[Note: This is part 2. You can find the first half of my recap in Part 1.]
At 5:30am, the Fairy Godmother took the stage with the race announcers, and provided the countdown for the first corral. Fireworks burst into the sky as the first group took off running.
I shivered and continued to wait as three more corrals moved past us to the start line and went through their own countdowns. Finally, it was our turn.
My mylar blanket fell off of me as the group was moved to the start line. I wasn’t going to need it much longer anyway. I tightened my shoelaces and then bounced on my toes to warm up my legs while waiting for our moment. And then the fireworks went off for us – it was time to run.
Despite being cold and tired, I was going on pure adrenaline at this point. It was about half a minute before the crowd thinned out enough to actually run, but I burst across the starting line ready to fly with my Garmin watch signaling my intervals and my phone playing music from my running playlist.
I skipped my first walk interval because I was feeling so good. (Note to self: stop skipping your first walk interval. It only makes you slower later.) About half a mile down the road, I saw the first character appearance. Anna and Elsa were set up on a Frozen-themed overpass that we ran under. Disney, being a wise company, made sure there was no way to go meet Anna and Elsa or get a photo with them – the lines would have been unmanageable. But they had microphones and were waving and talking to the crowd as we ran below.
As I approached, I wanted them to notice me, since I was dressed as Elsa in her coronation outfit. I waved up to them, and caught Anna’s eye. She waved back and said, “Oh, Elsa, it must be corneration day! Uh, I mean, coronation day!” That recognition made my heart happy.
Skipping my first walk interval and parts of additional walk intervals caught up to me at the end of the first mile. I was suddenly tired, and about to turn the corner to climb a huge overpass. As I made the 180 degree turn, I worried I wasn’t going to be able to make it if I was this tired already. But I looked down at the road below, where I had been, and saw all of the people still behind me, some walking, some running. All shapes, all sizes. I wasn’t going to let my first moment of doubt bring me down.
And then, on that road below, I saw the balloon ladies. For those who don’t know, the balloon ladies are volunteers with large Disney balloons tied to them, who are the last to cross the start line, and keep the minimum 16 minute per mile pace. As long as you’re ahead of them, you won’t be swept from (pulled out of) the race. I’m told they’re a wonderfully supportive group of ladies who encourage all near them to keep going, but it’s also true that seeing them can make you very afraid. Yes, they were still nearly a quarter of a mile behind me, but that still felt too close for comfort. Seeing them gave me that extra push to make it to mile two faster than I made it to mile one.
There were a few characters along the route that you could stop and get photos with, but I didn’t stop out of fear of time. I passed by Alice and the card soldiers from the Queen of Hearts, then Tinkerbell and her fairy friends, and then we took an exit ramp that would lead us into the backstage area of Epcot. So far we had only been running on roads, but I was excited to run in the park itself. Greeting us at the backstage entrance were performers on stilts who waved and high-fived (or low-fived in their case) the runners who passed by.
We made another turn through a gate and I found myself in the World Showcase area of Epcot. The sun was up at this point, but still low, and everything had a beautiful glow to it. While I still wasn’t willing to stop and wait in lines to meet characters (Marie from Aristocats was in this area, as was Minnie Mouse in her princess dress), I did quickly run to the water’s edge for a selfie with Epcot’s Spaceship Earth in the background.
After crossing the bridge from the France pavilion, we exited Epcot towards the Boardwalk resort. My second moment of doubt was hitting me as we ran up a hill to cross the bridge to the Boardwalk. I was tired, I was now starting to get sweaty, and I didn’t know how so many of the people around me looked so refreshed. Good acting? It was also while at the Boardwalk that I saw a woman walking the opposite direction with her 10k medal already around her neck. I had over two miles to go, while some were already DONE?
Luckily, this second moment of doubt was squashed by two excellently timed mood-boosters. First, there was a great crowd of spectators all along the Boardwalk, holding up signs of support and cheering us on. Knowing that they were still there cheering for those of us who were slower restored a lot of my confidence. If these strangers felt we could do it, then we could.
