Did Not Finish: My runDisney Princess Half Marathon Story

They say that it's all about the journey, not the destination, and that was certainly true when I made an attempt at completing the 10th Anniversary runDisney Princess Half Marathon this past February. I'll tell you the ending right now - I did not finish. However, I truly think that trying was a rewarding and exhilarating experience. So if you're considering a runDisney Half, but just aren't sure you can, read on to find out why I think you should go for it.

Hey - grab a cup of coffee and settle in. This is a long one...

Did Not Finish: My runDisney Princess Half Marathon StoryDid Not Finish: My runDisney Princess Half Marathon Story

I am not a runner, never have been. But after taking a year to recover from a badly broken leg back in 2016, I decided that I wanted to finally cross the Princess Half Marathon off of my Disney Bucket List. My best friend Becks and I committed to the feat in March and shortly thereafter registered for the 10th Anniversary runDisney Princess Half Marathon in 2018.

I began to train small, researching training plans that would work for me at a rate or improvement I thought was reasonable. Hitting the treadmill and the local bike paths I laced up my new trainers and set out walking. I kept detailed logs of all my walks, and found that being able to see the improvements in my time and distance was really encouraging to me. I was doing great, and slowly started to add running to my workouts. About six months in though, after I had mastered 6 mile long run/walks my previously injured leg decided that it had had enough.

2018 Princess Half Expo Floor2018 Princess Half Expo Floor

Bumps in the road are normal when training for an athletic event, and I wanted to get past whatever it was causing the pain in my leg. I headed to the doctor and explained my plight, focusing on my desire to get back to the gym so that I could do the Half. My husband and I expected for me to need some physical therapy and perhaps a bit of time in a brace. What I was told by the doctors was that in no uncertain terms that I needed to stop running... period.

My diagnosis sent me into a bit of a tailspin, I had been working hard for six months towards a goal. "No Race for you." The words that came out of my doctor's mouth continued to echo through my head. Having that goal ripped away from me was devastating, and depressing. A new struggle began for me in this experience, one that was every bit as difficult as the physical training I had been doing. About the same time that this happened, I had to change health insurance providers and changing services provided a great opportunity for a second opinion.

She Believed She Could So She DidShe Believed She Could So She Did

The second doctor I saw tried to give me hope, telling me that I didn't have to stop training, but that I would have to walk the race. By this time though I had been sidelined for two months, and I was having a rough time getting my head back in the game. I walked as often as I could, but I had done the math, and I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to be able to finish. I formulated a new plan, to tackle the event. I would give it my all and not worry about finishing. I would start the race along side my best friend, and walk as fast as I could until I couldn't go any further. At the pace I could walk without pain, I calculated that if I was starting 10 minutes before the balloon ladies, I just might make the Magic Kingdom. Cinderella Castle was my new goal.

Race morning came, and I was feeling good. My husband and I spent a couple of days at Walt Disney World, and I had little or no stress on me to finish the race. I woke up at 2:00am to get ready, knowing I needed every advantage I could muster I wanted to be on the 3:00am race bus. With some light breakfast in hand I headed downstairs to the hotel lobby, where the Animal Kingdom Lodge staff had a hot coffee station waiting for us. I grabbed some joe and thought to myself "Let's do this!"

Be FearlessBe Fearless

I got off of the race bus at Epcot, and meet up with two other Walt Disney World for Grown-ups Princesses. Together we headed towards the starting line. Music was blasting and the party lights twirled as thousands of bleary eyed runners began their pre-race routines. Disney puts on quite a party ahead of a race, with music, dancing, characters and refreshments. The girls and I ate what we had brought along (nothing new on race day!) and debated joining the party. Discretion being the better part of valor, we decided to skip the dancing, conserve our energy, and get an early spot in the front of our corrals.

At 4:00am Disney dropped the rope to the roads, and the crowd of runners lined up with us began walking to find out starting places. We walked, and walked, and walked, until a bit more than a mile later Becks had arrived at our place. For the next hour and a half the pavement beneath a big balloon marked "G" became our home. Marking out a patch of asphalt, I sat down to do some stretches to limber up my legs and hips. It was at this point that nerves finally started to hit me. I was really doing this. The camaraderie of the other women around me was touching. Becks and I shared training stories, struggles and triumphs with those around us. I was hardly the only one feeling under trained, and it made me feel good to hear many people say that they were just going to try and get as far as they could. This time moved quickly, and before I knew it the race was beginning.

