Event: 2013 RunDisney Princess Half Marathon
Event Date: February 24, 2013
Event Location: Walt Disney World, Florida
Casual Runner kicks off its coverage of RunDisney events with Mike’s review of his first RunDisney event, which also happened to be his first half marathon.
Why I decided to run this race.
I need to start with a full disclosure: I never, ever, thought that I would run a half marathon. The thought never entered my mind. When I started running, I thought that the longest event I would ever attempt would be a 10k. Once I started running 10ks, I figured that it was a nice distance that I would be fine not exceeding. Like most things with me and my Casual Running experience, I proved myself to be mistaken.
Some of my fondest memories growing up were our family vacations to Walt Disney World. When I entered my thirties, friends of mine (including and especially a certain costume loving Casual Runner named Jennifer) convinced me to take a trip down to Disney World for our vacation, and I was instantly hooked again. While I will spare you the details, suffice to say that I love Disney. Within moments of my arrival back on Disney property, I decided to bring the entire family back with me for another visit. After two years of planning and pain staking negotiation, we agreed that February 2013 would be the target date for a week-long trip for myself, my mom, stepdad, brother, sister, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, cousin, and two nephews (ages 2 and 4).
We picked our dates based on what worked for everyone’s schedules, it just so happened that the first weekend of our trip would be RunDisney’s 2013 Princess Half Marathon weekend. I can’t remember who suggested it first, my brother or my friend Melissa, but before I knew it, I was fielding questions from multiple fronts as to whether I was going to run the half marathon (at the time, there was no 10k event. That race did not begin until 2014. Had there been, I may have entered it instead of the half marathon, so it is funny how things work out).
One day I was G-chatting with Melissa, and she asked me why I was not going to run the race. I told her that the race was only open to women. At least I recalled that somewhere along the line I thought I had heard this. She checked the RunDisney website, which used phrases suggesting that it is limited to just women and that is a “woman-focused” event, but it did not say whether men were excluded from the field. Not having the question answered to my satisfaction, I called RunDisney, and they assured me that men could indeed run the race. I honestly do not remember deciding to run the race, but the next thing I knew I had paid my fee and was committed to running the race. Later that autumn my brother committed to running the race as well. It was not planned; it was purely the result of some fortuitous scheduling and a little bit of Disney magic. I was going to run my first half marathon.
Getting there/the lead-up to the race.
I should have known that my first runcation would be a special one. When we boarded our flight in Pittsburgh, it was noticeably dominated by women runners. You just knew that they were runners by the clothes and shoes that they wore, and they could not have been nicer. When they found out that I was running the race – “a man running Princess?!?!” was uttered more than a few times on the flight – they could not have been more friendly, kind, or excited.
Upon arriving in Orlando we headed to Disney’s Magical Express to transfer to our resort, and again, the airport and bus were dominated by women runners. You could feel the excitement in the air. The same experience continued at the resorts where everyone was gearing up for the race. For a first time half-marathoner, I could not imagine a better indoctrination to a big-time event. It is for this reason that I recommend to people to try a runcationand a big-time race event. Local races have their place, many of them are wonderful events, and there is nothing better than being able to sleep in your own bed before a race. However, there is just something about immersing yourself in the event and all of the accompanying experiences that makes the occasion that much more enjoyable. Being at a RunDisney event, you get the sense that all of the runners are “in it together,” and you cannot put a price on that kind of instant camaraderie.
Unexpected Magic. It was clear that many of these runners were using the occasion for girls’ weekends or reunions. Many even had t-shirts (tech fabric of course) printed for their trips. It seemed as though everyone shared two common traits. First, they all seemed happy to just soak up the experience. Second, they were eager to share the experience with any stranger or fellow runner they met. They swapped stories of prior races, prior RunDisney weekends, training mishaps, running gear, anything that was of interest to the new friend they just made. Needless to say, this immersive experience and collegial atmosphere are just two of the many great aspects that allow RunDisney events to stand out from other races.
The race Expo.
Most Florida-based RunDisney events include a large race expo, with events spread across the sprawling ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World. For Princess 2013, however, we received a notice informing us that the expo would be moved to the convention center at the Coronado Springs Resort. Not having been to a previous expo, I did not know, how, if at all, this would impact the expo. So I can only report on what I experienced at this Expo, with the understanding that the location made this an a-typical RunDisney expo.
You should know that RunDisney is an impressive operation as its weekend events are massive undertakings. Even though the 2013 Princess Weekend was one of the smaller RunDisney events, RunDisney employs a fleet of contracted busses to transport runners to and from their on-site resort hotels and the expo and start/finish line. RunDisney does a great job of branding their events, which includes posting signs all around the resort clearly informing runners how to use the transportation system.
Instead of using the event transportation from our resort, my brother and I called an audible. We decided to spend the day before the race with our family in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. While RunDisney typically does not provide expo transportation from the theme parks, since the expo had moved to a resort hotel, we were able to take Walt Disney World transportation directly from the park to the expo location. This was easy and efficient, especially as we were able to send the rest of our family back to our resort to rest using the same Walt Disney World bus transportation.
