Zany, Wild, (Sometimes Impractical) Events Are Helping Amateur Athletes Feel Like Pros

These events capture the magic formula to get people to run

Two runners as Kevin and Russell from Disney-Pixar Up during the Disneyland Half Marathon 2012. (Photo via Flickr)

It’s 3 a.m. when I lace up my sneakers and take my place in the corral. I’m listening to upbeat pop music and can’t stand still, bobbing up and down from a mix of the chill in the air and pre-race jitters. I can’t shake the feeling I’ve forgotten something important, then it dawns on me: I left my Mickey ears back at the hotel.


I’m about to run the most magical race on earth, the Disney Half Marathon.

Welcome to one of the nine race weekends that runDisney hosts throughout the year. The home of the world’s most famous mouse offers a 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, or—for the gung-ho folks—a challenge combining all of them. Each weekend has a different theme (i.e., princess, Star Wars, Avengers) and spans locations from Florida to Disney’s private Bahamian island, Castaway Cay.

What began in 1994 as one race has turned into something much bigger, as runners, experienced and first-timers alike, embrace the opportunity to experience a twist on the standard race—one that is welcoming to all.

“I loved running through Epcot all lit up early in the morning,” said Sam Bertschmann, a first-time 5k racer from Boston. “Much more fun than the treadmill.”

The race atmosphere actively quells the fear that comes with facing the fact that you have to run 13.1 (or 26.2) miles and replaces it with a sense of fun. Indeed, turning the corner onto Main Street USA and seeing Cinderella’s castle completely illuminated would give any runner the encouragement to keep going.

Runners like Bertschmann benefit from the positive atmosphere built by runners and spectators alike (and how can you not be with Snow White cheering you on?).

“The cast and characters throughout the parks were so supportive and made you forget about the running,” says Steven McGunigel, who completed his first half marathon in the Paris Half Marathon in September. “Running through the castle was amazing.”

The Disney appeal (the costumes, the characters, the show) draws novice runners—who otherwise might not have competed—to the events. And Disney isn’t the only organization to add flair to running in hopes of increasing its appeal. The mud runs, color runs, and other wacky-themed events; the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon with its live bands, block parties and on-course cheer squads (the most recent of which was last weekend in Savannah, Georgia—they all add spectacle and encouragement for would-be runners, serious or not, to lace up.

“I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as a runner,” says Morgan Rublee, a Maine 20-something.

But when the Color Run came to Bangor, she had to sign up. “I knew I had to do it. I mean, who can resist all that color?” she said. Since there was something special about the run, it didn’t feel like, well, running. “Looking forward to a new color at each checkpoint made the run painless.”

It wasn’t just the theme that appealed to her. “The race was more of a bonding moment for me—I was new to my job and knew that a couple of my coworkers liked running, so I invited them to join.”

Says Megan Cuddy, a couch-to-5k runner, “My first 5k was a Color Run. (Themed runs) add something to it.”

The elements of community and camaraderie that these events provide appeal to athletes and non-athletes alike. Mud runs like Muckfest or Mudathlon’s challenging obstacle course races are rife with such examples.

While it may seem intimidating at first, these kind of races bring out the best in everyone. “I never considered myself to be much of an athlete. Doing something so physically demanding seemed ludicrous,” says Michael Stefano, a self-described “weekend warrior,” who has completed over 50 different mud runs since 2012. “(But) I love that it gets you out of your comfort zone.”

Obstacle course races filled with barbed wire, electric shocks, and strenuous wall and rope climbs don’t appeal to many. But the community keeps people coming back. “(Even while) physically dealing with walls (4 feet to 10 feet high), barbed wire, and pits of mud,” Michael says. “(The races) have the most incredible camaraderie. … There are people you can count on.”

[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]While it may seem intimidating at first, these kind of races bring out the best in everyone.[/quote]

Same goes for Tough Mudder.

“A wall or a net that’s difficult to get over, other teams will stay and help,” Gwen Holtan told TimeOut Chicago. “Just a lot of camaraderie, helping each other out, encouraging people. It was inspiring.”

Like Tough Mudder, Disney is still drawing huge athletic crowds. Last year, approximately 20,000 runners competed in the Wine & Dine event (which ran its 2016 edition this past weekend), according to Tina Trybus, manager of marketing and sales strategy at Walt Disney World Resort. January’s Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend drew 50,000 runners, including nearly 27,000 for the marathon alone.

“These races provide guests with new ways to experience Disney while on their vacation,” Trybus tells GOOD, “or to book a vacation in order to experience something unique.”

Across the industry, the interest in these events has skyrocketed. A 2013 Running USA study showed participation in “non-traditional running events” rose from low six figures in 2009 to 4 million in 2013. Further, approximately 60 percent of Color Run participants hadn’t previously run a 5k.

Though the mass expansion of these events has led some to fail, industry leaders like Tough Mudder continue to grow—boasting $100 million in annual revenue and more than 2 million participants—thanks to their broad appeal.

“The reality is, the reason why people keep coming back is because it is fun,” Will Dean, the founder and CEO of Tough Mudder, told CNN. “And at the end of the day, you feel really proud of yourself.”

The outreach to less experienced runners does have a potential downside, as significant percentages of participants fail to complete races at the standard pace—and it’s entirely possible that themed races are the only athletic events in which some people may compete. Further, with the growth of the event and the increased pageantry around it, there are more and more merchandising opportunities that Disney executes (not to mention greater entry fees to the events). Some may be critical of this expected result of Disney’s efforts, which attempt to reach a wider audience.

