Regal Racing with a RunDisney Newbie: A ChEAR Squad Experience!
I should probably start by saying that there is absolutely nothing athletic about me. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t feel the need to run unless I am being chased, and even then, it might depend on what’s chasing me. This is definitely not the case, however, for those who participate in RunDisney events!
In February, thousands of people packed up their tiaras and tennis shoes and gathered at Walt Disney World for the Disney Princess Half Marathon weekend! While this is an event that typically would have flown under the radar for me as a non-athlete, one of my closest family members had been dreaming of participating in her first RunDisney races and asked me to join her for the trip and chEAR her on. Though I may be one to turn down a run, I will never turn down an invite to Disney World!
As I hadn’t been to any RunDisney events before, I genuinely had no idea just how big and popular they are! When I joined my cousin to pick up her race bib and pre-ordered race-themed Spirit Jersey, it was also my first time visiting the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, which was way bigger than I expected! There are multiple buildings, sports courts, eateries, and several large outdoor fields perfect for playing in. It was really cool to see, and I enjoyed checking out all of the specialty half-marathon merchandise. I may not be overly interested in athletics, but I am always happy to shop till I drop!
Once we had picked up all of the necessary gear and made a few purchases, we headed over to Disney Springs to have a light dinner, and then it was back to the resort and early to bed. Something else I didn’t know was that because there are so many participants, Disney breaks everyone up into different corrals, which determine when an entrant will begin the event. Everyone follows the same course, but staggering the racers helps to keep the pathways from getting too crowded.
As my cousin was assigned to the first corral for the 5K event, which began at 5 am, something else I learned over our weekend in February is that the RunDisney bus transportation taking you from your resort to the events starts EARLY! To ensure we got to Epcot, where the start and finish lines were located, with some extra time just in case of any unexpected traffic or delays, our alarms were set for 2 am so we could be on the bus by 3 am.
The bus dropped us off at the main entrance to Epcot, where friendly event staff directed us past the entry turnstiles and onto the far area of the park’s parking lot. Honestly, we probably walked a 5K just to get to the event area, but it was really cool to see everyone filing in with Spaceship Earth lit up in the background!
There was a full stage set up with a pre-show going on, where enthusiastic presenters spoke with different race attendees and shared what was happening behind the scenes to prepare for the event to begin. There were photo ops with characters, food trucks, and of course, tons of excited people who couldn’t wait to get their feet in motion! From here, the racers would disperse into their corral assignments, and their family and friends who were spectating could easily make their way to both the start and finish lines to cheer them on! For those of us not partaking in the actual running, the distance between the start and end of the course was not far at all, and it took just a few minutes to walk from one side to the other.
My cousin made her way to her “A” corral, and I continued exploring for a bit before heading to the starting line. Even though I wasn’t participating in the 5K myself, I was buzzing with excitement! I really loved hearing the stories from the athletes who were celebrating major milestones and checking things off their bucket lists. It was so inspiring and amazing to hear that the RunDisney events brought so much joy to so many people. The energy of the crowd was incredible, and seeing the first group of runners ready to rock as the anthem was sung was truly moving.
Lots of spectators were ready to wave and cheer, and Disney had set up rows of bleachers so everyone could get a good view of the excitement. A few of us had made signs to encourage our family and friends as they ran by, and some even rang cowbells (which I hadn’t heard of but is apparently a RunDisney tradition!) Before we knew it, it was 5 am, and time to get started!
With smiles and determination on their faces, the first round of racers flew past the cheering crowd of spectators and were off to conquer the 5K course! The energy didn’t waver at all either, as each new corral of participants waited for their chance to get going. I wanted to make way for the new people coming over to cheer on their family members and friends in upcoming corrals, so I started heading back across the parking lot to the finish line.
She ran the race like a flash of lightning, and in what felt like no time, I was excitedly cheering for my cousin as she crossed the finish line of her first RunDisney race! There were announcers on hand to congratulate each athlete as they crossed the threshold, as well as Disney Photopass Photographers to capture their special moment.
Once the racers completed their run, they made their way to the recovery area, where they were provided with a snack, water, and of course, their medals! The main area was also used as a “reunion area” where runners could reunite with their friends and family, and my cousin and I were soon hugging and sharing photos and stories about the experience.
We headed back over to the buses, and once we arrived back at our resort, we showered and changed to prepare for rope drop at the park – it wasn’t even 7 am yet, and the sun was just coming up! One nice thing about the marathon events happening so early is that you still have the whole day to enjoy once you’ve finished!
We spent the day at Epcot, and as she had the 10K coming up the next morning, my cousin headed back to the resort after our early dinner to get some rest. I stayed out a bit later, but we were both up and at ’em again at 2 am for the next event!
I think the energy the next morning at the 10K was even more palpable, and the excitement and anticipation from both the racers and the spectating crowd made for a great atmosphere! Of course, this event took a little bit longer to finish, so between cheering the runners on at the start and finish lines, I might have stopped at one of the food trucks for an extra early breakfast of pretzel bites…Still, in what felt like the blink of an eye, participants started making their way to the end of the course, and cheerful announcements and congratulations began flowing through the crowd. I was so proud of my cousin for hitting a personal best record during her 10K dash, and I cheered even louder than I had the morning before!
To dip her toes in the RunDisney waters, my cousin chose to do just two of the three events this time around, but we’re both eager to plan for another marathon weekend in the future! Even as a very non-athletic person, I found myself thinking, “Next time, I think I want to try the 5k…” and was very inspired by all those who defied the odds to take part and accomplish their goals. I completely understand now why there were more than 30,000 participants, and I loved being part of the ChEAR Squad!
I have to admit, though, I think my very favorite thing about the Disney Princess Half Marathon weekend was seeing the creative costumes dreamed up by the racers! From Cinderella to Tinkerbell, Jasmine to the Magic Carpet, I saw so many mind-blowing outfits! There were sparkles, wigs, gowns, and tutus everywhere, and everyone looked spectacular!
After visiting WDW so many times, it was really cool to experience something that was totally and completely new to me and be introduced to the RunDisney community. Our weekend was full of exhilaration, inspiration, and, if I’m being honest, maybe a little exhaustion from waking up so early, but being a part of such an uplifting event that brought so much pride and happiness to so many was absolutely wonderful! I can’t wait to start breaking in some new sneakers and making plans for my next RunDisney event soon!