Monday, March 2, 2015

runDisney's Princess Half Marathon: A Recap

Two days in a row of a 2:30 a.m. wake-up call…and I know, without a doubt, that I truly AM crazy.

It was now Sunday, February 22nd, and it was time to get up and get ready to run Walt Disney World's Princess Half-Marathon…day two of our Glass Slipper Challenge. The day before, Kristin and I had pounded out a rather chilly, but very fun, 6.1 miles at the Enchanted 10k, and it was now time to test the legs to see if they'd hold up for an additional 13.1 miles.

Oh, joy.

Again, we began donning our running gear as if we were warriors heading off to battle…lots of Body Glide to prevent chafing; KT tape to provide support for my bum knee; lots of electronic gear to provide music and intervals and paces; and lots of deodorant to prevent major funkiness that would become an issue as the sun came up and the temperatures got hotter. I had developed a bit of a hot spot on my left foot from the preceding day's festivities, so I also applied some blister bandaids, which would prove to be a lifesaver later on.

As far as a costume, I had decided to honor the theme of "Princess Half-Marathon" by donning a Cinderella-inspired running outfit. I was initially worried that I might be too cool with a tank-top, but that never materialized during the race. If anything, I was hot later - so I was thankful I hadn't put a base layer on underneath the tank. The skirt did not include running shorts, so I opted to run in my favorite running capris - they've served me well, and I knew that thigh chafing would not be an issue. The Cinderella "gloves" were some luminescent compression sleeves that served a dual purpose: they enhanced the costume, but they also provided some energy and comfort to my arms as I ran. The 13.1 tattoo was temporary…I was hoping it would provide some mental and physical motivation as I ran; Kristin and I had both applied our tattoos the night before, and they held up beautifully during the race. The few accessories that I added (velcro black choker, blue headband, earrings and rhinestone necklace) were all cheap enough that I could easily discard and throw away along the race course if they presented issues - but they all ended up being no problem at all, and I finished the race with everything still on that I had started the race with:

As we made last-minute adjustments to our running costumes, we also prepared our running belts for the morning. For my long runs, I like to wear the Fitletic belt, which has served me well over the last few months. Besides stocking the pouch with Tylenol, Kleenex and BioFreeze packets, I also loaded up 3 GU gels, Chaptstick, and eye drops…and I added on a phone case so I wouldn't have to carry my iPhone for 13.1 miles in my sweaty hands. My iPhone would not only act as my D.J., pumping me up with some motivational music along the way, but it would also act as my camera.

Soon, it was 3:15 a.m. - and it was time to head to the resort's bus stop - which fortunately, was just a few yards away from our room. It's an eerie feeling to be standing at a darkened bus stop at 3:15 a.m. in the morning - wearing a Cinderella costume, no less - but we were soon joined by a few other Princesses, all donned in their own Disney costumes. Within two minutes, a bus pulled up, and we were on our way to Epcot for what would be a very wild, very fun, and very exciting morning. Looking back, I'm glad we caught one of the first buses, as we breezed along the 2 miles to Epcot with no issues, traffic or otherwise - but we heard later that the later buses had major issues getting stuck in traffic…leaving some Princess runners having to sprint to the starting line just in time for the race to begin.

The bus dropped us off, and Kristin and I made our way to the Race Retreat tent. For a few (!!!) dollars extra, Disney will sometimes provide a VIP tent both before and after the race…where they provide tables, chairs, breakfast, bathrooms, a bag check-in, and other goodies to the runners and their families. Not knowing what the weather would be like this morning, and not wanting to have to stand in the possible cold for two hours pre-race, we'd opted for this retreat, and looking back, I think it was well worth it. We were able to stow our post-race bag with no problem, as well as use a bathroom with no line, and chow on some last-minute carbs. There was also a photo opportunity that I took advantage of:

Before we knew it, though, it was time to quit retreating and start walking - and walking - and walking some more - to the corrals. We seriously walked over 20 minutes to get to the corrals, and I was hoping and praying that the people we were following knew where they were going; we were just two lone cows in a giant herd of cattle all blindly shuffling along. Eventually, we saw the corral markers, and after saying goodbye to Kristin, who was in Corral K, I headed up to Corral I. The corrals went from A to P, distributing the 24,000+ runners in a fairly even amount along the start line…and it was now just a matter of waiting until 5:30 a.m., when they would officially start the race.

Before I knew it, Corral I was under way…and away I went. I knew the course would take us through the Magic Kingdom around the 5.5-mile mark, and I knew we would be running through Epcot after the 10-mile mark.

