After months of reading and hearing and talking about the many reasons to choose a women’s race at Disney World, this past weekend was our opportunity to see what it would be like to run a race designed for women. We packed our little Beetle convertible on loan and, feeling so very Thelma and Louise, set off for a weekend where women set the pace at the Toronto Women’s Run Series 10K event.
Like any good road trip, it couldn’t be all about the destination – we had to have some fun with the journey! We decided some quality shopping time was in order en route to Toronto where we visited the Disney Store for some good pre-race karma, and continued our hunt for the perfect tutu ribbon and race-day bling for the Princess Half-Marathon (yep, we always have our eyes on the prize). We then spent the night before the 10K race working diligently on our tutus while wearing our new tiaras. Can’t think of a better way to prepare for a race! We generally spend the night before a race talking out all of our anxieties and nerves by phone, so it was a treat to relax in a hotel and embrace the power of sparkle and bling! Sure, the Princess Half-Marathon is 6 months away…but it’s never too early to plan your outfit, right?
As the clock counted down towards the race at hand, we both started to get into our own pre-race head space – which, as it turns out, is quite different. I get very edgy with nervous energy the night before a race and start to question whether I am ready. In pretty much every case, it is not that I haven’t trained. It is that I have over-trained. I don’t taper or let up at all before races since these experiences are meant to be part of our training and I am already forgoing a long run of a greater distance on the weekends of these events. But then, the race is suddenly upon me and I know that my legs aren’t fresh, in fact they feel like lead, plus it is so damned hot, and I don’t like the course for whatever random reason and…and…and…the negative self-talk and sheer number of problems I can come up with is actually quite impressive and, for anyone on the receiving end of my tirade, a little comical. It doesn’t take much to get me going either. In this case, the fact that I didn’t get a good vibe from my bib number was enough to set me off. Luckily, the glitter and bling and sparkle of our tutus and tiaras managed to distract me. Somewhat.
Alana, on the other hand, is pretty much only concerned with one thing pre-race: her outfit. She is not worried about the running at all, or maybe this is her mechanism to NOT worry about it. Either way, she lovingly put up with my neurotic chatter and, only when we got into bed after midnight (reason #104 that I will not be able to perform: lack of sleep) did she start organizing her play list and trying to figure out a race day plan of attack. My race day tunes and strategy had been fine-tuned long before – not because I am just that organized, but because there is no way I could manage those tasks the night before a race when my nerves are fried. Not sure she ever really settled on a game plan, but she didn’t seem too worried about it either and slept like a baby. I tossed and turned, worrying about every minute of sleep that I was missing – eventually, I must have annoyed and exhausted myself into a restless sleep.
Lights up! And time for a role reversal to keep things interesting. On race days, I am done worrying and ready to get it done. I have worked out all of my pre-race nerves and just want to get on with it. So I was up and had our Disney dining reservations booked while sipping my power shake (because yes, our dining window opened the day of this race…reason #105 I was sure I wouldn’t be able to perform: stressed and rushed from trying to do too much before the race). Everything was going according to plan and I was feeling good. Alana, on the other hand, felt horrible – headache and upset stomach, unable to get out of bed. With ten minutes until we needed to leave for the race, she was dressed, but back under the covers. My pre-race nerves the night before that seemed so amusing? Biting her in the butt right about now. But, once she was up and out in the fresh air, she relaxed and was ready to do it. We both have different ways of getting there and luckily we both choose different moments to freak out – so the other one is able to step in and get things under control. For two fairly neurotic newbie runners, we complement each other very well!
The vibe of the women’s race was great. It was just such a different atmosphere than we are used to (in our very limited experience). I remember being lined up at a race back in June and hearing the men in front of us talking about running 4 minute kilometres. We didn’t feel so much like we fit into that crowd. But here, we felt at home. This was also due to the number of women we were meeting up with at this race: my good friend, Stacy (pictured above) AND some new friends – fellow runDisney fans who have run the Princess Half-Marathon or are training to do so…or both! We didn’t have much time pre-race to socialize but, with the mental zone I need to enter before a race, that is probably not a bad thing! Very quickly we were lined up in our corrals based on estimated finish time. This meant that Alana and I could not start together as we usually do – we had to wish each other well and move to our own areas. Luckily, my friend Stacy was starting with me so I had a friendly face to keep me company in the corral while I fussed with my Garmin and my iPod…and soon enough, we were off (and looking quite determined!).
