Friday, May 3, 2013

Guest Race Review: RunDisney Princess Half Marathon 2013

This is a guest post written by one of my readers, Shannon Metcalf Slutman.  She did a fantastic recap and had a great race.  Thank you for sharing your insight on a popular race!  Go Shannon!

I entered the Princess Half Marathon in July 2012 as my motivation to get moving again!  It had been 10 years since my last half marathon, one wonderful husband, and two beautiful little girls…I was ready to feel like an athlete again.  Few things make me feel as strong as when I run and I’m guessing many of you feel the same way.  
Is the RunDisney Princess the right race for you?  If you love all things Disney and you love to run…you will want to give a RunDisney race a chance.   If you want to go for a girls weekend or are a solo female runner…the Princess may be the right one for you.  If you are a male runner who loves to dress up and you are okay starting in Corral C….the Princess might be right for you!  If you’re a Mother Runner and have a supportive husband and want to wrap a race into a vacation…this might be the right race for you!
Registration:  Many RunDisney races are starting to sell out very quickly but the Princess was not this way.  I believe it was fall before it fully sold out.  You will have a variety of things to choose from when you register…jewelry, pins, race retreats, pasta dinners and chEAR packages.  I opted for the necklace which was far more my speed for wearing around the parks in the days following the race.  I’m not a “wear your medal after the race” kind of girl but many people do for days after at a Disney race.  I bought the pin too which is cute and is just attached to my medal.  If you want a race retreat, buy it early.  There are only so many and they include private bathrooms, food, entertainment, and a nice tent in case it rains.  I didn’t see a need for it but I’ve heard it is a great VIP experience.  We skipped the pasta dinner too.  It was too pricey and we had the dining plan for our family. 
RunDisney events are wonderful because they are inclusive of all kinds of racers…elite, fast, middle of the pack (like me), run/walkers, walk/runners and walkers.  Your satisfaction with the race is going to come down to one thing…corral placement!  If you are a runner…submit a time to RunDisney from a 10K or longer proving you can finish in less than 2:45.  I submitted a 2:10 and was in Corral A.  While I had to jockey for position a bit in the beginning…I had plenty of room throughout the race.  

