I had to chuckle as I scanned the crowd waiting to board the plane from Seattle to Orlando, because I could pick out the Princess Half Marathon weekend participants out from the other travelers. Running shoes—check. Comfy running clothes—check. Tiaras, feather boas, and princess crowns—check, check, check. And it was hard not to notice the buzz in the air from the excitement (no coffee needed). But the capper had to be the woman dragging a life-size costume of a Dooney & Bourke purse onto the flight that she was planning to wear on Friday in the 5K race.
runDisney races are no ordinary events and neither are the people who do them. It was obviously going to be quite the party at the sixth annual Princess Half Marathon Weekend in Walt Disney World. And making the weekend even more exciting was the promise of five more runDisney medal,s including those for the inaugural Glass Slipper Challenge and Enchanted 10K, as well as the chance to earn the "special for 2014 only" pink Coast-to-Coast achievement medal for completing both the Tinker Bell and Princess Half Marathons in 2014. Bring on the bling.
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As always, the race weekend started with the Princess Half Marathon Weekend Expo and Packet Pickup. Thankfully, after the disaster of 2013 when the event was held at the Coronado Springs Resort, we were back at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, where space was plentiful. While no Fairy Godmother was on site to open the expo, two well-dressed coachmen were at the Josten Center to greet everyone heading in to do a bit of shopping.
If you were lucky enough to have a coveted runDisney New Balance shoe reservation (and we're not talking glass slippers), you could, instead of heading straight to the expo, take a detour down the stairs to the New Balance area, where the always-popular runDisney New Balance collection of shoes were available for purchase.
After stories surfaced from the January WDW event where people spent upwards of 10 or more hours waiting to purchase a pair, and to try and eliminate at least some of the rampant product scalping on eBay, actual race participants were given the opportunity to reserve a time slot, where they could come in and purchase up to four pairs of the shoes.
Starting at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, interested parties were allowed to request a reservation online. Those who were successful received a text message that gave them a time window on that particular day when they could shop. From all indications, reservations for Thursday were gone in seven minutes (by 6:07 a.m.), with the remaing two expo days following a similar pattern.
Even if a participant scored a reservation, however, New Balance did not guarantee that a particular size or fit would be available during the day. In fact by mid-day, most of the more popular sizes were already sold out. If that was the case, you could again start over the next morning to try and obtain a reservation, and hope your time was early enough in the day for your desired size to be available. By all accounts, the call-in reservation system worked much better for everyone, and helped to eliminate the hours waiting in-person for their number to be called.
First stop for the rest of us is the official runDisney Merchandise Booth. Here, expo attendees could purchase jackets, hats, and assorted collectibles for the various Princess Half Marathon Weekend activities.
Among the most popular items were black tank tops with the Glass Slipper Challenge logo (for those running both the inaugural 10-kilometer race and half-marathon), white Princess Half Marathon jackets and pink hoodies, and wine glasses with Glass Slipper Challenge and Princess logos.
By early morning day two, most of that merchandise was sold out, as were any larger sizes of the "My favorite princess is my wife" T-shirts for men, which were extremely popular with the spectator crowd. Surprisingly, a beautiful blue Glass Slipper Challenge jacket remained in plentiful supply due in part to the unfortunately unflattering fit most experienced when trying it on. $80 back in my pocket on that one!
As one of the Coast-to-Coast challengers, I received the now-familiar plastic wristband when I picked up my packet. The wristband would remain on my wrist until Sunday, when I would exchange it for the pink Coast-to-Coast medal. I collected my bibs, the three tech shirts (one each for the 10K, half-marathon, and challenge) and the 5K T-shirt, then made my way through the rest of the expo.
I've found that while I enjoy the standard runDisney race merchandise, it's also fun to find something unique, especially to celebrate inaugural runDisney events.For example, I bought a custom Glass Slipper Challenge sketch drawing by Monica Wells, my favorite Art of Disney artist located in Downtown Disney. I also found a wonderful glass slipper at Arribas Brothers that I had etched with "Inaugural Glass Slipper Challenge 2014." These are the things that make memories of the runDisney events even more special. It promised to be a weekend of firsts and wonderful memories.
