Dopey Challenge Novice Training Program

So what IS a novice runner anyway? While I leave the final definition up to you a good rule of thumb that I use is to look at three criteria.

  1. How long have you been running?
  2. How much have you run in that time period?
  3. Do you consider yourself a novice? (mentality/attitude/applied knowledge)

If you’ve signed up for the Dopey Challenge then I hope you have at least one marathon under your belt as well as a half marathon and perhaps a couple lesser distance races, but if you’ve already paid the registration and you plan to go the 48.6 mile distance across four days then take a look below for a simple program to get you across those four finish lines. First, seriously consider using the Galloway method as described on Jeff Galloway’s website or on the runDisney training website. Next, start training now. My assumption is that you are not starting from zero and you can run a good 5-8 miles right now without worry, but don’t wait to start training. Use this extra time to build base miles and as a good friend of mine says, “Respect the distance!

You may want to look at my previous blog post on the Dopey Training Program that I personally would use. I am not a novice runner as the upcoming Disney Marathon will be my 9th full marathon, but you can see the difference between the two programs. The program that follows is for a novice runner.  It is severely scaled back and cut down in comparison to the first program I posted for more intermediate to advance athletes/runners.  The following program is all about running and is based on the following assumptions.


  1. You are healthy and injury free.
  2. You’re doctor says it’s okay to do this.
  3. You may have been running only 6-12 months or are returning from a long-ish break from running. (Not returning from an injury)
  4. You may have minimal races under your belt (1 marathon and maybe only 1-2 other long distance races).
  5. You run less than 15 miles a week at present.
  6. You can go out and run 5-8 miles right now non-stop, no problems, no big deal…you would say, “Let’s do this!”

The novice program I have designed is 31 weeks in length meaning you would need to start this plan in mid-June (June 9th I believe, but check my math) to complete it for the week leading up to WDW Marathon Weekend. The first few weeks are fairly light, but then the program ramps up quickly at a rate that is designed to allow your muscles, tendons, and ligaments to adapt to the work you are placing on them. A big component of this program is rest. Even if you feel great on a rest day do not run more or workout as the rest time is needed for adaptation.

Be sure to calculate your own program start date to ensure you have time to complete the plan in full. Details of what to do for the Bike and Core work follow the program table.

Week Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun
30 Bike 30 2 miles 3 miles Rest Bike 30 5 miles Core/stretch
29 Bike 30 2 miles 3 miles Rest Bike 30 5 miles Core/stretch
28 Bike 30 2 miles 3 miles Rest Bike 30 6 miles Core/stretch
27 Bike 30 2 miles 5K Rest Bike 30 8 miles Core/stretch
26 Bike 30 2 miles Rest 5K Easy Bike 30 Ellip 30 Core/stretch
25 Bike 30 2 miles 4 miles 2 miles 3 miles 4 miles 8 miles
24 Bike 30 3 miles 4 miles Rest Bike 30 13 miles Core/stretch
23 Bike 30 3 miles 5 miles Rest Bike 30 15  miles Core/stretch
22 Bike 30 4 miles 5 miles Rest Bike 30 10  miles Core/stretch
21 Bike 30 3 miles 6 miles Rest Bike 30 17  miles Core/stretch
20 Bike 30 5K Easy Rest 5K Easy Bike 30min Ellip 30 Core/stretch
19 Rest Bike 30 Rest 5K Easy 5 miles 6 miles 12 miles
18 Bike 30 5K Easy 5 miles Rest Bike 30 15 miles Core/stretch
17 Bike 30 5K Easy 6 miles Rest Bike 30 17 miles Core/stretch
16 Bike 30 5K Easy 7 miles Rest Bike 30 12 miles Core/stretch
15 Bike 30 5K Easy 7 miles Rest Bike 30 21 miles Core/stretch
14 Bike 30 5K Easy Rest 5K Easy Bike 30 Ellip 30 Core/stretch
13 Rest Bike 30 Rest 5K Easy 10K 8 miles 16 miles
12 Bike 30 5K Easy Rest 10K Easy Bike 30 17 miles Core/stretch
11 Bike 30 5K Easy Rest 10K Easy Bike 30 19 miles Core/stretch
10 Bike 30 5K Easy Rest 7 miles Bike 30 14 miles Core/stretch
9 Bike 30 5K Easy Rest 7 miles Bike 30 22.5 miles Core/stretch
8 Bike 30 5K Easy Rest 5K Easy Bike 30 Ellip 30 Core/stretch
7 Rest Bike 30 Rest 5K Easy 10K Easy 10 miles 21 miles
6 Bike 30 5K Easy 10K Easy Rest Bike 30 19 miles Core/stretch
5 Bike 30 5K Easy 10K Easy Rest Bike 30 21 miles Core/stretch
4 Bike 30 5K Easy 7 miles Rest Bike 30 23 miles Core/stretch
3 Bike 30 5K Easy 7 miles Rest Bike 30 15 miles Core/stretch
2 Bike 30 5K Easy 7 miles Core/stretch Bike 30 20 miles Core/stretch
1 Bike 30 15K Easy Rest 10K Easy Bike 30 Ellip 30 Core/stretch
0 Rest Rest Rest WDW 5K WDW 10K WDW Half WDW Full

