When we last left off, I was but a (sweaty) peasant who had completed the Enchanted 10K…
It was time for a royal transformation from peasant to princess! Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo!
Gone was the apron and head scarf, replaced by plenty of bling and a tiara. Running a Disney race is kind of like walking the red carpet. When you arrive, you are greeted with questions from fellow runners along the “who are you wearing?” vein. So let’s start there. I have run each of my Disney half-marathons in tops by iGlow Running, with skirts, arm sleeves and visors by Sparkle Athletic. The formula works for me so I stayed true to it on this occasion. This winning combo allows me to commit to character, but also stay comfortable through many magical (and even the not as magical) miles.
It felt somewhat like Groundhog Day when my alarm went off for the second day (night) in a row at 2:15 AM. I really don’t know how those Dopey Challenge runners do it for 4 consecutive days! I got ready quickly and quietly slipped out into the night to meet Laural. Oh. The stifling humidity. I was hoping it would break during the night. I had even wished upon a Disney star – what the hell??? Upon arriving to the race site, my concerns about the heat were confirmed. What would a Disney World race be without this sign?
A few things were on the line today as this race was the bookend to both my Coast to Coast Race Challenge (the first leg had been run at Tinker Bell) and my Glass Slipper Challenge. Ironically, one of the reasons I wanted to return to Princess was to run it when the weather wasn’t unbearable. It was so hot and humid in 2013 – unseasonably so, I was told. I wanted to experience it when it wasn’t so uncomfortable. Ahem. It was not as hot, but it was somehow even more humid. Another year where packing a throw-away layer was purely wishful thinking!
We arrived early enough to have some fuel and get organized, check our bags with plenty of time, and hit the portapotties. I missed starting the day in Race Retreat. It definitely has a sense of occasion in there and just feels like part of the whole race day experience, whereas sitting on a bench in a parking lot feels more like waiting for the experience to begin. Having been in Race Retreat the day before for the 10K, I looked longingly at the tent a few times. We people watched. We ran into a few friends. But we were pretty quiet compared to our usual non-stop chatter. I think we both knew this was going to be a tough one, having run it last year in similar conditions. There was a lot on the line and we’d talked about this day for so long that it had a surreal feeling to it.
But soon enough, it was time to start the walk to corrals. I have always heard about how long this walk is – yet, last year it felt so quick. This year, it felt long and I understood what everyone was talking about. I think my wide-eyed wonder last year (First Disney race!!! First half-marathon!!!) made everything more magical. This year, my head was not in the clouds in that same way. I was still excited to run Disney, but I was also aware of what was about to happen: over 13 miles of pushing myself when my body would be protesting. Coming from the frozen north, I had promised myself I would not complain about the heat – well, let’s just say I was biting my tongue at this point and the race hadn’t even started!
runDisney changed their corral system this year to make corrals much smaller and send them off more quickly in order to help with course congestion. What this meant for me, though, was that I dropped from Corral A to Corral D. Now listen, I was always an A student. I like the letter A. I do not like the letter D. It felt like an epic fail. So whereas last year, I was super proud of my placement, this year I was rather apologetic about my corral when asked. However, as we arrived to our corral, I realized that was a completely wasted emotion. The corrals were TINY and Corral D was just as close to the start line, if not closer, than Corral A was last year. When I heard that an Olympian with the fastest North American half-marathon record was in the first corral, I had to laugh. Yeah, I guess I don’t need to start there this year!
As we sat in our corral, saving our legs for the race, things stayed pretty quiet between me and Laural – uncharacteristically so. I think it was one of the moments where you go into a zone to get a job done. After a year of planning for this moment and running Castle to Castle, our fairy tale was coming to an end. And it was tough getting to this moment. Training through the hardest winter in years, trapped on a treadmill, was not how I imagined my preparation for these races when I registered. In all honesty, it was the hardest training cycle I have completed. At times, it seemed like it would never end. And now, the final leg of a year-long journey was upon us. We were a little introspective…but that would change when the fireworks went off! Because it was time to do this.
I can never properly describe the feeling I get while running at Disney in the dark, with monorails zooming by overhead. For me, this is just the quintessential runDisney moment. It is so magical and so Disney. I started off at an easy pace and quickly realized I would be lucky to maintain even that pace for the duration as the humidty was like running through a wall of fog. Literally. It was so foggy, you could barely see the character stops until you were upon them. And when we got near the Magic Kingdom sign, a monumental moment in this race, I couldn’t even be sure it was the Magic Kingdom sign until I was pretty much right in front of it!
At this point, every inch of my body was glistening. Check out my collarbone area! It was a different kind of sweat. Sarah Bowen Shea of Another Mother Runner likened it to being sprayed all over with PAM cooking spray. That is exactly what everyone looked like! My camera wasn’t even able to take pictures because the lens was so fogged up. I had a little more luck with my Blackberry phone but, as you can see, it was a damp, wet morning!
