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Lessons Learned at the 2016 Princess Half Marathon

Another first timer at this year’s Princess Half Marathon! Adrienne is here today to share her experience as a first time runDisney runner at the Disney Princess Half Marathon, as well as some very valuable lessons learned while there.  Get ready to take notes!

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The crystals of sugar lingering on your lips after biting into a warm Disney churro.
The chill of a smooth scoop of Dole Whips on a hot day.
Nostalgia taking over when you board one of Disneyland’s originals like Peter Pan, ridden by Walt Disney himself.

Who doesn’t love Disney?

I will shout it from the rooftops that there is no better place to do your first race than the Happiest Place on Earth!  Training for a half-marathon was the perfect thing to get me back in shape after having a baby and gave me a boost of self-confidence.

Knowing that I have the propensity to – let’s just be real here for a moment… chicken out – I decided to register for an out of town race with a higher price tag.  This may sound counter-intuitive to some of you, but I knew that if I had invested the money in airfare, hotel, etcetera, I wouldn’t back out.  When I came across the runDisney Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend, I knew I had found my happily-ever-after.  Every year, thousands of women (and a few good men!) flock to Orlando in tutus and tiaras. There is a strong mix of newbies and experienced runners.  Princess Weekend is HUGE. In the Women’s Half Marathon open division alone, there were 18,090 finishers with clock times between 1:22 and 3:30.

After hearing the horror and chaos of what is known as day one of the Expo, I decided to arrive on Saturday when the crowds had died down (This strategy will work if you’re ONLY running the half marathon; however, if you or your family are participating in the Kid’s Race, 5K, or 10K, you’ll need to get to the expo the day prior to your race: either Thursday or Friday).

I flew into Orlando International Airport where Disney Cast Members await your arrival and direct you to your courtesy shuttle.  After dropping off my bags at my Disney resort, I hopped on the shuttle to ESPN Wide World of Sports for the Expo (again- a free shuttle! Can you tell I am a fan of staying at the resort?).  The Expo is a shopper’s paradise and a critical pre-race stop not only for your bib and free race t-shirt, but any last minute items or memorabilia you may need.  There are vendors with the expected tutus and headbands, but they had everything from photo stations to electric foam rollers.  My favorite quote of the weekend from my husband: Princess Expo: Because who doesn’t want to win a box of instant rice? It’s just crazy nonsense, but was fun nonetheless!

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Between the resort restaurants and food courts, the parks, and Disney Springs, there are plenty of places help you carb load before your big race.  I chose to eat a late lunch/early dinner to ensure I got the carbs and protein necessary without waking up feeling bloated the next morning.  Remember, this isn’t your typical 8:00 am race; the fireworks go off at 5:30 am and you want to give your body time to breakdown those carbs.  Nobody wants to have to go to the bathroom during a race. Porta-potties. Enough said.

With my costume pressed and my bib attached, I went to bed around 7:30 and finally fell asleep around 8:30.  I woke up every hour thinking I was late. Alas, my alarm went off at 2:15 and it was time to get ready. Yes- you read that correctly. 2:15 am.

Don’t princesses need their beauty sleep? 

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The busses ran from 3:30-5:00 (there’s that free shuttle again!), but with the race starting promptly at 5:30, I wouldn’t risk taking anything later than 4:00 am.  When you get to Epcot where the race begins, the lines start at security and continue for just about everything. Photo ops. Bathrooms. Medical. Corrals. Everything.  I will say that I’ve never seen that many porta-potties in my entire lifetime let alone in one place, but it still wasn’t enough.  I was doing the dance waiting for my turn in line after what felt like an hour. This is a massive race, so I expected myself to get lost in a sea of princesses.  While it felt as if we were being rounded up like a herd of cattle to enter our corrals at 5:00 and some corrals not starting until after 6:30, I quickly gained leg room once the race began.

You may see on Facebook or some blogs about the massive amount of people and let others get in your head about the balloon ladies, but don’t let that dissuade you…the Race. Was. Amazing.

Adorable costumes. Beautiful friendships. Determined women.  Everyone was encouraging one another! The first female finisher was coming back on the other side as my corral was around the 2 mile mark and we all cheered and whistled for the princess flying on the other side of the median.  I didn’t realize the majority of the race is outside of the park, but it still felt Disney! Every mile or so, there was a different character on the side of the course available for photos.  While I stopped for a few of my favorites, I had the mentality that as fun as this race is, it’s still a race, so I couldn’t afford to stop for longer lines (I opted for the oh-so-classy “sweaty selfie” for those I just couldn’t completely skip over).