Special Weeks:

Dopey Practice Weeks:

Weeks 25, 19, 13, and 7 are designed to give you a little Dopey Practice to prepare you to run four days in a row at distances that build across the 4 days.

Pull Back Weeks:

Weeks 22, 16, 10, and 3 are Pull Back Weeks designed to give you extra rest from the long run in comparison to the two previous weeks.  As the program progresses these are still fairly long runs, but less distance than the previous 2-3 weeks.

Push Weeks:

Weeks 21, 15, 9, and 2 are Push Weeks which fall between the Pull Back Weeks and Alternative Training weeks.  You will notice the Push Weeks come back strong with the long run pushing out a bit further than before the Pull Back week.

Alternative Training Weeks:

Weeks 26, 20, 14, 8, and 1 are Alternative Training Weeks. These weeks mix things up with a break from the standard schedule, a couple easier and shorter runs, and an elliptical session. These weeks will help you with the mental fortitude and motivation to keep training by giving you a break from the “same old same old” routine.

Taper Weeks:

Weeks 1 and 0 are the days leading up to The Dopey Challenge. Week one is an alternate training week, but also the start of your tapering off period for the 4-days of running you have approaching. Follow the program, trust in your training, don’t add workouts, and if you must change anything opt to be over-rested rather than over-trained. Try to minimize time walking around the Disney parks on the 2-3 days before the 5K and across the 4-days of The Dopey Challenge. It would be a shame to train all this time to just throw it all away by being too tired.  The average park guest walks 8 miles per day when visiting a Disney park.

Types of Workouts in the Program:


30 minute bike sessions should be on a cadence/rpm of 80-100. Add a resistance that will allow for you to have a “good effort”, but not so difficult as to make the next day’s run difficult.  RPMs are more important than resistance on the bike. Push with the heel down, NOT the toe when pedaling.


As an alternative form of exercise that is less impactful on joints, but still works the running muscles I have added an occasional elliptical (Ellip) session during alternate workout weeks.  Notice a Core workout follows these so as to give your legs a rest. If you don’t have access to an elliptical at a gym then just walk for 30 minutes at a brisk pace, but do not run.


Working your core is imperative for your training as a runner especially for the novice runner.  As you run long distance your core stabilizes your entire body from your upper torso to your hips and more. As your core fatigues your running form begins to degrade and you must expend more energy to keep running or maintain pace. Worse yet, as your core stabilizers weaken across the long miles it is easier to become injured as your ability to recover from a quick side-step or a high curb lessens. DO NOT SKIP your core workouts! Ask me if you don’t know how to do these exercises. I’m happy to explain!

Oh, and forget sit-ups. Sit-ups are worthless.  I almost didn’t add crunches as I don’t do them, but I know the standard crunch is a recognized exercise by many people. Try to move from one core exercise to the next with minimal rest between exercises and only 30-60 seconds of rest between sets. After you finish the core work stretch out the major muscle groups for 20-30 minutes holding for 15-20 seconds for each muscle and do 3 sets each. Hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and calf muscles should all be stretched after your core work.

