I was in a tragic car accident 2 and a half years ago. I spent months recovering and PT became my second home. Often, I suspected that for the rest of my life I wouldn’t be an active person. (Not that I was ever THAT active before the accident!) Then it happened – one of my best friends, my sister, made an offer I couldn’t refuse. She promised me a week long trip for just the two of us – without my kids! – to one of my favorite places, Disney World. The catch? I would have to participate in at least one of the running races that Disney puts on during the RunDisney Princess half marathon weekend. I was torn. I hate running. I never run. I mean, I ran through an airport to catch a plane once, but that doesn’t really count. I love Disney. What to do? I did what any normal, type A, Disney loving overachiever does….. I signed up for 2 races!!!
It wasn’t quite that easy. First off, if you want to sign up for any of these races, you need to find out when registration opens. Then, you need to sit at your computer the minute it opens and register. If you wait longer than that, your 20,000 closest friends will sign up first and you will be shut out. So there I was, 6 months before the race and I was prepared. My sister coached me on which race to sign up for first (the longer races fill up faster) and what was important to fill out correctly and what info I could go back and change later. I set alarms, had multiple computers going (just in case something crashed) and was ready. It was stressful, but once I had signed up, I was exhilarated. I figured that at that point, I had already finished the race. Then my sister reminded me that I had to train. Oh. I was so focused on the trip to Disney and the registering that I had forgotten about the running part.
We made our hotel reservations, got our park tickets, made meal reservations, and booked our fast passes, but the most important thing to prepare when participating in a RunDisney event is your costume!! I was running two races, so, as most people who run more than one race do, I decided I needed two costumes. Since I was running with my sister, we of course needed matching costumes. We choose to be the appropriate and ever popular duo, Cinderella’s stepsisters for the 5k and the more esoteric duo of Dolly and Pricklepants, Woody’s toy friends from Toy Story 3 for the 10k. We prepped and sewed. We screen printed and appliqued. I thought we were being clever and unique. Now, having been to the race I can tell you, almost everyone was clever with their costumes! I saw it all – every Disney character you can imagine was turned into a costume that could be run in. Tons of tutus and tiaras paired with legging. Sparkle skirts and headbands with glitter. A father dressed in a red muumuu with hibiscus leaves to look like Lilo in order to match his daughter’s Stitch costume. (There were even a select few dressed in actually running clothes.)
The actual races? Oh, there is nothing like them! My two races were very different, but the impressions I got from the overall feeling of both races were the same. First off, like everything Disney does, they were amazingly organized. From the organized chaos of the Expo (where you pick up your bibs and swag) to the largest and cleanest rows of port-a-potties, every detail was thought about and taken care of. They even have bins strategically placed to collect the clothing runners shed to wash and donate! (When you need to get up and be on buses at 3am to get to the race it is cold, but by the time you start to run around 5:30am, it has warmed up. Did I forget to mention that the buses from the hotels leave ridiculously early because the races start very early? They have to, so that all the runners can be out of the parks by the time the parks open to the public.)
Secondly, not just the first starting group gets treated like royalty and sent off with fireworks and cheers from the DJ. EVERY starting group gets this!!!! You start off and it feels like just another road race, but before you know it – the best part – you get to run through the parks!!! I thought we were running through the parking lot and back roads. We did. We ran past Goofy, the evil witch from Snow White, stilt walkers… and the next thing I knew we were running under the TestTrack at Epcot! There were volunteers and cheering people every step of the way. Suddenly, I looked at where I was – I was in Mexico! We ran around the lagoon at Epcot in the sunrise through all the nations. There was Genie, from Aladdin in Morocco and Lumiere and Cogsworth from Beauty & the Beast in France. People were stopping everywhere for pictures. As I neared the end of the lagoon, I looked across the water to see runners circling the entire World Showcase! I was overjoyed – both because I was nowhere near last and by the feeling of being a part of something so big! At the same time, for many, it was a struggle to stay ahead of the Balloon Ladies. (These ladies are the pace walkers – If you fall below a speed of the 16 minute mile that they travel at, RunDisney has the right to sweep off the course.) At this point in the race, even though I was well ahead of the balloon ladies, runners were offering each other words of encouragement and buoying each others spirits. Although we were running as individuals, it seemed more like we were running as a team, with a united goal. It wasn’t a race against each other, it was a race against the course. Everyone seemed to want everyone else to finish. It became clear to me that unlike usual races where people run to win, people ran this race to have fun and to finish.
We ran through the Seas area (where I stopped running long enough to get my picture taken with some gorgeous coral characters) right past the base of the Epcot ball, back into the parking lot and we were done. Happy, proud, and exhausted I was handed my medal, a foil blanket, food, and drinks. There were more pictures and people everywhere. Who would have guessed that I would be so excited to get up at 2am and run again in less than 24hours?!?!!?! Chalk it up once again to the magic of Disney!!!!
Guest writer, Mari Young lives with her husband and 3 children holding together a family and doing disability awareness education. Although she loves her life in Boston, it pains her to know that at this exact moment, there are people enjoying the Disney Parks and she is not one of them!!!