When I left off, I had spotted my ChEAR Squad in front of Cinderella’s Castle. Now I know what they mean by the power of the spectator in a race, because it really did provide an instant boost that I needed to face the second part of my first half marathon. I stopped for some castle pictures and then waved good-bye to continue my journey.
I will say that the second half of the race wasn’t quite magical as the first for me! Once we made our way out of the Magic Kingdom, I no longer had that BIG MOMENT of running through the castle to look forward to…and now that the sun was out (although there were plenty of clouds, thank goodness), the heat was starting to affect me more and more.
I continued my race day plan of running until I spotted a character I wanted to pose with, and vowed not to let myself stop to walk at all. I mentally gave myself permission to slow my pace down as much as I had to in light of the weather conditions, but I had worked so hard and trained for months and months to RUN a half marathon — and that’s exactly what I intended to do.
I’m proud to say that even though I was definitely tired, and did slow down through one or two water stops and took an unexpected potty break in mile 9 (let’s just say I was suddenly hit with some stomach issues that simply would not wait until I finished), I kept that promise!
However, all of my silliness and photo taking in the first half of the race had really started to catch up with me. The second half of the course is marked by some very narrow paths, and as I looked around at the runners around me, I saw that there were a handful of women who started in B and C…but a whole lot more with E, F, G, and yes, even some H’s, printed on their bibs.
I seemed to be the only A left, and for a brief moment panicked about spotting those dreaded buses that would whisk me to the finish line.
Truth be told, I hadn’t been paying a whole lot of attention to time, and was pretty much only using my Garmin to gauge my pace at that point (I kept starting and stopping it for character/water/bathroom breaks)…so I was getting worried about just how far back in the pack I had fallen. My proof was right there in front of me, when I spent the majority of miles 7, 8, and 9 just trying to weave around the walkers and slower runners.
I can’t complain — it was my own fault that I was now amongst the slower princesses — but it was frustrating and pretty much impossible to “make up for lost time,” as I had hoped. I couldn’t quite find my pace as I tried over and over again to politely break through walls of walkers who, unfortunately, were taking up the entire path. Some of my more dangerous maneuvers included running on the grass, which was very uneven and muddy and I feared slipping or twisting my ankle…and, I’m not proud of this, but I definitely took on a few stretches of road in the oncoming traffic lane with several other runners who seemed desperate to get ahead of the pack — despite the warnings of the cast members telling us to stay on the other side of the traffic cones.
By the time I reached some of my the character photos I definitely planned to stop for, including Genie and Stitch, I knew that I could pretty much count on tacking on a solid hour to my anticipated finish time. The lines for characters were getting a little shorter — I think everyone was just ready to finish the race! — but it was still eating up some significant chunks of time. Worst of all, though, I found myself really struggling by miles 10 and 11, especially as we had to make our way over some hilly overpasses on the way back to Epcot…and I really, really just wanted to finish. I scarfed down the remainder of my Clif Shot Bloks in those last few miles, and that helped, and I felt fortunate that my body wasn’t aching or in pain. I was just tired.
I kept wishing I had gotten just a few more hours of sleep, or didn’t eat whatever it was that hit my stomach with a vengeance in mile 9. I cursed the weather over and over again for being so hot and humid, and I cursed myself for not incorporating more speedwork into my weekly training runs…I now felt as though I was crawling, and my Garmin showed me averaging about a 12-13 minute/mile.
By mile 11, I was mentally and physically DONE — so much so that I decided I wouldn’t stop for any more characters or photos. I kept texting my ChEAR Squad to let them know I was on my way, but that the heat was really getting to me. I argued with myself about stopping to walk a bit over the hills (in defiance to the the green army man from Toy Story shouting at us to “move, move, move!”)…but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Mind you, I was moving at a ridiculously slow pace (for me) at that point…but I just kept running.
When I finally saw the mile 12 marker, I knew I was going to be able to do this. The last two miles had taken a lot out of me, but with just over one mile left to go, I decided to push myself and pick up the pace as much as I could. Running into Epcot infused me with some refreshed Disney excitement, and even though I was struggling, I knew that I would be finishing my first half marathon in just a few minutes…and that it would all be worth it in the end.
And when I finally saw the shiny “13” mile marker and the finish line in the distance, suddenly, all of my physical discomfort seemed to disappear. I sprinted towards the bleachers at the finish line and started waving like a loon at my sister and boyfriend (I never did spot my mom!), and of course felt compelled to run over for a quick photo with Princess Minnie Mouse before hopping back into the throngs of people crossing the finish line for my ultimate BIG MOMENT.
Another quick review of ChEAR Squad: There seemed to be plenty of room for spectators at the finish line, but if you have someone in your party who has trouble standing for long periods of time (that would be my mom) or if you want those aerial shots of you crossing the finish line that can only be taken from the bleachers, you may want to consider the additional expense. My personal ChEAR Squad also seemed to thoroughly enjoy the complimentary beverages and bathrooms while they were waiting 1,000 years for me to finish the race!
I threw my hands in the air and finally, it was over. I had finished my first half marathon.
I thought back to all the training runs I had done in the sweltering summer heat or the pounding rain or in three inches of snow. I thought about all the times I was busy with writing assignments or too tired or not feeling up to running, but still forced myself to lace up my sneakers anyway. I thought about all the 5Ks and 10Ks I had pushed my body through in preparation for this very moment.
Even though, as anticipated, my participating in the Disney hooplah along the course cost me A FULL HOUR of time, I have absolutely no regrets. I wouldn’t have done this race any other way, and now I will forever have all of these photos to remember the time I did the impossible. The girl who was too overweight and out of shape to run a mile had just completed a half marathon, and I don’t care what the stupid clock at the finish line said — nobody can ever take that away from me.
A large part of the reason that I’ve always loved Disney is that, to me, it represents dreams. Yes, of course I realize it is, at the end of the day, a multi-zillion dollar entertainment corporation, but I do believe at its core that the heart of the Disney message is not being afraid to chase your goals…not matter how unlikely or “impossible” they may seem (everyone knows the famous Walt Disney quote about doing the impossible, right?!). I have spent my entire life being put down by others, and being told that I couldn’t be a writer or that I would always be overweight. It took me a long time to wake up and realize that none of those things were true…and that I had the strength inside me to pursue my dreams all along. I never could have known that, someday, one of those dreams would include running a half marathon — or that I would not only become a writer, but also successfully learn how to live as a healthy, active person.
That’s why I feel there was no more appropriate place to run my first half marathon, and while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Disney Princess Half Marathon to the serious competitive runner looking to PR because it would probably prove just a bit too darn crowded, I couldn’t have asked for a better first half marathon experience. If anything, this race has reminded me to stop doubting myself, and taught me the importance of pushing myself out of my comfort zone — and now that I’m no longer afraid of the distance, I’m already registering for my next half marathon (which I WILL run for time, to see what I can REALLY do!)
Oh, and after I was sprinkled with pixie dust and handed my very first half marathon bling, I did manage to get my photo with my favorite princess…and went on to enjoy a few more magical days in Disney, where I reveled in my accomplishment. I cannot WAIT to take on Dumbo Double Dare, and I’m already planning my next several RunDisney races — consider me an addict.
The best part of all is that now I KNOW I can do this…so there’s no stopping me now! 😀