Disney Princess Half Marathon Meet-Up at Walt Disney World

by Lorree Tachell, contributing writer

Last Friday, I joined 50 other runDisney enthusiasts at Epcot for the Disney Princess Half Marathon meet-up led by runDisney running consultant Jeff Galloway. runDisney hosts meet-ups before each of its endurance running events to help promote its events through social media. With gift bags and a chance to listen to and meet with health-conscious celebrities, these meet-ups have recently become very popular, and as such, are difficult to get invites for. Calls for sign-ups are made on the Disney Parks Blog, but close very quickly due to overwhelming response, and only a handful of enthusiasts are typically chosen to attend. Fortunately, with most of the MousePlanet running staff away on a Disney Fantasy cruise, it gave me the chance to represent MousePlanet at the event. I couldn't believe my luck, and spent the days leading up to the meet-up in happy anticipation.

Some Disney Princess Half Marathon meet-up participants pose for a photo with running coach Jeff Galloway. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

The morning started early at 6:30 a.m. for check-in and a chance for a short one-to-one chat with Jeff. As the founder of the Galloway Marathon Training Program and creator of the Run-Walk-Run method, Jeff has successfully coached over 200,000 people through a variety of race distances and events. While Jeff was the main draw of the Princess meet-up, he was only one of several celebrity runners and athletes who took time from their schedules to attend. Actor Sean Astin (Goonies, Rudy, Lord of the Rings), who is fast becoming the Pied Piper of runDisney events, was there representing his #run3rd project. Tara Gidus, the Diet Diva and official nutritionist of runDisney, also joined in the fun and looked great in her sequined Mouse ears. Bubbly Ali Vincent, the first female winner of The Biggest Loser (season 5), worked the crowd, with her camera crew busily taping footage for her TV show, Live Big with Ali Vincent, on the Live Well Network.

"Diet Diva" Tara Gidus, actor Sean Astin, and running coach Jeff Galloway stand ready for the start of the meet-up jog. Photo by Lorree Tachell.

One of the highlights of the meet-up was the opportunity to take an early morning run at sunrise through Epcot. While I'm very familiar with the Galloway Run-Walk-Run method, I had never actually used it—so I joined Jeff's run team to give the 30/30 (30 seconds of jogging, 30 seconds of walking) pace method a shot. While it was challenging from a start/stop standpoint, everyone in the group successfully completed the trek, which is always the ultimate goal. Ali and her film crew (leading the runners from the back of a golf cart) joined the Galloway run team, while Sean and Tara went with a second smaller, faster group led by runDisney half marathon winner Rachel Booth, and Another Mother Runner authors Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea (whose arrival at the meet-up nearly caused one participant to hyperventilate with excitement).

Running coach Jeff Galloway (second from left, in long pants) leads a group of Disney Princess Half Marathon meet-up participants in a 2.9-mile jog at Walt Disney World. Photo by runDisney.

The 2.9-mile run took us around Lake Epcot, out by Disney's BoardWalk Resort, and back. We ended at Epcot's Germany Pavilion, where we were treated to a continental breakfast of muffins, bagels, juice, and coffee. as we enjoyed the second treat of the morning—the speaker series. The event's host, Robert Hitchcock, PR Manager/Content Producer for runDisney, opened the presentations by introducing Faron Kelly, Director, Marketing & Communications for Disney Sports, who welcomed everyone to the event. He drew loud applause from the predominantly female audience when he pointed out that the current running boom is being driven by women. The Walt Disney World Marathon has the distinction of being one of the largest marathon events with a greater ratio of female over male finishers, which is a big change from previous years when male finishers dominated the marathon distance

Jeff and Tara took the stage next for a quick hello, as they had booth duty at the fitness expo. For those following the runDisney blog, Tara will be posting new nutrition information tips and recipes every Tuesday. Jeff reminded everyone to be safe, believe in yourself, and to do it right. Jeff also reminded the audience that weather was going to be challenging during the Princess Half Marathon on Sunday, which meant running 30 seconds slower per mile for every degree over 60 degrees to prevent heat-related issues.

The next speaker, Rachel Booth, has the distinction of being a winner of both the Disneyland and Princess half marathons. A Marine wife and mother of two young children, Rachel talked of the importance of organization and talked about her recent change in training strategy, where less is actually more (listening more to what her body and mind want to do instead of following a strict training schedule; unusual for an elite athlete at her level). She said she is happier and healther, which is important regardless of one's fitness level. Even with the change in strategy, Rachel still produces amazing results—she went on to win this year's Princess Half Marathon in a record time of 1:17:38.

Ali Vincent, still bubbling from the morning run, was up next. While she claims she is still working on her relationship to running and has yet to experience the runner's high, she was there at the Princess Half Marathon weekend "for the sparkle" and to share some of the health and fitness journey she has been through. She spoke of how her body previously held her back from living the life she wanted to live and how her weight loss (of 112 pounds) helped her on a journey to forgiveness that many participants in the audience also shared. Ali pointed out that starting out may be tough, but that everyone can do anything for a minute—and sometimes it's the little steps that can empower one to be their very best.

The Biggest Loser season 5 winner Ali Vincent shares her enthusiasm and inspirational stories. Photo by runDisney.

One of the most inspirational speakers on the agenda was track-and-field Paralympian (and multiple gold medalist) April Holmes. April, who is a 14-time world record holder, 18-time U.S. record holder, and 16-time U.S. Paralympic national champion in the 100-meter race, lost her leg 11 years ago when she slipped and fell under a train platform, her right leg crushed by the train. While hospitalized, her doctor left her magazines featuring physically challenged athletes, which set in motion her desire to be the fastest she can be and to represent the United States at the Paralympics. That, and she wanted to win some gold medals. April brought an actual Paralympic medal from London to show, and joked that she has so many medals that she can't find them all. She reminded everyone to celebrate what brought them there today and to remember what they went through to get there. And no matter what, you owe it to yourself to keep trying, as each day, you are better than you were yesterday.

Josh Rowe from New Balance (the official running shoe of runDisney) then took to the stage to talk about how the company completely underestimated demand for its runDisney-themed New Balance shoes, which sold out in four hours at the WDW Marathon expo last month. That shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone paying attention to the popularity of runDisney events—plus, most runners I know (especially runDisney runners) enjoy the sport of shopping. Needless to say, Josh said that New Balance was much better prepared for the Princess expo, and promised more than enough stock on hand. Before finishing his presentation, Josh gave away several pairs of New Balance runDisney shoes to a few lucky attendees.

The last presentation of the morning featured staff from the Grand Floridian's new spa, Senses. They discussed the importance of massage for runners (at least once a month is best) and showed simple post-event massage techniques one can do at home with tennis balls, exercise bands, and foam roller. One lucky attendee won a Senses post-half marathon massage package.

And with that, it was after 9:00 a.m. and time to call it a morning. Minnie Mouse, in her most majestic Princess robe and tiara, joined event host Robert in thanking everyone for attending. We were each provided with H2O+ gift bags on our way out the door where Minnie, Rapunzel, and Snow White were available for final picture-taking.

The author poses with Snow White (who confides that she is not a runner—she skips). Photo by Disney cast member.

The Disney Princess Half Marathon meet-up was an incredibly fun and inspirational way to start the weekend. I came away with an excitement and commitment to get back into my training routine and to look for a new goal now that the marathon is 'one and done' (perhaps tackling another sprint triathlon is in my future). Watch the Disney Parks Blog or follow runDisney on twitter for other meet-up opportunities at upcoming runDisney events. Space is limited and spots go quickly!