I’m 33 years old and one of the highlights of being 33 has been to push myself to do things I’ve never done before. A few weeks ago, I ran my first half marathon. And because I’m not in great shape, I know that if I can do it, you can do it too. A lot of people have asked about the race, so here’s my firsthand account of race day at Disney World.
The day started just before 3 am. We needed to catch a bus sometime between 3:30 and 4 am to make it to the starting line at Epcot in time.
The night before:
I barely slept. All I could think about were the what-ifs and fears running through my head.
What if I couldn’t finish?
We signed up for the race in April–it sold out that very day. I trained and worked up to 9.5 miles in December, but a week later, I sprained my ankle. It wasn’t a terrible sprain, but it was bad enough that my doctor was doubtful that I could complete training and run the half marathon in 5 weeks.
I rested my ankle thoroughly. Nine days before race day, I ran 8 miles and felt so capable…until I stepped in a huge hole in the yard, mildly twisting the same ankle! I rested it and tried to pray instead of worry.
But the night before the race, I worried about the pain.
What if I ran two miles and then my ankle started hurting? What if I felt pain with every step? It would be foolish to continue.
So the night before the race, I decided to wear the huge bulky ankle brace that my doctor had given me. It was uncomfortable, but at least I knew I could walk in it without pain. I decided that if I felt pain while running, I would power walk to the finish line, because walking had not been a problem for me.
And what if I couldn’t finish in time?
Disney has time limits on their half marathon and full marathons. They have to. They can’t hold up traffic the entire day. Their race training instructions specify a training pace of 16 minutes/mile. At certain points in the race, they will essentially cut through the racers and anyone behind their line will have to ride a bus to the finish line. All through my training, my goal was to be below 14 minutes per mile so that I could be certain to avoid the dreaded bus.
What if I got cold or hot during the race?
No one wants to be uncomfortable while running 13 miles, so I kept wondering about wardrobe changes now that we knew it would be in the 40s in Florida on the morning of the race. Eventually, I decided to wear my aqua blue Nike Dry Fit pullover on top of my Cinderella costume. I would pin my race bib on top, but if needed, I could always take it off and pin my bib to my shirt. But at least I would be comfortable instead of freezing in the 40 degree weather. I ended up being called Elsa instead of Cinderella a few times because of my aqua blue pullover, but it’s a small price to pay to be comfortable.
Eventually, I stopped running through the what-ifs. I made firm decisions about clothing and the ankle brace and just started praying. Then I envisioned the finish line. And crossing it. And I went to sleep.
We woke up around 3 am and dressed quickly for the race. I was spraying my hair and tiara into place while my husband was busy stretching, and that’s pretty much the best illustration I can give you for our differing race attitudes.
My sisters and friends joined us to ride a Disney bus from our resort through crazy traffic to get to Epcot. Once there, we still had about a 20 minute walk to our check-in point.
We were in corral O, so even though the race started at 5:30 am, we still had to wait until 6:30 before our corral started. But we still got fireworks!
My husband and I started the race hand-in-hand, but as soon as we crossed the starting line, we said good-bye and ran on our own. He’s a pretty fast runner and I’m a pretty slow runner, so we were going at our own paces.
Disney promises magic with every mile, and boy do they deliver.
We started by running from Epcot to Magic Kingdom. Along the way, I passed a marching band and Captain Jack Sparrow and his ship, along with a huge line of people waiting to meet him, but I kept running.
While my husband wanted to race for time, I wanted to run this half marathon as a personal accomplishment and for fun. I can run a half marathon again in the future, but I doubt we’ll save up to do this again one day at Disney World. For me, it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime run, so I wanted to take Jeff Galloway’s advice and enjoy every mile.
Disney had plenty of restrooms and water stations along the way, but it was still my first race to see grown-ups taking potty breaks in the woods. I opted for a 10 minute line for a port-a-potty later on in the race, thankyouverymuch.
For me, the highlight of the first third of the race was finally reaching Magic Kingdom. I’m not a selfie girl, but I took my first selfie here at the entrance of the park.
