Many of you have asked me how I trained for my first half marathon, so here's my story.
I didn’t take my first few race events seriously. I thought I was at the time but looking back, I was only fooling myself.
I did a few 5Ks and ridiculously thought I was ready for a 10 Miler. I never trained for it. The fact that I crossed that finish line was probably an act of God. After that, I had excuse after excuse why I couldn’t really run anymore before I ultimately just stopped pretending to try altogether. Some of those excuses were more legitimate than others but were ultimately still just excuses.
When I started Weight Watchers in late December 2015 was when I really got my rear in gear and took running seriously. I stopped joking around and stopping giving myself excuses. I didn’t hop right into a half marathon but worked my way up with a few more 5Ks and eventually ran the Star Wars Dark Side 10k in April 2016.
That race was where something clicked and was when I went from “I kind of like running and will do this to lose the weight” to loving running. I think a big part of that was the atmosphere of the race: the spectators and volunteers cheering you on, the 501st Legion trooping on course, everyone in costume and a general feeling of excitement, plus the route along the Boardwalk and through Hollywood Studios is so charming.
In my training, I followed Jeff Galloway’s run/walk/run method. For those of you who don’t know who Jeff Galloway is, he’s an Olympic runner who established an interval running and walking system that helps you run long distance better and easier. It’s great for both beginners but also people looking to improve their time. Jeff is also the official training guide of sorts for runDisney events and he has training plans for all their half marathons. I’ve met Jeff twice - he attends all the expos - and I’ve never been able to find the right words to express my deepest thanks to him because I owe him and his program so much. I don’t think I’d ever have been able to do any of this without his system. So if you find yourself struggling with just running, know that taking walk breaks is a completely acceptable thing. Some hardcore runners - and you will experience this type of pompous runner - will try to say otherwise. Ignore them. I mentioned Jeff is an Olympian, right?
Related article: Dos and Don'ts of a runDisney Expo
I used the Galloway system for not just that 10k, but in my training for my first half marathon: the 2017 Space Coast Half Marathon, held on Thanksgiving weekend. I gave myself a very, very long time to train despite most training programs and being only 19 weeks, give or take, because I wanted to be prepared. Before I knew it, I was running 8 miles, then 10, and the first time I hit 13.1 was completely by accident on an overambitious rush during what was supposed to be a 9 mile training run. It was hot, I was unprepared, but I did it and I was mentally ready for the real deal.
Related article: runDisney Dos and Don'ts
They say once you run 8 you can run 13.1, but I didn't want to be the girl who fooled herself anymore. I didn't want to use that as an excuse to not finish training on the weekends where I didn't feel like doing a long run. It's not always easy. While yes, I do love run/walking, there are days where you just don't feel like doing it. But that's part of why I love it, because you get such a sense of accomplishment when you do it anyways. Some people will tell you it's more parts physical or mental, but I'd say it's pretty 50/50.
And sometimes, there are long, boring miles logged on a less-than-thrilling stretch of a course or a treadmill, but you have to find ways to make it better. I like music. This is where my love of Star Wars comes in: I like to listen to the soundtracks from the movies when I run. When Rey's theme plays, I'm no longer running on the road but I'm on Jakku, running from stormtroopers. When the Imperial March plays, I'm marching right alongside Grand Moff Tarkin. Don't even get me started on the rush I get when I hear Michael Giacchino's "Hope" from Rogue One; mentally, my running clothes are now a Rebel soldier's uniform, and I am running with the Death Star plans in hand instead of a water bottle from Darth Vader as he attacks my comrades, before I finally escape and hand the plans to Princess Leia. Music is powerful and it can help us on our runs, and it's even better if it's music from a piece of work that you're passionate about.
I've also found that always being signed up for something - whether it be just another 5K or a half marathon down the road - helps me stay motivated because it forces me to keep moving. I remember the physical pain I experienced after Tower of Terror 10 Miler and I don't ever want to put myself through that ever again. I've made running fun for me - and it really is such a personal sport - and it's something I now enjoy. You just have to find what works for you and you'll get there, too!
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There are a few go-to snacks that I like to bring to the parks with me when I know I'm going to be a while and I don't feel like spending money.
Same goes for bottles of water; they're about $3 in the parks, so it depends on what bag you're bringing, how long you're planning on spending in the parks, and your food budget if you bring it or just buy a whole case at the grocery store and pack some in your bag. You can also get free cups of ice water from Starbucks and snack stands.
