I’m officially a Princess. That is the title bestowed upon those of us insane enough to fly to Florida, rise at 2:30 am, catch a bus to a desolate holding pen for would-be princesses, brave 32 degree weather in FLORIDA, wait for 3 1/2 hours for the starting gun, and then run, with nobody chasing us, for 13.1 miles. And I did it with a big fat smile. I did it because running the Disney Princess Half Marathon sounded heavenly when I signed up early last winter picturing balmy breezes and fast, flat Florida terrain. I did it because after a mother (expletive) of a winter – with record breaking snow, rain and low temps – running on a treadmill in my basement – it sounded like paradise. I did it because in Maryland, you can’t compete until around late April and I had the ‘itch’ to bump elbows again. And I am glad I did.
The race itself was a fairytale. Start at Epcot Center, run around the park, through Disney grounds into Magic Kingdom, around THAT park and back to and through Epcot. No shortage of fun stuff to look at to distract you from the task at hand. During the run I saw nearly every Disney character ever to grace a screen – large or small. That part was fun, but what I really found great joy in, to my surprise, were some of the moments during the race itself that were probably not unique to the venue.
When we started, it was 6 am (early March) and quite dark. My first Kodak Moment came at the start as I glanced around and saw that nearly everyone around me was bedecked in either a tutu, tiara, crown, sash or (the crazy ones) high heels. I was having none of THAT but I was entertained by the lengths people went to bring the theme to the race.
I think it was mile 3 when the sun crested the landscape and the most beautiful scene played out in front of me. Thousands of runners (well, to be truthful, I started in Corral A so there were less than a couple of hundred runners in front of me but thousands behind) spread out over the 4 lane road with the sun rising dead straight ahead. Each of us puffing in the cool morning air. Near silence despite the footfalls of 14,000 people. Each of us with a small halo of steam around our heads from our breath – painted golden by the sun. Tiaras were sparkling, and the effect was breathtaking (or was it my pace that robbed me of my breath??). It was such a beautiful sight and I wished I had the balance (and fortitude) to carry a camera through the race. I felt for a few minutes like I was in the company of higher beings. We were so beautiful.
At one point I got a hearty laugh when I was elbow to elbow, toe to heel, packed in with hundreds of women in tutus and tiaras, and I glanced at a sign on the side of the road (2 lanes now) that said DO NOT PASS. It was just what I needed to turn on the jets and pass as many of those princesses as I could – giggling to myself as I did. “Eat my dust, bitches” I laughed!
As the race progressed I found my race pace, and I noticed that more and more of the other runners found theirs by discarding the princess regalia they began the race with. At some points, tiaras became obstacles on the course – tiny grenades that could shatter underfoot and throw shards of cheap plastic and rhinestones in our paths. Tutus became treacherous wild beasts that would trip or tangle in our feet. A runner ahead might toss one off just to have it find a place in MY path. Lurking. Trying to slow me down.
I found my groove, as I have learned I do, around mile 7. But Disney is no joke. Mile 7 was the start of a tiny, uphill grade. Which did. Not. End. It wasn’t a ‘hill’. It was just a slight upward grade. But it lasted about 6 miles. Now mind you some of this could be my mind playing tricks on me, or making excuses, in hindsight. But my calves and my thighs told me (and I believe them) that that grade was just punishing enough for that duration to shave precious seconds off my finish time. 74 seconds, to be exact. SEVENTY FOUR SECONDS TOO SLOW.
OK, so the women running four across, arms linked, around mile four account for a handful of seconds. Stopping to drink that Powerade because I needed to SWALLOW it rather than WEAR it around mile 9 cost me another bunch of precious seconds. I’m pretty sure I got into a trance and slowed to a more comfortable pace around mile 11 for about 27 seconds. But regardless, to enter a race with a previous personal record of 2 hours 16 minutes, and a to have a goal of SUB 2 hours, and then to end with a time of TWO HOURS ONE MINUTE is enough for me to want to rip the tiaras of all the rest of the women who crossed that finish line. Of which there were about 13,000.
I did well for my second half marathon in my very first year of running competitively. But I don’t like to come up short. And it took me awhile after I crossed that finish line to realize that I had shaved 15 minutes off my previous record. That’s no small feat in running. And ultimately, I am happy to have that goal to take with me on the NEXT two races I’ve signed up for – Frederick MD and Baltimore MD – in 2010. TRUST me I’ll beat that time.
So I am OFFICIALLY a Princess. And I recommend the race wholeheartedly. It was fun, entertaining, and challenging enough if you are coming out of winter hibernation. And how else can you earn your princess stripes???
Run like a girl. Better yet, a PRINCESS.