Around 3am I left our hotel room at the Caribbean Beach Resort and headed to the closest bus stop. Within 5 minutes a bus had pulled up and I got on – not bad! I climbed onboard and was immediately cheered by 7 other princesses who had been picked up at earlier stops. They were also wearing tiaras, tutus and big smiles. I knew this was going to be a great day!!
It was about a 10 minute bus ride to the parking lot of Epcot and then about a 10 minute walk to the race area. I had some time to waste before the PbRC photo meet-up so I decided to get in line and get the first (of many!) princess picture of the day! It was a great vibe! There was a dj spinning, women were dancing and it was obvious we were all in the mood to celebrate.
After this I headed over to the PbRC meet-up. It’s so cool that by now I’m starting to recognize familiar faces at these meet-ups and it was awesome to see everyone in their costumes. I’ve mentioned the PbRC before and it’s basically a group of runners who love Disney. Costumes are a must with this group and even the guys participated with their princess outfits. We practiced our mile 10 chicken dance, got some pictures and then we had a special guest join us. Sean Astin!!! Now, you might be thinking of him as Samwise Gamgee from LOTR or Rudy from the Notre Dame movie. I personally will always see him as Mikey from my beloved childhood favorite, The Goonies. But Sean is also an avid distance runner who created the #run3rd movement. His philosophy is he runs for 1) himself 2) his family 3) for others. It’s interesting to see who people choose to run 3rd for and it gives great meaning to your races. Our fearless PbRC leader, Tony, is also a #run3rd captain so Sean came over to get a group photo with us and give us a little pep talk. Nicest guy ever. Those of you who know me personally know that I normally just feel disdain towards celebrities, actors and the like. But he was different. Genuine and funny and real. So it was an honor to have him speak to us and get us pepped up for the race to come.
After that it was time to drop off our bags at the bag check and head to the corrals for the start! This was my 3rd RunDisney half marathon in the last 3.5 months so I had the advantage of being comfortable and familiar with the whole process. But that in no way diminishes the excitement that still comes when it’s time to get going! We stopped for one last trip to the porta-potties and entered corral C. Almost time!
The corrals are pretty much exactly what they sound like, a pen you wait in until it’s your time to start. This race had corrals A-H and the staggered start is a help with congestion during the race. I had made a decision earlier that week that I was going to run this race with a very special lady from my running group, Liz. She has overcome some pretty amazing hurdles in her quest to finish a half marathon and I wanted this finish very badly for her. So we moved to the back of C, knowing we were going to be slower, to stay out of everybody’s way and give us an easy start. Another new friend from PbRC, also a Liz, joined us and after the Star Spangled Banner and some fireworks it was our turn and we were off! The 3 L’s were on our way!
The first few miles took us out to the main road, World Drive, which would take us to Magic Kingdom. It was still dark with a little bit of fog and a lot of humidity. We could see people lined up along the side cheering for us but couldn’t really see them. Still, just knowing that my mom was out there was such an emotional boost.
As we made our way up World Drive we enjoyed the entertainment at sporadic points of the course: marching bands, Disney characters and even floats were along the route. Most impressive to me was to see the lead runner on the other side of the road already headed back towards Epcot and the finish. She was flanked by 2 bikers in front of her and one beside her and she had a pretty good lead. So impressive to watch an athlete like that! We all cheered as she ran past us and it was startling to realize what a different experience she must have. She was all alone in the dark while we were in a mass of humanity partying away. Very, very cool.
Around mile 4 it was time to reassess our game plan. It was unseasonably hot and humid out. Being a native Floridian, I was actually enjoying the weather. Many of my northern friends were not. Liz was dealing with acclimating to the heat and humidity and it was taking a toll. The other Liz was ready to take off and pick up some speed. And I wanted to take as many photos as I could. So we split up at that point to divide and conquer. Liz1 kept at her normal pace, Liz2 took off to get up to her normal speed and I decided to sprint ahead to Magic Kingdom, wait in the lines for photos, then sprint to catch up with Liz1 afterwards. Clear as mud, right?!
