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Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend

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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.



The previous post in this blog was D23′s Disney Fanniversary Celebration 2013--Coming to a Town Near You!.

The next post in this blog is Fantasy Faire: Here Come the Girls!.

Comments (13)

Ashley W:

Thank you for your review of the race. I'm planning on running the 2014 Princess Half with the female members of my family, but after reading your blog, I'm a little nervous!
Do you have any advice for a first-timer?

Lisa Z.:

Congrats on your 20th Disney Race!

Laura replies: Thank you, Lisa!

laureen:

I agree with most of your comments, I was glad i got to run this race again, I had to stop running it because they changed the date from march - which was lovely to the end of the mid winter break, everything is way too expensive for me to travel from ny to enjoy the race, This year mother nature gave the northeast sandy and with that many of the school districts canceled the break- so it was much more doable money wise.
We stayed at Port Orleans Riverside, The buses for everything were ridiculously long for the expo it was a 45 min wait, once inside the other waits were not to bad race morning I was at the bus line by 3:15Am i made it to my corral after a quick jog from the gear tents at 5:30 just as the fist fireworks were going off, almost two hours waiting for a bus is just crazy. I to do not like the surprise boxes at the end of the race, this time there was nothing that i would ever eat i just had drink water until i got to breakfast.

Laura replies: Thank you for your comments. Two hours for a bus on race morning? Wow. That is ridiculous! I'm so sorry that was your experience - I thought Disney had learned something after previous bus issues at Port Orleans.

Anna:

I totally agree with you on the number of participants. Its getting too big and dangerous. When I ran Wine and Dine this year it was too crowded and on narrow paths at the end of the race people would be walking down the middle instead of moving to the side to let runners pass. Not like they really had room to move. Too much bottle necking. RunDisney races are still my favorite but getting hard to justify the cost with the expirence not up to par.
Keep blogging your races, I love reading them!!

Laura replies. Thanks, Anna! Interesting...I thought Wine and Dine was the least crowded of any of the WDW races I've done in the last year except for a couple of sections at Animal Kingdom. I agree that there are some walkers who need some rather intensive instruction in race etiquette.

Angela Amick:

This was my fourth runDisney half (WDW Half in 2012, Tinkerbell in 2012, WDW Half in 2013, and this one). I also ran the 2011 and 2013 WDW 5Ks (during the Jan Marathon weekend).
I must say that I totally agree about the expo. I was baffled that they moved it, and it was a disaster. I was with friends who didn't all get there until later on Friday, so we went to the expo on Saturday. I had read on Twitter that the expo was a MESS on Friday, so we waited until around 1:00 Sat afternoon. The crowds were low (about a 10-15 min wait to get into official merchandise), but by then, they were sold out of lots of official merchandise, which was very disappointing. The three friends I came with were at their very first runDisney event, and I felt like I had built it all up to be this great thing, and there were disappointments like this, which was truly unfortunate.
We caught the 3:00 bus from our resort (Art of Animation) so we were sure to get on one. And I'm glad we did b/c they bus pulled away from our resort at 2:53, and we were the last three that fit on that bus. But then we got there TOO early and had a bunch of down time. I hated having to get up at 2:15 but such is the life of a runDisney racer. I do prefer staying off property, though, and driving my own car.
The race itself was hard, but that wasn't really due to anything other than my lack of sleep (I got about two hours) and the dang heat/humidity. This was my 7th half marathon and while it was NOT my most unpleasant (thank you very much, sucky Rock & Roll Vegas race), it was my slowest.
I think it's funny (not funny ha-ha) that the 2013 WDW Half was your worst race b/c while that was not my fastest, it was my MOST favorite race to-date. All the planets aligned and I just enjoyed myself immensely. Didn't want to quit running in the middle of it. I call that a success. :)
I do find it strange that Disney has two races within six weeks of each other ON THE EXACT SAME COURSE. In fact, I signed up for the Princess not knowing that it was the EXACT same course I had JUST run (and had also run the year before). Had I known that, I'm not so sure I would've done it.
I most likely will not run the Princess again. My husband works for Cigna, so we do the WDW Marathon each January. (I do the 5K & Half, he does the 5K & Goofy.) We've run Tinkerbell, have no interest in running the Disneyland Half (late Aug/early Sept in California, NO thank you), and we're intrigued by the other runDisney races, like the Expedition Everest Challenge, Tower of Terror Ten-Miler, and especially the Wine & Dine Half. But we have three small children and live eight hours away from Orlando, so it's not as easy as we'd like. :)

Laura replies: Angela, thanks for your race review. Believe it or not the weather for the Disneyland Half in September is usually cooler than what we experienced at the WDW Marathon and Princess weekends this year - and the humidity is a lot lower. Yes, it might get into the 80s later in the day, but first thing in the morning it's almost always low 60s. Just something to consider for the future! :-)

Julie:

Laura - I hope you will forward your blog entry to Run Disney. I love the Disney races, but the experience at the expo just set a bad tone for the race. I've done 11 Disney races, and never have I seen a worse expo. I know the crowding depended on when you were at the expo and whether you wanted Disney merchandise. I chose to stand in line for the merchandise, and it was a bit chaotic. Again, it was my choice to do that - but obviously the merchandise area was not big enough to handle the crowd. I will say the cast members who worked that area were very helpful trying to replenish sizes. Your analysis of the weekend is very insightful and echos a lot of the complaints I've read on other boards. I guess there are just too many people in the race. It seems to get crowded on the course with many people from the early corrals stopping for pictures, and then the later corrals start to catch up, I do know that the Braves had games at WWOS that weekend - we stopped over there to look at their shop to see if we could find a men's Run Disney tech shirt - and the parking situation was very crowded. I imagine they couldn't hold the expo with the baseball games going on. Anyway, congrats to you and Lee for another race and thanks for your report!

