Friday, February 28, 2014

2014 Princess Half Marathon I FINISHED and You Can Too!

7/14/14 This Post is Part of the "Tuesday's On the Run" Linkup via Patty Holiday's "My No-Guilt Life" Blog. Check it out: HERE

Me, Mom and son (10) doing a local race, Fall 13'

I've noticed I keep catching myself saying "I'm not really a runner..." a lot lately.  But when I take a moment to look back, I JUST FINISHED A HALF MARATHON! So, I'm not sure I can really continue to say I'm not a runner. In fact, I think I actually ran (or swiftly shuffled as I like to say) at least 12 of the 13.1 miles, and I finished in just under 3 hours. For a non-runner, I feel pretty darn good about that! (uh oh, there I go again, calling myself a non-runner) And for you walkers, my mom, age 65, walked the race (her second race ever) and finished with time to spare!

Baby Girl ready for a morning run
This past weekend was 8 months in the making.  Last June, for my 37th birthday, I bought a used Bob jogging stroller. I spent the summer religiously checking daily temp and humidity level and planning my running days and times accordingly.  Three to four mornings a week, I'd strap Little Miss into the jogging stroller with an Eggo Waffle and a chocolate milk, and take off around our neighborhood. I looked at different apps and plans, but decided I really liked the "Ease into 5K" app.  I was able to train slowly and carefully, and by mid-summer, I could run the 5K! Let me tell you though, those first few weeks, running 3 minutes seemed insurmountable!

I then began the "Bridge into 10K" program, and hit a little snafu. I injured my IT Band over Labor Day weekend.  Oh my.  For those of you who didn't even know you had such a thing, it's a band of connective tissue that runs from your hip down past your knee. When injured, it causes excruciating pain, especially if you're trying to go down stairs! Apparently, its a common running injury, especially in ladies who are increasing their running mileage like I was.  Ten weeks of no running and physical therapy later, I was ready to run again around Thanksgiving. With the chaos of trying to make Christmas happen for my family, not much running was accomplished at that point.  After the holidays my training had to go into high gear, and the treadmill and I put a lot of quality time in together this winter.  I'm not fast, not overly athletic, and not skinny, but I just kept plugging along, and I am so glad I did!

In 8 months I dropped 20lbs, learned more than I wanted to about my IT Band, and finally earned some awesome bling!  It really was an amazing weekend, and if you are looking for a great destination race or a goal to get you up and moving, Disney's Princess Half Marathon Weekend is a perfect fit.

The Race Expo

The official Fit For a Princess Expo began at 10am on Thursday morning. Having read stories of long lines and sell outs of special items, I really wanted to plan on getting there early.  I'm glad we did, and in fact, they opened early, closer to 9am! This year the Expo was at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex, and I felt it was a great venue for such a large event.  Packet pickup was quick and easy and we didn't have to wait on any lines.  One thing to note is, that you will need to wait on separate lines for each paid event you registered for.  So if you are doing the half marathon and the race retreat, you'll need to wait on one line to pick up your bib and another line to get your race retreat wristband.  (Note for newbies: Do not forget to pick up that wristband, or anything else for that matter, or you may be forced to turn around a half mile down the road after you thought you were done and race back to the Expo and be forced to park miles and miles father away than you did when they opened 2 hours prior and miss your FastPass+ for Kilimanjaro Safari. Just a gentle reminder.)

Mom meeting a "Balloon Lady" (not from runDisney events) and Perfect Princess
The Expo with vendors and commemorative items is located in a different building from packet-pickup, and while decidedly more crowded, we did not feel it was overly crowded or unmanageable.  This is where you pick up your race tee, peruse a multitude of running gear vendors, can meet Jeff Galloway, and visit the official runDisney merchandise shop! I had a few items I knew I wanted, and I was able to score a car magnet, latte mug, commemorative race Sweaty Band, an "I Did It!" tee and a tech jacket. The tech jackets were apparently very popular, and a friend who was not lucky enough to get one was told they sold out by noon on Friday of the Expo. The line to pay was a little intimidating, but it moved very quickly. Mom and I chatted with the lady behind us on the line, a Perfect Princess (meaning she has participated in every Princess Half) getting ready to run her 6th. She is apparently also a "Balloon Lady" at other marathons, and so mom wanted to have her picture taken with her!

