In the dark, muggy Florida pre-dawn stood Merida, the Scottish heroine of “Brave,” her red curls falling around her shoulders clad in a shiny teal top. A blue-ish green skirt fell from her waist. On her feet—running shoes. Standing next to her was Princess Tiana, replete in a shimmery purple top with a plush frog crouching on her shoulder. Tiana and cerulean-clad Cinderella were deep in conversation, debating if they should slow their pace due to the heavy humidity. And behind these strong women, as far as the eye could see under tall pillars of lights, was a sea of women runners, eagerly awaiting the start of the 5th annual Disney Princess Half Marathon.
I looked to my right, and there stood four other tall Tinkerbells, dressed exactly like me in Sparkle Athletic lime green skirts over boy shorts, green fairy wings, and screaming yellow tanks that read, “I run things.” Unfortunately, the tallest of us, Dimity, wasn’t about to run, due to a small fracture in her big toe, but Kristin (a Portland pal who’d helped work our AMR booth at the exuberant Fit for a Princess Expo), Krista (a somewhat shy mother of three from outside Philadelphia), and Amy (a mother runner from Wisconsin whom we met at a ZOOMA half-marathon last fall) were ready to take on 13.1 miles. Fireworks lit up the morning sky.
Our plan was to fly together, perhaps even to a roughly 2:00 finish, but steps into the race, we realized it was going to be tough to navigate the jubilant race field en masse. Team K—Kristin and Krista—dropped back, and Amy and I dodged Cinderellas, Ariels, Princess Leias, and several Rapunzels to find our rhythm. We also quickly realized the humidity was going to make our effort seem tougher than usual: Coming from chillier or drier climates, we soon had heavy beads of sweat coating our faces.
I breathed a deep sigh of relief when Amy admitted she’d be happy with 2:10 finish; I could tell I’d be struggling for much of the race. Our pace picked up when we entered the Magic Kingdom around Mile 4. Cinderella’s castle appeared larger than life, shining brightly in the still-dark morning. Amy and I flitted and pranced for photographers, laughing at ourselves.
The sun was starting to brighten the hazy overcast by the time we exited the park and returned to running on highway. The humidity, however, was making us feel ragged. We didn’t stop for many pictures with cast members—I know I had an unspoken fear that if we stopped, we might not get started back up again. Our conversation about the merits (or annoyances) of “Girls” dropped off as we both turned inward to find some strength to help us along. Several times I thought the unthinkable-for-me: “If Amy wasn’t right here, I’d walk.”
Yet around Mile 10, we rallied. As the sky continued to lighten, so did our mood. We stopped for a photo with Mrs. Incredible, who Amy immediately got familiar with, tossing out a jaunty, “Hi, Helen.” But Amy’s best line came when we first caught site of the white, faceted orb of Epcot Center as we crested a slight incline of an overpass. “It’s funny to think all these princess running toward a ball.” (Turns out she meant part of the male anatomy; I thought she was being poetic, talking about the gala where “Cindy” meant Prince Charming!)
Sweat plastered our shirts to our bodies and dripped off the back of our sparkly skirts as we ran into Epcot near Mile 12. But we also had smiles plastered across our faces: In true Disney fashion, pixie dust, sparkles, tiaras, and the estrogen of 26,000 women had worked their charms on us.
Did you run Disney Princess? If so, share your story in the Comments section (below).