Monday, February 24, 2014

In Which Jenn Runs the #PrincessHalf!

SO CUTE. (Photo credit: RunDisney)

I absolutely love Disney World. When I was a kid, I lived in Pennsylvania. But nearly every year, my parents and often times one or both sets of grandparents would fly down to Orlando, stay at a resort, and spend the week at the happiest place on earth. Thirteen years later, we moved down here to Central Florida and I have gone to Disney World more times than most people. But funnily enough, I never truly tire of the theme park. I smile and jump up and down, delighted, as I walk down Main Street toward Cinderella’s Castle. I enjoy touring the countries at Epcot and seeing the shows at Hollywood Studios and taking the safari tours at Animal Kingdom. I love Disney. I love princesses. I love fairytales and I’m 25 years old. And so, this year I registered myself for the Disney Princess Half-Marathon.

Ever since college, I’ve included working out in my routine. I’ve run 2-mile races, but until training for my half-marathon, I had never run more than that. So my family and friends presumed me to be crazy when I told them that I had voluntarily paid money to run for 13.1 miles. But I was determined to prove everyone wrong and to train for the half-marathon and run it to completion. And a few months ago, I began to prepare myself for running this race by training. Every Saturday morning, I’ve been getting up at 6:30 or 7 in the morning, stretching and running ten or eleven miles. It hasn’t always been easy and there have been many times that I’ve wanted to quit but yesterday morning (at an ungodly hour, mind you), I woke up and ran the Disney Princess Half-Marathon in the company of my roommate, friend Lisa, and co-workers. It was an amazing experience and a fantastic journey, so I thought I would share it with y’all! Click below the cut to read all about the most magical race ever.

On Saturday afternoon, my roommate Leah and I picked up our friend Lisa and headed down to Kissimmee and checked into the Pop Century hotel.

Look at our insanely glittery tutus in the back of Leah's car! :)

Me with Lady from Lady and the Tramp! She was in the courtyard right outside of our room.

Lisa is a teacher but works at Disney’s Blizzard Beach during her summers and breaks, so she was able to get us into the hotel at a discounted rate. Since the half-marathon starts at 5:30 in the morning, we had to leave the hotel to board a bus to Epcot around 4 in the morning. Obviously, it seemed rather pointless to drive down, so we decided to spend the night at the hotel instead. It turned out to be a good idea, because we had to go to Disney’s Wide World of Sports in order to attend the race expo to pick up our bibs, t-shirts, and informational packets.

One of my favorite signs EVER -- it was hung on the window of one of the hotel residents who was doing the half-marathon.

The expo floor was INSANE – it was packed with vendors who were selling everything from stickers to compression socks and sleeves. We had a great time though, and it really helped to stretch out our legs the night before the race.

My bib, complete with my name (I love that they put "Princess" in front of it) and my princess of choice, which determined the color of my bib. Obviously I chose Belle.

Only part of the expo floor. It was INSANE.

After the expo, we headed out to dinner and decided to carb load at the Macaroni Grill (they have yummy Create Your Own pasta dishes as well as gluten-free pasta for Leah). Full of Italian food, we drove back to the hotel and unwound before bed because we had a wake-up call at 2:45 the next morning.

Unfortunately, my body wouldn’t let me fall asleep until midnight, which meant that I got less than three hours of sleep. Nevertheless, we all woke up and readied ourselves for the race. One of the most fun aspects of the Disney Princess Half-Marathon is the fact that so many people dress up like princesses. Leah, Lisa, and I handmade our own tutus the weekend prior by purchasing some elastic and lots and LOTS of tulle from Hobby Lobby. It’s a relatively easy, albeit very glittery, process and we were pleased with how unique each of our tutus were and how well each suited our personalities.

