Race: Disney Princess Half Marathon
Place: Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Date: February 24, 2013
Just to get ahead of myself for a moment…let me start this blog off by saying that it seems the more the odds are stacked against me, the more I doubt my abilities, the better I do. I don’t know what it is…but let this race be a testament to this statement. Why? Because I didn’t have any sort of expectations about this race. I was at Disney World for the first time in my life. No one honestly runs Disney for time. And I knew my legs would be tired from all the fun stuff I would be doing in the days leading up to the race. All that being said…I set a new half marathon PR at Disney World during this race and I couldn’t have thought of a better place to do it…and not kill myself trying to do it.
Now…onto the race report.
I was already in my happy place coming into this race. Why? Well, as mentioned before…I had never been to Disney World (or Disneyland, for that matter) before. Coming in with this fresh take on everything meant I was ready to drink everything up and just absorb it all like a sponge. So, upon touching down at the Orlando airport, we got a ride to our resort (Port Orleans Riverside), checked in, then immediately headed out to see what we could of Animal Kingdom in the remainder of the day before we had to be at the Animal Kingdom Lodge that night for our dinner reservation.
I had a blast that first day…ate really well at dinner…went back to the resort that night and turned in.
The following morning, I woke up early to get in a 2 mile run? Why? Because I had come from the winter wonderland of Indiana, and it was in the mid-60s outside at my resort as the sun was coming up. Humidity was around 93%. So, I knew I had to adjust myself to the temperature difference by working in small, easy runs on what should have been rest days leading up to the race. Keeping them easy and not pushing would not use up energy and tire out my legs, but it would allow me to acclimate myself…which, to me, was more important at the moment. After my run, my roommate and I ate some breakfast, packed up our bags, and headed out to catch a bus to Animal Kingdom. From there, we jumped onto a bus to take us to the race expo, located inside the sprawling Coronado Springs Resort.
Here, Cathy and I were going to meet up with Indy, who flew in from California to run in this race. I adore Indy and was so excited to get to see her. She was staying at the expo hotel, so she was already through registration (which she texted and said was ‘a breeze’) while I was still on the transport bus heading toward the resort. Upon arriving at the resort, we now had to figure out how to, in fact, get to the actual expo. Once we got into the resort itself, it was a matter of following the signs and people who were dressed up like runners. Trust me…it seemed everyone felt the need to dress up like a runner to attend the expo. And there I was…in my usual jeans and t-shirt. I don’t know…I am a runner…so I just never feel the need to broadcast it.
As we neared the expo hall, I got out my signed waiver and proceeded to the very first booth of packet pick-up. Awesome. I was number 685, which meant I was in the first corral to be sent off, right behind the elites, which had only 31 runners who fit that description. Getting my packet really was a breeze. I told them my number, turned over my waiver, and handed them my photo ID. Yep. That was all there was to it. They, in turn, handed me me my bib, gave me back my photo ID, and handed me a plastic bag with race info in it. They told me that my t-shirt pickup was happening on the other end of the expo hall…so after getting my bib, I stepped out of the way, texted Indy, and let her know where I was. She said she was standing in the midst of the chaos and madness of the Official Merchandise, so I went to go grab my race shirt and see what mayhem was waiting in the Official Merchandise booth.
Getting my t-shirt was easy. A little tag on the bottom of my bib was taken off and I was handed the corresponding t-shirt size. I loved this t-shirt. It was a beautiful royal purple with Cinderella’s Castle on the front and the name of the race…and the fact that this was the 5th year it ran. Seriously…the shirt was gorgeous. But, as a superstitious athlete…I put it in my bag and carried it around. You should never wear a race shirt before you actually run the race. It’s bad mojo. Trust me.
With my t-shirt now in hand I was able to check out the madness of the Official Merchandise booth. Indy wasn’t kidding. There was no rhyme or reason to the way things were moving in that booth. People were everywhere. Moving slowly. Lines were scattered. People were wondering where to get in line to check out, while other people were just trying to get to the official merchandise to look at it. After fighting to get through a small portion of the booth, Cathy and I stepped aside…and that was when we spotted Indy. We waived her over and gave hugs and commented on the extreme chaos. I had wanted to get an official race pin…but the lines were crazy and nothing was organized. Indy said to come back at night or on Saturday and it would be better. She ran the Disneyland Half Marathon last year, so I figured she knew what she was talking about…so that was the plan of action. We decided to head on out and check out the rest of the expo for a bit.
