…which brings us to RACE DAY! Finally.
Sunday February 21, 2016
We woke up at 3:00AM. I managed to get a decent night’s sleep and even woke up a few minutes before my alarm clock which was a great way to start the day, but I still felt a lot of race day nerves.
I made a peanut butter banana sandwich for breakfast and got dressed, but in hindsight, I would have allotted more than 10 minutes for breakfast. Even though I’d made a detailed schedule to follow, I felt rushed. I struggled to pin my bib in the center of my t-shirt, and then really wished I had put on my shoes first because my bib crinkled when I bent down to tie them. I was just so grateful that Bret was there to help me and keep my nerves in check. He kept assuring me that everything was okay and that I was going to do great even when I said I felt like throwing up. By 3:50am, I was ready!
Everyone staying at a Disney resort gets free transportation to the race. Bret walked to the bus stop with me and I couldn’t BELIEVE how many other Disney princess runners were already in line. In your race information, you’re asked to board the bus by 4AM to guarantee your spot in your corral. I was in line by 3:55, and it worked out fine, but the buses start running at 3AM I heard there was no line then. We watched a few buses come and fill up, but another bus was always right around the corner. When my bus arrived, I hugged Bret goodbye and told him I’d see him at the finish line. I couldn’t believe THIS WAS IT.
The ride over was great and I would HIGHLY recommend taking a bus over driving yourself. It reduces traffic (there was a lot of traffic) and the bus will get you right where you need to be. Plus, buses are not the typical Disney transportation buses, they are really nice charter buses so everyone gets a comfy seat. As soon as I arrived at Epcot, I found my friend Kris and we got to walk over to our corrals together.
Everything was super well organized and I was happy to see that there were plenty of bathroom facilities available where the buses drop you off and again when you reach the corrals. I would recommend NOT taking a bag. You have to go through bag check and it’s time consuming, plus you can’t carry your bag with you to the corrals. I just decided to wear my jacket and I left it behind to get donated.
Finding my corral was easy. I was so impressed with the signage and Disney volunteers there to shine flashlights to make sure no one sprained an ankle before the race. The walk over is long, but I didn’t mind. It was a good way to cool my nerves and wake up my muscles. I had a quick moment of panic when I realized that I was wearing my wedding ring. I never run (or swim or lift weights) when I’m wearing my wedding band because it’s uncomfortable when my hand swells. I worried about taking it off, but I was able to secure it safely inside my flip belt because it had a little hook for a key ring which worked out great.
I found my corral, talked to a few other runners, ate my luna bar (thanks, Disney!), took some Aleve, and drank some water while I waited. I adjusted my shoe laces and before I knew it, the first corral was ready to begin!
Each corral starts running a couple minutes apart to space out the crowd, and soon it was my turn to run! The DJ’s are fun and motivating and Disney does fireworks for every single corral which was amazing.
I started off at a slow jog because of the crowds and also to conserve energy. I jogged along passing a high school marching band and my knee was feeling pretty good. Bret gave me his stopwatch to wear so I could keep track of my time. I forgot to start it until after the first mile, but that was fine, I just started the watch when I passed the first mile marker, and I was SO HAPPY at mile three to discover I’d been maintaining 12 minute miles. These felt effortless – honestly – and I felt like I could easily keep running, but I’d made a decision to walk mile 4 to let my heart rate regulate so I did.
I’d been told that because I trained in high altitude, it would be SO EASY to run at sea level, and that was SO TRUE. I couldn’t believe the difference. I never felt out of breath. Along the way, there are water stations, DJ’s playing fun music, and lots of Disney characters to pose with for pictures. I didn’t stop to stand in line for character pictures, but I did take a selfie when I passed Aladdin!
While I was walking, I thought about when I wanted to eat my gu. Gu is this magical thing I discovered that tastes like chocolate pudding and gives you an extra boost of energy (amino acids) in the middle of your run. I decided that if I could make it through the Magic Kingdom, I would wait and take it after (around mile 6).
Running through the Magic Kingdom was absolutely magical.
The energy from all of the on-lookers, the scenery, running through Tomorrowland and the Castle… it was just perfect. I saw a dad holding a little baby dressed up like Mickey Mouse, and the woman running in front of me stopped to give the baby a kiss. It was so sweet that it made me cry. Everyone was so encouraging and everything felt magical running through the Magic Kingdom. Here I am running through Cinderella’s castle:
I ate my Gu shortly after leaving the Magic Kingdom, and it was the pefect pick me up. I took another walking break here and realized that my knee was hurting a bit. The stretch of road seemed so boring after being in the most magical place on earth, but there was another DJ set up playing 90’s music and it was fun and kept me feeling good.
During the long stretches, there was often music playing to keep us motivated. When there wasn’t music, it was harder, but magical things happened including a fellow runner passing me with Justin Beiber playing in her backpack. I followed her for over a mile listening to The Little Mermaid and anything else on her playlist. Music fixes everything – it made running feel effortless and painless!
