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Girls on the Run – celebratory 5k

Today was a big day. It wasn’t a celebration of any special running goals for me personally, or even anything remotely close to a PR, but it was a big deal for my running buddy.

I’ll admit it, I had never heard of Girls on the Run before in my life. I didn’t realize that this was an amazing and inspiring activity for young girls, all the way from elementary through middle school age, to get a chance to run, to train and to learn some of the most valuable lessons it took me years to discover – positivity, self-worth, dedication.

When I ran across an advertisement from our local Girls on the Run group, in search of running buddies, I was intrigued. I didn’t know what a running buddy was, or did, exactly. I just knew that something inside of me told me to check it out. So I did. And, boy, am I glad I did.

When you register, you have the opportunity to sign up for a specific school and/or runner. I elected to be assigned a running buddy randomly. The particular school I was assigned to caters to mostly low-income families. I have to admit, I was a little bit nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or how I would be accepted – if at all.

As a running buddy, we have two opportunities to meet and run with our buddies. My first meeting was at the end of October where the team at my particular school held their practice 5k. So far, the girls had been having regular practices twice a week in order to prepare them for a 5k run. When we met for the first time, they had been preparing for a couple of weeks.

When I met my running buddy – and we’ll call her Natasha – I couldn’t believe at the excitement buzzing around her and the other girls. They were looking so forward to meeting us and getting a chance to do this practice run.

After spending a couple of hours meeting the girls and running the allotted distance, I said goodbye to my buddy and anxiously awaited the big celebration 5k at the beginning of December.

Fast forward to December 2nd. It was a chilly morning, but not too bad. I dressed in my Girls on the Run running buddy t-shirt and set off across town. Apparently, I misread the information because the race wasn’t set to kick off at 8:00 a.m., but instead 9:00 a.m., with an hour-long festival beforehand.

However, I snagged a great parking spot and ran into a friend to chat with before my school arrived.

By the time 8:00 a.m. rolled around, the race start and festival area was brimming with students and running buddies. It was, well, inspiring. There were tents set up where the girls could get face painting done, make bracelets, get their hair dazzled with sparkles, and even a spot where they could decorate their race bibs. I sure wish they had this around when I was in school!

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I finally met up with my school and my running buddy. Excitement was nearly bursting from the seams of each one of them. They were all anxious and ready to begin the festivities.

After taking a few photos, the girls were allowed to visit the various tents until it was time to begin the warm-up. The warm-up was a fun dance-style exercise where everyone joined at the front of a stage and danced for a good ten minutes.

Once we were all warmed up and ready to race, my buddy and I lined up at the start. Since this was her first race, she was incredibly nervous! She was worried she wouldn’t be able to make the distance, or that she would come in last. I had a moment where I remembered my very first race and had these exact same doubts. I assured her that even if we were last, finishing the race was the most important part.

We ended up teaming up with two other runners and their buddies. At the start, the girls always take off out of the shoot at a full sprint. After about a quarter of a mile, their little legs start to give out. We tried explaining to them that if they ran at a slower pace, they could keep it up the entire distance. They still didn’t seem to quite grasp that. After a little while, we started running a clock of 30 second intervals. The girls loved this. They even remarked at how fast the distance was moving by doing the intervals.

During the race, friends and family were lined up along the route. Their cheers and shouts of well done had our girls running with more excitement than I had seen before. It seemed like for the first time, my running buddy was finally feeling confident in her ability to do this.

As we rounded the last bend of the race, there was a hill waiting for us at the finish. But the girls didn’t even seem to notice this. They pushed forward with all the might they had and crossed that finish line with ease. I couldn’t have been more proud.

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After the race was completed, the girls were welcome to stay and enjoy the festivities. Once I was sure that my running buddy was safely with her school, I decided to call it a day.

I headed home that morning feeling more accomplished than I had in a long time. I suddenly remembered how fun it was just to get out there and run. I reminded myself, once again, that being the fastest, or the best, didn’t really matter. Just finishing the race was the most important.

I certainly hope my running buddy learned something in this process, and that is if a girl sets her mind to something, she is unstoppable!

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You can find your local Girls on the Run group by checking out their website at: www.girlsontherun.org

Turkey Trot – 2017

For many years, Thanksgiving was a huge tradition for our family. Everyone would gather together, travel to south Florida, and celebrate an annual feast where we had the chance to catch up with aunts, uncles and cousins we haven’t seen since the previous year. However, this year things are different. Since the passing of the great aunt and uncle that always hosted our annual dinner, we are marking a new Thanksgiving tradition for 2017.

