This race already holds such a special place in my heart. I have been waiting to write about it, so I could thoroughly digest and absorb it. I was going to wait before proclaiming it to be my favourite half-marathon to date but, the more I think about it, the more sure I am. I feel a little disloyal to the Princess Half-Marathon (my first ever half) in my affection for Tink. After all, I am a princess on the run, right? Well, yes. But I’m also a fairy on the fly, as it turns out!
I loved every single mile of the Tinker Bell Half-Marathon and am pretty sure I ran with a big smile plastered on my face from start to finish. Literally. Like a kid in a candy store, taking in the sights with wide-eyed wonder and appreciation: the parks, the characters, the palm trees, the mountains, the sunrise, the glorious finish line. I loved it all.
The “day” started as any runDisney race does – in the middle of the night. Laural had set our alarm for 2:15am and it roused us out of our sleep with the song from Frozen, “Let It Go”. I had slept surprisingly well for the short 4 or 5 hours of slumber. I jumped up and squealed, “It’s here!!!!! Today’s the day!”…much like a kid on Christmas morning.
Very quickly, I began my transformation into Tinker Bell while Laural morphed into Tink’s frenemy, Vidia. Soon enough, we were off to meet up with some fellow pixies who would round out our pixie posse, including April (aka Fawn), Penny (aka Rosetta) and Dana (aka Silvermist). Our Iridessa was MIA due to an alarm that was slept through – oops! But she made it in time for the race. In the meantime, we had many other pixies who wanted to join our group of fairy friends!
After some pre-race chatting and a quick bag check, Laural and I were off to find a bathroom – and so happy to see that runners were using Disney’s Paradise Pier Resort. No porta potties for these pixies! The women’s washroom line was long, as always, so we started a trend and jumped into the men’s washroom. We were joined by other women who agreed that girl power should prevail in this case. We were quick, but exited the men’s washroom a little sheepishly when we saw that they now had a line up. Ah well, it’s good for them to see how the other half lives, right?
We were excited to be part of Corral A, kicking things off and starting the race at 5am on the nose. It was especially satisfying to pass by runDisney official after runDisney official with the flash of our bibs. It felt like we had a VIP pass to the coolest party going! RunDisney was absolutely checking bibs and checking them quite diligently.
Once in Corral A, we only had a few minutes to soak in the atmosphere, take a few pictures and get our iPods and Garmins all set. We spent at least an hour in the corrals at Princess, but this was different. Our hotel was literally a block from the Runners Village. And the Runners Village was only a few blocks from the Start Line. It was just so much easier to get from Point A to Point B. In comparison to a Walt Disney World race, the relative ease was rather stunning.
A word about the weather: it was perfect! For us Canadian runners coming from the frozen north, it was a dream. We were fine in our tank tops while we waited to start, but it was humorous to see the more local runners, who found it to be downright chilly, all bundled up in their throw-away layers and blankets. Having not run outside in almost 2 months, this alone was a huge thrill: feet on pavement, ready to run.
Before we knew it, it was time to get this party started for real. This is where Princess scores some points over Tink though: Princess has fireworks to send off every corral. Tink has a few tiny fireworks after the national anthem, but nothing beyond that. Maybe not as magical, however from our vantage point in Corral A, every single moment was magic! (And truly, I didn’t even notice the lack of fireworks at the time – I had to ask later if I had simply missed them).
Confession: I had not studied the course map enough. Very unlike me in my Type A glory, I know. I thought we started in the parks, but instead we had a mile or so on the streets before we entered the parks. This was exciting though as it was all anticipation! I didn’t know where we were exactly, I just knew we were going to the parks and soon! There were a few minor overpasses during this time and Laural was cracking me up lamenting “the hills”…not sure why this seemed so funny, but I guess when you are running at 5am in fairy wings, you are in a different state of mind! My legs felt great – fresh and eager and ready to run! On pavement! Outside! AHHHHH!
And then we made our way into California Adventure Park and it was beautiful. It was still dark outside and the parks were lit like Christmas trees for us. At the Princess Half, we ran through Magic Kingdom at dawn, with the sun coming up, so this experience of running in the parks while they were blanketed in the night was brand new – and totally blew me away! Almost as soon as we hit the park, we found our first photo op:
We had decided not to stop for many characters, but to stop for pictures with sights we could not get anywhere else – photos that could only be captured at Disneyland, California. Soon, we found ourselves in Carsland which is so beautifully detailed that you feel like you are IN the movie. So when we saw the stars of the movie, we had to stop. (Also, the lines were not long! Starting in Corral A has it perks!)