Around Mile 4
I think the best part of the race was having people cheering us on constantly. Every time I heard that self-doubt slip in saying “you can’t do this,” I would see 50 people cheering me on instead. As we reached Space Mountain, there was a DJ cheering us on with these gigantic silly hands.
I also found that Disney’s “magic at every mile” was a welcome distraction for my thoughts. There was no way I could be bored during the run because there was so much fun all around me. I didn’t even bother with music on my iphone because I wanted to take it all in. I loved seeing the fun costumes on my fellow runners, listening to the peppy music, or seeing the cool sights Disney had planned for us.
We ran by Space Mountain and entered the park, running down Main Street.
I passed the Queen of Hearts and then stopped to take a picture with Buzz Lightyear.
The Queen of Hearts, posing with runners in costume as Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum
My 2 year old is a huge fan of Buzz, so when I was in line later to meet another character, I posted the picture on Instagram and sent the picture to Nana, who was watching our kids while we ran.
Mile 5ish. Still pretty happy because I’m in the Magic Kingdom!
The highlight was running through Cinderella’s Castle. Truth be told, the crowd was so thick at her castle that we had to walk through it, but I really didn’t care. Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff were above the castle making it snow on all of us. Only Disney can do that.
Mile 6! As we walked through the archway, it started snowing! See how thick the crowd was?
Outside the castle, I stopped for more photo ops in front of the castle. And then right before leaving Magic Kingdom, Cinderella and Prince Charming were waiting for anyone who wanted to stand in a massive line for a picture.
I had to make a quick decision about time. Somewhere around mile 3, I had passed a pacer. He was the “beat the sweeper” pacer, meaning that as long as I was in front of him, I would not be picked up by the dreaded bus. By my estimates, I was still at a 14 minute/mile pace or better, so I was probably safe. I had to stand in line for 20 minutes to meet Cinderella! But this is part of the fun of running at Disney, so I decided to enjoy it and not worry about time.
The second half of the race was murder. There were fewer character meet-ups and the sun came out, making it warmer outside. It was somewhere around mile 8 that I needed that potty break that involved waiting in line for ten minutes. Because of the delays with Cinderella and the potty break, Heather, our family friend and I kept passing each other up, which was pretty fun. It was nice to see someone I knew in those 25,000+ runners.
When I felt myself dragging, I would resort to ridiculous lengths to keep myself motivated. If I saw a marching band on the side of the road, I would go through their line of “High Fives” just to motivate myself to continue. Human contact and knowing that strangers were cheering us on helped me keep running when my legs wanted to give up.
We also had to run up many interstate & highway overpasses, which was torture at that point. It was hard to make my legs continue. The green army guy from Toy Story greeted us going up one of those overpasses. He barked out orders and told us we better set a personal record (PR). “Even if this is your first half marathon, you better get a PR!”
With about a mile left, we entered Epcot, a safe zone–once you enter Epcot, a bus will not pick you up for being too slow. I saw a woman with a Saints sign saying “Who Dat” and other people holding up crazy signs designed to make us laugh. I vaguely remember shouting Hakuna Matata while passing a family with Lion King themed signs.
We circled the giant ball and it seemed to take forever. I started feeling ankle pain where I had sprained it.
Mile 12.5ish? I’m trying to be happy but I was pretty done at this point. I felt like I circled that ball 10 times!
There was a gospel choir at mile 13, and I’m not sure, but I think they were singing the Hallelujah Chorus. Finally, near the finish line, I saw my family waiting for me with signs to cheer me on. I waved, passed up Mickey Mouse, and crossed the finish line. I immediately burst into tears. And then I looked for some tylenol and ice for my ankle.
The hardest part of being finished with the race?? Lifting that 25 pound 2 year old! He did not want his mommy to put him down. My muscles screamed no but my mom heart screamed yes, pick up your little boy.
I finished in 3 hours and 27 minutes, and I felt like I fought for each and every mile. But I did it.
Interested in running a Disney race? Stay tuned! I’ve talked to a few others who ran the ran the race and we’re working on a list of tips for competing in a Run Disney event! It all started with the Couch to 5K program.