This year, we started our Thanksgiving morning by joining six thousand other runners and walkers in an annual Turkey Trot. It’s hard to believe that after all of the races I have been privileged to participate in, this was my very first Turkey Trot. Apparently, I had just no clue at how popular this race was.

My first clue should have been the email we received about carpooling. Carpooling? Really? I can’t imagine that many folks getting up that early to run when this was their chance to sleep in on a weekday and prepare to feast. But, I was proven wrong.

Fortunately, mom had decided to sign up for the one-mile fun run. We met in a parking lot not far from the race start where other grandma was our designated “Uber driver”. Perhaps they had been right after all about that carpooling suggestion.

Once we were dropped off at the race start, we were greeted by thousands – literally – of our fellow Turkey Trot runners. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people coming out to enjoy this event. Families were there by the droves and it was pretty darn awesome.

We didn’t have much time to waste before the fun run start. We snapped a few pictures, hit the porta potties and before we knew, it was time for mom to begin her race.

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When she took off, we wandered around for a few minutes and slowly made our way to our corral. I was thoroughly impressed with the way the corral was set up. Usually for local races, it’s kind of free-for-all and you stand where you feel the most comfortable. But this time there were signs indicating that if you were under an 8-minute-per-mile pace, you needed to line up behind the sign, and so forth. I was so proud to be able to stand between the 10-minute-per-mile sign and the 8-minute. Maybe all the time spent on the pavement was beginning to pay off.

As the bell sounded, we took off. Honestly, it was like a massive herding of cows – reminding me all too much of a miniature Disney race. But, after about the first half mile, the crowd began to spread out and we were able to get into a good pace. We jumped onto the sidewalk a few times because it was much less crowded and we were able to pass without any trouble.

Despite my excitement for this event, this race was challenging. I felt super sluggish at times and swore that my pace was dragging. But that wasn’t the case. Maybe I was just missing a nice cup of coffee, or maybe it was all that holiday food I had been partaking in the few days before. Not long before we hit mile 3, I started dropping back from hubby. Today just felt hard. I’d like to blame it on the rain that started more than a heavy drizzle on us, but that most likely wasn’t the culprit. Some days, running just felt hard.

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As we rounded the last corner and headed home to finish, I pushed myself harder. And boy, I’m glad I did. After the race – and after a brief stop at Starbucks for a holiday flavored cup of java – we got the results. I placed 16th out of 147 in my age group! I couldn’t believe it. Maybe, just maybe, all of this hard work is really starting to pay off.

What I realized that day is that sometimes running feels great. Sometimes it feels like it’s zapping every ounce of willpower from your already depleted system. Today was apparently one of those days for me. And that’s okay. It won’t always be easy, but I will always keep pushing forward.

Besides, when I look at this one race shot, I realize that I was doing something I loved at that very moment and that makes those hard days all the worthwhile.

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 Race tips

Dress up! Turkey Trots are so much fun and the more adventurous the costumes the better.

Carpool. Heed their advice.

Make this an annual family tradition. Nothing starts off a great day with family more than sharing some exercise before it’s time to feast.

St. Jude 5k Run/Walk to End Childhood Cancer

When my coworker and friend got the news – that her precious and beautiful grandson was diagnosed with childhood cancer, it rocked not only her world, but so many others. To be quite honest, I didn’t know much about St. Jude, or even much about childhood cancer, and the fight these precious little ones put on every single day. That’s why when my friend asked me to join her for the 5k to support such a special cause, I didn’t hesitate.

The morning of the race was a cool and windy one. It was about 50 degrees and the wind was whipping pretty hard. Okay… so it wasn’t sub-zero temps, but it was cold. But really, I didn’t mind at all. It is November and this was one of the first days it actually felt like fall. So, Hubby and I dressed accordingly and headed out bright and early.

When we arrived, I was thrilled to see the community support for this race. Cheerleaders from our local college university were there, along with a couple of high school cheerleading squads. The race was extremely organized. We had no problems finding the tent for packet pickup and, of course, the tent with Cliff Bars, bananas and fresh hot coffee.

Before the race began, I met up with my friend. She had an entire entourage of friends and family who were there participating. Her mother-in-law had taken the time to sew every one of us capes, the same type of cape her grandson had worn on his very last day of chemo treatment. To say it was special to be a part of this would be an understatement.

