ORLANDO, Florida -- More than 100,000 racers and spectators are descending on Disney World for a big milestone. It's the 30th annual Walt Disney World Marathon weekend.
"I've never loved running and I came here and I just fell in love with it," she said of her experience doing Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. The journey started 10 years ago, when Hannah Brookes, of West Chester, Pa., was turning 21 years old.
"For my 21st birthday, my parents got me involved with runDisney," said Brookes who was a collegiate field hockey player at Widener University.
runDisney is one of the largest race organizers in the United States in terms of the number of runners with as many as 168,000 runners participating in Run Disney events each race season. That season includes five races. The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend is one of them.
"You're running down Main Street and you see the lights and castle," said Brookes of her experiences running in Magic Kingdom with stops along the way to take photos with characters and even ride the teacups.
She's now running her 10th Walt Disney World Marathon with her signature running wardrobe based on costumes of Disney characters. Among the four running outfits she brought this weekend: Daisy Duck.
"The spectators, you run by and they're like 'Go, Daisy! You're doing great, Daisy Duck!' and I'm like 'That's me, I'm Daisy!'" she said.
Brookes wore the Daisy Duck costume as she competed in the half-marathon Saturday morning. She does that race in addition to three others during Disney Marathon Weekend. It's what's known as the Dopey Challenge, in which participants run the 5K, 10K, half-marathon and full marathon all in the same weekend.
"(It adds up to) 48.6 magical miles," smiled Brookes.
Brookes is what they call a Dopey Perfect, completing the challenge for all 10 years that it's been around, and she's got the medals to prove it. But it's really about more than a medal.
"I'm so thankful to have a lot of family here. My mom and dad are here this year," she said.
Brookes is also inspired by the children she helps as a pediatric oncology nurse at Nemours Children's Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware.
"They inspire me. I tell them about our races," she said of the children. "I tell them about Disney World and I think how blessed am I to be able to be here?"
Brookes now has her own little inspiration and training partner: her son who is almost four months old. She ran up until the day she gave birth, but Brookes admits baby Nathan's birth was a cute little interruption to her training plan.
"I was on the treadmill rocking the stroller back and forth to try to get him to sleep," she recalled of her marathon training as a new mom.
Having already made his first trip to Disney World, Nathan is already watching his mom run those magical miles with many more to come.
"It's pretty cool that he gets to grow up watching me run," she said.
runDisney pegs itself as the perfect event for both new and experienced runners, with those doing their first full or half-marathon facing no required qualifying times. For more information on runDisney, including the newly-released 2023-24 race season schedule, click here: https://www.rundisney.com/