After almost 8 months of training and over 182 miles later, I completed my goal of running a half-marathon! The feeling of achievement is amazing. In 8 months I completely did an about face in my training and workouts and went from not running at all to completing 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 33 minutes, finishing strong. There were some times in the training where I thought to myself "this is the dumbest idea ever Laurel. Seriously. A half-marathon. Why couldn't you start with a 5k or a 10k?"
But the bling?! The experience?! Fabulous.
My runner friends told me that I'd get some sort of "running bug" after completing my first race and that races were "addicting." Pssshht. No way. Not gonna happen......It's been three weeks since completing the race and it's all I've been able to think about. I have been on RunDisney's website and Facebook page frequently looking at upcoming races, their themes and their respective courses. I guess I've caught this bug.
For those of you who already have this malady and have the symptoms for years, I now understand. Perhaps you have past bibs, medals, shoes and memorbillia celebrating those miles you've run. If you haven't, and you are where I was a year ago thinking that runners are crazy, that's ok too. Running long distance is definitely not for everyone. If it is something you've considered and you're not sure how to get started, there are many different plans for beginners including the very popular Couch to 5k which uses run/walk plans--a proven method to increase endurance without overwhelming you. Also, many races, especially 5k (3.1 miles) are open to walkers if you're not sure about running or have joint issues and you can still get the race day excitement while the health benefits of walking and getting some fresh air! All of the Disney races are open to those who wish to walk it with an allowed max time of 16:00 min/mile.
Now for the recap! If you're interested in doing a racing event at one of the Disney theme parks, the Princess half marathon is one of many events that RunDisney hosts both in Disney World and Disneyland, although it seems to be the most popular. All the events are themed and look like an absolute blast! Plus, it's Disney for crying out loud--everything is magical with no detail overlooked. You'll see many costumes from the fellow runners as well as character photo ops and meet and greet moments along the way. I dressed as Megara from Hercules and had a lot of fun making my costume out of workout clothes. If you ever do a costumed run remember that you are running for a distance in it and you need to plan accordingly with breathable material that will wick sweat away from the body (not cotton) as well as not drag on the ground or disrupt your normal running gait. Also, take weather into account: if it's going to be hot, the last thing you want are long sleeves or pants, nor do you want your midriff showing if it's going to be cold out (that's for all my Princess Jasmines out there) Plan your costume accordingly!
During the entire weekend, there are races daily, starting with the 5k on Friday, the 10k on Saturday and the half on Sunday. During this time, there is an expo held at the Wide World of Sports with tons of booths with so many fun things and sparkly things and running things and....shoes...and medals... I wished I had Scrooge McDuck's bottomless pocket. Not only is this a great place to pick up anything you might need for your race the next day, but this is also where you check in to get your bib, t-shirt, race details and your race bag (not the same as your goodie/swag bag, I'll explain this later.) We heard that the expo is really crowded and sometimes hard to navigate but we were able to walk right up to our check-in booth and get our bibs and all the things we needed with no wait or trouble whatsoever. The main part of the expo, however, was a little busier so just be prepared to battle crowds as you walk through (if you even want to at all. Though I didn't plan to buy anything, it was still fun to see all the booths and their products)
The night before your race, eat well and get a good night's sleep because the race starts early. Like, wake up at 2:30 in the freaking morning and leave at 3 early. But adreneline and excitement wins out and it really doesn't seem that bad. Set a couple of alarms though! You don't want to be late!
(Don't we look excited?!)
Since we got there early, we got to hang out in the car and fuel up and make sure we had everything in our race bags that we needed. So, about these race bags: It's whatever you think you'll need before and after the race but you are not allowed to bring in your own bag. (I assume that since the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, bag security has changed. Again, this was my first time so the clear bag might have always been a rule.) The race bag is a large, clear drawstring bag provided by RunDisney along with a sticker of your bib number to be placed on it. Before heading to your corrals, you check your bag in with the wonderful volunteers where it is kept safe until you finish and pick it back up again. It depends on what you think you will personally need in the bag. Since this was my first race, I probably packed more than needed but brought along a couple of small lacrosse balls to roll out feet and muscle knots after the race, an extra bottle of water, some peanut butter and spoon, bobby pins and hair ties, a few bucks just in case and some other bits and bobs that I can't remember which makes me think that I didn't need them. I would say that the water and the balls were the best things I put in the bag. On your way from the finish line, you get lots of recovery snacks and drinks so you won't go hungry or thirsty. I was fine wearing my same shoes that I raced in but it is recommended to bring another pair of shoes, socks and perhaps some tape or blister guard for your toes, if needed.