So, we took off, running this surprisingly flat course feeling a little bit like grown-up super heroes. The course could have been slightly confusing if you weren’t paying attention. It was a fantastic route, but you most definitely needed to watch for the arrows painted on the ground and to the volunteers directing you where to go.

I could tell I was moving at a great clip. Usually, hubby pulls away from me near the first mile, but this race I managed to keep up. We only started to split apart about halfway through the race, but it wasn’t a big gap at all. Unfortunately, I didn’t even think to start my Runkeeper app. Looking back, I wish I would have – I would have loved to see my splits on this course.

As we finally made the last loop towards the finish line, the cheerleaders were lined up along with other participants, cheering everyone on. Since this was the only – and big, might I add – hill that we encountered, I needed every bit of cheering I could get. However, when I crossed the finish and saw my time, I was ecstatic. I had broken 30 minutes. For me, this was a huge feat. I managed to cross the finish line in 29:45, just under that 30-minute mark.

After the race – and after getting medals which I was completely surprised to see – we hung around and cheered the others on.

I will most definitely do this race next year and encourage anyone that comes across a St. Jude event like this to jump on board. It felt amazing to support those that are fighting for their lives every day. IMG_6266

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A little pre-run warmup

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Full-Marathon madness

It’s time. Yep, I said it. It’s time to finally break out of my comfort zone and run a full marathon. Even as I write these words, my hands start to get a little clammy at the thought. 26.2 miles…. or two half-marathons in a row… or eight 5Ks. No matter how I’ve tried to calculate it, the decision has been made. I’m ready… I think.

It all started after my last half-marathon in Fort Walton Beach.

But first, a little back story. About seven months ago, hubby and I joined our local CrossFit box. It wasn’t long before we were HOOKED and official CrossFit junkies. After a couple months, we finally managed to come up with a great schedule that worked for us: three days of CrossFit and three days of running, leaving us one rest day. At first, it was hard. I’ll admit it. And depending on what the WOD (workout of the day) was, sometimes our runs were even harder. I mean, it’s never easy to set out for an easy run day of 3.2 miles when your legs still felt like jelly from the 100 overhead squats you did the day before. But, as time progressed, so did we. We got stronger. Suddenly, our new schedule wasn’t hard at all. It was just our new routine.

Now fast forward to the half-marathon in Fort Walton Beach. I felt, well, amazing. I could tell right out of the shoot that I felt great. Sure, we’ve been running a lot, but it was something else. When we first started CrossFit, we were told that because of the amazing workouts and challenges and muscle-building activities we were going to do, that we wouldn’t need to run as much to prepare for races. Honestly, I didn’t believe it. But race day was proof. I was proof. I was stronger than I had ever been.

What really amazed me was post-race. Sure, I felt a little sore, but it wasn’t like in the past. I could actually still walk. So, the morning after the race, which for me was always the worst, hubby suggested we go for a run. What?! I wasn’t so sure I could manage a stroll around the block much less a few miles after just running a half. But, I did it. And I did great. Sure, I was a little more tired than normal, but I finished. And that’s when it occurred to me. It’s time.

So here I am, in the second week of my official full-marathon training schedule. My dad has a few marathons under his belt. He sent me his tried-and-proven-works marathon training schedule. He tells me if I follow this schedule to a T, it will work. But….I can’t turn my back on my CrossFit. So, I’ve tweaked his training schedule a bit to fit our schedule.

I am thrilled – and a little scared – to be taking on such a big feat on my own, but I am ready. Just one foot in front of the other….

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Wicked Triple Fun Run – Half-Marathon- Fort Walton, Beach, Florida

Vacations and half-marathons go hand-in-hand, right? When I opened my eyes, looked at my phone, and it said 4:58 a.m., I wasn’t so sure anymore. I mean, who really wants to wake up at 5:00 a.m. on their first day of vacation? But, that little part of me that couldn’t wait for this race had me springing out of bed even before that annoying alarm went off.

The entire family made it to Destin for this year’s annual trip. As usual, sis and I can’t seem to get together without throwing a race in. Sadly, we missed the 30A half-marathon this go around, but we managed to find another half to take its place.

The Wicked Triple Fun Run weekend was hosted by Run with It – our favorite local running store in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. It took a little digging to actually find this particular race – there wasn’t a whole lot of advertisement – but we did find it on the Northwest Florida Track Club website. They offered a 5K, a 10K and a half-marathon. If you were able to do all three races, you got a super cool t-shirt commemorating your accomplishment. Because of when we arrived in Destin, we were only able to tackle the half.