Next, we made our way down Route 66…
I was amazed at how much of this course took place in the parks! Unlike the Princess Half, where you spend a couple of miles in Magic Kingdom mid-race and then finish in Epcot, we were playing on property for almost 10K of this race. It was a HUGE chunk of the course and never even felt like we were running. When we passed the 5K split mat, I remarked to Laural that it felt like we had just started. I literally had to check my (fancy new beautiful purple) Garmin to see if that could be right!
Next, we headed into Disneyland Park and it was time for our Castle moment! Not to be a Disney World snob, but I have to point out that Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is not exactly as epic as Cinderella’s Castle. I mean, poor Sleeping Beauty. Her Castle could be Cindy’s guest house. That said, it was dressed in dream lights which were absolutely gorgeous. And seriously, give me any castle to run through and I’m happy! I do not discriminate when it comes to running through fantasy lands in fairy wings or tiaras!
After we passed through the Castle, we were greeted by the Lost Boys playing on the carousel. Peter Pan is an all-time favourite movie in our house and I had to snap a picture for my tomboy and Peter Pan wannabe, Paige.
From there, we passed by Darth Vader and his storm troopers. With Star Wars fans at home, we opted to stop and wait for this photo during which time we saw a runner try to embrace Darth Vader to a very cold rebuff! This made us a little nervous as he was clearly in full character, so we decided to stick closer to the storm troopers. Seemed like a safer bet! And I cracked myself right up when I said, “Aren’t you a little short to be a storm trooper?”. It was quite witty and hilarious, even if I am the only one who appreciated it. I explained the joke to Laural – twice – and yeah, she still didn’t laugh. For the love, people, it was FUNNY!
I think we had a potty stop around this time, near Alice in Wonderland – and the biggest wonder was that there were NO LINES! If I haven’t said it before, Corral A is the place to be. Seeing as it will likely never happen again for me now that Walt Disney World has revamped their corral system, I thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed the view from the front of the pack. And then we passed by It’s A Small World which was also lit up with Christmas lights! It was almost as, if not more, breathtaking than the Castle.
We spent a lot of time playing in the parks, dashing from one thing to the next. Our split time between 5K and 10K was over 45 minutes simply because we were having so much fun! And it was not over because although we were exiting the parks, we were entering Downtown Disney which is quaint and adorable and simply Disney in every way. The Red Hat Ladies were out in full force, cheering us on – the sheer number of them and their genuine happiness at being out there brought me to tears.
But for comic relief, we suddenly heard a male voice, with a thick Spanish accent, boom: “You can dooooo it!”. This battle-cry was so loud and so genuine that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Laural and I burst out laughing at the same time. Dear sweet Spanish man, whoever you are, THANK YOU for believing in us and somehow managing to give us a boost when we were already on the highest of highs!
At this point, a cast member yelled out, “You are half-way there!”. I checked my Garmin to confirm that actually, no we were not half-way there. We were at 9K of 21.1K. However, it was the thought that counted. I told myself that I was half-way to being almost done. And honestly, I didn’t want it to end! But we had not been doing a great job with finding any sort of rhythm or pace, and we had not taken in any nutrition at over an hour into the race. We knew we needed to get a little more serious here – it was still a half-marathon after all, even if it was the happiest half on the planet!
We slowed to a walk for a GU and some water, and Laural decided she needed to run her own race at her own pace. We had wanted to enjoy the parks together, but it was now time to get this thing done. I wished her well – but not before she ran over me. Yep, the only mishap on the entire course came when my running partner almost took me down. I had raised my hand and stopped to walk for water and she stopped behind me and – crash! Someone ran into her and she, in turn, ran into me. No one was hurt, but there was some profanity. Honestly, I just thought it was hilarious that, with over 13,000 runners on the course, it was Laural who almost took me down!
