney, then branched out to other races. So not only do you have dyed-in-the-wool runners doing them who are looking for a runcation or fun experience, but also dyed-in-the-wool Disney fans who want to experience everything Disney has to offer.
Awesome post! They’re so popular b/c they’re the BEST obviously. Cannot wait for Dumbo!
Kristy @KristyrunsKato says
Disney races are so popular, because runners know it is going to be a good race!! Disney has great guest service, and that transfers over to its races! And, seriously, if you are going to run a 1/2 or a full marathon, what better place than the “Happiest place on Earth” to run it!! 🙂
I am running Tinkerbell and Princess in 2014!!! Can’t wait!!
You and Faron hit it on the nose!
I’m having a Disney-tastic year this year and will feel at loose ends next year when I don’t know what I’ll be running!!
My husband was upset we planned our trip this year and there is not a race at Disney. He really wants to run one. After reading all of your posts Heather, you make me want to run a race at Disney!
I just hope to make it into the Disneyland weekend meetup! 😉
James Davis says
How fast do you think the dopey challenge will sell out? I’m a little worried after recently dealing with active website for marine corp marathon registration was a nightmare. I’m signing up at noon as soon as it opens and hope active has gotten there stuff together and I can snag one of the coveted dopey challenge spots.
I have no idea. Dumbo sold out in a day! Everyone is worried!
Kim @ Confessions of a Domestic Goddess says
runDisney really does a great job, from the volunteers to the organization to making sure there are enough amenities. I’ve gotten mixed up in a local running event (along with dogs and bikers!) because the path wasn’t blocked off, nor were there any signs or indicators.
Can’t wait for Dumbo in August!
Mindy @ Road Runner Girl says
Awesome interview Heather! I LOVE runDisney!!! The races are truly magical and unforgettable! That is one reason I keep registering for more!
I think runDisney events are so popular because they really ARE the epitome of a racecation, and the events are very well organized and lots of fun! Can’t wait to be at Disneyland in August for Dumbo!!! Only wish I was registering for marathon weekend today 🙁
I know the only race I’d EVER consider is a runDisney race! One of these days, maybe. Everytime I read one of your posts, you’re pushing me closer and closer to attempting it!!
Kristen Grimes says
I’ve run two runDisney races and I love them the most BY FAR! For all of the reasons you mentioned. I would actually run more of them if I had the funds for it, but the cost is definitely not on the economy-end of things. But when you talk about an “experience” runDisney is definitely the way to go!
Erin @ Girl Gone Veggie says
Great post! I think Run Disney events are so popular because Disney is amazing! I love that company!
Bill Maguire says
Heather, Great Interview! My family and I just started our runDisney adventure and will be doing the Everest Family Challenge next month followed by my wife and I running the Tower of Terror 10 Miler. I’m hoping to run the WDW 1/2 Marathon in January as well! I think the events are so popular because of the culture runDisney has created in welcoming seasoned veterans as well as newbies like myself. Running through the parks, the after parties and the awesome medals certainly help too!
you are so right!
As others said: Disney draws hardcore and noob runners. Families and solos. The races are usually themed to give them extra excitement. And the Disney name doesn’t hurt. The customer service carries over to the races.
Frank@The Fat Runner says
Faron Kelley, Sean Astin… you are on a roll Heather! I want to do the 2014 Marathon Hopefully I will be able to sign up.
Beth Barbara says
PHM 2013 was my first race ever, and it was such an amazing experience. I did learn my lesson about waiting to long to register for the kids races-I tried about 3 weeks before to register Julia, and it was sold out. Not making that mistake again! She’s signed up for TOT & F&W as am I! In the next week I’ll be registering her for the WDW Marathon-just need to figure out which day she will be running-I love that they have 3 days of kids races!
There is nothing more magical than running through a park! I think once you go Disney for races it’s hard not to get addicted!
I am glad to hear that they are working towards clearing out the crowding during races. That was my only complaint. Otherwise, RunDisney has the BEST races. I really love the endless amount of resources. I loved the Wine and Dine Half Marathon last year and want to do the WDW Marathon in 2014.
I completely agree with Jen, runDisney races are the BEST!!! You didn’t mention the possibility of a Coast to Coast medal for running in both CA and FL. My first half marathon was the Tinker bell ’12, I couldn’t resist signing up for Princess ’12!!! Now my man is jealous (also a huge Disney fan) and we are running Disneyland ’13 and Wine&Dine ’13 so he can get a C2C also!!!