The idea of running 13.1 miles doesn’t necessarily sound like fun to many of us. But, add in some sparkles, lots of glitter, a Fairy Godmother, plenty of tutus, and about 50,000 brand new friends, and you’ve got the happiest marathon on Earth — the Disney Princess Half Marathon, an event that takes place at Disney World as part runDisney. I read a piece on Racked recently that made me think about my own experience as part of the Disney Princess Half. Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, I used to work at Disney World (as a Guest Relations cast member, for those curious), and I was actually lucky enough to get to work the Princess Half Marathon a few times (back then, I can tell you that I complained about it a lot, because I needed to be up before the crack of dawn, but more on that later). While running 13.1 miles does not sound like my idea of fun, watching others run in their fave running tutus is actually THE BEST. And let me tell you, a runDisney event isn’t like any race you’ve ever run before. It’s more like a giant party.

So what’s runDisney? It’s the branch of Disney that takes care of all these spiffy races. They put on about eight of them a year, and are always adding more races to their roster. Currently, there are a handful of themed marathons like Star Wars, and The Avengers, and there’s even a nighttime villain themed Tower of Terror run. So instead of running a road race through a city, you get to run through the Disney theme parks. Not only that, but the people cheering you on are Disney characters. It’s a 100% proven fact that you’ll run faster if Donald Duck is in the crowd.

One of the BEST parts of these races is that you get to travel through all sorts of “off-limits” and “back-stage” locations that wouldn’t otherwise be available to the general public. Ever wonder what the backside of the Magic Kingdom looks like? How about former working sound stages at Hollywood Studios? The marathon routes take you through those areas, and Disney will also pull out AMAZING props, parade floats, and ride vehicles that you can get up close and personal with if you need a breather from your jog. I’m telling you this as a friend, the only way to get close enough to Cinderella’s carriage so that you can snap a picture with it is to run one of these races. Trust me.

What’s the one downside to these races? The start time. Usually, any sort of race starts early in the morning, like 7 or 8ish. A Disney race, though, starts around 5:30 a.m. While yes, that is far too early for any prince or princess to rise and run, the marathons have to start that early so runners don’t interfere with the day guests in the Magic Kingdom. When I used to work these races, I would often have to report for work — all smiles and chipper! — around 2:30am. If I’m being honest, that’s usually what time I go to bed.

That said, the early morning rise is totally worth it in the end. Running a race is hard, and my job was to stand on the race sidelines and cheer everyone on. Yeah, I got paid to do that for eight hours, and it was AWESOME. I’d also have water to hand out, and usually a giant sign decorated with some sort of well-placed Disney running pun. I was also not even close to being the only one out there — there are TONS of other Disney cast members on the sidelines, dressed in their Disney costumes and wielding lots of cowbells and fog horns and taking selfies with the runners as they race on by.

And let’s not forget the Disney SWAG. Everyone running a race get a spiffy princess medal to wear and elicit bragging rights. There’s also a huge running expo in the days before the big race, where you can connect with other passionate running and Disney fans alike. Also, so much Disney themed running attire. (FYI, Disney teamed up with New Balance so yeah, you can own pink and red Minnie Mouse running shoes). The race isn’t simply a half marathon — it’s a giant celebration.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the races don’t kick off with a starting pistol, but instead starting FIREWORKS?

RunDisney is also bi-coastal, so this doesn’t just happen in Orlando, Florida. Coming up at Disneyland is the Tinkerbell Half Marathon, which takes you through Disneyland and parts of Anaheim. Anyone can sign up, but these races fill up fast. The next race go to on sale is the Wine & Dine Half Marathon at Disney World, which happens in November. This race takes place during the Food and Wine event at EPCOT, so yes, this is a giant marathon themed around two of our favorite things: food, and wine. Tickets go on sale for this March 17th, so if you’re itching to get into the runDisney spirit, this is a perfect one to start with. Also, I repeat, food and wine.

Even though the tickets can be costly (anywhere from $175 – $400ish), race participants do get discounted theme park admission, and pretty sweet hotel rates. Basically, this is just a vacation waiting to happen.

The next Disney Princess Half Marathon isn’t until next February so you have almost a year to train. Get moving! And I’ll see you guys on race day, bright and early! First one to finish has to buy everyone else Dole Whips and churros.

Images via here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.