I started a faster pace and ran past the Contemporary; before I knew it I was turning the corner and found myself running down Main Street USA towards Cinderella’s castle! I wish I could convey in words what an amazing experience it is. I’ve been going to Disney my whole life but nothing compares to running a race through the park as people are lined up along the course holding signs and cheering you on. It is truly magical! We ran through Tomorrowland and Fantasyland and I stopped along the way to take pictures with all the characters. They have a great system set up with 2 people taking photos and the lines move very quickly. That said, I spent around 40 minutes standing in line at various photo stops this race. Definitely not a race to try to get a PR if you’re a Disney fanatic like me! But it was worth it! Ran through the castle and the mood was electrifying. Trumpet heralds played on the balcony as we ran through. I saw Dennis Marsico from RunDisney TV and got a picture with him along with the obligatory posed pic in front of the castle. From there we ran through Frontierland and out a back entrance back onto the roads.
At this point I started picking up speed to catch up with Liz and I found her around mile 8. She was in some serious pain dealing with the heat, blisters and some toenails falling off but she soldiered through. At this point I realized I couldn’t push her to run any further and my math was telling me as long as we kept walking at a reasonable pace we would be able to avoid the dreaded sweepers. So I settled in to a comfy walk and we enjoyed the hike back up World Dr. I stopped at a few photo opps along the way and did my mile 10 Truffle Shuffle and just generally enjoyed taking it all in.
Just past mile 10 we started the steep exit ramp back to Epcot and were greeted by my favorite guys, the Green Army Men, telling us to go take the hill. Yes, sir! From the top of the overpass we were able to look back at the hundreds of women stretched out behind us and it seemed like Liz really started to believe that she really was going to finish. We were getting close!!!
As we approached the entrance to Epcot we came across one of the most special parts of the race, and one of the most special people I’ve had the privilege to meet. Peggy Sue is a fellow Disney lover who goes to the races to cheer her daughter on. But even when her daughter isn’t running she still comes out to cheer for everybody else. Her “stranger” sign is legendary within my running club, as is she. She’s now a member of our group and seeing her new PbRC sign along with her regular sign brought me such pride and joy. We stopped for some hugs and pictures with her before heading on. She is such an inspiration and gives you such a great mental boost to finish.
We did a brief loop into Epcot from the entrance to World Showcase then back. Met up with another friend from PbRC, Jenn, and went the rest of the way with her. Rounded a corner to see a beautiful gospel choir signing us in and suddenly we were in the chute heading towards the finish line. This was it! Saw my mom and I felt a burst of pride. Grabbing each others’ hands we started running and crossed that finish line strong. Finished! Liz is now a half marathoner and I am privileged to have played a small role in getting her there.
We parted ways and I headed to bag check and then to the reunion area and a wonderful hug from my mom. The whole race had been a beautiful experience and I enjoyed every single minute of it.
- Super-fun crowd with a great theme
- Wonderful course with amazing entertainment, photo stops and support
- Seeing my mom at the finish line
- Watching Liz put the past away and become a half marathoner
- Pretty much everyone was in a costume of some sort which was a lot of fun
- Seeing familiar PbRC faces throughout the course and shouting out to each other
- I’m at the point now where these races are no longer scary. I know I can do it and it’s nice to just be able to enjoy the experience and run with joy
- The expo was chaos: overcrowded with a bad set-up. However, I have no doubt RunDisney will learn from the experience and make it right next time
- The weather was hard on a lot of runners. It was a crazy coincidence because we also had record-breaking heat for the Marathon weekend last month
- This was the first distance race I ran without my hydration belt and I did just fine. The water/powerade stops were more than adequate for hydration.
- I wore my GymBoss timer on the shoulder of my tank top this time and it worked great! There are so many other people on course with the same timer that there’s constantly beeping going off. It was easier having it closer to my ear.
- I need to figure out how to carry my sunglasses along with me. It’s dark when the races start but the sun is always up by the time I finish and the sun can be brutal. I would’ve been much more confortable with my sunglasses.
- RunDisney is addicting. I have no idea how I’m going to function without doing any Disney races ’til November!!