Disclaimer: This post is best enjoyed with Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” playing in the background!
My alarm went off at 2 am and I was up – more awake than I would ever otherwise be at this time of night. It was here…the day of the Princess Half-Marathon. The day I’d been counting down for a whole year.
The night before I was a bit of a basket case – teary on and off through dinner, edgy as I got my race clothes and gear ready to go, nervous as I closed my eyes and tried to go to sleep. But I woke up with all of that behind me…now I was just excited to do this!
Princess Alana and I met at the buses at 2:45 am so we could be on the first bus. Our royal coach was ready and waiting to carry us off to the starting area. The bus was full of tiaras and tutus and sparkle, and it was immediately clear that this race was tailor-made for our kind of crowd. As we had for much of the weekend, I think we looked like little kids in a candy store – eyes wide as we took it all in.
We loved the way runDisney welcomed its running princesses with a red carpet leading to the staging area – what a regal touch! Everyone was stopping for photos with the beautiful stained glass windows that lined the red carpet. We chose to pose with the “dreams” window because this race was all about dreaming big.
Everyone knows that any red carpet is all about what you are wearing so let’s break it down. As you know, we had quite the difficult time settling on our race outfits. In the end, we both felt like perfect princesses! Inspired by Princess Aurora, my running skirt and visor were made by Sparkle Athletic (formerly Team Sparkle) and my top and arm sleeves were courtesy of iGlow Running. Alana’s visor, layered skirts and arm sleeves were all by Sparkle Athletic, and her top was from Running Princess. She added the plaid detailing herself as the final touch in her ode to Princess Merida.
After the red carpet experience, our first stop was Race Retreat. We loved this add-on! Race Retreat is a VIP-style option for princesses who prefer a heated and comfortable place to wait before the race, complete with private bag check, character photo ops, stretching area, breakfast buffet and – the big one – private port-a-potties. I didn’t take advantage of the breakfast as I didn’t want to make any changes to my pre-race routine, but it was worth every penny regardless (and the post-race amenities were even better!).
We couldn’t believe how quickly the time flew by and soon enough it was time to make our way to our corrals. We met up with our friend, Laural aka Snow White, as we all planned to start together in Corral B. I was placed in Corral A, but it was a no-brainer to drop back and start with friends. Since my injury, I had prioritized endurance over speed to prepare for this race as best I could, given my circumstances. Although I knew I had earned my placement and was proud of it, I also knew I wasn’t running at my best. But that is not why we were here…this wasn’t going to be a race for a good TIME, but one for a GOOD time!
It was the best decision to start with my princess posse. It made the wait time in the corral fly by, full of laughter and chatter and a few teary, emotional moments – but, for the most part, it was a party!
There was one scary moment when I ran into my arch nemesis, Maleficent…
But I escaped this harrowing encounter and we moved to the other side of the corral to avoid any unpleasantness. At this point, the Fairy Godmother was counting down for Corral A, fireworks were in the sky and our corral was moving to the start line. It was all happening so fast!
With a bibbidi bobbidi boo, we were off and running! Laural and I ended up staying together for the first half of the race, which was so fun – the first half was by far my favourite part. Running through the dark, there were beautiful flags waving and monorails running back and forth overhead. It was so magical to be there, and to actually be doing it.
Although I always run with music, I opted for one earbud only so I could take everything in and Laural and I were able to chat back and forth. It was already hot (70 degrees) and humid (94%), but the sky was dark and we were running on eager and excited legs so we managed it with adrenaline pushing us through and by taking advantage of water stations early on.
Soon, we came across the one photo op I knew I had to have – the heroes! It was by far the longest line I waited in, but it was worth it. Although you can catch the heroes on the way back, I knew I would not want to stop that late in the race (I was so right…I felt great at this point, not so much “photo ready” on the way back!).
Shang of Mulan fame worked his way through the line while we waited for our turn with the heroes which was a nice touch. And soon enough, we were at the front of the line!
Sorry, boys…gotta run! This was also the point where Magic Kingdom came into view. I cannot fully describe how beautiful this part of the course was at this time of day, with the monorails zooming by.
There were gigantic character puppets on the course, along with some of the Cars characters too. It was hard to know where to look! The signs on the course were so inspirational. I don’t know how I will ever go back to just running along city streets!
Soon enough, we were making our turn through the backstage area and being welcomed by waving cast members with Mickey hands. We knew this was the moment. We turned the corner and were running down Main Street…crowds cheering…darkness fading into daybreak…breathtaking.
