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There are several activities taking place during the pre-race area. The biggest activity is the race retreat (half and full marathons only). This is an optional hard-ticketed event that starts at 3 a.m. and sells out nearly as quickly as the races themselves. The race retreat offers runners some useful pre-race benefits, most importantly a heated environment so runners don't have to stand out in the cold morning air (and those pre-dawn mornings can get quite chilly in early January). Other features of the race retreat include bagels, fruit, coffee and sports drinks, private restrooms, padded stretching area, Disney character meet and greets and a separate first aid station.
The race retreat can by a bit pricey. For the 2015 marathon weekend, the cost is $120 for each race (or $225 for Goofy or Dopey runners). It is a very popular option and can be a bit crowded. After each event the race retreat offers brunch and internet access to check results.
The race retreat isn't the only thing going on at the pre-race area - there are DJ's playing music and lots and lots of groups all meeting up before the race. The major difference here is the weather - you're out in it. If it's especially cold and/or raining (or snowing - it's happened!) then it can be an uncomfortable and unpleasant wait until the time comes to walk to the corrals.
This is where you need to do some planning. Do you think the race retreat will be worth it? Will having some food and a warm tent be worth the price? Are you willing to run the risk with the weather? These are all questions you need to consider as you're planning your pre-race. Also, if you are going to skip the race retreat and wait outside, do you need to bring extra clothing or blankets to stay warm while you wait (knowing that you'll have to do something with them once the race starts - either get rid of them or hand off to a waiting spectator down the road). Again, this is where runners have to do some planning in order to be prepared.
What do I do? I personally don't go to the race retreats. Instead, I join the WDW Radio Running Team as we meet up before each race. Depending on the weather conditions and temperature, I'll bring an extra old or cheap sweatshirt and sweatpants to wear until just before the start of the race. I'll then toss those to the side once I start running. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll talk more about how the corrals work in a future post.
Next time - I'll discuss the walk and a very important potty break!