Mom and I were able to get in and out in just about 2.5 hours.   We picked up our runDisney New Balance Shoes (thanks to @RNawaymama and her speedy computer skills on Thursday morning), our packets, souvenirs, body glide, signed up our hubbys for racer notification and picked up our Dooney and Bourke handbags! I also made a visit to one of my favorite companies Sparkle Skirts!  I ran my race in one and picked up another at the Expo for everyday training once spring comes. Whew! We got a lot done!
A little note on the Dooney and Bourke bags. When we went to pick up our pre-ordered bag, I realized the tote was just too big for me. They allowed me to exchange it for the smaller shopper, AND I was able to use my discount to get 10% off. They seemed very used to doing this, and it wasn't a big deal at all. Those with AP's or Disney Visa's were able to return their bags and repurchase with the discount.  You did not however get back the processing fee that was charged online. No big deal, I walked out with my shopper tote a happy princess!

My Snow White Running Costume!

Race Day

The night before the race we opted not to participate in the Pasta in the Park party, but had our own pasta party in our lovely DVC villa at Kidani Village.  I'm glad our night was low key after a week of touring the parks. We were able to have a nice homemade meal, and I was in bed (sleeping thanks to an Ambien) by 7:30pm.  Good advice novice runners, lay your stuff out the night before, down to your hair ties, and race bib and safety pins.  It made that early wake up so much easier.  Don't forget to charge your phone, Garmin or any other electronics you plan on bringing with you. By 3:20am  I was up, dressed and on the motor coach headed toward Epcot!

As soon as I got off the bus, I realized it was incredibly humid and foggy. The temp was cool and comfortable, but you could see the haze in the air.  I headed through the bag check (safety is always #1 right?) and straight to the Race Retreat.  The Race Retreat is an additional package you can purchase, and I am very glad we did.  It is a climate controlled tent with separate port-o-lets and bag check, stretch areas, character photos, and a self treat first aid station.  When Mom and I talked about it, all I needed to say was "semi-private port-o-lets" and she said "YES! Let's do it!" Prior to the race there were plain bagels, bananas, sport drinks and coffee available. I really appreciated having a  comfortable place to sit and eat something as opposed to standing outside.  The lines for the port-o-lets was only about 5 ladies long, compared to the outside lines that looked 30 deep! I think I would definitely do it again.
Pre-race fuel at the Race Retreat

Mom was staying at the Villas at the Grand Floridian along with my BFF @RNawaymama and her sister @BeerRunBabe (they run as the Cheese Head Princesses if you have ever seen them, their costumes are awesome!), and I couldn't figure out what was taking them so long to get there.  Well, apparently, Mom forgot her race bib! They had to take the monorail all the way back to the Grand Floridian where my Dad was waiting at the station with the race bib.  (Note for newbies: Do not forget your race bib. Do not forget to remind your 60-something mother not to forget her race bib.)

After meeting up with Mom and having our photo with some Wonderland characters, we started to make our way to the corrals.  Corral placement is based on your anticipated speed in the half marathon.  You must submit an official race time from a race 10K or longer if you wish to be placed in a higher corral.  If you do not submit a time, which we did not, you will be placed with the many thousands of princesses at the back of the pack.  We were placed in corral M, and the corrals this year went up to P.  We were very pleased to be in corral M. This meant there were several thousand runners and several more minutes between us and the dreaded Balloon Ladies.  The Balloon Ladies start the race after the last person crosses the start line. They walk at a 16 min/mile pace, and if you fall behind them, you are in danger of being "swept".  This means you will be forced to stop the race, board a bus full of crying princesses, and be driven to the end of the race.

