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I’m not usually a distance runner. Not usually. But on Sunday February 26th, I was. Apparently, the magic of Disney has no end. As a fitness pro, I’m an enormous fan of Disney World. I’ve called it the Healthiest Vacation Destination on Earth in the past, and I meant it. I love Disney and thankfully the folks at Disney seem to dig me too. Because of this, I’ve been given great access to experience many athletic options at Disney and was invited back to experience the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. My plan was to participate in the Royal Family 5K as a family, which we did (read about it here), and then participate in the Princess Half Marathon with my husband as a relay team. Believing we could run 6.5 miles with one leg tied behind our backs (yes, we’re cocky), we didn’t even train for the relay. Well, in a silly turn of events it seems that the team race required each runner to go the full distance and not just half. Oooops! Instead of just running in fear and bailing, we decided to give the whole thing a try and tap out if we felt the sort of pain that causes injuries. Mostly I blame Bob Hitchcock (he knows who he is) for encouraging us to go for it.
Only by the grace of Mickey Mouse were we able to run the entire 13.1 miles. Why, you ask? For starters, the wise Mr. Walt Disney way back in the 1960s chose central Florida as the ultimate vacation destination location. He was brilliant as usual, and the weather Sunday morning was amazing. When the north was freezing and folks further south were hot, Orlando weather was phenomenal. We were chilly before the race started, but once it did and I shed my long sleeve shirt, I never sweat a drop. Not ONE drop! I believe if it was either hot and sticky or uber-cold, my medal would have remained in Disney’s care. Running this far with temps in the 50s and 60s and the clouds blocking the powerful Florida sunshine was a gift. Thanks Walt!
Disney also used it’s imagination to keep this race fun. Every half mile or so, all 20,000 of us participants were provided with first class entertainment. Music blared and parade floats packed with Disney characters welcomed racers to stop for photo opportunities or just enjoy as we zoomed by. Rob and I only stopped once for a pic with our friend Dave Tomassi at the Richard Petty Experience. We were also treated to the great luxury of running through the Magic Kingdom, which culminated in a beautiful estrogen-filled jaunt through Cinderella’s castle. You should have heard the screams and cheers as we passed through the palace. Even my macho-man husband gave me a giggly glare. I don’t know if he was laughing at us ladies or because he thought it was cool too, but either way … it made him happy. The course from EPCOT to the Magic Kingdom and back to EPCOT was complete with regular water/Powerade stops as well as tables full of BioFreeze for sore muscles. These tables really helped me as I neared the finish line and now I’ll tell you why.
So my husband I are are pretty darn fit. I say this not to sound like a jerk, but fitness is my profession. He pursues it vigorously too, and this is why we even considered doing a distance race we hadn’t trained for. In fact, the most I’ve run in many months is 3.2 miles, so you can see why 13.1 sounds a tad nuts. But, we decided to give it a go and this is how it went. We woke up at 3:15 AM to jump on a bus from our resort to the EPCOT parking lot which was home base for the race. We checked our bags, ate some bagels and bananas (for potassium) from the Racers Retreat (VIP tent I highly recommend), and used one of the bazillion available porta-potties lining EPCOT’s fancy parking lot. Then we walked 20 minutes to the starting line and found that we were in the very last group to start the race. 20,000 runners don’t all start at once, and we ended up in “Corral H” which meant our countdown began about 55 minutes after the first one did. Being in the last corral wasn’t good enough for Rob and I though, so we decided to be the last two people to cross the starting line. This decision was made with our best early morning, sarcasm laden, decision-making skills. (In the photo gallery, you’ll see us posing with the ladies who walk the slowest pace – a 16-minute mile.)
The first seven miles were pure bliss. We used the Jeff Galloway Method which means we alternated five minutes of running with one minute of walking. This tactic ensures neither your running nor walking muscles (surprisingly different) never reach full-fatigue so you can keep going longer. We enjoyed the music, loved the ridiculously dressed crowd and took every sip of water and Powerade offered to us while blowing by the drink tables. Staying hydrated was our plan to avoid cramps. After running through the Magic Kingdom, around mile marker seven, I started to feel like this race was beginning to require real effort. A pain in my right knee showed up and the bottom of my feet copped attitudes. Thankfully, the entertainment station blasting Kelly Clarkson’s “Stonger” reminded me that I’m super capable. Thanks Kelly!
We continued through the last half of the race and mile 10 turned in to the place in which I became annoyed. Mr. Koehler says “it’s just a 5K from here” and I shot him a glare that warned him to pipe down. Fortunately, I’m a lady who loves to be challenged so even though my knee, feet and now left ankle were angry … I was excited to make it to the finish line. I had paused around mile nine to douse my legs in BioFreeze. I’m still not sure if it helped, but maybe it did. I think the tingly cold feeling it gave my legs, at minimum, distracted me. Zooming up a highway ramp and jogging across an overpass gave us the opportunity to see the thousands of people we had physically passed. Starting last had its benefits! No, we were not trying to win and yes, we were out there to simply have some healthy fun. But as my knee cursed like a sailor, I used the image of all those people as proof that we were doing pretty well. Our last mile took us through EPCOT and I assure you, I’m grateful it did. The amazing chEAR Squad lining those streets gave me the boost I needed to keep running. In fact, I fell in love with an 80+ man wearing a NAVY veteran hat. If he could fight for my country. I could fight for the darn finish line.
My handsome Prince and I crossed the purplish finish line holding hands and sealed our race with a kiss. We did it, we did it together, and we genuinely had fun along the way. In fact, it felt like we were on a date the whole time. Only Disney could make the 13.1 miles I never had any interest in running feel so fabulous. Oh and the medal … I love it.
So please don’t take this as a recommendation to run a big race without training. I think my husband an I are anomalies. Our ability to complete this race was simply a testament to our life-long dedication to vigorous daily exercise. But DO use this as inspiration to consider a half marathon as a really cool thing to do. It makes me happy to point out that only about .5% of the race participants actually “looked like runners.” Folks of all fitness levels, ages, races and sizes took part in this race. You can go as slow as a 16 minute mile (walking moderately) and that should ensure almost all of you can keep pace.
I’d like to thank Disney, runDisney, Mickey, Minnie, Rapunzel, Bob, Ashley, Adam, my new writer friends, my fit family and everyone else who made this weekend so fantastic. It was magical and I am one lucky lady.
Have you done any distance races? Are you planning to?
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