runDisney races are some of the most popular races around. They are well-organized (who knows more about managing crowds than Disney?), offer the chance to run inside the Disney parks, are very beginner-friendly, and make for a great destination run-cation.
But unlike other races, where training is the challenging part, runDisney events are so popular that they often sell out within hours -- or sooner -- of opening for registration. Add in an inaugural or "anniversary" event -- the 5th, 10th, 15th, and so on running of a race -- and it's even more frenzied. So here are some tips to prepare yourself so you can secure your coveted race bib for the 5th running of the Tinker Bell Half Marathon in 2016.
1. Know when your race is going on sale. Each race has a separate page at runDisney.com. They post the general registration date on there well in advance of the race opening up.
As you can see, you can even sign up for an email reminder and runDisney will send you a nudge. Even better … set yourself a reminder.
2. See if you qualify for early registration. Disneyland Annual Passholders, Walt Disney World Annual Passholders, and Disney Vacation Club members all were eligible to register for the Tinker Bell Half Marathon two weeks prior to the general registration date.
Even this early access doesn't guarantee you a spot; fewer than 10% of entries are available during early registration, and they go quickly. The Pixie Dust Challenge was "on hold" within 35 minutes of early registration opening up, and was later updated to "EARLY REGISTRATION IS SOLD OUT".
3. Block off your calendar. Okay, this might be a stretch for some people. I'm super lucky that I work for a running company, so I can pretty legitimately block myself out as "busy" on my calendar from 8:50 - 9:15 so I can sign up for a race.
This year, at 8:57, a colleague stopped by to ask me a question… and I could turn to him and say, "I can't talk to you right now, I need to register for the Tinker Bell Half Marathon when it goes on sale in 3 minutes and need to focus." He laughed, sure, but he also totally understood!
4. Decide which race you want to run. Yeah, this sounds like a no-brainer. But you have choices to make here. Do you want to run the 5K? The 10K? The half marathon? Or the Pixie Dust Challenge to run both the 10K and the half? You may also want to have a "Plan B" -- in case your first choice is sold out. For example, you really want to run the Pixie Dust Challenge… but that's sold out when you try to register. Are you willing to just run the half marathon instead? Or your first choice is the 5K… but it's sold out. Given how far before race day you are signing up, do you want to commit to running a longer distance instead? (Of course you do!)
5. Set up an account with Active.com. runDisney registrations are handled through Active.com. Save yourself time on registration day by setting up your account ahead of time, which will include your name, address, and other information. Each runner must register separately (more on that later), so be sure to set up accounts for each person and remember the passwords.
6. Gather your information. You'll have your address and other information set up with your Active account, but you'll need additional info, such as:
- shirt size - you will be able to choose a men's or women's shirt. The men's shirts range in size from S - XXL; the women's range in size from XS - XXL. I'd say the shirts are pretty generously sized by running tech shirt standards. FWIW, I wear my husband's men's M comfortably, but I usually order a women's XL -- at least for the long-sleeve shirts -- because I end up layering it over other tops and like it to be baggy.
- emergency contact information - you will need to provide the name and phone number of an emergency contact should anything bad happy to you on race day. Since I no longer remember ANYONE'S phone number (other than the numbers of my childhood friends, which are indelibly inked in my memory), I make a point of writing my mom's phone number down and having it in front of me on registration day so I don't have to be fumbling with the contacts on my phone.
- your rough finishing time - whether you expect to finish in under 3 hours 15 minutes, in 3 hours 15 minutes, in 3 hours 20 minutes, in 3 hours 25 minutes, or in 3 hours 30 minutes. If you do expect to finish in under 3 hours 15 minutes, you will have to acknowledge that you are willing to come back at a later date to submit your proof of time… and that failing to do so will result in your being placed in the last corral.
- commemorative items - there are lots of different things you can add to your registration, from pins (now conveniently available in a bundle), to a necklace, to a "performance jacket". It's super easy just to choose the number you'd like and include it … but you can also COME BACK LATER to buy them separately. Don't waste time trying to decide if you should order the "merchandise pack" with the "wide headband, narrow sports band, magnet, and bag tags" -- especially since I have NO IDEA what a "narrow sports band" might be...
7. Be at your computer ready to go 5-10 minutes before 12pm ET. Being in Seattle, I get myself settled in at 8:50am. Let's be honest… I'm already there nervously checking that I'm ready to go at 8:45. Note that I said be at your computer -- the Active.com site is actually really mobile friendly, but I'd still rather trust my keyboard for fast typing. I open a browser with two tabs -- one for rundisney.com, and the other for active.com. I also sign in to active.com in advance, just because. A lot of people also like to have Facebook open to one of the runDisney groups -- on registration morning, if people are struggling, there are usually folks who can help out with direct links to the event page, etc.
Also have your credit card ready to go -- now isn't the time to be fumbling for your wallet. I'm not ashamed to admit that I actually type the number onto a Word doc so that I can just cut and paste when it's time to pay.
8. Coordinate registrations. If you're running with friends, encourage each of them to be ready to go and do their own registration. It's every runner for herself, frankly. Just like on a plane, put your oxygen mask on / get yourself registered first before assisting others. It's worth having / knowing "plan B" for anyone else you might be registering, too -- does your running buddy only want to run the 10K? Or would she consider running the half marathon instead?
If you, like me, do the registration for your family, you can still be successful. For both Princess and Tinker Bell, actually used two separate browsers -- Chrome for Wil, Firefox for me -- so I could do both at the same time. I signed Wil in to his Active account and everything. I would complete page one for me, submit, then switch to complete page one for Wil, submit, and then back to mine to submit my payment info, etc. There is obviously a lot of room for error here… but it worked out okay for us.
9. Have a strategy. Historically, "challenges" sell out first. Who doesn't want to earn extra bling? So that should be your first priority if you're interested in the Pixie Dust Challenge. Next to go is usually the Never Land 5K. It's the most beginner-friendly distance, easily achievable for anyone. Then the Tinker Bell 10K -- you get a proper medal (not a rubber one -- though those 5K medals are super cute!), and the race is on a Saturday rather than the Friday. For whatever reason, the Tinker Bell Half Marathon was much slower to sell out last year. Possibly because there are now so many half marathons at Disneyland, or possibly because the date shifted to Mother's Day. But this year is an anniversary year, so maybe it'll go faster this year?
Note: I've never followed the kids races -- but it seems like they sell out quickly too.
10. Refresh, but sparingly. Many, many runners will all be trying to access the registration links at the same time. Most runDisney races now use a "queue" system to help keep the Active servers from crashing. Once you are in the queue, don't refresh your browser… and don't walk away from your computer. I've heard cautionary tales of people who stepped away for just a few minutes and ended up missing their spot.
Stay calm. You'll be told when it's your turn. You'll be fine.
11. You can always go back for swag. As I mentioned above, you can add pins, necklaces, and the jacket to your registration… but you can also go back later on to order them separately. Don't wait too long if you're interested in the jacket -- that's the first item to sell out, both in registration and at the expo. BTW, a girlfriend pre-ordered the jacket from last year's Tinker Bell, picked it up at the Expo, didn't like the fit, and was able to return it. That doesn't seem to be official policy -- the site states there are no refunds on commemorative items -- but it's good to know that it might be an option if you aren't "feeling the magic".
Runners take your marks -- registration for the 2016 Tinker Bell Half Marathon opens on Tuesday, August 11, 2015 at noon ET.
Got other tips? Share 'em in the comments below!