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Race Recap: Princess Half Marathon

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It’s funny how putting off one task – one task that other tasks aren’t even dependent on – can throw off your whole schedule. In my case, it was writing this post. I had put it off and avoided it, thinking I could write around it. But my blog hasn’t been the same for a few weeks, and it’s because of this gaping post that had to be written before I could move on and get back to life as usual. Hold on to your hats – there’s lots of pictures.

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On Sunday, February 23rd – one month ago – Tara and I rolled out of our beds at Pop Century to head to the starting line for the 2014 Princess Half Marathon. We were adapting a bit to the time zone, I think, so although I was tired the hour didn’t feel as bone-crushingly early as the previous day for the 10k. Thanks to so many more runners for the half compared to the 10k, the lines were much, much longer. The shuttle line stretched the full length of the main Pop Century building and wrapped back on itself. The port-a-potties at the start had long lines, and we didn’t see the line-less stalls near the corrals like we had for the other races. There were people everywhere. The parking lot where the other races had started couldn’t hold all the runners (somewhere in the vicinty of 24 thousand, they announced) and we were lined up on the road leading through the parks.

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Tara headed off to Corral A and I lined up in H, closer to the front but not right at the start. I was sore from the other races and all our walking (much more than Disneyland according to my Fitbit, even with all the shuttle rides), but I didn’t feel any different than Tinker Bell. I made an effort to stretch, but the corral was packed. So I just bounced in place to get the blood flowing when, starting at 5:30, one corral after another was sent off with fireworks roughly every two minutes.

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Princess Half Marathon course map

The first 5k felt great. I caught up to the 2:45 pace group and stuck with them without issue. They were doing intervals, so I’d surge past them and then they’d catch up. It was a nice little rhythm. At the 1.5-mile mark, we crossed a bridge with kite flyers controlling giant bird kites while “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” played on a loop. Spoiler alert: they were still there later when I made my return trip across the bridge. At around the two-mile mark, I jumped into line for one of my two early photo stops and started to seriously bleed time. These photo spots were barely a quarter mile apart, but notice the difference in light. The lines were long, so the waits were long. And so my troubles began.

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Seriously, people from the first corral were already passing us (it would be mine 9 or so for them) while we waited. We even got to cheer for the female winner! Time was ticking away.

After leaving the heroes, we officially entered the Magic Kingdom. I say “officially” because we wouldn’t see any of the actual park for another two miles. Soooo spread out, Disney World!

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The two miles between the entrance and the park were when I started to have a bit of a tougher run. The course wasn’t terribly interesting – we passed the speedway at Richard Petty Driving Experience, but nothing much was going on. Just lots and lots of pavement. This was also where I started passing photo spots – one with some racecars, and one with the villians.

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But at last I saw Space Mountain in the distance. We passed the Contemporary Resort as we went under the water bridge and then officially made the turn into the Magic Kingdom backlot.

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The course got incredibly crowded here, because everyone knew what was coming next – Cinderella’s Castle. We were about to turn right out of the backlot onto Main Street, where crowds were waiting to cheer us on and where everyone would stop to get a photo. I managed to get a decent shot while I ran before pulling off to a cast member who was taking photos for runners.

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Before reaching the castle, we turned to the right into Tomorrowland and ran past the rides and crew members out cheering. The castle vantage point was still pretty good, so lots of people were stopping for more photos. Congestion, ahoy!

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We turned through Tomorrowland toward Fantasyland (and New Fantasyland – or are they just one big thing now?) and I jumped in an impossibly long line for Mickey and Minnie. The line from the course looked relatively short… until you turned a corner and realized it snaked back toward Be Our Guest before getting back to Mickey and Minnie in front of It’s a Small World. Probably about a twenty-minute wait. Bleeding more time. Since I was dressed as Belle, a generous line friend offered to take my photo in front of Be Our Guest (which is inside Beast’s castle).

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About halfway through my wait, a crew member came around telling everyone that the balloon ladies were about to enter the Magic Kingdom. Everyone promptly flipped out. The balloon ladies start last and keep a constant 16-minute mile pace – the minimum pace for all Disney races. If they pass you, you have a good chance of being removed from the course unless you can pass them again before reaching a sweep point. I stayed in line – which was moving faster thanks to bringing out additional cast members to help with phone cameras – and snagged my photo before sprinting off. But, I was afraid.

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On the back side of the castle, trumpeters were heralding our arrival. And then followed one of the memorable moments that people do this race for – running through Cinderella’s castle. I tried to leave a gap in front of me and positioned myself to the side so I could make sure and get a photo. It was definitely a cool moment, and the balloon ladies were temporarily forgotten.

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All things considered, I was still feeling decent. I was nervous about my time, but I never really thought the balloon ladies would catch me. And I didn’t feel too sore yet – I was actually feeling better than I had during Tinker Bell. But the humidity – 100% for the entirety of the race – was getting to me. I was physically tired and knew my fueling was going to be a problem.

