Cheating at Disney To Avoid The Balloon Ladies


A couple weeks ago I wrote 2 articles about the Disney Marathon. As a result, I’ve received messages regarding a  slightly different type of cheating. Cheating to avoid the balloon ladies.

These runners aren’t cheating to run Boston by claiming illegitimate 3 hour Boston Qualifying times. But I have received emails alleging cheaters that faked their way to 5 hour marathons allegedly to improve corral placement at Disney races.

To those that say I should be focusing on Boston cheaters – I am. I will be writing on that again soon. More runners have been identified with bogus times used to enter 2017. They have been reported and I am awaiting responses from race officials. I am also up to 30 that I’ve identified as having cheated to run Boston ’16 after reviewing about 300 runners so far.

The Balloon Ladies

I’ve learned that corral placement is a big deal at Run Disney races. Mainly because of the dreaded balloon ladies. The balloon ladies are the last ones to cross the start line. They maintain a 16 minute/mile pace. If you get passed by them, you risk getting swept from the course.

I asked one group what the reaction it is like when the Balloon Ladies approach.

“I hollered at a bunch of people waiting for porta potties that the balloon ladies were 30 seconds behind me…It was like cockroaches scattering when you turn on the light.”
“They go into a frenzy. It’s like velocoraptors are chasing them. They start pushing and tripping.”


The “Balloon Ladies”
  • Being in an earlier corral allows you more time to stop and pose with characters while avoiding the ‘Balloon Ladies”
  • Or, if you cannot maintain a 16 minute/mile pace, an earlier corral gives you a much needed head start.

Methods of Cheating

Disney requires Proof of Time for the early corrals. For 1/2 marathons, you need to provide a proof of time for anything under a 2:45:00 estimated finish. For any time slower than that, they accept you at your word.
Not coincidentally, there are a large # of runners that submitted an estimated time between 2:46 -2:50:00.

4329 runners submitted a time of 2:50:00. Clearly some of those runners legitimately fell into that window. But looking at the time ranges of the other corrals, it is apparent that a very large portion of these runners just submitted the fastest expected time they could without providing proof.I spent more time than I care to admit following the drama in the Run Disney Run Group on Facebook of the drama that went along with the corral assignments.

One member of the group even requested the names and bib #s of The Balloon Ladies so that ‘her friend’ could use live tracking to know where she was relative to them.

Using Bib Mules
I can’t say for certain what this runner’s motivation was for using a bib mule to run the Disney Half marathon in 2016. But from reports that I have received, it seems that the methods of cheating mirror what I find when looking for Boston Marathon cheaters.
“Brian” Finishing The Disney Half in 2016
The real Brian (on left)

Cutting Courses
I received a rare email this week. I received a message from someone accusing a 5:30:00 marathoner of cheating. It appears that the accused runner did indeed cut the course of a 2016 marathon and used that as Proof of Time for a Disney race. Curious, I looked back some more. He also is missing splits from Chicago in 2014 where he had a time of under 5 hours. (He only hit the 1/2 marathon split). Runners like this typically fly under the radar.
Generally no one cares about back of the packers cutting courses. But it seems that there is a benefit to doing so.
I am not going to typically spend much time finding and reporting these cases (Not that I don’t care–but I only have so much time to devote–and my focus always will be mainly on Boston Qualifiers). But, by all means if anyone reading this article knows of a runner cheating for any reason in order to get a better corral, or avoid the balloon ladies, contact the race directly.

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  1. The Ballon ladies cause more trouble than anything. They are not sanctioned or provided by Disney just some busy body soccer mums who consider themselves some sort of authority.. Disney don't sweep based on them and plenty of people find Ishmael behind them. They ruin people's races. If heard of tears and panic when they approach. Disney should stop them and let people run their own race.

  2. I don't know if they are technically 16:00:00 pacers. But at least runners know when they are behind the needed pace. They would get swept with or without the balloon ladies.

  3. The Balloon ladies don't cause trouble. It's a courtesy for us in the back of the pack. Nor have I seen them enact any sort of authority. On the contrary, I have seen and heard them to be very encouraging and motivating, letting people know to keep ahead of them. Balloon ladies don't come running at you like monsters, so I'm not sure how they ruin anyone's race. Even if Disney did stop them (which I see no reason to do so), the real sweepers are the bike teams behind them that ARE provided by Disney…as are the squad cars that pull into the road and block anyone from passing. Congrats to you if you've finished every race you've ever started, but some folks like to have a warning before getting guided to the "parade bus". And if you're not in the back to worry about the balloon ladies, what difference does it make to you anyway??

  4. Derek, please stick to Boston qualifiers, for now. At least until you get some help and I mean another person to sift through all of this. Yes, this is ridiculous from so many angles. Therefore, if you see someone cheating than by no means should you ignore their transgression. Please report it (and the ones you've just researched from Disney) to the race directors. However (and unfortunately), I don't think you've skimmed the surface with BQ and other competitive marathon cheats. Keep up the great work.

  5. Thanks. I am spending more time on Boston qualifiers than in the past. I am examining every major marathon as they happen. This stuff is important to some, and these articles help broaden the reach and awareness of my site and the problem of cheating in general. I do have quite a bit of help with pulling data and some help with identifying the cheaters within the data which makes the review of qualifier races less cumbersome.