Travel:  Disney also has a wide variety of options for where to stay.  We were bringing our two small children with us so we wanted something on site, close to the parks, and with a separate bedroom.  As a military family we got a great discount on a deluxe resort and ended up staying at the Bay Lake Towers.  I loved it!  I would recommend staying on site at a host hotel to take advantage of the race day transportation and transportation to the expo.  RunDisney does offer discounted hotel rates…but you can often get cheaper rates through Disney planners or discounts they offer throughout the year.  Staying off site is much cheaper but I’ve heard traffic can be a bear if you stay off site and need to drive. 
We flew in on the Friday before the race and caught the Magical Express to our hotel.  As our daughters were in the kids races the next day, getting to the expo to pick up our packets was critical.  I left my hubby and girls in the room to rest up a bit while I ran to the expo.  I don’t recommend bringing kids or strollers to the expo as it is very crowded and there were so many unhappy kids there.  I hopped on a bus and was at the expo in about 15 minutes.  Everyone at a Disney event is very friendly and eager to chat.  Packet pickup was painless although someone thought it would be smart to put the t-shirts on the opposite side of the convention hall.  If you are looking for SWAG, RunDisney is not the place to find it.  You are paying for the experience and entertainment.  I loved my shirt, but that and your medal are all that you will get…without paying for it.  The expo was packed with speakers and more shirts, gear, and stuff than you could ever use.  If you are dead set on buying an “I did it” shirt or any other princess gear… get ready to wait in line.  The Official Merchandise area was packed so I passed on it.  I did however buy a book and shirt from Run Like a Mother.  I eyed up the New Balance RunDisney shoes but couldn’t justify $125 on shoes I wouldn’t be able to run in (I need more support).    
Kids Races:  Many people run the family 5K early Saturday morning, as our kids are little, I didn’t want to start our vacation with them sleep deprived.  We opted for the Kids Races instead which started at a more reasonable hour.  These may be one of the few Disney Deals!  While they just increased the rate from $10 to $15, the price includes the experience of the race, a medal, cute t-shirt, personalized race bib, and snack at the end.  My little girls were in two different races.  My husband “ran” with my 23 month old and I ran with the 4 ½ year old.  If you have a little one, bring supplies to occupy them while you are waiting.  While waiting for the 100M, my husband said the kids around him were melting down because the announcers got a bit long winded.  They release the kids in waves and my littlest was not going to be rushed and took her time.  My older daughter did the 200M and she ran and skipped very happily by my side.  Both girls loved it and my older daughter can’t wait to get another medal!  We think this is a wonderful habit to pass onto our girls!  They also have 300M, 400M and a mile race.  I was amazed at the number of people.  Just a word of caution, if your kids are close in age, put them in the same race. While this wouldn’t have worked for us, I was disappointed I didn’t get to see my little one run a 
nd my husband didn’t get to see my older daughter run.
Food:  That night we went out for dinner.  I tried so hard to book something easy and early, but the reservation gods were not in our favor.  Our 5:30 reservation in Downtown Disney was pushed back because it took forever for a bus to take us there and then the Rainforest Café put our reservation on hold even though we were there.  Needless to say we ate late, dealt with tired kids, and I couldn’t wait to get everyone in bed so I could go to sleep too.  My suggestion, go somewhere close to your hotel and keep it simple.  Next time we plan on ordering food from a local grocery delivery service and cooking in our suite.  It would have really cut down on my stress the night before.  If you are on a strict diet, this might help you stay on track too!
Race Day!  The next morning, my alarm went off at 3:00 and I was ready to go!   About half of the people dress up for Disney races.  I opted for a more minimal costume with just a Sparkle Skirt and a “It’s not Sweat, It’s Pixie Dust” shirt.  As we were staying on the monorail, by 3:30 I was on the train and transportation to the race couldn’t have been easier.  It was so much fun to get a sneak peak of some of the things we would see on the route.  Other host hotels provide buses to and from the race.  Once I got to the race, there was a backup of people trying to get past the areas to take pictures to the bag drop and port-a-potties. Once this cleared there were a few food trucks for people who needed coffee and lots of people watching!  The costumes are really creative!  After a few trips to the bathroom, it’s time to start the 20 minute walk to the start!  Don’t take this for granted.  I’ve heard of people sprinting to their Corrals because they waited too long.  I believe you need to be in your Corral by 5:00 for a 5:35 start.    
The start of the race is pure Disney.  They entertain you with inspiring stories, interviews, and a countdown.  Before you know it, it’s time to run.  Every Corral gets the same countdown, send off by the Fairy Godmother, and fireworks!  Who doesn’t like fireworks to start a race!  Corral A was fast and I got carried along by the other runners and ran a lot faster than I would have normally.  The course entertainment was great, the volunteers at each water station are amazing, and everyone I ran with was very courteous.  With the first Corral, you don’t get many people stopping for pictures unless there is no one there or it’s just too good to pass up.  I didn’t have any issues running past the characters until there was one with all of the villains…that was really hard to pass up.   After about five miles I was starting to feel the effects of the humidity but at least the sun wasn’t up yet!  As you run into the Magic Kingdom and down Main Street it is truly magical.  I wish I could have stopped to take it all in.  The crowd support is unlike any other and you truly feel like a rock star!  The best part though is running through the castle.  It went by so fast and it was really beautiful!  Again, if you have a time to submit, your experience running through the castle will be much better if you are in an earlier Corral.  I’ve seen video from later groups and it is so crowded people have to walk through. 
Leaving the Magic Kingdom is a bit of a downer because it is the highlight of the race.  The only perk is you are at the halfway point!  The next several miles are on Disney roads and over passes (not fun) as you make your way back to Epcot.  This is where the Disney entertainment and frequent water stops come in handy!  Without having the miles broken up you would be so bored!  Miles 10-11 have big over passes complete with Sarge from Toy Story “motivating” you up the hill.  You also start passing the rest of the runners as they head to the Magic Kingdom.  This always gives me a boost because I know I’m close to being finished.  I did give in and get a picture with Captain Jack Sparrow.  I just couldn’t run my first Disney race without one character picture . 
As always, the last mile seemed to go on forever!  The crowd support as you enter Epcot is amazing!  There is a woman who must love RunDisney because I’ve seen lots of pictures of her holding a sign that says “Complete Stranger I’m Proud of You Too!”  At this point I needed it.  The heat and humidity had taken its toll.  As I wound my way through Epcot, I tried to tell myself to take it all in but all I wanted to do was get out of Epcot so I could get to the finish line.   As you run past the Alleluia Choir you know you are almost finished and can empty the tank on your way to the finish line!  I gave Goofy a high five and gratefully crossed the finish line!
What really impressed me was the medical staff… one of the nurses or doctors made eye contact with me after I finished to make sure I was okay.  It took me a minute to figure out what she was doing, but as a solo runner, this meant the world to me.  Next, a wonderful man put a very heavy medal around my neck and I was loaded down with food, water, and Gatorade.  I’m not a fan of the RunDisney food boxes…I just can’t do hummus after a run but some of you might be down with that.  I happily worked on my banana and water while I figured out how to find my family.
Disney has reunion areas set up but there is also only one way into the finisher’s area.  As my husband is 6’5”, he was easy to spot with my two beautiful girls.  He had been receiving text updates all morning on my 5K, 10K and 15K times so he knew my estimated finish time.  Sadly due to the insane number of people, they didn’t see me finish but having them there meant the world.  My girls greeted me with beautiful roses with Mickey on them.  Disney knows how to do it right.  We then walked over to get my medal engraved.  I beat my PR from when I was 28 and I felt like I should commemorate it!  We finished our trip with three days in the parks which was a wonderful way to work the soreness out of my legs!

·         Running through the Magic Kingdom is Magic!
·         Wonderful crowd support around the parks
·         Great atmosphere
·         The magic of Disney
·         Amazing course support (water, fuel, potties, medical)
·         Great expo
·         Entertainment to break up the boring course
·         You get to celebrate afterwards in Disney World!
·         If you want to run with your husband he has to start in Corral C.
·         Can be very congested if you don’t start in an earlier corral.
·         Expensive…it’s Disney
·         Limited SWAG

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