You can also get some portable measuring spoons as well, which come in handy for measuring things like coffee creamer or when you bring your own PB2! They also make measuring spoons that act as a digital food scale, and this way you're only carrying one around (and will be a great little tool to have at home, too!).
Looking to meal prep a little bit more? You can get reusable containers to pack your meals with you if you don't want to use plastic baggies!
Starbucks is located in all four parks and also has two locations at Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney).
Here's a list of the locations (plus keep reading for my favorite WW-friendly drinks and for an alternative option if you aren't a Starbucks fan!):
Epcot: Recently (as of early 2020) relocated to the right hand side as you enter the World Showcase. You'll see the siren logo! There's also a brand new restroom there.
If you miss the Starbucks here or decide you want coffee later, there are a few Joffrey's stands scattered around the World Showcase.
Animal Kingdom: Under the name Creature Comforts, it's located just before the bridge that takes you to the Africa section of the park on your left hand side. It's a large building, so it should be hard to miss, and it has the siren logo above it. While most places are phasing out to paper straws now, this one has had them strictly for a while, as Animal Kingdom tries to be more eco-friendly and keeps the safety of their animals in mind.
So, what's the big deal for WW?
Starbucks being at Disney is a Weight Watcher member's or calorie counter's dream come true because it's something you can track and be certain about. Not only are there so many 0 Smart Point drink options available (an unsweetened iced tea on a hot day at the parks? Yes please!) and some other low point and calorie drink concoctions that we've all whipped together at Starbucks, but unlike the rest of Disney Parks, you can actually accurately track the food here since Starbucks offers more than just junk food and pastries. If you're desperate and you don't mind skipping out on park food (which, in my opinion, isn't anything super special so you wouldn't be missing much) if you're eating at the park, know that these are options available to you that you can count your points for.
WW Tips for Starbucks
If you, like me, struggle with the SmartPoints in sugary drinks from Starbucks, here are a few delicious things you can get that taste like your faves and are little to no SmartPoints! These are my personal three faves:
If you like the pink drink, try getting an iced passion tea with sugar free vanilla syrup. This iced tea tastes like a strawberry shortcake!
If you like white chocolate mochas, try getting a coffee (iced or hot, depending on your preference) with sugar free vanilla. You can try this with half and half (more SmartPoints, unless you bring a tablespoon with you and measure it out yourself at the DIY station) or with almond milk.
If you like breakfast sandwiches, try the Reduced Fat Turkey Bacon and Egg White Breakfast Sandwich. It's only 6 points on all myWW plans.
Not a Starbucks fan?
Joffrey's is the official coffee vendor of Starbucks, and they have little stands located all throughout all the parks and also have a physical shop located in Disney Springs across from The Boathouse. They use a Light Cream, so if you like to put creamer in your coffee, it's one less thing to worry about if you're tracking points/calories.
Joffrey's brand is also usually what they're serving at Disney restaurants, bakeries, etc. that aren't clearly marked as Starbucks locations. So don't worry, you have options!
What is a Mickey Check Meal?Mickey Check was introduced to kids menus at Disneyland and Walt Disney World in 2013 to all menus - quick service and table service.
In case you aren't familiar with Disney Dining terminology, quick service restaurants are grab and go type places whereas table service is more of a traditional, sit down type of restaurant.
According to Disney Parks Blog, Mickey Check "must meet Disney Nutrition Guidelines that limit calories, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar... Kid's Complete Meals must be ordered without substitutions and include at least three of the following food groups: fruits and vegetables; low-fat dairy; whole grains or lean protein, beans, eggs and nuts."
For the full guidelines, you can check out this PDF from The Walt Disney Company here. Unfortunately, exact nutritional information of menu items is not available (more on that here), but if you order off of the Mickey Check menu, this can offer you a good foundation. At a quick glance, full meals must be 600 calories or less, but you can break it down even further if you check out the charts in the PDF. That's all well and good... But it's a kids menu item. I can't order that, right?
Not necessarily true! While Mickey Check is a kids menu exclusive, if you're dining at a quick service location, you can order off of the kids menu... Even if no children are present. So if you're not at a table service restaurant, feel free to save yourself some calories and some money by ordering off of the kids menu, especially if you get something with a Mickey Check next to it.
