Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Magical Sisterhood

I have long neglected my blog.  I just got tired of writing race reports, I preferred instead to read others' reports.  I have done some fabulous races in the past few months, the St. Mary's Triathlon, The Nation's Triathlon, the Savannah River Bridge Run, Hunting Island Paddlefest, the Melbourne Half Marathon, and several beautiful 5K races.

But, I was not motivated to write about them.  Until this race.  The Disney Princess Half Marathon.  There is a story behind this race, a pretty good story too.  Almost as good as the race itself.

Here's the story.

Preparing for this race began over a year ago.  My friend Tracey called me one day out of the blue and said she had started running.  She was a few weeks into her training and was tackling lots of miles already.  I was blown away and impressed.  Tracey is a busy working mom of two active girls, a Girl Scouts leader, an actress and stage mom among countless other responsibilities that come with her life.  She said that she was loving running, and wanted to train for the Disney Princess Half Marathon.  I was so excited (both of us being big Disney buffs) I promised her that if she did this, I would run it too.
Throughout the year of training, we kept in touch on how it was going, and in no time, race day was upon us.  Tracey's long runs reached 14 miles, and mine reached 12 miles.  I ran hot and humid tune-up Half Mary at Melbourne Florida in anticipation for Disney Princess.  

Tracey, the theatrical one, came up with the brilliant idea of running as Cinderella's evil stepsisters, Drizella and Anastasia.  The closer we got to the race, the more excited I got about our characters.  We consulted each other on outfits, and began texting each other in character.  Tracey found the must-have sparkle skirts online.  I would venture to say that this part of planning for the race was more fun than planning for my high school prom.  I also probably would not have been nearly as well dressed for this race if it had not have been for her.  I am all about comfort and high performance clothing.  Anyone who knows me would never believe that I ran a race in a giant hair bow and sparkle skirt.  And I LOVED it!

Shannon, Drizella, Lady Tremaine, Anastasia, Tracey
Finally, Disney Princess race weekend had arrived.  Twitter began buzzing about the race, and the excitement was contagious.  My family and I planned to drive to Disney after #1 got out of school, putting the four of us there at about 9pm.  Saturday my parents would arrive and we would tour Magic Kingdom in the morning, go to the Expo in the early afternoon and, thanks to Tracey, had a princess dinner planned at the Grand Floridian later that evening.
Royal Carbo-Loading

At Park Fare at the Grand Floridian, we met our characters!  Tracey expertly planned this dinner for our families so that we could enjoy an incredibly tasty buffet while watching our characters in action.  This was more fun than I would have imagined it would be!  The "real" Anastasia and Drizella Tremaine were very excited that we were running as them in the race the next day.  We definitely carbo-loaded in style that night!

Doing Disney World with your family before and after a half-marathon, I realized, is a true physical and mental challenge.  Touring the parks is not exactly relaxing, it's downright exhausting.  As I told Tracey on our hike to the corrals on race day: "Holy cow, this is an epic endurance event!"

After our wonderful dinner at Park Fare, I returned to the room to lay out my race day gear:

  • Giant teal blue bow
  • Matching blue bondiband
  • Hairbands
  • Princess barrettes
  • Blue Asics run shirt with lime green sleeves sewn on
  • Nathan run pack filled with: Gu (prerace), Clif Shots Gel (during race), Haribo Gummy Bears, Chapstick, Snotrag, iPhone, iPod shuffle
  • Fuelbelt with bib attached (with my name on it! Princess Shannon haha)
  • Road ID
  • Garmin watch
  • Timex watch
  • Sparkle skirt
  • Underarmour compression shorts
  • Patellar strap
  • Zensah calf sleeves
  • Thorlo experia socks
  • ASICS Gel Nimbus 13
  • Spray Glitter (of course, it's a princess run!)
  • Pre race baggie with nutrition: Ensure, Gatorade, Clif bar, water
  • Checked run bag: towel, back up run shirt (in case my sewn on sleeves were too much
  • Body Glide
Drizella and Anastasia ready to race!
My parents spent the evening strategizing their spectator plan.  This was not an easy thing to do.  The spectator information in the race brochure was meant to be helpful, but it was quite confusing to those who aren't familiar with the race day logistics.  Having done the race now, I am much better informed on how to watch the race.  I gave my kids and husband a pass on spectating the race, I'd rather spend time with them later in the parks, which would be more enjoyable for them too.  

