I’ve been waiting for a long time to be able to write this particular post: a recap of my very first half marathon in my very favorite place in the world. I’ve decided to split it into two sections because, otherwise, it would just be RIDICULOUSLY long…especially since I thought I’d share the finer details of our trip along with the race day stuff! I spent an unmentionable number of hours scouring the Internet for blogs and recaps of the Disney Princess Half Marathon while I was training for the race and planning my trip, so hopefully there’s something here that might be able to help someone preparing to become a princess in 2014 (or participate in any other RunDisney race)! Here it goes.
My “ChEAR squad” (mom, sister, BF) and I arrived in Orlando on Thursday morning, and after checking into our hotel room at Coronado Springs and freshening up a bit — I don’t even need to tell you just how drastic of a temperature change it was between New Jersey and the unseasonably hot, sticky, humid Florida — we headed to Epcot for the first of our pre-race festivities. I’ve found that it’s the perfect Disney park to hit when you only have half a day, because it handles crowds well and if lines are too long, you can always just hang out in the World Showcase! We had our “yay, we arrived!” dinner at Le Cellier — my first visit to the restaurant — and, of course, did a little light shopping before heading back to the room.
On Friday, I hit the expo (check out my recap here) while my mom and sister visited Seaworld (let’s just say my sister likes dolphins as much as I like Mickey Mouse) and my boyfriend alternated between enjoying Coronado Springs’ pool and helping me lug my expo purchases back to the room. We hooked up again in the afternoon to re-visit Epcot for missed attractions (we never made it on Soarin’ this trip because I refuse to stand in 60+ minute lines for anything and the Fastpasses were gone both days), but we did see everything else and enjoy Illuminations from one of my favorite World Showcase restaurants, La Hacienda de San Angel.
Saturday was supposed to be a “relaxing” day, with a few hours at Animal Kingdom (the only Disney park you can experience in less than one full day, IMHO) and an early dinner reservation at The Wave…of American Flavors at the Contemporary.
But it still occurred to me that I was doing pretty much everything wrong in terms of preparing for a half marathon. I was eating foods that were new to me (kind of hard not to when you’re not at home and cooking for yourself), my sleep schedule was completely out of whack from the traveling and park touring, the extreme humidity was making it hard to stay fully hydrated, and worst of all, my legs and feet were starting to feel a little sore from all the walking…even though we took things at a much more relaxed pace than usual!
By our last dinner before the half, I was a wreck. We hit the hay at a respectable 8pm that evening, but I don’t think I ended up with more than an hour or two of sleep before my alarm started blaring at 2:30am. I tossed and turned all night long, wondering if my training had been enough and whether I’d ever see that finish line. I even started mentally kicking myself for making a RunDisney event my first half marathon — with so many unknowns, it made it hard for me to relax and stop obsessing over not being able to finish the race.
But as I got out of bed and made my breakfast (I brought a mini-blender with me so I could make a smoothie in the room, my go-to pre-race meal!) and started putting on my costume — a lovely runner-fied version of this store-bought Ariel costume, expertly tailored by my sister — I tried to focus less on the enormity of what I was about to do (me, a former 260+ pound woman, running 13.1 miles!) and more on the fun of it all. I knew this race would be amazing and magical and everything I could ever want from a first half marathon, so I decided to make a plan right then and there that my one and only race-day goal would be to JUST HAVE FUN. I would stop for as many character photos as I wanted, as many fuel/potty/water pit stops as I needed, and just focus on FINISHING the race.
I headed out to catch a bus to Epcot around 3am, and luckily snagged one of the last available seats on the first bus (my family was going to travel to Epcot by car a little bit later on) where I munched on a banana and a Luna bar. I had purchased the race retreat when I first registered for the race, not really knowing what it was, so I headed for the retreat tent to nibble on half a bagel (NOT a tried-and-tested food for my sensitive stomach, but at 3:30am, I knew I had at least two hours to digest and should be fine) and enjoy some much-needed coffee.
I jumped in line for my first photo op of the day with the mouse from Cinderella, not knowing that there were character ops with princesses right outside, including the one photo I really wanted: Ariel. By the time I finished enjoying a visit to the retreat’s “private” port-a-potties and went outside to enjoy the DJ and character ops, it was almost time to head to the corrals and Ariel’s line was LOOOONG…so I only hoped I’d be able to get my picture with my favorite princess dressed in my costume (and, hopefully, with a medal around my neck) after the race.
