This is the story of how I finished my very first Disney Princess Half-Marathon in February of 2013. It’s a true story.
Let me start by saying – I’m not in shape. I’m not in shape in any way. I’m overweight. (What does that mean? Over what weight?) Anyway, I’m not skinny. And I am OK with that.
In July of 2012, my sister asked me if I would like to join her at the Princess Half-Marathon in February of 2013. My sister walks the half-marathon, and this would be her second one – she walks REALLY fast. “Sure!” I thought. My logic went like this: I have eight months to train, I’m kind of a Disney Fanatic, I’m going to be IN shape in eight months! I paid my fee and signed up, booked plane tickets for myself and my little family. And then I started my training by being as lazy as possible.
In September I went to Charleston, South Carolina with my five best friends whom I’ve known since I was a kid. They know the real me – and by telling them I was going to do the half-marathon, it made it true for me. Sadly, while I was there, I twisted my ankle on the uneven cobblestone streets. As the ankle turned into pain that wasn’t going away, I visited the ankle doctor. He told me there was no way I’d be able to train for the half-marathon. I used that as my excuse for not training until January rolled around, even though my ankle felt better in late November.
This year I turn my favorite number. And my other favorite number is 13. So 2013 is the year of transformation for me. I started walking. Even walking fast. Sometimes running. But not with any regularity. As the half-marathon approached, I started getting nervous. I tried the treadmill, which I hated. I tried to run outside, but it was cold. I tried to get up early, but work was so busy. Seemed like I always had some sort of an excuse, my default position. With excuses, I didn’t have to believe in myself. And I’m lazy.
For the Disney Princess Half-Marathon, each runner is required to keep pace at a 16-minute mile, otherwise you get “swept”. I read stories on blogs of women who got swept, women who thought they could do it, women exactly like me. I told my friends and family that I was going to get swept, my pace was more around 18 minutes per mile. I bought all the right supplies – the shoes, the clothes, the gummi snacks for energy. I planned my music, I created optimistic 16-minute playlists for my iPod. My sister made us all tutus to wear. I had sparkly stickers for our arms. Then it was time to travel.
We landed in Orlando and on Saturday, picked up our race packets. It suddenly became REAL to me. I was ready to get swept. I was ready to get in the bus at mile one. It was easy to not believe in myself. Race day came, we got up in the middle of the night (2:00 AM) to take the bus to the starting line. I had read about how there was a lot of walking before we actually got to the starting line, and that is correct. I was worried that all of this pre-race walking would take away my ability to actually start the race. The humidity of the early morning was smothering, I was hot and hadn’t even started yet. I loaded up on gatorade and breakfast. I took three port-a-potty breaks before the race. I laughed with my beautiful sister Marcia and beautiful niece Caroline, both of whom were very encouraging to me. I knew they would both finish, I doubted my ability to even get past the starting line. I enjoyed myself, even though I was a ball of nervous energy.
We were in Corral H – the LAST corral, somewhere in the middle of the claustrophobic, seething, roaring, shouting mass of princesses and princes. The race started at 5:30 AM and our corral took off around 6:35 AM, I think. After having only gotten 4 hours of sleep, it was hard to pay attention to these details. My sister, niece and I started out, excited and happy in the Orlando dark with 26,000 other princesses (and a few princes).
Disney knows how to put on a great half-marathon. We felt the Disney magic when the fireworks went off. We listened to the Fairy Godmother wish us good luck. We saw decorations, costumed characters, inspiring signage, cool lighting, DJs with dance music, all of which encouraged me to at least give it a try.
We took off our tutus before mile 1 was over – they were too sticky in the Florida humidity. My 18-year old niece started running (good for you, Caroline!), and left my sister Marcia and I in the walking groups. After mile marker one, we saw the winner of the race already on her way back to the finish line – good for you, winner – but boy, that was kind of discouraging for me. My sister started walking faster, we had already agreed that she’d leave me behind – I didn’t want her to get swept too! As she melted into the crowd ahead of me, I put on my headphones and had a little gummi snack.
I had read about Jeff Galloway’s run/walk method, which I tried to do. Run a bit, walk a bit. I was excited to be in the Walt Disney World Resort with all these fellow women and men, trying to achieve something I never thought I would do. I got hot. I watched women pass me, and I passed a few. I figured out I was almost 2 minutes ahead of pace with the running/walking combo. As we entered the Magic Kingdom, we passed a bathroom with no line. I jetted in and took a pee opportunity. I wasn’t even in there for more than 2 minutes, but when I came out, the race people were there saying “You’re almost at pace!” I started running.
