Running Thru Disneyland & What I Learned Along the Way

One of the experiences I was most excited about when going to Disneyland for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration was the two mile Fun Run being planned for some of the conference attendees by the RunDisney team. I had already been trying to get back into running, but seeing the opportunity to run through Disneyland and California Adventures gave me a renewed motivation to train harder.

Of course, this would happen to be the coldest, harshest winter we’ve had in a long time, meaning that the majority of my training was done indoors on my treadmill. I started back at week 1, day 1 for a couch-to-5K training program, finding even the first week difficult. I’d later realize that starting a running program when you have a bad cold, which then turns into sinus and ear infections, makes the path a little more rocky, but hey, I had a deadline to meet, as well as a time: they wanted us to average a 13 minute mile.

In the week before I left, I started to worry that I wasn’t ready. I had yet to get beyond week 3 of the training program, unable to run longer than three minutes without a break, and I couldn’t get my time to anywhere under a 14 minute mile. The weather had FINALLY turned nicer, though, and I decided to switch my running to the outdoors. I also ditched the couch-to-5K program and decided that I’d run until I just started to feel out of breath, then walk for a minute or two, then run again. The combination of finally running outdoors with more than the wall in front of me and running without a timed schedule worked: on my last run before I left for the conference, my two mile time was 25:42, just barely under 13 minutes per mile!

At registration in Anaheim, those of us who were running were asked to go to the end of the hallway, where we were fitted with new shoes, courtesy of New Balance, one of the sponsors. Their team of fit experts made me feel like Cinderella, only instead of a glass slipper they found the perfect running shoe for my foot. I also stopped to admire the limited edition Disney-themed running shoes they had on display. It’s only natural that Cinderella was one of the character-inspired designs.

New Balance Disney shoes Photo credit: Josh Hallett @hyku

With new shoes for my feet (thank you, New Balance!), I then visited the runDisney/ESPN table to talk a little more about the runDisney events. I had originally thought they only did marathons and half marathons, but learned last year that there are 5K and 10K events that often go with each of the larger events. (Kids races, too.) Each event looks like so much fun!

The run wasn’t until Sunday morning, which meant I had three days to wear out my feet with all of the walking around Disneyland. Luckily, I had spent a week walking around Walt Disney World not even two weeks prior, so my feet handled the stress without any problem. I was smart and stuck to sensible shoes, too.

We had to be up SUPER early on Sunday morning. Check-in was at 5:30am. I wondered how many people would show up in costume, or show up at all, at that early time. Part of my motivation was wearing something fun and Disney-themed to run in. I dressed as Anna from Frozen, with a little help from my soon-to-be favorite running skirts, SparkleSkirts:

Anna and Olaf Fun Run #DisneySMMoms And I found Olaf!

After a pep talk and warm ups, we all gathered at the starting line. They split us into two groups: the runners, and those who would follow a 30 second run/walk pattern. I could run longer than 30 seconds, but knew I couldn’t run all the way without a walk break. So I positioned myself somewhere in the middle, between the two groups. I’d try to stay with the runners as best I could.

Start of the Fun Run #DisneySMMomsI was starting my running music…the Frozen soundtrack, of course

It was amazing to run through the parks! For someone who loves Disney, having the chance to run down Main Street towards the castle, with the street quiet and empty, is simply surreal. As I ran (and walked), I kept thinking, “Is this really happening? Am I actually here, running through the castle, past the statue of Walt and Mickey?”

Fun Run thru the castle #DisneySMMomsa sideways shot running out of the castle

Disneyland itself was fairly quiet, but once we left the gates and crossed the lot into California Adventure, we were presented with a different atmosphere. More cast members were on hand, directing us which way to go and cheering us on. You could feel the energy in their smiles. I was tiring out by this point, taking more walk breaks, but it was their enthusiasm that kept me going.

Fun Run Final Turn #DisneySMMoms

After running around the Paradise Pier area, we made the final turn into Carsland. I could see the balloon arch for the Finish line up ahead, along with the families and the runners who had already finished. I was already breathing hard with a pain in my side, but nearing that crowd made me launch myself into a sprint for the finish. I made it!

Fun Run Finish #DisneySMMoms 2014Photo credit: Josh Hallett – @hyku

I was tired at the end, but I also felt exhilaration for what I had just done. Two miles isn’t a lot to many people, but two miles in under 26 minutes was a great accomplishment for me. And there are few experiences that compare to running through the Disney parks in the quiet of the morning!

With Lightning McQueen #DisneySMMomsLightning McQueen is holding me up at this point.

Reflecting on the experience, I picked up a few valuable lessons from this run:

1. “That’s what friends are for. They help you to be more of who you are.” Christopher Robin’s words reinforce the idea that a good community is invaluable. Some of the runners had formed a Facebook group to encourage and support each other as we trained for this event. Some were new to running, others experienced runners, and a lot fell in-between. Just when I felt like giving up before we even arrived, there were community members there to remind me that I could do it, I wanted to do it, and I wasn’t alone.

I wouldn’t have felt as prepared if it hadn’t been for the advice and encouragement I received from that group. It’s hard to do anything alone, but it’s so much easier when you have friends to remind you to keep going and not give up. It was wonderful to see each of them cross the finish line, too!

2. “Just keep swimming.” I’ve used Dory’s phrase many times since I first saw Finding Nemo, in many different situations. When you’re running, and your lungs are burning as you huff and puff for air, the finish line can seem awfully far away. I remember coming around a corner and seeing Paradise Pier, and then realizing I still had to run alllllll the way around it. But I wasn’t going to quit, right? No way! I had to keep going, reminding myself that I could get through it if I just kept swimming, swimming, just keep swimming…

3. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Mary Poppins was right – find the fun in any task, and it’s far easier to accomplish. Why did I put together a running costume? Because when you’re running through Disney, it feels more fun to run as a character! For that time, I was Anna, running through the magical world of Disney with the Frozen soundtrack in my head. Running is hard, but that two miles was probably the most fun I’ve ever had while running, which only makes me want to do it again.

This was a big revelation for me: if I want to find more success with running (and anything else in life), I have to find ways to make it more fun for me.

4. “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” Walt Disney’s quote is popular for a reason: there’s some solid truth in there. If you told me ten years ago that I could run two miles, I’d have laughed until I cried. I’ve always admired runners, but I was never a runner. Well, now I’m willing to challenge that idea. I want to be a runner, and I’m willing to pursue it. I feel that, with the right motivation, I can keep training and push myself further. I can apply this philosophy to anything I want to pursue in life as well.

It was a magical experience, and I’m so glad I decided to do it and didn’t give up.

Neither Aaron or I have done a runDisney event yet (other than this unofficial one for me), but the announcement of the new Avengers Super Heroes Half Marathon at Disneyland was enough inspiration for Aaron – he’s vowed that he will run in that event for his 40th birthday in three years. I’d be happy just to train for and run in the Princess 10K at Walt Disney World – a half-marathon seems far too out of reach for me, but if it’s a runDisney event to motivate me, I think I could be ready to attempt my first-ever 10K by next year.

#DisneySMMoms 2014 Fun RunPhoto credit: Josh Hallett – @hyku

Disclosure: Thank you to runDisney and New Balance for sponsoring the Fun Run and our breakfast afterward!

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  1. Disney races are always so well put together it seems. I haven’t done one yet but I’m hoping to attempt the Disney Princess 10k at some point, also. I have friends who have done it and they say it’s awesome!