“It sounded like a good idea seven months ago!”
I ran past a bystander holding this sign during my first half-marathon and fluttered back and forth between wanting to laugh and wanting to punch him. My friend Crystal and I signed up for the Disney Princess Half Marathon over the summer, thinking the February race would motivate us to keep up our running routines during the winter. We took into account that the race would require us to train hardest during the coldest, snowiest time of the year, but we quickly brushed this off. “We’ll get cute winter running gear!” we rationalized, and booked our tickets to sunny Florida.
Fast forward to three weeks ago. Crystal and I stepped off the plane in Orlando sporting sneakers and leggings, pretending to be runners. I wish I could say our cute winter running gear allowed us to stick to a training plan. I wish I could say we diligently ran our mid-week speed workouts next to each other on the Landmark treadmills while we looked out the windows at the snow. But if I’m being honest, our training mostly consisted of logging a quick two miles every five days or so, combined with an occasional cross-training routine where we watched Bravo while pretending to do planks on Lululemon yoga mats.
In the two days leading up to the race we walked around the Disney parks, attempting to pick out our fellow runners. This was much more difficult than it seemed, considering running shorts and tennis shoes seem to be an unspoken uniform for all theme park attendees. We wondered if anyone was looking at us, trying to figure out if we were runners, looked at each other, and laughed. If they were, we made it difficult for them to guess due to the fishbowl-sized margarita and jumbo-sized order of nachos we were carrying around.
On Saturday night, we decided to get serious about the race. At that point, though, all “training” efforts would be useless, and the best we could do was hydrate and carb-load for our long run the next morning. Unfortunately, all of the other 20,000 runners came prepared, taking up all the reservations at the Italian restaurants across Disney World. We settled for tacos from a quick-service Mexican booth and a pastry from a French bakery.
The race began at 5:30 in the morning, and due to the large number of people participating, Disney suggested boarding the buses by 4 a.m. Logically, our fellow runners began leaving the parks around 7 p.m. on Saturday night to get a good night’s rest. Crystal and I found the temptation of a nearly empty park and short wait times for popular rides to be entirely too strong, and ended up staying at the park until closing. We did not see the error of our ways until our alarm went off just a few hours after we set it. Time to run.
After stumbling around in the dark to find our tennis shoes and bibs, we hopped on a bus. Once we got to the pre-race area, we were able to stretch a bit and take some photos. It was 55 degrees that morning, or, as it’s known locally here in Michigan, a heat wave.
If you’ve never seen pictures from a Disney race, it looks pretty different than your typical half marathon. Racers sport tutus and costumes resembling their favorite Disney characters, and about every half-mile, there is a different character photo spot where you can wait in line to take a picture with Mickey or Buzz Lightyear. A fairy godmother sends each of the 16 corrals on their way, and fireworks accompany each of these starts. It’s one of the least intimidating long-distance races, which probably contributes to the fact that over half of the runners were first time half-marathoners. Solidarity, group of Cinderellas to my left. To quote my favorite Disney Channel original movie, we’re all in this together.
Since we were in one of the middle corrals, we didn’t actually cross the starting line until 6 a.m. As we ran past mile marker three, we saw some of the fastest runners blow by mile marker 10. Crystal turned to me, eyes wide, and shouted “life goals!” above the music. I looked back with my eyebrow raised. My parents always told me I could do anything I set my mind to, but I’m pretty sure running a half marathon in under an hour and a half is out of my reach. I was just out there trying to finish the race.
One of the most famous aspects of the Princess Half is the fact that around the halfway mark, participants get to run through Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom. Up until that point we felt great, which was amazing considering the last time we ran six miles was in November. Once we reached this point, though, Crystal’s ankle — previously weakened by a September football pregame-related ankle injury involving a ledge and a few trips to the nearest urgent care center — began bugging her. We hobbled along until we found a medic tent, which was about the same time we discovered the free Clif Shots volunteers were passing out. These small pouches of saving grace provided the same effect as if we were in a video game and collected an extra life — our fictional battery power meters returned to 100 percent.
From then on, it was pretty smooth sailing. We really tried to focus on staying in the moment, noticing what different causes people were running for and enjoying this experience the two of us got to have together. Toward the end of the race the course goes up an overpass, and the vantage point allows runners to see the thousands of people following them on their journey to 13.1 miles. Around this point, it hit me that I was going to finish a half marathon with my best friend and accomplish a goal I didn’t have the confidence to go after alone.
We crossed the finish line and collected our medals, not able to fully comprehend that we actually just completed the race. We spent the next few days walking around the parks in our race swag, looking like two old ladies who needed canes a result of not training properly. But that was worth it.
We’re half marathoners now. Of course, we definitely should have trained more consistently. But we didn’t use our failure to prepare as an excuse to hold us back from our goal. I think sometimes all you need is a best friend and a fairy godmother to ignore all the reasons why you can’t accomplish a dream. I know I’m grateful for mine.
Katie Koziara can be reached at email@example.com.