Pre-Race Comes With Entertainment And 20,000 New FriendsPre-Race Comes With Entertainment And 20,000 New Friends

Everyone around me was on their feet and those behind me began to push in. As each wave of new runners was released beneath a barrage of fireworks, I took Becks' hand. We had started the journey together, but this was where we parted was. I told her to run her race, and that I would text her when I got swept. We slowly moved forward with the mass of people until it was our turn. Corral G was set off roughly an hour and a half after the first runners started. Off we all rushed, and I moved to the yellow line on the right side of the road as the flurry of Princesses began to run past. I told myself to "just walk the line" as far as I could. I talked to myself a lot during the race. The runners passed me at a surprising rate, and I would be lying if I said that it didn't have an effect on my morale. As slow as I was though, I did find myself needing to pass other walkers on occasion.

My first mini-goal was to make the off-ramp to the Magic Kingdom. At Mile 1 everything hurt, but at Mile 1.5 I saw the first on course entertainment. A High School Marching Band, that like a messengers from the universe, were playing my High School's fight song. I could see the off-ramp ahead in the distance, and walked on. This was also about the time I heard waves of cheering in front of me from the runners on the course. On the other side of the road, headed back towards the finish line were the lead male runner, female runner, and wheelchair racer. I cheered them on loudly, and took a moment to be in awe of the speed and form. More runners passed me by, and as I came to the end of that ramp at Mile 2, a 3:15 pace group blew by.

I was sure that the balloon ladies had to be right behind me, I tried to snap photos of the Mile markers as I walked, but I didn't dare stop even for a second to get a selfie. Up ahead was the Magic Kingdom Parking Toll, that became my next mini goal. "Just get to the toll booth. Please universe, let me get to the toll booth." I whispered as I chugged along.

Mini Goals Became An Important StrategyMini Goals Became An Important Strategy

As I went through the tool booth the cast member gave me a big Mickey gloved high-five. I knew that the next mini goal on my list would be hitting the 5K distance at 3.1 Miles, it was the most recent distance that I had been training at. The 3:30 pace group passed by me and I couldn't believe that I hadn't been picked up yet. I knew that they would be closing in though, my pre-race calculations had them catching me somewhere around the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC).

This stretch was rough for me, parking lots just don't have a lot to offer as far as scenery, and my hands were swelling to the point my rings were becoming quite painful on my fingers. I began to look for my husband who was waiting at the TTC. I had told him that I wasn't sure I would make it that far. I considered quitting, but as he came into focus standing on the side cheering for me a wave of relief washed over me. "You're doing great!" He said. With tears in my eyes I struggled to get my rings off. I could hear the Japanese taiko drums beating, and it made me want to keep walking. I gave him the rings and said "I love you." He called after me "You've got this!"

It was just around the corner at Mile 4 I noticed the first "Parade Bus," aka the sweepers. The driver was out front cheering, shouting to keep on going so that we wouldn't have to ride back with her. "I'm not getting on your bus!" I yelled back, half in disbelief that I was cruising on by her. Just a little father I needed to step to the side for a minute to catch my breath and refocus. Up ahead was the water bridge at Disney's Contemporary Resort. Another runner, a Cinderella, stopped along side me to ask if I was OK. I appreciated the way that all of the runners around me seemed to be positive and supportive to each other. This was the stretch that I expected to get swept in but I kept on walking, chatting with others, praying that I was going to make the Magic Kingdom.

I Swore All The Way Up The Contemporary Waterbridge HillI Swore All The Way Up The Contemporary Waterbridge Hill

Mile 5 came, and suddenly I realized that I could no longer be swept before hitting the castle. I chugged my way up Main Street U.S.A., most of the spectator crowds had left by the point I got there, but the Cast Members still lined the path throughout the Magic Kingdom. They waved and cheered. I cried, and cried, wiping the happy tears from my face, knowing that I had done what I didn't think I could do. I considered stopping in the Hub, after all I had made it to the castle, but as another runner passed me she patted me on the shoulder. "You've got this" she said. And as she picked up her pace I saw a little round Elenor of Avalon run off in front of me. Her words kept me going, and I continued to walk.

