I’m about to dive back into this trip report! But if you’ve missed any of the previous parts of my adventure so far, you can read them by clicking
HERE for Part 1
HERE for part 2
HERE for part 3
HERE for part 4
HERE for part 5
HERE for part 6
Alright…so I was getting close to Magic Kingdom but I was completely unsure of what my pace had been and even how long I’d been running. I decided that the adrenaline from running down Main Street and through Cinderella Castle would allow me to make up some time…even if I didn’t know how much time needed making up. In a backstage area before getting to Main Street there was this big metal looking wall type of structure that looked like it might belong at It’s a Small World. Right in front of that was Snow White! That’s my favorite character! The line to take a picture with her wasn’t as long as some of the other character meet and greet lines and I would have LOVED to have a picture with her, but I wasn’t confident that I was on track enough to lose the time waiting in line. I tried to get a run by picture or video but I couldn’t get my camera to open on my phone. Ugh.
As expected, once I turned onto Main Street I got pumped up with excitement! There were people cheering the runners on and just the entire atmosphere was amazing! I made my way towards the castle and the course was taking us around to the back of the thing…you know, setting us up for a magical path to run through it…when all of a sudden something unexpected happened. The pack of participants just stopped. Up on a balcony at the back of the castle stood the characters of the only Disney movie that I have a huge love/hate relationship with…
That’s right, it was the cast of Frozen.
Anna, Elsa and Kristoff were standing there saying Frozen related stuff and being so gee golly cute that they brought this entire crowd of mostly adults to a complete standstill. Almost everyone was stopped trying to take pictures of the characters, trying to get selfies, taking video, screaming and passing out from excitement….ok, so maybe not screaming and passing out…but definitely causing a huge traffic jam.
A big chunk of us, myself included, tried going around the pack to get on through the castle and on our way, but the flow just completely stopped. Those of us interested in actually moving along with our lives slowly crept into the walkway tunnel thing through the castle and finally, for the first time in forever, I was able to walk through to the front of the castle. Here there were tons of people trying to take a giant group photo but obviously you know I was thinking “Let it go! Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Or at least I didn’t have time for that….I felt like now I was even more behind and I was seriously concerned that I might get swept if I didn’t get a move on.
Shortly after leaving Magic Kingdom I encountered the halfway mark…It was a mix of emotions because I was happy to be half way done, but I was freaking out because I was only half way done. Then about a quarter mile after I passed the 7 mile marker, I became deathly aware of a problem. I was getting a blister on my big toe. This was when I was first started talking smack to the universe. And a lot of that smack was mumbled aloud…
“Are you serious?”
“No freaking way…”
“Why do you hate me?”
“Are you freaking kidding me?”
I was mumbling stuff like this for the next few minutes because I had never gotten a blister before in training, or at all since I began running 2 years ago. And I definitely didn’t need to deal with this during my first half marathon. So I kind of adjusted my step so that the blister wasn’t hurting anymore when I landed on that foot. Then shortly after mile 8, things began to go downhill for me. 😦
Somewhere between miles 8 and 9 I began getting severe cramps in my calves and shins. I’m pretty sure it was due to dehydration. I’d only been drinking half a cup of the water and sports drink that was at the water stops along the race course and all of my previous mistakes of the day were catching up to me. I stopped 3 or 4 times to stretch and relieve the cramps, but almost as soon as I started to run again, I’d get another cramp in the alternate leg. It was horrible. I was in pain and very close to full on crying by now.
Several people along the way asked if I was ok and encouraged me. That was actually pretty helpful and I was able to push through and keep going but I was having to do a lot more walking than running at this point. When I was close to passing the 9 mile marker, my worst fear began to come true.
I noticed that suddenly, back here with the crowd of participants who were mostly all walking like I was, there were a lot of people really picking up the pace and trying to get going. Like they were trying to get away from something. Before I could even complete the thought about wondering what was going on, I was like, “Sh#$! No way!” and I turned back to look for balloons. More specifically, I was looking for the Balloon Ladies.
I mentioned previously that there are pace keepers on bikes as well as the Balloon Ladies that you must stay with or ahead of to avoid getting swept, or picked up by a bus that takes you to the finish. Well, as the name implies, the Balloon Ladies have balloons with them. I assume the balloons are there as a visual landmark to let participants know how close or far they are from the required 16 minutes per mile pace. If you see these ladies during a runDisney race, you better get a move on!
So as I see all of these people suddenly picking up their pace, some running as fast as they can, I glance back and look for balloons to see if the Balloon Ladies are hot on my trail. I actually don’t even see any balloons but I’m hearing the chatter about how the Balloon Ladies aren’t far behind and that there’s going to be a hard pick up (aka, sweep) at mile 10. Oh, of course there’s going to be a sweep in about a mile….when I can’t even run without getting severe cramps in my legs.
I’m not gonna lie…my eyes were starting to fill with tears now. The number one thing I worried about like crazy was getting swept. I tried a couple of more times to go ahead and run only to be met with painful cramps. By now it hurt so bad that I was limping really hard core. I decided I was going to have to walk as fast as I could, pain or no pain, to make sure I wouldn’t get swept. With at least more than half a mile left until I got to the 10 mile marker, I glanced up to see balloons bobbing up and down a few feet ahead of me on my left!
Holy freaking cow! Is this real life?
