The alarm rings shrilly at 2:30 in the morning, and as I groggily jump out of bed on a cool, frosty morning - I seriously question my sanity.
It was race day…I needed to hurriedly get ready to run in Walt Disney World's Enchanted 10k in a few hours…to be followed up the next morning with the Princess Half Marathon. Which would necessitate another 2:30 a.m. wake-up call.
A year ago, if you'd told me I would be running 19.3 miles in a time period of 24 hours at the most Magical Place on Earth on a frosty February morning, I would have first had to pick myself up from the floor after collapsing in laughter, and I would then have asked you what you were smoking, as it must be some really good stuff.
And yet here I was.
While on a medical mission trip in March 2014, a friend - and fellow runner - had somewhat jokingly suggested that the two of us run in Disney's Princess Half Marathon the following February. I had initially scoffed, thinking that there was no way, period, that I would ever run 13.1 miles - for no other reason than to collect a shiny piece of medal at the end. However, the seed was planted, and the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I was by the idea…could I do it? Could I push myself both physically and mentally beyond what I thought I was capable of??
Doing some research, we discovered that if we ran in the 10k race the day BEFORE the half-marathon, we'd be eligible to compete in the "Glass Slipper Challenge" at Disney…which would REALLY push us, and challenge us, to limits unheard of.
We were in.
And so began months of planning for this event - hotel rooms, Disney park tickets, dining reservations - as well as months and months of training runs, pounding the pavement in miles and miles of sweat-induced repetitions to strengthen the legs and the brain. Not to mention the hours spent putting together costumes for each race, as the Disney Fashion Police are out in full force for these events, and looking the part is half the fun at a Disney race.
And now - here it was…Go Time.
Kristin and I each silently got ready, donning our costumes and running gear as if we were warriors getting ready for battle. Lubrication applied to prevent chafing; bandaids applied to prevent blisters; tape applied to hold tired muscles together; and electronic gear applied to track and time our paces and intervals…it all went on, layer after layer, as we each mentally prepared ourselves for the morning ahead.
I had chosen a costume to honor Sally from "The Nightmare Before Christmas"…the dress was very easy to run in, and I had a running base layer on underneath for a bit of extra warmth:
By 3:15 a.m., we were walking to our car, where we drove the short 2-mile distance to the Epcot parking lot…leaving early managed us a primo, up-close parking spot, and we hunkered down in the warmth of the car for awhile, reluctant to step outside where we would be met with a 39-degree frosty morning. Disney had buses that were picking runners up from the Disney resorts, and we were certainly able to catch one of the buses…but it was because of the cold temperatures that we opted to drive this day. The car was shelter. The car had a heater. And we could stay in that shelter until it was absolutely necessary to be in our corrals. The car was wonderful and was a VERY smart choice for this morning. Brrrr…it was cold. We'd each donned a "throwaway" jacket we'd obtained at a local Goodwill store for a few dollars; the coat would stay on until at a point in the race where we'd be sufficiently warmed up, and we could toss the coat to the side…Disney collects all the tossed coats, gloves, hats, etc and donates them back to charity.
It was almost surreal to be at Epcot at 3:30 in the morning…our only company being the thousands of other runners, a few intrepid family members there to cheer us on, and several dozen Castmembers and volunteers, who were working diligently to keep us somewhat organized and informed.
Soon, it was time to make our way to our corrals…we walked the short distance, while listening to a very enthusiastic disc jockey doing everything he could to "warm" up the crowd with various dance numbers:
There were hundreds of port-a-potties surrounding the parking lot, and all of the runners - including us - used these to our advantage. Although there's nothing more fun than trying to use one of these on a very cold, and very dark, morning. While wearing tight running capris. Under a costume. I almost pulled a muscle just trying to get all my clothing back into place, and this was BEFORE the run.
Time for a quick selfie of us before we head off to our respective corrals:
Wishing each other luck, and arranging for a post-race meet-up spot, I then made my way over to my assigned corral, which was easily identifiable in the cold and dark morning:
For the Enchanted 10k, there were 5 corrals, A-E. Disney assigns runners to these based on your expected finish times; I was smack dab in the middle, Corral C, which I was very happy about. I've only "really" been running for less than a year, and I had started out in the back of the pack - the slowest runners…so to be up in the 50th percentile?? I was thrilled. Not too shabby for a middle-aged drama queen.
