February 22-24, 2013, was the fifth annual Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. It featured the usual weekend events - the Expo on Friday and Saturday, the Royal Family 5K and Kids' Races on Saturday, and the half marathon on Sunday.
As they usually do on the 5-year marks, Disney rolled out a re-designed medal for this one. I had run the Inaugural event with my friend Pam, and I really wanted to do this one, too. I tried to talk Pam into running it with me, and she agreed on one condition: that Lee would run the race in a tutu. That actually was not very difficult - it was the only Disney half marathon/marathon medal that he didn't have, so he was already somewhat motivated to run it. And he's also run the Tinker Bell Half twice (another women's race) so he knows that the scenery is quite good for the male runners - this year it was a 15:1 female/male ratio. :-)
We had to make it a short trip, so we left home Thursday afternoon, and flew home Monday afternoon.
This year for some reason Disney moved the race Expo from Wide World of Sports to Coronado Springs. It's especially perplexing because this year there were a record number of participants - 23,000-26,000 for the half marathon (depending on which number you heard) and over 30,000 for all of the events. (There were less than 8,000 runners when we ran it the first year.) Because of this NO ONE attending the Expo was allowed to park at Coronado Springs - everyone had to be bused in from their resort hotel or Downtown Disney. We weren't able to get into Kidani Village on Thursday night, so for this reason I made a reservation at Coronado Springs instead - and was very happy that I did. It made things a lot easier on Friday morning.
The Expo opened at 9:00. We slept in, packed, had breakfast, and made it there a little before 10:00.
Packet pick-up was efficient - the lines were a little longer than usual, but not bad. But the bag and shirt pick-up was a disaster. They apparently didn't have enough bags pre-packed, so everyone was jammed into a relatively small area, shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting. Volunteers brought out bins of bags as fast as they could stuff them in the back, but weren't keeping up with the demand. We waited 25 minutes to get our bags/shirts, and by that time there was a line that snaked back almost to the packet pick-up area. They had at least gotten the shirt pick-up area unclogged enough so that once you picked up your shirt you could get out of the area.
This situation wasn't helped by the huge line to get into the Official Merchandise area, which was right next to the shirt pick-up. That line was over an hour to get through. Or so we were told, since we didn't stand in it (but I believe it!).
I didn't understand the issue with the bag pick-up and merchandise at all. It's not like Disney hasn't done this before, but for whatever reason, they were not prepared on Friday morning. They did get things under better control as the day went on.
I thought the Expo itself was much smaller, with fewer vendors than I've seen at other Disney Expos. The aisles were pretty crowded, though. We did a little bit of shopping, but it was a relief to get out of there.
Out in the hallways there were a couple of fun photo-ops - they had a castle display with two costumed and be-wigged footmen to pose with us. I asked which one was Gus and which was Jacques. The taller one claimed to be Jacques. :-) (I was surprised that they actually knew that those were the names of Cinderella's mice-turned-footmen.)
We didn't have to deal with the Expo buses that day, but we heard there were long waits at some of the resorts, and long waits at the Expo to return.
There are several hundred people who are "Perfect Princesses" - they have run all five races. When they picked up their bib numbers they also received a pink "Perfect Princess" sash and a sparkly tiara. Not all of them are women - we saw a few men proudly wearing their sashes during the weekend, too! Good for them.
We went back to the Expo on Saturday morning - Pam needed to pick up her registration and I wanted to try to get into the merchandise area. At Kidani Village we had no bus issues. Just a short wait and we were on our way on a bus with maybe 25 people on board. Pam was at All Star Sports where there was a much longer line, but they had buses available and loaded them as quickly as possible. At the Expo they had things better organized, but there were lines to get IN to the Expo for the first 40 minutes or so - we went to Pepper Market for breakfast, so we avoided that.
There was still a long line for shirt/bag pick-up, but it moved quickly. The line to get into the Merchandise area had been organized into a long winding queue. It was steadily moving so I got into that while Lee and Pam went shopping in the Expo. I was in line for maybe 20 minutes. Once inside I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't wall-to-wall people - I could move around easily. The store was not very big, though. Merchandise was quickly disappearing - I got the last small shirt in one style, though there were other designs that still had plenty of sizes available. Of course, who knows what had sold out the day before that I never even saw!
I thought there was a nice selection of shirts - if you were female. They had NOTHING for men, except a generic runDisney shirt. Now, I know this is a "women's race", but still...they couldn't do one design on a unisex shirt? After all, there are women who prefer unisex shirts, too.
I liked this year's race shirt - it was purple, short-sleeve, and a light-weight tech material. The race shirt WAS available in a unisex cut as well as the women's cut. I wish they would offer a women's cut for the race shirts in the other Disney events (the Tinker Bell Half already does this).
Skipping ahead to Race Day...