Tracey and I arranged to meet the race day bus at her resort at 3:15 am.  I set my phone to go off at 2:30 am and tried my best to go to sleep that night at 9:30 pm.  The excitement of the day seeped into my thoughts, and the anticipation of race day made it hard to sleep.  But, I got good rest despite sleeping with a wriggly 3 year old's feet in my neck (hubs slept with #1), and was wide awake at 2:15 am.  I got up, rinsed off in the shower, dressed, and ran over to Tracey's hotel.  

We squealed with delight upon seeing each other in costume.  We boarded the bus and shared funny stories while checking out everyone else's outfits.  This was so much FUN!  Folks were taking pics and posting on Facebook and Twitter.  

The bus dropped us off a short walk away from the finish line venue.  This party was rockin' at 3:30am.  It felt like we'd been out all night and were still dancing the night away.  A DJ on stage was leading the arriving tutu-ed and fairy-dusted runners in dances like the Dougie, and it was irresistible to not join in.  The scene reminded me of a flash mob dancing in unison.  Announcements on stage kept us well informed of the race day progression.  

Corral A before the start
I was stunned by the sheer number of porto-lets on the scene.  Hundreds of them lined the area, and they all looked brand new.  For the thousands of runners who were there, this was a huge, er, relief.  Literally.  We also learned that using a porto-let in a tutu is an act of coordination and grace in and of itself.  

Runners happily sashayed around the venue, complimenting each other on their outfits and fueling up for the race.  At 4:15am or so the announcement came to begin walking to the start corrals.  This is where I wished two things: 1. That I would have started this trek earlier to avoid the bottleneck of the crowd moving to the narrower path 2. That I would have started my Garmin to see how far we walked to the corral.  It seemed like we walked FOREVER to the corral...every bit an hour.  But this is not a complaint:  it was a fun walk, surrounded by fellow runners.  I would much rather be moving than standing around all jittery.  The path was lined with yet more porto-lets so we had another chance to hit the potty before being corralled.  Randomly, a flying squirrel divebombed the crowd, to the cheers of many.  Wonder how much Disney paid for that entertainment? 

I got to corral A just minutes before the start of the race.  The corral was crowded and heavy with anticipation and thick with the awful smells of excited runners.  Folks on stage, including Jeff Galloway himself, pumped up the runners with fun banter while we awaited the big moment.  They made us feel like rock stars.  Finally, the Fairy Godmother gave a few waves of the wand just before the fireworks went off and the race began at 5:45am.          

And we were off!  The first mile of the race was like any other, and we were quickly introduced to why this race is NOT like any other.  Performers, DJs, characters, lighted hot air balloons, comedians, firemen, and Disney Cast Members lined the route, cheering and high fiving us as we went by.  It truly felt magical.  Water and Powerade stations were every mile, and yet more porto-lets were strategically placed along the way.  The water stations were on both sides of the road, and a huge number of volunteers made the stations easy to navigate and reduced chaos. 

Me with the train engineer
Me with Cinderella & Prince Charming
Runners waited in short lines to get their pictures taken with favorite characters.  I unfortunately missed my big character...Drizella.  She and her evil stepsister were hidden by a line of runners waiting to get their pictures taken with them.  It wasn't until I was past the line that I realized it was her.  I threw up my arm in a big wave, and she actually saw me!  She waved back, and cheered for me.  This strengthened my pace as I ran under the water bridge and toward Magic Kingdom.  I ran through Magic Kingdom, slowing down to enjoy the ride.  I stopped to get my photo taken with Cinderella and slowed my pace through the big moment through the castle.  In an unfortunate moment of excitement, I slung my arms out for a photographer and caught another runner in the face with my outstretched hand.  I think my finger actually went up her nose.  Oops!  Whoever you are, I sincerely apologize.  Although I hope they got the picture, I'm sure it's a funny one.  We rounded through Frontierland, and ran past the WDW steam train so I had to get a picture with the engineer for my train-enthusiast 7 year old.

