Princess Half Marathon Weekend 2015: How My Worst Race Became A Big Victory

Having survived Disney's Enchanted 10k by the skin of my teeth, I was halfway to earning my Glass Slipper Challenge medal.  The problem?  I was sick.  Sick as a dog.  My nap didn't help and after a leisurely afternoon at Epcot, I was getting worse, not better.  This was absolutely devastating and utterly nerve-wracking.  My eating was off, my hydration was thrown totally, and my body was screaming "you're doing what tomorrow??"  

After touring the parks and and arriving back at Pop for the night, I bounced back and forth on what exactly to do.  Do I drop out?  Do I spectate?  Do I try to run anyway?  Do I stay in bed?  Ultimately, I decided I'd move to the back of my corral, and just walk until I got swept.  My husband and I convinced my brother that he should run ahead, and we'd all reconnect at the finish area after he finished and we'd gotten picked up by the parade bus (the bus that collects the people who're unable to finish).  Last thing I wanted was to drag down my brother's race too...  Nobody has trained for an event like my brother trained for this run and he deserved to blow the wings off of pixies on the course.  

Having decided to face my fears and my uncooperative body, we dressed up in our outfits.  I was Princess Vanellope Von Schweetz, my husband was a version of Wreck-it Ralph, and my brother reprised his Fix-It Felix.  While my brother was a dead ringer for his character, I don't think many people got my husband's outfit, and judging by the number of "Go for it Princess Aurora!" and even the odd "Hey, it's Princess Peach!" I think my outfit was lost on some people too.  After hopping the bus at 3am and arriving at the party, we pulled up a bench on the same spot we'd sat just the morning before while waiting for the 10k and watched the festivities for a bit, but we didn't stay long.  The walk to the corral is almost a mile and I just wanted to go and be in the starting area.  Thank goodness it was at least a warmer morning than it was during the 10k...  A balmy 55 degrees or so.  While we must have waited at least an hour in our corrals, it really felt like it zipped by and before we knew it, lights, fireworks, music and we were on our way.  
In The Starting Corral
So maybe I do look a little like Princess Peach

We stuck together for about half a mile before my brother ran ahead, and I'm so glad he did.  He trained long and hard for this and has become an amazing athlete as a result of his training.  He ended up finishing the half in less than 2:30, and that included character stops.  He is a freaking rock star!  And I guess he was his own little attraction on the course as people actually stopped him for pictures, thanks to his Fix-It Felix Jr. outfit.

Meanwhile, at the back of the pack, my husband and I had the time of our lives.  We walked and talked, we held hands, we stopped and took pictures...  And before people freak out, we stayed totally to the right, gave everybody faster than us right-of-way without comments, side eye rolls, and rude comments, and we didn't walk more than two abreast...  I know my racer etiquette and I'd like to think that since I got lots of "you got this!" and no "stay right" or "out of my way," I was doing pretty well at being in absolutely nobody's way.  As we kept going, I found it was completely liberating to just enjoy the spectacle of it all.  Really, it was kind of like a date.  A date that 20,000 other people are on with you and where you have to walk 13.1 miles.  But they served us water and food along the way so if that's not a date, I don't know what is.  

After crossing the Magic Kingdom parking gates, we stopped for pictures with Vanellope and Wreck-It Ralph, something I'd gotten used to skipping during Run Disney races because I'm so fixated with my times.  It was a riot because Vanellope made a big deal out of my outfit, Ralph made a big deal out of my husband's outfit, and we got some great pictures.  At least Vanellope knew I wasn't Princess Peach...  Small victory there.  

When I started this race, I had no expectations in mind.  No minimums, no "I just want to
Character Hugs Are The Best Hugs
Character hugs are the best hugs
make it to the castle before I get swept," just one foot in front of the other and living in the moment.  And we did eventually did end up hitting the Magic Kingdom, and it was stunning.  That sunrise is burned in my mind as being one of the most gorgeous things I'd ever seen.  Golden sun soaking the castle, rosy peaches and pinks whisping across the horizon, and this electric blue coming across the darkness like lightning.  It was stunning.  Last time I'd done this race, I'd zipped in the Magic Kingdom, out and was gone and didn't take the time at all to enjoy the sights and sounds of the park.  This time, I just soaked it in like a sponge and it was so beautiful and special.  I tell you, Main Street spectators are the best spectators and they really know how to get people motivated.  I felt like a princess being welcomed home by her people.  
Leaving the Magic Kingdom was hard, and not just because it meant the end of flush toilets and an expansive line for porta potties.  I just wasn't ready to leave the magic yet and, truth be told, I was dreading this next part of the course.  It was long, flat, not a lot to see, and the hardest part of the course for me by far last year.  Also, I have a hate/hate relationship with miles eight, nine, and ten.  No matter how great or how bad my run is, I hit the wall there.  There's always tears, questioning why I do this to myself, a feeling it'll never end, and resentment over never, ever getting the Cliff Shot flavor I want at mile nine.  

We ended up hitting the halfway mark, then passing back by the parking gates at Magic Kingdom (to the spectator who was walking out of the gas station with all the donuts and hot dogs...  You're a horrible human being...  So cruel...  I almost took you down right in the parking lot for those donuts...).  I had honestly expected to be swept by this point, but there wasn't a sweeper in sight and thousands of people behind me.  Still thinking that it was an "if" not "when," we wandered along the course, stopping as needed, and enjoying time with my husband.  Did you know there's a tree that looks like a witch tree that actually grows out of the ground, then back into it, then back out again?  Way cool.  Our theory?  It's a witch portal.  

