This is overdue, but I’ve had a hard time writing this despite the fact that I’ve talked to many friends about my experience.
So, keep this in mind as you read: I’m SO glad I did the Princess Half Marathon and would make the same decision again if I had to go back in time.
I did a lot of research before I went to the Princess Half Marathon. I read recaps, I joined Facebook groups (hi Princesses!), and it helped a ton that I was also running as a Miracle Maker and had a built in support through Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. What did I learn? I learned that I couldn’t walk to the race start. I learned that shuttles started at 3 AM and 3 AM was recommended because the lines would get longer and then you ran the risk of NOT getting to the corrals in time. So, what time did my half marathon morning start?
2ish AM. As in, half the people from my coast weren’t even in bed yet on their Saturday night and I was waking up. Insanity.
Kelly and I were surprisingly on schedule. I ate more than I typically do before a long run because I knew I had a lot of time before I started (nearly four hours), but still probably less than most people. Haha. My stomach just doesn’t tolerate a lot before a run. I also drank a whole water bottle. My plan was hydrate early, use the ports-potties, and then hydrate as usual during my run. I’d brought some old PJ bottoms and an old long sleeve jacket to cover up in and keep warm.
We got to the line for the bus to the start at almost exactly 3 AM and we were on the bus almost right away. We arrived at the start and after bag checks (which includes fuel belts), we stopped by the CMNH tent. They had wonderful breakfast bags for their runners that looked AMAZING, but as I mentioned… stomach troubles. I passed, but enjoyed having a place to sit and getting to talk with some of the other Miracle Makers.
Soon, we moseyed along to see what else there was to see. There was a runDisney merch booth (still no wine glasses), an excellent DJ, and princesses (of course). I skipped the princess photo ops (OMG lines), but I enjoyed the DJ. I saw the most amazing couple dressed as Mary Poppins and Bert. They were in their 60s and they were dancing, laughing, taking pictures with people – definite life goals right there. To be like that always!
Soon enough, the DJ was telling us it was time to head to the corrals (at 4:30?! Already? Already). I’d heard it was quite a walk – it was probably a good mile. Kelly and I soon had to part ways because I was in I and she was in O. I got into my corral and worked my way to the front. It was my plan to get there early and position myself right at the very front in the hope to catch the H corral during the race. The 3 hour Clif pacer, Sharon, was awesome and talking to all of us before the race. She shared her strategy for intervals and I told her that my plan was to catch the 2:45 pacer in H. She shared that they’d take off about 3-5 minutes before us and that the 2:45 pacer would be keeping 5:1 intervals (five minutes running, one minute walking). When I joked with Sharon that my plan was to never see her again, two other women (probably about my age) chimed in that their plan was the same as mine.
I decided that my plan was to ditch my Galloway pace from training for the race. I knew from past race experience that parts of courses bottleneck, there are aid stops, I knew I’d need to slow at those points and would also probably walk. I didn’t want my intervals beeping one thing when I was having to make adjustments to what was around me. I decided I’d run what I could and take breaks when I needed. Once I reached the 2:45 pacer, I’d stick with her or try to get ahead, but never fall behind. The goal was to PR and I knew if I closed the gap between her start time and my start time I’d be in good shape even if I stuck with her.
Shortly after the national anthem, I ditched my PJs and long sleeves in the donation bin at the corral and took a Gu. The race was beginning and though I wasn’t going to be starting AT the start, I knew we’d be on the move towards the start line. Magic and well wishes from The Fairy Godmother, fireworks, and forward and forward. Fun banter and encouraging words from Rudy (one of the race announcers)… then forward, and more forward. Soon enough, we were there at the starting line. Pictures, well wishes to each other, fireworks, and GO. We were off!
The First 5K (36:20; 11:41 pace per official split)
Adrenaline kicked me off quick, but soon enough one girl pulled ahead, and not long after that I pulled ahead of the other. I hope they both reached or surpassed their goals! Now the course… I loved how wide the road was and how open it felt. It definitely helped to spread out the field of runners. I loved running past the trees. It was still so dark out, but there were lights on the course.
Soon enough though, I found that I was waiting for something magical. Where was the Disney experience I was used to? Where was the Disney magic people assured me existed in this race? I’ve heard there was magic sprinkled about every half mile. I don’t know that I think that’s true, but it could be. I also heard after the fact from some veterans that it was more sparse this year. To me it seemed there was music here and there alternating with lines for characters (that I usually couldn’t see behind the line of runners waiting for pictures with said characters). But for the most part, I was just running on a pretty open road. The highlight was probably running through the Magic Kingdom parking booths, ha. I don’t remember many (if any) spectators.
