Disney World has so many different entertainment options that it’s hard to imagine anyone couldn’t find something that interests them: thrill rides, calm rides, shows, dining, shopping, horseback riding, boating, archery, scuba diving, camping, fishing, gaming, spas, dancing, golfing, swimming, bowling, movies, behind the scenes tours, animal encounters, biking, photography, good old people watching, and so much more. With all those incredible options available to us, I find it hard to believe that one of the ones I’ve been most excited about lately is exercising!

My wife and I have some fairly significant medical diagnoses. Thankfully, it hasn’t effected our day-to-day lives in major ways. Daily medication and regular doctor appointments are our norm now, but for the most part we’ve been pretty lucky. About nine years ago after my problem was discovered I was told I should try to get at least 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise. And I’ve done a fairly good job of doing that. My wife was diagnosed about five years ago. She was also told being active would be helpful. However, she’s struggled with that goal. As a stay-at-home dad, it’s been easy for me to get in daily workouts. She has a demanding job that gives her no time before work to squeeze in exercise, and by the time she gets home, has dinner, and does some last-minute work to prepare for the next day, she has little time left for herself.

In late December, as 2018 was coming to a close and my mind turned to New Year’s resolutions, I decided to get more serious about exercising. Thirty minutes is the minimum I need each day, not a limit! While I’m much healthier than I was nine years ago, I definitely could be doing better. And now I have some incredible motivation: moving to Disney. I want to be as healthy as I can be so I don’t end up getting tired just walking from the monorail to Main Street!

As I started 2019 with this new mindset, some of the Disney bloggers I follow were preparing for an event I’d basically always ignored — the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. I’d run some in middle school and high school, but have avoided it almost completely since then! But reading about and watching their excitement, seeing how great an event Disney was putting together, coveting those amazing medals participants receive, and with my own renewed desire to get fit using Disney as a motivator… I was extremely intrigued.

Check out some of them yourself: Sarah and Peter Brookhart’s The Brookhart Project posted videos all week about Peter’s first runDisney event (expo, 5K, 10K, chat, half-marathon, marathon, recap). Lisa Dinoto Glassner’s The Castle Run had a couple of great pieces (including her tips for a successful race). She also documented her experience via her always fun Instagram account. What was extremely exciting about both Peter and Lisa is we were all in the same boat at one point — they’re just farther along their journey than me. Both recently moved away from family to be closer to Disney World, and both have written about not being big runners before either (Lisa here and Peter here).

I shared some of the stories and videos with my wife and eventually admitted I was interested in trying to run one of the events. To my surprise, my wife wanted in too! She has never really run, so with her condition and my not having run in years we decided to start with walking then add in running once we’re ready. I’ve been walking a mile twice a week for years. I upped that to four to five times a week, but now with my wife at my side. It’s much more fun to do with a partner! Plus you get the motivation of not wanting to let the other person down.

Very quickly we discovered Disney’s virtual runs. You just sign up, do the distance on your own wherever you want (your neigbhborhood, a track, a treadmill, etc…) taking however long you need, and you earn a medal. Nothing cheap either, these medals are just as nice as the ones runners receive in the races at the parks. They had a Star Wars themed virtual half marathon scheduled through the end of March and a series of three Marvel themed 5K virtual events scheduled starting in June. We quickly ruled out doing 13.1 miles on such short notice and set our sights on the summer runs.

We decided to head out every Saturday to walk a 5K. On our first outing we were pretty worn out by the end of it but otherwise had no problems. We were psyched! The following Saturday we were hit with a rainstorm. But we were so excited to keep at it we just pulled out our Disney ponchos and hit the trail anyway! It was miserable and I don’t think we’ll do that again, but we made it!

Around this time we started looking for local events we could join in and found a charity 5K walk that benefited those with my wife’s disease scheduled for the end of April. We jumped at the opportunity. There’s a fundraising aspect to this walk so to ensure we didn’t accidentally injure ourselves before we could participate, we decided to continue just walking during our training (working on our stamina) until this event was completed. Afterwards we’d be ready to start adding a running component to our workouts.

So with our first big local event two months away, we continued walking a mile most weekdays and a 5K every weekend. After every 5K we felt less tired and saw our average mile times getting better. That’s when I sprang a suggestion on my wife. It was mid-March and we were getting ready for our first research trip to Orlando. We were going to arrive on a Saturday night, spend three full days in the area, then leave the next morning. What if we were to walk a little more than a 5K each of the four mornings we were in town? We had never done a 3.1 mile walk on back to back days to this point. But if we were to walk about 3.3 miles every morning for four days we’d reach a total of 13.1 miles — a virtual half marathon. We could earn our first runDisney medal and do it on Disney property rather than at home! She didn’t balk, and we signed up!

