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Walt Disney World Princess Half Marathon Weekend Trip Report, February 2017
DisneyDan  Wednesday, March 22, 2017 11:06:45 AM
Hello everyone,

Last month Jon and I, along with a very dear friend, took part in our first ever runDisney race weekend. We participated in all three races (5k, 10k and half marathon) at the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend at Walt Disney World in Florida.

It's hard to even know where to begin describing this entire journey to you, since it wasn't at all like a normal trip. We didn't just go to the parks and happen to run through them like our lives depended on it - this was an altogether different experience. A journey that involved months of hard training, registrations, and bookings at precise moments to get what we wanted, and planning out strategies and coping mechanisms for running these events as a team, while making individual achievements.

We had known for a few months prior to booking that our goal was to be fit enough to want to complete a runDisney event, and when we booked the races last year, we had reached a point where we felt we could be ready in February to compete. The booking process itself was a challenge - as with everything with Disney these days - and we had to make several calls and enquiries to get what we wanted. They don't really make it very clear with regards to some aspects of it, if you have never done this before. So to that degree it was frustrating.

Months later still, and February finally arrived, and we were as ready as we were ever going to be!

Your first experience of any runDisney event at Walt Disney World involves going to ESPN Wide World of Sports to collect your "bibs" and other items that you have pre-purchased. Your bibs are your numbers that you must wear during the races. If you booked the three races separately, you'll get a bib for each one. If you booked a challenge that combines the 10k and the half, then you get one bib for that, and then a bib for the 5k, if you're participating in that. If you're doing the challenge you will also need to get your photo taken while at the collection point, for purposes of fraud. If you booked a race retreat (which we'll come to later in this report), then you will also collect your wristband at this point. The race retreat is on the fourth day of events, so don't put it on yet or lose it, because you won't need it until four days later!

Once you have collected your bibs, pins, t-shirts and other items, you can walk around the Health Expo. This mainly consists of exhibitors and vendors offering all sorts of sports related clothing and accessories.

The first race day (Friday) was the 5k, which started at Epcot at 6am. You must be at the race starting area well beforehand - I would recommend at least an hour before. Once you arrive, you can browse some of the vendors who are there, stand and listen to the DJ, music and the race hosts, watch the video screen, and use the toilets, first aid and other facilities. For the Princess races there were also characters present each day, which were still there when we completed the races, too.

You must go to your corral a good amount of time before the race start. I would recommend at least half an hour before, if not longer. This will allow you to be nearer the front of your corral and will mean you have a head start over a lot more people. The actual corral placement for first time runners is entirely up to Disney, and you may get lucky and get a higher letter assignment, like we were, or you may get a corral assignment near the back - there's just no way to control it.

As the race kicks off, there will be countdowns on the large screens, and when it is time for your corral to be at the start line, you will be walked to it. There will be a countdown and a burst of fireworks, and that's it, you're off!

The 5k was very easy. So long as you don't fall behind the "balloon ladies", then you can easily walk it. 5k really isn't that far (3.1 miles), and there is plenty to keep you entertained on the course. Since the 5k is considered a fun run, there is no completion time awarded, so there is really no need to rush. You won't get anything different out of it than people who run like mad to the end. Even though there was no pressure to complete the 5k in any hurry, we tried to keep a brisk pace, because we really wanted to prepare ourselves for the "real thing" at the 10k the next day.

Of course, we did stop for some characters along the way. Unfortunately, even though this race was more relaxed than the two that would follow, I don't have very good photos, as I wasn't prepared to take my DSLR with me to these events (which means the other two races' photos you'll see later aren't that great, either). It was also fun to go through Epcot and some of the backstage areas while the park was empty at such an early hour.

At the end of the race you're given your medal and some food to restore your energy. We decided to go back to the staging area and meet Cinderella and Belle, and to get photos with them while wearing our medals.

So, the 5k was over, and we had now seen how it all worked. We had a good grasp of the setup of the events, and were now a little more relaxed and confident about the next two days.

The following morning we were up and out in the middle of the night again ready for the 10k (6.21 miles), which officially started at 5.30am. We headed to Epcot, parked (you really have to be there early if you don't want to be diverted to another theme park to park your car, by the way), and made our way to our corral.