The other random thing we noticed the further back we got...  The costumes got more
We're Going To Wreck It!
We're going to wreck it!
elaborate, the runners were more boisterous, the chat among friends was livelier and more animated, and the crazier the overall atmosphere was.  I was expecting panicked cries about sweeping and not finishing, but honestly...  I never heard a peep.  But I did get to be a part of some pretty wild, spontaneous things on-course.  Have you ever done a massive "wave" on the back end of a half marathon?  I have.  Heard dozens of people spontaneously break into choruses of "Let it Go" because a particularly elaborately dressed Elsa ran by (who happened to be a man)?  I have.  I had the honor of being next to a group of men dressed quite convincingly as princesses, and their ladies, dressed quite convincingly as their man's prince.  They were a total riot, completely in character in both looks and behavior, and they were an attraction in and of themselves.  I even had people who recognized me on Twitter and Instagram stop me to wish me well, which was beyond awesome (love you guys!).

By the time I hit mile nine, my comfort level was starting to dip and my pace nosedived along with it, and while I hadn't hit the wall with the force I usually do, I certainly wasn't in my mojo zone.  With the taste of the Cliff Shot flavor I didn't want fresh on my tongue (I swear, every race...  Every single race I grab the wrong flavor), I was wondering just how much longer until we'd be picked up.  But when we still had thousands of people behind us and at mile 10 we were told the sweepers were more than 30 minutes behind us.  That's when it hit me...  I may actually finish.  I still wasn't counting it as a certainty because at any moment my body could have said "enough" and that would have been that, and I can honestly say it didn't matter to me...  By that point, it was a beautiful time with my husband, one foot in front of the other, and just enjoying the moments.  

Ta-Da! At the Castle!
Ta da! At the castle!
It was when we crossed over into Epcot and heard that we were all safe, I was stunned.  I couldn't believe that I was there.  I couldn't believe I was at Epcot, staring down the finish line.  Yes, I was tired, sore, ready for a bench, ready for a nap, and feeling not-so-awesome, but I couldn't believe I was in Epcot and finishing the race.  It was one of the weirdest, most surreal moments of my life.  Having spent the last couple hours saying "you're not finishing so just go and have fun and let the rest fall away" and operating in that mode totally conflicted with the new and sudden realization "hey stupid, you're finishing!  You did it!  You're in Epcot and there is the finish line!"  The moment it actually clicked came courtesy of somebody I knew at one of the last water stops who yelled "Hey, it's Jerusha!  Hey Jerusha, you're going to finish!  Less than half a mile to go!  You're finishing, you're finishing!"  

This is the part where I say like a jerk that it happened so fast, I didn't catch who it was to thank them after...  So if it was you, I love you so much and congrats for being my "holy crap!" moment on the course and easily, hands-down, without a doubt the single best moment I've had on any race course, during any race, during any run I've ever had.  I replay that moment mentally all the time and I bet you don't even know it.

I ended up crossing that finish line, waving to the camera, getting the frantic texts and phone calls from my Mom who said she saw us online, who said my son saw us cross and was losing his mind with excitement, and it was simply incredible.  It was one of those moments where I felt totally surrounded by a lot of good vibes and love.  Magic moments abounded and my heart was swelling with a combination of pride, exhaustion, and nausea.  And I was thrilled to pieces, not because I finished, but because I had started.  I can honestly say my first thought after walking across that finish line was "I can't believe I had the courage to start even with all the doubt."  My second thought, however, was "man, I hope they have those awesome mini-chips with the cheese dip in the post-race box...  Those were awesome."

Faith, Trust, Pixie Dust, and Snow
Faith, trust, pixie dust, and...  Snow?
The cold hard truth of the matter is that my time was terrible, I came nowhere near a PR, and I freely admit that the corral I was placed in through the proof of time I earned from my average past race performance was my saving grace.  I will be the first to say that if I had started in the last corral, I'd have been swept somewhere near the halfway point.  I admit, this makes me feel guilty, especially when I think of the others that were swept, who may have even ultimately had a better pace than I, who pushed, tried, ran, and still got swept.  My husband insists that through my training and previous races and all the effort I put into that, I put time in the bank and today I simply made a withdrawal to help me get through because of my health issue.  I admit I got lucky and I maintain that some of the truest athletes who's feet hit that pavement are the ones who didn't finish.  Those people are heroes too and I hope they were proud of all they accomplished, even if it wasn't all they hoped.

After we finished, I got checked out by the med tent, got something to help with some nausea and ickiness I'd been feeling on course as the result of being sick, and I scored a pretty amazing banana and some fancy-pants water with electrolytes they save for VIPs.  VIPs being, of course, people who say they're sick and feel like they're going to boot everywhere (like me).  Then we went straight back to Pop Century, took the longest, most amazing nap, and even though I woke up feeling beleaguered, I was in really good spirits.  

When we went out to the parks, I didn't put on my medal and wear it around...  I decided that since I didn't really run it or maintain a pace that would have kept me in the race I didn't feel right wearing it.  I also felt like wearing it was celebrating my finish, when really, my inner party was all about how I didn't roll over and go back to bed.  I didn't give up by not getting up and instead I said loud and proud "I'm going to do this, it's not going to be awesome, but it's going to be the best I can do and I'm Ok with that."  

Even now, of all the race memories of all the Run Disney events that really stick with me, the most profound are the thousand little moments I had on this course, with this race, where I just...  Dare I say it?  Let it go. 

Come on, it's the Princess Half Marathon and it was "Frozen" themed.  I had to get one in there.

At The Finish
One last character...

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