One of the best things that has ever happened to me is participating in Disney’s Princess Half-Marathon. Race day was like no other. First of all, the day began at 2 o’clock in the morning. After tumbling out of a bed of 4, (my husband and I soon realized that our babies aren’t babies anymore and play yards are useless defences to a high vaulting toddler), I quickly dressed in my Ode to Merida plaid costume. As I rushed to meet my BRF Jodi at the front of Art of Animation Resort, I was overwhelmed with the excitement of the much-anticipated Princess Half Marathon. Strangers no more, Princesses called out to one another good luck in the warm early morning air.
Jodi and I lit up the sky in our blinking LED hot pink jackets as we made the 20 minute trek to Race Retreat among hundreds of Princesses in Training. We soon realized that we should have left our jackets with the snowy Canadian weather. The weather was warm with a mild breeze. Our goal was to take advantage of the cool air before the heat of the Florida sun appeared. Good thing we were sparkled with an extra special dose of pixie dust!
Once in Race Retreat, we quickly got our pictures taken with Aurora’s Fairy Godmothers and settled in. Race Retreat was well worth the extra cost. The temperature controlled tent hosted comfy chairs, a healthy breakfast, a matted stretching area and clean washroom facilities. The morning rushed by and soon we were becoming acquainted with online running group members making our way to the start line.
It became very apparent that I wasn’t going to keep pace with the pace princess in my corral. When she said she wanted to run it in 2 hours, I knew it was time to make my interval running known. Also, my goal was not time related. I simply wanted to finish in an upright position with a smile on my face. Thanks to Another Mother Runner Dimity McDowell’s advice at the Expo, I was reminded to slow down enough to enjoy being in the NOW. We joined forces with our friend Laural, a captivating Snow White, where we made plans to begin running intervals together. And, slowly, we made our way to Corral B where Jodi would join us.
Once in Corral B, the real excitement began. There was a sea of Princesses: Aurora, Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White, and Merida to name a few. Pictures were being taken and last-minute strategy was being discussed. The music was blaring and for a moment I thought I lost myself in a rock concert setting. It wasn’t until the “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” from Fairy Godmother and the fireworks for Corral A that it finally hit me: I was about to run the longest distance of my life – the half marathon. Uncharacteristically, I finally felt ready to conquer this distance and totally at home among tiaras, tutus and sparkle skirts.
Once far enought away from the start line and the surrounding noises became only the pounding of Princesses on the pavement, I couldn’t help reflect. It was just over a year ago that one person’s words transformed my life forever. A member of Canada’s Olymbic Wheelchair Basketball Team came to my school to motivate the students to dream big and persevere. The next day, as my class was discussing Shane’s inspiring delivery from the day before, one of my students took me on: “What have you ever done that seemed impossible?” My student had an interesting position as she went on to vent how teachers always make their students do stuff that they themselves never do. (I just had my students complete their goal setting for term 1 report cards.) Ironically, it was only days later that Jodi and I reconnected over Facebook and the seed to run a half marathon was planted.
As I approached the 3 mile marker, I was shocked to realize that was approximately 5 km. I remembered when I couldn’t even run 3km. I remembered when I couldn’t even walk without debilitating pain. I was overjoyed as I spied Laural and Jodi near the front of the line to take a picture with the Disney Heroes. The break was welcomed but soon I would be off racing to the castle for real life! My strategy was to run two 8 km’s. I could so do this I convinced myself and I refused to listen to any nagging left brain self-sacrificing comments. I planned to stop only for a couple of pictures along the way.
The comments that really impacted me were those of Dimity as mentioned and her partner Sarah Bowen Shea – their commentary at the Disney Princess Expo the day before really set the stage. Having the opportunity to meet my running idols from Another Mother Runner was amazing. Run Like a Mother was the first gift from Jodi that gave me insight on important running issues that most running books overlook from good play lists, fashion style to undergarment advice. Their motto and belief in the importance of balance as a mother runner is something that I have come to live by. Sarah discussed the power of having a mantra. For me, I kept saying GET IT DONE. Albeit, I tend to use my outside voice and gave a couple of Princesses a startle as I ran up behind them repeating my mantra out loud on the overpass of Mile 10. I don’t know if that was Sarah was talking about when she said be friendly!
Dimity’s words of advice also had a powerful affect on me. I so related to her difficulty of being in the NOW. Running is a sport that so forces you to literally isolate you into that moment of running. Throughout the race, I focused on enjoying every moment. Although some parts were very tough, especially miles 8-11, I realized that soon this journey would be over. Because of this, I didn’t put any time goal pressure on myself. But, rather, I throughly enjoyed my race through Magic Kingdom and literally running through the Castle. Thank you, Dimity!
By the half way point, I totally surprised myself. I had run 10 km and felt great. Only 11.1 to go. Oh my! Once out of Magic Kingdom, the real mental test began. Miles 8 – 11 were a test of mental toughness. Not only did the visual stimuli become further apart at the mile markers, runners began to get obviously fatigued. Walk breaks became more frequent for some. I was determined to keep to my 4 minute run and 1 minute walk. By mile 10, the wall hit me hard. Pain in my hips, knees and calves ached. However, I discovered the wonderful medicinal purposes of BIO GEL. The volunteers didn’t know quite what to do with me as I lubed up for the last 3 miles.
After conquering my fears of heights by running the overpasses with success, the familiar silver ball in the sky beckoned me to the finish line. As well, I really don’t think supporters on the side lines have any idea just how inspiring they are to fatigued runners. Some of my favourite signs were: you think you are tired, my arms are killing me; BELIEVE, run like an angry Ethiopian; You are stronger than you think you are; Finish strong; JUST FINISH! I repeated “Get It Done” once again a little too out loud and forged on.
There was a section along mile 11 that really tested my mental fortitude. Just as I was about to give up on my intervals, I heard bells ringing. There is that saying, when a bell rings, an angel gets her wings. I knew it was my angels in heaven, Menzie and Mac, urging me to run on. The bells never stopped ringing and with renewed strength and tears streaming down my face, I ran on to conquer mile 12.
Running towards the finish line through the winding pathways of Epcot were bitter-sweet. I was so ready to finish running. My feet felt like they were on fire. And while I was conscious of staying properly hydrated, the Cliff Vanilla Gel at mile 8.7 wasn’t enough to satisfy my growling stomach. On the other hand, I knew that as I approached the choir, my year-long journey was coming to an end. What would I do? For a split second I stopped but quickly moved on. The roaring of the crowd of supporters was overwhelming. While Jodi had broken down at the fireworks of Magic Kingdom two nights before, the emotion of the life changing moment hit me hard here. With my hands held high (thanks for yet another great tip, Sarah!), I crossed the finish line with the cheers of the tremendous support from my family.
Since returning to the cold snowy climate of Canadian winter, I can’t help but day-dream and relive every glorious moment – 21.1 km long!
P.S. Stay tuned for Princess Jodi’s race recap and her thoughts on the Princess Half Meet-Up as well!