As we are circling into another runDisney race season, it’s a good time to share a little light on the mystery of the runDisney Balloon Lady. Bottom line, runners, don’t panic if you see them: they are friends and not to be feared! Listen to the runDisney balloon ladies podcast episode included here
Originally published in 2013
Bursting the runDisney Balloon Lady Bubble
First-timers running a runDisney race hear about the Balloon Ladies and we panic. So we turn to the internet to do our expert research. And find nada.
There’s nothing out there to tell us exactly who they are (and aren’t).
I Googled, I Binged, I even Yahoooooooed! and came up with nothing. A few grainy images, some back or side shots as they passed by, and many terrifying/tear-soaked reports from fellow runners chronicling their encounters of being swept.
Most of us doing the runDisney races have heard of them, have obsessed over them, maybe even had nightmares dreams about them. Maybe you thought it would look something like this:
Now me, I’d like to think they look like this:
The truth is somewhere in between. If you happen to meet them on the course, this is cause for minor concern. I won’t lie. You are in danger of being swept as they are the pacesetters for the race.
The Balloon Ladies start as the last people in the last corral. When they cross the start line, the 16-minute pace clock also starts. They keep that pace throughout the race, and as long as you are in front of them or with them, you will finish. That’s the good news.
Stay with them- and you are golden!
runDisney Balloon Ladies Podcast
They are normal runners like you and me. They run, they walk, they do a lot of races. And they love the runDisney events. Bonus: they are super nice and not to be feared!
Molly and Nancy are the two representatives from the Orlando Galloway program who act as the Balloon Ladies for runDisney at Walt Disney World. Their friend, Sue, also paces with them and Heather paces as well.
I was on the hunt to learn more about these ladies of mystery, and after a little internet sleuthing was able to track them down. I’m good, y’all. (Not creepy good… no worries, I’m not coming after YOU. But I do manage to get things done when I set my mind to it.)
Once again- God Bless Al Gore and his internet.
Interview With the runDisney Balloon Ladies
Molly answered some questions submitted by one of my Facebook groups. (Holla, Posse!)
- I am a 37-year-old wife and mother of 2. I have been running since 2001. I work full time, teach Sunday School at Church and am a Couponer (Not Extreme, but livable). I had completed 8 Marathons (including 2 Goofy Races, and one when I was 13 weeks pregnant with my 2nd baby). My Mom is also a runner and we try and run Marathons together whenever possible, but we live in different states, so it is hard. I have been running with the Galloway Training Program since 2006 and have loved all of the experiences and people it has brought into my life. I always encourage anyone who wants to run to try it! With the Galloway group, we have Run/Walk Intervals, and this has helped me continue to run in any condition.
What’s so scary about that, right? Totally normal. Except for finishing eight marathons. One pregnant. I thought I was a rock star. But otherwise TOTALLY normal.
Y’all. She’s doing DOPEY. I might be developing a little crush on Molly.
Do you act as the Balloon Lady for all the Disney races?
- Yes, I do all of the Disney World ½ and full Marathons. This year will include Dopey!
How did you become the “dreaded Balloon Lady?” How long have you been one? Have you done every Disney race since?
- Molly: I have been a Balloon Lady since 2010, shortly after Disney World started using “16 min Pacers.” Our local running store that runs the Disney Races, Track Shack, was looking for helpers and a friend, Sue, asked if I would help her. Later I asked Nancy to help me with the full marathons because Sue only wants to run half marathons.
Do you know how much fear you strike in runners?
We are not mean, and do not try and strike fear in people. We warn them and push them as much as possible. We want them to know that we are just like them. We are out there to complete the mileage and be a “visual” for other runners as well as the Disney Cast Members.
Is everyone paying attention here? Go ahead and read that part again. I’ll wait. They are out there — just like you— to complete the mileage! Not scary. Not mean. Just runners like you and me.
What’s the funniest/most amusing comment you have heard when people see you?
We have been bribed many times to slow down, but most of all people play the game with us. When they hear us coming/talking/yelling, they turn to us and say “NOT YOU AGAIN” and then they run way ahead of us.
Do you buy your balloons? What kind do you prefer?
We do buy our balloons, we try and find some that are Event Related…unless someone wants to be funny and get a “Happy Birthday Balloon”!!!! I carried one once and was wished Happy Birthday for 26 miles. So I went along with it. The local Dollar Store balloons are great!
Have YOU ever been swept from a race personally?
I have not ever been swept, but a couple of times we have been “behind” the Disney pace and have had to sprint to get to the next mile marker. It is almost more stress on us to “keep” the pace, not be too fast or too slow. But they will hold us at a mile marker if we are too fast.
Do you train holding balloons?
No, we do not train with balloons…but many of the local runners know us, so they ask where they are.
How do you train mentally or emotionally? It must be a roller coaster of emotions…
We train with our local running groups, and all 3 of us are Pace Group leaders, so we are helping our groups during every training run. We have our good runs, our bad runs, and our learning experiences every run, just like everyone else. I remember 2 years ago; it RAINED for every long run that we had, and we just went with the flow. You are not going to stop a race when it rains, so you might as well train in it!
What are your favorite stories/experiences from races?
We LOVE to see people who are struggling stick with us and FINISH!
What keeps you coming back?
The appreciation we get from the runners at the end of races, the hugs, photos, and gratitude is such an amazing feeling to know that we helped someone achieve their goal!
What do you like to wear at your races? Ever dress up in costume?
I usually just wear a tank top (because EVERY Disney race is HOT at some point), running shorts and a skirt. I do layer sometimes with throw away clothes if it is cold. Personally, costumes are a pain! And if you don’t train in them for 2-3 LONG runs…DON’T wear them in a race! We see so many costumes on the ground. Plus you chafe in area’s you never thought you could.
Do you ever stop for pictures?
HECK NO!!!! We have NO time. Pictures and potties are MAJOR time killers!!!!
What do the lines look like at the end of the race?
They are usually long until they hear us or see us. Then sometimes they thin out, but some people are only there for pictures, and when they get picked up by the bus and don’t know why— it is so frustrating!
How do you pace yourself?
We use GPS watches, and I print the Cliff Bar Pace Charts (and because I am a nerd, I laminate them). That way we know what time we need to be at each mile marker…and we can speed up or slow down if needed.
Are you ever tempted to slow down just a little bit?
If we are ahead of pace yes! But on purpose NO. If we find we are starting to slow down, and it is hot, cold or crowded, we do play mental games all the time, but we talk a LOT which helps! Getting our minds off of what we are doing for hours on end is the best thing we have found. And we usually wait at the Start Line for 30 sec-2 mins AFTER everyone has crossed the start line to go
There are people that fear you, but there are also ladies who want to BE you! Are you recruiting members of the Balloon Lady Posse?
That is funny! We are just three friends, and we are not recruiting, but people ask us ALL the time!
You are a Disney Cast Member- true or false?
False, none of are.
Do you get to hang out with the VIPs in the race retreat?
Ha! I wish!!! I have never been in the race retreat
Now about those folks on bikes, a whole other story. They are the official sweepers, and they don’t mess around. If you see this:
ETA 1/6/15: I thought I should update this post a bit. Here are a few additional links talking about the balloon ladies (yes, they are still the same ones!)
Encounters with the Balloons Ladies
Be Polite: Balloons Ladies are runners too!
Ps- After this post runDisney did start providing balloons to the ladies. WTG readers!
Have you ever met Molly, Nancy, or Sue? Did they help you get through the race? What balloon would YOU want to see them carry?