Having spent the better part of the day at an amusement park, we arrived at the expo later on Saturday afternoon, so we avoided the crush of people. From the moment we entered the expo, upbeat music filled the venue. Unexpected Magic.I know it was a total fluke, but I posted this to Facebook when I left the expo: “the first three songs they played are all on my running mix for tomorrow’s race. Well played Disney. Well played.” Obviously this excited me at the time, but providing a memorable and fun soundtrack for an expo is definitely a great enhancement to any event.
The first part of the expo was intuitively laid out. Upon entering the massive ballroom, we found a row of numbered booths clearly marked and directing us where to pick up our bibs. As the crowd was relatively light at this time of day, it only took a few minutes to gather our bibs, race shirts, pins, and bags.
As we had just left a theme park and were meeting up with our family back at the resort to head to Downtown Disney for dinner, we did not leave ourselves with much time to explore the expo. We did briefly visit the rows of vendors. As this was my first major expo, I was excited to see the vendors and the variety of offerings. However, I did not find the layout of the vendor areas to be particularly intuitive. Additionally, they had their speaker series going on in the same ballroom, which made the atmosphere a little hectic.
My brother was anxious to get back to his two young sons who were having a ball back at the pool with their mom and their grandparents. He urged me to leave and said “we are just walking around.” I said to him, “um, isn’t that the point of an expo?” We looked at each other and had a laugh, because while I wanted to spend more time at the expo, I really didn’t know what one was supposed to do there. Oh well, I had more races planned and more expos to visit, so I knew I had time to figure it out.
We left the expo via the event transportation provided by RunDisney. Again, the signage was well-marked and we easily found the bus designated for our resort. The parking lot was a bit chaotic given the number of busses trying to transit a small space. Our driver assured us that this was due to the changed location, and that expos at the Wide World of Sports were less chaotic. After waiting in a traffic jam for about 10 minutes, we were on our way and back at our resort a few minutes later.
For this race, RunDisney provided Champion tech t-shirts. Both the men’s and women’s shirts were purple and were of good quality. The designs were nice, and none of the men I spoke with had anything but good things to say about the shirt, which I think is a tip of the hat to RunDisney as it was, after all, a women’s-focused event. My brother opted to get his shirt in a women’s cut so he could give it to his wife (everyone say “Ahhhh!”), and she gave it two thumbs up.
RunDisney also gave out a mesh drawstring bag. While I am generally a big fan of swag, especially event-specific swag, I thought this was an odd gift. Had it been a full nylon drawstring bag (which I love using when I am in amusement parks), I would have been thrilled. However, I found the mesh version of the product to be a strange option that presents very little utility.
Race art card. For every RunDisney event, Lasting Commemoratives, a vendor with a great line of products, offers a free art card created specifically for the event. This is a beautiful keepsake, however it requires you to register for it in advance and print out a coupon to bring with you for redemption at the expo. So you need to plan for this in advance. These cards are very nice and worth framing, but please be cautioned that you do need to register in advance. My brother did not heed this warning and we had to jump through a lot of hoops with bad data service on my IPhone to get him his card.
The question I received most before I ran the race was “will you wear a tiara or a tutu?” I don’t mean to disappoint you, but the answer was “no.” The farthest I ever ran in training was 10 miles, and I was just hoping to survive the race, and was not concerned with making any fashion statements. So when I packed, it was all typical, boring running clothes. While I checked the weather forecast obsessively to see how I should pack (especially given my failure at my first relay the previous fall: http://casual-runner.com/2014-07-28-worst-race-ever/), I packed for all eventualities – rain, cold, hot, dry….
Having left a cold Ohio in winter, any warmth would have been welcome. We were pleasantly surprised to find great weather conditions. The pre-race early morning temperatures hovered right around 60 with low humidity, so I opted for a short sleeve Starter tech t-shirt (which ended up being a little too warm), compression shorts, running shorts, a headband, sweatbands, and my New Balance Minimus shoes. As conditions were ideal, no pre-race sweatshirts or garbage bags were necessary.
RunDisney offers a solid bag check program, which includes large clear plastic bags with heavy duty drawstrings. I had plenty of room to put a change of clothes and everything I needed for the day as the family planned on going straight to Epcot for a day of fun after the race. My brother put his change of clothes in the same bag and we still had plenty of room for an extra pair of shoes, which I learned too late I should have brought (at the end of the race my shoes were so soaked with sweat and water from the fluid stations I that I was left wishing I could change into a dry pair of shoes for walking around the park). The volunteers were friendly, expedient, and helpful. So, in short, the bag check is a good option, take advantage of it.