It was when I got to Storybook Circus that I realized Disney had made a sweep right behind me before the Magic Kingdom. I was now at the tail end of the pack. This was the first time I had medical staff check in cycling beside me. I was heading for the castle I said, but I would be hopping on the bus at the back of the Park. I just didn't know how much I had left to give. I was headed through the castle, but as my route wound through Fantasyland, it had never seemed so long to me.

I stopped just before Cinderella Castle to take a picture and text it to my kids. My youngest daughter responded with how proud of me she was. I tried for a cutesy running through the castle picture, but as you can see from my selfie below, I looked like you could stick a fork in me at that point. I was so done. As I entered Frontierland I saw the first golf cart with other runners who had called it quits go by me. When I saw the platform in front of the shooting arcade, I knew that was the place that I needed to stop, just short of a 10K. I sat down, having given everything I had, and it wasn't long before the medical team came by and loaded me on the next cart.

The Most Unflattering Proof Of Castle Picture EverThe Most Unflattering Proof Of Castle Picture Ever

I watched as the park passed by me from the back of a golf cart, I passed more women who looked just like me on the course pushing it to the end. I saw Princesses, and the Maleficent Parade Float, the cart slowed down at a water stop and volunteers handed everyone a bottle. At the back of the Park a small fleet of buses were lined up. As the weary and injured climbed in, there was a Cast Member with more water and Powerade that checked in with each and every runner to check for special needs.

I was determined to be the positive person on the sad bus, but I soon discovered that the "Parade Bus" back to Epcot would be the most uplifting part of my journey. Every single person on that sweeper bus was the positive person. As our ride slowly crawled back across property we shared our stories, we listened to the many paths that were taken bringing us all to the same place, we supported each other with hugs and encouraging words. There were two women who likely had broken bones, one with extreme heat exhaustion, an older couple that does all of the Disney races together, and a woman who had been trying to make the castle for several years that had finally accomplished that.

In those moments on that bus, I was able to acknowledge how proud we should be of the journey. It's a journey that every participant makes when they commit to a half marathon. Race Day is just the ending to months (or years) worth of training your body for the endurance event, and battling the demons of the mind as we push past those points we thought we could never achieve. It's the journey that should be celebrated, no matter if one crosses the finish line or not. Being on that bus, and being able to share the journey of the other riders was one of the most significantly uplifting experiences of the entire race for me.

Be Proud Of The Journey No Matter How It EndsBe Proud Of The Journey No Matter How It Ends

The Parade Bus dropped us off behind the medical tent in the Epcot parking lot. Those who needed the most urgent medical attention were helped off first, so I sat back and congratulated them one more time. Slowly then I climbed down the steps, my legs weren't quite working the way they should and pain shot through my hips. As I left the bus I took a few steps down the shoot that was set up for us, and there were smiling volunteers that clapped and encouraged us. "Good job!" the young girl said as she gleefully put a race medal around my neck. "You did great."

And you know what... I really think that I did.

If You Liked It, Be Sure To Pin This StoryIf You Liked It, Be Sure To Pin This Story

JeffC wrote on Tue, 03/27/2018 - 22:49:

Kristen, you are kickass awesome! Congratulations. That is a major accomplishment and you so deserve to be proud of yourself. I'm sure proud of you!

I love all the positive support and positive encouragement - I wish the world were more like that all the time.

Thanks is for sharing and taking us on your adventure. Kudos to you.

Rebecca wrote on Wed, 03/28/2018 - 23:38:

Rebecca's picture

Wow! Thanks so much for sharing your story. I think you've convinced me to try a Disney race. I am so impressed by your courage and determination. Well done!

Kristen K. wrote on Thu, 03/29/2018 - 13:59:

Kristen K.'s picture

Thanks so much Jeff!

Rebecca, you should totally go for it. Disney races are amazing, I had walked a couple of the 5Ks before this and they were great fun too.

Geordon wrote on Mon, 04/02/2018 - 07:54:

Geordon's picture

I was so proud of you that day! Thanks to Find My Friends, I was able to monitor you the whole route, and when I saw you hit the Castle, my heart burst with pride for you.

Making the Castle has been a goal of yours for at least a decade, and seeing you cross it off the Bucket List, I couldn't have been happier.

A word of warning, though, to racer "Cheer Squads"... The finish line is a madhouse, and I would highly recommend that you put the cash out for the official Cheer Squad tickets if you can. That way, you have access to dedicated seating as well as a refreshment tent that appeared to be climate controlled.

Holder wrote on Thu, 07/09/2020 - 02:21:

Holder's picture

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