Seeing as this race was timed and we would get a completion time at the end of it, we decided that we would try to meet up at select characters together, but for the most part run it ourselves. We had our phones with us and kept each other updated as to where we were, and we did indeed manage to join each other at various points in some of the character lines. We were together on the course near the end and walked through the finish line together, which was nice to do.

Again, at the end there was food, and of course the medal. Once we had recovered, we decided to line up to meet Jasmine to get medal photos.

The 10k wasn't altogether too bad, but since we did want to try to get a fairly decent time, we did run parts of it. Running over 6 miles is a lot for anyone to do, and this was the very first time I had actually done this much at this kind of pace, in this setting, ever. Despite my home training, nothing can really prepare you for the "real thing"; being out there on a course with thousands of other people, at the crack of dawn in a true competitive setting.

Now, finally, we come to the day of the half marathon, which, like the 10k, started at 5.30am. The half marathon race had an option add-on to it a thing called the "race retreat". At this retreat you were provided with breakfast and somewhere to relax before and after the race, as well as character greetings. The race retreat on this occasion hosted the Sleeping Beauty characters - Princess Aurora, Prince Phillip, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather (the Three Good Fairies). From a character fan perspective, it was pretty awesome to get the three fairies, since they never come out for greetings at all usually. I need to mention here that, as you may recall, there were three of us. We all attended the retreat before and after the race. That means there were a total of six entries into the building in total between us. At no point were any of us given the free towel that we were meant to receive as part of our retreat package. In fact, we didn't even find out until after the fact on social media. We contacted runDisney once we were home, and after a little wrangling, they sent us the towels. So lesson learned for next time - be on the look out for any items you're supposed to get, and if you don't get given any, ask!

The half itself was set up a little differently. To accommodate the larger number of people running this race, and the make sure there were no crowding or safety issues, the starting line was further away, out on Epcot Center Drive, which meant you had to walk a mile before you even started the half! A half marathon is 13.1 miles, and I can tell you now that nothing had really prepared me for how I would feel during and after it. Getting started was fine. I mean, I run several miles every other day at home, and we had just done a 5k and a 10k the two days before this, so the first few miles weren't so bad, but once you get to about mile 8 or 9, you really begin to feel it. My best advice is to make sure that every water stop you slow down, take the water and the powerade/gatorade, and if you have snacks, use them. We had pre-bought some special runners jelly beans, and I had them in my running belt. When I made water stops I would rip open a pack and pour them in my mouth! I really honestly think that they kept me going. I won't lie, getting to mile 11 was both amazing because you knew you were just 2 miles from the end, but it was also miserable. By this point the sun is up, it is getting warmer, and your legs hurt. A lot. By the time I got to the finish line I am sure I looked like a rabid mad man, and seeing Goofy and Donald standing there cheering on runners as we crossed the line just made me fall to pieces. I couldn't believe I had done it! I hobbled to that race retreat and was so immensely proud I couldn't even get food or sit down - the first thing I did was go back to Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip and get photos with my medals!

In case anyone is curious, my personal official time for completing the half marathon was 2 hours, 29 minutes and 39 seconds, which I was absolutely astounded by!

I want to point out that there were a lot more characters on the course than I have provided photos of here, and the reason is simply that I didn't stop at everyone, or I don't have photos I feel are good enough to use on here to share with you all.

The sense of achievement at the end was overwhelming, and I am immensely proud of myself and our little team for all we accomplished. During the courses, when you're inside the theme parks, there are PhotoPass photographers who will take your picture. Make sure your bib/number is visible if you want these photos to show up on the app later, and when you see the photographers, strike a pose! There are instructions for how to claim the photos on the back of your bib.
I do not usually share photos of myself here on the blog, but the whole runDisney experience was so completely different, and it is so hard to explain emotions, that I am going to round up this report by sharing with you photos from the PhotoPass photographers of me in various emotional stages.

I'll leave you with this shot of my medals and bibs. If you're wondering why there are four medals for three races, that is because if you do a challenge (book the 10k and half together as a package) you get an extra medal.

In my next report I will share with you the rest of our Walt Disney Word adventures outside of the race events.

Have a great day everyone,

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