Originally Written: September 24, 2018
A longtime bucket list goal of mine was to complete a half marathon. More specifically, complete one before I turned 30. I had participated in a couple 5K races in the past, and I always thought a half would be a huge feat to accomplish. I stared in admiration at strangers who boasted their achievement with shirts and car decals; just like I followed my friends on social media who ran and got those amazing medals placed round their necks.
I imagined I would get my chance at Disney’s Wine and Dine Half Marathon in 2014, but two separate deployments, a second baby, and a move to Germany derailed that vision by 5 years. So it took me much longer than I expected, but in the end I got my wish.
I was fortunate enough to be one of the 9,000 runners signed up for the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon yesterday, September 23rd.
There were 5 corrals for the race, and for some insane reason Disney decided to mix up advanced runners with walkers. If you didn’t have a certified time of less than an hour and a half, you were randomly placed in a corral. Seeings as this was my first race, I pretty much assumed I would be in the last corral. But because of their twisted logic, I was in Corral D, which was second to last. The biggest take away from that was that I encountered a lot of walkers from earlier corrals and was in the middle of a frenzy around kilometer 3, when all the fast runners from the Corral E caught up to me and were trying to pass.
That being said, the corral setup was fantastic.
It was a breeze to figure out and it circumvented the madhouse atmosphere I’ve encountered at other Disney 5K races. Everyone walked to the entrance area, either dropped a bag off or went straight to a bib checkpoint. Then, we followed a path past a restroom area and all the way to the end of our corral entrance. When it was time, your corral was led from the opposite side you entered down a path and to the starting line. So, while I was hanging out in Corral D, people in Corral A walked from their holding pen, past B, past C, past me, and went to the path next to E. Such a smart design.
Here is what it looked like from my point of view: (you can see Corral E is still fairly empty and everyone from A is already lined up at the start)
Because the entrance to the corrals was along the back, this meant people didn’t have to show up until about half an hour before they were estimated to depart. Corral A closed at 6:30! My spot was open until 7 a.m…..that’s when the actual race began!
I was able to sleep in until 5:15, a glorious treat that doesn’t happen at the WDW races. I ate my breakfast, which consisted of banana bread and a tuna pack, then got changed into my costume and left the room at 6:15. Walked to the race and was in my Corral by 6:35. This meant I had to stand around for over an hour (I didn’t get to start until about 7:50.) but it was still a wonderful way to handle thousands of people.
Speaking of costumes….I’m not one to get dressed up like some runners. Instead, I opted for a subtle outfit that fit in with the villains theme of the race. My friend Ashley made my shirt for me and I got my skirt off Amazon for cheap.
My shirt says “Poor Unfortunate Soles” a pun based off Ursula’s “poor unfortunate souls” saying from The Little Mermaid. I loved how everything turned out, but I think if I did it again I would put the phrase on the back of my shirt. Between the bib and my movement, the shirt folded inwards a lot and I don’t think the phrase was very visible.
Now on to the race itself. The course began in the parks, then filtered out into the countryside, and then took everyone back to the parks for the finish.
I loved running through the rural areas, because that was when I was able to play my music and focus on my pace. I discovered within the first few kilometers that I slowed down a lot when I was inside the parks. I wanted to take in the empty rides, listen to the Cast Members cheering, soak up every second of being able to run a race through the famous lands. So when it came time to hit the outside roads, I needed to buckle down and commit to the run.
At one point, our course took us through a wooded area, which was one of my favorite parts. I ran through a very similar wooded area on all my long runs, and it was a great reminder that all the months of training I put in were coming to fruition.
I might have been the only one to think so, though. I heard several people around me unhappy about having to “hoof” it through the dirt and mud.
A big perk to running a Disney race are the characters along the race course. Because this year was all about the villains, all the characters were baddies. I passed Jafar, Malificent, Loki, Kylo Ren, and several others. Unfortunately, every line was at least 30 to 45 minutes long, and I couldn’t justify stopping for them.
Except I couldn’t resist Flotsam and Jetsam. I was channeling Ursula, I couldn’t just pass by her minions without acknowledging them!
Disney had pity on us runners who didn’t meet any characters, and had villains on all the kilometer markers.
It was fun to see who all was included, and it gave me a few seconds to stop and pause while I snapped a quick photo of the unique signs.
And for the folks like me who weren’t crazy about villains, getting pictures in front of the castle was iconic enough:
The best part of the race had to be seeing my family at mile 12. Alex and the kids were watching the race from Disney Village, and through well-timed texts, I was able to spot them and say hello.
