I have officially earned my wings! I ran the Tinker Bell Half Marathon at Disneyland! This is something I have been working towards for the last 2 years and I am over-the-moon with joy!
My Tinker Bell Half Marathon journey started several years ago when I would go on walks with my youngest daughter in her stroller. I loved to hear her squeals when I would run a bit and the wind blew her hair. “Faster, mommy! Again!” Sometimes it really took everything out of me to help my little one feel like she was flying, but I loved the exercise. My little one grew and graduated to being able to ride her bike on our walks. We never went far, but her little legs sure could pedal and that left me trotting along to keep up with her.
Eventually, my youngest went to school and I was left to exercise on my own. This also allowed me to go further distances and try out running. I have since come to love this sport for the solitude it brings. This is my time to let my thoughts wander, to process life’s joys and struggles, listen to my music (not what my tweens are usually playing) and to pray.
Then I heard about runDisney and all the great events they host at Disneyland and Walt Disney World several times each year. I was determined to run at Disneyland one day and I set my sights on the 2014 Tinker Bell Half Marathon. The thought of running at Disneyland had me so excited, thrilled and energized that I immediately downloaded the Jeff Galloway training program and began my training. I thoroughly enjoyed finding new routes in my area and reaching my goal.
Only I did not reach my goal. I ended up with severe knee pain that would stop me in my tracks. My doctor helped me understand the underlying issues and I am thankful it was not serious enough for surgery; however, I was in so much pain that I knew I was not going to complete 13 miles any time soon. I felt so discouraged that I would not be able to participate in the 2014 Tinker Bell Half Marathon, yet deep down I became even more determined.
After a long winter, I made some changes to my training program. I cut back from 5 running days to only 3 and I realized that incorporating run/walk/run intervals was going to help me eliminate some pain. I set out in the early spring of 2014 with a refreshed heart and a new Pixie Dusted resolve.
By June, my training had taken me to the point where I was to complete my first half marathon as a training exercise! With tears in my eyes for the last mile and my family cheering for me in the driveway, I really couldn’t believe I had just run 13.5 miles, further than I needed to go!
My family had also caught on to my enthusiasm for the Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend of events. We decided that I would run the Half Marathon, we would run the 5k as a family and create a fantastic Disneyland vacation.
In August of 2014 we successfully registered for the race events and booked our Disneyland package. This left nine months to continue my training and learn as much as possible about the Tinker Bell races from veteran runners. I joined several Facebook groups and became “a fly on the wall” in order to learn as much as possible from the seasoned runners.
I loved seeing all the fabulous costumes other runners were coming up with and posting on the Facebook pages, but decided a costume was going to be too much for me to think about. I had other worries… What was the course like? Were there enough port-a-potties on the course? Which characters would I stop for? Would my knee hold up?
I decided my mani/pedi would be inspired by Tink and that a green running tank would be great. Honestly, I am glad I didn’t have to worry about hitting anyone with wings or shedding costume pieces, as some runners did, throughout the streets of Anaheim. I did buy a green “throw-away” jacket from my local second-hand store, which felt nice at 4:00 in the morning with nervous shivers running wild.
After a great day in the parks, we woke very early for the Never Land 5k on Friday morning. This was a fabulous family fun run and I will forever treasure memories of running in the rain with the people I love most in the Happiest Place on Earth! You can read about our Never Land 5k adventure here.
Saturday was another great Disney day! However, after exploring Disneyland and California Adventure Park for three days, walking between 9 and 11 miles each day, I was starting to get worried about running a half marathon very early the next morning. As hard as it was to leave my happy place, I decided it was probably best to head back to the hotel around 5:30 that evening. I enjoyed a leisurely bath, which felt great on my back and aching feet. I laid out all my clothes and gear for the next morning’s race and taped my knee. In fact, I double taped it! I wasn’t going to let that sucker get the best of me! Then I got to bed around 10 pm. I knew that if I tried to go to sleep any earlier, I would just lay awake, fretting over the fact that I wasn’t sleeping.
My earplugs helped me get a good night’s sleep and when the alarm went off at 3:00 am, so did the nerves! I got dressed as quietly as possible, so as not to wake my family. I do not normally run with makeup on, but this was a big deal for me, so I put on a little color and checked in with the Facebook group. There were so many encouraging words, but the nerves were still buzzing. I buckled my running belt and headed out of the hotel room. Am I too early? Maybe! Do I have everything? Yes! Is my phone charged? Yes!
