The moment of truth! Honestly, I don’t think I would have been able to get through this race if I hadn’t been eating right during January and February. I certainly hadn’t trained for it, but the adrenaline and excitement of the race itself kept me going. Plus, it doesn’t hurt when you’re running with 28,000 of your closest friends for motivation.
The course itself is simple: you start by Epcot, run to and through the Magic Kingdom, then head back to Epcot on the opposite side of the same road you were just on, run around the Epcot ball, then finish in Epcot’s parking lot. It’s basically one big loop.
As simple as that sounds, there are some pretty tricky areas you have to push through. For this particular Princess race (my third Princess Half), I was lucky enough to have a decent time that put me in corral E. The corrals are huge and the number of people in the corral increases the farther down the alphabet you go. Thankfully E was still in the first half of corrals, so there were only a few thousand on the course in front of me. This meant less people to weave in and out of at the start of the race.
It starts narrow, simply because you’re getting off an exit and getting on the road to the Magic Kingdom. Around Mile 2, the road widens from about two lanes to four lanes, so you definitely have room to spread out and run at your own pace. Mile 2 is usually where the first character stop is and it’s usually the pirate ship with Captain Jack and Barbossa. You can’t meet these characters anywhere else, so if you love Pirates of the Caribbean as much as I do (they’re my all-time favorite movies, no shame) then you should definitely plan to stop and say hi. Another tip to keep in mind: you have to run back the exact same way, so if you don’t want to stop just two miles in, you’ll be able to see them around Mile 10. The princes are also around Mile 2-3, so you’ll be able to catch them around Mile 9 on your way back to Epcot. By the start of your third mile, you should actually be running through the parking lot entrance to the Magic Kingdom! This first leg of your journey is probably one of the easiest because of the excitement of the start, your fresh legs, and because you actually don’t realize how close Epcot and the Magic Kingdom are to each other until you run between them. Cue blurry running selfies because I couldn’t be bothered to actually stop for a decent picture:
This part kind of drags because you just entered the Magic Kingdom parking lot, so you probably think you’re going to be in the park soon. Wrong. This is your chance to truly appreciate just how large the MK parking lot is and be thankful they have trams that take you from your car to the monorail entrance. This is also your chance to pause and ask yourself, “Wait a minute…if we can only get into the Magic Kingdom by ferry boat or monorail, how are we supposed to run there?” The answer to this question will soon become apparent when you realize you’re running the back way, which takes longer and you’ll be wondering how it looked like you entered the MK property two miles ago and yet you’re still not in the park. However, right when you’re about to be discouraged by the fact that you’re not in the park, you’ll run under this guy, who is probably one of my favorite people associated with the Princess Half. This gem stands on top of a bridge while you run under it and blasts “Go the Distance” from Hercules while waving oversized Mickey hands around and dancing the whole time. It’s one of the most encouraging sights I’ve ever seen in a Disney race and I look forward to this guy every Princess Half.
You’re in the park! Technically you entered the park sometime during Mile 5, but for the purpose of not over-complicating this post with split miles, let’s just say Mile 6. This is the easiest part of the entire race because you’re FINALLY in the park! Stop and take pictures with the castle and appreciate how empty Tomorrowland and Fantasyland are as you run through it. Enjoy the view of the sun rising over the castle (it’s one of the most gorgeous sights you’ll ever see, and as a cast member I got to appreciate this view a few times…it’s something I’ll never forget because of how beautiful it is). I’ve seen a variety of characters behind the castle in Fantasyland to take pictures with—Mickey and Minnie, the Fairy Godmother, and the Evil Stepsisters just to name a few. They’re constantly changing, so this is a good opportunity to see a wild card character. Running through MK is the best part of the race, so enjoy it! It’s seriously over before you know it, so take it all in before you exit the way the parades do behind Splash Mountain. This is also your chance to see backstage (it’s really not that impressive, trust me) so if you’re really curious about some inside Disney magic, take a look around.
And don’t forget the best part about running through the Magic Kingdom: You actually get to run through the castle! If emerging from a castle in a tutu doesn’t make you feel like a princess, I don’t know what will. Here’s what it looks like to run out of the castle (and also maybe a tutorial of what NOT to do with your hands while posing for pictures while running):
As you exit the Magic Kingdom, there’s usually a princess and her prince to take pictures with. I have yet to stop and take a picture with a princess because the line is usually pretty long, but if you want a princess picture during your princess race, this is the moment to do it! There’s no guarantee on the royal couple you’ll meet, but they will have a royal couple, because what’s a princess race without a princess? Right after you get past the princess, the real challenge begins. You’re over halfway so you might be a little tired, but the real challenge is the course. They take you behind the Grand Floridian on the small service road that usually doesn’t see much traffic and the course cuts down to just one lane of that road, because the other is open so cast members can get to work. If you can imagine a couple thousand runners all in the same spot on the road and trying to move forward, you can probably guess that it bottlenecks at this point in the race. Just keep pushing because it opens back up a little before the eighth mile marker. Another real challenge is the fact that there is no entertainment on this part of the course. There’s no room for characters and there’s honestly really nothing interesting to look at, so it’s hard to focus on anything other than the fact that you feel like cattle. Like I said, just keep trucking because it gets better. Miles 9-10 are similarly insignificant because you’re running the same part of the course you already did, just on the other side of the road because you’re heading to Epcot, not away from it. However, this is your chance to possibly get any characters you didn’t see through Miles 2-3 because you didn’t want to stop too soon. Literally the only thing that keeps me going through this part of the race is getting to Mile 9.5 so I can stop and take a picture with the princes. After that, I’m usually so giddy that I don’t even notice how tired I am.