Ya gotta believe!
I met Kristen six years ago at the very first Princess Half Marathon weekend. At the time, she was nervously getting ready to attempt her very first 5K. She completed that race, has added several more runDisney 5K medals to her collection over the years. And now, Kristen was taking the next step with her own custom challenge: the Cinderella 5K on Friday, as well as the inaugural Enchanted 10K (her first 10K) on Saturday.
We had dinner together Thursday night at Earl of Sandwich, and discussed her plans for the races. Kristen explained that she was nervous, but also excited to be moving up from the cute rubber 5K medals to the real heavy hardware.
A few weeks before, I had come across a huge, blingy virtual running medal online with a pumpkin carriage and the words "Believe in Yourself" written across it. I bought one and gave it to Kristen the night before the 5K; as everyone had believed in me during my Dopey Challenge/Tinker Bell journey in January, it was my turn to be the believer. We agreed on a meeting spot in the morning and called it an early night, as the alarm clocks would be going off yet again way too early in the morning.
With a "pop" we were off
Friday morning started with a cacophony of bells going off in our room at 4:00 a.m. as my roommates Rae Mills and Mary Harokopus had also set alarms to make sure none of us slept in. Rae and Mary do the most wonderful costumes and that morning was no exception as they dressed at Sully and Mike from Monsters, Inc. I lived it up in an oh-so-fashion forward white tech shirt, green jacket, and black running capris.
We hopped the bus to the starting area and found Kristen and her friend Todd in the massive crowd. This apparently was the year of Elsa, Anna, and Olaf from Frozen, as many of the weekend participants were dressed as their favorite characters from the movie. And somewhere in the crowd was a life-sized Dooney and Bourke bag…
The morning of the 5K was humid and warm, but I was looking forward to giving a run a try. I had been walking but had done no running since the Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend in January when I finished the 5K, 10K, and half-marathon on a very irritated leg (a not-so-subtle reminder of the 48.6 miles of the Dopey Challenge the previous week). At this point, all the pain was gone and I was looking forward to getting back into the running spirit again.
I was lucky enough to be in corral A (the first of five corrals); I hung back a bit just in case my old nemesis the knee pain returned. At 6:15 a.m., a lone firework popped and fizzled signaling the start of the race. I took it easy as we ran backstage at the World Showcase and then entered Epcot around Norway. We ran past China where Mulan and Mushu were posing for pictures, past Germany where Dopey was holding court (oh sure, now the line for Dopey was short), by Marie the Cat in France, around the back area of England, and down the main path towards Spaceship Earth. We would run around the Epcot icon and out the other side where the finish line awaited us. I finished in an easy-paced 33 minutes and happily celebrated a pain-free finish.
After collecting my 5K finisher's medal, I found Todd in the stands where we watched Rae, Mary, and Kristen all finish the race. Kristen and I made plans to again meet up in the morning prior to the 10K, and I headed back to the hotel, where I had a day's worth of phone conferences and work ahead of me.
I had a special treat waiting for me on Friday night, when I took part in a MousePlanet meet-and-greet at the Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney. In attendance were MousePlanet staff members Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix and Stephanie Wien, as well as many of our members from our MousePad discussion board.
Many of us know each other through our interactions on the Team MousePlanet forum, and it was fun to meet so many friends in person. We spent the better part of an hour noshing on chocolate brownie bits and discussing our favorite topic of conversation: runDisney events. But soon, it was time to head out—early mornings awaited many of us, as we were taking the first step in the inaugural Glass Slipper Challenge: the inaugural Enchanted 10K.
3:00 a.m. comes way too early
On Saturday morning, the same symphony of sound awoke us—but a hour earlier, at 3:00 a.m. We melded in among a crowd of 10,000 participants in the Epcot parking lot to wait for the start of the race. Kristen was in corral D (out of five), which made her even happier when she caught a glimpse outside of the corrals of one of the scariest sights known to runDisney participants: the Balloon Ladies.