Ok, here I go… all by myself. This was a part of the event I was really dreading. What would it be like to walk from the hotel, passed the parks, through Downtown Disney and find my corral all by myself? As I made my way down the hotel stairs, I decided that none of that mattered. This is what I had been dreaming of for the last two years. It was time to let all the worrying go and just enjoy the morning! And I did!
I heard other runners quietly closing their hotel room doors and knew I was not alone. As I crossed Harbor Blvd, other runners were making their way to the start as well. Some wore costumes, some didn’t. Some were going to be faster than me, some weren’t. Despite all of our differences, we all had one thing in common: we were all there to have a great time running/walking in the Happiest Place on Earth!
As I made my way through the park security and Downtown Disney, I munched on a banana and made one last restroom break just past the Lego store. Then I simply did as the veterans had said, “follow the herds”!
As we made our way on to the Disney property, I became really excited. This is what I had been waiting for and I knew the next 3-4 miles were going to go by quickly. So with a happy heart and phone at the ready, I looked around, listened and soaked up every bit of magic I could!
The first character I saw was Buzz Lightyear and I decided a selfie with Buzz in the background was good enough for me. I didn’t want to wait in line. Then came Lightning McQueen and Mater and I had the same feeling, no need to wait in line, a selfie was great! Tink’s fairy friends were found in the backstage areas, as were cheering Cast Members. I wished them a “Good Morning!” and thanked them for coming out to support us. It was great to see parade floats and attraction cars while I ran.
The character I really wanted to see, of course, was Tinker Bell! As I came up on Pixie Hollow, I saw her and she looked beautiful, then I saw the line… it wrapped around four times. There was no way I was going to wait in a 30-minute line. Thankfully, Tink was in a particularly delightful mood and posed for photos between runners and I got a couple of my favorite race pictures.
One of my favorite memories from the parks happened as I came around a corner to see Tiana’s New Orleans Jazz Julbilee float (from Mickey’s Soundsational Parade). It had been pulled out of the garage and “Gonna Take You There” with firefly Ray singing, “Alright, Lou Lou! Let’s get to it, darlin’! C’mon, child! Just follow the bouncin’ butts!” I laughed out loud because all I could see in front of me was a sea of “bouncin’ butts”!
Then we came back into the park and ran through New Orleans Square where the Sailing Ship Columbia was proudly displayed and Captain Jack Sparrow was calling out to us wishing us a great run.
The fun didn’t stop there! The Red Hat Society ladies came out en masse! I was overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of ladies donning their beautiful red hats and purple dresses. Others in the crowd held encouraging signs.
“When your legs are tired, run with your heart!”
“Touch here for POWER!”
“You’re not out of Pixie Dust yet!”
And there were a ton of witty and comical signs too.
“Remember, you paid to do this!”
“Run faster, my dog just farted!”
“The hot ones always run away!”
“Seems like a lot of work for a free banana!”
And my favorite, “Worst Disney parade ever!”
Many local high school bands, cheerleading squads and dance teams also made this an enjoyable experience through the streets of Anaheim.
The mile 12 marker was when we made our way back onto Disney property and around the back side of California Adventure Park. This was the longest stretch for me, not because I was exhausted, but because of the anticipation of what the finish would be like… What the medal would look like? I had intentionally avoided looking at the medal at the Expo. I really wanted to be surprised, especially after having seen how beautiful the 10K medal was. What would my race time would be? Which character would I high-five?
Finally, I saw the finish line arch and more importantly, I saw my family again! “Go, Mommy!” was all I could hear in those last few moments. I ran toward Mickey Mouse and gave him a high-five and crossed the finish line with a spring in my step, a smile on my face and tears in my eyes!
My long awaited medal is absolutely beautiful and I will always display it proudly!
The one thing I have learned about myself and running is that it is something I have to do all on my own. And for the first time in my life, this half marathon goal was something only I could do, one step at a time. Yes, I have completed college, but I had mentors and study groups to help me. Yes, I am raising children, but I have an amazing husband to help me. There are many things I have accomplished, but I have never really been alone. When I am running, it is just me and Jesus, pounding the pavement in the heat, in the snow and in the rain, on good days and bad days.
I have earned my wings and had the time of my life doing so! I am grateful to all the voluntEARS who made this weekend such a success and I eagerly look forward to participating in more runDisney events.
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Concierge Agent with Wishes Family Travel, Authorized Disney Vacation Planner Agency
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