What an unbelievable, indescribable, inspirational, and educational weekend at Walt Disney World Princess Weekend 2023 for the Run Disney Fairytale Challenge! In case you have forgotten, or never read why I signed up for this craziness – take a few minutes to read my post after we registered in July of 2022. I’ll wait for you to catch up 😉
I trained following the Galloway Training Plan for the Challenge and started in July to get a head start by walking 3 qty 5ks (3.1 miles) a week at a slow/moderate pace to test it out and get my feet and legs used to the mileage. After our trip to Africa (no running!) in Aug-Sept, upon returning, I got serious and started the program early to allow for any unforeseen injuries or illness and thank goodness I did because I needed the buffer for both! I rarely missed or had to make up any of my training runs in the beginning and played around with my run/walk intervals for a while until I settled between 30/30, 45/30, and even made it to 1:00/30 depending on distance (these are all explained on the top of the training plan). Soon I started reaching longer and longer distances and had faster recovery and less soreness. I absolutely cried every time I hit a new milestone all the way up to completing my longest distance ever of 14 miles. Alas, all of that came to a screeching halt just after the new year when I broke my toe tripping over a hand weight in my own home. I was completely crushed and basically had to stop training, along with everything else in life, to give it time to heal. A few weeks later I started back by only walking because so many people had reminded me to put the miles on my feet even if it’s just walking – Forward is still a pace. Once I felt capable of putting the impact of running back on that foot I started again with only a couple weeks left and overall, I had a total of 246 miles of training miles since starting in July of 2022. I was still in pain but was just trying to focus on my excitement instead.
Finally, after half a year of training, it was race week! We packed everything Disney themed that we own into the car and headed out Thursday morning to embark on what I knew would be an unforgettable adventure ahead of us. Thursday was the bib pickup, Friday was the 5k, Saturday was the 10k, and Sunday was the half marathon = 22.4!
We arrived at ESPN Wide World of Sports for packet pickup around Noon on Thurs, Feb 23 and yes there were lots of people on the first day, but the parking was simple (we drove ourselves), and lines moved quickly. Lots of energetic music, blazing sunshine, banners, photo opportunities, food, drinks and lots of swag awaited! We first went to pick up our Bibs in the Field House building – they require you to know your bib number from your Run Disney account, have digitally signed your waiver (which you can do on site), and show your photo ID then they give you your race bib. Each event bib is picked up separately unless you are doing the challenge, which is what we did, so we had to pick up the 5K then go to a separate line to pick up the Challenge bib which covered the 10K and Half Marathon. We also received a princess poster and luggage tag!
Next you go into the Athletic Center building next door where the main Health & Fitness Expo is happening and at the very back of the building is where you pick up your race shirts. Same deal here – we had to go to two different lines to collect the 5K then another line to get the 10K, Half, and Challenge shirts. These lines moved very quickly! After that we browsed all of the vendors in search of Fluffy Fizzies so I could pick up my online order of bath and shower recovery bombs. Such an easy process for a race weekend and they are amazing for recovery and I owe it all to one of the podcasts that got me so excited for this challenge – Rise and Run Podcast! While we were at the Expo we walked past the Jeff Galloway booth and luckily there was a short line to meet the man himself! Jeff Galloway signed my princess poster, was very encouraging and kind and it felt like talking to a family member. Fan girl for life and I feel very grateful I got a chance to meet an Olympian that has inspired me so much.
In January, for Marathon weekend, Run Disney started a new process for buying official RD Merchandise at the races and it involves joining a virtual queue to enter the Advent Health Arena building on the first day of the Expo. There you can shop exclusive Run Disney Merchandise that you can’t find anywhere else (except eBay). Mark and I had already decided after the merch preview that dropped the week before, that we would rather spend more time at the Expo, parks, and resort instead of waiting around for the queue and fighting the crowds. We are also both superstitious in the sense that neither of us will wear a race shirt before we actually run a race and I didn’t want to chance buying an item and face the idea that I would be out money if I didn’t complete it and I firmly stand by this now for sure!
Since we had everything we really needed to run the races we headed out by 2 PM and over to the resort we were checking into for the weekend, one of our favorites, especially for races – Pop Century! This is roughly the fifth time we have stayed here over the years and sadly this time it took the longest for us to check in, so we parked the car and headed to the Petals Bar at the Hippy Dippy pool and waited for our room to be ready with a cold drink in hand. We had learned from the bar tender that there were 4 different major events happening that weekend besides just a race weekend, so it was packed and thankfully we packed our patience! We really lucked out when we got a room on the 3rd floor in building 6 in the 70’s area and it had a great central location to the buses, skyliner, and the food court. We will be trying to request this room and building again in the future!!
