Well, I’m a Disney Princess!!! As you may have read in Princess Alana’s recap, we both did it – with style and flair despite less than ideal running conditions. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!
First, we need to back up because the events leading up to the Princess Half-Marathon were as exciting and magical as the race itself. So let me tell you how my royal weekend began at the runDisney Princess Meet-Up. With this being my first half-marathon and my first runDisney event, it was the perfect pixie dust to kick off the race weekend by being selected for this exclusive event.
My family and I arrived in Orlando late the night before the Meet-Up. I had travelled in my tiara and started to get into the spirit at the Syracuse Airport where I was welcomed as a princess and even announced as I passed through Security. It was fun to play along and perfect my royal wave before even arriving at the most magical place on earth!
By the time we took the Magical Express to our resort and got settled, it was already Meet-Up day! I tucked into bed around 1:30 am and tossed and turned until my 5:15 am wake up call – despite the lack of sleep, I was so excited to get the show on the road. I met up with some fellow princesses to share a taxi to Epcot where the fun was starting.
When we arrived, runDisney reps were waiting to welcome us and there was already a buzz of excitement in the air. We quickly signed our waivers and were given our runDisney tech tees which we were asked to change into before the event started. Keep in mind, these shirts cannot be purchased – they are exclusive to Meet Up participants so just receiving this coveted shirt gave me chills. I could not wait to get that bad boy on! (And yes, this makes me a bit of a runDisney geek.)
I felt like a kid in a candy store as we made our way into Epcot. Everywhere I looked was a celebrity in the runDisney world – Jeff Galloway, Sean Astin, Ali Vincent, Rachel Booth. I also met some great people I have connected with through blogs and other social media all year, and it was so nice to meet them in person. And of course, it was so special to have my friend Laural right beside me throughout this dream-like experience.
The next thing to happen was one of my favourite moments of not just the Meet-Up, but the whole weekend. As Laural and I were mixing and mingling and milling about, waiting for the event to officially begin with the excitement in the air so tangible you could almost reach out and grab it, I glanced up and saw my running idols from Another Mother Runner walk in – Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell. They were not slated as guests and, although I knew they would be at the Expo, seeing them at this moment in such an intimate setting was the greatest surprise!
I think I may have had one of the most dramatic reactions to meeting them they have ever seen. Luckily, this not did completely scare them away and they seemed to find it somewhat endearing. I went jumping – flying or floating may be more accurate – over to introduce myself. Now, both Sarah and Dimity are tall women as you will see…but I distinctly remember looking down at them as I approached…as in, I was jumping that high! They recognized my name, which I am surprised I could articulate, as they featured us on their blog last month and we had corresponded some through the last year. They were most gracious and Dimity commented that she could feel my heart beating out of my body as we had this photo taken:
Next, I had a chance to chat with Jeff Galloway. I am not an interval runner so I worried that I would not have anything worthwhile to say to him, but I was so surprised by his genuine interest in my running story. With unfortunate and unseasonably hot and humid temperatures upon us, he was quick to talk to me about how to adjust my race day strategy to stay safe. Especially coming from the frozen north, where I had been training in ice and snow, he recommended that I hydrate well both leading up to and during the race, adjust my time goals, and add in walk breaks even if I didn’t usually do so. He reminded me that your core body temperature is raised by running, but that walking can regulate that. I found this conversation very helpful, but of course I also made sure to tell him that my BRF is a faithful interval runner. I also had to thank him for his clothing thermometer which I turn to when deciding what to wear before most runs!
This informal mixing and mingling was so much fun and a great way to start the event, but soon enough it was time to formally kick things off. RunDisney welcomed us and told us that 42 of the 50 selected were first-time attendees – me included! They then gathered the crew for the official group photo – can you find me? (Hint: in the middle, behind the pink hat)
At this point, they asked us to divide up into two groups – a straight run group led by 2012 Princess Half-Marathon champion, Rachel Booth (she defended her title that weekend!), and a run/walk group led by Jeff Galloway. Since I am not an interval runner and wanted to shake out my legs before the half-marathon, I chose to join the straight run group. Little did I know that Rachel Booth was running 9 minute miles! This was certainly the smaller group to choose, but Sarah and Dimity joined this group along with Sean Astin so it had its share of heavy hitters, and I was excited to run through World Showcase in these quiet hours.
It was absolutely beautiful running through Future World towards World Showcase. I had my trusty Garmin on and Laural asked me what pace we were running – we had a laugh when I realized we were running a 5:15 kilometre. Not exactly the “easy” run I had pictured, but adrenaline was pumping and soon enough the small group started to break up a bit with different paces naturally emerging. Hey, we can’t all run like Rachel Booth!
