Friday, March 2, 2012

Disney's Princess Half Marathon

It's hard to believe that a week ago, I was in Orlando.

It's hard to believe that I made a plan, and stuck with it.

It's hard to believe that I've completed a half marathon.

What a year it's been. In January 2011, when my sister Kathie was preparing for her first Princess Half, I was so jealous; I wanted to be there. But there was no way I could do it. I'd only been running for a few months, so I said, "Next year."

I am notorious for making big plans and having zero follow-through, but not this time. No, this time, I did it.

It was an incredibly emotional weekend. You cannot run (or, in my case, run/walk) 13.1 miles and not somehow be changed by it. You ask the body to allow you to complete this race. You prepare your body to do it by training over several months. And then, one morning, you get up at 3 a.m. ... and you do it.

Here's how the weekend progressed:

Thursday, February 23 - the night before we left - was snowy. Crap-ass snowy. I had friends whose flights were cancelled, and they ended up driving to Florida. We were lucky. The morning of Feb. 24 was still snowy, but somehow our flight was still scheduled. Jenn and I took off for the airport.

We checked our bags, got on the plane, and kept our fingers crossed. Soon, we were on our way. Not without making a new friend, however. Seated next to us was a young lady named Cindy, who was also running the race. What are the chances? She was awesome. Little did I know, we had not seen the last of her.

Once we landed, we got our bags and went about meeting up with our sister Kathie and friend Carrie. They picked us up in the rental car (NITRO!) and off we went to the Expo.

Me, expo-ready.

Holy crap. I've never seen so many vendors ... so much stuff that I wanted! It was pretty amazing. I bought myself a new pair of headphones (so I could stop stealing them from Jenn) and a running belt to hold my camera. I wanted to buy a lot more!

We headed to the hotel (Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge - LOVE!) and got ready to head to the Pasta in the Park Party. Such a great idea! Runners come together for an evening of food, fun and ... you guessed it ... princesses!

"Take your dream and hold it close to your heart." That's me, Jenn, Aurora, Kathie and Carrie at the Pasta in the Park Party.

Race Day morning dawned bright and early. Like, ass-crack-of-dawn early. Like, 3 a.m. Somehow, everyone but me seemed able to look human. I, on the other hand, looked like I was sleeping. I was so excited, and a little nervous. On the long walk to the start corrals, we met up with a friend!

Cindy from the plane, and me.

Yup; sweet Cindy, our row-mate on the flight down, found us en route to the corrals. And by some stroke of luck (or the fact that she totally gave herself WAY too much time to finish the race) she ended up in my corral. So I had someone to be nervous with after Kath and Carrie stopped to pee, and Jenn headed toward her corral.

It was night-dark, and we were surrounded by 15,000 like-minded people. Ahem, princesses. Amazing.

When the first corral was getting ready to start, the electricity in the air was incredible. Fireworks. The Fairy Godmother. And tears. I couldn't stop crying. Next up, Corral B. That's where Kath and Carrie were. I sent my best wishes their way, knowing they would be strong throughout.

Soon, it was Corral E, Jenn's corral. In two more starts, it would be time for me and Cindy to go! With the Corral E fireworks, I cried a little again, because there goes my sister. A few years ago, with a leukemia diagnosis and an uncertain future, this wouldn't be possible. And here she was - a running princess.

Then, it was time. We walked toward the start. The Fairy Godmother greeted us. She bibbidi-bobbidied, the fireworks went off ... and it was GO TIME!

It's weird, running along the streets of Disney World in the pitch dark. Really, truly weird. Before I knew it, two things happened. First came the realization that I had to pee. Second, the entertainment began. This is Disney, you know, so there was constantly something to hold your attention. People on stilts, high-fiving the crowd! So cool. I snapped what I knew was a blurry photo ... and my camera died. DAMMIT. Like, dead dead dead. The lens wouldn't retract. So I put it in my pocket and kept running.

Until I got to the first set of porta-potties. That's another thing Disney does really well. It seemed like whenever I thought I could use a bathroom, or a drink of water, or some BioFreeze (this stuff is magic) ... there it was. It's like they just don't miss a trick.