Stitch called at 2:30 a.m. "Good morning, no sleeping!" Ain't that the truth...We had gone to Mara the evening before and purchased bagels and yogurt (and a banana for Lee) to eat so we dressed, ate, and left the room about 3:30. We decided to drive instead of taking the bus, since we thought we might be staying at Epcot after the race and that gave us more flexibility - as well as a place to leave our sweaty running clothes.
You never know what traffic is going to be like on race morning, but we were early enough that it was no problem, and we even got a parking space that was fairly close to the pre-race area. Pam didn't get up as early, and she was getting in the bus line at All Star Sports (which was quite long) about the time we arrived at Epcot. She made it in time though not until almost 5:00.
Lee was running the race in his wings and his blue tutu. He couldn't drive while wearing those so he pulled the tutu on and I helped him attach the wings after we arrived - lots of people who were walking by commented (favorably) on his attire. He already knew from his previous experiences at the Tinker Bell races that the ladies love the guys who get into the spirit of the thing and dress up. It's a great way to get lots of attention!
I was dressed as Cinderella - I bought a Cinderella costume and cut most of the skirt off, and wore it over a tank top and shorts. You'd think that would be fairly cool, but unfortunately, just like marathon weekend in January, it was unseasonably warm in Florida. 66 at 4:00 a.m. doesn't sound bad at all, but when you're running that's about 10 degrees warmer than you'd like. And it was quite humid - approaching 100%. I'd brought a throwaway shirt to wear for warmth but I left it in the car - didn't need it at all.
A number of members of Team AllEars were running the Princess Half Marathon, and we met for a photo. Several of the guys had also dressed up - Eddie was wearing a hot pink skirt, pink wings, and hot pink arm and calf sleeves. His neon green running shoes kind of clashed, though. :-) Alex was dressed as Merida, with a long curly red wig and a green tunic - he also carried a small bow. Mike made his costume - Vanellope von Schweetz from Wreck-It Ralph. He had the hoodie, striped leggings, skirt, and brown wig. Remember how I said it was unseasonably warm? He ran the entire race in his costume! I don't know how he did it.
From the pre-race area it's about a half mile to the start corrals. In January for the half marathon this was a tortuous shuffle, but it wasn't bad this time. Like they did for the marathon Disney started sending runners out by corral about 90 minutes before the start, instead of everyone at once, and that seemed to really help.
Disney groups runners into corrals based on estimated finish time, with faster runners in the earlier corrals. They send the corrals off about 7 minutes apart to try to spread the runners out a little. For the Tinker Bell and Princess races they won't let a man start before Corral C, because they want to make sure that a woman wins the race. Pam and I were in Corral B, and the four guys, who were planning to run the race together, were in Corral C.
The race started at 5:30 with the wheelchair athletes, and five minutes later Corral A started. The Fairy Godmother was on-stage at the start with the race announcers - she said the magic words and counted down for each corral, and we all got a burst of fireworks, too.
Pam and I were near the back of Corral B. We crossed the start line about 9-1/2 minutes after the race started.
The first few miles of the WDW half marathon course can be quite frustrating because there are so many people and it gets crowded, especially because the course narrows down to one lane in places. Even with the staggered start it takes a long time for people to get spread out, and the bottlenecks at the one-lane sections don't help - they get us clumped together again. The half marathon in January was pretty bad in terms of crowding on the course, but I thought this one was better. I couldn't always run the pace I wanted, but at least I wasn't having to drop to almost a walk like I had to at times in January. I heard mixed opinions, though - about half the people on Team AllEars thought it was better than January and the other half thought it was worse.
On our way to Magic Kingdom the first three character photo-ops were Jack Sparrow and the pirates, a group of Disney heroes, and a collection of villains. The lines for all of those were VERY long - easily 10 minutes or more - so we didn't stop.
Just after mile 5 we arrived on Main Street in Magic Kingdom. The sky was starting to brighten, but we could still see the castle was nicely lit - it matched Pam's magenta wings. :-)
There were lots of character photo ops in the Magic Kingdom, and some of them did not have very long lines so we stopped for several - Buzz Lightyear, Gaston, Belle, Tiana/Naveen/Louis. Gaston was SO into it - he was such a ham, and was making Gaston-esque comments to the ladies going by. It was funny to see how many saw who the line was for and then made a u-turn to get into line.
Just after we ran backstage next to Splash Mountain we saw Cinderella and Prince Charming posing next to the Castle float from the parade. The line was 25-30 deep, but I had to stop anyway. And Cinderella told me she liked my dress. :-)
After leaving Magic Kingdom the course goes down to one lane on Grand Floridian Way and was unpleasantly narrow and congested for about 1-1/2 miles until we came almost to the car care center (mile 8'ish). From then on it was ok. We stopped for photos with Mary Poppins, Bert, and the chimney sweeps, Lilo and Stitch, Genie, and Pocahontas along the way. At that point in the race the lines are usually pretty short because people just want to get finished and don't feel like stopping.