To know if a menu item is a Mickey Check meal, it will have a little Mickey Mouse head silhouette with a check mark in the center of it next to the name of the menu item.
Addicted to your Fitbit, Garmin, or another fitness tracker that helps you aim for 10K+ steps per day? It's super easy to get anywhere between 20K-30K steps per day at Disney but here are some ways that you can really get the most use out of your fitness tracker at the parks.
Want to skip out on some major crowds and get some steps in all at once? There's a walking path that runs parallel to the train for a while that takes you from Storybook Circus (behind Goofy's The Barnstormer) all the way to Tomorrowland by the Space Mountain gift shop. Warning: part of this walkway is a smoking section, so you may encounter smokers if cigarette smoke is something you're sensitive to.
Epcot and Hollywood Studios
I'm clumping these parks together because you can actually walk to and from them. There's park entrance/exit turnstiles in between the UK and France Pavilions at the World Showcase in Epcot that leads you to the Boardwalk Resort areas. If you walk and keep going past the Swan and Dolphin, you'll walk by one of the lakes and eventually end up at Hollywood Studios. It's a short walk - so short, in fact, you'll beat the boat that goes the same way every time!
Also, both of these parks have pretty small parking lots. Unless you're parked in the very far back, you don't really need to take the tram on this one unless you're at your limit at the end of the day.
Similarly to as Epcot and DHS, Animal Kingdom's parking lot is pretty tiny. There's a high chance you won't need to take the tram so if you want to get some extra steps, just walk to the entrance. There are also tons of beautiful walking paths throughout the park with great views of the animals.
Did you know that you can run a 5K, 10K, half marathon, or full marathon at Walt Disney World? You're sure to get more steps in if you plan your trip around a race weekend and participate in the race! When I did the Star Wars Dark Side 10K, I had 8,000 steps in before 10:00 a.m. Plus it's super healthy and a great way to burn some calories, especially if you're going to not be as strict with following the plan while you're at Disney.
You can read more on runDisney on my blog by clicking right here.
Here are some of the healthier snack items I've found throughout the parks, or at least things you can track and not go overboard with. This doesn't include the fruit that I've mentioned on a separate page. This page will continually be updated as I find more things, so stay tuned and keep checking back for more! For restaurant recommendations that are on the healthier side, check out my Restaurant Guide!
Gift shop snacks with barcodes and nutrition labels
While the butter that it's dipped in probably isn't the healthiest option for those trying to avoid a high-fat diet, you can get corn on the cob that is grilled with a curry flavor at the Harambe Fruit Market! Speaking of fruit, check out my Fruit Stand guide!
Rejoice, WW Freestyle followers and calorie counters! Edamame is available in both Animal Kingdom (at a kiosk that connects Africa to Asia) and at Epcot's Japan pavilion (look for the window where they sell Kakigori).
A good healthy swap for a Mickey bar is one of the fruit bars available at the ice cream stands. Most stands offer a no added sugar option, too! Regardless, the calorie count on these is usually around 70-120 depending on the flavor, etc.
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Whether you want to run a 5K or a half marathon, you can do that at Disney Parks!
California's race weekends are on hold, but in Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris, you can run a race through the parks before they open! The full schedule is on runDisney.com. The races are fun but they are timed if you run anything longer than a 5K because they have to re-open the roads. You get chip timing for the 5Ks, too, but I find that they aren't as strict about it since you're never on an open highway.
If you can walk or run a 16 minute mile or less, it's a great inclusion to a Disney vacation - but do note that registration opens up many months in advance and they sometimes sell out quickly depending on the race weekend.
The races start early; typically around 5-6 a.m. depending on which race you do. However, it's certainly a unique experience that I would recommend, even if an early wake-up call isn't your thing. But, if this is your first race, I'd recommend starting off with a local run because the size of runDisney events can make them very overwhelming for beginners! So if crowds can tend to stress you out, start small.
It's also worth noting that they do encourage dressing up! Picking out a race outfit inspired by a character is one of my favorite parts of the whole thing! I ran the 2017 Walt Disney World 5K in a Gravity Falls costume and did a coronation Elsa inspired outfit for the 2018 Princess Half Marathon.
There are characters along the course that you can get a photo with, but do remember that for anything longer than a 5K, it is timed and they do "sweep" people off course. At WDW, they have "balloon ladies" (literally a few women with balloons attached to them) who are the unofficial pace keepers of the event. They are the last people to go in the last corral, so as long as you're in line with them or ahead of them, you should be good to go! Because of this, I recommend taking photos with characters on course during the 5K events so you don't have to worry about it on longer runs because lines can get long and eat at your time!
