It’s official: I am a half marathon finisher!
Late last month, I traveled to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, for the Disney Princess Half Marathon, which was held on Sunday, February 26, 2017. I have loved Walt Disney World since I was a child — I’ve probably been there 15 times, at least — so running my first half marathon seemed like a great reason to make another trip. I had the idea last summer, registered somewhat on a whim, and the rest is history!
Because my husband had an unexpected commitment for work and was unable to join me, my sister-in-law, Angelie, and my best friend, Carli, traveled to Florida with me to be my personal chEAR squad at the race.
The Disney Princess Half Marathon started earlier than any other race that I have run! We decided to stay on property the night before the race at Disney’s Pop Century Resort, because Disney provides free transportation to and from the start/finish line to anyone staying at one of their resort hotels. (My in-laws relocated to Orlando in late 2015, so we stayed with them for the rest of our trip.) To take advantage of the transportation while ensuring that you’d make it to the start line in time, Disney was encouraging everyone to be on a bus by 4 a.m. The official race start was 5:30 a.m.
Knowing that, I set my alarm for 3:15 a.m. (I haven’t seen that early of a wake-up time in awhile, and I hope that it is awhile before I see it again!) After putting on my running costume — I chose to be Cinderella, complete with a crown headband — and grabbing my phone, head phones, and the runners’ snack pack that I purchased in the Pop Century food court the night before, I set out. Carli and Angelie were going to sleep until 5 a.m. and then make their way to the Magic Kingdom to see me run through the park.
Disney contracted with charter buses instead of using their own bus fleet for the race participants. I boarded one of the charter buses around 3:50 a.m. and had a horrifying revelation almost as soon as I sat down: I had forgotten the adapter piece that I needed to use to connect my headphones to my phone. My husband and I upgraded our phones at Thanksgiving, and unfortunately, the new phone doesn’t have a headphone jack. You can use an adapter that will connect headphones to the phone through the USB-C charging port, but that is what I had forgotten.
When I realized this, I jumped off the bus and was prepared to run quickly back to the room until I had a second realization: the adapter piece was still attached to my noise-cancelling headphones that I use when flying, and I had left those back at my in-laws’ house, 25 minutes away. I always run with music — it keeps me energized and focused — and here I was, forced to complete the longest race that I had ever done without the option of any music at all.
Resigned to this, I got back on the next bus and made my way to the start line at Epcot. The bus ride, which should have taken about 10 minutes, ended up taking a half hour, since there were so many other buses and cars trying to make their way to the start line, too. Thankfully, that did give me enough time to eat the bagel with peanut butter and the banana that were included in the snack bag that I bought.
What I didn’t realize was how long the walk would be from where the buses dropped us off to the actual start line. By the time that I reached my corral, I had already logged 7,000 steps on my FitBit! I reached my corral around 5:20 a.m. They were definitely right about being on the bus by 4 a.m. to make it to the start line in time.
There were so.many.people. running this race. There were 18 corrals — from letters A to P — and some of those corrals were split into two groups. I waited for my corral to be called — group M — for nearly an hour after I reached the starting line. I started getting cold and sleepy during the wait.
It was about 6:30 a.m. by the time my group set off. I was definitely energized again when the fireworks went off! If it wasn’t real yet, it definitely became real once I crossed the starting line.
Ever since I’ve started running about 3 years ago, I’ve always run intervals. Over the years, I’ve increased the total distance that I’ve run at one time without walking, but I’ve never logged more than 2 miles without stopping. One of my goals for 2017 was to run a 5k without stopping and I did just that — during this race! I achieved a goal within a goal! I actually ran the first 4 miles without stopping.
My favorite part of the race was running through the Magic Kingdom. We entered through a side entrance near the front of the park at about mile 5 and made our way onto Main Street, U.S.A., with the castle directly ahead of us.
The route through Main Street, U.S.A. was lined with spectators and added so much extra energy. After Main Street, U.S.A., we turned right to run through Tomorrowland and up through Fantasyland. There, I stopped for a photo with Beast.
Once back on the course, we ran through Cinderella’s Castle! I stopped at the base of the castle for another photo.
After the castle, the course then passed through Liberty Square, Adventureland, and Frontierland, before taking us out of another side exit. Here, right after we exited the park, there was a photo spot with Snow White, Cinderella, and Prince Charming. That is the only photo that I regret not stopping for, but the line was so, so long.
Once we exited the Magic Kingdom to make our way back to Epcot, the course became extremely congested. Even if I had wanted to keep running at this point, it was difficult to do more than a trot at times, because there were so many people. It was especially difficult when we were running on a two-lane road, and one side was still open to traffic. This congestion really contributed to a loss in momentum for me. My knees and legs really started to hurt by this point, too.
At about mile 8.5 there was a “food” stop, and I tried one of these gel packs for the first time.
It didn’t contain any caffeine and was actually pretty good. I think that I am going to buy some more of these to use for training.
Around mile 9.5 I stopped for another photo, this time with Jack Sparrow. I had seen him on the other side of the course on the way to the Magic Kingdom, but I didn’t stop then because I was determined to at least run the 5k. I was happy that he was there on the way back.
I really started struggling at about mile 11 or 11.5, after I stopped to use the restroom. My legs were hurting terribly by that point, I was mostly walking, and I was just straight up tired.
Like we did at the Magic Kingdom, we entered Epcot from a side entrance and came around the side of Spaceship Earth. The cheering crowds definitely helped, but I was nearly in tears. I had had enough and just wanted to finish.
I stopped for one more photograph in full view of Spaceship Earth, once I made the turn at the end of Future World.
After that photo, my full attention was on the finish line. It couldn’t come soon enough.
There was a full gospel choir around the last turn as we exited the park, and it was fantastic! I wish that I had gotten a photo.
Just a little bit further…
I really did it!
After receiving my medal, I stopped for a finisher photo.
It took me awhile to link up with my group, but when I did, I immediately burst into tears. There were so many emotions in those tears — relief that it was over, pride that I had actually finished, reaction to the exhaustion and pain… I couldn’t have been more proud of myself and grateful that two of the women who are dearest to me were there to share in my accomplishment.
I learned so, so much from this race.
- I can finish what I set out to do. I actually finished a half marathon! I could never have imagined that this would be true when I started running 3 years ago. I did it. I really did it.
- It doesn’t have to be perfect to be worthwhile. On paper, there was nothing perfect about this race. My training was sporadic, I couldn’t use my headphones, I missed my goal time, I walked about half of the race, my legs and knees hurt, I hit a major wall — but even so, it was so worthwhile.
- I can run without headphones. I ran 4 miles without stopping, without my headphones. Those 4 miles were at a slower pace than usual, because I didn’t have the beat or the momentum of the music to push me, but I proved to myself that I could have a good run without listening to anything.
- I would probably benefit from a running buddy, especially for a long-distance race. I’m used to running alone, and I even enjoy it. However, it would have been helpful to run with someone to help keep my spirits up, especially when I started struggling during the second half of the race.
- I don’t have anything to prove with my running. Right now, I feel most comfortable completing race distances that are 5-6 miles. The way that my life is right now, I don’t really have the time to adequately train for 2 hours or more at a time. I will probably do another half marathon in the future, but even if I don’t, it doesn’t make me any less of a runner.
- Running makes me feel like a rock star. I’m grateful that I’ve found a form of exercise that I truly enjoy and that makes me feel alive.
I would wholeheartedly recommend the Disney Princess Half Marathon to anyone who enjoys running and competing in races, loves Disney, or both. It’s a great excuse for a girls’ weekend! I am so, so glad that I did it. It truly was a fantastic first half marathon experience, one that I will never forget.