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The Dopey Challenge: 4 races in 4 days through Disney World

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Dopey Challenge

Runners who finish the Dopey Challenge receive six medals: one for each of the four main races of Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and one each for completing the Goofy Challenge and Dopey Challenge. There’s a separate medal for the Disney Castaway Cay Challenge, a running event with Disney Cruise Line.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Midway through the Walt Disney World Marathon, Leah Moroney stopped.

Moroney did not slow down for a drink of water or a nutritional boost. The bathroom didn't beckon. Cramps or fatigue were not the culprit. And no, the need to snap a selfie did not impede Moroney's progress.

Expedition Everest, a thrill ride in Animal Kingdom, called her name, and Moroney answered.

"We literally stopped running, paused our watches and got on the roller coaster," the nurse from Groveland, Fla., said. "Riding roller coasters just gives you a little adrenaline push, and it does. I was like, 'Oh, man, I feel ready to keep on going.' "

Like that rockin' roller coaster, the Dopey Challenge — part of the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend that began Thursday morning with a five-kilometer race — has its highs, lows and catch-your-breath moments.

Dopey was introduced to the world in 1937, the youngest dwarf in the film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." The challenge that bears the character's name only has been around since 2014 and refers to runners who follow the 5K with the 10K on Friday, the half marathon Saturday and the 26th annual Disney World Marathon on Sunday.

Nearly 45,000 Dopey Challengers have signed up over the years, including about 6,300 who will endeavor to complete the 48.6 miles of legwork this year.

"You get excited," Carlos Font of Orlando said. "The gun goes off, and everyone's running. You tend to forget that you have to run the next day."

Font is doing the Dopey Challenge for the fifth consecutive year. Some, such as Moroney and Orlando residents Dennis Colby and Tricia Carbone, have registered for all six.

They keep coming back for more (aches and pains, fatigue, cheers from spectators, photo opportunities in the theme parks) and less (sleep). The races go off at 5:30 a.m. daily, and runners are required to arrive way earlier because of road closures.

"The most difficult part is getting up so early four days in a row," Carbone said.

Colby said rising early can mitigate the Dopey grind.

"You get into a rhythm," Colby said. "I find the challenge is actually easier to do the four (races) than it is to do just the one or do two. I know that makes no sense."

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Epcot

In this March 19, 2009 file photo, a Disney World monorail passes Spaceship Earth at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. More than a dozen people were hospitalized after two Disney buses crashed into each other near Epcot Tuesday morning, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

The motivation behind accepting the challenge varies.

For some, it is personal. Font lost 56 pounds in the year before tackling Dopey for the first time.

The medals are a nice bonus as well. Dopey finishers bring home six tangible prizes: a medal for each of the four races, one for completing Dopey and another for finishing the Goofy Challenge (the half marathon/marathon combo).

"I love getting lots of medals," Moroney said. "That's kind of what started it, and now I have this weird obsession."

That obsession comes with a collection of valuable memories.

They all have them.

Colby recalled the uplifting voices of a gospel choir, providing runners with a nice push. Fans cheering as runners approached the Cinderella Castle impressed Font. Carbone enjoys taking pictures along the route.

As far as Moroney is concerned, her audible to ride Expedition Everest might not be her favorite memory.

Her mother ran the marathon with her last year. It was the first marathon of Sharon Hultin's life.

"I felt like a giddy 3-year-old going to Disney World for the first time," said Hultin, who lives in Montana.

While the physical and mental toll is undeniable, crossing that finish line on the final day provides a jolt more profound than any coaster and emotions able to cancel out most discomfort, at least in the moment.

Font called it "a euphoric feeling."

"It's the feeling of knowing I did something that I wanted to do for a long time, and I didn't know if I could do it," Carbone said. "When I did, I was just really proud. I felt like I could do anything at that point, because I made it through this."

The facts

What: 26th annual Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

Schedule: Thursday, 5K (3.1 miles); Friday, 10K (6.2 miles); Saturday, half marathon (13.1 miles); Sunday, marathon (26.2 miles). All races start at 5:30 a.m.

Course: The start and finish lines each day are at Epcot.

Registered: More than 65,000 for the four races, including 22,000 for the half marathon and 15,000 for the marathon.

Countries: 73 represented.

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