We stopped for pictures by the Castle of course, and then ran through Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. There were many characters out – Buzz Lightyear, Belle, Gaston, Minnie and Mickey. We didn’t stop, but I’m sure I was running with an ear-to-ear grin during this part of the race. Then we heard the trumpets, announcing the presence of royalty as we ran through the Castle. Amazing!
We took advantage of the official photo stop in front of the Castle and then kept moving through Liberty Square and Frontierland where we passed more characters – Tiana and Naveen, and Cinderella and Prince Charming. I had been hoping for a photo with Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip, but they didn’t come out until later in the race. So I kept running and soon enough, I was exiting the park.
At this point, Laural and I split up as she had to make a stop. We hoped we’d run into each other in the back half, but that never happened. So now I was running solo. As I exited the park and crossed the 10K mark, I walked the water station and refuelled by finishing the honey stinger waffle I had started pre-race. I knew this back half was going to be tough, on my own, and with the temperatures rising. I started to use water stops to pour water down the back of my neck and over my shoulders.
As I hit the half-way point of the race, the Princess anthem was revealed…and it was expecially fitting given the heat!
I had nominated and voted for “Girl on Fire” so I was thrilled with the choice, even if I had been hoping they would feature a remixed version that was a little faster. Still, hearing it blasted along the route was great. Darn right, I was burning it down, feet on the ground, head in the clouds and not coming down!
I hit the Mile 7 marker thinking, “Wow, I’m already at Mile 7!”…but I then made the mistake of looking at my Garmin and noticing that I was only 11 kilometres into the race, with a full 10 left to go. I think I started to psyche myself out a bit at that point. But I was quickly distracted by the Prince Charmings waiting to propose to me with a glass slipper. Thanks for the lovely offer, but this princess will always choose running shoes over glass slippers!
This was really the part of the race where I started to struggle. The heat and humidity made me feel like I was running in slow motion. So was everyone around me, so there was no one to fix my sights on and try to catch. In complete contrast to hitting Mile 7 feeling so great, I hit Mile 8 cursing the fact that I still had 5 miles left. I really should have used this time to reflect on how hard I have worked over the year, but when that negative voice in your head starts yammering away, it is difficult to shut her up.
I was happy to see the 15K split and know that I was coming to Mile 10. Although I knew that would be the beginning of the hills, I also knew that Sarge from Toy Story would be on hand to liven things up. I could hear him before I could see him, yelling “Take the hill, princesses!”. My youngest daughter just loves this character for whatever reason, so I knew I needed a photo and quite honestly, my legs were grateful for the momentary pause. However, he was a big, fat liar telling us we were almost there. No, we were not. Not even close.
At this point, it was time to run the series of overpasses that I had heard so much about. I had worried about them a fair bit too. But in all actuality, they were fine. The hardest thing about them is that they come late in the race, and there are 3 in a row. This was compounded by the fact that everyone was slowing down at this point, and many people were walking the hills. It was difficult to keep my pace in this crowd as every ounce of my body was screaming, “Don’t be a hero, you idiot! Slow down and walk with them!”.
But I kept running. I figured every step I ran put me one step closer to the finish. Then came a turn-around with a video screen where commentators are critiquing everyone’s costumes. This gave me a little lift and I ran by checking the video screen to see if I looked as bad as I felt. It was hard to say!
Then I saw the above sign, which made me so emotional and kept me moving. I never gave up on this dream, not even when it would have been the easiest thing – it always made me fight harder. As I hit Mile 12, I was really just hanging on and hanging in there. My outfit was drenched at this point with water and sweat, and everything was feeling heavy. I could see the Epcot ball beckoning to me and it looked so close, but felt so far.
As I ran by the cheering spectators coming into Epcot, a random sign in the crowd caught my eye: “You are doing it”. It was exactly what I needed at that exact moment. Yes, it was hard and I was struggling…but I was doing it. Something that once seemed impossible. Something for which I had worked, trained, dreamed and planned. Something an injury almost took away from me. I had overcome the odds to be right here, in this moment – and all I had to do was finish what I started.
I came around a corner to hear the choir singing – I knew this meant the end was near, but until I can see a finish line for myself, I never believe it. I had imagined this moment so much differently. I thought I’d be stopping for a photo with the choir, snapping a pic of the Mile 13 marker, and hanging onto every last second of the race…but once I was in the moment, all I cared about was getting to the end! I was all business as I ran the final turn-around in Epcot, trying to crank it up and realizing that, despite great effort, picking up speed was really difficult at this point.
