I remember the moment that we decided to do our third half marathon well. Melissa and I were sitting at a Seattle Mariners baseball game, a place we enjoy frequently, late last summer. As we waited for the game to begin, talk turned to our travel plans for the following year. With a few trips to Disney World planned and an annual pass bought, we discussed doing a quick trip to WDW along with a cruise sometime in February. The thought of a week-long trip to Japan was kicked around, and certainly intrigued us. On cue, we got a text from our sister-in-law Amie (who lives in Florida) asking us if we were interested in doing the Princess Half Marathon.
While Disney World for a week was a little lower on the travel totem pole than other options, the Princess Half Marathon had been at the top of Melissa’s and Amie’s list for quite some time. We also had some regrets over how we experienced our last Disney World half marathon. That along with the appeal of seeing family and already having an annual pass were more than enough to sell us.
Fast forward to about 2 weeks ago and there we were at the Expo. I’ll be doing a full trip recap in the coming weeks but thought I’d start with a recap of the race first. Full disclosure: the photos in this post are not good. Most of them were taken on my phone while running so they are either blurry or uninteresting. Proceed at your own risk.
Anyway, back to the expo. Melissa and I both enjoyed the previous expo we had gone to a few years ago and were looking forward to this one. We went on the Friday before the race and both thought the event was better organized than the last time we were there (in 2017). On the downside, I did think there were less exhibits and retailers in the actual expo. I’m not a runDisney regular so I’m probably not the best source on this. I did find a new running shirt for $15 and we had fun looking at all the gear.
Picking up the race bib and shirt is extremely easy. Exploring the Wide World of Sports complex is fairly interesting too, as I never have any other reason to go there. The expo won’t be anyone’s favorite part of their trip unless you have very strange tastes but it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours.
Skipping ahead to Sunday, the day of the race. We were staying at the Swan Hotel, fairly close to the start of the race in the Epcot parking lot. All of the runDisney signage and advice tells guests to board buses by 3:30 AM for a 5:30 AM race. Frankly, that’s a bad idea. If you want photos at every single spot and want to enjoy some over the top pop music at 4 AM then, by all means, board a bus at 3:30. If not, then wait until 4 AM or after. You’ll appreciate the extra sleep and will still have plenty of time to make it to your corral before the race begins. The one exception is if you are in one of the very first corrals but we aren’t anywhere fast enough for that. We boarded our bus a little after 4 and made it to the race with plenty of time to spare.
One of my very few complaints I had with the Princess Half Marathon is how far the corrals were from where the buses dropped you off. It’s possible that I was just grumpy after 3-4 hours of sleep, but it seemed like we walked for nearly a mile to get to our corral. There were a few stops along the way for bag drops, bathrooms and water but it definitely took a while to our spot in the back of corral F.
Amie met us there that morning, driving her car from the Bonnet Creek Hilton. There was a decent amount of traffic in the parking lot but she still made it there in plenty of time by leaving a little after 4. We were finally in our corral right before the race started and got to see Miss America(?) forget the National Anthem words (it happens to the best of us) and the wheel chair division start the race. The former was surprisingly entertaining and the latter is always one of my favorite parts of the race.
Being in corral F, we had a while to wait. Which wasn’t a big deal except… There’s no bathrooms by the starting line. See, we left our house in Washington state to nearly 3 feet of snow and were greeted by temperatures reaching the low 90’s throughout the week. Running was a different beast in Florida’s humidity and I was pretty nervous about it. I knew I had to hydrate and hydrate I did. By the time we were at the actual starting line (around 6:15) I definitely could have used a bathroom. Oh well. The entertaining emcees started us and, like a herd of turtles, we were off!
My plan was to run ahead of Melissa and Amie, as they were running together. As we took off, I ran ahead thinking I could make it a few miles before the bathroom issue became urgent. I was wrong. At the very first sign of port-a-potties I rushed over and hoped it wouldn’t detract much from my time. I had run the first half mile quickly and thought I likely wouldn’t see Melissa and Amie again. That may have been the case if I hadn’t chose the absolute wrong line for the bathroom. I stood there as 2 minutes turned into 5 and 5 turned into 8. Melissa and Amie had gotten in a different line a few minutes after me but were pretty even with me by the time I finally got into the bathroom. An 8 minute delay definitely put me behind my target time but what can you do?
Once out of the bathroom, I ran for quite a while. I should say that I’m not the fastest runner. With the heat, I was hoping to be under two and a half hours for 13.1 miles. I stop and take walking breaks every few miles. Still, I’m faster than many out there. I don’t say that as a point to brag, more just to encourage anyone who thinks they’ll be too slow for a Disney race. You could walk the majority of a half marathon and still finish with ease.
There was some fun entertainment in the first few miles, with a marching band and fireworks being shut off in the Magic Kingdom parking lot. The road we ran on, going between Epcot’s parking lot and Magic Kingdom wasn’t particularly interesting but the first few miles mitigate that. It wasn’t extremely hot yet and I ran for a few miles without stopping.
I entered the Magic Kingdom parking lot shortly before sunrise and just before reaching the 3 mile sign. A breeze started to pick up which was greatly appreciated by me. It was a beautiful morning and I had started to make up some ground after the delay in my pace. Typically, I would think running through a parking lot would not be interesting but Magic Kingdom’s was. As I said, they were shooting off fireworks and there was a cool band playing Japanese drums.
