Following in the footsteps of Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge and the Dumbo Double Dare, this year runDisney introduced the Glass Slipper Challenge, in which participants must complete the Enchanted 10K on Saturday and Princess Half Marathon on Sunday. For completing the 2-day, 19.3 mile challenge, runners receive the regular 10K and half marathon medals, plus an extra medal for the combination. Additionally, 2014 marks the introduction of a special pink-and-purple edition of the classic Coast to Coast medal, available to runners who completed the Tinkerbell Half Marathon at the Disneyland Resort and the Princess Half Marathon at Walt Disney World.

I spent the weekend at All Star Sports, which is one of the host hotels for the race, meaning that transportation to/from the race and expo is provided. To me, the convenience and peace of mind of having transportation taken care of is well worth the extra cost of staying on-property. With 25,000 runners registered for the half marathon, and road closures for the race, it’s really nice to have the logistics arranged so that you know you won’t be late.

Since I arrived late Friday night, I relied on a friend to pick up my packet from the expo, but I heard that the crowds there were quite manageable compared to previous race weekends, which have ranged from hectic to borderline dangerous.  The buses to and from the races often had a long line of runners waiting, but there was a steady stream of buses coming, as is typical with the Walt Disney World races. Despite long queues, I don’t think we ever had to wait more than about 10 minutes, and the queue was constantly moving forward.

The 10K course starts in the Epcot parking lot, and spends the first 3 miles on the roads surrounding the park. Eventually runners enter World Showcase between Norway and China; the course proceeds clockwise to International Gateway, where it takes a detour around the Boardwalk area. After a trip backstage, the course emerges between Imagination and The Land, cuts across Future World, and finishes in the Epcot parking lot.

It seemed like there were fewer characters out for photos than in previous races, though I could have just timed the shift changes wrong. Unless I’m looking for a specific character, I tend to pass by the photo stops unless there is little to no wait. Unlike traditional meet and greets, where characters have a short conversation with each guests, runners tend to be very quick and only stop for a photo; a typical interaction takes under 10 seconds, so the queues move quickly.

01_10K Elsa

A clever addition to this race was Elsa, stationed on an overpass above the course near the beginning with snow machines covering the course. This allowed everybody to see her, since she’s a very popular character at the moment, but avoided the possibility of long waits for individual photos, since she was out of reach from runners.

02_10K Backstage

Personally, I tend to struggle with the 10K distance (6.2 miles). It doesn’t require the endurance of a full marathon, but it’s also far too long to be an all-out sprint. During the Walt Disney World 10K during Marathon Weekend in January (which follows the same course), I made my typical mistake of going out too fast, and really struggled in the later miles. With this race, I managed to keep myself in check for the early miles and stay strong throughout the race. I finished in 53:00, which was more than 4 minutes faster than my Marathon Weekend time, despite no real difference in my level of fitness between the two events.

03_Half Toll Plaza Fog

The half marathon course starts outside Epcot, and heads up World Drive to the Transportation and Ticket Center, past the Contemporary and into the Magic Kingdom. After running up Main Street, the course turns into Tomorrowland, up through Fantasyland, through the castle, and into Liberty Square and Frontierland. After exiting near Splash Mountain, we ran along a backstage road, eventually emerging by the Grand Floridian and Polynesian. After passing by the speedway, the course returns down World Dr, takes several overpasses, and heads into Epcot for a quick out-and-back to World Showcase Lagoon, with the finish line in the Epcot parking lot.

04_Half Main Street Fog

The temperature at the start of the race was a little cooler than I had expected based on recent forecasts, but it was still comfortable waiting in the start corrals in short sleeves. The big surprise was the humidity and dense fog, which rolled in shortly after the race started; even with bright lights, it was often difficult to see more than 200 yards ahead. While not dangerous for running, it was mentally taxing to not be able to see upcoming landmarks as you struggle with endurance for 13.1 miles. The fog finally began to lift as the later runners finished, but that didn’t happen until around 9:00, at which point they were nearly done with the race as well. Several runners around me were joking about how they hadn’t done enough swimming as cross-training, since it was so damp that morning.

05_Half World Dr Crowds

The half marathon marked my first time racing in costume, and it was a great place for it. It seemed like at least half of the participants were wearing costumes, skirts, tutus, or tiaras, almost to the point that I would have felt out of place had I not dressed up. It was a lot of fun to get recognized, and chat with other runners, but it did add another hurdle to the race preparation process, which can be overwhelming enough for first-timers without a costume. There was a wide variety of costumes, but my favorites were a handful of Disney’s “forgotten” princesses, like Giselle, Tiger Lily, and Kida.

06_Half Epcot Water Station Fog

The Princess Half Marathon follows the same course as the Walt Disney World Half Marathon (associated with Donald) in January, so this race was my fourth time running it. I had intended to set a personal course record, and tried to break 2-hours, starting in corral B. With the heat and humidity, I could tell within the first 3 miles that the 2-hour time was out of reach; however, I was able to hold on enough to get a new course PR at 2:02:50, even if it was less than a minute from my previous best time.

08_Half Finish Line

From my pace, the crowding on the course wasn’t an issue; however, several of my friends who started in later corrals and ran a slower pace said that the course was crowded throughout the race. When I was headed south on World Dr between miles 9 and 10 I could see the runners who started in later corrals between miles 2 and 3; despite being a wide road, the crowds seemed pretty thick. I can only imagine how tough it was during the narrow portions, which stretch for several miles, in addition to some pinch points in the parks. Additionally, the queues for characters along that stretch seemed to be have dozens of runners waiting, compared to 1-2 runners deep for the majority of the course for me.

The race was won by Kim Smith, an Olympian from New Zealand. She set a new course record of 1:11:49, knocking nearly 6 minutes off the previous record. In total, 20,750 runners completed the half marathon, including 5,641 Glass Slipper Challenge finishers. Another 3,326 runners completed the 10K as a standalone event.

Disney is known for accommodating first-time runners, and this is especially true of the Princess Half Marathon, which boasts the most first-time runners of any of runDisney’s races. The races tend to give an excuse for old friends to reunite, family to spend time together, or individuals to push themselves beyond what they thought possible. Although they cover a serious distance and do require serious training and preparation, the races are welcoming to runners and walkers of all abilities (with a 16 minute/mile pacing requirement) and it’s great to see everybody celebrate each other’s personal achievements.

09_Medals

One of my favorite parts of Disney’s races is getting to wear the medals in the parks afterwards. Cast members, other runners, and average guests all strike up conversations about the races, and it brings a real sense of camaraderie that is tough to find with local races or an average day in the parks. It also helps make the races feel like more of an event than a local race, where runners typically go home shortly after and quickly blend back into the crowd. Although more expensive than average (like all things Disney), they really do know how to put on a high-quality event, and make it a lot more special than most.