  6. As far as I know, runDisey actually validates the proof of time submissions for all Marathon participants. And, if they can not validate your PoT then you are placed in the last (or later) corrals. You cited a half marathon process in your blog. Given the rest of your efforts focus on full marathon legitimacy I thought this was odd.

    As an aside, given the nature of their races – including photo stops and multi-day competitions – I'd imagine the standard algorithm/processes you use to identify cheaters are less reliable here. That's not to say you shouldn't pursue this or that there isn't egregious cheating at these events; it's just more complicated than your average marathon.

  7. Like I posted in the article, I found the phenomenon interesting, but am not going to spend a bunch of time hunting these runners down. Also, I've written on other related subjects before..Rob Young's record attempt-for one..and the Guinness stuff. Still focusing on Boston–more than ever.

  8. Wow, to pick on a Disney runner, pretty low. What if he just sold it or didn't use it. How is that cheating. Sounds like you are just a bitter person at heart. Concentrate on Boston and other worthy events.

  9. Cheating is cheating and everyone that pays a registration fee deserves race results that are as clean as possible

  10. runDisney provides the balloons to the balloon ladies. Let me repeat that: runDisney. PROVIDES. The. Balloons. How's that for not sanctioned?

  11. "What if he just sold it or didn't use it" Then it would still violate runDisney rules and could get him banned from future races. The fact that he followed by using this bib mules time as his own for a better corral placement makes him a cheat

  12. Gregg- I agree with Derek. This topic is actually pretty hot right now with BQs in various groups. The gentleman Brian above is a participant in a lot of the running Facebook groups.
    I wonder at what point they use facial recognition software…

  13. I started in corral H for the Disney full, and even then I spent the early stages of the race dodging people who were not only unwilling, but fully unable to run a <5 hr marathon. In fact, id say a lot of them were going to walk ~7 hrs. Id say they were using illegitimate means to get the corrals that they needed PoT for.

  14. Cheating is cheating – and frankly having been in a Disney race where two morbidly obese people were in 'A' and blocked the course in a choke point for runners in multiple corrals behind (which resulted in pushing, shoving and someone being tripped) – it is dangerous for the cheater and others. Corrals are there for a reason, and that reason is safety.

  15. Please tell me this is a joke or some sort of idiocratic, dystopian, or post apocalyptic nightmare.
    I once had a nightmare the night before a marathon during which I showed up to the start line wearing dress shoes. Truly dreadful!
    However, THIS is the stuff of nightmares: getting swept by people wearing gawd-awful ugly and scary balloons, slogging through a HALF (a Half!) at a blisteringly poky 16:00 pace. What the heck is this? Does this type of fiasco and shenanigans represent the collapse of the race culture? I understand how Derek went down this rabbit hole. This is the kinda dumpster fire that is strangely captivating and alluring, even if the reek makes you sick.

  16. Actually… the balloon ladies have been known to push people around and rudely yelling at the running (NOT encouraging). For most races, I'm sure they are harmless, but not always. And they have been swept from time to time.

  17. PEOPLE! Derek was asked about this. He thought it was interesting. Did a little digging. Wrote a short article about it. Calm down! It's just a little aside so everybody chill.

  18. @anonymous1 – you are correct that I've never been swept in a race, but I have plenty of experience pacing friends who are way at the back of the pack in many disney races. I've seen multiple people sobbing and being petrified of the balloon ladies. For everyone who sees it as a service there's many who see another side of it. I've done hundreds of races and Disney is the only place I've ever seen backmarkers so worried about something like this. And as this article shows people are prepared to cheat to avoid it… there's a big clue eh?

    @anonymous2 – thanks for the information about disney providing the balloons. I have asked Disney multiple times and every time they have told me they have nothing to do with them. I will question this of them again.

    @Urban B – yes I've seen the yelling and though they do believe they are providing a service they come across as pretending they are official and in charge which is not always good for those back of the pack people.

  19. Derek, good to hear that you have help with this effort. Again, it's sorely needed and greatly appreciated. And thanks for pointing out the method to your effort re: bringing attention to all transgressions. Makes sense. The more who engage, the better off your site and work will be. Thanks!

  20. @ Urban B, "The balloon ladies have been known to much people around and rudely yelling." That is completely false. Pictures or video, or it didn't happen.

    As for people sobbing and being petrified of the balloon ladies, those people brought that upon themselves, most likely due to improper training, a very common problem among runDisney participants.

  21. If a runner is to be swept, it should be done with kindness and dignity. No one should be made to feel ashamed of a valiant effort they give in trying to complete either a half or full marathon. I do not believe for one moment that Disney has nothing to do with the "sweepers". Afterall, they are a part of the Disney race experience and Disney needs to be responsible for their actions.

  22. They are volunteers coordinated through the local running store that handles the logistics for the race. So I guess that makes them pseudo official. They also serve as a visual marker of the end of the race for disney cast members cleaning up after the race so they know when to break stuff down.

  23. Thanks for this. Now I know that if I decide to run this race I should make sure to give them a good time to avoid the balloon ladies. I hadn't heard of them before.

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