Knowing the course this year was a blessing and a curse. I always knew where I was headed and what was coming next. Sometimes, like after you pass through the Magic Kingdom gates, that’s a great thing. I knew we were getting close to Magic Kingdom, but that we had some time backstage before we’d enter the park. Once inside, I knew where to stop for photos – and a real bathroom without lines! (Later, as I started the first of three hills, my knowledge of the course was not as helpful: ignorance is bliss in that part of the route!)
Humidity or no humidity, nothing can beat running down Main Street towards the Castle. It was so foggy that you couldn’t see the whole Castle, but enough to take your breath away as it always does! Although we were literally sweating buckets and I had hoped to stop at the bathroom before these photos, we were too excited to wait. When a princess sees a castle, she needs to strike a pose!
From here, we ran through Tomorrowland and Laural mentioned we should pick up the pace. My thought? No way. If there is one part of the course where I am not rushing, it’s here! After being positively spoiled at Tinker Bell where almost half of the race was inside the parks, the Princess course is a bit lacking in park time: we are only in Magic Kingdom for a mile or so. I was darn well going to enjoy that mile! I was very well aware that the back half was going to be a slog so I needed the magic here to fuel me as much as I needed my next GU. Maybe more.
Leaving the Magic Kingdom, our spirits had been lifted and we were excited to reach the half-way point and see what song had been chosen as our Mile 7 anthem. It had been a voting battle between “Let it Go” from Frozen and Katy Perry’s “Roar”. We were hedging bets all the way there which was a fun distraction as we left our Kingdom. And soon enough, we could hear it – even before we saw the sign.
The next part of the course is so entertaining. By the Grand Floridian, Prince Charmings are serenading the princesses and looking for the princess whose foot will fit the glass slipper. This year, one of the Charmings was actually right in the middle of the course singing “You’ll Be in My Heart” – and he was pretty good too! Good enough to convince me to let him measure my foot against the glass slipper…
IT FIT! Well, duh. As it should. I was running as Cinderella after all. But I wasn’t there to have my fairy tale ending handed to me through a game of chance. Sorry, Charming, gotta run!
The last few miles had been fun and, although I was now running with paper towel in my hand to wipe away the sweat that was pouring off me, I had been distracted from the heat for a while. But after turning down the glass slipper in favour of earning my Glass Slipper medal, I realized it was time to focus. We still had some serious distance to cover and it was only getting hotter as we kept running. I loved the Luna cheer squad and all of their adorable signs as I kept putting one foot in front of the other. They brought a smile to my face when I needed it. This photo also gives you a good sense of the muggy fog that served as the backdrop of our fairy tale!
And finally, we heard Sarge belting out orders such as “This is a race, not a walk-a-thon…get running, princesses! Kill that hill!”. Love the entertainment, but don’t love the referenced hill. And there is not just one hill, but three damn hills in a row. They are actually overpasses as Florida doesn’t really have hills which could make it running nirvana except for the fact that it has this slight problem with humidity! Have I mentioned the humidity yet?
Damn it, I was walking the hills. I was so hot and sweaty and DONE by this point. I knew I only had 5K to go, but I was having a very hard time rallying. As we passed by another photo opportunity, Laural asked if I wanted to stop and wait (wow, the lines were long for everything!). “No, screw it”, I answered in a very unprincesslike manner. She agreed: “Let’s just get this done”. Agreed. Time to run for that happy ending that we knew was waiting for us!
My strategy was to walk up and run down the hills. It was all I could manage. Usually by this time, you can see the giant Epcot ball which seems to scream “Finish line ahead”. Today, you could not see the ball. Like, at all. Too foggy. But I knew the course and, as I ran the last downhill, I could feel the energy coming from the crowds lining the entrance to Epcot. Sure enough, as I turned the corner, I was thrilled to see the crowds as the roads turned into park pavement! Yes, I’m in the park! I’m almost done! Oh, I’m almost done? Already? Wait, already? You mean, finally? I was a bit confused as to whether I actually wanted it to be over now that the end was so close. My inner dialogue was a bit contradictory and complicated. The modern day princess is not a simple woman.
With my legs firmly back beneath me (funny how they wake up just in time for a finish line, isn’t it?), I raced out to the Lake at World Showcase and back towards the finish line which you cannot see until you are literally upon it. The only thought running through my head was “Where is it where is it where is it” – until I could see it. Then cue the tears.
This race was not easy. It was not a gimme. It was a tough slog, but I had done it. Not just this half-marathon, but the whole she-bang. My Coast to Coast. My Glass Slipper. Two endurance challenges all wrapped up in the fate of this one race. Crossing the finish line was so bitter-sweet (fun fact: I finished 1 minute faster than last year at 2:57. I guess I am nothing if not consistent!).