If there is one thing you should know before entering a RunDisney race, it is that race mornings start EARLY. On our family vacation, we needed 4 hotel rooms at Port Orleans French Quarter. The night before the race we juggled around some of our rooms so that my brother and I shared a room and could wake up without bothering anyone else. Since this was their vacation, and not a true runcation, we wanted them to sleep in. While we did not know this, Port Orleans French Quarter is literally right across the street from the starting line. The entire family would soon be woken up, not by their alarms, but by the fireworks at the start. There is nothing like a little RunDisney magic to start your day!
We planned a breakfast of bagels, chocolate milk, and Gatorade in our hotel room because we did not want to bother with trying to find food at the ungodly early morning hour. This worked out just fine for us. We made our way to the front of the main lobby, the location RunDisney designated for event transportation, and found a huge line. I am talking huge, and as soon as we got into line, it only grew larger, to the point that it was extending back from the curb all the way into the lobby. We waited for two busses and they were packing them in, to the point where every seat was full and people were standing in the aisle. We were offered a spot on a bus that was already over capacity, and the volunteer told us that the next bus would be going to Port Orleans Riverside to pick up additional passengers, so it would be faster to get on the offered bus. I told my brother that, given the huge line, I could not imagine them saving space on a bus only to send it to Riverside, so we declined, and were glad that we did. The next bus was there and ready to load moments later, and we got two of the first seats on it. We were glad to be sitting as it took us nearly an hour to get to the unload area due to the heavy traffic.
Now, I just told you that the starting line was across the street from Port Orleans French Quarter, so you may be wondering why it took us an hour bus ride to get to the drop-off location. First thing, Disney does not want you walking around property, and certainly does not want you doing so at 3:00 in the morning of a race day. While some websites will tell you to just walk to the starting area, I was later informed that Disney Security will frown on this greatly if they spot you. Take that for what you will. Additionally, RunDisney transportation does not take you to the starting corrals (which are on Epcot Center Drive), it takes you to the drop-off area which is the Epcot parking lot. From there, you can walk to the pre-race area, which includes the security check, photo opportunities, pre-race music/dance party, water, and the all-important field of port-a-potties. Getting there required us to circumnavigate Epcot itself and the Epcot-area resorts, all in the midst of bumper to bumper traffic. Fortunately we allowed plenty of time and were neither worried nor rushed.
The walk from the drop-off area to the pre-race area seemed to be a bit excessive. You could feel the excitement in the air and I loved watching the monorails buzz overhead. However, I would not have minded saving some long distance walking prior to running 13.1 miles. The volunteers were helpful and efficient in directing us and processing our bag check items.
The lines for the port-a-potties were long, but not excessive, and the bathrooms themselves were clean. TMI Alert. Charmin is a sponsor at Disney World, and they gave us all the best gift – boxes of toilet paper scattered throughout the field of port-a-potties. I grabbed a roll before entering and was glad I did as there was none in my port-a-potty of choice. So, here’s a suggestion to all race directors: follow RunDisney’s lead and leave extra toilet paper out for runners to grab when needed. They will love you forever.
I cannot say that I was all that interested the pre-race activities. There were many people enjoying the dance party and the entertainers were doing their best to get the crowd going. It just is not my thing. So my brother and I took our time to grab water (which was in abundance) and walk to the starting corrals. Easter Egg. The walk to the corrals is long and meandering, but very cool for a Disney fan. You walk on some “backstage” paths that include a boneyard – old Disney ride and transportation vehicles sitting by the side of the road. I admittedly geeked out a bit at this.
All of the corrals were clearly marked and loading into the corrals was easy. The excitement was palpable. They displayed the entertainment for all of the corrals on large portable LED televisions. There was the obligatory (yet exciting) pre-race visit from Mickey Mouse and his friends, and the Fairy Godmother waved her wand to start the first wave of runners. Rather than a mass start, RunDisney used a regulated corral system with staggered starts. This is a very good thing, however, the corrals were too large and, as a result, the starts were very congested. Each corral received its own fireworks send-off (a nice touch by RunDisney that I love. However, as I said earlier, it was a touch that was not enjoyed nearly as much by our family trying to sleep back at the nearby resort).
TMI Alert.I was anxious for my first race, and given that I would be running in the Florida humidity after having acclimated to the long Ohio winter, I was concerned with dehydration, so I over-hydrated. I was not prepared for the long wait in the corrals, or the fact that you could not exit the corrals once they started releasing earlier corrals. Thus, when it came time to start the race, I had to go. Fortunately, while the start area was lined with spectators on the left side, it was lined with trees on the right. So, as soon as my brother and I crossed the starting line, he shot off down the course, and I shot off into the trees. Hey, it happens.
OK, this having been my first half marathon, I may have gotten a little carried away with this review! So you will have to wait until tomorrow to read Part Two. In the meantime, you can share any comments you have about my experience or your own RunDisney experiences in the comments section below, or by contacting us via email, Facebook, or Twitter using the links below. As an added bonus, you can check Casual Runner’s first YouTube video, which gives you a look into my family’s experience at the 2013 RunDisney Princess Half Marathon: