Written by: Erika Stubbs, Middle of the Magic Travel

The Dopey Challenge, the ultimate RunDisney event…48.6 miles over 4 days. Why would anyone do
this? To explain my WHY, and tell you about my training journey, let me take you back to the beginning. In 2017 RunDisney ignited my love for Disney, on a whole new level.

I had always loved taking trips to Walt Disney World, but in 2017, I decided I wanted to experience what runDisney had to offer, and I signed up for the 2018 Marathon Weekend, to run a Half Marathon.

As a lifelong competitive swimmer, this challenge was completely unique to me. I had no desire to ever willingly run a mile in my life. As many triathletes would tell you, you either enjoy swimming or running, but usually not both. When you train for either of these sports, it requires a completely different way of breathing. I spent 9 months truly learning to run, and truly learning how to breathe properly. As a swimmer, we hold our breath, and that’s most definitely not something you want to do when you run. I learned how to train in the brutal, but beautiful, sun in coastal South Carolina.

In January of 2018 I reached that goal and completed my first half marathon at Walt Disney World. I trained alongside my little sister, Laura, pushing through each mile together. The finish line feeling, after 9 months of training, was truly incredible and I knew immediately that I was hooked.

My babies were 3 and 6 at the time, and even participated in the Kid’s Races that used to take place at ESPN World Wide of Sports.
Our family truly became a runDIsney family, after January of 2018.

After the half marathon in 2018 I got pregnant with our third child and took a year off of running.

In 2019, I signed up for the Princess Fairy Tale Challenge in February of 2020. This experience was truly incredibly and kept me literally chasing that runDisney feeling of running through the parks after a year of training.
As I continued to progress towards my goal of participating in each of RunDisney’s themed weekends, my next race, after a hiatus from racing due to the pandemic was the 2021 Wine and Dine Race. This race was extremely unique, and I raced in the 10K. This race was very wet and cold, but as always, the runDisney energy was incredible and it was a great race.

I had never been so happy to see a finish line, though! Ha!

During our 2021 Wine and Dine trip, our family was struck by tragedy when my mother-in-law had a seizure, during our Disney trip, and was eventually diagnosed with High Grade Glioblastoma, brain cancer. As a RunDisney veteran herself, my beautiful mother-in-law left behind an incredible legacy. She led an extremely active lifestyle as a Nurse Educator, and was a very busy Grandma of five. She had participated in many races, such as the Disney Princess Half in 2012, and the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C.
As she embraced the challenge of her brain cancer fight, Walt Disney World released information about the 2023 Marathon Weekend. I decided that I was going to run for her, as intensely as she was battling for her life, and take on the ultimate running challenge, the Dopey Challenge. I would imagine that each runner that takes on this challenge has their own reason for participating in something so extreme. For me, each step of training, and each upcoming race is fueled by the desire to live our lives while we can like my mother-in-law Rhonda always did. She fought her battle so courageously until November 2, 2022.

Knowing my WHY, I entered the Virtual Queue in April of 2022 hoping to secure my race registration. After 4 hours I had secured my bib and began my training. Jeff Galloway, an American Olympian and runDisney trainer, has an incredible plan on the RunDisney website. Jeff Galloway’s plan is 29 weeks but I knew I needed to get myself back into running shape after a break from December-February. I “trained to train” and trained to run 6 miles comfortably before beginning the challenge plan. I began running again before registration even began.

With a group of crazy friends by side: Laura Bowman (my sister), Stephanie Harper, Suzey Cheney, and Monica Selinsky, all from Charleston, SC, took on the challenge together and began this journey.

After choosing your training plan, the next step is to visit a local running store and get properly fitted for shoes, based on what you need. I have always gone to Fleet Feet, to get the best options for me.

We took the Jeff Galloway plan and turned it into an Excel spreadsheet that was coordinated with the proper dates and our extra training miles/dates, so we could have it on our phone as well as printed copy to put on our fridge. We checked off each run each week for accountability. We added in cross training 3 days a week and took Sundays off to rest. Once we began double and triple runs, later in the program, we were exercising both days of the weekend.

Training in coastal South Carolina throughout the summer was extremely challenging but my friends and I pushed each other to reach our goals and complete each and every training run.

We worked our calendar around work, our children’s activities, and life in general. It was not easy at all but the key to training is consistency. There are SO many runs that I did not want to walk out of the door for but you only regret the workout you didn’t do and never the ones where you gave it all you had. It may not always be perfect. The amount of literal blood (from tripping and falling), sweat (self- explanatory) and tears (this journey is unbelievably emotional) shed could never be counted. We had toremind ourselves about our WHY countless times to keep our minds in check.

We trained at 5 A.M. to beat the heat, to make a child’s game, or at 8 P.M. after a day of crazy. Either way, we didn’t miss our miles and made it happen. In South Carolina 5 A.M. runs are a necessity to beat the sun.

In terms of gear and safety during our runs we used the following:
-Camelback Hydration Pack (WATER is EVERYTHING!)
-Honey Stinger Chews and Waffles -Pepper Spray for extra safety -Running Safety Belts with Lights

For recovery I used by Addaday massager for my legs and feet. During the course of this trainining, I have personally developed plantar fasicitis. When I say that this journey has not been easy, it has truly not. To help with the stretching of my calves and to work through it I do the following:

-Stretching (all day, every day) specific to my calves and plantar fascia
-Iburofen and Tylenol after races
-Atlethic Tape such as KT or Sparthos Tape
-Cross Training that inculdes swimming for strength off of my feet
-Using an Elitpical to get off the pavement for a week or two at a local gym. For me, there is no place better than a local YMCA for support.
The family and community a YMCA provides is incredible as you work towards your goal.
-I also saw a physician, who suggested ice and stretching for the pain. My flare ups come with longer runs, but this is a journey I intend to finish, God willing.

The last and most fun part of Dopey training is picking out your outfits, and finding the sunshine when the training gets truly hard and difficult. Find an outift that fits your personality and means something to you and truly RUN with it! We have to find the joy anywhere we can.
When this blog is published, Marathon Weekend will be actively going on at Walt Disney World, and I will be in the thick of the Dopey races! I would love to share more after the races, but I loved sharing my WHY with you. If you want to try and tackle the Dopey Challenge, I hope this training blog helped share a little about the epxerience. The best advice I can share is find your WHY. As I shared with you, I am Racing for Rhonda. Let’s move our bodies and stay active while we can!

The other key piece of advice, that has gotten me through training, is to ensure you have support at home, as well as on the road (your running crew). Without my husband, who loves Disney as much as me, even if he doesn’t shout it from the rooftops, there is no way I would be able to train. With 3 little kids and full time jobs, training was no easy task. I am so thankful for my husband.
Thank you for allowing me to share my run Disney and Dopey Training story with you! If you are getting ready to take on your first mile, or racing in Dopey along side me, good luck on your journey ahead!

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