Another big source of motivation was all of the signs along the way. There were SO MANY good ones! All of the runners also encouraged each other. I passed a runner with a sign on her back that said, “Hey Stranger – I’m so proud of you, too!” And while some runners said things like, “Why am I doing this?” or “I’m never going to be able to finish…” other runners responded with, “You’re doing a great job!” And, “The hard part is over – it’s all downhill from here”. (That was a lie, but it did make me feel better around mile 8.
I can’t tell you how many times I LAUGHED during the race, too:
- A guy standing on the overpass as we ran under shouting, “There are only 4 hills in Florida – this is one of them!”
- A woman holding a sign that said, “Poor Unfortunate Souls!” when we ran by.
- A guy standing alone with a sign that said “Just waiting for a princess”
There were choirs and marching bands and performers. I was having so much fun! I decided to take a couple walking breaks and then when I reached Mile 9, I had to stop for a picture.
Several people had told me that mile 9 would be the hardest (especially considering I’d only run a max of 10 miles previously). Mile 9 is where you are supposed to feel a lot of fatigue but also realize you still have 4+ miles to go which can be mentally tough. When I got to Mile 9, though, I felt good! Really good. A volunteer offered to take that picture for me, and I’m so grateful. All of the volunteers were fantastic. [Note – keep in mind that even though the clock says 2:40, I’d only been running for an hour and 40 minutes here – that’s because my corral started an hour later than the first one.]
Passing number 9 made me feel pretty great. Until it didn’t. Shortly after taking this photo my knee hurt really bad. It gave out completely, actually. I couldn’t really put weight on it and I didn’t know what to do. I stumbled over to the grass and gave myself a little pep talk that basically went like this, “You have more aleve in your flipbelt. Take it. If you have to stop at the next medical station, you can, but you can’t stop here.” I really don’t like taking medicine unless I have to. I had some liver issues last year where I wasn’t allowed to take ANY medicine so taking double the max dose seemed like a bad decision. But I did it anyway because I had come this far and I couldn’t fathom NOT finishing at this point.
I assured myself that I could walk the rest and still get the medal, but I really had been hoping to finish the race in under 3 hours. It hurt to walk, but it was actually easier and less painful to run. So I ran. And within a few minutes, I was feeling okay. I just had to keep going. I think I may have walked a bit more until I reached mile 10, but once I was there, the aleve kicked in, and I just kept going. I looked at my watch at each mile and told myself how much time I had to run the next mile while staying under a 3 hour finish. We were running on and off exit ramps. And I was feeling tired and sore and my knee hurt but not badly enough that I had to stop. I just kept running.
When we pulled into Epcot and crossed the 12 mile mark, a huge grin spread across my face. There was SO MUCH encouragement in the form of words and signage. I felt so good. I smiled for the camera and just tried to push through. I knew I was in the home stretch, and even though I knew my knee was hurting, I was able to focus my attention elsewhere. Like toward the cameras!
The crowd toward the end of the race was AMAZING. Everyone was shouting, “Less than a mile to go!” and I just kept running. I had a brief thought about how impossible running a mile felt only 6 months ago, and now it was just the home stretch after the first 12 miles of the race. I was feeling ridiculously proud of myself at this point.
Bret spotted me right before I crossed the finish line! Here’s a picture once the finish line was in sight:
I just can’t describe it. Crossing the finish line was just perfection. I put my arms up in the air because I was so happy, and so proud, and also because I knew my picture was being taken!
And then my knee was really hurting, but I didn’t care. Disney does everything so well. After getting my medal, and I was thrilled to be handed an adorable Disney Princess draw string bag, a box of food, Gatorade and water as soon as I finished. Bret met me practically right after I crossed the Finish Line, and at that point I had already downed a bottle of water and a banana and was sipping on some blue Gatorade.
My knee hurt so I got some ice from the medical tent, but mostly, I felt amazing.
I’m pretty sure the first thing I said to Bret was, “Was I under 3 hours?!” I was pretty sure that I was, but I hadn’t seen my official time. Bret had been getting text updates with my progress, so he got to tell me that I was 2 hours and 56 minutes and I was SO. HAPPY.
Bret got to ride on the fancy charter bus with me back to Caribbean Beach. And then, after a shower, I was ready to spend the rest of the day at the Magic Kingdom!
It is definitely one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in my life, and my medal is my new favorite accessory. I’m going to take a running break for at least a few months while my knee heals, but there was no point in the whole race where I thought, “I would never do this again.” In fact, a few weeks later, I keep thinking about how much I DO want to run another Disney half marathon. I honestly don’t think I could have done so well without Bret. Having a training partner made training so much more fun. I’m so happy that I was able to run, and mostly, I’m just sad that it’s over.