Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Princess Half weekend - final thoughts and TIPS to run Disney!

As of now, I’ve participated in every runDisney race weekend offered at Walt Disney World:

Royal Family 5K (Princess 1/2 Marathon weekend), 2012 and 2014
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler, 2012 and 2013
Princess Half-Marathon, 2013 and 2014

With all of those under my belt, I feel properly equipped to offer some TIPS for those thinking of running Disney!

Embrace the fun – don a costume!  I know – it feels weird to dress up in costume for a race.  But trust V; it only feels weird until you actually get to a runDisney race… once there, you won’t feel out of place at all!  You’ll see a huge variety of costumes put together with varying amounts of effort and detail.  Here’s the thing: it doesn’t need to be complicated, it doesn’t need to cost a lot, and it really should be comfortable, especially for longer distance races.  My advice is to work with items you’d wear to run in the first place: shirts and bottoms made of soft, comfortable wicking material.  You can add items and embellish from there without breaking the bank or your resolve to finish your race!

The 2014 Princess Half-Marathon weekend was my first time putting much effort into costumes, and I’m very glad I did – it upped the fun quotient by a LOT!  My favorite was the Cinderella-themed outfit I put together for the Royal Family 5K:

This was absurdly easy… I bought a Cindy-blue running shirt on clearance online for less than $20 and paired it with a matching $25 skirt from Sparkle Athletic.  I’ll use both again, so the cost can really be pro-rated by a number of years of wearings.  Under my skirt, I wore a pair of compression capris I already owned, and around my neck I wore a black satin choker left over from a Halloween costume I wore a few years ago.  A $2 pair of white knee socks worked as “gloves” – I simply chopped off the feet.  And I topped the whole thing off with a tiara I’ve had for ages, though a blue ribbon would have worked, too.

See? Easy, affordable, comfortable, and, most of all – FUN!

Take pictures. Lots of ‘em.  Okay, if you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, you’re probably sick to death of my many race pics.  Sorry.  But, you know what?  I almost wish I’d taken more!  Especially from past races.  While it’s fun to share images from your races with friends and family, it’s even more fun to look back at them yourself and remember the good times you’ve had!

Taking a lot of pictures when you’re trying to run a race isn’t the easiest thing to do, and I’ll be the first to admit that I thought it would be hugely burdensome over long distances.  Hence the complete lack of on-course photos from my first few long distance races.  But I discovered some tricks over the past year that’s made it pretty easy to score more photos…

First, if you’re already carrying a phone that has a decent camera in it, use it.  I carry my iPhone 4S in an arm pocket and thought it would be a royal PITA to take it out and put it back in repeatedly, but I quickly realized a couple things: 1. With a little practice, it’s really not that hard to maneuver, and 2. I tended to take three or four photos in a row, then run a mile or more without any before wanting my camera handy again – so it was easier to run with my phone/camera in my hand between photo stops, then put it away for a while before pulling it back out for a few more shots.

Also, know that there is almost always someone available to take your picture, so make sure you’re IN some of them!  At designated course photo stops, you’ll find volunteers or Disney staff on hand to snap your pic with characters and props.  Don’t worry – they’ve seen every photo-taking device known to man and can use all of ‘em without instructions. Should you find yourself wanting to be in a shot without a dedicated photographer, look around and ask for help!  Chances are other runners are taking the same pic and will happily take your pic.  Be sure to pay it forward and take theirs, too.  Race volunteers and theme park staff members are also happy to help you out.

Plan out timing and transportation ahead of time.  Like, not at 3am.  Are you driving to a race?  Read the race materials carefully to learn the appropriate route/s and road closures.  Make sure you have gas in the tank.  And don't forget to turn on your headlights - 3am is freaking dark.  (Yes, I saw quite a few cars on the way to races with no lights on. Skeery.)  Figure out ahead of time how you'll store your car key while running.  Write down or take a pic of where you're parked.

Taking a race bus?  Find out ahead of time where it will be making stops - this varies by resort.  Locate your stop and walk to it in daylight from your room so you'll know where to go in the dark, wee hours of the morn.  Take a look at the race materials to determine where buses will be after the race, then follow the signs to your bus when you're ready to go. 

Most importantly, leave plenty of time to get to the race.  If buses start running at 3am, you can bet I'm on a bus or in my car no later than 3:05.  Because every race, at least one bus driver gets lost and takes forever getting to the race and the poor runners on board have to scramble to make it to their corrals on time.  And at every race, there comes a time when traffic is heavy and cars back up trying to park.  Leave early, don't get stuck in traffic, and enjoy the extra time to relax before your race.

Know thyself.  Race weekend is not the time to abandon your routine.  After months of training, and years of living in your own skin, you'll know your individual needs - do as much as you can to meet them.  How much sleep do you need to feel good?  What kinds of foods can you eat and how often do you need to eat?  Can you walk around all day and still feel good to run double digits at night?  Does heat and sun exposure wipe you out?  Do large, noisy crowds stress or invigorate you?  Think carefully about what you need to feel strong and healthy, and adjust your plans accordingly.

I happen to have a cast-iron stomach; pretty much nothing makes me have GI issues, so I don't worry much about food, but some folks need to eat very specific items to race well.  You can find menus for all WDW restaurants at - check them out ahead of time and make meal plans accordingly.  Bring favorite items with you from home, or plan a trip to a local grocery store.