Mom and I in the starter corral
A few helpful hints about scoring a higher corral if you are not submitting a time. You only need to submit a time if your anticipated finish time is 3:15 or less.  When it asks you what your anticipated finish time is, pick 3:20. It's a goal, and it'll put you in front of everyone that puts down 3:25 or 3:30.  Also, register early, like right when they open. Mom and I, as DVC members were able to score a $10 discount on the race entrance fee, but were also able to register 3 days before it opened to the general public. If three thousand folks pick 3:20, I would think those that registered first would be ahead of those that registered later, right?  It's worth a shot.  During the race, from what I could tell in terms of hearing the starting fireworks go off, there were 4 minutes between each of the last few corrals. This meant Mom and I had a 12 minute head start on the Balloon Ladies!

The walk to the starter corrals is a pretty long walk, so know that before you go. With everyone going an at easy pace, you'll need 10-15 minutes to get there, so don't leave the starting area too late. There were more port-o-lets near the corrals, with very long lines, but at least you had one more chance to go before the run.

RunDisney does a really great job of keeping you entertained and engaged as you wait for your corral to start. There were huge TV screens along the starter corrals so you could watch those in front of you begin their race. There are fireworks for EACH AND EVERY corral! So yes, even those of us in the way back, starting 40 minutes after the elite runners, gets a starter countdown and fireworks! It really added to the excitement and gave you a good adrenaline rush to start your race.
Almost there! Mile 3!

Finally, it was our turn, and at 6:20am we were off! I kissed Mom good-bye, wished her luck and began my run.  I had thought quite a lot while on some of my training runs about what my race day plan would be. Do I run the first 5K at my faster speed, then walk a mile, then run a bit more? Should I just go at my slower, long run pace and try to just keep going? Should I do run/walk/run intervals to conserve energy?  I never did come to a final decision. They all made some sense. So when I started running, I had absolutely no idea what my strategy was going to be.  I had designed a playlist for my iPhone that would continue for about 13 miles if I ran about a 13-14 min/mile, and I had set my Garmin to a pace of 13:30.  At first, I just let the excitement and adrenaline carry me past a lot of the walkers until I realized I was surrounded by more jogger/runners than walkers.  I thought about a quick walk break at mile marker 2, but decided I had to at least make it to the 5K without walking.  Other than a super quick (15 seconds) stop to take my photo near the entrance to the Magic Kingdom parking lot, I did just that, and kept running past the 5K marker.  In theory,  my hubby and Dad should have gotten a text update with my time at the 5K mark, but apparently Disney used a new company this year, and my hubby didn't receive any texts until over an hour later. He got three in a row at that point. So better late then never, but not especially helpful.

I noticed a young lady dressed as Minnie who was running about my same pace. One of us might speed up a little past the other here or there as we weaved through other runners and water stops, but we were basically running the same pace. She noticed this too, and somewhere near mile 4 we made eye contact, smiled and exchanged some words of encouragement.  She continued to be my pace partner for quite a while, and it was a good encouragement not to let her get too far ahead of me.

There were a few areas were a short walk became necessary, for no other reason than there were tight bottlenecks where there was no where to go but slow down behind those in front of you. I did also walk up the second half of the hill leading up to the Contemporary Resort.  I really powered it up that hill though, and past a few folks trying to jog it!

About to run through the castle!!!

The Magic Kingdom was of course, the highlight of the run.  Sadly the haze and humidity was still present, and Cinderella Castle was somewhat obscured by the mist. It was still an amazing feeling to run down Main Street USA, spectators cheering, signs held high, and race toward the castle! Even better was running through it after all those long months of training, and dreaming about it!  The official race photographers got a few good pics of me, and before I knew it, we were in Frontierland.

There were lots of photo opportunities throughout the Magic Kingdom, but I was afraid if I stopped, I'd never get going again, or worse yet, lose too much time and get swept once we got back out of the park. Some of the photo lines looked pretty long.