I also knew that every so many miles, there would be opportunities to pull over, stand in a potentially long line of runners, and have a photo opportunity with various Disney characters. I also knew that, after studying previous Princess race blogs and such, that all of the photo opportunities that I wanted were along the last half of the race. So, my strategy was simple: I would run like heck the first six miles, hoping to "bank" some of that time so I could "spend" it later in the lines for photos. I'm just not that fast of a runner to get ALL the photos - so it was important to know beforehand which ones were "must-do's" and where those were located. So…I ran like a Kenyan for six miles…stopping only long enough to grab a sip of water at an Aid Station, or snapping a quick photo as I ran by something.

This is known as a "Run-By Shooting" - of a photo, that is…

And another one:

My strategy, besides running like a Kenyan for six miles, was to also ingest a GU Energy gel every 3 miles or so…and to ONLY drink a sip or so of water at the Aid Stations…Disney provided Powerade and water at each station, but I've learned (the hard way, unfortunately) that Powerade and Gatorade are NOT my friends when running. Each Aid Station provided a bit of a walking respite for me as I re-hydrated…

So much awesomeness in a such a tiny package…these things really bring on the energy needed to keep it going...

Before I knew it, we were running through the entrance gates for the Magic Kingdom…even if I'd missed the lighted neon signage, there's no way I would have missed the thousands of runners stopping for selfies and photos:

We were then heading to the Ticket & Transportation Center, where we were met with our first big bunch of spectators and supporters, including one in particular, that I had to take a picture of:

This is Peggy Sue's daughter…and Peggy Sue is a legend among Disney runners. Peggy Sue would sit on her ECV at every WDW race, and hold a sign that looked just like the one above. She would cheer on every single runner, whether she knew them or not - and she became a sight that runners would look forward to seeing along the course. Unfortunately, Peggy Sue passed away about 3 weeks before this race…and those of us in the Disney running community were saddened to hear of this. We'd all talked about various ways we could pay a tribute to Peggy Sue and her indomitable support, and so I had made a button, that I wore to both the 10k and the Princess, that looked like this:

You'll see this button in every photo of me taken at both races…and now you know the rest of the story….

When I saw Peggy Sue's daughter holding this sign, I had to take a few moments and run over, show her my button, and tell her how much her mother had meant to us all. #ChokingUp

Soon, we were passing some awesome musicians that were pumping things up along the course:

After leaving the TTC, we headed back towards the Contemporary Resort, and we encountered our first "hill" - a short (but rather steep) dip under an overpass, which was lit up and pumping some awesome music:

I know that at this point, we'd ran over 4 miles, and unfortunately, my bum knee was fully awake…and NOT happy about this. It wasn't to the point of agony - yet - but it was definitely painful enough to warrant swallowing a Tylenol at the next water stop. I said a quick prayer that it would settle back down, as I knew I had over 9 more miles to get through.

Before I knew it, we were entering the Magic Kingdom…and all I can say is, WOW.


We came in at the front, and began running…okay, walking, actually, as we were all trying to take it in…down Main Street. I was overwhelmed - by the fact that not only was I really DOING this, but also by the hundreds and hundreds of spectators cheering us on:

I never, ever saw that photographer who took the picture above - but it captures the shock and awe on my face perfectly. I was LOSING it, and trying so hard to reign in my emotions. This, THIS was what it was all about…my first Disney half-marathon, and running down Main Street. Squee.

A photo from MY point of view:

Before reaching the castle, I handed my phone to a Castmember, who offered to take my photo with this amazing backdrop:

After running walking down Main Street, we made a right turn and ran through Tomorrowland:

And here's where things went a bit south for me. While traversing down Main Street, I had yanked my ear plugs out so I could capture photos and videos of the experience on my iPhone. Big mistake. I could never, NEVER, ever get those darned ear plugs back in so that they would STAY in. For the remainder of the race, I fiddled and fiddled and jacked with those things, to no avail. Gah. I don't know if my ears were sweaty and slippery at this point, or what - but this picture actually captures me trying to fix the wires and the ear plugs and get things back to normal. Never happened. I wonder how much time I lost trying to get those things to stay in my ears…probably a good 15 minutes total over the course of the race. I pretty much threw those ear plugs away when I got home, and I'm now going to start running with Bluetooth headphones. Period.


After leaving Tomorrowland, we ran through a bit of Fantasyland, making our way to Cinderella's castle:

And then…up ahead…was Cinderella's castle. Part of the "cool" thing about this race is the opportunity to "run" through the castle, although I use the word "run" loosely here, as it was pretty much the biggest and slowest traffic jam as 24,000 Princess runners made their way through the castle. It didn't help that there are currently construction walls near the tunnel's entrance, and it also didn't help that Disney stuck the characters from "Frozen" on a balcony right at the entrance to the tunnel, all leading to the Perfect Storm of Princess Congestion Ever…it was jammed - but it was TOO. MUCH. FUN.

