Run Like a Girl: My First Half Marathon

Because why else would you go to Disney World at 4 in the morning?

I’ve liked to run since I was a teenager, but I’ve never competed, never joined a team, never trained for anything, and never really run more than perhaps 5 miles at a time without walking or stopping to rest. For the last few years I’ve been running with the Hash House Harriers, a “drinking club with a running problem” — which gives you an idea of how seriously I take fitness — so I never really thought I’d ever bother doing any organized races at all.

Last year, a friend of mine was going through cancer AND a divorce at the same time. In an effort to take life by the proverbial balls, she decided to start actively pursuing goals to cross off her bucket list, and one of those was to run a half marathon, so another friend suggested that they get a group together to run the Disney Princess Half.

As it turned out, only four of us were able to actually sign up for the race, either due to website malfunctions on registration day, or simply due to cost. It was pretty common to have this exchange —

Me: “Wanna run the Disney half with us?”

Friend: “Sure, how much does it cost?”

Me: “Why, merely a hundred and seventy five of your hard-earned American dollars.”

Friend: <nope, nope, so much nope>

Let’s be honest, it really is kind of a ridiculous amount of money to consider when the fee doesn’t even get you admission to the park after the race. You do get a spot in the race, a souvenir t-shirt, and a finisher’s medal… plus all the Powerade and Clif products you can consume, I guess. In the months leading up to the race I would sometimes look at my credit card statement and be like, “I paid how much??

Bridesmaids-poor

However, if you like to run and you like Disney parks then I think it’s definitely worth doing at least once.

I had enough experience that I didn’t feel like I would pass out or give up during the race; however, I also wanted to actually run the whole thing. I did a lot of training during the months leading up to the race, including signing up for a 5k and a 10k. I re-discovered why I love running (adrenaline highs are fun, but for me it’s more about the solitude; long runs are about the closest I’ve ever come to being able to meditate), but I also discovered that there is a giant difference between a 10k and a half marathon.

In the weeks leading up to the race, I felt some of the most crippling exhaustion I’ve ever felt in my life. I “hit the wall” almost every time I went for my weekly long run. And between the four of us we had a broken toe, an injured foot, and several temperamental knees.

Disney Half Marathon 2
Before…

We runners picked up our race packets the afternoon before the event, and afterward our “support crew” (friends and significant others) decided to it would be a great idea to get day drunk. Just imagine if Patsy and Edina from ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ became Disney Princesses, and instead of a glass slipper it’s a glass of whiskey (with a pickleback), then you might have an idea of how the afternoon devolved.

Hangover be damned, we soon found ourselves standing outside in pitch dark at an unholy hour of the morning, wearing ridiculous outfits, huddled in a corral and staring down 13.1 miles. My “instigator” friend turns to the rest of us and says, “The only reason I signed up for this is because I thought there was a good chance I’d be dead and I wouldn’t have to do it!”

Three hours later, we are all drinking post-race mimosas and talking about signing up for our next half.

Disney Half Marathon 3
…and after!

My Time: 2:58:05 (including bottlenecks and a bathroom break, but not too shabby!) / Overall Place: 9746/20215

It’s amusing how my attitude changed… 3 months ago, I was thinking “how could anyone possibly run a full marathon?!” and now I’m like, “26.2 here I come!”

Top 10 things (in no particular order) that I learned from the Disney Princess Half Marathon:

  1. “Winter” means nothing in Florida, trust me. By the time we finished the race it was 80 degrees and the sun was blazing. It’s a little chilly at 4 in the morning, so wear a jacket you don’t mind throwing away. I ditched my jacket before the first mile marker. I saw some people sweating their faces off in wigs and polyester Halloween costumes, including floor-length gowns. I saw other people shedding their (likely expensive) costume layers and leaving them along the course.
  2. The race is really more like a 13.1 mile “fun run” — on one hand, there is absolutely no pressure to compete, so anyone of any fitness level can participate and enjoy the experience. On the other hand, expect lots of people taking selfies and very little runners’ etiquette.*
  3. Energy gels at mile 8 were the best thing ever. A friend told me the trick to eating them is put a little in your mouth and mix it with your spit until it dissolves, that way it gets into your system faster. I think it saved me from having to walk at all, except for the part where everyone stopped, as the race bottlenecked in Cinderella’s castle.
  4. It’s really cool to run through the parks, including “backstage” Disney World. I didn’t want to wait in line to take my picture with any characters, but it was awesome to see them there.
  5. Speaking of waiting in line, there’s a lot of it. Wait in line to pick up your race packets, wait in line to use a port-o-potty, wait in line to get through narrow parts of the course, wait in line to wait in line.
  6. And speaking of port-o-potties, if the condition of the toilets was any indication — please y’all, poop before you run. Coffee and high fiber foods help.
  7. Disney really does not disappoint when it comes to the overall experience; even the people who hand out race bibs make you feel like a celebrity, and everyone working the race was super friendly, including the folks handing out water.
  8. No matter how slow you feel, there is always someone slower than you. I was running about a 12-13:30 minute mile and was still flying past people. I started running faster near the end because the sun was ascending very quickly and I didn’t want to get burned.
  9. Running a half marathon with other people is a lot more fun than pounding pavement for 3 hours by yourself.
  10. If a bunch of drunks can run a half marathon, so can you!

Disney Half Marathon 01

My mini “Maleficent” horns were made by Trish Dobson Designs on Etsy! They are lightweight enough to comfortably wear while running, small enough to not be cumbersome but big enough to obviously be horns. (They also come in other sizes and a whole spectrum of colors!)

The amount of planning and execution that must go into organizing a race with 20,000+ participants is beyond my scope of understanding, and honestly the overall experience was really great, and everything from packet pick-up to meeting our friends at the finish line was pretty close to flawless, all things considered.

*This was my first time participating in a race this size, and I really do wish there had been more information about race etiquette and the “do’s and don’ts” of running in a group that large. There were large groups walking 3+ people abreast, evidently unaware (or unconcerned) that it’s hard for others to get around them. In addition, I almost plowed into so many people because they would just stop in the middle of the race to take a selfie or tie a shoe or look at something or adjust their costume. They’d run up to the water station, take a cup, and just stop to drink it. I have nothing against walkers or people who want to take selfies, but maybe Disney could do something like have signs or verbal announcements in the narrow bottleneck areas to politely remind people not to block other runners. This isn’t enough to discourage me from recommending the race to other people, but just be prepared for it, or try to be fast enough to avoid getting placed in the bottom corrals.

One Reply to “Run Like a Girl: My First Half Marathon”

  1. My first (and only) half marathon was the Chicago Rock n’ Roll Half and I fell in love with the RnR sieres! It’s a GREAT first half marathon experience, I’m excited for you!!!

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