But then – there it was. The finish line. I sprinted those last few hundred metres with guts and determination and everything I had left, which wasn’t much. My tank was almost on empty, so to speak. But it was my moment to cross the finish line and complete a year-long journey. I did it!
I burst into tears and kept moving through the chute, and I remember being surprised when someone put my medal around my neck. I had forgotten about the medal! How could a bling junkie like me have forgotten about something so important? Well, it turns out that the medal is not the reason I ran this race. I ran this race because I knew that I would cross the finish line a different person. Sometimes it is not the goals we set, but who we become while achieving them.
I followed my steps from earlier that morning back to Race Retreat, where they had my bag waiting along with a chill towel and the most adorable flip flops. It felt so good to get my soaking wet running shoes off – apparently I was a little too enthusiastic at those water stations when trying to cool myself down!
I was also excited to find my family, but the finishing area was so overwhelming that I didn’t know how to do that so I just hoped they would think to come back to Race Retreat (they had the Platinum level ChEAR Squad so they had spent much of the race here, and just moved out to the bleachers at the end). They figured it out and this is how they found me:
Oh, these 10 minutes were heavenly! My neck was feeling so tight, as I must have been running rather defensively with my shoulders up (another awesome habit I have developed since running with my injury). As the massage therapist worked my neck and spinal area, I heard multiple cracks – loud ones. But it instantly felt so much better. Wow! He also spent time on my IT band and hip areas which felt great.
When my massage was over, I was so excited to see my family and show them my medal! They had earned matching ones at the runDisney Kids Races the day before – like mother, like daughters!
I also felt very cold very quickly so the mylar blanket helped, as did having a hoodie on hand. I was also happy to see Biofreeze in the self-treatment area – my foot had passed a very difficult test, but was protesting at the effort. Very quickly, my energy returned and I went from feeling like I had run out of gas to feeling on top of the world!
I knew I needed to do my regular post-race stretching to avoid seizing up and to work out my hip flexor area which was sore on the same side as my foot injury. Yep, my whole right side was paying the price for running on that foot. But I don’t regret one single step!
This is when Alana staggered into the Race Retreat, looking how I had felt when I came in. This being our first half-marathon, we aren’t sure if that initial post-race deliriously stunned feeling is normal?
But like me, she quickly felt the runner’s high take hold and we danced like crazy women! And then took advantage of the buffet breakfast, despite not feeling hungry. We knew we should eat and as soon as I started, I realized that I was actually ravenous.
We enjoyed the Race Retreat, which had our results right on hand – so convenient! I had no idea what my time was. In the end, I finished in 2:58:20 which was certainly not my goal. I was hoping to run under 2:45 with photo stops. But very quickly, I turned off any negative thoughts as I stopped for more pictures than I had planned (and I think they were worth every second because so much of this race is now a blur in my mind), and there was no way I could have prepared for that kind of unseasonable heat and humidity.
My Garmin tells me my actual running time was closer to 2:35. I have run the full distance in 2:16 at home, but that was pre-injury in the most perfect weather conditions. So I decided to let that go, and just be happy that I was able to finish. There were moments with this injury when it didn’t look promising. Plus, with this being my first half-marathon, it is automatically a PR, right? And one that should be easy enough to beat! Thinking positive!
We could have stayed at Race Retreat, basking in the glory of our accomplishments all day, but it was time to move along. We never did think to get our medals engraved on site, but a tip for anyone running a future Disney race – you can get it done any time at the Germany Pavillion in Epcot. Just tell them Princess Jodi sent you.
From here, we went back to the resort to shower and get set for a day at Magic Kingdom! Surprisingly, I felt great all day. I did a few squats while waiting in lines, but the sparkly medal around my neck excused what might otherwise appear to be odd behaviour. It was so much fun seeing all of the other princesses at the park, wearing their medals as proudly as I was wearing mine. It was like a secret code. We would catch each other’s eyes and smile or nod, silently sharing a sentiment of “Oh yes, you’re as hardcore as I am. Cool.”
We dined with royalty that evening in Cinderella’s castle – where else would two princesses on the run celebrate?
After a glorious dinner overlooking Fantasyland, we watched the light show on the Castle and took in more rides. We were up and moving for over 20 hours by the time the curtain closed on a day we had been dreaming of for many, many months. When my heavy head hit the pillow that night, I was elated, exhausted, delirious and proud…and forever changed.