At this point, I found myself near Dimity and we started chatting as we ran. We lamented about our injuries and discovered she has also suffered from my current injury. It was great to talk about training and just take in the sights of Epcot with one of my true inspirations! I really could not think of anything better than this moment. I was worried about stopping for a photo as runDisney clearly wanted us to keep moving, but Dimity threw caution to the wind and said we should grab a picture – being a Chief badass mother runner, I guess she is a bigger risk-taker than I am.
Next, the Fairy Godmother appeared to meet the newest princesses-in-training – this photo opp was encouraged, but very quickly we were on our way again. And the coolest part was that, after this quick break, Dimity and I continued to run and chat for a while longer. Oh yes, we have bonded.
We ran outside the World Showcase and through to the Boardwalk area which was exciting for me because I had never been to this part of Disney. It was beautiful!
We saw a few other princesses out training for the race, likely looking to acclimatize and shake out their legs too. This was the point at which I realized I was really getting hot. Like, really. It was warm and humid to boot. The air was heavy and I started to worry a bit about how I was going to run a half-marathon in this heat when I was struggling with a 5K, but there was no time to worry about that because soon enough we were running back through World Showcase and finishing our run at the Germany Pavillion, where we were invited into Biergarten for breakfast.
Pretty much all of us were crammed in the bathroom wiping our faces with paper towels and trying to cool down a bit before the next part of our morning. I heard someone say they just couldn’t stop sweating, and I was a little relieved that everyone seemed to be struggling with the temperatures. Coming from the north makes it more pronounced, but even the southerners were cursing the humidity. So it wasn’t just me being wimpy – whew!
At this point, the speakers began – up first was Jeff Galloway and the runDisney nutritionist, Tara Gidus. Jeff talked more about the heat and humidity, and runDisney asked us to spread the word that all runners should adjust their expectations and prepare for the unseasonably warm temperatures as best they could. Tara had some tips for pre-race fuelling, but to be honest I can’t even recall what they were as I was just too excited to listen. We were encouraged to be live tweeting through the Meet-Up and I had tweeted my great surprise at seeing Sarah and Dimity. As Tara was speaking, they were replying to my tweets and following me on Twitter. No way could I focus on anything else in that moment!
We also heard from Rachel Booth who had some great things to share about taking her training less seriously this year, and yet still performing well despite her lower mileage training runs (note, her “lower mileage” weeks are still insanely high!). She talked about the joy of running when you are not so set on a training plan, and the fun of running Disney with your kids cheering you on. Clearly, her strategy worked because she defended her title as champion two days later!
We got to hear from the first female winner of The Biggest Loser, Ali Vincent. I just started watching the show this season, so unfortunately I didn’t know her story or watch her journey, but I loved her message just the same. The most memorable thing she said, for me, was that “no matter what pace we run, we all sweat the same”. I loved that sentiment – our journeys may be different, but we all have something in common. At the end of the day, we are all trying to be healthy, active people and, ultimately, the best version of ourselves.
She then asked about how much weight those of us in the room had lost, asking us to raise our hands if we had ever lost 5 pounds and keep it up as she called out numbers that just kept getting higher. Before I started running, I lost 65 pounds and it turned out that I was one of the biggest losers in the room! For this, I was given a pink sweat towel from Ali’s new show. This little towel meant a lot to me because of the journey it represents and the message that came with it. And well, because it’s pink!
One of the other speakers who really touched me, unexpectedly, was April Holmes. A longtime runner, she lost her leg in a train accident, yet went on to win the gold medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games. In fact, she now has so many medals that she claims she can’t even find them all! But this was not the focus of what she had to say. She asked us to think about where we had come from to get to this moment. She asked us to think about the sacrifices we had made to train for this race, and to think about what we had given up to make it happen. She asked us to think about the people who didn’t understand what we were chasing or why it was important. She even asked us to think about the people who didn’t believe we could do it. She told us that getting ourselves to this moment was our gold medal.
This moved me to tears because this journey has absolutely not been easy. In order to train, I have had to sacrifice other things. There is only so much time in a day. And I have had people who have not understood what I was running towards – or why. I have even had people tell me they didn’t believe I could do it. But I chose to believe in myself regardless and there I sat, at the most magical runDisney event, in a sparkle skirt and tiara, ready to tackle my first half-marathon. It was very powerful.
We heard from New Balance about their partnership with runDisney and the coveted Mickey and Minnie running shoes they introduced at Disney’s Marathon Weekend. There was also a demonstration of foam rolling and massage and some give-aways. We even got to sing Happy Birthday to Sean Astin!
At this point, another kind of celebrity came to wish us luck in the race!
We were given goody bags from runDisney which included a water bottle, sea salt body lotion, make-up removal cleansing cloths, and a one-day park hopper. It was such a nice touch after everything else they had done for us! Snow White and Rapunzel also dropped by to wish us well.
And with that, our fairytale Meet Up was over…but the race weekend was just beginning! Thank you to runDisney for this incredible opportunity which I will never forget, even if it did feel like something once upon a dream!