It was after 3 PM when we got into our room, so we quickly unpacked the car, tossed it into the room and got straight onto a resort bus to Disney Springs for our 4:40 PM ADR – Advanced Dining Reservation – at Enzo’s Hideaway in Disney Springs. Spaghetti here we come! We ordered sangria, caprese, and all the pasta and bread we could to fuel up on for the next 72 hours with no regrets – it was a wonderful meal that gave us late night leftovers – our favorite! The 5k was the next day and we needed to catch a bus at 3 AM and a race start of 5 AM so we headed back to the room, took a nice cool shower because it was HOT and headed to bed…. For a sleepless night due to nerves of course!!! At this point in the trip I had noticed some facial pain and swelling along with some congestion on the left side of my face – thanks pollen season. I took some allergy medicine and tried not to think much about it… but this will creep back into the story soon.
We set everything out the night before that we knew we would need, set our alarms for 2:45 AM and were up and out the door and on the second bus by 3:15 AM to the start line at Epcot. Mark is a great runner but since he registered me at the same time he found himself in the same corral with me, a first-time runner, for both the 5K and 10K. That was perfect since he already planned to stay with me for my very first Run Disney event ever – the Princess 5k… and we started in the last corral – D! We already knew we wanted to walk this entire race and save our legs for the next two. The 5k at Disney is not timed, there are no balloon ladies, and they do not sweep you off the course within reason. Obviously, they need to open the park at the normal time so that is the only factor and some people can take up to 3 hours to finish it. We had a wonderful time just walking by the character stops, looking at everyone’s costumes and seeing Epcot behind the scenes and the world showcase at sunrise. It was beautiful! Our slow and steady 5k, my first race ever, ended with us both in tears because of a wonderful family that we crossed the finish line with – A survivor and her entire family. It was such a monumental and inspirational moment to see a family come together like that and it gave us all the feels since I have been silently worrying about my own families’ health journey’s. This image will last a lifetime and I am so happy it happened right in front of my eyes.
We headed back to the resort, grabbed the best bagel sandwich ever from the Everything POP dining area and basically fell into bed for the most epic nap in history! Finally, one race down, two big ones to go! Something we knew already and absolutely proved itself this weekend is that a Vacation is very different than a Race-cation. We took our rest, fuel, and hydration seriously and truly utilized our resort instead of feeling like we needed to spend every second doing something. Once we woke up and felt alive again we headed over to Hollywood Studios via the Skyliner for our ADR and our first visit to 50’s Prime Time Café. If you know me at all as a person you know that I have spent decades obsessed with the 50’s. 60’s, and 70’s and I LOVE everything vintage and Mid Century. So, this has been on my list for a long time. We loved it – the atmosphere, the food choices, the tv’s, music, and “crappy” service was awesome, and our home cookin’ meals were fantastic. We will definitely do that again!
We turned in early with another 2:30 AM wake up and 5 AM race start for the 10k on Saturday. The 10k had corrals A-D and we were in D again. They release each corral in several different waves 2 min apart and the balloon ladies are the last to start and maintain a 16 min mile. We started in the wave right before they did. The time limit for a 10k is 1 hour 40 mins and technically you can finish it right behind the balloon ladies as they are just a visual representation of the final runners and technically the bikers behind them will sweep you off the course if you aren’t moving forward at a decent pace. So technically we started the 10k with a two-minute buffer from them but as you run you increase the buffer. Mark and I ran at my pace and my preferred run/walk intervals and we never even saw the balloon ladies the entire race! We had a beautiful race even though it was 93% humidity and finished with smiles, hand in hand, across the finish line. This course was very cool because it took you from the Epcot parking lot all the way to Hollywood Studios, down Disney’s Boardwalk, and back through Epcot. We made no dining or park plans for this day and once we were back in the room we took another glorious nap then got food in the Pop Century at Everything POP, hydrated and hit up two of the pools for the rest of the day with a 7 PM bed time!!! Two down and the big one to go!