At the halfway point, a big sign said something to the effect, "You're half way...time to get STRONGER" and a huge speaker belted out the Kelly Clarkson song, "Stronger."  It actually worked, I ran negative splits the rest of the race.  I'm a total sucker for motivation during a race.  Little things get me going.  

We ran past groomsmen proposing to us, many more characters, comedic DJs, and near mile 11 we approached an onramp to an overpass.  At mile 11, inclines look like hills, so Disney didn't miss the opportunity to motivate us.  A green soldier from Toy Story was standing there, barking orders at us: "C'mon soldiers, we're going TAKE THIS HILL!"  Again, it worked.  I charged up the hill easily.  
At the finish line reunion area w/my rose
The whole way I felt great.  I worried about my feet in the first two miles, they felt fatigued from hiking the parks the day before.  But they soon went numb and I felt light and fast.  I walked fast through each water stop and alternated Powerade and water.  I took my Gu before the race, and ate a complimentary Clif shot from the booth at mile 8 or so.  I ate a few gummy bears along the way, and overall felt outstanding.  The weather could not have been better.  Cloudy and a breezy 55 degrees, it was perfect.  The final mile took us through EPCOT and the finish line was spectacular.  I high-fived Mickey on my way across the line.  I looked through the crowd and saw my parents, and my dad handed me a rose.  It was so wonderful seeing them there, it meant so much to me that they made the trip.  I proudly received my medal and I couldn't believe it was over so fast.  I really felt like I could have run the course again.  I resolved that when I do my first marathon, it will be with Disney.    

The race was awesome, I was never by myself, there was never a moment of boredom, and the miles literally flew by.  After a race, typically there's a sort of let-down.  You trained hard, you got there at the crack of dawn (or the middle of the night in this case) and when it's over, you mill around for a little bit, then head home or back to the hotel and change and it's basically over.  This is not the case at a Disney event.  For those of us lucky enough to be able to stay and go to the parks after the race, the glow of the finish line followed us throughout the parks.  Many runners wore their race t-shirt and/or medal to the parks and Disney Cast Members, other runners, and random strangers congratulated them on the race.  It was like we were instantly a part of a magical sisterhood who were proud of each other and supportive of what we had accomplished.  

#2 and me with Marie wearing my race tee in the park
Not to mention I personally felt pretty badass tackling the parks after the endurance event itself.  I believe, though, that my body recovered better from this race because I was out walking around immediately afterwards and not all folded up in a car.  I continued to feel great, and my soreness was minimal.

Overall, it was a truly magical experience that I would recommend to anyone.  This was my third half marathon and was by far my best ever, even though it wasn't the fastest.  I did not PR, although my time at 2:11 was well below my goal of finishing in under 2:15.  My current half mary PR is 2:09.  I ran negative splits and felt great the whole way.  I did not have pace expectations because I wanted to enjoy the race (and the ensuing weekend at the parks) and be able to stop for pictures without worrying about my overall pace.  This race would be a great first half-marathon to train for.  The support and the race environment is outstanding and motivating.

After all this, I am most proud of my friend Tracey.  The thought of her crossing that finish line brings proud tears to my eyes and chills to my skin.  I kept track of her progress during the race via text messages on runtracker, a complimentary service for the race.  I jumped up and down when I got the notification that she finished.  She accomplished a year of dedicated tough training, running in a neighborhood on the side of a cold mountain, alone, listening to her Disney playlist.  I thought of her during my own training often, her dedication motivating and inspiring me to keep going, even when I would have rather taken it easy.  On one particular weekend, she texted me "14 miles done!"  I had been putting off going out to do my long run that day, even knowing my window of opportunity was short.  I was cozy on the couch watching my Kentucky Wildcats play basketball.  Her text came in, and I obediently put on my run clothes and headed out the door for my own long run.  This happened several times throughout our training, and I cannot be more thankful for her enthusiasm for this race.  I am SO happy for her.  And what better place to make your dreams come true than at the Happiest Place on Earth, Walt Disney World.

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