Disney today opened registration for its first "Virtual Half Marathon," which has a Star Wars theme. Registration is open through February 28 and costs $59. So what's a virtual half marathon? Despite what some people might infer, it's not a virtual reality experience, where you run 13.1 miles wearing a VR headset, chasing Imperial Stormtroopers or First Order baddies... though that would be amazing and I'd pay good money to experience that!
No, while Disney's virtual half marathon is a 13.1 mile run — or walk — it's just a "race" that you can run at home or anywhere else you choose. And you can run it whenever you'd like. Unlike the communal experience of a runDisney event at a Disney theme park, you can run this virtual half marathon alone or with friends. It's all up to you. Just complete the 13.1 miles by March 31 and Disney will send you a medal.
How does Disney track whether you've run the full course or not? It doesn't. As Disney explains on its FAQ for the race, it's all done on the "honor system." If you say you ran the half marathon, that's good enough for Disney. Well, assuming you paid your $59, of course. You can download a finisher certificate with your self-reported race time, too.
When you were a kid, did you ever play a pretend day at Disneyland? Maybe you were like the young lady in this delightful Efteling commercial, and you built make-believe rides and shows in your room, so that you could feel like you were back at the Happiest Place on Earth. Well, now Disney is selling you the opportunity to pretend that you are in a runDisney race, though with the added benefit of a medal and certificate (paper not provided) to "prove" it.
Why is Disney doing this? For one, this becomes the first runDisney race with unlimited capacity. There's no way to sell out a virtual marathon, so Disney can collect an unlimited amount of $59 registration fees. It has to pay only the cost of ordering and shipping finishers' medals, which, let's face it, Disney can get for way less than $59 a pop. (Move the decimal point over a couple of places, I am guessing.) It's almost pure profit for Disney, so if people actually go for this, it's ingenious on Disney's part.
Disney's also offering one of its multi-race challenges for people who buy into the Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon. Runners who register and complete both this race and the real-world Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon on April 22 at the Walt Disney World Resort can get a "Kessel Run" Millennium Falcon medal, too. Which, if you are a cynic, means that the Kessel Run medal is just a $69 upcharge for Dark Side Half Marathon finishers, who actually do have to complete a 13.1 run in one go in a reasonable amount of time. (The Kessel Run challenge costs $10 more than just the virtual race. Hey, extra medal!)
If you're an optimist, the virtual half marathon might inspire some would-be runners among Disney fans who'd never been able to get into a runDisney event before to lace up the sneakers and get out there. And if paying $59 to participate in this virtual event is what you need for motivation to get more active, I say... go for it. Whatever it takes.
But I wonder if this event might not be more appealing if Disney had made it an actual virtual event, if that's such a thing. (Let's put that term in the "jumbo shrimp" Oxymoron Hall of Fame, shall we?) Schedule the virtual half marathon for a specific start time on a designated day and encourage all participants to flood social media with photos and videos of them running and walking their 13.1 mile course. Use a #StarWarsHalf hashtag to draw attention to the posts and get some mainstream media coverage for what likely would be a huge event inspiring people to get active.
Instead, Disney laid up and played it easy with a pay-$59-for-a-medal literal non-event. Maybe fans who actually are planning to run can use social media and schedule a mutual run time and share their experience online. Then dress up, get active, and have fun.
Whether they pay Disney the $59 or not.
Update: Disney's PR people called and asked that we hit a couple of points (that some of you raised in the comments anyway): One, that Disney didn't just come up with the idea of virtual races — they've been around for a while and run by other promoters. And two, that this isn't runDisney's first virtual race — that it started a virtual shorts 5K series last year.
However, I also want to note that a portion of those $38-40 race registration fees did go to charities, including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. (One comment below noted that virtual races have been a charity staple.) Disney's made no announcement of a charity donation associated with the Star Wars Half event.Tweet
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