Growing up in Miami, I was only a four-hour drive from Disney World, making this enchanted place a staple growing up. But the last time I went traipsing around the Magic Kingdom, it was Grad Nite, and I was a senior in high school. Fast-forward 14 years (yikes!) and I again found myself running through the Magic Kingdom. This time I wasnt 17, and this wasnt an after-hours teen fest. I was one of 13,000 runners (mostly women, but a few men too) who descended upon Orlando for the second running of the Disney Princess half-marathon.
A royal quest
Part of the Disney Endurance series—they added a new race this year: the Wine and Dine half-marathon, a night half-marathon in October followed by an after-hours party in the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival (I am all over this!)—the Disney Princess half is more than a 13.1-mile run, its a mini empowerment session.
This was a celebration of women on their quest to becoming fit and healthy. Each participant was asked to embrace the attributes of Disney princesses: commitment, courage, determination, fantasy, perseverance, and strength. (I am sure its no coincidence these are the same qualities a runner needs to make it to the finish line.) Another great bonus: A portion of the proceeds raised from this event went to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Princess for a day
Race-day morning I dragged my sleepy self out of bed at 2:30 a.m. The race has a 6 a.m. start time, so if youre not a morning person, dont bother. If you are, youll love watching the sun slowly light the sky—its breathtaking! I made my way down to the lobby of the Polynesian Resort and waited with the other runners for the 3:45 a.m. bus to the start.
But I felt a bit underdressed. I donned my traditional race attire: capris, shirt, sneakers, and my favorite running hat. Everyone else was outfitted in ballerina tutus, tiaras, Mickey Mouse ears, and veils. Some even had on full costumes—kudos to the woman who ran dressed as The Little Mermaids Ariel wearing a bandeau bathing suit top!
Cinderellas Fairy Godmother gave a few words of wisdom, wished us well on our journey, and then fireworks flew. As I made my way from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom and back again, I was overcome with emotion. It was like running through my childhood.
All of the characters I grew up with—Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and Donald Duck—and some that I didnt—The Princess and the Frogs Tiana, Lilo and Stitch, and Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean—lined the streets waving and cheering me on. (OK, they were cheering everyone on, but you know what I mean.)
Throughout the race, runners took full advantage of their all-access pass to the Disney cast, lining up to take pictures with them along the way. Part of me wanted to too, but my competitive nature nixed that idea. I did, however, snap a couple of photos post-race.
After I crossed the finish line (11th half-marathon, check!), I stood by and shouted words of encouragement to my fellow princesses. The most touching part: The faces of the women who were steps away from finishing their first half-marathon. Their smiles, laughter, and tears transported me back to the finish line of my first half-marathon—more than two years ago—when I wasnt jaded by PRs (personal records) but just happy to finish.
Of all the races Ive participated in, the Disney half-marathon is by far the most whimsical. At one point, I remember tucking in behind Princess Jasmine and Prince Aladdin! If you are a fan of unconventional road races like this, there are tons of wacky ones out there where runners concentrate on having fun and not the time on the clock.
I think the Disney Princess half-marathon falls into this category, making it perfect for first-timers. The course is also predominately flat except for a hill or two toward the end, so it wont pound the life out of your body. Plus, running in an almost all-female field is like a sprinkle of fairy dust from Tinker Bell herself—simply magical!