This expo was HUGE. That isn’t an understatement either. If it has to do with running or physical fitness…it was here. I was in search of a couple things. I needed (note, I said need, not want) a new fuel belt. I had bought one prior to coming to Florida, but was only able to run with it on a dry run (no liquid in it). That morning, when I went on my short 2 mile run, I put water in it and it flopped and I hated every moment of wearing it. So, I needed something that would maybe stay put while I was on my 13.1 mile run on Sunday morning. Also, I needed fuel…Sports Beans and GU. And I knew the expo would be the place to find it. I was very successful in finding a fuel belt. The iFitness booth was there and I got one like the belt I wear on my runs around town, that doesn’t have a place for hydration bottles. This one had two 6 ounce bottles on each hip…and promised a no bounce, no slide ride. Without water in it…it definitely stayed put. And since I liked the regular belt so much, I took a gamble and bought it. That was $40 I hadn’t intended to spend…but it was necessary. Cathy found a booth that had both Sports Beans and GU, and I stayed neutral with the Mandarin Orange flavors. Yes…for both. Because if there is one thing I learned over the course of learning what my stomach can handle while running…I do NOT mix flavors. That is no good.
With all those purchase made, the rest of the expo was a lot of me pointing at cute things I wanted…staring longlingly at the Sparkle Skirts. Really coveting some running shoes, socks, shirts, etc. Wishing I were a millionaire. Oh…and coveting more great running gadgets and gizmos. I even went and got a small slice of Luna Protein bar because…it was free. Definitely not a flavor I would normally get…but again…free.
At some point, we lost Indy…but she met back up with us and we finished up our winding path through the rest of the expo. Then, we stepped out of the madness and into the hallway of the resort. Two handsome men were dressed up like princes’ for photo ops, but the line was long and Cathy and I were scheduled to hit up Magic Kingdom that day and I was raring and ready to go. So…we skipped out on that and Indy decided she would take advantage of it and wait in the line. I had never done anything Disney so the park was priority for me. We made arrangements to meet up with Indy and to Epcot with her the following day…and we parted ways for the day.
It was now 11 a.m. and a good chunk of the day was already gone. So, Magic Kingdom was a whirlwind, but we rode the required rides, ate Dole Whip, and then hit up Downtown Disney for our dinner reservation that night at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant. After we ate, we wandered Downtown Disney for a bit, then headed back to the resort. Where I collapsed in a tired mass and set an alarm to get up and run…to test out the new fuel belt early in the morning.
My alarm went off at 6:15 a.m., giving me ample time to get up, get dressed, get ready, put water in the fuel belt and head out to try it out. Well…it was better than the one I brought with me, but it still jostled and moved and slipped up over my belly. But…like I said…this one fit better and held better where I wanted it…and bothered me less…so therefore…it won. Despite today definitely being a rest day…I knew that would not be happening. I put in an easy two miles to see how the fuel belt would do, returned to the resort to eat breakfast, change, and then get to Epcot. There would be no REST at all today. NONE!
But…I wasn’t intending to take this trip easy on account of the race.
In true Indy fashion, upon meeting up with her at Club Cool, where Cathy and I were trying out the various types of sodas from different countries (China’s Watermelon Coke is AWESOME!)…and from there…we were on our amazing guided tour of all of Epcot that we could get through in the select amount of time we had. After all, with race morning being early (I’ll get to that momentarily), we all had plans to turn in early and get some much needed rest (or at least try to…as I never sleep well the night before a race…no matter what distance it is). So, we hit the ground running and got on as many things as we could from rides to little adventures. And then…we decided it was time to eat something. It’s the day before the race. Carbs are a runner’s friend. Unfortunately…the World Showcase at Epcot had very little for me. But, this worked out for both Indy and Cathy. Cathy stopped in Morocco and got the Lamb Schwarma Platter for lunch. Indy went to Japan for sushi. No gluten-free options for me, so we trekked it back to the main building where I hunted around Sunshine Seasons for some options for me. I ended up getting the Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad (definitely not ideal for a runner needing some carbs…but you go with what you have. And beets are supposedly very good for runners, so that worked out in the end), which I ate as swiftly as possible so we could continue on our World Showcase adventure. Indy said that if we got through America, then Cathy and I could finish up when we came back. So, we had a goal. And we reached it. And around 5 p.m., we were saying goodbye and heading to our separate resorts to prepare for the early wake up call for race morning.