I needed that encouragement. More than they’ll ever realize.
The race could have gone better. I’m not going to downplay what I did. Because when it’s all said and done I traversed 13.1 miles and crossed that finish line. Everyone from the 1.14 finisher to the 4 hour finisher completed that race. We all got that medal, all made the training worth it, all can say we were part of a class of people. We’re half marathoners.
I’m proud of myself, and I am carrying a huge sense of satisfaction around with me.
However, I am a little upset with my time and do wish I had done better. I’m not beating myself up about it, just reflecting on the obstacles. I had several factors working against me on race morning. I was overcoming a head cold that had knocked me out during the week. I couldn’t shake the cough no matter what I did, and around Mile 7 I had a wicked coughing fit overtake me, and I had to step to the side and catch my breath.
The weather was brutal on everyone. It was raining and in the mid-60’s with the humidity at about a million percent. I walked into my corral at the beginning and said out loud, “Oh, so I’m running in Florida weather. This will make things interesting.”
I had run in the rain during training sessions, but never anything constant, and never wearing the shorts I had chosen. Sure, I had run in the bottoms before. I specifically wore them on my longest training session to make sure they were going to work.
However, I had never wore them in constant rain and had to learn the hard way that they slide up when really wet. Around kilometer 5.5 I knew something was going wrong, but by that point I had also realized I was taking way too long in the parks and needed to pick up my speed. By kilometer 7, I was feeling the pain and realized I’d made a huge mistake. My thighs were chafing horribly, and I struggled until kilometer 14 to fix the issue.
It was such a rookie mistake, and I’m frustrated with myself for making it on my first race. The poor pants choice is going to haunt me for a long time to come. I am definitely getting a constant reminder today, as my poor leg is plastered with band-aids. (If it wasn’t for that annoying reminder, I wouldn’t be able to tell I ran yesterday. My muscles – amazingly – are doing fabulous.)
Ultimately, I know I could have done better and the official time does not do me justice. Regardless, I feel proud. I’m walking around thinking, “Look at what my body did. It was capable of crushing 13.1 miles.”
I’m also aware that the half marathon was just an accumulation of hundreds of other miles. If someone asked me how I managed to do it, my one piece of advice would be: TRAIN. I’m sure there are superhuman people out there who can hop off the couch and crush a half marathon, but for the rest of us average Joes we need a ton of prep work. I needed week after week of logging miles and stretching through yoga and building endurance through cross training in order to succeed.
This wasn’t easy.
But when I was at the starting line, I knew my body had what it needed to make it to the end. I felt strong, had filled my belly with the nutrition it needed for a very long time, and was confident that every Saturday morning I sacrificed was going to pay off.
I could never have done it without support. I needed Alex’s help every day, whether it was keep an eye on the kids so I could work out, listen to me complain, or eat countless fish dinners because I needed a healthy protein. My kids put up with going to Disney and not really doing any of the “fun” Disney stuff. They had to sit in the rain for two hours waiting to watch Mom pass by. They understood that Saturday mornings were a “play with your toys” morning because Mom was off running and Dad was doing schoolwork. My friends had to work around my schedule, then had to listen to my groans about my aches, and watch as I demolished half a pizza because I was starving after a run. (Or in my mom’s case, she probably watched me eat 100 protein bars in all our FaceTime sessions.)
I even needed the encouragement of a stranger to get me through. At mile 10.5, I was in the pits. My thighs hurt, the balls of my feet hurt, I was hot, I was waiting for my gel pack to hit, and I was thinking, “This sucks. Really, really SUCKS.” But standing on the sidelines was a guy who had already finished and had all his medals (he was a 36K challenge participant) around his neck. He was probably staying at the hotel we were running through, but he was out there all the same. Clapping, cheering, and right as I passed him he shouted:
“You’re almost there! Really, it’s not much farther. You’ve done all the hard work, just push through a little bit longer and you’ll make it.”
Those were the exact words I needed to hear at that precise moment. I’ll never forget it. It was the kick I needed to push through the 10 mile slog, and after overcoming that and seeing my family a mile later, getting to the finish was a breeze.
The half marathon was as fun as I hoped it would be, and just as hard as I feared. Whether you’re running around your neighborhood, along a park trail, or inside a Disney park, a mile is a mile and you gotta dig deep inside yourself to find the courage to keep pushing forward.