Last year, when our husbands decided they wanted to run the inaugural Tower of Terror 10-miler at Walt Disney World, my friend Heidi and I thought we would plan a girls weekend to run the Princess Half Marathon together.
Heidi has four children and is no stranger to Disney, but this would be the first visit in quite awhile where she didn’t have kids in tow. The both of us were looking forward to a weekend getaway – and oh yeah, this little matter of running 13.1 miles.
We arrived on Friday morning, got the Magical Express bus to the Happiest Place on Earth, and immediately started having fun, beginning with lunch at one of our favorite Disney restaurants, the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. It’s done up to look like a 50s-era drive-in, where you sit in little car booths and watch old cartoons and clips of campy sci-fi movies while the darkened domed room looks like you’re sitting under a starry night sky. We toasted our girls weekend with oh-so-yummy kahlua and Irish cream-spiked milkshakes and wondered what was it about Mars that made its women so aggressive?
Then it was onto the race expo, where we picked up our race numbers. Since Heidi had not run a race before she registered, she had been put in one of the last start corrals. But we had a printout from an October race that qualified her to leapfrog and get put into the B corral along with me – and a few thousand other women. Yay! That meant more time for photo ops along the route. Then it was onto expo shopping, which for runners, is a little like what kids must feel in a toy store at Christmas. Neither of us had brought a pink shirt, thinking the expo would be a sea of pink. Well, not so much. Sure, there was a lot of pink, but not as much as you’d expect, and none of it particularly fabulous. Heidi did buy a pink running skirt (I already had one from my previous Disney HM – the Wine & Dine) and we also got “I Did It!” Princess shirts, but you can’t say “I Did It!” while you’re in the process of doing it – that’s just asking for a sprained ankle. We decided we’d find something pink and girly at Magic Kingdom or Downtown Disney the next day. We would pay for our naïveté later.
Later that night we headed over to Epcot for our dinner spot, a new-to-us restaurant, Via Napoli, an upscale pizzeria located in the Italy section of Epcot’s World Showcase. We started with a pre-dessert, AKA cocktails. Heidi had the cannoli martini and I the tiramisu martini. Yum! After supper, we couldn’t resist dessert (in our defense, it was included in our dining plan) and had the most amazing pistachio gelato. Seriously, we still talk about it’s delectable deliciousness.
On Saturday, we spent the day at Magical Kingdom, enjoying the rides, sights and food of Disney. Their newest restaurant, Be Our Guest, has gotten both rave reviews and complaints about its long lines. But we were able to get in line and get seated within 30 minutes or so. The restaurant is set up to look like the castle from Beauty and the Beast, complete with the enchanted rose and a painting of the prince that turned beastly when the thunder and lightning struck just so. While we checked the shops at Magical Kingdom, we were still without a pink shirt, and time was running out. So we boarded the bus for Downtown Disney, which took forever and a day, and it was close to 7pm before we arrived. Now, the race was scheduled to start at 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning, but we had to be on the bus to the start area by 3:30, which meant getting up at 3:00 a.m. So the plan was to be back to our hotel for a relaxing evening and in bed by 9pm. As we frantically roamed the shops of Disney, searching in vain for a pink shirt that we could wear while running, it was glaringly obvious we weren’t going to make that goal. Somewhat deflated, I found a pale pink shirt with Minnie on it and Heidi decided to use her backup RunDisney shirt and so around 8:30 we made our way back to the bus area. Along the way we passed a store that did custom shirts, and what do you know, they had princess styles. We ordered ours and then proceeded to wait the hour until the shirts would be ready, bringing us up to 9:30. Feeling happy about our new shirts, we finally boarded the bus back to our hotel, turning in just after 11:00 pm.
Having managed to get a few hours’ sleep, we got up and were at the start area in our princess finery by 4am. Thank the gods – and Disney – they had coffee available at the start area so I was able to get some caffeine in my system. We had to walk about a mile to the actual start corrals, so between that and a few port-a-potty stops, it wasn’t long before 5:30 arrived and the blast of fireworks indicated we were on our way! The humidity was an issue even at 5:30 and didn’t let up – it was around 94%, which is about as wet as you can get without actual rain, and pretty warm for February, even in Florida. Those runners from northern climes must have been burning up.
The Princess race begins just outside Epcot and traverses the roads to Magic Kingdom, where it winds through the park, including Cinderella’s castle, before looping back and finishing at Epcot. Being a Disney race, they have characters interspersed along the route for those who want to stop for photos. Our first stop was about 2 miles in, and featured Captains Jack and Barbossa along with their pirate ship. After a 10-minute wait, we quickly snapped a photo and ran on. While it had been our plan to stop at every character, just that one foray was enough to ignite the competitor in Heidi, who proclaimed the wait lines were killing our time. We decided then to only stop at the ones we deemed worthy, so we bypassed the princes (sorry, guys!) and the cute critters from A Bug’s Life. But then just as you entered the Magic Kingdom, the sounds of AC/DC’s Back in Black drifted in the air and we came upon the Disney villainesses – Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, Cinderella’s evil stepsisters and the enchanted mirror from Snow White – and we knew we were stopping for this photo and another wait in line. Then it was on into the park, running down Main Street and past cheering crowds as we came up to the entrance of Cinderella’s castle, where Queen Minnie and King Mickey were waiting for us. We stopped again for what would be our last photo op, bypassing Mary Poppins and her chimney sweeps, Alice and her motley crew, Princess Tiana, the green army man (who LIED when he said we had only that one ‘hill’ to run, really an on-ramp, Florida’s version of hills) and others I can’t even remember. Around mile 8, we came up to the playing of the race theme song, chosen in advance by people who voted on RunDisney’s facebook page. By that point, the beat of Alicia Key’s Girl on Fire was just about right for our running pace, although personally I’d voted for Kelly Clarkson’s Catch My Breath. Besides the photo ops, we stopped to walk at some of the many water stations Disney has set up along the course, but other than that, we ran (albeit slowly) pretty much the entire course. At some points, you couldn’t help but run slowly, since it was SO crowded. This was the first race I’ve ever done where the crowds didn’t really thin out. We did a lot of weaving and even ran on the grassy edges by the road a few times, just to get past the crowd.
As we entered Epcot, running around the giant ball, we knew we were getting close. And then finally, over three hours after beginning, we were coming up to the finish line. Taking out the time we stopped for photos (which I did by pausing my Runkeeper), we finished the race in 2:45, running 13.53 miles (thanks to all that weaving). We did it – we were Disney princesses! After a hot shower and a meal, we (slowly) walked to a spa near our hotel for an hour-long deep tissue and foot massage and I just have to say, WHY did I never do that after any of my other races. It was absolute heaven. But of course, all that relaxation made us sleepy, so we decided a nap was in order. Um yeah, a 2-hour nap.
One of the fun things about running at Disney is that everyone wears their medals afterwards. So of course, we did. And got congratulated by other Princesses as we walked around the park, asked by strangers what the medals were for, and generally felt like a (sub D-list) celebrity for a few hours.
The next day was sadly, our last day at Disney. We got in a quick visit to Animal Kingdom, riding the Kali River Rapids and Expedition Everest before making the not-so-magical bus trip back to the airport and reality.