Standard Plank 60 sec 3
Low Plank with one leg off the ground: both legs 60sec 3/leg
High Plank position. Knee to elbow. Both legs 15/leg 3/side
Crunch with arms crossed on chest 30 3
High Knees 50 3

Rest Days

If you must do something on a rest day then opt for an additional core workout or just take 30 minutes and stretch out the running muscles, but stay off your feet as far as running, walking, elliptical, or anything else as much as possible. Try to get extra sleep whenever possible especially after long runs. Your body needs the extra rest to recover and adapt for the next session.  Shut off the TV, close the laptop, get off Facebook, put away angry birds and go to sleep!  Many times injury happens not because of the intensity of the training program, but because proper rest and recovery wasn’t taken on rest days. If in doubt, trade a bike or elliptical day for an additional rest day if you need it.

I’m here if you have questions. Don’t feel you have to know everything or tackle this alone. I’m happy to answer questions and respond to comments. If you connect with me on Facebook, just let me know that you’re a runDisney/Dopey-to-be runner!

Happy Training!


32 thoughts on “Dopey Challenge Novice Training Program”

  1. Brian, I did the goofy last year. I really like the look of this training program over using Hal Higgon’s again… which I did not do such a hot job of adhering to. I do take a yoga class on Monday night and was wondering about flipping core/stretch to Monday and doing the cycling on Sunday. I would probably mix it up with some outdoor biking.

  2. Brian, I did the goofy last year following (but not very well) Hal Higgon’s plan. I think I’ll find your approach much more enjoyable. I’ve been taking a yoga class on Monday and was wondering about flipping the core/stretch and bike workout.

    1. Hello! Flipping those two would work well. A bike workout works different muscles in a different way than running and the core/stretch is another non-running “active rest” day. Yoga could easily be substituted for the Core/Stretch session. Good luck on the training!

    1. Awesome! I’m taking on the Carmel marathon this Saturday and the mini marathon in three weeks. Good luck in you training and I might see you on a course or running trail sometime! 🙂

  3. Really like this training program and timeline. I swore after the 2013 Disney Marathon I would not do another one but I have found myself excited and nervous as I have signed up for the Dopey. I live in Fl and it is already HOT. Just wondering where you would add in swimming? I don’t swim a lot but it is nice during the summer.

    1. Hello! Swimming is a great “active recovery” exercise for running. I would substitute the bike for a swim either on a 50% basis depending on how long you swim or at least on the alternative training weeks in lieu of the elliptical workouts.

      If you were to swap the bike for a swim entirely then go ahead and swap the elliptical for a bike workout and drop the elliptical entirely on those alternative training weeks. The bike is really good for building knee & ankle strength/stability and working the leg muscles in a different way than the run does so leave some bike work in a little. Make sense?

  4. Hi, came across your training program for Dopey challenge, which I’m a bit scared if I could make it all the way… I completed my first Full back in 2010, and have been running a few half marathons since (I told myself I will not do another Full ever again…. but I guess Disney medals & the word “challenge” made me clicked that submit button).
    I’ve also been doing “crossfit-like” training for the past 2.5 years, 3 times a week (M/W/TH/F – pick any 3)… and I love doing it. How would you suggest to incorporate my cross training with the running program? Thank you so much.

    1. Great question Nadia! Let me give it some thought before I answer. It’s doable. I incorporate Insanity workouts into my run training and Crossfit would be similar. Oh, novice or intermediate plan…which were you planning on using?

      1. Thanks for the reply. Yes, Insanity is similar to what I’m doing, but sometimes with kettlebells, pull up, sand bags, etc. I’m leaning towards the novice plan, because my goal for Dopey is just to finish. Thanks again.

      2. Hi Nadia,

        Ok, I’ve tried to adapt the novice program, but I’m realizing that without an entire rewrite I’d just be giving subpar training advice. Therefore, I’ve decided to get crafty and design a program with Cross Fit as a part of the training. When will you most likely do your long runs? Sat, Sun, or a specific weekday? These will build to 20+ mile runs. I’m hoping I can get 2-3 CFs in each week, but it may not be in a standard Monday through Sunday 7-day week. I can do 2 per week, but fitting in 3 per week takes a lot of focus off the run in a standard 7-day week. I may have to go to a periodization plan which focuses on a specific training for certain amount of time and then switches to focus on another type of training. Also, what’s your longest run of late or more specifically, how far are you running at present??