And then, the superstitious athlete in me stepped up and had a moment of panic. Let’s put it this way…tomorrow morning I was going to run 13.1 miles and all I had for food was my gluten-free pastries that morning and a goat cheese and beet salad. NOT what I needed for sustainability for a long run. As we all know, my usual go-to pre-race food is a gluten-free pizza or something of that nature. In a pinch, gluten-free pasta will do. But pizza…that’s my magic pre-race food. And here I was…almost back to my resort and none of the places on site with gluten-free pizza really in a distance to go and pick it up. In fact, it was getting rather late at this point…and I was getting more and more bummed out and obsessed with the fact that I needed my gluten-free pizza. I knew salad wasn’t enough. I knew that much.
Once we returned to Port Orleans Riverside, Cathy went to go speak to the concierge…a nice guy by the name of Will…who she explained the situation to. He understood and made a call down to the food court attached to resort and was told to send us down and ask for a chef. We thanked him profusely and headed down that way. We spoke to someone training one of the cashiers and he went to retrieve the chef for us. Chef Wes appeared from the kitchens and Cathy explained that I was running in the race tomorrow and usually would have a gluten-free pizza or pasta the night before. Chef Wes said he could do either, and I asked if I could get a gluten-free cheese pizza made up. He said he could certainly do up an individual size pizza and then walk it out to me. To make it easy, Cathy just asked for the same thing instead of hunting around the food court for something to dine on. With our orders in and Chef Wes working on my pre-race meal…I headed back to the room to shower and relax while Cathy waited on the food. I had just settled in when she returned to the room with two pizzas in hand. They weren’t your top-of-the-line, or best gluten-free pizza I ever ate…but it was a gluten-free pizza and at that moment, it was the best thing I had eaten all day.
With my gluten-free pizza consumed, I prepared to turn in later than planned, but earlier than I had been on previous nights. Just before I settled in, my text message went off. It was Jenn…YAY! She was just texting me to wish me luck, tell me that the power of Dean compels me, and not to pants my poop. It’s tradition. It had to happen. And that, believe me, put a lot of my nerves at ease. It’s the little things…like jokes about runner’s trots…really. Then, I proceeded to have a restless night. My alarm…went off at 2:15 a.m.
Why so early? Because the Disney Princess Half Marathon kicks off at 5:30 a.m. with the hopes that everyone will be through the parks by the time the parks are scheduled to open. So…this was the set time and I was up and preparing to get ready to head out to the transport to take me to the starting line. First thing was first, however. Being that it had been so humid out, I went over to the door and pulled it open, finding the air to be heavy and moist. High humidity. Blech. This meant I ditched the singlet I was planning on wearing and went with just donning my baby blue sports bra. The color is important, my friends, because I was dressed up like Cinderella, complete with baby blue Sparkle Skirt and a baby blue BondiBand. On went my compression socks, my running shoes, my Garmin, my Road ID…and then I began filling the water bottles on my fuel belt. Once I had all of that done, I finally settled in long enough to eat my mostly frozen Greek yogurt (Chobani Banana, in case you were wondering). I normally have cereal, but that wasn’t an option today. Greek yogurt…good source of protein. Couldn’t do any harm…despite having never eaten it before a race like this. I prayed it wouldn’t upset my tummy. With that, I put on the fuel belt, was lit up by two glow bracelets, put on my hoodie, and headed out the door with my pre-race banana to eat an hour before the race started.
Cathy and I made the trek from our room to the main building. There was a small line to get on the race day transport bus. Lots of tutus and lots of costumes were all around. Some were really well done and clever. The bus arrived about 5 minutes later and we all got on and filled it. The line was much longer now, and we left a good number of people waiting on the next bus. From there, we were taken to the starting point, a short bus ride toward Epcot. The bus got us there and dropped us off…and from there we basically followed the sea of humanity as we moved toward the staging area of the race.