I need adequate sleep to be of sound mind and body, so I plan to be in bed by 7pm before early morning races.  I also can't spend much time on my feet before night races, so I spend afternoons before those napping.  It means forgoing some park time, but I know I'll be better for it.   If you don't need much sleep, or aren't bothered by time on your feet before racing, hit the parks and have fun!

Lots of folks bring nothing more to a race than what they'll carry on the course.  I am not one of those people.  I MUST foam roll before and after running, and I like a change of clothes after the race, and I need my reading glasses to read the eight-million new text messages and social media posts after racing.  Lucky for folks like me, runDisney's bag check bags hold a ton of stuff and are very easy to drop off and pick up.

Find a race buddy!  If your'e running a race with a friend, and you're in the same corral, and you're planning to run the same pace - great!  You're all set.

But the planets don't usually align that perfectly for most runners.  And it's totally fine to go it alone - I've done that more times than not.  But I promise - you'll have more fun at a Disney race with a buddy.  And it's pretty darned easy to find some...

Have a friend starting in the same corral? Super! Agree to hang out together in the corral, but run your own pace once the race starts.  Don't worry - you'll find more buddies soon...

Take a look around you in that first mile - is another runner going the same pace as you?  Do you keep passing each other on opposite intervals?  Did you both pull over for the same photo?  Say something!  "Hee hee - feels like we're playing tag here!"  Or, "I'll take your pic, if you'll take mine!"  Or maybe, "Have you done runDisney races before?"  Nine times out of ten, a short conversation will ensue and you'll find it to be fun!  Don't worry if you lose each other after a few minutes - there are more race buddies to be found...

Chat with someone in a porta-potty line.  Compliment a fellow runner's shirt.  Ask where she got her super-cute headband.  In the middle of my solo Enchanted 10K, another runner asked if my 5K and 10K tattoos were real - I told her they were temporary and where I got them, which led to a chat about running skirts, which led to talking costumes for future races, and in no time a mile had flown by!

A race buddy, even if he/she is a temporary one, is invaluable when your feet hurt, you're tired, your head's no longer into it, and you're ready to quit.  If you spy a friend, reach out, tell him/her how you're feeling, ask for a word or two to boost you up.  Look for other runners who seem to be in the same place and say something encouraging to them; it'll help you feel better, too.  Lead a cheer of "KILL THE HILL" and help a couple dozen other runners get through that final overpass.  When it comes down to it, we're all each others' race buddies, which is a pretty beautiful thing.

Which brings me to...

Join a running group.  Listen - I'm not a social runner.  A large part of what I enjoy most about running long distances is the chance to be alone with my own thoughts; out on a long run, I'm not Mom, or Friend, or Employee, or Blogger - I'm just me, free to let my thoughts run without interruption, or to blissfully not be required to think at all.  So I'm here to tell you that you don't need to be an outgoing extrovert to join a running group.

That's because running groups come in all sorts of sizes and packages.  There are local groups who meet to run and socialize, and local groups that meet to train hard.  There are online groups that "meet" across the miles in social media groups.  There are groups that welcome new runners, and groups that cater to elites; groups that chat only about running, and groups that talk about anything and everything; groups that focus on a certain race or series of races, and groups that aren't specific to any race at all.  There is truly a group for every runner, of this I am certain.

The key is to find a group that makes you feel supported, encouraged, secure and confident.  I had to try on a few different groups to find "my" running group, and when I did stumble upon it, I wasn't sure I even wanted to be part of a group at all.  But in the year+ I've spent with the amazing folks in my group, I've found a family of runners with whom I can be myself.  I can tell or ask them almost anything and get well-thought, honest answers and replies.  We can all have lousy runs and hear from our friends that we're not alone and tomorrow will be a better day.  We support each other through illnesses and injuries, and shout to the rafters to cheer each others' successes.  At races, we make time to connect in person through meals and meet-ups, on race courses and in Disney parks.  Though we may joke and lightly tease about silly things, we never go on the attack over differing views or life choices.  We encompass all ages, speeds, sizes, colors, genders and occupations and, though we have so many differences, our love of running trumps it all.

I can honestly say that I would not have run at least one race without the support of my running group.  Injured and afraid, I was 99% ready to bail on the WDW Half-Marathon this year.  It wasn't the kind of thing I wanted to admit to anyone, but I did to my running group - who promptly circled their wagons and convinced me that while I might not feel up to going for a new personal record, I could finish the race and have a really fun time doing it.  They were absolutely right.

Can you run happily without ever joining a running group?  Of course!  But I promise, finding a group that fits you and your needs can only be beneficial and is totally worth the effort of finding. 

TOTALLY worth the effort of finding you - GO TEAM!

I think that wraps it up!  Thanks for reading along - do you have more tips for running Disney races?  Share them in the comments, or do your own blog post about them, let me know, and I'll link to them here!


I've got one more, non-Disney long distance race next week, and then I'll be going into my off-season for the summer.  Because summer in Florida is freaking HOT, y'all.


Remember how I was done with the Tower of Terror 10-Miler after the last one?  Yeah, well... I'm signed up for another round.  And the 2014 Wine & Dine Half-Marathon, too.  So in another six months, I'll be back to running Disney :)


  1. I love this post! It's super detailed, and great for anyone running Disney for the first time (or those of us who have only done a couple events like me!).

  2. THANK you Lauren! I found myself pondering the most valuable things I've learned over the past couple years and sort of rambled on about them. I'm glad to hear they're helpful! :)