Monday, June 23, 2014

Confessions of a Run/Walking Princess

So, it’s begun.  

What up, Snow? Haters gotcha down?

A couple weeks out from the opening of 2015 Princess Half-Marathon registration, eight months before the race, long before anyone has even begun training in earnest for it, the ranting and debates about this race have already started.

From what I’ve seen in various online groups, the primary issue seems to have to do with participants who walk and on-course congestion.  As a mid-to-back of the pack racer, I am entirely familiar with both of these topics, so I’ll say a little something here and leave it at that.

Confessions of a run/walking Princess.

That’s right – I walk some of my races.  In fact, I’ve even walked most of several races.  Sometimes due to injury, sometimes because I’m not feeling great, and sometimes because I don’t care about time and just want to have some fun chatting with a friend, stopping to take pictures, or otherwise enjoying the scene. 



And here’s the thing: I am not alone.  Lots and lots and LOTS of people walk in runDisney races.  And a fairly huge percentage of Princess racers will walk some or all of the race.  In a perfect world, all of us walking folks would be kept far away from the running folk, and we’d all only travel in groups going the exact same pace, and we’d never, ever bunch up and block another runner or walker in their quest to go faster. 

Guess what?  That scenario’s about as likely to happen as world peace.  

"What is the one most important thing our society needs?"
"Harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan."

The reality is that, whether walking or running, a race with almost 30,000 participants is going to have a huge variety of individual speeds, all trying to move forward.  runDinsey tries hard to get us starting with folks close to our own speed by asking our estimated finishing times… but registering eight months out makes that tough; how does someone who’s never before run a half-marathon distance know how fast they’ll be that far in the future?  She doesn’t.  We guess, runDinsey guesses, and we all do our best to make that an educated guess.  If one is able to race a 10K or greater distance and submit that finishing time to runDisney, the guess is based on greater validity, but the end result is still just a guess that can’t take into account illness, injury, or other life happenings that can increase or decrease a racer’s speed. 

So, come race day, a whole lot of individual situations converge onto a single race course.  One person trained to run/walk set intervals, stayed healthy and is ready to stick to those intervals all 13.1 miles.  The person next to her trained the same, but woke up feeling icky and has to walk more than she ever did in training.  Someone in a corral ahead of them turned in a super-fast proof of time and regularly runs a sub-7:00 pace, but pulled a hamstring playing football with his kid a week before the race.  Someone else in the very last corral is just as fast, but has been traveling non-stop for work and was unable to provide a proof of time.  The race turns out to be hotter than expected and several hundred women end up walking, when they planned to run.  The race turns out to be cooler than expected and several hundred women run more than they ever thought they could.  Tutus turn out to be harder to run in than imagined.  New shoes hurt.  Characters on both sides of the course cause racers of all abilities to zig-zag back and forth to get photos.  Runners not wanting to stop try to go around slower racers, but suddenly find the course narrowing. 


Picture all of this happening, times 30,000, over 13.1 miles.  Got a mental picture?  A bit chaotic, no?  

So, is it any wonder that sometimes a slow walker ends up smack-dab in front of a faster runner?  Or that a speedy runner accidentally clips a person standing in line for a photo?  I myself am guilty of the following infractions: walking in the center of the course, bumping arms as I passed a slower racer, walking more than two abreast, moving slower than my estimated finish placement.  And I am sure that I've frustrated other racers. 

What those frustrated folks didn't know was that I chose to walk in the middle because, before I slowed down, I looked around and saw that there were no walkers, only fast runners, on either side, but  someone else walking in the middle, so to avoid clogging things up, I opted to walk behind him.  And the woman with whom I bumped arms probably didn't know that I did so after someone on my other side bumped me, even though I did say "I'm so sorry!" as it happened.  I'm sure the folks coming around a corner to see me and two other racers walking three abreast had no idea that I began walking in a wide open space, only to be joined by two strangers seconds later.  And, certainly, there was no way for other racers to realize that I qualified for my corral placement with a personal record in another race, but had since sustained an injury.

I'm not excusing obvious, intentional rudeness here; that, too, happens on the race course, as it does in every other facet of life.  But I want people - especially people new to runDisney and the Princess Half-Marathon - to realize that not every infraction against "proper race etiquette" is intentional or malicious.  The reality is that there are a whole lotta folks with a whole lotta different abilities and experiences converging in one place and, well... shit happens.

I'm seeing that some folks have had it with the realities of the Princess Half and have chosen not to participate in the race again.  I totally understand this and have had such thoughts, myself. But at some point I realized that, for me, the fun of running at Walt Disney World outweighs some of its challenges.  And that I have lots of choices about how to handle the actions of others.  Personally, I choose to assume no one out there is trying to screw up my race.  I choose to assume we're all doing the best we can with the situation at hand.  I choose to adjust my expectations and roll with whatever comes my way.  I choose to be courteous, and kind, and supportive of my fellow racers.  I choose to be honest and open with readers looking for information about races, to not launch into rants about who "should" or "shouldn't" be allowed to race, or how everyone "must" behave, in order to best prepare them for the realities of runDisney races.

