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March 6, 2017

Race Recap: The Disney Princess Half-Marathon

Last weekend, I headed to Orlando, FL with my good friend, Abby, to run the Disney Princess Half-Marathon. It was meant to be a belated birthday trip but after being sick and dealing with everything with my dad, it was more of a much-needed getaway.


The Pilot and I flew into Orlando on a mid-morning flight Friday, checked into our hotel, headed to the Expo, had lunch, and then went to Disney Springs for dinner at my favorite Cuban restaurant, Bongos.

We spent Saturday at Universal visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (more on this later!) before Abby flew in. We had a round of drinks, enjoyed dinner at our hotel, and were in bed by 9 pm for a 2 am wake-up call.

The race started at 5:30 and we had been told that if you weren't on a bus from your Disney resort by 4 am, you would miss the start of the race. I was worried that the buses would get crowded and we would miss one, so we left our room at 3:20 and were on a bus by 3:25.

We were at Epcot 10 minutes later, explored the staging area a bit where they had a stage set up and live music and then, after learning that the Start Line was half a mile away, started making our way over. I had no idea how many runners to expect but I was shocked to see how few people there were when we got to the corrals which were lettered A-P. I was supposed to be in Corral D but Abby was assigned Corral K so we lined up together (after trying unsuccessfully to line up in my corral).

When we got to the race, the temperature was pretty mild but while we were waiting in our corrals, the temperature dropped and it got pretty windy. I tried to keep my muscles warm by doing some stretches and exercises and, when 5:25 am rolled around, I was really annoyed to learn that the race would be starting late because so many people still hadn't arrived. We had been at the start for 2 hours and I didn't think that it was fair to delay the start of the race because there were still (literally) thousands of people making their way from the staging area. The gun finally went off around 5:40 but our corral didn't start moving until shortly before 6. We finally crossed the start at 6:15 and were on our way.

The first mile came up pretty quickly. Captain Jack Sparrow was at that mile and I was surprised to see a long line of runners waiting to take their picture with him. Abby and I kept on running. The first few miles were relatively uneventful.  It took about two miles to warm up after standing in the cold for so long but the miles went by quickly. Early on, the course was mostly walkers and it was tough to weave in and out of so many people.

Around Mile 5, we entered the parking lot for the Magic Kingdom. The anticipation for running into the Magic Kingdom was building and we picked up the pace. When we ran into the park, I was so excited and when we turned onto Main Street and saw the Magic Kingdom, it took my breath away. The sun hadn't been up for long and the castle was bathed in that perfect morning glow that made for a stunning view to run through.


I loved running through the Magic Kingdom and felt like I was flying! Perfect for my Peter Pan costume! Somewhere around Frontier Land, we spotted Woody (The Pilot's favorite Disney character) and I stopped to snag a picture (without waiting in line!).


We left the Magic Kingdom and ran along Disney's golf course for quite awhile, which was beautiful. We had, for the most part, escaped the crowd by this point and were surrounded by more runners than walkers and really started to pick up the pace. Abby and I were both feeling pretty good and I was happy with how good I felt, given my minimal training. I had forgotten my watch in DC and was grateful to not have a watch to stare at the whole race. With all of the weaving and crowds, I think I would have gone crazy if I had my watch on!

Peter Pan and his shadow!
Once we hit  Mile 9, we started running back the way we had come from the start except that there were some hills thrown in as we ran across overpasses and made our way back to Epcot. I hadn't paid much attention to the Course Map since I knew I wouldn't have any idea what it meant, but I was confused when we hit Mile 11 and still felt miles away from Epcot but we entered the park through a back road leading to the parking lot. Mile 11 was almost entirely through the parking lot, leading into the park and we really picked up the pace since we could see the Epcot globe!


We entered the park, made a long loop near the entrance to the park and then sprinted through to the finish line! We finished in 2:19:33. I was hoping to run somewhere close to 2:15 but I'm pretty happy with this time given how crowded it was (and the fact that I had to take two bathroom breaks after drinking so much water while waiting endlessly for the race to start).


Thoughts on my first RunDisney race: It was ridiculously fun running through Disney and even better to have a friend along the way! The spectator support was pretty minimal (but I wasn't surprised by that given the early start time) and I think the race would have been pretty boring without someone running alongside me.

Originally, I was going to dress up as Princess Jasmine originally but when Abby decided she was going to be Tinker Bell, I decided on Peter Pan, my all time favorite story character. I somewhat regretted my decision when we lined up, being one of the few runners not dressed as a princess, but when we actually started running, I think Abby and I got called out and cheered for more because we weren't dressed as princesses than those that were. As a spectator, it doesn't make sense to yell out, "Go Jasmine!" when there are 17 Jasmines in your line of sight! So if you do run one of these races, try to think outside the box when planning out your costume!

Overall, I had a great time running this race but there were some things that I wasn't a fan of, that I thought detracted from the experience.

First, I wasn't thrilled that the race started late because people weren't there on time, particularly when so many of us had been sitting outside in the dark for close to two hours because we followed the race instructions.

Second, I couldn't believe how crowded the race was, especially given how narrow the course is! It seemed like a problem that could have been mitigated by closing more of the roads to traffic (the race is run on private Disney property, after all), running more of the race in the parks, or allowing more time to pass between corrals. I don't have a problem with how many walkers there were on the course but there were several groups of walkers walking four or five people across, blocking the entire path forward. Most of the races I've run that have had a large number of walkers have started with an announcement that walkers should stay to one side of the course to make it easy to navigate for everyone and, usually, people follow that but without being told to do that, this course definitely seemed more walker-friendly than runner-friendly.

Lastly, I rarely buy race photos but there's a pretty awesome picture of me right in front of the castle that, somehow, doesn't have any other runners in it. I tried to buy the photo and found out that the only way to do so would be to buy all of my race photos for $169. Umm, no thanks!

Would I run a RunDisney race again? I wouldn't not run one again but I don't need to run one again immediately. I think that I may have had a slightly different experience if I had actually started in my corral. You had to submit proof of time for a race back in November and Abby missed the deadline, which put us further back. I didn't mind but if there were that many walkers in Corral K, I can't even imagine what it must have looked like in Corral P!

Disney isn't new to organizing races but there are a few things they need to work on, like spacing out their corrals better, extending the Expo hours (it closes at 3 the day before the race!), and communicating with runners better. We were lucky to have caught an announcement that the Staging Area for the race was a half mile from the Start Line but if that announcement wasn't made on repeat, I imagine that's why so many runners were late to the start.

So, there you go, my 15th Half-Marathon to celebrate my 30th birthday! It was a super fun weekend and I'm so glad I did it! Today kicks off training for my next marathon - the Ottawa Marathon - so you can expect my weekly workout recaps to make a comeback this weekend!

Have you run a Disney race before?
Would you?
If you did run one, who would you dress up as?
As always, happy running!

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