Still, the encouragement given to any and all competitors remains part of the draw for many.

“I love running in Disney because of the community feeling there,” says Amanda Glendinning, a nine-time marathoner. “People are accepted no matter what pace they run (or walk) or where they come from.”

Case in point: Experienced runner Josh Kogan was running with many first-time racers and was able to enjoy “the casual vibe from the participants,” he says. “I wasn’t planning to take it very seriously, so it was all about fun from the start. … Running through the castle as the sun was rising was pretty magical.”

The finish line comes as relief for many, but this one is uniquely festive and fun, full of characters (high-fives with Donald and Mickey), runners and princes alike, to celebrate with you. One thing’s for sure: Competing this way is certainly memorable.

Says Glendinning, “I would definitely run Disney again.”

Just don’t forget the Mickey ears.

Sports
via Smithfly.com

"Seventy percent of the Earth is covered with water, now you camp on it!" proudly declares Smithfly on the website for its new camping boat — the Shoal Tent.

Why have we waited so long for camping equipment that actually lets us sleep on the water? Because it's an awful idea, that's why.

"The world is your waterbed," Smithfly says on its site. But the big difference is that no one has ever had to worry about falling asleep and then drowning on their waterbed.

RELATED: A ridiculous dad transformed Billie Eilish's 'Bad Guy' into a 3-minute long musical dad joke

While it is possible that one could wade into the water, unzip the tent, have a pleasant slumber, and wake up in the morning feeling safe and refreshed, there are countless things that could go terribly wrong.

The tent could float down the river and you wake up in the middle of nowhere.

You could have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

This guy.

It could spring a leak and you could drown while wrapped up in eight feet of heavy nylon.

A strong current could tip the tent-boat over.

There isn't any way to steer the darn thing.

This guy.

Mashable shared a charming video of the tent on Twitter and it was greeted with a chorus of people sharing the many ways one could die while staying the night in the Shoal Tent.

Oh yeah, it's expensive, too.

Even though the general public seems to think the Shoal Tent is a terrible idea, according to the Smithfly's website, it's currently sold out due to "popular demand" and it will be "available in 6-8 weeks." Oh, and did we mention it costs $1,999?

Lifestyle
via zoezimmm / Imgur

There are few more perniciously dangerous conspiracy theories being shared online than the idea that vaccines cause autism.

This has led to a decline in Americans vaccinating their children, resulting in a massive increase in measles. This year has already seen over 1,200 cases of measles, a disease that was eradicated in the U.S. nearly 20 years ago.

A 2015 Pew Research study found that 83% of Americans think the measles vaccine is safe, while 9% think it's not. Another 7% are not sure. But when you look at the polls that include parents of minors, the numbers get worse, 13% believe that the measles vaccine is unsafe.

There is zero truth to the idea that vaccines cause autism. In fact, a recent study of over 650,000 children found there was no link whatsoever.

RELATED: A new study of over 650,000 children finds — once again — that vaccines don't cause autism

A great example of the lack of critical thinking shown by anti-vaxxers was a recent exchange on Facebook shared to Imgur by zoezimmm.

A parent named Kenleigh at a school in New Mexico shared a photo of a sign at reads: "Children will not be enrolled unless an immunization record is presented and immunizations are up-to-date."

This angered a Facebook user who went on a senseless tirade against vaccinations.

"That's fine, I'll just homeschool my kids," she wrote. At least they won't have to worry about getting shot up in school or being bullied, or being beat up / raped by the teachers!"

To defend her anti-vaccination argument, she used a factually incorrect claim that Amish people don't vaccinate their children. She also incorrectly claimed that the MMR vaccine is ineffective and used anecdotal evidence from her and her father to claim that vaccinations are unnecessary.

She also argued that "every human in the world is entitled to their own opinion." Which is true, but doesn't mean that wildly incorrect assumptions about health should be tolerated.

She concluded her argument with a point that proves she doesn't care about facts: "It doesn't matter what you say is not going to change my mind."

RELATED: 12 medical professionals shared their most memorable anti-vaxxer stories and you won't stop face-palming

While the anti-vaxxer was incorrect in her points, it must also be pointed out that some of the people who argued with her on Facebook were rude. That should never be tolerated in this type of discourse, but unfortunately, that's the world of social media.

Here's the entire exchange:

via zoezimmm / imgur


via zoezimmm / imgur


via zoezimmm / imgur


via zoezimmm / imgur


via zoezimmm / imgur


via zoezimmm / imgur


via zoezimmm / imgur


via zoezimmm / imgur


via zoezimmm / imgur


via zoezimmm / imgur

The post received a ton of responses on imgur. Here are just a few:

"'In my opinion...' 'I believe...' That's not how facts work."

"You're entitled to your opinion. And everyone else is entitled to call you a dumbass."

"'What I do with my children is no concern to you at all.' Most of the time, true. When your kid might give mine polio, not true."

"If my child can't bring peanut butter, your child shouldn't bring preventable diseases."

It's important to call out people who spread dangerous views, especially how they pertain to health, on social media. But people should do so with respect and civility.

Health

He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
via Imgur

Every few years there's something that goes mega viral because people can't decide what it is.

There was the famous "is it blue and black, or white and gold" dress?

There was the audio recording that said either "yanny" or "Laurel."

Keep Reading Show less
Viral


Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape www.youtube.com

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

Keep Reading Show less
popular