Confessions of a Perfect Princess: runDisney Princess Half Marathon

Last weekend, the 5th Annual runDisney Princess Half Marathon was won by Rachel Booth, her 2nd consecutive win and 4th runDisney half marathon title overall.  Of course, Rachel’s was not the only story of the day.  Over 22,000 competitors found their story book happy ending that day, but only 324 of them can call themselves “Perfect Princesses.”  That’s the number of finishers who have completed each runDisney Princess Half Marathon.  Once upon a time, Jennifer Buccigrossi was one of those “Perfect Princesses,” and she shared her story of the day with us below.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

Start of 2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon, photo by Preston Mack, courtesy of runDisney ©Disney. All rights reserved.

Article Contributed by Jennifer Buccigrossi

A total of 324 “Perfect Princess” have run each runDisney Princess Half Marathon since 2009, and I am lucky enough to be one of them.”  If you ask any of my friends or family to describe me, “princess” would be the last term that comes up, but I happily took the title this weekend even if I am a bit more Princess Leia than Cinderella.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

Brochures and medals from the inaugural race (2009) and the 5th anniversary (2013) -- Photo by Jennifer Buccigrossi

 

Over the past five years this race and I have grown together.  In 2008 I was a huge Disney fan and an even bigger couch potato.  The allure of running through Walt Disney World led me to make a foolish New Year’s resolution to run the Walt Disney World Marathon — despite never previously participating in any type of race.  I somehow managed to train for and complete the 2009 Walt Disney World Full Marathon.  The support and love from Disney castmembers, friends, and fellow runners was overwhelming.  By the time I crossed the finish line I was completely hooked and immediately started searching for other runDisney events.

The newly announced Princess Half Marathon looked like the perfect way to feed my new Disney running habit.  The inaugural Princess Half was relatively small (for a Disney race) with 6,197 women and 198 men.  The race was very female-focused with pink women’s cut race shirts, sparkly tiara medals, and more tutus than you could count.  It had a very intimate feel with no crowding on the course and tons of photo opportunities along the way.

Although I have previously made a full vacation out of this event, this year it was a whirlwind weekend trip.  I flew into Orlando early on Friday and decided to head straight for the expo.  The Fit for a Princess Expo relocated this year to the Coronado Springs Convention Center from its previous place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports.  There was no parking at the Expo, so I boarded a bus at Downtown Disney and was on my way.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

Welcome to the Fit for a Princess Expo -- photo by Carrie Craig Rivette

 

The transportation worked well, and I was impressed with how smoothly bib pick up went:  no lines and no fuss.  A friendly volunteer handed me my bib then lead a cheer for me being a “Perfect Princess.”   I received a bonus tiara and pink sash for my streak of running all 5 years.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

Princess swag -- photo by Jennifer Buccigrossi

 

Next up was getting my race shirt and checking out the vendors.  This was the point where the space limitations of Coronado Springs became apparent.  The events held by runDisney are popular and expos are typically crowded, but this one was literally wall-to-wall people!  The lines for runDisney New Balance shoes, shirt pickup, and official merchandise wound throughout the entire vendor area making it difficult to get around.  They even had masking tape queue on the floor to slowly meter people into the official merchandise area.  After braving the lines, I got my shirt (a really nice royal purple this year), posed for some photos, and then headed out to tour the parks.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

I couldn’t resist a photo at the expo with my sash and tiara -- photo by Jennifer Buccigrossi

 

Saturday morning was the Royal Family 5K and Kids Races held at Epcot.  I passed on this event in favor of sleep, but saw tons of people walking around wearing medals throughout the day.  A group of friends invited me to tea at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, an experience which was new for me.  I decided to embrace my inner princess and give it a try.  We had so much fun sipping tea and eating yummy sandwiches, scones, and desserts I think I have found a new pre-race tradition.

Tea service offered at Disney's Grand Floridian

Tea service offered at the Grand Floridian -- Photo by Jennifer Buccigrossi

 

Wake up call on Sunday morning was 2:30am.  Experience with Disney races has taught me to embrace being an early riser to ensure there is no mad rush to the start line.  Although I heard people had traffic issues later, I easily drove to the Epcot parking lot and arrived by 3:30am.  The morning was a warm, very humid 70 degrees–in contrast to prior years when it had been much cooler.  The pre-race party was in full swing even at that early hour.  The loud bass of dance music floated through the air as we walked to the family reunion area in the parking lot of Epcot.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

They had a series of “stained glass” windows set up leading toward the DJ stage -- photos by Jennifer Buccigrossi

 

There were thousands of women (and a few men) straightening tutus, dancing, posing for pictures, and getting ready for their race.  Nearly everyone was in costume, or at minimum wearing a tiara.  They had expanded this area from previous years, augmenting the usual stage and DJ with a huge official merchandise tent, food vendors, and photo opportunities with princesses (Rapunzel/Belle rotated every 30 minutes at one location and Snow White/Jasmine at another).  Bag check was smooth and port-a-potty lines were not a problem–for those not familiar with racing, this detail is important and was a vast improvement from last year’s long lines!  I made it to my corral with a good half hour to spare before the start.

The time in the corral flew by as we heard words of encouragement from Ali Vincent, first female winner of The Biggest Loser, and Sean Astin, actor and my personal favorite Goonie and hobbit.  The MC interviewed a pair of runners dressed as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum whose goal for the race was echoed by many of the participants: “to finish happy.”  The Fairy Godmother then got on stage and counted down to the start.  With a blast of fireworks the race began at 5:30am for the wheelchair competitor followed shortly by the other corrals in waves.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

The starting line of the Princess Half Marathon -- photo by Lisa Bussell Rossello

 

The course followed the same route as January’s Walt Disney World Half Marathon beginning just outside of Epcot and proceeding up World Drive toward the Magic Kingdom, through the park, then back up World Drive and through Epcot before ending in Epcot’s parking lot.  Bands and characters were out in full force along with the welcome addition of several volunteer-manned cheer stations.   There was plenty of water and Powerade on the course along with one stop with several flavors of Clif gels.

