The Disney Princess Half Marathon is the PERFECT race for a first time half marathoner. It was my first and it was an amazing experience. I’m happy to welcome Emily to RAD today to share her story of her first half marathon at the 2016 Disney Princess Half Marathon. While reading her experience, I couldn’t help but notice all the similarities in our stories! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and let’s welcome her to the half marathon family!
I can’t believe I can officially say I’m a half-marathoner. 48 hours before I sat down to write this post I crossed the finish line at Disney’s Princess Half Marathon. This is a huge feat for anyone, to be sure, but I’m the girl who took online P.E. in high school because coordination and athleticism were SO not my things. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being outside, walking, swimming, kayaking- but competitive athletic events and Emily go together like oil and water.
However, I knew I needed some new motivation. I LOVE Disney, and I mean I LOVE it. Having seen a friend finish this half marathon before, I decided on a whim, without telling almost anyone, that I would sign up. So I did. I waited at the computer and somehow managed to navigate the crazy registration and secure a spot in this race. I read every blog post imaginable, joined every Facebook group for support and advice, and scoured the runDisney website for information. I started Jeff Galloway’s training plan (though I could have done better with the follow through), booked our hotel, planned my outfit, and got ready for what I hoped would be my biggest accomplishment to date.
Sunday’s wakeup call came EARLY. We were staying at the Pop Century on site so that I could catch a bus in the morning and not deal with road closures and traffic. I planned to wake up around 2:15 to get ready and eat some breakfast, but I was up by 1:50. At 3:15 I was out the door to get on the bus. I knew I was starting at the back of the pack and was slower, so my husband slept in and made it to see my about halfway and at the finish.
As luck would have it, a friend from Tallahassee and I both wound up at Pop Century, so we took the bus to the start together. We got to Epcot by 3:45 and had a bit of a walk to the security check and holding area. We chose to sit and stretch until it was time to head to the corrals. We didn’t want to waste any energy being on our feet!
About an hour or so later it was time to get moving, right around 5 AM. My friend Ashliegh was also doing the race, so we all met up for some pictures and headed to the corrals. We stopped to use the port-a-potties first, as we did not want to have to stop during the race. I will say, bring tissues and hand sanitizer for that experience!
We finally made it to our corrals after a LONG walk and had to separate- they were in I, I was in M. Corrals went A-P, and the faster you are, the closer you are to the front. You MUST submit a proof of time from a 10K race or longer to be placed in the appropriate corral. Luckily, M gave me a buffer from the balloon ladies, which was nice. The balloon ladies keep a 16 mm pace (the pace required by the race), and are the LAST people to cross the finish line, in Corral P. You must stay ahead of them in order to not be picked up (swept) from the course and driven to the finish line, unable to finish. Each corral leaves anywhere between 3-5 minutes apart, so I had about a 15 minute head start, which I was grateful for!
Anyway, off the corrals went, with fireworks for each one. Finally, I was off! My only goal was to finish, and I planned to walk most of the course. I am a fast walker, and when I tried intervals, my jog was so slow that it didn’t help my time much and just wore me out quicker.
I went up a small overpass and was on the way to Magic Kingdom from Epcot! The monorail drove by and honked at us. I saw the Mile 2 marker.
Then I was at the parking entrance for Magic Kingdom! The part of the course I looked forward to the most was being on Main Street, so I was motivated at this point. I crossed over the 5K timing mat, texts with my pace being sent to all my loved ones.
Through the parking lot, by the Transportation and Ticket Center, past the Contemporary and into the park. I won’t lie, I had goosebumps and held back tears. I was actually doing this!
Up to this point I had seen spectators, a hot air balloon, Jack Skellington, Buzz Lightyear, the Queen of Hearts, and I was about to go through the castle. So much to distract me! I went through, underneath Anna and Elsa, and gave the photographer a thumbs up.
We headed out through Frontierland, seeing Woody and Jessie, and passed the 10K mark. We went past the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and golf course. There were some characters here and there but the sun was blaring and I was so hot, I didn’t pay much attention. I had less than halfway to go. I saw the set of busses waiting to pick up any stragglers, but I was still doing fine. I had some of my Honey Stinger gummies to keep me going, and grabbed Powerade and water at every station. I won’t lie, I was thinking, “What the HECK did I sign up for?” But then a princess next to me read my bib and said, “Way to go, Emily! You’re doing great! Woo! Good luck!” and ran off. (RAD note: This is the BEST thing about Disney races!!) It kept me going, as did my mental fortitude. It really is 60% mental…your feet will keep moving when you will them to!
Next thing I knew, I was at Mile 10. I saw more busses waiting, but I escaped those, too. However, I knew the overpasses and bridges were coming- 3 of them. Up we wound around a banked overpass, to see Toy Story’s Green Army Men yelling at us to get moving. So we did. When I was up on the bridge I looked down to see TONS of princesses still going, and I still didn’t see any balloons. I kept at it. I had slowed down a TON by now. I had done 11 miles and it was in the 70’s. As I was on the last bridge into Epcot, I looked further down the road and saw the balloon ladies behind me. I was still ahead of them, and I was almost inside the park. I knew I had made it. Again, I got choked up. I went into Epcot, did an out and back to the start of World Showcase, and left the park.
I saw the gospel choir I had read so much about and knew I was almost done. There was the Mile 13 marker, and there was my husband. I snapped a picture, gave Joel a smile and a wave, and turned the corner to see the finish line.
I saw Goofy and Donald, I heard announcers calling out names. I had finished! I averaged a little over 16mm, but I had finished, and before the balloon ladies (who are actually just very nice women who volunteer to keep pace). The girl who hated the mile run in elementary school, who hadn’t walked more than 4 miles in a LONG time before starting this training, had crossed the finish line with more than a thousand people still behind me.
I got sprinkled with Pixie Dust (glitter), received my medal, called my parents, and grabbed my goodies. I waited for Joel in the reunion area. I wanted to sit on the pavement, but knew I wouldn’t get back up. He found me, and we went off to grab the bus back to our hotel. The line was LONG, and I was ready to sit down. My feet hurt, my fingers were swollen, and I just needed a minute to soak everything in.
When all was said and done, we got back to the hotel and my phone said I had walked 16.4 miles. I showered. I rested. Then we grabbed lunch in Downtown Disney and enjoyed a few pictures and rides in Magic Kingdom. We had a celebratory dinner at a Japanese steakhouse and I slept GREAT that night.
And just like that it was done- time to head back home. I hadn’t spent as much time in the parks as I wanted. It was crowded, with over 22,000 runners. I was sore. I was hot. I was tired. But I was SO happy. And SO proud. I saw the most creative costumes (that’s the thing about these races, TONS of people dress up). I got to race in my happy place. I finished 13.1 miles, the biggest feat of my life, something no one (including me!) ever thought I would do, and the one thing I have had to work the hardest for, ever. When asked on the bus ride back to the hotel if I would do it again, I said no. I had crossed it off my bucket list. Now that I am home again, I can’t wait for registration to open this summer. If you want to try a half marathon, do this one. The support, the atmosphere, and the sense of accomplishment are real and so worth it. And if you’re worried about being swept- don’t be. Try your hardest, train, and believe. Disney WANTS you to succeed. And always remember, whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right!
Emily Keough lives in Tallahassee, Florida and works for her alma mater, Florida State University (Go Noles!). She is an avid Disney fan, being an annual passholder for years, and loves taking trips to Orlando with her husband and friends. She picked up training for the half last year and plans to continue to runDisney with the support and help of her faith, husband, family, and friends!
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