My viewpoint as we ran through...

At some point, I knew I had to leave the tunnel…drat. I couldn't just camp out here and stay all day, as much as I wanted to…so here I am, leaving the tunnel:

And upon leaving the tunnel, I AGAIN encountered a whole bunch of enthusiastic spectators:

I ran through Frontierland, where I not only hit the 6-Mile Marker, but I also hit the restrooms…I knew I was close to the halfway point, and it was time to slow down a bit and enjoy the rest of the race…so, while waiting for a stall to open up, I enjoyed another GU. Ew. I know. Eating a GU while waiting for a bathroom break is a bit gross, but hey - a runner's gotta' do what a runner's gotta do. And I needed a GU. Hee.

I reluctantly left the Magic Kingdom and by now, the sun was fully up…and it was fully hot…and I was fully a sweaty mess. We ran along the backroads near The Grand Floridian Spa & Resort, where my first photo opportunity presented itself:

The handsome hunks in tuxes hang out near this resort, as the Grand Flordian is famous for their wedding chapel. Being Cinderella, I wanted my photo with them as they presented me with my glass slipper. The line was a tad long, but it went pretty fast, and I used the opportunity to once again - but with no success - attempt to get my ear buds to stay in place. Gah. I hate those things by now.

So, I left the Grand Floridian, and then passed a series of signs along the road that made me laugh, as each was tied in to a Disney movie:

And another awesome sign that a spectator had:

This stretch of running was very hot…(no shade whatsoever), and very boring…the signs were the only things to relieve the tedious stretch of pavement and sun that went on for (literally) miles…soon, though, I came across another must-do photo op:

Ha - check out Flynn Rider checking ME out…!!!

Disney heroes!!! I'm surrounded by heroism and hunkiness and handsomeness - it's almost too much to handle!!!!

Again, another long line…and again, I used it to fiddle with my technology. Gah. It was around this time, though, that I realized my knee was EXTREMELY pissed off…to the point where I downed yet another Tylenol. I had already taken a Naproxene before the run, so I knew I was at my limit of drugs for awhile…I tried to cajole it by telling it that we "only" had five more miles or so to run…just hang in there, baby.

Running along a bit further, I came across another must-do photograph: the Pirates of the Caribbean, complete with a giant pirate ship:

I love the look on Captain Jack's face...

While waiting in this rather long line, I realized the back of my neck was rather sore…perhaps from looking at the ground for so many miles so I didn't trip on the runner's shoes in front of me?? Seriously. And it's funny, because I accidentally took a photo of my shoe on the pavement - so this is a PERFECT example of what I looked at for 13.1 miles:

Oh, bother - but I knew I had some BioFreeze packets in my running belt, and this forced break was the perfect opportunity to rip one of those suckers open and apply it to my neck…it was AWESOMESAUCE. Just what I needed. I ended up using everything in my racing belt at some point during the race; even the Kleenex came in handy while wiping sweat from my face before the photos!!!

Before I knew it, we were approaching Mile 10…ugh. Mile 10. The hills. Yes, Florida has hills. As in, man-made concrete overpasses that we had to run up. I'd heard about these, and assumed they would be small, tiny hills…little did I realize that each of them (3 in total) were long, long, long - and seemed to go on forever. And it was hot, hot, hot.

Before the first hill, there's a Green Army Man from "Toy Story" who yells at all of the runners like he's a Drill Sergeant in the Army. He's actually pretty funny, but also oddly motivating:

After making my way to the top, I took a quick photo of the Princess runners who were still behind me:

After conquering the hills, I found myself in Epcot…and what another rush…we ran into the front entrance, around the giant ball, Spaceship Earth, through a bit of Future World, and then back out of Epcot:

I didn't take this photo…but a guy on the monorail the day after the race shared it with me when he found out I was a runner...

A motivational choir in Epcot, singing…these guys were terrific...

Castmembers kindly took my photo in front of Spaceship Earth...

Making my way through…!!

The spectators here were awesome…I'm thanking them for their amazing support…!

Oh - a camera!!! Thumbs up to the camera, too!

All too soon, it was time to run out of Epcot…but this meant I was pretty much almost finished…the Finish Line was in sight, in the parking lot of Epcot:

Woot woot!!!!

I had done it!!!!