And the second was my running music playlist (on shuffle) serving up “Let It Go” into my headphones at just the right time. Yes, that song has been overplayed to death, but at the right moment, when you’re in the right emotional state, it’s like you’re hearing it for the first time and suddenly everything makes sense. Emotions are weird, and the timing of when they bubble up thoughts to the forefront of your mind is bizarre. There were tears in my eyes running through that area, but they were (mostly) tears of gratitude that I was at that race, and that I was doing it despite setbacks from the previous months.
Coming around the loop and back towards Epcot, sheer will was keeping me going past mile five. I had never run further than five miles before this, so the last 1.2 was all new territory. I was letting myself take more walk breaks through my run intervals because my legs felt heavy and sluggish.
I started to see the backstage area for Epcot again, and knew that once we were back inside the park it was a short distance around Spaceship Earth and out the gate to the finish line. It was serious effort to force myself to run at that point, and I would stumble a little each time a run interval ended – slowing to a walk was difficult when I could no longer feel my legs.
I made my way around Spaceship Earth, knowing the finish was just a little further. I even smiled and looked happy for the official photographers out on the course. Just as we entered the parking lot area for the final turn to the finish line, I heard Aaron yelling my name over my music. I turned to see him and the girls waving wildly at me and cheering. Seeing them was that last little boost I needed, and I pushed myself a little harder towards the big pink banner.
Crossing the finish line is such a rush. You’re exhausted, you want to collapse in a heap, but at the same time you’re victorious and want to take on the world. Or maybe you’re delirious – it’s hard to say. I was in a daze after finishing, stumbling forward towards the volunteers holding medals. I remember one of them putting a medal around my neck and congratulating me, and I smiled and gave a hoarse thank you back to her.
I then walked a little further, taking a water, a Powerade, and a snack box as I passed each table in the recovery area, and genuinely thanking each volunteer – they were handing me what I needed to recover, and I appreciated them for that. All of the volunteers I encountered were fantastic and helped make the event a positive experience with their enthusiasm and their encouragement.
Coincidentally, I reached the exit of the recovery area just as Aaron and the kids reached that same point from the other side. My hands were completely full, and I was starting to shiver and feel weak, so Aaron swiftly swept some of the items out of my hands so I could focus on getting the Powerade open. Once I had a little bit to eat and drink, it all sunk in. I did it. My first ever 10k distance, my first official runDisney race, and I did it.
I expected to cry at the finish line, but other than slightly watery eyes, it didn’t happen. Those tears were only during that emotional midway point at the Boardwalk, when my body started to protest going any further but my spirit said, “Nope! Not giving up today!” Maybe I was too happy to cry at the end? Maybe there was nothing to cry about? Maybe I was dehydrated? It didn’t matter – I was proud of my accomplishment, and happy to have run my first 10k at Disney.
The Princess Enchanted 10k was everything I expected and more. The course was great, the on-course entertainment kept my spirit up and made it fun, the other runners were friendly and encouraging, the volunteers were top notch, and you really can’t beat the experience of running through a Disney park.
Yes, it was a struggle to get through all 6.2 miles of it, and there were parts where I was dealing with aches and struggling. Despite those moments, though, it was fun. I can’t even believe I’m writing that running 6.2 miles was fun – the me from two years before this moment would totally roll her eyes at me. But it was fun. During the race, I wasn’t thinking about how many calories I was burning, or how running was going to get me into better shape. I was thinking about how cool it was to run at Disney, how running with a pack of people past Spaceship Earth was surreal, and how happy I was that my legs were strong enough to carry me through it all.
A little over a week ago I ran a four mile St. Patrick’s Day race – my first race since the Enchanted 10k. During that run, I found myself wishing for Disney music and characters along the course. It wasn’t quite the same, running through neighborhoods and across a golf course without on-course entertainment and Minnie Mouse waiting at the finish line.
And like much of Disney, it’s easy to get addicted. I’m already planning my next runDisney event, and I’m going to push myself even further. I recently registered for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon at Walt Disney World in November. A half marathon sounds impossible to me right now, but I have months to get myself ready. It wasn’t that long ago that a 10k seemed impossible. Now I have a new dream to chase.