Laura replies: Thank you, Julie, and thank you for your thoughtful review. I echo what you said about the cast members and volunteers at the Expo - they were doing their best. I was relieved to see that even though people were frustrated, they weren't taking it out on the volunteers - it wasn't THEIR fault, after all.

Linda Matthews:

This was my first Disney race. I have to agree with you about the crowds. How do you even train for that? My 18-year-old daughter and I stayed at the Boardwalk and never had to wait for a bus all weekend. We went to the Expo around 1:00 on Friday and had no wait there also. Guess we were just lucky! Didn't finish in the time I was hoping for but I finished! I just may do it again!

Laura replies: Congratulations on your first Disney race! I'm glad to hear that you had good luck with the buses and the Expo. Sometimes timing makes a big difference.

I don't know that there's any way you can train for crowds - other than running other races.

Melanie Le Blanc:

I ran the 5K, my very first race ever! I thought, if I'm going to do a race, it has to be at Disney!
I got to the Expo right at 9:00 and for the first hour, the lines were not too bad, but after that, it was horrendous. I waited an hour and a half, in line for the New Balance runners, but I got a pair. However, that meant I didn't get into the Run Disney official merchandise area until it was crazy busy, so I left without anything from there. Next year I am planning on doing the Half, so I will change up how I do things in the morning. Lesson learned! The race itself was awesome, not quite my best time, but I was so happy to have finished my first race.

Laura replies: Melanie, congratulations on finishing your first race! It's very hard to post a good run time in a Disney race - lots of fun things to distract you (and unfortunately usually crowded, too).

Pat:

I did not run the Marathon, But I did buy the ChEar package. My friends were running, Friday morning we took a cab to CS and arrived at 7:45am. There was already a line and finally they were dividing people up to what you wanted. We took the New Balance Sneaker Line. Out of all the other areas the sneaker line was the most organized line. Every other area Official Merch pick up, the Dooney & Burke area was so out of control. You could not walk around to look at the booths. Was just to over crowded. The area where you picked up the Run Packets, ChEar Packets had so much more space, they could of spread out the vendors. I know next year if my friends run the race, I will stay away from the Expo and get to a park at rope drop. I also know my friends were complaining about how tight some areas were and people running in the dirt areas to get around others. They did say that there were people in the A & B corral that decided to walk and that blocked up alot of room. Maybe they should specify if you are going to walk the whole thing,You have to be in the last corral. On the bus issue, leaving from PoP in the am was no problem, getting back to the resort was another. PoP had one of the longest lines and the buses where not coming in fast enough to get the people back to the resort. And yes Laura I think you should send your ideas to Run Disney

Laura replies: Pat, thank you for your comments. I hope that other than the Expo your ChEar experience was positive! Disney does say that if you're going to walk the whole thing you should start in the last corral - but not many people do that. Disney also promotes Jeff Galloway's run/walk method, which means even people in the earlier corrals are going to do some walking. Unfortunately the course is just not very friendly when it comes to mixing runners and walkers.

Ted Lamb:

FYI - the reason Disney moved the Expo was due to the start of Spring Training for the Atlanta Braves at the Wide World of Sports. Spring Training games usually do not start until around the first of March. However, the World Baseball Classic is going on througout MLB this year, which means that all teams started spring training a couple weeks earlier than usual. The Braves first spring training game was Feb. 22.

Laura replies: Thanks, Ted. I hope that next year they'll be able to the Expo back to WWoS.

Eddie McCoy:

Enjoyed your recap of the race weekend and very much enjoyed sharing the miles on the race course with Lee and yourself along with all the others with us. We will do it again!

Laura replies: Thanks, Fast Eddie - it was fun!

TJ Mahan:

My wife ran this race and I spectated from in front of the POLY. She was in Corral E, most of the race for her was a walk due to so many people. This race was waaaay oversold for such a narrow course. I do not see why WDW had only one lane open when two were needed. Also my wife showed me a video of her 'run' through Magic Kingdom. It was a joke, people stopping in the castle, getting pics, stopping all the runners, took her nearly 5 minutes to get through, her average pace through MK was 18:00/mile because of congestion!

Laura replies: Wow. I'm sorry to hear that she experienced so much crowding. In the half marathon in January I also ended up walking through the castle because of people stopping to get their picture taken - I know how frustrating that is.

Christina:

Thank you for such a thorough and descriptive review of the race. I'm signed up for the 2014 Disney Princess Half and like others am a little concerned about what to expect now. I'm also really curious as to how strict they enforced their pacing requirements with such large crowds and so many bottlenecking areas... I guess if I just go in expecting to enjoy myself, I shouldn't be too disappointed :)

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 4, 2013 12:39 PM.

The previous post in this blog was D23′s Disney Fanniversary Celebration 2013--Coming to a Town Near You!.

The next post in this blog is Fantasy Faire: Here Come the Girls!.

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