Although nature wasn't calling too loudly, I had already decided to make a stop in the Magic Kingdom and utilize the large available bathrooms rather than waiting until it was more urgent and would necessitate a port-o-let on the side of the road.  This is a good plan, and if you are planning on running this course and making a pit stop, I would recommend stopping in the Magic Kingdom.  I was absolutely soaked with sweat at this point, and the icy cold water from the sink splashed on my face was SO refreshing!  The lady washing her hands next to me even said "It kinda makes you want to climb in the sink, doesn't it?"

Back on the course, and as we ran past Pecos Bill's, I saw the 6 mile marker sign.  I suddenly realized I had run pretty much the entire race to this point! I decided to take some advice from Dory and "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming", and run as long as I thought I could.  After the Magic Kingdom,  I knew we would be reaching the halfway point in the race, and that I would get to learn what the "Halfway Song" would be.  Two weeks prior on Facebook, runDisney asked for nominations for the Halfway Song, then one week prior we got to vote for our favorite from the 4 most popular nominations. I knew it would be either Idina Menzel's version of "Let it Go", or Katy Perry's "Roar". Both of them were on my running playlist, and I voted for the winner, "Let it Go".  Since it was a Disney race, and the song is such a huge hit, it seemed the most appropriate, and it gave me a big boost at that halfway mark.

Next up was the Grand Floridian, and I knew Dad would be outside looking for me. I sent him a quick text to let him know I was getting close, and it was great to see him! I yelled out "Hey everyone! That's my DAD!" and we got lots of whoops and cheers. I think Dad appreciated that:)

At this point I knew I was reaching the most difficult part of the race, miles 8-12 back to Epcot.  This is probably where I did the most walking. I slowed down and walked through each water stop, and really made sure to drink most of each cup.  The nurse in me knew I was putting a lot more sweat out than I was taking in, and that it was important to stay hydrated.  I started telling myself I could take short walk breaks, but every time I would start to walk, I wouldn't get very far before I felt the need to keep pushing through and run. Every once in a while I would glance at my Garmin. If it said "Behind Pace" it would give me that push I needed to start running again.

After the hairpin turn, almost there! Finish ahead!
After mile marker 10 you come up on the most difficult part of the race, the cloverleaf.  It involves three uphill stretches up overpasses.  I decided partway up the first one, that running them wasn't going to happen, and power walked them as fast as I could. I still kept a pretty decent pace, and when we started going downhill again,  I jogged to make up some time.  This seemed to be what most other folks around me were doing as well.  Just as you reach the top of the third hill, off in the distance... is Spaceship Earth! WOOHOO! Almost there!  Just knowing we were on the final mile or so got everyone going again and most of us were jogging again at this point.   The course leads you into Epcot, and down to World Showcase Lagoon, where you make a hairpin turn back to the exit.

There were folks arriving at this point at Epcot, being held in various areas as we ran through, and we got quite a few cheers.  Just before you exit Epcot were the famous Gospel Singers from House of Blues Gospel Brunch, and man was I glad to see them! I knew they were the last of the entertainment before the finish line! Just after them was a Cast Member standing at the exit gate with her arm outstretched telling us all, "The finish line is just ahead! You made it!"

And I did. I made it.  Somehow I finished a half marathon, and in under 3 hours. My final time was 2:58:02, and for a "non-runner" I think I did pretty darn good.  I had pushed myself so hard, that even after I crossed the finish line, I realized I was still jogging, because I hadn't even considered stopping! I was honored to be dusted in Pixie Dust, and handed my medal!

Disney was really well organized, and we were then offered a first aid area with ice, a cool towel, Gatorade, water, received a neat Princess Half drawstring backpack, a banana and a snack box, and more photo opportunities. I was due to meet my friends the Cheese Head Princesses back at the Race Retreat, and made a bee line back there. Seeing so many tired princesses sitting on the concrete in the heat, I was again very thankful I had put out the extra money for the Race Retreat. It was cool and comfortable. Upon arrival I received a commemorative towel, and a pair of flip flops!  Breakfast included scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, fresh fruit, muffins, soda, water, Gatorade and coffee.  You could also purchase beer or champagne.  There was a screen up where you could watch folks come across the finish line, and I was able to watch my mom cross about 40 minutes after I did.  I was so proud that she kept on going and made it! 

