Disney Marathon VoluntEARing: A Runner’s Perspective

I am so excited about this post!  I think I’ve mentioned quite a few thousand times how much I love and appreciate the volunteers at all races, but there is definitely somethings special about the Disney voluntEARs.  They get up insanely early to cheer us on and give us fuel…we couldn’t run the races without them.  So imagine my excitement when Kelly told me was voluntEARing over marathon weekend! I had to have her write about it.  So here’s Kelly’s story 🙂  

Need a change of pace when you race?  Try working the other side of the water table.

This time last year, I was celebrating another successful Disney World Half Marathon.

Fast forward another long distance race, a ridiculous attempt at the Insanity workout, a seven month bout with plantar fasciitis, and practically zero runs….I was obviously not a candidate to run during 2014 Disney Marathon weekend.

Thankfully, running isn’t the only way to participate in the excitement of Disney’s premier running weekend.  You can also volunteer which provides a ton of feel good moments and some pretty awesome swag, too!

My husband, son, and I were selected to volunteer at the Mile 21 water stop for the full marathon.  If you’ve run a full marathon, you know Mile 20 and beyond is where the rubber meets the road.

In order to volunteer at any half or full marathon event, you have to pick up credentials before the actual race (if you are an expo, 5K, or 10K volunteer, Disney sends you all the materials you need beforehand).   Since we live in Tampa, we took advantage of one of the winter break opportunities to grab our credentials.

We headed over to Lake Buena Vista on the weekend before the race, spent some time at Downtown Disney, and then proceeded to the Disney Sports building to receive our volunteer tags.  If you don’t use the “Early Pick Up” opportunities, then you have to pick up your credentials at the runDisney Expo (Wednesday-Saturday).  Early pick up was a quick 5-minute process but if you plan on going to the Expo anyway, I would probably choose that option.

credential pick up
Picking Up Credentials

Race Day was here in a blink and our Sunday morning wakeup call was quite literally before the crack of dawn (2:45 a.m.!!!).  I’m not sure it was even worth going to bed but I managed to get a couple hours of sleep.  Since we live in Tampa, we drove over early instead of getting a hotel room.  It’s a pretty quick drive but once we reached Disney property, there were a few hot spots of traffic for those trying to get to the race on time.

The volunteer staging area was at Blizzard Beach and after the morning’s trials, I’m wondering if they’ll ever have it there again.  Unfortunately, there was just not enough parking to hold the massive amounts of people they need to volunteer.  After waiting through five rounds of traffic lights and still not moving (and a bladder that was about to burst), we made the decision to park at Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf and walk over.  I don’t recommend this as you might get towed but we were desperate (and thankfully our car was still there when we returned).

We checked in (you must bring your credentials or you will get turned away!) and were invited to sample some goodies before being shuttled to our assignment location.  Basically, you are given a Ziploc bag to build your own snack pack.  You could choose from Uncrustables, Chex Mix, chips, trail mix, bananas, fruit chews, granola bars, and water.  runDisney also gives volunteers one apparel item to wear (and keep!) during the event.  Based on years past, it seems windbreakers are the standard for January races.

Because we were running so late due to the parking and traffic snafus, we loaded our bus immediately.  Our team leader was very happy to see us as she was missing close to half of her group (thanks, parking standstill).  We eventually had to leave without the other assigned volunteers as they were already behind schedule.

Once we arrived at Mile 21.8, everyone got to work for the next 90 minutes.  Volunteers worked together to unstack tables, construct garbage/recycling bins, set up thousands of water cups, and fill them with either water or Powerade.  Our group was very hardworking and we finished with time to spare (even though we were missing many people).

Setting Up the Mile 21 Water Station

The cool thing about volunteering was getting the opportunity to spectate an entire marathon form start to (almost) finish.  We were given frequent updates of where the leaders (wheelchair, men, and women) were in their race and when we should expect them.

Kelly & Her Family

Finally, the wheelchair winners came through and then a bit later the men’s winner.  About 20 men filed through before we caught sight of the female winner.  This crew of runners was very no nonsense and probably not the type of runner you associate with a Disney race.  Even handing off water to these speedsters was intense.  They are fast!!  I don’t think any of these runners had music of any sort and only a few grabbed something to drink.  Quite a cool experience!

Female Winner
Female Marathon Winner

Over the next five hours, we motivated and hydrated over 25,000 runners.   As a runner myself, it was so meaningful to provide support to these runners whether it was an encouraging word or a quick sip of water.  I have been so thankful for the volunteers who have helped me along when I needed an extra push so I’m glad I could in some way return the favor.

Crowds of Runners!

As a volunteer, you truly get to see it all!  All of the zany costumes, the unique runners with a special talent, those running to support a cause or come back from an illness, celebrities (Jeff Galloway and some bloggers that I enjoy), and even old friends.

Balloon Lady
Dr Dribble
Doctor Dribble
He completed both the half and full marathon dribbling 2 basketballs!
Mr. Tuba!!
Completed both the half and full marathons carrying AND playing the tuba!!

I know we tend to see a lot of negativity in the news and so forth but I cannot even count the amount of runners who profusely thanked the volunteers.  It was really unbelievable!  At Mile 21 I can barely even breathe but so many runners were making a huge deal out of thanking the volunteers.  Truly awesome!

And just like that, the last runners trotted past us bunched together with the infamous balloon ladies signaling the end of the pack.  Trucks were literally nipping at their feet to clean up our station the moment the runners were beyond our tables.

Final Runner

After a quick clean up of the area, we were bussed back to Blizzard Beach where we checked out and were thanked with a complimentary one-day ticket to any Disney theme park (good until next year).

As amazing as it was to volunteer, I do hope I’m able to run a Disney race next Marathon Weekend.  But if not, you can be sure that I’ll give my time to help those that can.

If you are interested in volunteering at a runDisney event, visit http://www.rundisney.com/volunteer to become a Disney Sports Enthusiast.


Kelly Faysash has run a marathon and a handful of half marathons.  She hopes to add the Wine and Dine Half Marathon medal to her collection in the near future.

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  • Thanks for sharing your experience Kelly! I love hearing about different people’s point of view of races and the mile 21 water stop sounds like it was definitely a great place to be. Thanks for being out there cheering us on and hydrating us, couldn’t have done it without you!

  • The runDisney voluntEARs are AMAZING! They are always so encouraging, positive and happy. I am always thanking volunteers along the way. THANK YOU! You helped to make our race experience magical!!

    Karen @karenlovestorun

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