At mile 9'ish were the heroes again - with a shorter line than there had been earlier. While we were in line I was looking back down the race course and I saw a familiar blue tutu and wings - the guys had finally caught up to us. They were having a blast, though with the heat they'd been taking walk breaks to try to cool off a little, which was one reason it had taken so long to catch us. And they'd also stopped for photos, been interviewed by runDisney, and had a number of ladies ask to have their photo taken with them. No question - they were quite a hit. We made them have their photo taken with us and the heroes - Aladdin, Li Shang, Flynn Rider, Prince Eric, and John Smith.
They ran the rest of the race with us (which was nice of them since they could easily have finished ahead of us), and we had a great time. Sarge the Green Army Man was on the ramp near Epcot at mile 10, and Eddie and Lee (in their wings) dropped down and did push-ups. So funny.
In Future World we saw the same fairy-godmother-type person that I had seen at the end of the marathon - this time I've been told that her name is Ivanna Dream.
And then it was on to the finish line! Pam and I finished in 3:03, the guys finished in 2:57. Not a fast time at all, but we stopped for quite a few photos, and we really had a wonderful time. We were all sweaty messes when we finished thanks to the warm and humid conditions - thank goodness it was overcast the whole time - that helped a lot.
We got our lovely anniversary medals and wore them proudly. And picked up the silly runDisney pre-packed food box. Though this time I ate some of it after the race because I was hungry. It had a small (shelf-stable) tube of hummus, small bag of crackers, small bags of nut and fruit mix, a small energy bar and a small piece of chocolate. I still don't really like this trend, though it's easier to carry the box than to juggle the usual fruit and bagels. They also had bananas and small packages of gummy candies available, but this time they did not have small bags available for us to carry it in like they did in January.
While I had a lot of fun during the race, there's a few comments I'd like to make.
This was my 20th Disney race, but maybe my worst overall experience thanks to the Expo disaster. (The half marathon in January was my worst race experience.) The number of participants in the races keeps growing, but the course hasn't really changed. With that many people, there are far too many narrow sections to the course. It's not only not fun, but dangerous, especially when faster runners are trying to pass.
How many runners is too many? The prices of Disney races keep going up every year and so do the number of participants. But despite the price increase the races still sell out. I enjoyed the WDW races a lot more when there were more like 15,000-18,000 runners. 25,000+? I think that's too many.
I've already talked a lot about the Expo, but I'll say it again - I was shocked at how poorly they handled the crowd on Friday morning. They have plenty of previous experience with expos, and that was simply inexcusable. Particularly the bag issue.
Our experience with the buses was that were plenty of them, and they were loading and unloading as fast as they could. I did not hear of any problems on race morning where runners had long waits for buses to arrive at their resorts. Long lines to board, yes, but not huge gaps in bus availability.
The pre-race area in the Epcot parking lot was big enough, though there was a bottleneck getting into it. There was a red carpet with "stained glass" panels along the edge, each representing a different princess. Not surprisingly, those were popular for photos, and that slowed the entry into the area.
There seemed to be enough porta-potties both in the pre-race area and the "runners only" waiting area next to it. There were lines, but they weren't that bad. There were NOT enough porta-potties near the corrals, and the lines were very long - they were blocking the path to the corrals.
There were eight start corrals, and really, if you're not in the first corral, you do not have much of a view of the race start. I think Disney does a very nice job of putting up large screens alongside all the corrals so that runners can see what's going on at the start line. It's also very nice for each corral to get their own start, complete with fireworks.
The course itself...parts of it are great (running through Magic Kingdom and Epcot), and parts of it are too crowded: the single lane exit ramp from Epcot, the single lane from the TTC past the Contemporary, and the single lane from Magic Kingdom past the Grand Floridian. In a race with less than 15,000 runners that's not so bad, in a race with over 20,000 it's a problem.
The volunteers were terrific. There were plenty of volunteers on the race course at the water stations, medical tents, and Clif shot station, and plenty at the finish handing out medals, beverages, and food. Bag check and bag claim were also very efficient. Thank you volunteers - we love you!
But despite everything, I would love to run this race again - but with fewer people. We really had a lot of fun with it. It has a great atmosphere, and I think most runners are there to have a good time and not to be competitive. Though I suppose that can be said of most of the Disney races. :-)
It's a women-focused race, but I have to give a shout-out to all you guys out there who came out to support the women in your lives - either by running with them, dressing in costume, or taking care of the kids so they could run. There were only about 1,500 of you in the race but you were a visible presence, and it was so much fun for me to watch you having so much fun. Thank you for your support and your sense of humor.