Running the Princess Half Marathon has been a dream of mine for years now.
Of course nothing is perfect, but to say that this race lived up to my expectations and was everything I dreamed it would be in the moment is an understatement. So let's start from the very beginning, shall we?
I was surprised at the lack of "spin the wheel and win a free pair of sunglasses" type of things at the booths, but I did enjoy this race expo overall! I'm very happy that Disney now has their official merch in a separate building over with the character meet and greets - the rest of the expo hall is much less crowded since the demand with the runDisney stuff is on the higher side.
I actually went to the expo twice; since I live locally, I swung by Thursday night to pick up the official runDisney merch I wanted and to grab my bib, and I went back Saturday morning just to check out the rest of the expo hall and take my time with it. I was worried about runDisney merch selling out, especially with everyone posting in some of the Facebook runDisney groups I'm in about how the lines were absolutely crazy (2 hours just to get in the merch building!), but there was a ton of stuff available for everyone not only on Thursday night, but when I returned Saturday morning. From what I could tell, the only thing they ran low on were Fairy Tale Challenge jackets. So don't be fooled by the initial mad rush on the expo's first day! There's plenty for everyone.
Also, a big highlight was getting to meet Jeff Galloway on Thursday night! If you ever get the chance to swing by his booth at a runDisney expo, don't be nervous. Jeff is such a sweet guy and it was great getting to meet him and thank him for everything. especially since I'm doing his 2018 in 2018 Challenge this year.
Race Day Morning
Who doesn't love having their alarm go off at 2:30 a.m., right? I grabbed my wheat bagel, put on my Elsa running Disneybound, and head out the door to be at the corrals in a decent time. Worth noting it's about a three quarter of a mile walk from the staging area where the porta-potties and characters are to the corrals (there are more porta-potties when you get there, don't worry!), so give yourself enough time to head over. I was in Corral F (H being the last one, but F being the largest) and thankfully made the second wave; I wasn't worried about the balloon ladies but just about making sure I didn't get stuck in a swarm of slower people. Thankfully, my placement (and the amount of waves) was perfect.
The first two miles weren't the most exciting, but exciting enough thanks to all the adrenaline. You start off on one of the backstage roads by Epcot so you can make your way to the Ticket and Transportation center, and luckily the stretch seemed to fly by as you see the Magic Kingdom sign! Along the way you could stop for the Pirates of the Caribbean; they had Jack Sparrow and Barbossa.
And then the excitement begins! Running through the Magic Kingdom sign to enter Ticket and Transportation Center was a beautiful sight and thankfully, the road was wide enough to stop for selfies! A photo op with four of the Disney men - Prince Eric, Flynn Rider, John Smith, and Phoebus - were on the way, but with a ridiculously long line. My recommendation if you're worried about time: selfies!
Please excuse how sweaty I am by the third mile; it was a very humid day and while the humidity doesn't bother me too much since I'm used to it, it still takes it's toll and I was a sweaty mess from the get go!
Mile 3 took us into the actual parking lot, where you could take a photo with the Evil Queen from Snow White in her old lady form and enjoy the Polynesian Resort's drummers.
This stretch of the half marathon was by far the most magical of all! Mile 4 and we're approaching the Contemporary Resort, on our way to the Magic Kingdom! You can see Space Mountain and the train station in the distance and it fuels you through for a mile that seems to speed by.
There are not words I can use to describe the feeling you get as you run down Main Street; you simply have to do it to understand it. However, that doesn't mean I'm not going to try!
The sun was rising when I entered the Magic Kingdom and it made for the most beautiful sights. You start out entering near where the buses drop you off, with the Mile 5 marker greeting you as you get ready to enter where the turnstiles are. On top of the train station were the folks who perform in the Trolley Show and the suffragettes and all of them were waving and cheering on the runners. You then enter the Magic Kingdom and down Main Street you go, where half of it is blocked off for what I can best describe as a wall of spectators. Between the sunrise over the castle, the sounds of the Magic Kingdom, and this thick wall of spectators cheering you on, I unashamedly cried all the way down Main Street! I was able to pull myself together enough, though, for a very sweet volunteer to take my picture in front of the castle!
Once you pass the castle, you take a right and head through Tomorrowland, where Buzz Lightyear was greeting guests near his ride. You pass the Speedway and then enter New Fantasyland - Belle and Gaston were in front of Gaston's Tavern for a character stop - and from there, you head to the back of the castle. Anastasia, Drizella, and Lady Tremaine from Cinderella were taking photos with runners off to the side!