Shortly, I passed the TTC and we took the road past the Contemporary to Magic Kingdom. It was time for bathroom stop number 2 (and also the last time I’ll talk about bathrooms in this recap). I ran into the restroom without any lines on the guys side. The ladies line was backed up quite a ways and before long I heard several women yelling into the men’s side if they could use the restroom. It made for some pretty funny exchanges, as all of a sudden there were about 5 ladies in the men’s restroom. It wasn’t a big deal but something that will make me laugh thinking back on it.
Ultimately, I’m glad I went to the restroom there because the next part of the race was phenomenal and I was happy to not have any distractions. Entering Magic Kingdom with a crowd lining Main Street and cheering for you is an experience I won’t ever forget. The beautiful early morning light illuminated the castle and the energy was palpable. With this nearly halfway through the race, this gave me a nice boost of energy. Here’s a few videos I took of running in Magic Kingdom. (Warning: The footage is likened to Cloverfield but without the giant monsters. It’s not particularly fun to watch if you get motion sick. Click on the full screen to make it fit inside the screen better.)
We ran down Main Street, through Tomorrowland, circled through New Fantasyland, through the castle, out into Frontierland and out the parade exit where there was a Halloween float out for photos. It was the most fun I’ve ever had running. It also led to my fastest mile time of the race, mostly because I was so excited. Feeling slightly refreshed, I headed out of Magic Kingdom just past mile 6.
From there, the course mainly took us back to Epcot. We ran past the beautiful Grand Floridian and Polynesian Resorts. There were some characters dressed as bridesmaids that guests could take photos with by Grand Floridian’s Wedding Chapel. I thought that was a nice touch. Running past the golf course was also beautiful.
Unfortunately, the following miles (about 9-12) weren’t as beautiful. Most of this stretch was on highways and open roads. That’s great to help spread out the crowds but largely uninteresting to look at. There were a few photo opportunities and other entertainment along the way but I tried to press on.
Calling this portion of the course bad is being dramatic. My body was tired but I didn’t think any one stretch was too boring or straight. Our previous half marathon had more time on the highway than this and less things to look at. Here there was plenty going on and quite a few water stops, as well. It was the hardest part of the race but I thought the course was surprisingly strong overall and I made it through this portion albeit with more walking than I would have liked.
By mile 12, I was really feeling it and starting to get pretty sore. With the previous bathroom stops my time was a little slower than I had hoped for. Thankfully, another boost of energy was there to get me to the finish line. That energy came in the form of Epcot and cast members.
Running alone is strange when surrounded by 20,000 other participants who are typically running in groups. I was able to see Amie’s mom and my niece who were cheering us on in Magic Kingdom. Otherwise, it was fun to watch others see people they knew who were cheering them on.
My favorite part of runDisney is the cast members and guests at the resort who simply just came to cheer people on even though they don’t know anyone personally. I love looking at the creative signs and hearing all of the bells and cheers. This race, I had several people cheer me on by reading my name off my bib and then saying “Go Andrew, you can do it!” People were getting up before dawn on a Sunday morning to cheer on strangers. Not only that but they were taking the time to read someone’s name and cheer them on as they reached their goals. It made me fairly emotional whenever someone yelled out my name.
While it was probably a small act to these cheerers, shouldn’t we all be looking to do that in life? Either achieving goals or cheering on those who are achieving them. To those who were up early that morning, cheering for people you’d never met and probably won’t see again – I sincerely thank you. You helped me achieve something I wouldn’t have been able to do a few years back.
We entered Epcot through a back way. Running through Epcot wasn’t quite the thrill that Magic Kingdom was, mainly because it was a pretty short stint through there. It would have been to run through World Showcase but it probably didn’t fit this course correctly. Here’s a short video of that portion of the run.
On the way out of Epcot, there was a gospel choir singing us to proverbial glory. The finish line was just around the corner and at that point I was running pretty hard. Having runners who had already finished cheering you on was another highlight of the race and there were plenty of them around that area. Hearing the crowd cheer while approaching the finish line is also a special moment and makes putting up with a crowded running course well worth it. Here’s a video of the finish!
I was completely drenched in sweat by the end of the race. Like a disgusting amount of sweat. My legs were tired for the next day or two and I was exhausted from the lack of sleep. It was the best I’ve ever felt at the end of a half marathon. I don’t buy into the ‘runners high’ or endorphins as much as some people. I don’t run because of that but instead do it because it’s the most accessible way for me to stay relatively healthy. But there is certainly something to be said for accomplishing a goal and the euphoric feeling that comes with it.
I didn’t quite PR on that day (I blame the bathroom stops and heat) but felt much better coming out of the run than I expected. I enjoyed the course far more than I thought I would, as running through Magic Kingdom was an unforgettable experience. While I think the cost of runDisney events is a bit too high, I really do enjoy them. Melissa and Amie felt the same, although they ran into a bit more course traffic than I did apparently.
We spent the rest of the day eating, laughing and I slept for a while. I’m proud to have accomplished the race but even more proud of my wife and sister-in-law for finishing. Knowing they were on the course kept me going. For those that don’t feel like they can do a half marathon but want to, know that it’s within reach. Start training with small runs and see where it goes. I never thought I’d be regularly running these things 5 years ago but here I am, signing up for 2 or 3 more races this year. The Princess Half Marathon offers a unique experience, filled with amazing costumes and less intense nature. It’s easily my favorite half marathon experience thus far and I’d recommend it for those who want to try out a runDisney event.
Have you done the Princess Half Marathon? Let us know your thoughts or questions in the comments. If you enjoy what you’re reading here on Wandering in Disney please subscribe to the blog and like our social media pages. You can find all of those things on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading!
Categories: Trip Reports