The half marathon – definitely the one I was the most nervous about – but I trusted my training and I was as ready as I was going to be with only faint foot and toe pain, and a lingering sinus pain. I actually slept decently well that night, woke up on time, we made it on the first bus of the morning and once we checked our bag we headed to our corrals. The half marathon had corrals A-F. Mark was in B because he submits a proof of time and he is amazing. I was in F 😓 (Mark was already at mile 5 when I finally crossed the start line a full hour after A corral went off). I was in the second to last wave before the balloons and only had a two-minute buffer. I worked hard the first 4 miles to increase my buffer to 10 min ahead of the balloons but then I got super dizzy at mile 4 and I had to step off the course until it passed and lost some of my buffer. At that point I said my only goal was to make it to the castle, and I did!!! The Castle was at mile 5-6 and I still had about a 5 min buffer but then at mile 7.5 I almost completely crashed, and then I watched the balloon ladies 🎈 go right past me. I outran them for 8 miles. Technically the bikers said I could keep going but I couldn’t focus on anything in front of my eyes and knew if I couldn’t see I couldn’t keep up for 5 more miles – it wasn’t safe. The Half marathon time limit is 3:30 from the last person to start. It was crazy because I’ve done that distance 3 other times in training and was within the time limit, so something was wrong, and it was just a really off day. I think the 10k dehydration lingered, along with the sinus issues I was starting to experience on the first day and it’s what took me down in the fog and 91% humidity. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t see, and I just went down to my knees and went numb. I obviously wasn’t planning to get a DNF (did not finish) but I am thankful I never lost consciousness and I didn’t fall and get a serious injury. When I got on the bus they provide to those who have been pulled or have pulled themselves from the course to ride back to the reunion area, I wasn’t able to stand on my own and there were no more seats left. Several ladies offered me a seat but I refused because everyone looked pretty rough and as soon as the bus started to move I just laid on the floor and a wonderful runner put her ice pack on my neck until we arrived back at Epcot. They helped me to my feet and I left the bus to go find Mark who had already finished his sub 2-hour half marathon and it wasn’t until I saw him that I finally let the tears fall. He was so proud of me even though I didn’t finish like I had hoped but was just so glad I wasn’t hurt. Everyone was so encouraging – I was really the only one being hard on myself, and also still scared as to what happened. But then I was reminded – even elite athletes have bad days. I haven’t even been running for a full year and the first time I have ever signed up for anything and I did a three-day race that most people think is crazy. I was almost there.
Obviously, I had hoped to end this journey on a high note but sadly I was swept from the course around mile 8. BUT I made it to the castle and I still feel very proud of my journey so far, and my first attempt at anything this significant. I finished the 5k, 10k, and 8 of the 13.1 and if you asked me a year ago I wouldn’t have believed I’d be doing any of it. Of course, I’m feeling disappointed I didn’t get the challenge medal, but I got 3 of the 4 medals for Princess weekend 🙌 Mark, as always, did absolutely amazing and is still my biggest inspiration 🏃🏻♂️🎉 He got his goal of a sub 2-hour half marathon, did his first back to back challenge ever and I’m super proud of him. Don’t worry I have always been a princess – this was just to add some bling in my life lol! I will redeem my half marathon and I will continue to grow from this experience and it was an absolute blast that gives me even more focus and determination to keep going! This will not be my last Run Disney event!
Despite a low point I refused to let us end our race weekend on anything but a high point, so we took a nap, I dusted myself off, put on a new Cinderella shirt and ears and headed to Magic Kingdom for our last night. We took a few photos with our medals in front of the castle like I had wanted to do then we headed off to eat all the calories we had burned running/walking over 90 miles during the trip. We dined at Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom and to our surprise the characters were back after a hiatus from the pandemic and we got to have our first character dining experience ever! I was just sitting their minding my own business when Winnie the Pooh walked up behind me and gave me a hug that I badly needed. Throughout dinner I got the same loving hug from my favorite character Eeyore, then Piglet and lastly Tigger. It was a special and nostalgic way to end our time in the parks.
Monday, we checked out of Pop Century and headed to Disney Springs for our final dining reservation experience. We had a couple hours to waste so we immediately got in the Gideon’s Bakehouse virtual queue and to our amazement it was only about an hour wait (on a Monday of course!). In the meantime, we did some shopping at some of our favorite Disney Springs stores and kept moving to get the lactic acid under control – We picked out some delicious cookies, cake, and cold brew to take home once we were called back for our turn at Gideon’s and then headed to a place that has been on my list for years now – Wine Bar George. It was heaven and exactly what we wanted and needed, and we will make this a regular spot for sure!
Well… that was a fun goal!! Cheers and thank you for all of the support! We will be keeping a close eye on #rundisney and the upcoming registrations!