Running through the Magic Kingdom was truly an experience I’ll never forget. We entered from “backstage”, right behind Tony’s, and whether it was from the exhaustion, or from the family members cheering for their runners or from the Disney magic, I started crying as I ran up main street. We “walked” through the castle – too many people! But as we left the MK, I saw a lady with the balloon that read “16 Minute Mile Pace”. I started running ahead of her. But she kept catching up. And then she passed me. And then I couldn’t see her balloon any more.
By this time, my fingers were sausages. My face was bright red, my feet were sore, my excuses were many. The mean little voice in my head kept repeating what it always does, “You can’t do it. You should give up. You’re not able to finish. Just get on the bus. Just give up.” But the inspiring women around me who were trying and NOT giving up, you all kept me going.
At mile 6 the buses were waiting to sweep people, along with the state police. The race folks on bikes would ride by with shouted warnings “If you don’t make it to the next mile marker in 30 seconds you’re going to get swept!” This would make me run as fast as I could to make it to the next mile marker. It was really like being chased by zombies. Very nice zombies.
At mile 7 I met up with another slow person like me, Michelle, who had hurt herself previously so wasn’t doing as well as she would have liked. We talked and walked with each other and that distraction helped me immensely. We kept encouraging each other “We can do it!” Thanks to whoever you are, Michelle from Florida with your pink sash.
At mile 9 I started crying. While I walked. My phone/music was almost dead. I had 10% battery left on my phone, so I called my husband Robert for encouragement. “The sweepers are right behind me! I don’t think I can do it!” His sleepy voice (it was still early in the morning) was what I needed to hear, and he encouraged me to continue. I saw the state police trooper in his car, waiting for the signal to block the road for the runners to get on the bus. I ran as fast as I could past the next waiting buses.
I knew if I made it to the Epcot Parking Lot then I wouldn’t get swept, at least, that’s what the rumors said. At mile 10, the hills started. The Green Army Man from Toy Story encouraged us up the seemingly massive on-ramp hill. He told us it was the last hill. It was NOT the last hill, not by a long shot, you lying Green Army Man. Denise, another runner I met, encouraged me, told me to stop crying, told me I could do it. Thank you Denise – your words were the exact words I needed to hear.
At mile 11 was another hill. A princess with her mom and one other person holding hands saw me crying (again) and grabbed my hand. We four held hands as we made it up the last hill. Thank you, princess and mom in pink and black, for encouraging me to finish. At this point I started repeating “I think I can, I think I can” under my breath. My favorite ride at Disneyland is the Casey Junior Circus Train, and I kept picturing myself as the little train going up the hill.
At mile 12 I got into the Epcot parking lot. My body was screaming, telling me to quit. My little voice in my head was shyly saying “well, maybe you CAN do it. Maybe you’re going to finish this”. I endured with powerade and water that the volunteers handed us. I put bio-freeze on my legs – ready to try anything to keep me going. Thanks, Disney Volunteers.
The last mile was filled with encouraging Disney Cast Members, cheering audience folks, and volunteers, all who were encouraging us to finish, yelling and holding great signs. My favorite sign I saw was “Worst Parade Ever.” – hilarious. I had made it to the parking lot. I WAS ALMOST DONE. This helped me keep going.
With the happy thought of finding my sister and niece, I smiled as I ran across the finish line. I received my medal, my post-race snack, and wound my way through the milling princess crowd to our pre-determined meeting place.
My sister turned around and saw me weeping and looked shocked – she thought I was swept. She asked “Did you make it?” I nodded, and said “I did it”, and we hugged and cried together. She whispered into my ear “I knew you could do it” and my heart was so full. I hugged Caroline and cried as she said “You did it!” and I repeated the same back to both of them. Those hugs and words meant more to me than the medal around my neck, although the medal is pretty spectacular.
This isn’t the time for the recovery story, but let’s just say it took a while for me to feel “normal”. But now, my normal is a half-marathon-race finisher.
My official times was 3:46:30 and I finished 21386 of 22734 finishers. That’s not last. I didn’t get swept. And I DID IT.