My friends, it’s official: I, Sara Hamil, am a half marathoner.
I’m still having a hard time processing what happened last weekend. I spent so much time leading up to it preparing and obsessing that it’s hard to believe it’s already over. In the days since I’ve tried my best to relive the morning of January 20th (and the rest of the weekend for that matter) because it’s not something I want to forget any time soon.
Running Disneyland’s TinkerBell Half Marathon was an absolutely amazing experience. I think it probably goes without saying that a runDisney race is going to be incredible. It’s what Disney does. But as true as that may be and as short as my running career has been so far, I cannot deny it: it was the best race I’ve ever run. And not just because of the Disney experience either; it was also my best personal race experience too.
In the days leading up to the race I did my best not to think about it at all. This wasn’t very hard considering the overall excitement of getting to and enjoying Disneyland. Llisa – friend, running buddy and fellow Disney enthusiast – and I wasted little time getting acquainted with The Happiest Place on Earth after arriving around lunchtime Friday. It was easy to forget that our biggest race to date was just a day and a half away.
I won’t get into the whole Disneyland experience in this post because I could go on, and on and I imagine if you’re reading this you’re actually more interested in the race itself. So let’s talk about that, shall we?
As soon as we dropped off our bags, Llisa’s mom, Susan (a seasoned Disney runner who has not only run all of their races but has also now completed the Coast-to-Coast Challenge TWICE) brought us to grab our race kits and check out the Health and Fitness Expo. Our kits were crammed full of awesomeness (and I also picked up some of the commemorative items too), including our official race shirts. We observed the race tradition of “don’t wear it ‘til you’ve earned it”. Where does this come from? Is it a superstition? I’m interested to know who else does this. Susan had also bought us some little welcome gifts for our first runDisney experience. It was so sweet and felt like Christmas all over again.
The Expo was pretty cool, although I understand it was a fair bit smaller than other one at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. I was okay with that though – there was plenty going on. There were so many exciting vendors that it was hard not to blow all my money in the first couple of hours of being at the resort. I exercised restraint though and decided to limit myself to just grabbing some GU Energy gels and a sparkly Sweaty Bands headband. ALSO! I totally met Jeff Galloway. He’s the nicest ever.
You’d think with all of this fanfare the reality of what was going to be happening would have started to set it. Oh no, not at all. If anything it just felt like a big party with a bunch of other running and Disney geeks. It wasn’t until a bit later, when we decided to ride the infamous monorail into Dinseyland proper that it hit us. From the windows we spotted the starting line already set-up. That was all it took – my stomach did flips and Llisa and I shared a wide-eyed stare.
We spent the next day and half enjoying ourselves. We had our fun in the parks but remained conscious of the end goal. Sure, I may have indulged in one or two Mickey-shaped treats but overall we were careful to eat well. We spent some time soaking in the hot tub, foam rolling and we made sure to get plenty of sleep. As far as we were concerned, we could totally have both our figurative (and at times, literal) cake and eat it too. On Saturday night, carboloaded as we were, we set our alarms for some ungodly hour (I can’t remember specifically. All hours between midnight and 5am are all equally terrible in my opinion) pinned our bibs to our running skirts and, prepared as we’d ever be, said goodnight.
In the morning – disaster (or at least that’s how it felt).
As it turned out, all of that trekking around the parks the day before had left my legs and feet feeling stiff and a little sore. As I hobbled back and forth, pacing about the room and trying to walk it off, I started to panic.
You’ve GOT to be kidding me! My mind wailed, After all of my care and precautions before the race I’m about to be undone by my childlike enthusiasm for a Disney theme park! What was I thinking? Why didn’t I take it easy? I’M SO SCREWED!
As I got dressed my stomach was in knots and I started worrying that I was going to end up cramping (runners, you know what I mean). My panic was at a rolling boil. I wasn’t even at the starting line yet already I was convinced that my body was going to betray me within the first couple of miles.
I went into the bathroom and stared myself down in the mirror. White with fear and tight with anxiety, I was feeling just like I had been before I left. But that notion was all I needed to snap me out of it.
“There’s nothing more you can do,” I whispered to my terrified reflection. “Remember your resolution: succeed or fail, just try your best.”
I took a few more deep breaths as I repeated my little mantra before strapping on my wings. It was go time.
We collected a few of Susan’s friends on our way to the starting area near Paradise Pier. The beauty of the Disneyland resort being so compact meant that we didn’t need to take any shuttles to get to where we needed to be (we were staying in the Disneyland Hotel). After dropping off our bags we wished each other good luck and headed off to our respective corrals.
Llisa and I were both in the same corral. It also happened to be the first one. It was about 4:40am and we stood huddled under mylar blankets waiting for the race to start. We jumped around to stay warm, watched the opening ceremonies (which included Sean Astin aka Samwise Gamgee aka Ruuuuudy who was also running the race!) and marveled at how many people were behind us in the other corrals. There were around 12,000 runners lined up and ready to go. A lot of us were dressed in costumes and all of us were pumped up in our own ways. It was a stunning thing to be a part of.