Being the good cow that I am, I just followed the herd through the chutes, where I first picked up my Half-Marathon medal:

I then went down another chute so the officials could confirm that I was successful in meeting the Glass Slipper Challenge…they had small computers where they could verify your 10k finish from the day before. I was then awarded my Glass Slipper Medal:

More food. More water. And a slow walk through the crowded and excited parking lot, full of weary Princess runners and their adoring families, making my way back to the Race Retreat tent, where I fueled up with some delicious eggs and sausage, waiting for Kristin to finish. I retrieved my checked bag, which I had packed with careful forethought. I had a wonderful cushiony pair of flip-flops to wear for recovery; I had my reading glasses, so I could update and check Facebook (duh, priorities!!!); and I had an extra phone charger, as I knew my phone would be pretty drained (it was down to 7% battery left - yikes!). I also had another photo opportunity:

Kristin showed up not too long afterwards, and we caught a bus, went back to our room, and pretty much died. After a shower, of course. Cinderella was pretty funky by this point, let me tell you.

But…oh, what an awesome time she'd had at the ball. She'd traded her Glass Slipper in for running shoes, and it was truly, truly magical.

Post Race Thoughts:

1. There's not much I would do differently for this race next year…other than NOT trying to run in a pair of earbuds that wouldn't stay put. Otherwise, I was pretty happy with all of my gear. Everything I took with me, I used.

2. My training definitely helped. My legs never felt weary; my quads and hamstrings remained strong throughout the race…thanks to months and months of cross-training and running. The only issue I really had was my knee, and my sore neck (which was minor).

3. I'm so thankful I'd applied a blister band-aid BEFORE the race on the tender spot on my foot. It did eventually turn into a huge blister, which was slightly painful during the race, but it healed very quickly and was never a major issue. I'd packed extra blister bandaids in my running belt if I'd needed them, but I never did.

4. I'm glad I slowed down and took it all in…I knew, what with the congestion and the photo ops, that I would NEVER set a PR (personal record) in this race…for me, it wasn't about how fast I could run it, but how much fun I could have along the way. And I think the photos show that I had major fun. The smile says it all.

5. In my first half-marathon last October, I "hit the wall" at Mile 8. For this race, I never hit the wall. I'd gone to a motivational seminar two days prior to this race, put on by Jeff Galloway, who gave tips on not hitting the wall. His biggest tip was to not let the negative thoughts take over and overwhelm the every time a negative thought hit me (i.e., "I'm only at mile 3??!! I can't do this!!" etc), I would nip it in the bud by replacing it with a positive thought (i.e., "I CAN do this. I've done it before and I'm strong."). It worked; I was positive the entire race, albeit a bit scared about how the knee was going to hold up.

6. Speaking of my knee…thank God for KT tape and pharmaceuticals. I wouldn't have made it. Of course, I was hobbling a few days afterwards, but I'm back on the road to recovery, and hope to be fully recovered before my next series of half-marathons, that begin April 11th.

7. I had so much fun, that Kristin and I are already making plans to go back next year for this event. The fellowship of the runners, who were 90% female, was amazing…everyone was SO positive, and it was just an incredible time. I've also got Hubby onboard with us doing Disney's Wine & Dine Half-Marathon together next November. I think I'm addicted to the half-marathon now, and I would NEVER, EVER have thought that a year ago!!!

8. If anyone reading this has ANY questions, please let me know, and I'll be happy to answer…I want to share as much info and tips to anyone and everyone, so that everyone has a positive experience if they choose to do this challenge next year!!!




Kathi McKinley said...

Great job Sherri! Sounds like you had a blast! Running is more than just PRs and you definitely showed that in this race. I loved the "complete stranger" poster!

Naomi said...

Loved reading your blog and especially loved all your great photos. Congratulations Princess!

Heather said...

Do you run intervals? If so what do you try to maintain?

Your costume looked great too!

Fairytales and Fitness said...

You looked so beautiful in your Cinderella race costume. You got some great character photos, looks like your speed strategy worked out for ya. That is such a cool photo the guy on the monorail took!

Sherri O said...

Thanks, everyone!!!

Heather - yes…I normally run a 2:00/.40 interval, but I will modify that for longer races, and try to only walk through aid stations, and walk up hills….that's the strategy I used for this race. :)

Teh Megan said...

Thanks for an awesome review!! A friend and I are hoping to do the 2016 Glass Slipper Challenge and I'm unbearably pumped! I've been stalking "Princess Runner" blogs since we decided to do it!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful recap!! I love your descriptions and photos. I"m so glad you do "post-race thoughts", as well! Hope to see you during 2016 GSC! <3