Fortuitously, the hotel we had reserved was almost exactly a 1.65 mile walk to Disney Springs — meaning we could reach our goal simply by stepping out the door of our room, walking to the bridge over Buena Vista Drive that connects to the Marketplace, and walking back again. Best of all, over half of our trail was on Disney’s beautiful well manicured grounds. So on our first morning in town we opened the door and discovered… it was kinda cold! The sun was completely hidden by clouds and the temperature was in the low 60s. OK, not cold, but not the weather we were hoping for during this trip. I took us a slightly different way out of the hotel thinking it would avoid some traffic. However it ended up adding half a mile to our walk so we stuck to the original route next time! As we reached the part of the walk that transitions to Disney property we were pleasantly surprised to see the iconic “Welcome to Disney World” sign greeting us. I didn’t know they had one of these at the Disney Springs side of town.

The difference between walking on the city-owned sidewalks and the Disney owned one was striking: perfectly paved pathways, meticulously taken care of lawns, flawless fixtures and signage. Is there any wonder we want to live closer to all this! We reached the entrance to Disney Springs, turned around, and headed back to the hotel. The first leg of our four-part virtual half-marathon complete! We’d been walking a 5K once per week for over a month now. And we’d been doing it in much more hilly Tennessee! So we easily got through this one on flatter terrain.

The next morning we got up and did it again. I’m not going to lie — I was a little sore afterwards! We usually had a week between these longer walks. And on top of the exercise we were also running around town doing our research and making time to shop, eat, and have fun. But mentally, I felt really good. It’s a weird counterintuitive fact, but I always seem to feel better after working out, even if my body is aching! Being in Disney World’s home town, doing the work that will eventually see us moving here, and making time to take care of myself? It was an amazing feeling.

Before the trip I had scouted out several places we could get in 3.3 miles in case we wanted to mix things up. So on our third day, we headed to Disney’s BoardWalk Inn. Walking around Crescent Lake twice, with pitstops to Epcot’s International Gateway (where we got a peek at the new Skyliner station!) and the Swan and the Dolphin resorts, got us our required distance. Three walks down, one to go!

On the morning we were slated to head out we packed our bags, loaded up the car, checked out of the hotel, and headed to Disney Springs one last time. It was an hour before they opened, but we weren’t there to shop. We were one walk away from earning our first runDisney medal! For the first time all week, the sun was shining on us. We started from the fountain near the Coca-Cola Store, walked east through the Marketplace, then crossed the bridge into Saratoga Springs. We’d never visited this resort before, but had seen it many times across the lake. I hadn’t been able to measure out an exact route here before coming because the pathways weren’t as obvious on Google Maps. So we were mostly winging it. It’s a beautiful, spread-out resort, so we had no trouble enjoying ourselves and finding an appropriate turn-around spot. Less than an hour after we arrived we were back at the fountain.

In a two month span we’d gone from rarely exercising on my wife’s part and doing the minimal amount of exercise needed on my part, to walking four 5Ks in as many days! A few days ago we finished that charity 5K — along with several of our family members who joined us. My wife ended up among the top ten fundraisers at our local walk. And this Saturday, we’re ready to start actually running.

We have medical problems, but we don’t want our issues to be an excuse to loaf. We’re not lazy slobs sitting on our couch, eating junk food, and watching tv all day. But we’ve not taken care of ourselves as well as we could. And we could have been doing more for a long time.

The dream isn’t just to move to Disney. The dream is to move to Disney so we can actively enjoy all the area has to offer. Looking at how we’ve been living compared to how we imagine we’re going to be living when we move has been an eye-opener. Continuing to be homebodies is not what we want to do in Florida, and with that thought firmly in our minds, it’s not what we want to do here in Tennessee anymore either.

The runDisney events are great. Those medals we earned are very cool! I love that they organize these and I’m so looking forward to doing them for a long time to come. In fact, we’re already planning research trip #2 to coincide with one of the races at the parks in 2020. But the goal isn’t a finish line or an award around your neck. The goal is to be able to do what I want with my family in a place that we love. That’s what motivated me. We’re running for Disney.