Within the first half mile I passed a high school band playing the theme from “Rocky,” which did a good job to set the mood.  I then turned down the ramp toward World Drive and Magic Kingdom.  Captain Jack Sparrow and pirates were out for photos followed shortly by a huge illuminated banner with pictures of most of the Disney princesses.  Next up was a photo opportunity that is unique to the Princess Half with the male “heroes” including Tarzan, Prince Eric, Aladdin, Flynn, and John Smith. Monorails drove by overhead honking in support of runners as we neared the entry to the Magic Kingdom parking lot.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

Running through the parking lot entrance of the Magic Kingdom -- photo by Lisa Bussell Rossello

 

We ran past the Richard Petty Speedway and a photo op with Lightning McQueen, then turned past the female villains toward the Ticket and Transportation Center.  Crowds powered the runners through this area as we prepared for the “hill” by Disney’s Contemporary Resort.  For some bizarre reason I really enjoy this hill.  I love the idea of running under the water bridge in Seven Seas Lagoon.  I was even lucky enough to have a boat pass over me as I ran.

I had initially planned to attempt a personal record time for this race, but the combination of the heat and the allure of character photos won, so I stopped for a few photos in New Fantasyland.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

Belle and Gaston in New Fantasyland -- photo by Jennifer Buccigrossi

 

Running through the castle is the highlight of any runDisney race; I especially love the trumpeteers!

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

Running through Cinderella's Castle -- photos by Jennifer Buccigrossi and Lisa Bussell Rossello

 

After the castle it was a quick run through Frontierland and past several more photo stops.  Unlike other Disney races, most of the princesses in this event appeared with their prince, so it was a chance to get rare photos with the couples: I saw Tiana and Naveen and later Princess Aurora with Prince Philip.

As we exited Magic Kingdom we made our way down a narrow section of the course behind Disney’s Polynesian Resort and Grand Floridian.  There were more photo opportunities including one behind the Wedding Pavilion with sharply dressed men in suits holding a glass slipper.  When I passed they were high fiving people with the glass slipper.  Along this back stretch was a sign marking the halfway point: the song Girl on Fire won the a vote on Facebook for 2013 Princess Anthem and was blaring from speakers.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

Halfway to the finish -- photo by Lisa Bussell Rossello

 

A group of accordion players greeted us as we returned to World Drive for the second half of the race.  There were also some pretty impressive volunteer-manned cheer zones near here that I didn’t remember from previous years.  As I passed the pirates again I had to stop for a photo.  The first year of the race there were about a dozen pirates wandering this section of road posing with runners.  This year they stayed with the ship, but were still entertaining.  One pirate commented on my shirt saying,  “runDisney…I’d like to run Disney, arrh, think of what I could do….” then he and Jack Sparrow broke out laughing.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

Captain Jack was happy to hang with the ladies -- photo by Jennifer Buccigrossi

 

After another mile I reached the ramp to turn back toward Epcot.  Green army men from Toy Story stood along this ramp barking out encouragement.  There were also a string of inspirational signs like, “There is only sweat between you and the finish.”  Once you make it up the hill, the view from the overpass is amazing and provides a glimpse of runners on the course around you.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

A view of the sea of runners from the overpass -- photo by Lisa Bussell Rossello

 

After a few more overpasses we made it into Epcot and the home stretch.  We made our way around Spaceship Earth and past the magnificent choir to the finish line.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

The finishing line and all-important bling -- photo by Lisa Bussell Rossello

 

Mickey and Minnie were on hand to high five the finishers.  We got our medals and were sprinkled with “pixie dust” by assistance fairy godmothers.  After the race there was plenty of water and powerade along with the now standard runDisney snack boxes and bananas.

I picked up my “perfect princess” lanyard for my medal and took a few more photos.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

Ariel appreciated my medals (from all five years)

 

This event has grown every year and is now nearly as large as the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in January.  It remains a predominantly women’s race with 21,222 female finishers vs 1,499 males in this year’s event.  As of last year they did start offering unisex/men’s cut shirts, but the design remained fairly feminine.

2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon

The full collection of Princess Half Marathon shirts, bibs, and medals -- photo by Jennifer Buccigrossi

 

Despite the size similarities of the different half marathons, the atmosphere of the Princess Half Marathon differs from the January events.  For Princess, the half is the “main event” of the weekend and does not need to share the spotlight with a full marathon.  It also seems to have a more of a light hearted, fun vibe.  People certainly wear costumes for the January race, but for this event nearly everyone dresses in some kind of skirt, tutu, tiara, or over-the-top outfit—including the men (I saw at least 5 guys in full Merida wigs and outfits and countless others with tutus and tiaras).  I even saw a few Princess Leia costumes, one with Han Solo by her side.  While the race no longer feels quite as small and intimate as in its early years, it does retain its own unique character and charm—girl power!  I’ll be back next year to maintain my “Perfect Princess” status and add to my collection of shirts and medals.

Thank you to Jennifer Buccigrossi for contributing this recap of the 2013 runDisney Princess Half Marathon.  For more running adventures, family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Guest Blog

This post was written by a guest writer. Please see their biographical information above. If you're interested in writing for AdventuresbyDaddy, send an e-mail with your story idea to dave AT adventuresbydaddy DOT com. We love to have a variety of different perspectives in our growing community.