The race started at 5am on the dot. As soon as we started moving all of my anxiety gave way to unrelenting excitement. I had my special playlist full of Disney music blasting and a massive smile on my face. Regardless of how things were going to play out, I was just thrilled to be there.
It should come as absolutely no surprise that the course was incredible. The route took us through every section (including backstage sections) of each park. We started in California Adventure and then made our way to Disneyland, followed by Downtown Disney before circling through the Disneyland Hotel and out into the streets of Anaheim. In the parks the lights and rides and music were on just for us. Dozens of characters were placed along the route and we were welcome to stop and take photos if we wanted (True story: As exciting as it was to have the characters all to ourselves, I couldn’t bring myself to stop. In fact, I didn’t really take any pictures of anything during the actual race, but if you want to see some, check out the album on the runDisney Facebook page. Their photos are better than mine would have been anyway ). The lights at Paradise Pier, with the Mickey Ferris wheel and part of the World of Color waterworks running, where spectacular. As we came in around town square on Mainstreet U.S.A I spotted Sleeping Beauty’s Castle lit up an I couldn’t help it – I started to cry.
The second half of the race was out on the streets. After the excitement of running through Disney, this part was a bit of a downer. Still, there were marching bands and chEAR squads placed all along the route to keep our spirits up. The signs people brought with them were great. Some of my favourites were, “You look HOT when you SWEAT”, “I didn’t wake up at 4am for you to WALK”, “ I thought you said 1.31 miles!” and, of course, a Ryan Gosling meme poster that read, “Hey girl, I’m waiting for you at the finish line”. So cute!
Llisa and I ran the first half of the race together. She is, without question, a better runner than I am so she helped push me out of my comfort zone while keeping me going at a great pace. It was also way more fun to have someone to share the experience with. As we came to the second half we slowly started to develop a gap between us. As I watched her blinking TinkerBell wings disappear into the crowd I wished her a silent good luck and turned my focus inward. The first half of the race had felt effortless but I knew that the real test of my endurance was coming up.
I resolved to just enjoy myself as best I could. I was thrilled at how strong my body felt despite the morning’s concerns. The scenery was something new and it was nice to watch the sun rise over Anaheim. Aside from striding through the water stations (I’m not big on trying to drink from a cup while running) and a quick pit stop (let’s just say that I was REALLY hydrated and not keen on crossing the finish line in soggy shorts) I ran without stopping. My legs started to get stiff around mile 9 but that was it. In the end my only “injury” was a small blister near the arch of my left foot from my relatively (but not completely) new shoes.
I can honestly say that I enjoyed every moment of that race. Still, as we made our way back to Paradise Pier and I spotted the finish line I started to cry again. I was almost there. We wound through one last swarm of supporters and I put on a final burst of speed after the 13 mile mark to the finish line. Arms in the air, I heard them call my name at 2 hours and 22 minutes exactly. It was over, I had finished, and I was over the moon about it.
From the moment that medal was slipped over my head onward, things became a bit of a blur. I found Llisa easily (the running gods were being kind to us) and we had our picture taken before getting a complimentary massage (Disney takes care of its runners, y’all), icing our tired legs and hobbling back to our room beaming with pride. I was so, SO happy.
While I’m usually one to aw shucks (or perhaps in this case: Gawrsh!) at my accomplishments, I’m really proud of this one. I felt so strong and so good during that race. Aside from the one blister, I didn’t hurt myself. For a first half marathon my time wasn’t too shabby either!
Never before in my life had I ever considered that I would end up running a half marathon and, truth be told, when I initially made the decision to do it I had my doubts that I could. I owe endless amounts of thanks to everyone who helped me make this happen. To all of my friends and especially Luc for their boundless support and belief in me. To Llisa and her mom for planting the seed and taking me with them on this crazy adventure. As an aside, I’m also really grateful to the staff at Tri & Run Sports in Trenton. I went in to see them when I was worried about my legs and they helped me with everything from footwear to foam rolling, electrolytes right down to what I could expect from a Disney race (and no – no one’s paying me to plug them. They’re just good at what they do!)
So, what next? Well, originally my plans included using 2013 to work up to a full marathon in the fall. Now that I’ve got this half marathon under my belt, I feel like I want to tackle a few more before making that leap. I think, if I can find a way to swing it, my new race schedule will look like this:
- Quinte West Healthy Half: Half marathon, April
- Midsummer Night’s Run: 30km, August
- Run For Your Lives: 5km obstacle, September (Didn’t do it last year so I HAVE TO this year if it’s coming back to Toronto)
- Prince Edward County Marathon: Half Marathon, October
- Disney World Wine and Dine Half: Half Marathon, November (If I can afford it, I’ll be gunning for a Coast-to-Coast medal!)
Some of these might be difficult to make happen but I’ll see what I can do. In the mean time, I’m going to take a bit of time to relax and recover. Let’s see what else we can accomplish in 2013!