      3. Hi Brian. Now I feel bad for asking the question that takes up more of your time 😦 But to answer your questions: I’d like to do long runs on Saturday. I kinda figured that I may not be able to do 3x CF/week once I start training for Dopey. So 2x CF/week is ok with me.
        I don’t normally have specific miles/week of running. The only running I get is during CF (1-2 miles), unless I sign up for a race then I up my miles. I’m doing a half marathon next week, and also doing the Dumbo Double Dare end of Aug, and Big Sur Half in Nov. For half marathon races, I normally start “training” (ie getting back to doing long distance), 1 month prior the race.
        But I know Dopey is a totally different ball game…. and I’m very nervous.
        Thank you again for taking the time 🙂

      4. Ok, now I’m getting a better picture of your goals. You are truly stepping up your running game! Big Sur, Dumbo and Dopey?!?!!? AWESOME! I’m happy you pull back a bit on CF to focus on running when you have an upcoming race and 2x/week is doable during a running program. I love to design programs so give me a few days and I’ll churn out a plan that incorporates your other races. I love to do this so no trouble at all!! I’m excited to create a custom plan for you! One more thing. Do you have any PR goals for Dumbo or Big Sur? …or are you just running them to run them? To my understanding, Big Sur is HILLY!! I think Dumbo will be a good easy practice for Dopey too. 😀

      5. Ok, it is finished! Wow, what a design challenge to fit in Cross Fit twice a week and still have a good focus on running while getting enough rest! This is more of an intermediate plan.

  5. Thank you so much for putting this plan out there! We don’t have access to a bike. Is there anything that we can substitute on those days that will work the same muscle groups? Knees and ankles seem to be our common issues, so we’d really like that benefit. We would also like to incorporate yoga into our training. Do I understand correctly that this should be done on core days? Thank you for any advice! My sister and I are currently training for the Tower of Terror 10-miler, the Wine & Dine 1/2 marathon, and Dopey (where we’ll be joined by our brother and my husband)…

    1. Wow! That sounds like a race schedule similar to my first year of training. I’ll be down for the ToT 10-Miler and 5K weekend in October.

      Yoga could be done as your core work assuming it’s a core type yoga. Sometimes yoga is more for stretching so be sure you are doing a type of yoga that is focused on the core. Similarly, I don’t do sit-ups or crunches instead I opt for full-body movement that engages the core and brings in small muscle groups used for stabilizing the body. This really helps on the long run for keeping your running form over long mileage.

      As for the bike work I am a little concerned. I wish you had an outdoor bike or had a gym membership for a stationary bike/spin class. The reason is that the bike is GREAT for building knee strength. Let me do a little research and see what else I can come up with for an alternative to the bike. Do you have access to a pool where you could do some lap swimming?


  6. Great! I’ve found core yoga, and I’ve procured an outdoor bike. How will I track rpm’s? I’m not real confident in my bike ability at this point, but this training is worth it to me and I’m willing to try first. (May need those alternatives, though). I’ll have pool access Memorial Day to Labor Day, what should I do there – just laps?

    1. You’re going to have to go by feel a bit on the bike. RPMs = Revolutions Per Minute. So I would count and try to keep it at the prescribed RPMs until you get a feel for how the physical effort equates to a specific RPM. As always go slow at first and work into it.

      As for the pool you can do laps using different types of stroke OR you can do some water walking/running depending on the depth of the pool. Mix it up!

  7. Brian,
    I am debating where I should start. I started running recently (Aug ’12), but I have been quickly ramping up because I have been improving my fitness level since Feb ’10. I currently run ~21 miles per week (runs on MWF) and slowly increasing the mileage per week with an avg pace of 7-7:30 min/mile (depending on the heat). I have run half marathon distances a few times and felt like I could go longer (GU gels help). The main reason my mileage is where it is that I also do resistance/weight lifting 5x a week and I aim for my workout times to be ~2 hours on weekdays though I’m fine with long runs on the weekend. Thanks for any tips.

    1. Hi Alex,

      I would maintain your three runs/week but change the focus of each. You can do three types of runs.

