Word started to spread via Twitter today that there were (next to) no characters on the Never Land 5K course at Disneyland this morning.
This is, in my (Ken's) opinion, a legitimate gripe from those who ran the race. I wanted to give some commentary about running and RunDisney. My point is, simply, that the runners in this morning's race have a legitimate complaint that RunDisney should address. I'll list some counterpoints (against my main point) and points (in favor of my main point), and discuss them. Feel free to sound off in the comments if I missed anything.
Counterpoint: This is about a 5K, and all the essential features of a 5K run were there.
This is sort of the "real runners don't #rundisney" or "real runners don't stop for pictures" nonsense. Frankly, this attitude doesn't belong in the running community. I'm truly sorry for Boston qualifiers who have seen the overall quality of their sport drop. They have a legitimate gripe. But everyone else should shut their traps. Nothing is more worthy of an eye roll than someone who runs a 20-minute 5K putting down someone who runs a 30-minute 5K.
People run for different reasons, some prefer "fun runs" and that doesn't make them any less of a runner than you. People are clearly paying for a specific experience when they sign up for a RunDisney race, and they're entitled to judge it thusly. Which brings us to...
Point: RunDisney Lied to It's Customers (Runners)
RunDisney promotional materials clearly indicate "Disney Characters…on-course."
Regardless of whatever you think about RunDisney as a concept, the merits of having characters on course, or whether people are wasting their money, the simple fact is that RunDisney is selling a product, and they lied to consumers about what that product entailed. It's hard to argue anyone thought this was an "incidental" offering (like if they offered Gatorade but only provided Powerade), as it is listed as the second feature of the race, below only the course going through Disneyland.
Counterpoint: There was one character on course
I don't really know how to respond to this counterpoint that's been floating around, but Captain Hook was apparently on the 5K course. He was not supported by any photograph staff, however. I'm not going to waste more space responding to this.
Counterpoint: The experience of going through Disneyland is magical enough!
This is the idea that characters are somewhat incidental to what you're really paying for, which is the chance to run through Disneyland.
I have to disclaim here that I've never done a Disneyland RunDisney event. I've done two Dopey Challenges at Walt Disney World, however, and I can tell you that the 5K and 10K courses on those races are absolutely atrocious. They go through Epcot, which is magical, but they also spend significant amounts of time on back roads and highways. I'm happy if commenters want to clarify that the Disneyland courses truly are magical and worth a premium, but if this happened at a Walt Disney World race, it would be way unacceptable.
Counterpoint: There are two more races.
Fingers are crossed that characters will appear at the 10K or 1/2 marathon.
Point: Not for everyone!
Plenty of people only do the 5K, and they train for months for that opportunity and experience.
Counterpoint: It's not fair that people get swept waiting in line for characters.
This was apparently the crux of the issue. The best rumors that have been floating around claim RunDisney eliminated the characters because people often complain about getting swept due to long waits for characters. As an initial matter, this tweet captures how much nonsense this solution is:
Honestly, this is a legitimate problem with RunDisney events. We're pretty fast runners, so we've never had this problem, but we've stood in long lines that only got longer as the back corrals caught up. If you're not familiar, not only do slower runners take longer on the runs (and thus have less time to wait in line to begin with) but they start later. You might reasonably think you should start the slower runners first so everyone finishes at the same time, but this is a HUGE safety hazard.
Point: There are better solutions!
There are a few solutions to this that are better than eliminating characters altogether. The most obvious is to have more characters. When we ran the 10K in January, lots of people stopped for Darkwing Duck. We didn't. We knew we'd have to apportion our time, and we chose to use it elsewhere. You could even just give people a limit - 4 character stops and they're done!
A better solution would be to implement a more sophisticated scheme. For example, your first two character stops are X and Y. X is not out for the first hour of the race. At some point, the line for Y is cut off, and A is inserted (slightly earlier on the course). People who don't get to see X get to see Y, and vice versa. This is a crude example I came up with off the cuff, but some scheme like this should help.
An option I like less is to have character stops as some sort of up-charge. Either some or all characters could be on this. Or some number of photos.
To be clear, I don't LOVE these options, but it's hard to say they're worse than having no character stops at all.
So What Should Disney Do?
This is tougher to decide. RunDisney gave refunds for the cancelled half marathon in January, which by the terms of most races, including that one, they are not required to do. Is a failure to provide characters a refund-worthy event? I don't really think so. I think something along the lines of a 20% discount on park tickets or future race registration is appropriate.
Most importantly, though, RunDisney needs to apologize. I've been most disheartened to not see them even acknowledge that this product was beneath their standards. Speak up, show that you understand your customers' complaints, and make it right!