The Balloon Ladies are the last ones across the start line at all WDW runDisney events, and they maintain the 16-minute-per-mile pace that runDisney requires all race participants to maintain. If you fall behind the Balloon Ladies (so named because they carry helium-filled balloons so they are easy to spot), you either need to pick it up and get ahead of them or take a risk of being swept. There was actually a line of 10K participants who were queued up to get their picture taken with the Balloon Ladies, who are reaching celebrity status. In fact, many runDisney participants even sign up to follow the Balloon Ladies on runner tracking so they know just how far behind they may be.
Now that Kristen had seen the Balloon Ladies, her only goal was to stay ahead of the ladies and to finish with a smile. With a hug for luck and a "remember to believe," she headed into her corral. I wandered up to corral B, and positioned myself towards the front but on the side. Rae caught up with me, and at 5:30 a.m., we made our way to the start.
The 10K follows the same course as January's WDW 10K—it takes a left out of the parking lot, makes a large loop (out and back) backstage, and then enters Epcot through Germany at around 3.5 miles. You loop around the World Showcase Lagoon, head out to take a run around the Boardwalk shops, then go back to Epcot, where you again run by Spaceship Earth and finish in the Epcot parking lot.
The first three miles of the race went great. Even with warmer-than-should-be temperatures and humidity, it was still wonderful to get out and run. Unfortunately, shortly after mile 3 I started to feel a familiar swelling in my left knee. By mile 4, the baseball bat was out and beating in rhythm on my knee to every step I took. So for the last two miles, I slowed the pace down to a walk and tried not to panic. I still had the most important race on Sunday to finish—the Princess Half Marathon. Without that, there would be no Glass Slipper Challenge, no pink Coast-to-Coast medal, and I would lose my status as a "Perfect Princess" (one who has completed all the Princess Half Marathons since the inaugural event). I crossed the finish line, collected my Glass Slipper Challenge wristband that proved I completed the 10K, the inaugural Enchanted10K finisher's medal, and headed out to watch the rest of the finish.
At this point, it frankly wasn't about me. but about Kristen. I again found Todd in the stands, and we monitored Kristen's progress on the course via her status text messages. At the Germany pavilion, she was still chipper. By the France pavilion, not so much—and she had yet another hill to motor over. When I received her final text message, she was by Spaceship Earth. Todd and I went down by the railing by the finish to wait for her arrival.
We spotted her red T-shirt and hat as she made her way across the finish line. Her success overwhelmed her—and as she began to cry, so did I. When Todd and I made our way to our pre-arranged meeting spot and we found Kristen, she and I hugged and let our tears flow freely. I told her I was proud of her and that I always believed she could do it. After hugging Todd, she reached into her bag and took out the big, blingy "Believe" medal that I had given her. She put it on and proudly wore it with her shiny, heavy 10K finisher's medal. And dare I say it, she is now thinking of doing a half.
With Kristen safely finished (well under her target time and well ahead of the Balloon Ladies), it was time to figure out what I was going to do on Sunday for the Princess Half Marathon. At that point, I had too much at stake to even think about not starting or finishing the half so after a very brief wander to the Magic Kingdom (for an orange/vanilla Dole swirl) and Epcot (for a ride on Test Track), it was back to the hotel, watching the Olympics on TV, and putting a bag of ice on my knee. Another attempt at early to bed with a promise of the last early alarm that weekend finished off the night.
If you use enough Biofreeze, nothing hurts
Sunday morning started with Rae and Mary heading out early to get pampered at the Race Retreat with munchies, comfy chairs, and their own Princess Retreat potties (no porta-loos for them). I slathered my now-swollen knee with Biofreeze and said a little prayer that it would get me through just one more 13.1-mile jaunt.
There were 25,000 participants in the 2014 Princess Half Marathon and based on my original proof of time, I was placed in corral F (out of 15 corrals). It was a very warm and humid morning (close to 100 percent humidity, which made it so misty you could feel it). This also played against me, but I knew although it wouldn't be pretty, I would cross that finish line no matter what. I was getting good at gimping through a distance event; not exactly a skill to be thrilled with but hey, "dead last finish" beats "did not finish," which trumps "did not start." As long as I was one step ahead of the Balloon Ladies, I was golden.
