If you are participating in the 20th Anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon, you may have read about the Perfect 20 in the official program. This is an amazing group of 95 individuals who have run all 19 consecutive Walt Disney World Marathons and are about to attempt their 20th this year! I had the opportunity to speak with a few of these runners and found out some fun facts about the past 20 years of Disney races.
Seth Elsheimer runs over 25 marathons per year and has recently moved into doing Ultramarathons. He is a serious runner. He started running in the early 1990s, at which time there weren’t many marathons being held. Seth is from central Florida, so when Disney announced they would be holding a marathon, he figured this would be a good opportunity. He has continued to run the race for the past 19 years because it is a convenient location and he kept seeing improvements to the course. Seth has only run the WDW Marathon, which he says has been both his fastest and slowest marathon, as well as his warmest and coldest race. Oh that Florida weather!
Susan Glickman is a mother of 2 from south Florida. She ran the first Disney marathon race because she was part of the first Jeff Galloway Marathon training program in Miami. A few members of her running club decided to run the race and Susan was in. She has continued to run every year since to see what Disney would do next! Susan loves to take photos on the course and really takes in the Disney experience. She has even ridden Expedition Everest during one of the marathons! In addition to the marathon, she participated in Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge for the first 5 years it was offered, Disney’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon, and she also runs numerous other races around Florida.
The first few years of the race were very different from the current state of the WDW Marathon. Elsheimer recalls running past sewage treatment plants and very desolate areas of the property. As more attractions were added, the race got more interesting. The course went through the Walt Disney World Speedway when it first opened in 1996, which was a highlight for Seth. I’m sure he’s very happy to hear that runners will be rounding the Speedway again this year for the 20th Anniversary Marathon!
The addition of Animal Kingdom in 1999 added an entirely new adventure to the course as well. This is one of Susan’s favorite areas and she looks forward to it every marathon. Where else can you take your photo with live animals while running a marathon?!
Besides changes to the course, Susan and Seth both commented on the popularity and size of the race as being the biggest change they’ve seen over the years. The first marathon had about 5,000 participants and you could still register at the Health & Fitness Expo, which remained the case until only a few years ago. This year, there are over 26,000 runners taking part in this marathon. That’s a big difference!
Susan has a few great traditions that she’s kept up over the years. After each race, she goes to Waffle House with other members of her running team and orders a pecan waffle with a double order of smothered hash browns. Sounds like the perfect post-race meal to me! When she returns home, Susan hangs all of her medals in her kitchen with her family around her as they say a Jewish prayer of thanks. She sure has a lot to be thankful for…look at all those medals!
Disney has certainly honored the Perfect 20 over the years. They have been Grand Marshalls in numerous parades and have received commemorative trophies and plaques celebrating their accomplishments. By far the greatest recognition came in 2003 during the 10th Anniversary, when all of the Perfect 10 at that time had their bib number retired. They now are able to run with that same number every year…how cool is that?!? I’m looking forward to seeing how they will be honored for the 20th!
When I asked Susan and Seth how long they planned to keep running the WDW Marathon, I got the same answer…”As long as I can.” As a first time marathoner, I found this answer to be encouraging and inspiring. There must be something about this race that keeps them coming back year after year. Is it the entertainment, the characters, or just simple pixie dust? All I know is that I can’t wait to find out this weekend and join the WDW Marathon club.