Sweeping is done to ensure Florida Highway Patrol that the roads are back open, since a good chunk of the longer race courses happen on the highways as you run from park to park. That being said, don't be surprised when you have to go up an overpass on course; I'll forever have a love/hate relationship with Osceola Parkway after the (now discontinued) Tower of Terror 10 Miler!
Related article: Dos and Don'ts of a runDisney event
Q: What’s the deal with the expos?
A: runDisney expos are held the whole weekend, starting the day before the first race! The schedules for these are always posted in advance on runDisney’s website. The expo is your one-stop place for everything: your packet pickup (your packet includes your bib, shirt, gear check bag, etc), official race weekend and runDisney merch, and a vendor hall that’s basically comic con for runners!
It is not unusual for the expo to be mobbed with a crazy line for a few hours upon opening on the first day - people tend to get into a frenzy and worry about official event merchandise selling out - but it calms down by nightfall or the day after. While eBay scalpers have been an issue in the past, I’ve noticed there’s been enough merchandise for everyone there regardless of this - so much so that I often see race weekend merch at the local Disney Character Warehouse outlet a few months later! So don’t worry, your likelihood of snagging an “I Did It!” shirt is pretty high despite the early bird chaos.
They also usually have character meets at the expos (for example, rotating princesses and Princess Minnie at Princess Half 2018) so keep an eye out for those!
Pro tip: bring cash instead of your cards! Not only will this help you set a spending limit, but prevent potential card fraud/skimming. I know quite a few people who had their cards compromised at the Princess 2018 expo so it’s better to be safe than sorry moving forward!
Q: With a 5:30 a.m. start time, when should I be at my corral?
A: Check the bus schedule if you’re leaving from Disney property and relying on that - it’s in your event guide when those are released - but plan for an early wake up call! I like to try to be there for 4 a.m. at the latest - but preferably closer to 3:30 for my own comfort - but others feel more comfortable pushing it a bit closer!
Q: What are challenges?
A: Challenges let you register for multiple events at once - usually the 10k and half, but more options are available like the Goofy and Dopey Challenges during WDW Weekend - and you get an extra medal for completing the challenge! This is a fun way for more experienced runners to challenge themselves and, if you’re a mid-packer like me, get some photo ops on a shorter course so you don’t stress it as much.
Q: What about virtual races?
A: Disney does offer virtual races! As someone who became largely comfortable with running with Hogwarts Running Club’s virtual events and now hosts virtual events through Bombshell Fitness, I’d highly recommend giving the virtual runs a whirl if you’re new to running and just want an untimed fun way to work towards a goal and get a medal for doing it!
Q: When do I register?
A: Many months in advance! Registration sometimes sells out in minutes (like the 2018 Wine and Dine 5k), or sometimes you can register right before the race happens (like the 2018 Star Wars Dark Side half and First Order Challenge). Keep an eye out for race registration calendars and plan (and budget!) accordingly!
Picture this: you're at a restaurant fit for royalty, the food is expensive, a princess is due at your table any minute... but you have no idea what to order.
If all of your options are looking like bad options at a table service restaurant where you can't order a Mickey Check kids meal, don't freak out. Disney is extremely accommodating and if you have any questions about what the chef can or can't do; just ask your server and they'll get someone to ask the chef for you.
For example, my family and I had a reservation at Be Our Guest and when we went to order, we were set up with a server who could contact the chef and see what they could arrange. On the kids menu there is a grilled shrimp and broccoli option, so we were able to order that but in a larger, adult size (plus some mashed potatoes without butter to go with it) after asking if it was possible. Our meal turned out to be delicious, easy to track, and we weren't worried the whole day about how much we ate!
This can work at any restaurant - don't be shy. Disney prides itself on good customer service and they understand that everyone has different dietary needs and restrictions.
This page is not dedicated to me telling you to not eat the cupcakes at Walt Disney World. I know you know that already.
Because Disney Parks doesn't currently have exact nutritional information available, it can be easy to fall into a trap of, "Oh, well this looks like something that might be healthy," when in reality, it is far from it.