This course had changed at the last minute from a 10K loop to a 5K double loop, which I personally don’t like as well. I feel a bit like a rat running in circles and would much rather just run from the start to the finish, where every step gets you closer to the end. Alana, though, prefers a double loop so she knows all of the landmarks by her second time around. An added bonus to the double loop was that we passed each other twice – similar to another race we did in July, where it does provide a bit of a boost to see your sole sister in action!
The women on the course were so incredibly supportive of each other. When we saw the leaders coming back on the first loop, the shouts and cheers were overwhelming – we were all so happy to see sisters doing it for themselves, as the song goes. Nearing the 9 km mark, I started to pass a twosome who had been playing tag with me the whole race. Our paces were similar so it took some time to overtake them and, for a minute or two, I was pretty much running beside them. As I started to pull ahead, the one woman smiled at me and said, “You go, girl”. It was just the boost I needed to turn it up when my legs desperately wanted to slow down. I have never seen or felt such camaraderie on a course. I loved it. It completely solidified for me that choosing a women’s running event for our goal race was the right choice.
In the end, I came within 11 seconds of a personal best and, considering the heat and humidity this summer compared to my PR from the cooler spring temperatures, I choose to believe that all of my hard work through a very sweaty summer has paid off. As for racing on tired, heavy legs that may have been faster with a couple of rest days beforehand – that is my own fault and my personal take-away from this race. It does take a while to get things through my stubborn head, but I have now promised myself that I WILL take it easy before my next race and give myself a chance to miss running for a few days. I always have my best runs when I have missed a day or been forced to stay inside on the elliptical. I generally expect those runs to be the hardest (what if my body forgot how to run during those days off?), but they always turn out to be the best runs, where I am surprised by the sheer joy and power I feel with every step. I need to remember this and take it to my next race.
Alana finished strong as well, 4 minutes over her last 10K, but an accomplishment nonetheless considering a summer head cold kept her off the pavement for almost two weeks this month. She took a lesson from this one too, and that has to do with consistent training. While I am too consistent (to a fault), she is not consistent enough and seems to head into each race feeling unprepared. If only we could split our differences! However, regardless of finishing time, every woman got a beautiful medal and was cheered through the finish line like a rock star where sweet chocolate and salty chips awaited.
As if that wasn’t the perfect ending to a great race, we had some princesses to meet! Once everyone had finished, with medals around our necks, it was time to talk Disney racing – and pose like princesses, complete with tiaras…
It was so fantastic to meet these women – and in fact, we chatted so long that the race course was being dismantled around us! We may all be at different paces and come from different places, but we certainly do have a lot in common with a love of Disney and a love of running. This gathering made the race so much fun and we can’t wait to do another Princess meet-up at the next big race in Toronto next month.
This race experience may have highlighted some differences between me and my sole sister. Sure, we train differently. Yes, we have different goals when we run. Our pre-race nerves manifest themselves in different ways. We have different challenges and we both take different lessons away from a race. But it also cemented what a great team we are! This was a 36-hour get-away of pure princess power where we never stopped talking or laughing. And on this particular day, we were both so proud to be women taking part in this event. We came away more excited than ever to run the half-marathon in Disney World surrounded by princesses, including the fabulous ones we met here. In fact, it crossed our minds that we may want to come back to Sunnybrook Park for another Women’s Run…say, the half-marathon in 2013? We’ll be full-fledged princesses by then, having completed our goal race at the most magical place on earth. We want to be able to stop and smell the roses on that course and savour every moment…but I also want to know how fast I can run a half-marathon (and Alana was easily influenced by the finisher’s necklace!). I just wasn’t sure if we would be able to find one that would appeal to us or feel like the right fit. Now, we have. The best race for us is one where women set the pace. And we’re damn proud of it.