Also difficult, but in a different way. This is the part of the course where elevation comes into play—yes, Disney put hills at the END of the course because they hate us and want us to hate ourselves too. (And no, that wasn’t dramatic, because have you run up exit ramps after already running 11 miles and battling crowds of thousands of people? Yeah, it’s not as easy as it sounds.) However, once you get past these few hills, you are HOME FREE!
Finally entering Epcot! Let me tell you, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see the Epcot ball than I have while on this course. When you can see it, it signals that you’re almost done. All you have to do is run to it and then around it and away from it for less than half a mile and then you cross the finish line. At this point in the race, my adrenaline kicked back in because I knew I was almost done and with less than two miles, I knew I had less than 20 minutes of physical activity left in me. When you break it down to just 20 minutes, it doesn’t seem bad at all, so I was able to push myself to pick up the pace a little bit, because I use the logic “the faster you run, the faster you’ll be done” and it definitely works.
I also had to stop RIGHT before the end of the course because I finally found Snow White and since I was wearing her dress (sort of) I had to take a picture with my twin.
The Finish Line
This was actually the first time I heard my name called out as I crossed the finish line, which was awesome! As soon as I crossed that line, I felt an enormous amount of pride for the physical test I had just put myself through. Don’t let anybody tell you any different—a runner’s high is one of the best feelings in the world!
ADVICE FOR THE PRINCESS HALF MARATHON
- Get your sleep! I cannot stress this enough. I understand the excitement of Disney and it’s easy to get caught up in the magic and the fireworks and parades at the end of the night, but you need to have a plan. If you say you’re going to leave at a certain time, try your best to get back to your hotel to get a decent night of sleep. Six hours is better than two and a half. However, if you know yourself and know you can run on pure adrenaline, then you can be the judge of that. I’ve run most of my Disney races on less than three and a half hours of sleep, so it can be done, it’s just not recommended.
- Take it easy. If you’re doing the challenge, there’s no need to push yourself, like I said with the 10k. Once again, you’re probably not going to get your very best time if you just ran 6 miles the day before and then walked around Disney the rest of the day. So don’t overdo it. Just have fun with it.
- Study the course. It’s always easier to complete something when you know what you’re getting into. The guide you get at the expo has the race course available with symbols showing you where they’ll have water and medical tents along the way. You can plan for water stops or if you know you’re going to need Biofreeze from a med tent. And if you study the course (or read blogs like this that recap what the race is like) then you’ll know about the hills and can train with some elevation.
- Plan your character stops. My advice is to get a few characters in your head that you really want to see and then if you see them, go ahead and stop. If you’re way ahead of your time, then you can stop multiple times—just make sure to keep track of your time so you are able to finish the race and get your medal! Popular stops for this race include: the princes, the villains, the princess, and Mickey, so be prepared for a line if your dream meet n greet is in that list.
- Set mini goals for yourself while running. I do this all the time while I’m running, not just at Disney or during races! 13.1 miles is an intimidating number, no matter how many times you’ve done it, so I break up my race. I tell myself that I’m going to run until I get to the castle, where I’ll stop to take a quick picture. Then I’ll run just three more miles until I see the princes. Then just two more miles until I can see Epcot. Then just another mile before I can take a picture with the ball. Then just a mile more and I’m done. Whatever goals you want to set for yourself, it’s a lot easier to run 3 miles at a time than it is 13 (even if you’re continuously running 13, you can trick yourself into thinking you’re not, which is 100% my strategy…it’s not crazy if it works, right?).
- Wear a costume. Like I said in the Enchanted 10k post, costumes are an important part of a runDisney race! You’ll actually feel more out of place if you don’t wear one. Just make sure that you pick a comfortable costume that you can run 13 miles in!
- Understand race etiquette. By this, I mean know the runner’s rules. If you plan on a run/walk combination, don’t run and then all of a sudden start walking in the middle of the road. There are so many people around you and the person behind you can’t read your mind—they have no idea that it’s time for you to walk and they’ll probably run into you, which can cause serious harm and a big pile up, which would put a damper on everyone’s day. If at any point in the race you’re going from a run to a walk, get to the right side of the road (like you’re driving—left lane is the fast lane and the right is where you can pull over) and put your hand up to signal you’re about to stop. This keeps things safer for everyone involved.
- Jump in front of the photographers! As you can see, my running pictures are usually awkward and I cringe looking at them, but every once in a while a true gem shines through and you’ll appreciate the fact that you have it. The more pictures a photographer takes of you, the more chance you’ll have at finding some really great ones! Plus, PhotoPass is now on the course instead of MarathonFoto and they took some GREAT pictures on the course of the Star Wars Half that I ran in April.
If you’re able, I would also encourage you to go around the parks in all your gear after the race! You get some great opportunities for pictures with your medals and everyone tells you congratulations…it’s a really great ending to a race weekend.
Disney races are my absolute favorite and I highly recommend running though the parks! Happy running, everyone!