We Run! Tales of a Slow Runner Completing The Walt Disney World Princess Half Marathon

by Aaron Einhorn
expo_photoWe’ve made a family vacation trip out to Walt Disney World in Florida for the past three years now, usually in late February or early March. The first trip occurred as Christina and I celebrated our 10th Anniversary in 2013, which was also the time that Cordy was eight and Mira was five – the perfect age for their first trip to Walt Disney World. (As opposed to not getting to go until you were in your mid-twenties. Not that I’m bitter towards my parents or anything.) The second trip was in conjunction with my wife attending the Type-A Parent Bootcamp, and the third was just a few weekends ago.

That first trip was notable because, aside from the obvious reasons, it was also the Princess Half Marathon weekend. We arrived too late to be involved with the race, but our interest was piqued, and we spent a lot of time that week discussing runDisney.

Fast forward two years, into an interest in running for us both, and Christina running a two-mile fun run at Disneyland, and we found ourselves signing up to do the races at the Princess Half weekend this year. Christina did the Enchanted 10K, the girls each did the kids’ one mile race, and me? Well, I bit off the big bite and ran the Princess Half.

Pre-Race

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Welcome home.

We arrived on Friday of the race weekend, narrowly missing the Frozen 5K race (which lived up to its name with freezing temperatures), but more importantly, missing out on the first day of the Expo – which meant that there were no more themed tumblers for the weekend, and the race-specific Dooney & Bourke purses were long since gone – much to Christina’s dismay.

The expo was busy and crowded, and I quickly realized it was not my scene, so after collecting our race bibs and t-shirts, meeting Jeff Galloway (whose Run-Walk-Run technique has renewed my interest in running), and buying some merchandise, we escaped back to the resort.

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My new Magic Band, that will be with me for many more Disney trips.

Most of this day was quiet. We hung out at beautiful Port Orleans, got our Magic Bands working (I bought a runDisney Magic Band, which I adore), then had a short evening out at Magic Kingdom where we met Rapunzel and Cinderella (who both signed my race bib), riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and with Mira and I sticking around a little later to take a ride through the Haunted Mansion, before heading home and getting some sleep so Christina could be ready for her 10K and the girls could get prepared for their race.

The next morning came way too early (Christina was up at 3:00, which meant I was awake at 3:00), and shortly after she left, the girls woke up and I drove us over to Epcot so we could meet her for breakfast and see her cross the finish line, and then get the girls in to their race.

Although not as cold as the day before, a chilly morning meant that we mostly stayed inside the race breakfast until I got the text message telling me that Christina would be crossing the finish line around 7:40 a.m. So, right at 7:30, we left the breakfast, made our way to the spectator area, and then watched until we saw Queen Elsa in her coronation dress coming towards the race finish.

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Queen Elsa (Christina) with her Enchanted 10K finisher’s medal.

“Go Mommy!” Mira shouted over Christina’s headphones, and she stopped and gave us a smile. We watched her run on and cross the finish line, and then made the long walk to meet her. She had done it, meaning I just had to live up to my end of the bargain the next day.

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Princess Anna (Mira) finishes her mile!

From there, we went on to have the girls compete in their race (Mira finished with an 11:18 mile, while Cordy had a respectable 12:30), and then returned to the resort before we went off for a short day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom was crowded and busy, but we managed to get a ride in on Expedition Everest, a trip through Kilamanjaro Safari, allow the girls to earn about ten of their Wilderness Explorer “badges”, and for me to meet Pocohantas and get her signature on my race bib (since I knew we wouldn’t have another chance to see her this trip). From there, it was off to Sanaa for dinner (because they have gluten-free naan, and that was the best thing ever), and then back to the room for an early bedtime so I could awaken at 3:00 for my own runDisney trial.

Race Day: Before the Race

Waking up at 3:00 to get dressed as Doctor Doofenschmirtz (complete with the Princessinator!) wasn’t the best thing ever, and the walk through the resort to get to the bus was filled with thoughts of “Oh god, why am I doing this?” Once I got on the bus, I was one of two men on there, but I still put on my best smiling face and got ready to ride on over to the Epcot parking lot.

The "Flat Me" of my Doctor Doofenschmirtz costume.

The “Flat Me” of my Doctor Doofenschmirtz costume.

From the bus unloading area, it was a hike over to the party zone, which as I arrived I heard them telling us that we could go on to our corrals now if we wanted to. I knew, being in Corral G, that I wasn’t going to be the first one there, and that being in the front or back of my corral wouldn’t make a huge difference to my time overall, but since I knew no one at the race, I decided I’d rather wait in the corral than to wait at the party. Off I hiked, getting my picture taken a few times and always hamming it up for picture takers with “Behold! The Princessinator!” in my best Doof voice.

There was almost an hour of waiting in the corral, and while the pre-race announcers were great, I realized the fatal flaw in not staying at the party. I needed to pee – badly – before the race even began. I had desperately wanted to get through Magic Kingdom before I stopped for a bathroom break, but instead I realized I’d be breaking off at the very first set of Port-a-Johns.

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We listened and watched as the announcers chatted us up, played music to get us hyped, and interviewed ladies from the crowds. The corral filled in, and before I knew it, the Fairy Godmother appeared to send Corral A off with a “Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo”and a burst of fireworks. The process repeated with Corrals B and C, although by the time Corral D began, it was back to the race announcers sending them off. Corrals D, E and F each had their turn, and before I knew it, there I was… looking at the starting line. I almost teared up. Here we were. Seven months of running and training and dreaming of this event, and it was about to start. I adjusted my tiara, gripped my Princessinator, made sure that Perry the Platypus was clipped to my lab coat, and waited and then it was time to go. With a burst of fireworks, we were off.

Miles 0-3

mile03_collageI knew I was going to zip ahead of most of my corral, and then lose ground as I stopped for intervals. When running, I usually stay at about an 8:00 min/mile, but I do intervals, and I planned to stop for pictures. Then there was that horrible “needing to pee” issue that was looming in my mind. I ran through my first walk interval, like I figured I would (I normally do a 1:30 run followed by a 1:00 walk), and soon enough found the first major bank of port-a-Johns.

Let’s just say the experience was… less than magical. The lock on my door didn’t work, and it’s a good thing I was a guy who could stand up, because someone in the earlier corrals had left their “deposit” sitting on the seat of the toilet. The smell was awful, and the experience was awful trying to pee while keeping my costume from touching anything, and holding the door tight with one hand. But I got in and out and made it back on to the road. That would be my last bathroom break for the next twelve+ miles.

I passed the pirate ship with Captain Jack Sparrow and Barbosa, and saw the group of Disney Heroes, although I didn’t stop for pictures with any of them. I knew I’d see them again on the way back to Epcot, and I was still terrified of being swept. I knew I had a cushion of time, and at my slowest my pace still kept me ahead of the 16:00 minimum pace, but I didn’t know if this would be my only runDisney race, and I didn’t want it to end with a ride to the finish line on a bus. Character stops were going to have to be at a minimum. But grabbing a picture from the side of the road? That I could do.

The sign for the Ticket and Transportation Center showed up shortly before the third Mile Marker, and I had received a text from Christina telling me that she and the girls would be waiting for me before the bridge inside the parking lot.

I passed Valleope Von Schweetz and the very impressive villains stand (with an even more impressive line), was stopping for water and Gatorade at every opportunity, had my first half pack of Honey Stingers at Mile three, and was still feeling good at this point, although I was beginning to notice some uncomfortable rubbing in my shorts. They were probably too tight – something that would come back to bite me. It was here that I began to learn the very first lesson of running in costume – always field test your costumes. I had never worn the shorts that went with this outfit before that day, and if I had, I’d have discovered that they would cause rubbing that would become more and more of a pain as I ran thirteen miles.

Miles 3-6

Seeing my family in the Transport and Ticketing Center was an amazing boost. The girls are rarely able to watch us run, much less having me be able to watch Christina or her watch me, so that was awesome. I’m told that after the race, Mira continued to be a powerful force of encouragement, calling to runners by costume name and putting a ton of smiles on faces. If a seven-year-old brunette hurricane cheered for you right before the bridge at the TTC – congratulations, you met Mira.

At this point, I was hitting the stride for the run. The Magic Kingdom was in sight (the views of the Contemporary Hotel and Space Mountain were great), and I loved seeing the mile markers for Mile 4 in the TTC, and Mile 5 right outside of Space Mountain. That was the moment I knew this was happening. I would be coming in through the backstage, and would soon be running down Main Street, USA.

We burst through the side gates and there we were, in Town Square. We had made it.

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Running down Main Street was fantastic. There was nothing like it, and at this point, I was not interested in my intervals. I was on Cloud Nine, and ran down Main Street into the turn into Tomorrowland. We looped through Fantasyland, and I stopped to grab a picture of the Prince Charming Carousel, and then saw the Snow Sisters and Kristoff standing on the castle, waving to us as we prepared to run through it. After running through the castle, we made our way through Liberty Square into Frontierland (waving to Woody) and saw the Mile 6 marker, reminding me that we had come near the end of the park time. The magic was done, now we had the reality of only being halfway done with the race (even if we did get to see the Princesses waiting for us just at the edge of the park.)

Miles 6-9

Remember that “rubbing” issue I was having with the shorts? Well, right around the 10K mark is when I knew that was going to be a problem. I could feel the pain from chaffing begin, but I also knew I was a good hour and a bit ahead of the balloon ladies. I wasn’t about to let it stop me. But it sure did slow me down. Walk breaks were coming more often than they should have, and some intervals were skipped entirely. I had a Gu around Mile 9, and that was the worst thing I could have done – it tasted awful.

Somewhere along this stretch there were the Glass Slipper Bachelors. I skipped right past them. Obviously.

The landscape through here was gorgeous, even with the construction, but I couldn’t appreciate it. I was still smiling when someone recognized Doctor D, and was still taking the time to thank the volunteers at each water stop, but I was no longer having fun. Right around Mile Marker 8, I got this message from Christina “You’re doing great – there were still runners just coming in to the T&TC when we just left” to which I responded “Feel like I want to die. Not even to 8 yet.” At which point she wrote the best thing she could have.

“You can do it. You’re running through Disney and not some seedy west Columbus neighborhood. If you can do the latter, you can do the former.”

Finally, I made it to Mile 9 and sent her the Mile 9 photo, to which I got the response “Yay! Keep going – you’re in the final stretch. Less to go than you’ve already done.”

mile7_collage

Miles 9-12

At this point, everything was a blur of one foot in front of the other. There were more character stops, including seeing the Pirates and Heroes again. I was still putting on a smile for each call out of Doctor Doof I heard, and even met a Perry the Platypus, but as we got closer and I saw Spaceship Earth again, I didn’t know how I would keep going, other than to keep going.

The pain from the chafing was, at this point, getting to be the only thing I could sense. But I didn’t want to let it stop me, so I pushed it aside. I’d pay for that later, and I probably should have stopped at a First Aid station, but I was afraid that once I stopped I wouldn’t be able to get started again.

One thing that I have to say is that the words Christina had written to me just before Mile 9 did come true for me. There is something magical about running at Disney – even once you were past the parks. The landscape is beautiful, and the people who come out to cheer at Disney take the cheering and encouragement to a new level. Whenever I thought to myself “I can just stop, I can take the bus back,” there would be a piece of Disney magic – either from one of the mile markers, from a sign from a cheering spectator, or hearing the people on the course around me supporting each other.

The miles slogged by, and the turn and overpass around Mile 11.5 made me want to die. Sarge (from Toy Story) was hilarious, but I’m glad he had other people to pick on, because I couldn’t have endured it. Finally though, we were on to Epcot property, and the Merida mile marker beaconed to me. Less than a mile to go, all inside a park. I could do this.

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Mile 12-Finish

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I was so happy to see this little mermaid.

It wasn’t a run – it was more of a stagger, but from the time we got into Epcot until the finish line, I resolved to run as much as I could. I pulled my headphones out, completely disregarding my intervals. I took a picture of Spaceship Earth, but skipped taking selfies in the plaza or waiting for a picture with the Fairy Godmother.

At this time, these two text messages flashed across my phone.

“Nearly there. You can do it!”

“Mira asked me to text you “You can do it, daddy!”

Finally, there it was. The Ariel Mile Marker. I had made it to Mile 13. All that was between me and the finish line was .1 mile. I was running on fumes, but I could finish that off without walking any more. And I was going to. I brandished the Princessinator, and I ran.

mile13_finish

The end in sight!

Turning the corner and seeing the finish line was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. I wasn’t going to stop to take the picture, but I fumbled with my phone to shoot the finish line before I crossed. I saw Donald in his running attire, and adjusted my path so I could high-five my favorite duck.

And then it happened. My feet crossed the finish line, and I would later find out that I had made it in just under 3 hours. A far cry from the 2:30 I had planned for, or the 2:15 I had hoped for, but it was done. I had completed my first half-marathon at Walt Disney World.

When I got to the volunteers, I reached for my medal, and was told “You’ve earned this. Let me put it around your neck.” And I almost cried. I looked at my phone to turn off RunKeeper, and saw a final message from Christina.

“You did it! We love you!”

And with that, I made my way to the busses to get back to Port Orleans in time to put the girls on their pirate cruise.

Post-Race

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After a shower, at the post-race party in Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs).

I’ll be writing a different post to discuss the rest of our Disney Trip. It was a great trip, but there were some takeaways. Namely, that as Magical as it was (and it was – despite the pain and exhaustion, I loved the race), my next Disney run will not be the Princess. This was a race that was clearly meant for the ladies. By this I don’t in any way mean that the race was any way less tough than any other half-marathon. After all, 13.1 miles are 13.1 miles, and the women who ran the race (and in many cases, kicked the crap out of my time), are athletes who deserve all the praise they get and then some. But the entire race weekend is very focused on women, and as a man running the race, I felt a little out of place. It was a great race, but I think this one won’t make my list of “must do races” again. I’ll be sending Christina off to the Princess Half Marathon weekend in 2016 to earn her Glass Slipper Challenge medal, but for me, I’ll be eyeing Avengers in November at Disneyland or Walt Disney World Marathon weekend, possibly Wine & Dine, and maybe even Tower of Terror when it returns in 2016.

post_race_medalWe also realized that, although the girls like running too, we won’t be combining a Race Weekend with the family trip again. The race was the focus for the first three days which took away from what the girls wanted to do on those days, and we were all really tired and worn down (not to mention the pain from my chafing) when it came time to do our following days in the park.

Still, I got my medal, and the experience is one I’ll hold on to for the rest of my life. This was my first Half, and if it didn’t go as well as I might have liked, at least I finished. And the Magic still remains a stronger memory than the pain that followed.

Thanks for the experience, runDisney. I’ll be back.

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