The Second 5K (38:13 for the 5K; 1:14:33 10K; 12 overall pace)
About that time, it was on through the parking lots and up to the Ticket & Transportation Center. We actually had spectators along this part of the route! It was so nice. We ran under water (and that man with the giant Mickey hands was a definite highlight). It was about this time that I took my Gu. Soon enough, it was the moment I’d been waiting for – entering Magic Kingdom for the very first time in my life.
WOW. This was without a doubt the biggest highlight of the entire race, nestled just between Mile 5 and Mile 6, just after the sunrise. We ran down Main Street with a beautiful view of Cinderella’s Castle before us and packed crowds of spectators. I tried to snap a picture, but it was totally blurry. Just past Main St., I took a moment to step to the side of the course and SnapChat a selfie with the castle in the background. Between the larger crowds, the selfies, and the bottlenecking in the park, I’m not surprised my second 5K was so much slower, I’m also not disappointed.
On to Tomorrowland, around through Fantasyland, through the castle and look! There was the 2:45 pacer! I stuck with her and a great group of runners through Liberty Square and back out on the open road.
The Third 5K (37:48 for the 5K; 1:52:21 15K; 12:03 overall pace)
I continued with the 2:45 pace group. The 5:1 intervals were definitely tough. The last minute of the run seemed to last forever and the one minute walk was the fastest minute ever. We walked through the aid stops. The sun was fully out now and right in my eyes. Sadly, I’ve never figured out the fog issue with my sunglasses when running so I suffered through. 🙂 There were times that I contemplated whether I should try and forge ahead to come in faster and times where I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to maintain with the 2:45 group. This was definitely my trouble spot. I was so grateful for the Gu stop because I was ready for more fuel at the 8.7 mark.
The Fourth 5K (No official split, but probably about the same)
My pace was probably identical or close to identical through this stretch despite the inclines of the overpasses and the sun as I stayed with the pacer all the way to Epcot. We passed the CMNH stretch and I wished I had the time to read all of the signs along the way, but there were too many in too short a stretch to read with my pace.
Entering Epcot was exciting, but mostly only because I knew how close I was at that point. Shortly after the Mile 12 marker, I pushed ahead on my own.
The Very End (2:38:49; 12:07 pace)
We hit the Mile 13 marker inside Epcot and I pushed with everything I had past the final entertainment, the spectators, the cast members, the gospel choir lining the way to the finish and came with a new PR and UNDER my goal time. I PRed by 3 minutes and 49 seconds. There were times on the course that I wondered if I could push harder, faster, and maybe I could have, but definitely not enough to reach my stretch goal which was the time the Galloway training plan said I could finish in (2:32:49). I knew from that first Magic Mile that it was not necessarily an indicator, haha. It’s actually one of the things that I learned most while training with intervals though. I do better and go faster in short stretches; I need that recovery time.
So, I am PROUD and I am SO glad that I did this race.
BUT… I will probably never do it again. It’d take a lot of convincing for me to do it again. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to my fellow West Coasters that are used to running Disneyland, but I’d say that if you’re searching for that Coast to Coast then it may be as good a way and as good time of year to do it weather-wise (the weather couldn’t have been more perfect).
But, this California girl was disappointed in the Disney World runDisney experience.
Maybe I’d built up too much myself and it’s my fault for expecting the WORLD runs to be bigger, better, and more magical than the LAND runs. After three Disneyland Half Marathons with so much Disney magic packed into a FAST 4ish miles (more than double the park time than I got at WDW), followed by a long trek through Anaheim to packed streets, spectators with signs, cheerleading squads, marching bands, and on and on… I’ve always had someone cheering, some funny sign that gave me a boost, even when the Disney magic itself was stalled. I felt like this race lacked in spectators significantly and that may have been the biggest downfall.
Perhaps the regular spots of Disney magic would have been better had there been more people? I’m not sure. I know no race is perfect and it certainly could have been worse (it is still Disney), but it just wasn’t what I was expecting and wanting after everything I’d read and heard and just… dreamt about. The volunteers were fantastic. The runners were great (at least in the H/I crowd). For the run itself, the course was boring but nice for a run. The mostly wide open roads, especially at the start, helped the pack of runners spread out.
I’ve actually been sitting on this post for over a week now because I worry about how it reads. It seems too down especially after reading recap after recap from awesome women that seemed to all love every bit of their Princess experience, but, I try as I might I can’t paint it differently. I am glad I did it, I’m MORE than glad that I ran with CMNH, and I loved Disney World (more to come on that), but as for runDisney?
I can’t wait to run Tink in May back on my own turf. 🙂