So I did my bathroom thing, accepted the fact that I'd have to go 13 without a camera, and got into my groove. I was slow - I'm always slow. This should come as no surprise. But man, did it feel incredible to be in this place, where so many of my best memories are, doing something like this.

I think I was at about mile 3 when it hit me. There are thousands upon thousands - hundreds of thousands, probably - of people at Disney World on any given day. I was one of just 16,000 who chose to start this day in this way. It's a pretty exclusive club. If that doesn't make you feel special, nothing will.

I wish I had photos to help tell the story, but I'll have to do my best with my words. Again ... kaput camera. Anyway, before I knew it, we were heading toward the Magic Kingdom. Soon we were running into the backstage area, and employees and families were there to cheer us on. Turning down Main Street and seeing the castle for the first time ... yeah, I cried again. It was just so hard to believe how many people got up so early to cheer us on.

We turned to head toward Tomorrowland, and around the back of the castle in Fantasyland. Finally it was time to approach, and run through, the castle. Herald trumpeters were perched atop the archway, announcing the arrival of stream after stream of runners. And I started to cry.

Oh, shut up.

It was unreal, running through the castle. How many times did I walk through as a child, marveling at the mosaics? How many times did I dream about what was inside? And here I was, an athlete at age 45, running through the place that has always given me happiness. Hell, I'm crying now, just writing about it.

Leaving the castle, there are even more cheers and even more fans. And off you run, for the second half of the race.

Here's where it got kinda tough, but at this point I also knew I would finish. There was a sign that said "Halfway There. Time to Get Stronger". And I kept running. I took more frequent walking breaks in the second half, but I kept running. I even ate Gu. The things a girl will do for energy!

The rest of the race, up until the finish, was pretty much just "run run run walk cry", so I won't bore you with it.

Soon, we were approaching Epcot, and the journey was nearing it's end. We entered the theme park and circled Spaceship Earth - THAT was cool. Upon our exit, we passed the gospel choir, which I'd been warned would be a highlight. They were rocking out to "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee", and I started crying. Again. They were amazing.

Running past them, I exited Epcot and could see the finish line. By this point, I was just a bundle of emotion. Time to dig deep. Time to finish strong. Hell, time to finish, period! Off I ran ... and crossed the finish line. And immediately started to weep.

Looking to my left, I saw Kathie and Carrie waiting for me, I waved, and I wept. An elderly gentleman put my medal around my neck, and I hugged him and thanked him. I stopped to have my photo taken, and made my way toward the Race Retreat.

Me, just after finishing, with my medal. And what Mike Rice insists is a hidden Mickey made of sweat.

At this point, I was completely grateful to my sister for treating me to entry into the Race Retreat. We got a chill towel, and breakfast, and a bloody mary. It was awesome; definitely something I would recommend for any Disney Race. I don't think I'll go without it for any Disney half in the future; it added a measure of pampering to a tough day, and I loved that. Plus, bacon.
The rest of that day was spent in the Animal Kingdom and at dinner at Yachtsmen's Steakhouse. Dad had sent money along with Kathie to treat us all for that meal, which Linda joined us for. It was a wonderful celebration of accomplishment. I still felt like an absolute princess.

That feeling stuck with me well into the next day, too, as all of us (sans Linda, who had an early flight home) went to Cinderella's Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom for breakfast with the princesses. Snow White, Aurora, Belle and Ariel were our hosts, and it was delicious and so much fun. Cinderella Castle. I ran through there.

We tooled around the Kindom for awhile, taking Jungle Cruise, riding through Pirates and visiting the Haunted Mansion. We had our pictures taken with Donald Duck (who never wears pants) and shopped our way down Main Street. Too soon, it was time to head back to the airport.
And just like that, it was over. In a way, I can't believe I did it. In another, I can't believe I ever doubted. One thing I know for sure is that I cannot wait to go back.

For the record ... here are my results:

Distance: 13.1 miles
Clock Time: 4:01:36
Net Time: 3:24:29
Overall Place: 14664 / 16906
Gender Place: 13666 / 15802
Division Place: 1183 / 1417
5K Split: 48:40
10K Split: 1:35:16
15K Split: 2:25:31

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