After a night of tossing and turning in an anxious sleep, our alarm went off at 2 a.m. No hitting the snooze for these princesses - we were almost instantly filled with nervous energy and adrenaline as we got dressed and ready to go for our first ever half marathon.
Since we were staying at a time share off-site, Rachel's parents were kind enough to give us a ride to Epcot and the starting line party. Gotta give props to Disney for this. Plenty of port-o-potties, and a great entertainment to keep us awake despite the early hour. We stood in line for a photo with Ariel, danced a bit to the hype guy, and did some light stretching as we waiting for them to call our corral.
As the minutes wore on, Rachel was getting more an more anxious to get down to the corral - we'd heard rumors of a long walk from the meet-up zone. Soon as they made the first call, we started off. Turns out the rumors were right - it was definitely a bit of a trek from the parking area. We made it down, passing more port-o's along the way (pro-tip, those had much shorter lines than the ones closer to the parking area), and kept ourselves occupied snapping goofy pre-race photos of the awesome Shwings we'd both been given as good luck tokens.
Mile 1 we took easy to try and get out of the main crowd. Rachel was cranky and wishing for a bit more of a warm up, I had adrenaline pumping and was ready to run. But we held off until the crowds thinned a bit going into the second mile. We skipped the first character stop (Captains Jack Sparrow and Barbosa) and started to fall into a bit of a rhythm.
Rhythm didn't last too long, however, as around the end of Mile 2, who do we see? Disney Princes!!! This was a photo MUST, so we took our places in line. This one was a little longer than we would have liked (about 30 minutes - parents following along with our splits at home were a little concerned when our first 5k split was about twice what it should have been!), but definitely worth it. We weren't here to break any world records - we were here to have fun (...and cross the finish line)!
After the lengthy photo stop, we agreed to only stop if the line wasn't exuberantly long, and we wouldn't be able to forgive ourselves if we didn't stop for the photo. Miles 3-5, running up the highway and through the car entrance to the Magic Kingdom were a little tedious, but there were some cool dancers and puppeteers on the sidelines as we ran by.
Somewhere in the middle of Mile 5, we found ourselves running through an innocent looking gate, and a few steps later realized that we were rounding the corner of Main Street USA. As we made our way up the street and around the front of the castle toward Tomorrowland, we spotted Rachel's parents and stopped for a sweaty hug before starting off again.
There's little that can describe how awesome it feels to run (okay, walk with the rest of the tightly packed herd) through Cinderella's castle. Totally exhilarating. But we had another 7 miles to finish, so we couldn't indulge too much. We GU'd up, and off we ran through Frontierland and out the backside of the Kingdom.
As we left MK is where things started to go downhill for me, who had been battling knee pain for a few weeks. The number one thing I regret not doing as soon as I started seriously running was go get fitted for a good pair of shoes by a running store who knows what they're talking about. Turns out the shoes I'd gotten to correct an over-pronation problem I didn't actually have were actually slowly injuring my IT band, which REALLY flamed up around Mile 7.
We tried slowing down our pace, and taking more walking breaks, but eventually it got to the point where any pressure put fully on my left leg just resulted in shooting pains up my knee. I couldn't run at all. The next four miles were a huge emotional struggle for me. I had been training so hard for this day, and I couldn't believe my body was letting me down. I owe those miles to Rachel, who was such a trooper for not just sticking with me, despite wanting to actually run, but (literally) dancing circles around me and yelling inspirational things at me to keep me putting one foot in front of the other.
Miles 10 and 11 were the toughest for us. We were back on the highway, with not much to look at, and the heat and humidity were definitely starting to take their toll. As we rounded an exit ramp, we came across one of the Green Army Men (you know, from Toy Story), who was hollering at us that we were doing great, and that this was the last of the hills on the course. He was also counting off pushups for anyone who wanted to stop for a little cross training along the way, but we skipped this time, just trying to push through and finish to spare my knee.
As we passed not one, not two, but three more overpasses (read hills) over the next couple miles, we cursed the Army Man for lying at us about that hill. As soon as we pushed into Mile 12, we felt the energy of the other runners start to pick up again, read the inspirational signs that were lining the course, and knew we were so close. Rachel's dance party started up again, and we made our way into Epcot. The park guests had already been let in at this point, so we did a little weaving, but also got to high five other runners as we ran past them when the course doubled back on itself back down the concourse.
Out of Epcot we went, past the soulful sound of the gospel choir, around one last corner, and FINALLY saw the finish line in sight. I put on the guns for a miraculous half limping, half jogging, DEFINITELY tearful 40-yard dash, and we crossed proudly.
With our medals hanging proudly around our necks, we grabbed water and Powerade, a box of snacks, and stopped to get my knee iced and taped before hobbling over to find Rachel's parents. After some more sweaty, congratulatory hugs, we headed back to the hotel for a shower and cat nap before hitting up the one place that could possibly be more magical than Cinderella's castle...
We nerded out a bit in Hogsmeade, drank a butterbeer or two before devouring an early dinner and taking full advantage of the hotel's hot tub. Then it was early to bed, and up early the next morning to catch our flight home.
All in all, a truly amazing race, and a first half marathon that neither of us will ever forget.