I’m often asked if Race Retreats are worth the extra cost. While I’ve haven’t experienced one first hand, every time I see what they entail I think it might be in my future for an upcoming race. Besides the warm area to wait for the race to start, there is tons of food, character photo ops and a stretching area.
You might remember Jenn recently from The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler weekend where she covered the Villain’s Bash and gave some great tips on prepping for a night race vs. a morning race. Well she’s back with a look inside the Race Retreat from this year’s Walt Disney World Half Marathon! I’d love to hear what you think about the Race Retreat and if it’s something you will be doing for a runDisney race.
Well, another fantastic WDW Marathon weekend has come to a close. Marathon Weekend is my favorite race in Walt Disney World. The excitement is palpable throughout the entire weekend, and I love how every runner is so supportive of one another. I have attended these weekends for 3 years straight, and I have experienced something new each time; and this year was no exception. First, I attended as a ChEAR Squad participant, watching my husband run his first half marathon. My second year, I attended both as a runner and a ChEAR Squad Member; there was no way I was ready to run 26.2 miles with my brave hubby! This year, I attended as a runner in the half marathon.
If you have been to any Disney races, you may be aware that many of them feature a Race Retreat. This is an optional extra that runners can purchase, and space is limited. The Race Retreat is open to runners and Platinum level ChEAR Squad participants, and I must say, it offers quite a few perks!
First, a description: the Race Retreat is in essence a very large, climate-controlled tent. It is set up near the finish line, and it is open for both the Half-Marathon and the Full Marathon. This option is not provided for the Family 5K or the 10K. Within this space, there are several different areas, each providing comfort and convenience to the runners and spectators who have purchased access. You notice tables and chairs set up throughout the space, and as you may imagine, there is a nice spread of breakfast food available.
The retreat also features changing areas, gEAR bag check, and private port-a-potties – and if you’ve ever participated in any race, Disney or not, you know how important port-a-potty access can be!
The retreat opens at 3am for runners, stays open until 5am when the runners head to the corrals, and then re-opens at 5:30am for Platinum ChEAR Squad Members and runners. It stays open until 10am for the half-marathon, but of course, it’s ope later for the full. There are real-time updates on the runners available for spectators, as well as, you guessed it – food!
Speaking of food, you may be wondering what exactly is served. Before the race, runners can enjoy bagels, fruit, juice, coffee, water, and hot chocolate. There were mini-Cliff granola bars scattered on the tables, and muffins were also placed out about an hour after the retreat opened. And don’t worry – if you, like my mother, will only eat a toasted bagel, there are toasters available! There is also an assortment of jams, peanut butter, and cream cheese available as spread for your bagel.
Of course, you are running in Disney, so there is bound to be some Disney magic, right? Right! Each year, the Race Retreat features character meet-and-greets! This year, in honor of the release of Toy Story 4 this coming April, we got to meet Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and Bulls-Eye!
There were also some Green Army Men running around posing for pictures. One of them was particularly enamored with my husband’s fake Capt. Jack Sparrow dreds.
Fair warning: the line for the character greet can get long, so you may want to do this first thing when you arrive.
Another fabulous area is a relaxation center, which features a TV and bean bag chairs. You can view a Disney movie in comfort here, and it is a popular space for kids once the ChEAR Squad is permitted to enter. It was completely full by 3:30am…runners like bean bag chair too, apparently!
Of course, you are actually at the Race Retreat to run, so Disney has thought of many conveniences for race prep. I have already mentioned the private port-a-potties, which are located just outside the tent, but it is worth adding that there were no lines for this amenity. They also featured a hand wash station in addition to the hand sanitizer, which I personally appreciated.
One of the amenities inside the tent is a First-Aid Self-Treatment area. The table has an array of handy items, like band-aids, Bio-freeze, Tylenol, Vaseline, Skin Lube, and sunscreen.
So if your gEAR bag is missing some important item, there’s a good chance it is here at the self-treatment station.
In addition to the First-Aid station, there is a Stretch Area. You can see in the picture that there are small tables around the perimeter. That is because this area is also utilized after the race for massages; you can pay $10 for a 10-minute massage.
The stretch area got pretty full at around 4:30am, since that is prime time to check gEAR bags and prepare for the walk to the corrals.
Speaking of corrals, let’s talk about the walk to get there. The Race Retreat is a convenient distance from the finish line, which I definitely appreciated after 13.1 miles, but it is a solid 10-15 minute walk to get to the corrals. Since runners are supposed to be to the corrals by 5am, you need to plan accordingly to ensure you are on time (and to make sure you can use the non-private port-a-potties, if necessary).
By this time, it’s just about race time!
As I mentioned earlier, the Race Retreat is actually closed to all runners/spectators from 5-5:30am. It then re-opens with an additional spread of food. This spread is more substantial than the pre-race goodies. Scrambled eggs with cheese (and salsa or ketchup, if you like), breakfast potatoes, turkey sausage, oatmeal with accompaniments, muffins, mixed fruit, granola, and greek yogurt are all available.
Of course, there is also coffee a-plenty – thankfully! Juice, water, and hot chocolate are also available. The food is tasty, and the workers do a great job keeping it replenished. Speaking of the workers, they are fabulous! They are friendly, helpful, and just all-around good people.
It is worth noting that Race Retreat runners get a “goody-bag”. This year, it was a drawstring bag promoting the new Disney movie, “MacFarland U.S.A.”, Champion socks, and a marathon sweat towel.
So, is it worth it? In my opinion, it absolutely is! Particularly this year, with temperatures in the upper-30s, it was fabulous to be warm while waiting for the race to begin. In other races where I have not utilized the retreat, I remember how long it felt while waiting in the corrals. I can only imagine how long that felt this year with the cold! I also liked that I didn’t need to worry about remembering to buy my pre-race food the evening before. It was nice being able to eat at a leisurely pace, and I was able to time it nicely with my start time.
Without the Retreat, I sometimes feel like I am forced to eat earlier than I otherwise would prefer to. The food offerings were exactly what I like to have, and so it took the guesswork out of my morning preparations. My parents enjoyed the Retreat as ChEAR Squad Members, and they were grateful for a warm place to sit and watch the finish line.
I am so glad that I was able to take advantage of the Race Retreat this year, and honestly, I will always purchase it from here on in – especially since next year MAY just be my year to brave 26.2!
Jenn has been a lifelong Disney fan. Her passion for the Mouse has only increased throughout the years. She visits Disney Parks 2-3 times per year, often in conjunction with Disney Races. In addition to being a fan, she plans Disney travel for others, hoping to share the Magic with everyone. Through her Disney-themed blog & Facebook pages, she regularly tracks new and exciting changes to the Disney parks so she can share them with others. Check out Jenn’s blog DISining Memories and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!