It was near the entrance of the staging area that the race organizers set up these beautiful stained glass backdrops for runners to take pictures in front of. While they had Cinderella’s glass slipper, I wanted my picture taken with the castle. So, I shrugged out of the hoodie and Cathy very kindly snapped the pic for me. I think I look a little demented in it…but it was about 3:30 a.m. I’m allowed.
From there, we began to shuffle forward just to find a place to settle for a moment. As we were walking that way, one of the race volunteers was reading off some of the signs he could see. Cathy held up the one I made that said, “Run Like It’s Almost Midnight…” He read that one aloud. Then she held up the other one that I made that said, “How Am I Supposed To PR In Glass Slippers?” He laughed and said we should have taken that up with Nike. Ironically…I wear Nike shoes. Even more ironic…New Balance was the sponsor for this race. Whoops.
We briefly made our way to one of the gates, which for some reason Cathy wanted to stop at to “get situated.” At this point, I’m in race mode and I just want to get inside the staging area and mingle and…maybe find Indy. Indy texted (or maybe she called…it was really early…) right as we were finally getting into the heart of the area and asked where we were. I told her I was standing outside the entrance of the corrals and she said she was on the other side of one of the tents (in the VIP runner tent or something…) and would be right over. Lo and behold…a few moments later, the crowds parted and there was my friend…dressed as Belle and ready to run this thing. We hugged, carefully, as she was drinking some pre-race coffee. (Proven fact: Having coffee an hour before a run can enhance your performance. Might have to try that…). I checked my watch and was still not quite at the hour before the run mark to eat my banana. So we stood around and talked about anything and everything. She talked about her breakdown the night before when she went to iron her costume and the iron melted part of the shirt.
Now…take note here…I still do not know how Indy was not dying during this race. Running in 95% humidity sucks. And I did it in a skirt and sports bra. She was in a long sleeve shirt with a jumper over it. I would have been stripping by Mile 1. I’ll get to that momentarily…not stripping…but the actual race…but needless to say…with that sort of humidity, much like with the Indianapolis Women’s Half Marathon…I was drenched by Mile 1. Not good…nor fun. So, raising a glass of Powerade to my dear Indy for making it through the race in an outfit I would have collapsed in.
That being said, as the one hour mark was nearing, I hear an announcement that they were going to start loading my corral. I was stationed in Corral A (the starting corral) due to my estimated finishing time. So, now I had to eat my banana ahead of schedule…and not savor it…nope…I had to pretty much mash it down my throat and hope I managed to swallow because death by banana is definitely less dignified than death by dehydration due to bad outfit choices. I gave Indy a hug, and wished her luck. This would be the last time I would see her on this trip. Then, I gave Cathy a hug and began to make my way to the entrance of the corral. The volunteers checked my bib and let me through.
Beyond the tent, there was a sea of port-a-potties…all of which were getting hit up hard. I am a princess…and I. DO. NOT. DO. PORT-A-POTTIES. There. I said it. So…onward, ever onward with the crowd, up the way and the dark street toward where the corrals were set up. There was a huge back-up near the corral area where another set of port-a-potties were set up…but we just sort of off roaded and went around. And then…I walked up the line of corrals to the first one. Corral A. I stepped inside and began to meander about…trying to figure out about where I needed to position myself. I finally just stopped moving and took up residence near the center, in the front third of Corral A…where some ladies were stretching…some were sitting to conserve energy…and some were dancing along with the Radio Disney guy who was leading a bunch of people in the Tootsie Roll, Gangnam Style, and so on. I at least did the YMCA. That is one dance I know I can handle. But, mostly I stood around and drank in the happiness of the runners, the atmosphere…and realized that I was 5 feet away from Sean Astin.
Yeah. Sean Astin. The Hobbit. Goonies. That guy. They were about to interview him, and he was positioned on the rail of my corral (he was not in my corral…but they needed him there for interview purposes. Best part…he was wearing a tiara. AWESOME. Even better than that, when all was said and done on camera, he was more than happy to pose with people for pictures and the like. I don’t carry anything with me on race day. Only the necessities…which are hydration belt and my GU/Sports Beans. No camera. No iPod. Nothing. Minimalist. That’s me. But I did pump a fist in the air and shout, “GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE!”