Princess selfie at 4 AM on the bus ride to Epcot with my roomie. :)

There were about 25,000 people that ran the half-marathon this year. Isn’t that insane? And a good chunk of those people were decked out in princess costumes – there were Elsas and Rapunzels; there were some guys in attendance, too, dressed as princes. I even saw a few villains throughout the course, which was awesome. Leah, Lisa, and I boarded our bus from the hotel to Epcot a little before four o’clock in the morning and prepared ourselves to meet the crowds of other runners at Epcot. Once there, we stretched and hydrated ourselves before walking about fifteen minutes to our corrals. Corrals, for those who aren’t familiar with races, are usually based on race time. The fastest runners are in the first corral, and there were two-minutes between each corral wave, so that way runners didn’t have to stand around forever and wait for their wave to be released at the start line.

The start line!

Leah and I were in the same corral, so we split from Lisa (she was in an earlier corral) and headed to stand with our fellow K corral runners. Once we arrived in our corral, we still had a bit of time before corral A was released, and were treated to some DJs as well as the race’s sponsors. Finally, the first corral was sent off and they were sent off in style: Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother waved her magic wand over the runners, said the magic words (“Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!” and as she finished, counted down from three to one and the runners were released as fireworks shot into the air. Each corral was treated to the same fireworks display, though by the time our corral was released, we had two DJs count us down.

I was getting excited and anxious as we moved to the start line, bouncing up and down on my feet and singing along to music beside Leah. We had already decided earlier that we would not stick together as we had trained apart, and I was ready to face the dark course on my own. (Well, as alone as you can be with thousands of runners beside you.) So we counted down, the fireworks shot off into the sky, and we were off!

Now THAT is how you kick off a race! (Photo credit: RunDisney)

I’m not going to pretend that the entire race was glamorous. The weather was definitely a factor in how the majority of us felt by the race’s end: it was intensely gloomy and foggy throughout the entire half-marathon, but it never rained. The temperature wasn’t entirely humid though, which was also nice. The course map indicated that we would run from the Epcot parking lot, through the Magic Kingdom, and then back to Epcot where we started. It’s amazing that it does and doesn’t feel like thirteen miles when you do that. Nevertheless, each mile was marked by two distinct things: a mile-marker with a Disney character or multiple characters (mile 8 was Belle; mile 13 was Elsa/Anna, and I think mile 10 was Flynn Rider and Rapunzel) and two drink tables that had Powerade and water.

Here’s what was so amazing about the Disney Princess Half-Marathon and why I nearly sobbed during multiple portions of the race: everyone is SO encouraging. Not only are there spectators cheering along certain mile markers with signs and encouraging words, but the volunteers and cast members are also scattered throughout the course. Each and every person was clapping. Each and every person was yelling: “Go! You’ve got this! You’re doing so great! Keep it up!” These aren’t people running the race, mind you. These are people who stand in the same spot for over four hours, watching every single literal runner or walker, and cheer and clap and encourage you as you feel like you’re on the verge of giving in or up.

And then there are the runners themselves. These are the people who nearly made me cry as I rounded a U-turn, headed into the final mile of the race. I overheard people who were running in pairs spurring one another on by encouraging them and praising them. Running a half-marathon is insanely difficult. It requires endurance and effort and lots of training. And when you’re running solo, as a lot of people are, you NEED those cast members and random strangers smiling at you, holding up signs with encouraging or hilarious things written on them. You NEED people to remind you that you’re half-way there; you need people to tell you not to give up or stop running. And every single person along the course gave me encouragement.

One of my favorite parts of the race is around mile 5, where you take a shortcut and run down Main Street U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom. There, the course narrows so it is only about three runners wide, but when you run through Main Street and see all of the shops lit up and all of the spectators lined along the ropes watching you and waiting for their loved ones… it’s kind of magical. Even more magical, however, is when you run through Tomorrowland, wind around Fantastyland and then head through the back side of the castle, literally running THROUGH the castle, as trumpeters play above your head. An additional favorite moment was at mile 12, when there was a literal gospel choir singing on the side to encourage you to finish.


Did I mention it was SUPER foggy during our run?

Blurry selfie in front of the castle, because WHY NOT.

Throughout the course, there are princesses and princes and villains lined up for photos (including Captain Jack Sparrow around mile four) along the side of the course. It was entertaining to see the line of runners who were waiting for photo opportunities with the characters before continuing their race. Since this was my first, I was concentrating on hitting a goal time and enjoying myself. I had vowed to stop and take photos with three princesses, if I saw them (Belle – duh! – and Rapunzel and Elsa were my trio). But since those three particular princesses were absent from the course, I decided to plow through the miles and reach the finish line.