Would I do it again? Absolutely! Maybe next year I'll even consider going for the Coast-to-Coast, which means running a half or longer at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland during the same calender year.  If you do the Princess and the Tinkerbell Half, your medal is even pink! If you are considering doing a runDisney event, you absolutely can do it!  Do train, even if walking, go prepared, but enjoy and have fun!

Since I didn't stop for photos during the race, I had a FP+ at Princess Fairytale Hall later that day!

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Purse Fit for a Princess: New Dooney and Bourke Design for the 2014 Disney Princess Half Marathon!

Virtual Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Blog Hop Directory
Welcome to the Virtual runDisney Blog Hop!

Princesses are known for poise and manners, ballgowns and tiaras. At the Disney Princess Half Marathon, they tend to add a few more accessories, running shoes and Dooney and Bourke handbags!

In 2009 Disney partnered with Dooney and Bourke and introduced the "Disney Dooney".  The bags have been very popular and the two companies have continued to collaborate, bringing new designs to the parks each year!  In 2012 a new princess design was released in time for the Princess Half Marathon in a wristlet, a tote, and a crossbody bag. They also featured an exclusive race medallion on the two larger bags for those that were purchased at the Expo.  As expected, they were a huge hit and sold out within a few hours.  Sadly, many of these bags were seen later that day on eBay at grossly inflated prices, making for some very disappointed princesses.

For the 2014 Princes Half, Dooney and Bourke is introducing a BRAND NEW PATTERN! (I'm just a little excited, can you tell?)  Featuring a pale pink background and various Disney images such as Cinderella Castle and Minnie Mouse, they are available in a tote, a shopper style, and a letter carrier bag. Each of the bags has an embossed leather Princess Half Marathon tag with the year 2014 to commemorate your accomplishment! With a new pattern offered this year, they are likely to sell out quickly at the Expo!

2014 Prices with tax are:

Tote $240.75
Shopper  $187.25
Letter Carrier $197.95

After the year where bags ended up on eBay rather than in the hands of racers, Disney did make adjustments to the purchasing process, and bags are available for pre-order!  If you really want that bag, registered race participants can purchase their bag ahead of time to avoid a possible sell out at the Expo. You are allowed to pre-purchase one of each style to add to your collection.

I was able to pre-order my bag, though I thought it was a bit complicated to find. In theory, you should be able to click on the link that came in the January runDisney email for race participants. For some reason though, that link doesn't always work.

If it is not working for you, try linking directly HERE to the Princess Half Marathon registration page. Or you can go to the Princess Half area of the official runDisney website.  Under the menu option of "Registration",  go to "commemorative keepsakes", and click on any of the choices. You can also scroll down until you see the photos of the handbags and double click on the photo.  Any one of these links should take you to the sign-in registration page for the weekend. Sign into your account that you registered for the race with, and you will see the available options. Near the bottom are.... Dooney and Bourke bags.  Follow the prompts to order your bag!

Do be aware that is charging a processing fee, which added $15 to the price of the tote, and will add around $12 to the other bags. Also know that during the pre-order, there are no discounts available such as AP, DVC or Disney Visa.  Despite paying a bit more, I know I will get my bag, and I can spend my valuable Expo time waiting in line for a New Balance shoe appointment!

Photo courtesy of Marge G., @RNawaymama at Tiny Bits of Magic

If you are planning on purchasing your bag at the Expo, I would recommend getting there sooner rather than later.  While putting those winter miles in on the treadmill, I am dreaming of sporting my very special Princess Half bag around town (preferably in warmer weather)! Who else is planning on purchasing one of these awesome purses?