By Roye Ann Morris
This year’s Walt Disney World’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend was held February 20-23. The race weekend saw a brand new 10K race which took place on Saturday, February 23. It was a great race, and I must say, if you want to run, Disney is the place to do it!
Although I am fairly new to running, this was my second Disney race. My husband and I ran the Inaugural Tower of Terror 10 Miler 2 years ago and from that moment I was hooked on taking part in Disney races! I will admit that my training had been up and down since the 10 Miler, with a couple of injuries and 2 very hot summers to train through, so another inaugural race was just what I needed to get serious about running again. My best friend and I registered for the 10K in August of 2013, and began running together using Jeff Galloway’s run-walk-run program. We ran in all kinds of weather, from rain to heat to very cold. By the beginning of February, we both felt confident that we could finish the race and keep up at least a 15 minutes per mile pace. (One thing to note: Disney races require you to be able to run at least a 16 minute mile.)
We arrived in Orlando on Thursday and drove straight to the Race Expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports. There was a long line of people waiting to park and our hearts sank because we had a dinner reservation at Boma that we didn’t want to miss! But in typical Disney fashion, we were directed to a parking space in no time at all and made our way into the HP Field House for our race packet pick-up. We then headed over to the Jostens Center to get our race shirts and bags. In spite of the crowd, everything went very quickly and we were done and on our way to dinner!
After a wonderful dinner at Boma, we checked in to our room at All Star Sports. All the Disney hotels were considered Host Resorts for the race weekend, which meant that buses would run from the hotel to each race being held. We checked the bus schedule so we would know what time to arrive at the buses on Saturday morning; we had to be on the bus no later than 4:00 am. Wow! So early!
We spent Friday morning at Animal Kingdom, then spent a couple of hours at Hollywood Studios. In hindsight, staying in one park would have better saved our energy for the race, but my friend had not been to Disney World in 20 years, so I was determined to show her everything I could. We were back in the room by 7:30, and lights out was at 8:30. We both set our phone alarms for 2:30 a.m. just to make sure we got up and going in time.
The 2:30 am alarm came very early indeed! We had decided to lay out all our race gear the night before, so after a quick cup of coffee and some oatmeal we were on our way to the buses. The bus was not the typical Disney parks bus, but instead, it was more like the Magical Express buses, with plush seats and no standing.
After a short ride, we arrived to the Epcot parking lot at 4:00 am. I hadn’t been up that early since my kids were very little! It was still very dark, but with all the lights and booths set up for the race, we hardly noticed. The DJ was leading a large group of racers in line dancing and singing, and the mood of the crowd was electric! No one seemed bothered by the early hour and my friend and I were quickly caught up in the excitement. There were between 9,000 and 10,000 people registered for the 10K, but crowd control is one of the things Disney does well and everything was very well organized.
Around 4:30, everyone was directed to the corrals. The corrals were lettered from A to E, with the faster runners found in the first corrals. We were in the corral E, since we knew we would be fairly slow. At first there was room to move around or sit down, but as the corral filled up, it became standing room only. Everyone was still singing and dancing, waiting patiently for our start time. It was very entertaining just looking at all the clever costumes people had come up with. We saw almost every Disney princess, Mary Poppins and Bert, several Olafs and even a female Captain Hook with her Peter Pan. Most of the men running had at least a tiara on and there were tutus everywhere! A couple of men were wearing t-shirts that said “Why are all these princesses chasing me?”
At 5:30 am, an incredible trumpet player performed the National Anthem. As everyone quieted down and put their hand over their heart, you could hear people all around singing the words as the American flag was raised. It was very emotional, and we all had tears in our eyes by the time it was over. Then Fairy Godmother said the magic words, “Bibbidi, bobbidi, boo!” With a burst of fireworks, the first corral was off! As each successive corral started, there were more fireworks and we slowly moved toward the starting line. Finally, at about 6:15, to the sound of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, our corral was off and running. It felt good to be running after standing for so long!
The first 3 miles of the 10K were on the roads and ramps leading to Epcot. Elsa, from Disney’s Frozen, was standing on the first overpass encouraging all the runners and making it snow on us! There were several characters to take pictures with along the road and the mile markers were glowing and easy to spot.
It was very crowded for the first couple of miles, but everyone showed good race etiquette, with no pushing or shoving to get around slower runners. There were 3 water stations along the course so we never felt too thirsty. After mile 3, the course beelined into the World Showcase, where there seemed to be characters in every country! We did not stop for pictures as we were concerned about finishing on time, but there were plenty of runners who did. The course then went around the Boardwalk, Yacht and Beach Club Resorts before returning to Epcot and the parking lot for the finish line.
By the time we reached World Showcase, the sky was light although cloudy, the temperature was around 70 degrees and it was very humid. We were very glad to see the finish line! Volunteers were ready to put our medals around our necks, hand out water bottles, bananas and a box of refreshments.
We were pretty tired, but so excited to have finished our first-ever 10K! The buses were right on time to take us back to our hotel. We showered and were on our way to the Polynesian for breakfast at Kona Café (Tonga Toast – yum!). What a great reward for running the race!
Whether you are an experienced runner or a novice like me, Disney races are for everyone. If you have ever wanted to run (or even just walk really fast!), but have been intimidated by the thought of a race, a great place to start is a race in Disney World! We weren’t the fastest by a long shot and we weren’t the slowest, but we had a great time being a part of the Inaugural Princess 10K. I’m ready to sign up for 2015!