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Every mile has a marker and you have the ability to have updates sent to friends and family via text or Facebook with your pace and estimated finish time.  There is music at each character and mile marker and there were a few different marching bands that lined the course to lend some encouragement to those of us in need.

Around Mile 3, I crossed under the Magic Kingdom archway that gains you access to Magic Kingdom parking and about 30 minutes later, I was running down Main Street USA towards the castle.  Spectators raised banners of encouragement for loved ones and strangers hooted and high-fived.  There was a truly magical energy and it was emotional running towards the castle!

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After running a loop through Tomorrowland, we ran through the castle and past several characters.

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Miles 8-10 were definitely the toughest.  They were “dead miles” without much as far as music and runners were stepping off to the side to stretch and catch their breath. Toy Story Soldiers gave a much needed cadence around Mile 10 where all the women around me gave a spirited OORAH! going into the last 3.1 miles.

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Between the crowds cheering, the hallelujah choir, and Goofy waiting to high-five me as I ran by, I was on cloud nine! After crossing the finish line, I was sprinkled with pixie dust by a cast member and guided to an area where volunteers handed out drinks, mylar blankets, snack boxes and pointed us towards medical as necessary for things like ice and Advil.  My husband met me with roses and a tiara for his Disney Princess and my training partner and I caught up for a toast at the champagne tent.

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There are several runDisney events that take place each year at both Disneyland in Anaheim, CA and at Disney World in Orlando, FL.  I know Gaston says it’s not good for a woman to read, because “she’ll start getting ideas and thinking,” but I will tell you to read up! Do your research.  Each race has a different theme and each park (Disneyland and Disney World) has different accommodations and perks.

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Here are a few things I learned for my next runDisney event and some tips I thought would be helpful for yours:

Keep the End in Mind: Remember to have comfy shoes waiting for you at the end.  I’m definitely investing in a pair of Oofos before my next half! Stay somewhere with a hot tub! This would have been amazing after my race.  I am glad Disney World has affordable on-site options for the budget-conscious (check out the All Star Hotels here), but be sure to choose somewhere with the amenities that suit your needs.  On the subject of pools, don’t stay near the pool.  I am so glad we got a room in the back of the hotel, because the pool area was loud and busy from sun up til after 10:00 at night! Super fun, but way too loud for those trying to get to sleep by 8:00 for a pre-sunrise race.

Stay on Site:  Disney World provides a free shuttle to and from the airport and each park in addition to a luxury liner bus to get you to and from the race.  Several roads are closed and traffic is horrible on race day, so eliminating the stress of travel is priceless.  Disneyland has a few good neighbor hotels within walking distance, but let’s be real, who wants to walk further than they have to before a race?

Save Some, Spend Some: ChEAR Squad isn’t a necessity.  My husband was able to see me at 1.78 miles and was in the bleachers a couple hours later, watching me crossing the finish line.  There was also free spectator viewing around 5.3 miles inside the Magic Kingdom.  ChEAR squad is fun, but not necessary.  Save your money for the churros and Dole Whips.

Dress the Part: Have fun and dress up! Where else can you get away with dressing like Belle? With that being said, be reasonable with your costume.  I didn’t have any issues at all, but I did see several costume malfunctions that resulted in tutus and t-shirts sprinkled along the path.

Rules of the Road (Read up on Running Etiquette):  Other than long bathroom lines, the only thing that annoyed me was walkers on the left. It didn’t even frustrate me for the first 10 miles of the race, but at the end when I knew if I stopped I would have a hard time getting going again, I needed to keep going, but it was difficult if someone started walking on the left in front of me.

Mentality:  It’s easy to get frustrated with walkers on the left or anxious about the crowds, but if you’re excited and happy, it will be a great race! Furthermore, believe in yourself!
You don’t have time to be timid. You must be bold. Daring! –Lumiere, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

You, too, can complete your first runDisney event! After all, “all you need is faith, trust, and a little pixie dust!”

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2016-Princess-Half-Adrienne-Ramser-2Adrienne R. lives in Indianapolis, IN with her husband, baby boy, and two dogs. She is motivated by her faith, family, and friends to be the best she can be and is already dreaming of her next runDisney race!
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