      1. Intervals
      2. Tempo Run – This may be what you’re doing three days a week now.
      3. Long run

      Work in the weights, but realize you’ll need to pull back a bit to give focus to the run and get your rest after those long runs and back-to-back long run weeks. Doing weights after the tempo and intervals would be best. Try to work in some active rest on the bike or in the pool and perhaps switch to multi-joint exercises and compound exercises to work more than one muscle group during a lifting session so you’re still hitting the different muscle groups, but can cut the number of days of lifting. The mix up of the schedule will probably have you see some improvements from a totally different training schedule.

      Oh, and apologies for the 5 day late reply! I had to write a couple research papers!

  8. Thanks so much for this plan!! Even though it isn’t “important” to running, I wanted to work on upper body strength and toning also. What days would be best to incorporate these exercises? Also, could I substitute your core workout with an ab video I have? It has a standing workout and a floor workout, both about 20 minutes each.

    1. Hi Elle!

      The ab videos are perfect. I actually use two different Insanity videos for my Core work. You could do either or both for Core work.

      For the upper body work you can do that after any of the shorter runs during the week. Having upper body strength is a plus for distance running as it helps for keeping your running form across the long miles. Try to work in those weights on non-consecutive days so you give those muscles a rest though. A rule of thumb is to not work the same muscle group on two consecutive days when it comes to resistance training (lifting weights).

  9. This schedule looks great! I’ve gotten a bit too use to just getting by on my marathons and I need to really step up my training for this. My question for you – I also play ice hockey and my game schedule is constantly changing. I usually have 2 games per week, but days vary. Times vary as well – I’m often not home from a game until after midnight. How should I incorporate these into the schedule?

    1. I have a crazy work schedule that doesn’t always allow me to stay on a structured training schedule either…similar to your game schedule. I would map the games against the Dopey training schedule and use the games as a workout which I am SURE they are! Then cut or add workouts based on how you feel…listen to your body! Don’t miss long runs and try as much as possible to do the “Dopey Practice Weeks” assuming you’ve ramped up and are prepared. Don’t be afraid to take an extra rest day if you need it on the crazy schedule of Dopey + Hockey! 🙂 Better to be over rested than over trained! Remember, for Dopey the goal is to cross 4 finish lines in the upright position.

      Happy Training!

  10. Hi, I enjoyed reading through all of the comments and for some reason am so anxious about starting my training for Dopey. I also have three other halfs and triathlons I am training for and am having trouble making a training plan work for me. Why do you put the two runs right together in the week before the long run? Also I have been attempting to strengthen my core more since I got a fibula stress fracture during my last half about 5 mon ago and suffer with some calf pain during my run, i am healed and told i can run again and have been. I like the look of your core exercise you list, but do not know what some of them are. My training plan for me would look like this…mon shorter/tempo run, tues strength, wed shorter/tempo run, thurs bike or swim, fri long run, sat rest, sun bike or elliptical. Does this seem ok or would you switch some stuff around? I prefer long runs to be on Fri. Do I need to do recovery runs once my mileage gets up higher in the training? If so that is done the day after a long run right and about how long?
    Thanks so much, I have read a lot and have currently just been doing my own thing but do better if I follow a training and I’m ready to! Carie

    1. Hi Carie – Thanks for reading. LOTS of questions and that’s awesome! For your other races/Tri’s I would map them out against the Dopey schedule and then adapt the plan as needed for a little tapering before each event and a bit of recovery after if it makes sense. I’ve had weeks where a half marathon wasn’t enough for my scheduled long run so I went home and did a few more miles to make it up.

      If you are going for something like Dopey then some of your other events are going to be reduced to an opportunity for focused training. Example, I have a 10-miler (ToT @ WDW), Half, and Full marathon before Disney in January. All are just to keep me training until January where I hope to PR for the full. That’s my focus. The rest are just for training. Dopey is going to require a higher volume of training miles than a standard marathon and several back-to-back-to-back runs so your body is prepared. That’s why I scheduled the “Dopey Practice Weeks”.

      You can switch around and customize the plan as you like for the days and what you have is okay, but just remember you want the experience of back-to-back runs and running on tired legs several days in a row. Follow these with some lesser mileage or increased active rest in swimming/biking so as not to over do it.

      I’m following up with a blog post about the core work as others have asked about this as well. Stay tuned!

      Happy Training!

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