Fangirl moment over.
Disney also brought up to the stage one of the runners who was doing the Princess Half Marathon…who was the last to finish at the Tinkerbell Half Marathon in January at Disneyland. Her story just made me cry. There is this love of the sport that runners share, but even more…there is this appreciation for the sport itself. And she really made me appreciate what it is that drives me to run. She’s an inspiration…and I hope she surprised herself at this the Disney Princess Half Marathon.
Soon, the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella was brought up onto the stage and she set off the lone wheel chair racer. It was as simple as Bibbity Bobbity Boo. Fireworks went off and he was off and rolling. NOT in a racing chair, mind you. I know this only because I passed him on the course. Amazing!
Five minutes passed and Corral A was ready to run. The Fairy Godmother gave a wave of her wand and said the magic words. More fireworks…and the corral was moving forward. I shuffled those first few steps and then…over the start line I went. I hit the button on my Garmin and took off with the lead corral, reminding myself to pace myself over the first half of the race. While I’ve done quite a few half marathons by now…going out too fast is something even professionals do at times. I wanted to run this one smart…because it was humid. But…I also told myself to just go and have some fun.
It is a Disney race. And, as I said before, no one really runs Disney for time. Or…at least they shouldn’t. Because they would miss out on a lot.
I really loved how organized this race was. We were very spread out at the start, which was nice. Big races can be a bit of a challenge with everyone jockeying for some sort of position. I later heard some people complain about the crowded start…but in Corral A…you really don’t have to share the road with anyone else…but those you were corralled with. That being said, Disney had a system that would alert runners when the course would narrow ahead. This way you could adjust your position with other runners around you and continue on. No big deal.
As I mentioned before…it was a really humid morning. I was very glad I opted just for the bra top…because any more fabric and I might have been stripping it off and tossing it aside. I hit Mile 1, not even looking at the pace time, because…I was doing this for fun. My body was tired from being a first time visitor to Disney and wanted to do as much as I could whenever I could. So, I wasn’t setting a goal. Just to finish. Just to have fun. Just to soak it all in. And speaking of soaking…the humidity was already hitting me hard. My hair was drenched by Mile 1 and I could feel the beads of sweat on my skin. Blech. High humidity is awful to run in. It just saps your energy faster than you can even imagine.
Here is one of the best parts of a Disney race. Throughout the stretches of the course, there are characters out that you can get your picture taken with. This is why a lot of people carry cameras with them on these races. I gave a wave to each character I passed…but I did not have a camera on me. Onward…ever onward. Just…make a note…if you love photo ops…these races are full of them.
Much of this run is done on the highway, which they close for the race. That is a lot of nothingness except pavement. That’s where these character spotting sites come in handy. It keeps things interesting. Race officials had put up on the Web site that they preferred for people to not run with headsets on…and I’ve come to find out I actually run races better without my iPod. I’ve started leaving it behind. A year ago, I was bitching about not being able to listen to music…now…I choose not to. Funny how things change.
Around Mile 3 there was our second water stop. I took this opportunity to reach down and grab one of the bottles from my hydration belt. I took a sip and went to tuck it back in…and dropped it. Crap. So, this now meant I had to go get it. And I did. Ah well…stuff like that happens. You just roll with it. I also want to mention that this belt didn’t want to stay around my hips either…but it wasn’t as annoying as the other belt I used. And I’d every now and again push it down…only to have it ride back up around my waist. I finally just got tired of fighting with it and left it up there.
The next couple of miles ticked off easily. I was actually feeling good. I think I was still smiling. I was having a blast. And the best part was now ahead of me. Literally. I was entering the Magic Kingdom. And here, we make a circuit of the park and then run through…yes THROUGH Cinderella’s Castle. That was the part I was really looking forward to on this race. And as I rounded the corner I went into the back gate…and got to see all the fantastic murals. This was my favorite moment, for sure. The crowds around Magic Kingdom were so enthusiastic and just really got you going. And as you came out of the castle…flashbulb after flashbulb after flashbulb was going off, making you feel like some sort of real princess or celebrity as the official race photographers captured your departure from the iconic castle, which was very quickly followed by an exit out of Magic Kingdom.