Sure, something may look like it is something healthy that you make at home... but it's not what you're making at home. Everything is likely to be full fat, high calorie, tons of oils used in the process (and things like oil alone can really add up in Smart Points), and let's not even get started on how high the carb and sugar counts probably are.
I searched for hours on this subject alone - what is the exact nutritional information for entrees at Walt Disney World? It simply does not exist.
In a letter written to a guest from Walt Disney World that was shared on Disney Food Blog, they will provide a menu that is allergen/special dietary needs friendly but they still won't tell you exactly what is what. An excerpt from that letter:
"Unfortunately we do not have, and therefore we cannot provide you with accurate or reliable nutritional information, and we would not want you or any other Guest to rely on what could only be our 'best guess.' We can however, attempt to work within your dietary requests and suggest some menu alternatives and solutions that may satisfy your needs. We strive to provide all our Guests a magical experience by offering a wide array of dining locations, experiences and menu options, and we trust that among all those selections you will find menu items that meet your needs."
Example: Be Our Guest Restaurant at Magic Kingdom
The only restaurant that has provided nutritional information for their menu items as of right now is Be Our Guest... and the numbers are as high as I guessed they would be in the first segment of this post. Last I saw, it was at the menu boards when you go to order, but if you want to look online ahead of time, a quick Google Image search of "Be Our Guest nutritional information" includes not only photos guests have taken of these boards, but screenshots of these items when Disney was testing Fast Pass options for lunch a while back.
For an ever quicker look, here's the full list that someone shared on Reddit of the lunch menu. Note all of the sugar values for the desserts are "0g" - I have a very hard time believing that!
Before Weight Watchers, I used to order the carved turkey sandwich, which is served on a baguette with dijon mayo, and I would order it with the green beans instead of French fries. That sandwich has 787 calories, 41 grams of fat, 1505 mg of sodium, and 56 grams of carbs. I get about 1,300 calories per day on My Fitness Pal, so that's more than half of my day! For my Weight Watchers friends, that's a 22 Smart Point sandwich... and I only get 30 Smart Points per day excluding weeklies on Beyond the Scale and 23 on Freestyle.
Oh, and "The Master's Cupcake," aka the cupcake with "The Grey Stuff"? They don't even provide the nutritional information for that. But instead, let's look at Be Our Guest's triple chocolate cupcake. It claims to have 440 calories, 48 grams of carbs, and so much sugar they don't even bother to list it. I think we can safely assume that there's a ton of sugar in these cupcakes, especially given that they're massive. I'm wondering if this information even includes the frosting because their cupcakes are larger than my fist (and no, that's not an exaggeration).
My Fitness Pal lists some food items at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, but I'm not sure how accurate these values are since we don't know who put them in the database for it to be a true test. You could probably use it to roughly ball park it, but again, since Disney won't provide this information for you, I would take anything you find on My Fitness Pal that you can't scan for yourself at the parks (like the pre-packaged snacks at gift shops) with a grain of salt.
On My Fitness Pal, it lists Disneyland churros as being 8 SP per churro (but we don't know how much of a churro is a serving; I only question this because some of the cookies at Disney World are actually two servings for one cookie!), 8 SP for an order of fries (but doesn't define approximately how many fries you get for an order and the amount you get could vary based on who is working that day), and 7 SP for four chicken nuggets. There are so many variables that aren't specified that it's hard to know how accurate this even is regardless of if we knew how reliable the information given was.
So, what can you do? Don't assume something is innocent enough, and if you find yourself in a situation where the meal in front of you is pretty daunting in terms of how many Smart Points it may be, just stay calm and do your best. Try to use generic values of things on the app and maybe double or triple how many servings the generic value is for depending on how much you eat. Try to avoid things with cheese, and since they are accommodating regarding dietary needs, they won't know the difference between lactose intolerant and someone just trying to eat kind of healthy at the very least. If ordering a salad, get dressing on the side. If ordering a sandwich, take off half or the entire roll. If you're not at a table service restaurant, see what Mickey Check meals they have to offer on the kids menu.
If you don't mind skipping out on the park food, pack your own meals and track them before your trip or the morning before you head into the parks. If you will be eating at the parks, Walt Disney World's website does provide all of their menus so you can plan ahead; do not be afraid to ask for modifications.
Related article: Walt Disney World Restaurants Guide for Weight Watchers
Jessica is a huge Disney and Star Wars nerd who channeled that love into motivation to lose 75 lbs.