Ok, no big deal, I thought. All I have to do is keep up with the Balloon ladies and get a little ahead of them. Well that proved to be easier said than done in my current state. I was struggling just to walk fast. In a matter of minutes those shiny Disney Princess balloons got further and further away from me. I started trying to reason with myself.
I can do this!
Ummm, actually no I can’t.
Wait, no…I can’t give up!
Well….maybe I should just give up. It hurts too much.
NOOOOOO! I will NOT get swept!
Then, as extra motivation, the pacers on bikes ride casually up next to me and I hear one of them saying that the Balloon Ladies are a little ahead of pace so all of us next to the bikes are about 30 seconds from being behind pace. They reiterate that there WILL be a hard pick up at mile 10 for anyone who is behind the balloon ladies. And right now I am too far away from the Balloon Ladies for comfort. So I took several really long strides in order to stretch my legs and prepare to run because I can’t give up!
I start out cautiously running and pain shoots through my right leg almost immediately. I just kept telling myself “I can’t get swept, I can’t get swept, I can’t get swept…” and I ran with what felt like the most awkward and painful form ever until I caught up to the Balloon Ladies. I got 4 feet or so ahead of them and decided that I’d be able to walk again and stay with them. But nope, the cramps got even worse once I stopped running and the pacers caught up to me in seconds. I struggled to keep up with them and by now I was walking with one of the Balloon Ladies right next to me. I continued to struggle and before I knew it I was about 10 feet behind the balloons. Now I could also see the 2 buses waiting on the side of the road right next to the 10 mile marker about a quarter mile ahead of me.
Then, because I’m not on a big enough emotional roller coaster ride already, the Balloon Ladies suddenly step off to the left and stop walking. What? What is going on? I pass the ladies and keep looking back and in answer to everyone’s question about what happened, a pacer on a bike rides up quickly to tell us that the Balloon Ladies are stopping for a few seconds because they were getting even more ahead of pace. So to be fair, they stopped long enough to get back to actual pace. Thank God!
I decided that just to be safe I needed to run all the way to the 10 mile marker. So I braced myself for the impending doom and ran until I got to Mile 10, and then I ran 10 steps more. And then I cried. I was really upset with myself that I didn’t prepare properly this morning and that I was struggling so much because of all of the mistakes I made. And I still had 3.1 miles to go until the finish.
I got my emotions in check and tried to focus on staying with the pacers, who by now caught back up to me and were just behind me. Others who were next to the Balloon Ladies were asking if there was another sweep at mile 11. The ladies just kept saying “You’re not safe until you cross the finish line!” But then a minute later, one of the ladies said, “You’re not safe until you cross the finish line, but if I were you, I’d hurry up and get to mile 11.”
Most of us took that to mean that there were no more hard pick ups after mile 11. It actually made sense because after mile 11 there was not really room for a bus or truck to come onto the narrow road. This was a good thing for me because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep up with the Balloon Ladies after the 10.5 mile point or so. I pushed myself to walk as fast as possible until I got to Mile 11. I had a gamut of emotions from mile 10 to mile 11 and I talked to a few people who were struggling and in as much pain as I was. I remember the most detail of mile 11 til the end of the race because by mile 11 I knew I wouldn’t get swept. But I also knew that I wasn’t going to finish in 3 hours like I originally hoped to.
This was the first mile marker that I felt compelled to take a picture of.
Maybe because I knew I was going to finish the race without getting swept, I got pumped up again when I was about to enter Epcot. I was actually even smiling and cheering on the other handful of people at the back of the pack with me. The spectators cheering us on inside of Epcot made me cry with joy. I went from feeling low for being one of the last people finishing the race, to feeling happy that strangers were cheering me on to finish. I actually kind of got too happy and I was posing for the race photographer a little too hard.
When I passed Spaceship Earth for the second time and headed to the backstage area to get to the finish line, a lady whom I’d been walking next to for the last mile and I decided that we would run the last straight away to the finish line. By now I was excited to be so close to being done that I didn’t even think about my pain until after I finally crossed the finish line.
I screamed as loud as I could and as I got my medal I broke down and cried uncontrollably for a minute. A woman who was possibly a race volunteer walked over and congratulated me and gave me a hug. I was happy, hurting, and proud. My finish time was 3:59:52. A far cry from the minimum of 3 hours that I had hoped to finish in, but I finished and I learned from my mistakes. I’m already training and I plan to run this race again in 2016 without all the preparation mistakes and with a finish time of 2 hours and 45 minutes or less. I know I can do it!
Now that the race is over, I’ve got some park time to get in at Disney’s Hollywood Studios…and some bad news is coming. Check back for the next installment of my report to find out what goes wrong now. 🙂
See Ya Real Soon!
Bravo to you!!! I ran my first half at Princess two years back. My first full was at Disney in January and there is a section as you leave wide world of sports that you see those entering it about 4-5 miles behind you. For the first time, as I looked across the road, I saw the balloon ladies and pacers and the dreaded buses. Me and those around me started to cheer as loud as we could for our fellow runners. I started tearing up and said a prayer for them. The back of the pack has the most determination of spirit I’ve ever witnessed.
Thanks! It was a life changing experience for me! I didn’t go into detail about a lot that happened from mile 11 and on but there was a group of about 7 of us that was determined to get to the finish. There were a lot of tears but also a lot of support and encouragement. I cried when some of the people who’d already finished and random strangers drove by to cheer us on!