Now, on to the corrals! Make sure you use the restroom! I had been drinking so much water all morning and even though I used the bathroom before going in the corrals, I needed it again just after starting the race (this dilemma will be covered later.) Find your starting corral which is listed on your bib and stay warm by moving and stretching! You might be here for a while.
It was chilly in the morning and I had goosebumps on my arms but once the race started, we warmed up and the day ended up being very sunny and 79 degrees!
(My running team from left: Minnie Mouse, Belle, Tinkerbell, Meg. Beat that Cinderella!)
Fairy Godmother starts the first runners (the really fast ones) at 5:30am with the wave of her wand as fireworks light up the night sky. Luckily for the rest of us, each corral gets fireworks to send us on our way.....which wasn't until 6:30-ish....like I said, keep moving and don't let your muscles get cold because you can be there for a while depending on which corral you are placed in.
When it starts though, it is so exciting! The first part of your 13.1 mile adventure starts off just outside Epcot and takes you 5 miles to the Magic Kingdom. The running for this stretch is all paved highway. In fact, nearly all of the race is on the road, with the exception of the couple miles you are in the Magic Kingdom. But when you get in the Magic Kingdom....*sigh* :) ....I think a major moment of the race is running up Main Street USA with hundreds of spectators cheering the runners on and the early sun rising up onto Cinderella's Castle.
You know how I said earlier how I drank a lot of water before the start and ended up needing the bathroom right away? *Sigh* So inconvenient. There are port-a-potties along the way but I'm not the biggest fan of those and the lines were so long! I knew there were actual bathrooms open in the Magic Kingdom, so when I stopped at one, a cast member told me about another around the corner so I followed her directions back behind a building to one with a shorter line only to have two girls tell me that they just used the bathroom in a restaurant that was further back but completely open. So me and a few other Princesses bolted for the chance of a wide-open bathroom with no lines. Success! Apparently this is a unicorn kind of rare moment, especially for Disney races but dreams really do come true here.
My recommendation is to use the bathroom in Magic Kingdom since they are real bathrooms with lights and running water. Don't hurt and damage your body by holding it too long though! It's not worth it!
It was cool seeing the theme parks before they opened as well as running through all the backlots and "behind the scenes" areas. Many park employees are setting up for their work day at this time and quite a few of them were spectating and cheering for the runners as we went by. Speaking of spectators, I think they were another one of the best parts of the racing experience. From marching bands to cheerleaders and Japanese drums to the random stranger giving out high fives, the spectators (or as RunDisney calls them--the "ChEAR Squad") really give you the extra push you might be needing. Plus, quite a few of them have signs that are really hilarious so it keeps a smile on your face.
Because things come in threes, the third wonderful thing about the race were the many volunteers who got up early to set everything up, hand out water, take care of runners and just provide a generally awesome helping hand to the event. THANK YOU VOLUNTEERS! xoxo
In the 2 days that followed, we tried to do as much as we could in the Disney parks and even got to geek out at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. It was an amazing girls weekend and I'm glad we all took the chance and "became runners" so we could have this cherished memory together.
Would I do anything different now that I've experienced it? Only one major thing, otherwise I felt like I was really prepared!
1. The biggest mistake for me was not putting my estimated finish time in to get a corral that was farther up. You see, what corral you are placed in is determined by your pace and what time you think you might finish in, keeping the faster runners towards the front and the slower runners, walkers or those doing a run/walk towards the back. I didn't put my time in because I didn't think it was a big deal so we were all together in one of the last corrals and I spent a lot of time dodging walkers. I understand I might sound like a snob but it ended up being really tough running around big groups of walkers only to have to run on the grass and rocks along the road. And for them, too, to not have to keep hearing "excuse me!" "On your left!" "Pardon me!" every few minutes. Getting passed can be discouraging too!
Following the three weeks after our return, the next race, particularly a Disney race, is all the four of us have been able to think about. I look forward to returning again sometime (hopefully soon!) If you're thinking about trying a race sometime, DO IT. If you're thinking of doing a RunDisney race, save your pennies and please absolutely do it because you'll have the most wonderful time!
Have questions regarding the ins and outs of the race? The course? The training? Please ask me at email@example.com! I love hearing from people and, even though I wrote so much in this article, there is still more to know about if you're really interested in signing up for a race--whether it be the Princess half marathon or any other!