Quick review of RACE RETREAT: Unless you’re going to attend the breakfast after the race (I did not) and celebrate with your fellow runners and/or ChEAR Squad members (Platinum level only), in my opinion, it might not be worth the price tag.
After making my way to the corrals and hitting yet another port-a-potty (at least I knew my desperate attempts to stay hydrated in the days before the race seemed to have worked!), I stood in my corral and tried to calm myself down. I knew I wasn’t the only one running by myself, but I seemed to be surrounded by groups of friends and sisters and mother-daughter duos and I suddenly felt completely alone in this — as I knew I would be. This was something I had to do for myself and by myself, but I was having a hard time enjoying the pre-race interviews and excitement because it was all hitting me: I was about the run the longest distance I had ever run, on very little sleep, in high humidity and heat that I hadn’t trained in for months. By the time the Fairy Godmother said the magic words and the fireworks went off for Corral A to begin, I was little more than a bundle of nerves.
But then I started running. This was really happening — all of my months and months of training were paying off. My body knew what to do. I forced myself to focus on the moment and what I was doing, and relaxed into a comfortable pace of 9:30, even though the sweat was soaking right through my tiara-themed BondiBand by the end of the first mile. I was jamming out to my RunDisney playlist and found myself grinning like a dork by the time we reached out first character stop: the pirate ship. I was under the impression that starting in Corral A might guarantee me short lines for characters, and that might have been true for the first photo or two, but as I kept stopping for pictures…with the princes, with villains, with Lightning McQueen, I already saw Corrals B and C catching up, and the less-than 5-minute character lines were already turning into 10 or more minutes each.
As a side note: at the expo, I submitted my most recent 10K time of 56:17, which placed me in Corral A. I know there has been lots of talk about the overcrowded course and walkers/slower runners blocking the paths and people being placed into the incorrect corrals, etc. so let me just say that despite my ridiculously slow finish time (more on that later), I legitimately earned my place in the first corral…and, yes, I did use that extra time cushion to soak up a little bit more of the race day magic and stop for almost EVERY character photo and tons of other photo ops in front of the castle, mile marker signs, and other points along the course. I knew going into this race that there was no way I’d be able to maintain my usual 9-10/minute mile pace with so many Disney-fied distractions along the way, and I didn’t want to go home with my shiny new medal and an amazing finish time but know that I didn’t stop to enjoy any of the fun along the course. I wanted to do my best but still take advantage of everything a RunDisney race has to offer — mission accomplished!
I was running from character to character, feeling physically great and mentally pumped, and having the time of my life. I couldn’t wait for the moment when I’d be running down Main Street, and I was getting closer and closer. I stopped for a potty break at the TTC where I began taking a few of my cherry chocolate Clif Shot Bloks — my absolute lifesaver during long runs, and quite possibly the only reason I had the energy to finish this race!
After passing the fifth mile marker, I knew my BIG MOMENT was almost here, and I saw several volunteers and fellow runners looking at me strangely when I started getting emotional when I saw the castle in the background from where we were about to enter Main Street USA from “backstage.” I was getting close to the halfway point, and even though the clocks on the mile markers were showing times that were SO MUCH SLOWER than I knew I was capable of running, seeing Cinderella’s Castle for the first time during the race reminded me of why I was doing this and just how big of an accomplishment it was for me to even be running this race…so I decided right then and there to continue enjoying the course and not to waste my precious mental energy obsessing over my finish time.
When I finally reached Main Street, elated really isn’t even the word to describe how I felt. I was struggling a bit to maintain my usual pace, so I had slowed down to about a 10-11/minute mile pace in between characters and water stops (I decided it was very important to keep stopping for water and Powerade, because this princess was NOT used to long runs in the heat/humidity!), but no matter what, I was DOING IT…and I was going to make sure I finished this race.
Before I knew it, I was running down Main Street, through some of my favorite “lands,” and then out through the castle. Of course, I stopped for a few photos with friends along the way, and I saw my “ChEAR Squad” waiting for me in the hub right in front of the castle. I put on a little show for them and then continued on to the second part of the race.
Quick review of CHEAR SQUAD: If you care at all about having those extra few photos in front of the castle, or seeing your family and friends in front of the castle, or really having anything to do with the castle, then ChEAR Squad is the only way to do so…all other spectators were relegated to Main Street.
Check out part two of my race recap here!