I got my medal. I got some gatorade. They made us open it. In my post-race haze, I had no idea why they were making runners open the bottles in the finisher’s chute, but I understand now that they needed to see us taking in some electrolytes due to the weather. They gave us wet towels. They gave us foodboxes. And they have us little mesh backpacks! This was new to give them out here as opposed to with our race kits. I thought it was a smart move because you are carrying a lot at this point and you’re in a bit of a daze. Everything goes into slow motion, with all emotion suspended.
I found Laural as we had been separated at the end of the course, and together we were ushered through the area to receive our Glass Slipper Challenge medals and our Coast to Coast Race Challenge medals. We put them on with our half-marathon medals, looked at each other, and promptly burst into tears. What a journey we had from Florida last year to California and back! I am so lucky to have found Princess Laural through this process. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: she is one of the greatest gifts running has given me. With puffy eyes, salty faces and sweaty clothes, we snapped some pictures before heading off to meet our families (our royal celebration would come later at Cinderella’s Royal Table!).
Another plug for Race Retreat: it is really nice to have a comfortable place to meet your family after the race, and to have access to food and beverages and private portapotties immediately. Last year, we splurged and it was a much nicer experience for all of us. Disney has out-priced many runners with families who want to do the Retreat, myself included, but it was admittedly much nicer to celebrate there for a while and leave among smaller crowds than leaving straight away along with thousands of others. After running for almost 3 hours in oppressive heat, we had to stand for almost an hour for a bus ride back to our resort. This was not so magical, runDisney. I heard (after the fact) that it was faster to go to Epcot and catch the buses there. So there’s a tip for any of you running in 2015!
But before we hit the bus line, I made my way, in a zombie-like state, to the massage tent where I spent 20 minutes on the table before meeting my family. It was such a zoo that I really appreciated them coming to the race site just for this moment!
As you can see, the girls are sporting their race shirts and medals from the Kids Mile – we were all runDisney champions! More about their race to come.
But back to my race for now: we found the Glass Slipper wall of athletes before leaving the race site. There was some controversy over this wall earlier in the weekend, as the 10K and Half-Marathon runners had their names posted on the wall of fame at the Expo. With 26,000 runners that weekend, only 6,000 of us were running the Glass Slipper Challenge – and for whatever reason, we were not on the wall at the Expo. Personally, I wouldn’t have even noticed the oversight, but many princesses were fussed about it. Nice recovery in having the wall at the race site! A bit more ceremonial to have it right there when you finish, right?
We made it back to the resort in one piece, bling in tact. Wow, what a neck workout wearing all 3 medals! As I passed by The Drop Off bar near our Finding Nemo pool, a princess with her medal proudly around her neck and a beer firmly in her hand called out to me. We shouted affirmations and congratulations to each other that made me smile ear to ear. I love how the runDisney experience can bond total strangers. You wear those medals like badges of honour!
A hot shower, a few stretches and some time spent with my new bling was exactly what this princess needed. Followed by food! Hot, delicious pizza was just the ticket.
This tiny bit of downtime was just what I needed before hitting the parks to celebrate! It was a hard decision choosing what medal to wear (although wearing all 4 is uncomfortable, I was more worried that doing so might result in a chip or scratch to one of my lovelies), but I ultimately decided on my Coast to Coast medal with my Glass Slipper Challenge shirt. Imagine my delight when I boarded the bus to Magic Kingdom and a special announcement was made: “Ladies and gentlemen, please be on royal behaviour as we are travelling with a Disney Princess”. Who was the Princess, you ask? ME, I will answer! ME, ME, ME!!! If the bus ride getting back from the race was not so magical, this bus ride was the most magical ever!
And then we did what I do after every Disney race: pound the parks and show off my bling and take in the rides and have a blast!
The afternoon flew by and soon it was time for our royal celebration dinner, where Laural and her family would be joining us. But this wasn’t all about us: it was about the kids who enjoyed the princesses, as well as the fantastic window view of the fireworks! My favourite image of the night is one that Laural captured of her daughter and my youngest daughter. Dressed as the same princesses we ran as, they were absolutely over-the-moon excited by the Princess Palooza. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Clearly.
We stayed at the parks until the clock almost struck midnight – it was a long, wonderful, epic, challenging, fabulous, memorable day. And year, for that matter! The race is only a few hours born out of months of training and planning. When I tucked in that night, I had been up and going hard for 22 hours. Delirium was setting in. But all I could think before I drifted off to sleep was how lucky I am to have these experiences. I work hard to get myself to these moments and I make them happen, don’t get me wrong – that is what I love most about Disney races. You choose your own fate, as Princess Merida would say, and chase your own destiny. Grab that tiara and make it yours. The empowerment that comes with earning it, rather than having it given to you, is what makes it so meaningful.
And yet there are some things we can’t work for. Some things we are truly lucky to have. I am so grateful that I have the option to run my dreams where dreams come true. The body to get me here. The family to support me during training and cheer me on during the race. The friends who are crazy enough to do it with me.
Yes, I am a lucky princess running happily ever after.