Disney Princess Half Marathon - A Spectator Guide

Sunday before last, while most of the world was sleeping in late, I found myself on a bus with about 40 women, many of whom were dressed in various outfits suitable for a costume party. There was no hiding the fact that I was out of place, and as a few of the women boarded the bus they reminded me so by referring to me as a "trooper," which I could only assume was a compliment of some sort. It was 3 a.m., and while my brain wasn't yet fully functioning, what I knew for sure was that this was just the beginning of a very long day, for today I would be cheering on my wife as she ran in the Disney Princess Half Marathon.
Epcot Spaceship Earth
Always nice to be here at 4am.

As we arrived at Epcot, we found ourselves joining a mass of runners, many dressed like our fellow riders on the bus. While we were lingering around the staging area, my wife asked me if I planned to blog about this experience. I originally told her no, but I would soon come to realize that I was far from alone in the adventure I planned for the day, as there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of people with the same plan in mind. What many of us unfortunate souls had in common, besides a lack of sleep and a crazy loved one, was a general unease that our plan for spectating would actually work. Well it did, and what follows is a sort of "Spectator Guide" for cheering on your crazy loved one.

A couple weeks before the race, I logged onto Disney's website to try and gather information on how I could see my wife during the run. I had planned on at least watching her start, but given the race started at Epcot and we were staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, I wasn't sure how I would kill the remaining 3 hours until her finish. Disney's website was quite helpful in this regard, as they had a Spectator Planning Tool which suggested a route for me to take that would allow me to see her at various points along the way.

Disney's itinerary suggested I watch the start from the spectator viewing area, then board the monorail to the Transportation and Ticket Center. There I'd be able to watch my wife pass, before making the short walk to see her again outside the Polynesian Resort. Finally, I would re-board the monorail back to Epcot to see the finish. Given my familiarity with Disney property, and the assumption that few friends, boyfriends, and husbands would venture out at 3am, this plan seemed relatively easy to pull off. This assumption was my first mistake...

An hour prior to the start, my wife set off for her corral, and I debated whether to follow Disney's guide and watch the start, or head for the monorail and take up the next position early. I decided to head to the monorail, as it would give me time to grab a coffee before she arrived at my next spot, but about halfway en route to the station I changed my mind, and started heading for the start viewing area. Mistake #2...
Princess Half Marathon Map

The spectator viewing area for the start was about 100 yards from the staging area for the participants, and was on the other side of a bank of woods. I took the short walk over, and found myself standing along the main highway which leads into Epcot. The race was still an hour away, but I decided to wait it out in this position. After about a half hour, however, one of the volunteers came by and informed me that the runners would actually be going down the opposite lane of the divided highway. It was immediately clear that given that distance, combined with the sheer number of runners and darkness, there was no way I'd be able to see my wife from this position. Discouraged I set off for the monorail station, hoping to beat most of the large crowd that had now formed in the viewing area.

When I arrived at the station, my discouragement turned into worry, as the line for the monorail rivaled that of Splash Mountain on New Year's Eve. The race was only about 15 minutes from starting at this point, and since the next position was at mile marker #4, I knew I had just over an hour to make it. Given the size of the line, I didn't think there was anyway I'd pull this off. Thankfully, Disney had the monorail running every five minutes, and after about half an hour, I found myself on Monorail Black headed for the Transportation and Ticket Center.

In reviewing the race course map, it appeared as though marker #4 was located to the right of the TTC, along the road which leads to the Contemporary Resort. I told my wife to look for me in this area, as I planned to find a spot somewhere along that road. As it turned out, however, marker #4 was located in the Magic Kingdom parking lot, before the runners entered the TTC area. There was no way for me to access the spot I told my wife I'd be waiting, as it was part of the race course, so as the first runners began to pass I made my way to the marker to watch. Trying to spot a woman in a pink shirt when there are literally thousands of women passing in pink shirts proved to be stressful, but after a while I finally spotted my wife, and barely managed to snap a lousy picture.

My plan at this point was to make the short walk to the Polynesian Resort, where I'd grab a coffee, before finding a spot outside the entrance to see her pass once more. I knew time was on my side, as it would take my wife about an hour to reach this point, and me only about 15 minutes. I had another debate with myself, however, as I was unsure given the last line for the monorail if I'd be able to make the finish. I assumed that surely the line would be much smaller, as by that point the runners were much more spread out, and therefore their roaming spectators would be also. Wrong assumption...

I took up a position for the next hour under a street sign across from the Disney golf courses, watching the runners languish as I enjoyed a wonderful ice coffee and cinnamon roll. I made sure to dispose of all evidence of this before my wife arrived, as I knew whatever brownie points I was earning this day would be wiped out should there be cinnamon icing on my mouth. Once she passed, I trudged back to the TTC, fearing the monorail line I would find when I got there.

Sure enough, the line was enormous, and I had a hard time determining if it was longer than the one at Epcot. It was now 8:15 am, and I knew that my wife was on track to finish just after 9 o'clock. I was in better shape than many around me however, as I heard several say their runner was on track to finish at 8:30. They were certainly out of luck, and as the minutes ticked by, I thought I was also. As with the first line, however, things moved quite fast, and I found myself arriving back at Epcot at 8:45.

As the runners arrived at Epcot, they entered the park just to the right of the monorail station exit. Looking at the course map, I knew that point was one mile from the finish, and given my wife's current pace, I just might be able to catch her here. I found a spot just before she arrived, and it was a nice bonus being able to shout some encouragement as she began the final mile of the race. Once she passed, I took the short walk to the finish line and found a spot to watch her complete the journey.

Looking back on the experience, there were a few things that I wished Disney had better informed spectator's about. The first being the lousy viewing area for the start, and it's distance from the Epcot monorail station. In addition, there was no warning at all about the long lines for the monorail. The lines proved to be no big deal, but for those who were running on a tighter schedule than me, they likely caused people to miss seeing their runner.

It was also apparent, that had my wife carried only a slightly faster pace, that my route would not have been possible. To those planning on spectating in the future, I suggest using Disney's Spectator Planning Tool, as it takes into account the runners pace, and then gives you a plan for viewing. My wife carried about a 13 minute per mile pace, but if she were only slightly faster, say around 10 minutes per, then my route certainly would not have been possible, as she would have passed a couple of the viewpoints before I arrived. In addition, there is a text message service for spectators that will inform you when the runner passes certain check points. This proved quite helpful in knowing how much time I had before her next pass.

While I may have been sleep deprived, and somewhat out of place in the beginning, once the race started I actually had a really good time. I was surprised how many people came out to cheer on their loved ones, especially given the early morning start. Before the race, I truly believed I would be one of the only people with this ridiculous plan, but I could not have been more wrong. It was a great adventure, and I look forward to watching my wife again next year.

I just hope the Polynesian still has those cinnamon rolls.

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