I passed up several characters on our way out of the Magic Kingdom – Tiana, Woody and a few more I’m sure I missed – anxious to get back to a decent pace.

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There were also some princesses in the backlot as we headed out, but their line was epic, so I settled for an awkward selfie.

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Finally, at the halfway point (only halfway?!?) we headed out of the main area of the park and onto back roads connecting some of the nearby resorts. The road was immediately heading uphill, but “Let It Go” – the runner-selected song that Disney played on repeat at mile 7 – kept me churning. I’m not going to lie – I sung along, and I may have cried a little.

Thanks to slipping so far away from my corral, I was with a lot of walkers at this point. And the single lane we were provided to run on was packed left to right, so I spent a lot of time running on the grass shoulder of the road. I flew past photo ops – Mary Poppins, the glass slipper, and others – in my efforts to get away from some of the walking pack.

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At around mile 8, I bumped into my friend Lois, another mother runner I know locally through Moms RUN This Town. She had started in the last corral thanks to a time snafu with runDisney, and she was doing her best to pull away from the back. It was nice to see a friendly face since I was definitely starting to struggle, so I fell in alongside her and ran 3:1 intervals for a while out of the park. And she convinced me to stop for some photos.

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As we ran, we started to notice chartered buses along the side of the road – “parade” buses, they were labeled. Lois let me know these were the sweeper buses, and that she’d heard the balloon ladies were not far behind us. Fear of God, I tell you. And at about mile nine, the wheels came off the cart.

My feet felt like lead – there were some steps where I couldn’t feel them at all – and, no lie, I think I aggravated a hemorrhoid (YES I WENT THERE) because there was BURNING downstairs. I have never had to stop to use the bathroom during races, but at the 10-mile mark I finally gave in and used the world’s nastiest port-a-pottie to see if I could get some relief. When we exited the bathroom area, the balloon lady murmurs were getting louder. We continued on.

Just past mile 10, the course veers onto a loop leading traffic back to Epcot. The loop is basically a curved hill, complete with a grade that makes the road slant from side to side, so I kept looking for open shoulder to run on. Lois was amazing – she kept me going when I felt like I could barely move and everything hurt. I wasn’t in the mood for photos anymore, but I snapped her with Sarge.

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As we crested the loop and crossed the bridge over the road we’d just been on, I looked down to see an empty road. The mile-10 sweep had happened, and it was much closer than I expected. I turned around to look down the loop, and bright as day I saw the balloon ladies coming up behind us. And the tears started. I was so afraid of not finishing that I became paralyzed. Lois encouraged me to do whatever I could. Sometimes it was walking, but more often it was jogging – the jogging felt better on my feet and joints. We passed the kite flyers and Epcot was getting closer and closer, but I still didn’t feel safe.

The last two miles were a true exercise in endurance. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. The balloon ladies would close to within 50 feet of us, and then we’d surge ahead a little to put some distance between us and them. And on it went, catching up and surging, until we entered Epcot. The course narrowed dramatically – there was very little room to maneuver – and people were yelling to clear out for people coming up from behind (which seemed dangerous and near impossible in places). The front gates of the park had already opened, so we had tons of spectators in the form of park guests waiting for us to finish so they could get to their rides. At one point, the balloon ladies were right next to us and Lois chatted with them before helping me pull ahead. She just kept cheering me on, reminding me to smile when we’d pass a photographer even though I was bawling in fits and starts with every step. Witness the smiling crying face (Jason knows it well):

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We passed Sofia the First at one point, and I would have liked a photo with her, but I wanted to finish ahead of the balloon ladies even more. So on we went. And at mile 13, so close to the finish I could hear the crowds and announcers, we encountered this:

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The gospel choir. I knew they’d be there, but at the same time it was totally unexpected to see and hear them. Their music gave me the little extra push I needed to run to the finish. Enter “Julie’s Determined Face”:

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I couldn’t feel my feet at all. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to move if I stopped running. So, with the finish line in sight, I plowed ahead. Lois grabbed my hand and held it in the air, and my sobbing started as soon as we crossed the line.

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Exhausted. Just plain exhausted. Tara told me later than everyone has a bad race, and this one was mine. I didn’t help, what with my awful training and crazy fatigue in the final days. But I finished – I finished.

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And I couldn’t have done it without Lois. She got me across that line when I could have easily been swept. And for that, she’ll be a friend for life.

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Tara found me at the finish – she’d been done for quite a while – and we headed to breakfast with some friends at the Grand Floridian. I hobbled back to our room afterward, and then we (crazily, in my case) headed back out for park time, this time visiting Hollywood Studios. I could write a whole other post about the rest of our day, but you’ll have to survive with photos. The short version: I was sore but survived, spending time in the park got me out of my head and off of obsessing about the race, and I was able to stay limber instead of letting my feet and joints tighten up by just hanging out in our room.

The only downer of the remainder of the day? I managed to break my camera by slamming it repeatedly into the floor during the Tower of Terror. Alas. I sent it off to Canon when we got home and it has since been restored to pristine condition. But it was a bummer.

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