We were to be settled in to our corrals by 4:30 a.m., but the gun wasn't going to start for another hour…I spent that time trying to stay loose and warm…dancing…jumping up and down…stretching…and chatting with the runners around me. I was also checking out all the costumes, and I was blown away by some of the creativity that I was seeing. Yowza. I'd packed some Honey Stinger Energy Chews, and I began munching on those around 5:15 so I'd have some energy when the race started. I'd trained and "practiced" with these chews, so I knew they'd settle on my stomach just fine - even with the pre-race nerves that we all have. Although, to be honest, there was a brief tiny moment when I felt like I was going to puke - which totally freaked me out, as there's nothing worse than feeling like you want to puke when you're trapped and surrounded by thousands of runners - but I then realized it really WAS just pre-race nerves, and it was a false alarm. Whew. Some calm, controlling breaths, and I was just fine. Crisis averted.
All too soon, the lone wheelchair racer, and the runners in Corral A, were lined up at the starting line, waiting for the race to begin:
After the national anthem played, the Fairy Godmother stepped up on the stage to weave her magic spell on us, making this race truly "enchanted"…she said her magic words: "Salagadoola, mechicka boola, bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!!" - and as the fireworks lit up the darkened sky, the runners were off:
Each corral gets their "own" fireworks before their start, which is pretty awesome…I had to wait for Corral B to take off, but before I knew it, it was our turn…the moment I'd been waiting for, training for, for months. It was Go Time.
The course map looked like this:
As you can see, after running through the parking lot of Epcot, we made a rather sharp left turn…which took us towards the Epcot entrance gates. However, before we got to the gates, we had to run under an overpass, and as I got closer, I could see that it was snowing….
Wait, what??!! Snow in Orlando??!! It seriously must be FREEZING!!!
Oh, wait. Upon closer inspection, I realized that Anna and Elsa, the characters from Disney's "Frozen" movie, were up on the overpass, and Elsa was throwing some of her ice magic around, creating the snow on the runners. It was cool. Literally.
Before I knew it, we were already approaching the Mile 1 marker, which appropriately enough, had Anna as the theme:
When I first saw the posted time on this Mile Marker, I somewhat freaked…THIRTY SIX MINUTES??!! To run ONE MILE??!! Now, I know I'm not the fastest runner, but I've NEVER taken 36 minutes to run a mile. My brain then reminded me that my corral had started well after the "official" time, so I would be good to ignore the 'official' mile marker times, and just worry about what my Garmin watch told me - which told me I'd ran an 11-minute mile, which was much more reasonable. Whew. Panic attack averted.
The next portion of the run was very, very boring…it's a very long, dark stretch down World Drive, and it was just…blah. Nothing, really, to look at, except the runners as they ran around me and by me…I just focused on keeping to my training, so I would have enough juice for the later miles. It's the hardest thing in the world to not go out too fast in a race, and it's also one of the biggest mistakes to make. I needed to seriously pace myself, and so I just buckled down and ran my own race at my own pace.
Soon, we were at Mile Marker 2:
Awww…Ariel, from "The Little Mermaid." I love Ariel…she's so spunky. My mind thought about Ariel as I ran on, where we were soon doing a long, right turn that would take us into the backstage area of Epcot and the World Showcase. Before we got there, though, we approached Mile Marker 3:
Bambi!!! Although in full disclosure, I've never watched the entire movie…I'd heard it was sad, and I hate sad movies. Especially sad movies involving animals. Even if they're just cartoon animals. Sniff. I managed to push my sorrow back and continued on, running.
Running a bit further, I could see something very tall…and very colorful…up in the distance. They were also very confusing:
Are these Disney characters??!! Who ARE these guys???!! Are they just two random dudes who thought they'd hang out on the side of the road and take photos with the runners??!! Obviously, I wasn't the only confused runner, as their line for a photo was very short - most runners were skipping them…so I thought, "Oh, heck…why not? Maybe someone can tell me who they are later!!" So, I hopped in the line and got a very quick photo, while they called me "Sally", which I thought was way cool. Validation while wearing a costume is always good. Trust me.
