Work It

The Happiest Race on Earth?

I try to do more than workout videos to stay healthy and add variety, so last year I started running. At the prodding of my friend Kate, I signed up for the Brooklyn Half Marathon. I figured that worst case scenario, if I don’t run or don’t finish, at least I can get in shape in the meantime. Well, we finished it and continued to run more races in the NYC area and I was suddenly bitten by the proverbial running bug. But things changed a few months later when I discovered more about the running community.  Let’s just say I uncovered a “whole new world”, if you will: there are races at Disney World and Disneyland. Yeah, you heard me.

Okay, some of you may already know all about this but when I found out, I freaked. I love Disneyland! Growing up in Southern California, it was practically my birth right to visit that park at least once a year. I know every Jungle Cruise joke, all the songs on Splash Mountain and don’t even talk to me if you don’t know how to get from New Orleans Square to Tomorrowland because you have a fast pass for Space Mountain that you need to use in ten minutes.  Like I said, I love it.

So it’s no surprise that upon hearing about the Disney World Princess Half Marathon, I jumped at the chance to participate. I convinced a couple of girlfriends to join me – the race is geared toward princesses, though they will not deny a prince – and I signed up. What better way to combine my new-found love of running and my Disney park enthusiasm?

I have to say, running definitely changed my life. I know this sounds super dorky but after years of going to the gym with its florescent lights and bumpin’ music, to go outside and enjoy the fresh air was extremely liberating – that is, once I got over the mental hurdle of actually running sans treadmill. One of the best parts of running is having a running partner or partners to motivate you, keep you company and bond with you over those killer hills you just completed. It’s a workout and a hangout all in one.  And clearly I’m not alone: there are now more women-only or women-oriented races than ever. So of course Disney, being the business savvy organization they are, took notice. In 2009 RunDisney, the organization behind the already popular marathon and half marathon events at Disney World and Disneyland respectively, invited women from all over the world to participate in the first ever Princess Half Marathon. The rest is history. Or herstory. Women not only love to run, they love to run in a Disney inspired magical fantasy.

I need to disclose that I’m not really a Disney freak. Aside from my love of D-land and a brief period in seventh grade where I was obsessed with Aladdin and had the near life-sized stuffed Genie (don’t judge me please), I’m not one of those people with Disney everything. You know, I don’t have the Mickey cooking utensils, Lion King linens and more commemorative pins than one’s body weight can support. But I’ve come to find out that there are a lot of people who do. RunDisney’s Facebook page alone has over 87,000 fans. Plus, their races usually sell out at least six months in advance despite their high price tags and for some, hefty travel expenses.

People love their Disney. Even if it means that they have to train for weeks and weeks to run 13.1 miles through their favorite place in the world, they’re gonna do it.

So let’s fast forward a few months to when, at 4am on a chilly Orlando morning this past February, I found myself alone in the Epcot parking lot surrounded by throngs of princesses. For a variety of reasons, my friends had been unable to make the trip to Orlando, so I was flying solo. My mom made the trek out with me (less for Disney and more for Harry Potter over at Universal) and patiently waited with the Chear Squad to watch me whiz by. (The misspelling of Chear is intentional, ‘cos ears are a big part of the Disneyverse. Get it?)

As you might be able to imagine, this was anything but a typical pre-race crowd. Yes, everyone was wearing sneakers and some were doing their stretching routines. But I can’t even tell you how many boas, up-dos, fairy wings, tutus and tiaras I spotted as we headed the to starting line. The excitement was palpable and the outfits were amazing. There were hand-crafted Ariels and even full-on Jasmine outfits. I’m talking pants, midriff, the whole nine. There were groups of more than ten women in completely matching Minnie Mouse running ensembles. There was so much pink that it looked like Victoria’s Secret had a bachelorette party and then threw up on everybody. I was just happy I happened to have on pink shorts, lest I wouldn’t fit in.

The Princess Half Marathon is 13.1 miles of Disney magic. Or so they claim. You start and end at Epcot, run right through the Magic Kingdom and are surrounded by your favorite characters from Disney days old and new. The Fairy Godmother from Cinderella says a little godmother voodoo as the gun goes off and you’re unleashed on the parks like you’ve never been before. While most of the run is boring and on the wooded roadways, they line the course with groups of characters, with everything from Pirates of the Caribbean to Alice in Wonderland to spice it up. Many runners actually stopped running to pose with them and take pictures, like they would on a normal day at Disney. I was waiting for one of them to pull out their Disney autographs book but it didn’t happen. Everyone was cheering each other on, one mile at a time. And if you happened to drop your boa while running, no worries. There’d be a princess behind you to pick it up and hand it to you, whether it be a gaggle of co-workers from Ohio or a mother-daughter team running for charity.

I quickly learned this wasn’t a race to achieve your fastest time, it was race to have the best time, disregarding the clock altogether.

I finished the race sweaty and proud, behind a couple of Minnies but ahead of a Tinkerbell. My mom was waiting for me at the finish line. Even she was taken by the excitement and the costumes, showing me all of the pictures she’d taken of the runners. Groups of women reunited, comparing times and pictures of their own. You could gather that for many, this was not only their first half marathon, but their first run altogether. Their make-up was a little less perfect and most of those up-dos were a complete mess but they had done it – together. The camaraderie and support was so endearing, I couldn’t help but wish my own running partners were there with me high-fiving Mickey at the finish line.

But don’t feel too badly for me. I’m back on the West Coast now, so I was perfectly positioned when RunDisney announced their Disneyland version of the Princess Half – the Inaugural Tinkerbell Half Marathon – to much fanfare and excitement. A race geared toward woman on my home turf – Disneyland? You better believe I’m currently egging on as many people as I can to sign up. This time I need ladies to pose with me – sweaty and exhausted – when Timon and Pumba are standing there, arms waving, beckoning me over. But in all honesty, I just want to be able to share these Goofy (pun intended) memories with my besties forever. Yes, it involves some major cardio, but what’s a little running when you get to dress up with your friends at Disneyland? If you want to see me in your Fairy Future, I’ll be at the starting line come January. With wings on. Or Belle on, I haven’t decided yet. I gotta work on my costume.

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