As everyone waited in the corrals for the race to start, runDisney had a surprise for one very lucky wife of a servicemember. It was her birthday, and she was selected to be interviewed by announcer Carissa Bealart, who closed the interview with a request to play a birthday greeting on the big screen. Instead of a standard Disney character greeting that everyone expected, it was a video of her husband, speaking from his assignment in Afghanistan, sending his love and good wishes for the race and for her birthday. There was not a dry eye in the house as the video played. The camera caught her reaction, which was understandably total shock. What a wonderful way to start the morning's event.
The only real miss of the morning from a runDisney perspective was with so many corrals, the Fairy Godmother, who traditionally starts each corral, was only able to start the first five before she had to leave for her position on the course just before the finish. The remainder of the corrals had the standard race announcer start and by 5:45 a.m., we were off. I found I could do a kind of an Igor walk/run without too much pain, and so began the 13.1-mile journey to the finish line.
The course, which is identical to the WDW Half Marathon, leaves Epcot and follows the main roadway to the Magic Kingdom. Along the way, runners passed a pirate ship (and the still-popular Captain Jack Sparrow) and all sorts of villains.Just after mile 5, runners enter the Magic Kingdom, and run up Main Street to Cinderella's Castle. This year we still made that trek, but the humidity was so thick that the castle was actually hidden in the mist at the end of the street.
We left the park around mile 6 and started the long trek back to Epcot. About this time, I stopped at an aid station and reapplied Biofreeze on the knee. So far I was holding a pace about two minutes faster than I had at the Tinker Bell half-marathon, and although I didn't have Runner Bob to chat with this time, I was still actually enjoying myself. Just before mile 7, we listened to "Let it Go" from Frozen, which was the song that received the most votes on the runDisney Facebook page for inclusion along the course this year. As we passed the Grand Floridian, a quartet of gentlemen were again looking for their perfect princess, and were happily posing for pictures with sweaty runners who wanted a chance at that glass slipper.
By mile 9, I was starting to feel the effects of the weekend's miles on my knee, and must have looked rather ragged (especially with the Igor shuffle) as about this point many of the other runners who went by started offering words of encouragement. While not in costume, I choose to wear my "a Perfect Princess since 2009" tech shirt for the half-marathon, which started quite a few conversations along the way which also helped pass the time.
Mile 10 marked the start of the overpass where you can see runners both ahead and behind you. The Green Army Man was waiting for us on the hill around 10.5 miles in and had several of the princesses down on the ground doing push-ups (impressive at that stage in the run). Mile 11 is the final big hill followed by a downhill until mile 12 as we enter Epcot. There, the Fairy Godmother and Ivana Dream were waiting with encouragement and a chance for one last character picture before the finish.
Shortly before mile 13, I passed the gospel choir, whose joyous sound helped ease my frustrations of finishing the marathon and the Dopey Challenge while injured this past January. With just a tenth of a mile to go, I had it made. I "ran" across the finish line and immediately collapsed into a volunteer and let the tears flow. The knee was killing me, but I did it.
With the help of those who believed I could, I completed my two-month runDisney journey of the Dopey Challenge, Tinker Bell Weekend, and Glass Slipper Challenge; 93.4 magical runDisney miles. I slowly made my way down the row of volunteers and collected the last three medals of the weekend. Normally I don't care much for the loud clinking noise the medals make when they hit each other, but that day, it was a glorious sound.
And with that, I headed back to the hotel, where a hot shower and cold chocolate milk awaited. After that, I hurried off to catch the Magical Express back to the airport, where I took the scenic route through Atlanta back to Philadelphia, where I would be back to work on the client site on Monday. But with me would be the five new medals from the weekend, memories of Kristen's first 10K run, and a fun weekend with friends Rae and Mary. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Congratulations to all the Team MousePlanet Princes and Princesses who completed their own journeys at the 2014 Princess Half Marathon Weekend.