As you may have deduced by now, yes - I'm planning to run Princess again.  The Glass Slipper Challenge, in fact.  And maybe - just maybe - the Triple Crown again.  And I am determined to make it a great experience, for myself and for others!

Happy Princesses make better dancers - and runners!

10 comments:

  1. You bring up some excellent points! If we all just show a little more kindness, I think things would be much better!

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    1. Thank you, Teresa - I couldn't agree more! :)

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  2. Great post! I ran/walked (rocked?) the 10K in January and am sure I also frustrated many people as others did to me. As much as I tried to stay to the right that just wasn't always practical with everything else going on around me. I think your advice is absolutely perfect and that is approach it with the attitude that we're all doing the best we can and to be kind to other racers. This past January was my first race ever and as I was nearing the end I was fading fast. Another runner went past, tapped me on the shoulder and said "you can do it!" That meant the world to me and that is one of the many reasons I fell in love with runDisney. I'm looking forward to doing it again and while I will try very hard to obey proper etiquette and not get in anyone's way, I will also remember as people "get in my way" that we're all doing the best we can and dealing with circumstances not immediately visible. See ya out there! :)

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    1. Okay, firstly, I <3 "rocked"! Brilliant! Sure sounds like you ROCKED that 10K in every way :) It's amazing what a little kindness can overcome, isn't it? Thanks for sharing. See you on the course!

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  3. Great post! Let's be real, runDisney is mostly about fun, and allowing ALL types of runners AND walkers to come out and enjoy the race – isn't that supposed to be what it's all about? Everyone having a chance to get out there, be active, do the best that they can on that given day? Meeting new friends? That's what I think, at least (and one of the reasons I love it). I understand that with so many people, there are bound to be bumps, congestion, some accidental pushing, etc. It comes with most races. It's best to be kind to one another, not get all frustrated (like you say). I go in with the mentality of having fun, not running a PR – I would suggest others to pick a different race if that's what they are there for. That's great if you do and can PR at these races, but don't be surprised that there's congestion and that it might be difficult (and don't be rude to others who are out there trying their best). It's not always possible to follow the rules the entire time (like you said, sometimes you have to avoid the runners by getting behind another walker, or you are alone and suddenly other people are right next to you - - can't always be helped). My own thoughts, of course :) My one suggestion would be that if you are injured or don't feel well (before the race starts) and know you won't be able to maintain the pace you have submitted, maybe move back to a corral that is more suitable. I support everyone who's out there, runners and walkers alike!

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    1. I wish there was a way rD could better get the word out that, generally speaking, their races maybe aren't the best places to shoot for a whopping PR. But I suppose that's not great marketing, huh?! ;) I totally agree: for most of us, rD races are terrible places to run for time. I was only interested in time for my first few Disney distance races and yeah - I finished feeling pretty frustrated. It was only when I adjusted my own expectations that I began to understand what makes racing at Disney so very special and fun.

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  4. My criticism isn't of the other runners, it's too runDisney for not coming up with a better course that could perhaps minimize the congestion. I ran the Tinkerbell at Disneyland and didn't have the issues we've all had at WDW. And while three abreast didn't bother me, 6 across and clearly in the same group is an issue. I'm never trying to PR at a Disney race, but would like to build a good buffer between me and the pacers so I can stop for all the fun pictures and not get swept. Another option, start the race a 1/2 hour sooner so there's more time between the corrals starting.

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    1. As a local very familiar with the roads and parks at WDW, I honestly can't see any changes they could make to the course itself that would relieve congestion, but it's certainly worth mentioning to rD! I thin the #1 factor, though, that contributes to crowded, chaotic conditions is what makes Disney races what they are: on-course entertainment and photo opps. No matter how fast someone runs, if she stops at every photo stop, she'll eventually wind up moving with racers slower than her. In comparing Princess to Tink, remember that you're looking at nearly double the participants; all of those extra bodies add up!

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  5. This is a really difficult issues, especially since runDisney is maximizing their profits by allowing a large number of race registrations. Because they no longer allow corral changes at the expo, it has made me a little apprehensive to spend the huge amount for a race and then end up in a totally inappropriate corral. I do plan to run the Princess Half, but will be calling the people at Track Shack to make sure they have my time correct.

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    1. I can totally understand that apprehension; I've had it, too. In the end, you're spot-on: revenue will always be rD's #1 priority, so we'll all have to decide what running Disney is worth to us. At this point, I enjoy it enough, and live close enough that expenses beyond registration are low, to keep going back. But I can absolutely see why others are feeling less sure about repeat performances.

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