We were now in 'backstage' Epcot, near the back side of Test Track, actually, and so were seeing more and more Castmembers as they were getting ready to prepare the park for the day. Their cheers and words of encouragement were definitely helpful and appreciated.
Before I realized it, we were running into the World Showcase of Epcot, and as we entered, I was blown away - the sun was just beginning to come up, and the lighting was AMAZING. The torches were lit, the music was playing, and it was almost enough to make me stop for a second to take it all in…
We were soon approaching the Mile 4 Marker, which meant I was close to 2/3 done with the race, woot woot!
It's Flynn Rider, from "Rapunzel"!!! I love that movie. I love Flynn. This sign made me smile, for sure.
It was close to this marker that I veered off for a quick bio-break, if you know what I mean. I had been avoiding the numerous Port-a-potties along the side of the road, as I knew that World Showcase would have REAL, CLEAN and LIGHTED bathrooms. With no lines. It was awesome.
Coming out of the restroom, I couldn't help but take a photo of the runners as they ran by me:
I know…it's blurry. Sorry. I was also trying to start running myself, so my camera was a little jiggly. My bad.
Somewhere along here, Jiminy Cricket from "Pinocchio" was posing for pics with the runners…however, the line was horrendously long, so I snapped a quick photo of Jiminy as I ran by and I skipped the line:
It was about this time that I saw my first "official" Disney photographer…they were stationed along the race at various points, but either it was too dark to see them, or I just wasn't paying attention…but when I finally DID see one, I was a bit startled to see him, as my crazy eyes suggest in this photo:
Okay, that's scary. By the time I'd ran around the World Showcase to Paris, I was a bit more prepared:
We exited the World Showcase here, and began running on the boardwalk in front of Disney's Boardwalk Inn:
There were scads of spectators here, cheering us on with some pretty cool signs and cowbells…other than running on the boardwalk, which made us all sound like a giant herd of elephants lumbering by, this was a pretty awesome stretch of running. We circled around and then ran by the Yacht & Beach Club hotels, which took us to Mile Marker 5:
Donald Duck!!!! I LOVE DONALD DUCK!!!! Really and truly one of my all-time favorite Disney characters, like, EVER. This gave me that burst of energy I needed to do the last mile, which was now taking us back IN to Epcot, but into Future World, this time. Turning a corner, I was startled to almost literally run into Goofy, and seeing that his line was short, I hopped in for a quickie:
Awesomesauce! I love this picture.
Somewhere along here, we approached - and passed - Mile Marker 6. But I missed it. I was so excited about getting close to the finish line, and so excited about being inside Epcot again, that all I did was pretty much run. And smile. And pose for more pictures:
Getting closer to the finish line…we're under the Big Golfball!!!
We ran out of Epcot and back to the parking lot, but the finish line was now in sight…!!!
My view of the finish line, as I was approaching:
The final few feet:
And we're done!!!!
Can you tell I'm happy??!! I was thrilled.
I was even more thrilled to be handed a foil blanket, a Disney food box, and the medal, of course!!!
There were heaters in the parking lot, which made it AWESOME and WARM while waiting for Kristin to finish!!!
Besides the standard banana and bottle of water, Disney never spares any expense on their post-race food box:
And the bling:
Soon, Kristin was done, and after reuniting in the parking lot, we made our way back to the car, and a short drive later, we were back in our warm and cozy hotel room…a quick shower and some rest, and we were good to go…
Tomorrow would be Round 2 of our Glass Slipper Challenge…the Half Marathon…would I have enough "juice" in my legs to get me through? My knee that's been giving me trouble the last few weeks was definitely a bit aggravated after this 10k, so I was a bit worried on how it would hold up. And just how tired would we be from having to get up two mornings in the row at 2:30 a.m.??!!
Only time would tell…so stay tuned for Part II of my Glass Slipper Challenge recap!!!