Running through the castle was the most amazing feeling and I'm very grateful that where I was running wasn't so congested and backed up that I had to slow down or walk through; I had really been looking forward to running through it and have heard that it tends to slow down here and was nervous, but it wasn't an issue and it was really cool getting to do this. From the castle, you run down and head to Liberty Square - where Tiana, Naveen, and Louis were set up - and then to Frontierland (characters spotted were Woody and Goofy in a cowboy outfit) where the Mile 6 marker was. You pass Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain and then exit back where Festival of Fantasy starts. There was another photo op here, this time with the train!
When you leave the Magic Kingdom, there is a very long line and it leads to a meet and greet with some of the princesses and their princes in front of the float they stand on during the Christmas parade. They also had the steampunk dragon Maleficent float from Festival of Fantasy out. Mile 7 was nice; the runner's high you get from Magic Kingdom gives you the extra boost you need as you run out by the Grand Floridian and the golf courses, where men in tuxedos with a glass slipper, Tinkerbell and friends, and Genie were set up if you were stopping for character photos.
And this was the stretch that got kind of boring. Bring headphones for this stretch alone because it's a long stretch of highway that didn't feel like it was going to end. My dad caught up with me at this point in the race and we ran together for a while, so I was grateful for that since it helped some of the miles go by a bit faster. Mile 10 was an overpass and one of the green army men from Toy Story was there to help cheer you on (and also distract you from the incline).
For those of you interested in characters, we ran into the pirates again on the way back!
Epcot! Finally! You hit Mile 11 on the overpass on your way into Epcot and Mile 12 just as you're entering. Shoutout to all of the spectators cheering us on (especially the lady with a Jack Pearson from This Is Us sign) as we entered Epcot from the front of the park!
Along the way to Epcot was Mrs. Incredible (who had a very, very short line so I stopped for her; I would have anyway since I knew I was safe from any hard sweeping points) and a gospel choir - just the pick-me-up I needed!
You head past Spaceship Earth, down to the start of the World Showcase, and then we looped right back around before actually entering the Showcase.
And then, finally, the finish line! Donald and Goofy were in their royal attire (while King and Queen Mickey and Minnie took a break) to give high fives and take pictures as you reached the finish and once you crossed the line, you could get some pixie dust from some cast members from Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
Would I run this race again? Maybe not next year just to mix things up, but probably. There was a boring stretch towards the end, but getting to run down Main Street and through the castle totally makes up for it, and it's nothing a few character stops to look at and a good playlist can't take care of! However, I did prefer the Star Wars Half course and am more likely to do that one again more frequently than I am Princess given I live next door.
Overall, I really enjoyed Princess Half and felt great during this race. I wasn't expecting to break a personal record, but I shaved a little more than two minutes off of my time from Space Coast Half Marathon... and that was with me stopping to meet Mrs. Incredible, slowing down to take a ton of pictures along the way, and with my Garmin saying the course ran about .32 miles long!
I also feel like because I enjoyed the course so much, the 13.1 (or 13.43) didn't feel like it took me as long as it did (my time was 3:06:50) and the way the course was split up made it easy to mentally tackle it, even during the stretch of highway since I knew it was the back end of the race.
I would totally recommend this race, however I wouldn't recommend it as your first half. The main reason is that there were a ton of people here - over 20,000 - and there are some areas where it bottlenecked and the crowds got a little crazy. Even waiting in the corrals was an experience in itself; you could tell a lot of people were worried about beating the balloon ladies and were therefore literally crawling over one another. This was not my first Disney race so I expected that, but not to the level that I saw at Princess Half! There was a lot of not very princess-like behavior going on, and while it did not bother me personally because I just chose to avoid and ignore it, but this may be kind of stressful if you're a first-timer or even if large crowds stress you out or if you're not used to it. It's easy enough to avoid, especially once you find your little pocket of space on course while you run, so I wouldn't worry about it too much, but it was definitely still worth noting. Just remember what Cinderella told us in 2015: have courage and be kind!
Bonus tip: if you run Princess Half or any of the races during this weekend, get the princess that the race is themed after to sign the back of your medal! It makes for a nice touch! I also got my name, time, and place engraved on the back at Disney Springs for $2 per word.
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!
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.
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!
Jessica is a huge Disney and Star Wars nerd who channeled that love into motivation to lose 75 lbs.