Back out onto the long, quiet highway to make my way back to the finish line, which was at Epcot. At Mile 7, I drank some more of my water and really stopped fussing with my fuel belt. I smiled at the characters I was passing. It was still kind of dark at this point, but all of us who were running were happy to be doing it. Darkness, solitude, and this amazing bond that runners share, no matter the race. It was awesome.
Mile 10 ticked off and brought us to the exit ramp. At this point, there was some daylight starting to make an appearance. Finally. I took the exit ramp as I do the hills I train on…fiercely. At this point I knew all I had remaining was a 5K race. And that really helps get you through to the finish line sometimes.
And sometimes it’s a Toy Soldier from Toy Story telling you that this is the last hill before the finish line. All we had to do was get over it. And could he get an “OORAH!” Which…I did shout back at him as I rounded the corner. That hill wasn’t bad. But there was a steeper one just a ways up the road. I took that one with the same power I put into the steepest hill around here when I run…and I passed up Pocahontas…finally. I had been trailing her for a good portion of the run and in my mind…my goal was to get past her. I managed. Now I just had to keep her there.
Around Mile 12, we came to this little turn around where some Disney hosts were out talking to the runners, asking where they were from, commenting on costumes. It was fun. It was just what runners need at that stage of the race. But I could also see that we were about to enter Epcot…and into the park we went. I was trailing a woman dressed as Princess Leia from Star Wars (now a Disney princess) so I used her as my new rabbit. Through the chute we went and into the park. She was still just ahead of me and I wasn’t looking at my watch so I had no idea how much further I had to go. But…I knew I was in the last mile, so I put a little more effort into it. We ran around the giant Epcot ball…and that was about where I finally managed to pass her. I could hear the finish line announcer. So, I was close. But it seemed every time I rounded a corner there was just more road ahead.
Finally though…there it was…the FINISH LINE! I could hear Leia catching back up to me, so I decided to give it all I had. I pushed. I kicked. And then…I crossed the finish line…just ahead of her. I took a moment…paused my Garmin…and spotted Cathy up in the stands with the signs. I pumped my fists in victory…the smile never leaving my face.
And here’s the kicker…
I wasn’t running for time…I was running on tired legs…for fun.
And I set a new half marathon PR.
In fact, I shaved two minutes off my previous best time for a half marathon.
Perhaps it was from running in the happiest place on Earth. Or maybe it was Disney magic…or pixie dust. Or maybe it was my dear friend Sandy, who passed away from cancer a couple weeks before…who I dedicated the race too. Maybe she loaned me her wings for a while. Because this finish was a huge surprise for me. And I was just a wave of emotions as I meandered through the recovery area, getting my medal…then my box of gluten-free goodies…and some water, of course.
I made my way out of the finisher’s chute and toward the Race Retreat area, where I was to meet up with Cathy. She was already there by the time I emerged and ran over to give me a big hug. I finally stopped long enough to check the time on my Garmin. And…if it was right…I ran one hell of a race.
Let me tell you this…when the results were posted later that day…my Garmin was exactly on as far as my time.
So…as it stands…my new Half Marathon PR was set at the Disney Princess Half Marathon at Disney World. I ran the course in 1:45:06!!! I still can’t believe that time. But it’s in black and white on my race results and recorded on my Garmin. Holy moley! I was 152/22,721 finishers overall. I was the 121/21,222 women to cross the finish line. And I was the 22/3381 person in my division. You do not even know how shocked I am with these results. It still feels like a dream. Disney magic indeed.
But I was running for fun…and sometimes that makes all the difference.
I had such a blast running at Disney World. I already am anticipating running at Disneyland for the Disneyland Half Marathon in September. And, now I’m totally hooked and just want to hit up every Disney race I possibly can. But that will have to happen on a ‘what can I afford?’ sort of budget plan.
For now…I can’t stop smiling and thinking back on this race…on how good it felt to run it…despite the humidity. And how amazing the volunteers and organizers were throughout the race. I loved the energy from the cheering sections and the crowds along the course. And I’ll never stop thinking of my run through Cinderella’s Castle. If any moment was more magic than the rest…that was it. That was my moment. And then, of course, that spectacular finish.
Disney…you gave me one hell of a welcome…and one hell of a great race. Thank you! I promise…I will be back.