I expected this to be the “boring” part of the course, through the streets of Anaheim. I was wrong. The sun was rising. The streets were lined with palm trees. The mountain vista view was beautiful. The people of Anaheim were out to cheer, including a man with orange slices that tasted so, so good – pure sugar rush! At one point, around Mile 8, I felt a little overwhelmed at the distance still ahead of me, now on my own. And then I recognized that I was in that “rough patch” you hit in every race. And I smiled. Because if this was my low, it was still pretty darn high!
I just ran each mile I was in. Running for the next mile marker. Running for the next split mat, knowing that my family and friends at home would be following me online. Running because I can do this. Running because I get to do this. Running outside. In fresh air. In perfect running conditions. In fairy wings. It was pure magic.
Nonetheless, my legs did start to protest around 18K. They are now used to the soft treadmill, not the hard asphalt. My feet too. I had also noticed that my Garmin was about a 1/2 kilometre ahead of the mile markers, because of all the darting off the path for pictures and also because of bobbing and weaving a bit along the streets of Anaheim. This discrepancy meant that I wasn’t entirely sure where I was or how far I had to go. So I settled into cruise control, comfortably pushing the pace. I wasn’t taking any pictures along this part of the course – just enjoying it, and getting it done.
The tail end of Tink is a rather serpentine route to the Finish line – you know you are close, but you have no sense of where exactly you are or how close that sweet Finish line truly is. The twists and turns were a little discouraging as I hoped to see the Finish around each bend and yet, it wasn’t there. But finally, I rounded a corner and I could hear it. I could even feel it. I didn’t think I had a big burst left in my legs, but the sight of that Finish inspired a final sprint. I was tearing up at the sight and yet so happy, so proud, so lucky to be there.
And just like that, it was over. RunDisney races are never about the time for me, but all about the experience – yet, I finished in about 2:45, taking 12 minutes off my Princess time with just as many stops and even more FUN! No idea what my actual run time was, but I definitely achieved my goal of running a negative split: enjoying the party for the first half, getting down to business in the back half. And I really got my money’s worth because, according to my Garmin, I got almost an extra kilometre for my trouble!
As I do with every half-marathon (and this was #5), I burst into tears and stumbled towards the volunteers who were waiting with my medal.
Laural and I had not made a great plan for a post-race meeting spot, so I went to the Massage Area and paid for a much deserved massage, while trying to track her down. She finished soon after me and we found each other without too much trouble at all. Again, the size of this race compared to Princess just makes everything so much easier. We hugged and cried and then, with a little sadness, took off our beloved wings. Best two dollars ever spent. The wings held up and crossed the Finish line with us. Truth be told, I barely noticed mine while running!
We might have worn those wings all day long, but it was time for that massage! I cannot recommend the post-race massage enough. Your body has been through a bit of a pounding and this is a welcome treat for weary muscles and sore tootsies.
We stayed in the Runners Village for a while, enjoying our messages from home and getting our new medals engraved, before the very short walk back to our hotel. The dry heat in California is interesting because we were not dripping with sweat. In fact, we saw many runners heading right to the parks! But we were – curiously – quite chilled after the run and a hot shower sounded like a slice of heaven.
It wasn’t long before we had shed our fairy costumes and were heading out for a celebration lunch at the parks – we were RUNGRY! Alas, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we didn’t feast on the many things we promised ourselves we would have, like churros and popcorn and beignets and pretty much everything at the snack carts. We had a delicious lunch at Cafe Orleans and found ourselves plenty full. With the edge taken off and blood sugar levels normalized, we enjoyed some rides and did some shopping before starting to fade. We realized we had been up for about 15 hours when we decided to call it a day!
We had one stop left: the hot tub at our hotel! By the time we finished here, we were in a zombie-like state of fatigue as we stumbled back to our room. As we were discussing what to do for dinner, I found myself changing into my PJs and crawling into bed – and that’s the last I remember! I guess I didn’t need dinner. The race was just that delicious!
This is how I choose to spend to my hard-pressed time. This is how I choose to spend my hard-earned dollars. Setting goals and chasing dreams through fantasy lands to happily ever after finish lines. In my everyday world, I wear many different hats. It is a welcome treat to add a wicking running hat to that list and then trade it for a tiara every now and then.
I now have faith in my ability to do things that seem impossible. I trust in my training and my commitment to myself. And the pixie dust? Well, I now have that too. I have earned my wings.