If you add up the size of the four Walt Disney World theme parks, they come out to nearly 1000 acres. So it’s no wonder that with all that running around, people sometimes joke about it feeling like you’re running a marathon. However every year, for tens of thousands of people, it literally is running a marathon. The runDisney Walt Disney World marathon has been around for a while, but when did it begin, and where did it come from?
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Now the very first Walt Disney World Marathon took place in 1994, however Disney’s involvement in running actually began two years prior, in Indiana of all places. Every year in Indianapolis a special event is put on to celebrate the Indy 500 that is fittingly called the 500 Festival. It’s mainly comprised of a big parade, some smaller community events, and a series of running events. The most popular running event at the festival, to this day, is their “mini-marathon” which is one of the largest half marathons in the country.
In 1992 Disney chose to sponsor the entire festival as a promotional move to celebrate Walt Disney World’s 20th Anniversary, which had just occurred seven months earlier. With Disney footing the bill that year it was estimated that the usual $60,000 budget would balloon to as much as $300,000, and for the first time in its history, the festival would be nationally televised. As a part of it all, Indianapolis’ channel 8, WISH-TV, would have a TV crew sent to Walt Disney World for a full 20 days to cover the resort and the 20th anniversary celebration going on. In retrospect, that’s a whole lot of air time for Disney for what would ultimately amount to under half a million dollars.
In honor of the sponsorship the mini-marathon during the festival was renamed to the “Minnie Marathon”, complete with Disney branded t-shirts for the 10,000 participants, and costumed characters to greet the runners as they reached the finish line. It was just one part of the larger event, but it would be the first steps towards a future of similar ones.
In 1994 the concept of a Disney themed run would make its way to Orlando Florida. According to the race director, Jon Hughes, it wasn’t the first time the idea was proposed, saying “we approached Disney with the idea 10 years ago, but that was at a time when they were still expanding and building much of the resort area. It’s only in the last two years that we’ve finally been able to get the race off the ground.” That makes sense too. Ten years earlier was 1984, and that was a tumultuous year for Disney. In the time since they would add a third theme park, a number of resorts, and all around see a growth in attendance.