In spite of my lack of sleep, in spite of my sweat (sorry, princesses actually don’t sweat – they SPARKLE), and in spite of my legs protesting moving even one more mile further, I made it into the thirteen mile stretch, rounded a corner, and saw the finish line. I never understood race metaphors more than I did when I saw that finish line, y’all. I had been – as I said earlier – in races before, but never one as long as a half-marathon. As I ran to the finish line, I heard the cheers and yells of people along the side, including those of my parents and Leah’s mom. It was an amazing feeling to finally cross the finish line and be handed that beautiful medal. I literally cannot describe the joy that I felt, even in my exhaustion.

After I crossed, I headed to get my Disney “fuel” box (which included a banana, Luna bars, chips, etc.) and walked toward the bag check tent in order to stretch and wait for my parents, Lisa, Leah, and Kate and Heather. Shortly thereafter, my parents greeted me (with a liter of Gatorade I told them to bring so bless them) and Kate and Heather found me. We all celebrated in our sweaty states and hugged.

I love love LOVE my princesses!

Finally, I met up with Lisa and we found Leah, who had met up with her mom after she crossed the finish line. As we stood and took proud pictures with Leah’s mom, my favorite moment of the race occurred.

From a few feet away, a little blonde girl waddled over to us who was two years old (we asked her). Her dad was watching as the little girl meandered over and began babbling to us like we were her best friends. Looking at Lisa, Leah, and myself in turn she said: “Hi Rapunzel! Hi Cinderella! Hi Aurora!” (Our skirts truly did resemble the princesses.) And that is the moment I TRULY felt like a princess – a little girl called me by a princess’ name. It warmed my heart and made me feel amazing, even though I was exhausted and feeling very un-princess-like at the moment. It was sincerely adorable and the child was adorable and it was a perfect end to the race day.

Our before (left) and after (right). We look so happy to be done with 13.1 miles, don't we?

After much-needed showers and checking out of the hotel, Leah, Lisa, and I drove back to Epcot wearing our medals proudly and decided to walk around the world in order to stretch our legs. My second favorite race-related moment happened throughout the afternoon: every time someone would pass us who had also done the race (they all wore their medals proudly and surprisingly a lot of people had the same idea that we did) or a cast member saw us, they would say: “Great job, girls.” I usually think of myself as a humble person but… I’ll be honest, it made me feel REALLY proud to hear that sentiment from complete strangers!

It was really heavy to wear this around for a few hours, but SO worth it!

So after walking around the world and running into our favorite princess Belle (obviously we had to take a photo with her since we missed her during the race), we headed to Downtown Disney in order to eat dinner at our favorite Irish pub and cap off our race weekend.

Lisa, Leah, Belle, and me! :)

Participating in the half-marathon was such an amazing experience, as it allowed me to bond further with my roommate, get closer to my friend from high school Lisa, and also accomplish a goal that I had set my mind to. Though running a half-marathon isn’t necessarily for everyone, take it from someone who used to only be able to run two miles without stopping: if you want to do it, you CAN do it. My journey to the Disney Princess Half-Marathon has been a fun and challenging one. You’ve all seen my Saturday morning run tweets, and though I won’t be running eleven miles EVERY weekend from here on out, I can’t wait to keep running and participating in more races this year. I finished my first half-marathon in 2:41:55, which is very close to the 2:30 goal I had set originally!

So while I wasn’t always glamorous throughout the two hours and forty minutes I was running and walking the race, I did end it by getting sprinkled with glitter. And you know what? That’s enough to make me feel like a princess. :)

1 comment:

  1. Jessica (@MetropoLois)February 24, 2014 at 7:23 PM

    This was so inspiring, Jenn! Reading about how encouraging people were honestly made me tear up a bit. I'm not much of a runner, but I've been considering training for a 5K. I think you just inspired me to do it! :) I'm glad you had such a wonderful experience. You should be truly proud of yourself!