So, as I rolled out of bed at 4:58 a.m., I got dressed as quietly as I could, and headed downstairs to grab some breakfast. Usually, I’m not much of a fan of eating before running, but when it comes to 13.1 miles, I know nutrition is a must. This time I decided to try something new – not exactly a genius idea on race day, but I knew I could tolerate all of it on a typical day with no GI issues, so down the hatch it went. I ate an apple with peanut butter and a small bowl of oatmeal. I didn’t feel full. In fact, I felt just right. I might be on to a new pre-race meal.

After sis got something to eat, we headed out the door. We weren’t too worried about traffic at this time of the morning on a Sunday, but we gave ourselves plenty of time to get there just in case. We needed to pick up our race packets, use the bathroom and of course needed to leave time for pre-race pictures.

As we suspected, the race was a small one. All in all, there were about 200 participants. Fortunately, there was plenty of parking at The Landing Park in Fort Walton – which is directly behind Run With It – and where the after-party was going to be held.

The race start and finish, however, is held on the street that runs between Land Park and Run With It. If you have any spectators coming to watch, I would suggest they park across the street at Publix – you can’t miss it – and just walk to the finish line. That’s exactly what we told our group and it worked out perfectly.

As the race started, we took off and I felt absolutely fantastic. Sis suggested we try a different way to tackle this race. She suggested we try a 4:1 – run four minutes and walk one. Since this race was all for fun, I was up for anything. Honestly, in the beginning, it felt… well, dumb. But, we were just experimenting, and I was willing to give it a shot. I knew I had miles to give and walking at just after the first four minutes felt a little silly. However, we stuck to it. It was a little tricky at first. Poor sis had to keep track of our time and sometimes we got a little off during miles – usually when we were deep in conversation, solving all of the world’s problems, as usual, but we kept moving. We managed to do this throughout the entire race. Honestly, it’s not a bad method. If anyone reading this is thinking running 13 miles sounds too daunting, you should give this a shot. It offers just the right amount of walk breaks to give you a bit of a boost when you start hitting miles in the double digits.

The terrain in this race is ah-mazing. Everything is flat – which was probably my most favorite part of all. As you run through the local neighborhoods, you’re shaded under great, over-sized oaks and other trees. There is hardly any traffic, and if there is, the locals are there to wave hello or wish you good luck.

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Just before the halfway mark, the Destin Running Club was out on the street, handing out beer and wine to brave participants. They were a fabulous group, too. Since this was a Halloween-themed race, they were out there in costumes, excited and energetic as we passed by.

As sis and I hit mile 8, she hit THE WALL. She was about to throw her usual mile 8 tantrum when I suggested we start Face-Timing people. I’m not sure Face-Timing actually did the trick this time. But we kept pushing forward.

Hubby and B were at the finish line, as were both grandmas and little P. I think this is just what sis needed to keep moving on. As we rounded the corner, the very last turn to the finish, we could spot our family just head. Hubby snapped a few quick pictures and then jumped right into the race, urging us to keep moving until we crossed the finish line.

By the time we crossed, the after party was in full swing. A keg with beer open to all participants was ready for the taking. There was a stage set up at the far end of the park, overlooking the bay, where live music was being played.

After taking a lot of pictures, we stayed for a while, had a drink, watched the awards being given, and then slowly made our way back to the car.

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And then, it was finally now time to start our vacation.

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Because squatting with your niece is always a great idea after running a half-marathon…

 

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HALF MARATHON RACE TIPS:

Parking – you can easily park at the Landing Park. The crowd isn’t too large so you can easily leave once the race is complete.

Spectators – they can easily view you during the entire course if they want. If they would rather see you cross the finish line, have them park across the street at Publix – since the road will be closed for runners at the Landing Park.

 

NOTE-WORTHY RESTUARANT IN THE AREA:

Lulu’s – atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. The first time we tried this place, we fell in love. It’s a huge restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating that sits right on the water, complete with a beach for the kids to play and live music every night. Recently, after making a stop here twice, we learned that the owner is Jimmy Buffett’s sister. With the incredible casual ambience, we now can’t come to Destin without visiting Lulu’s.

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Gear talk – socks and laces

Let’s talk about one of the second favorite things runners love to discuss – running gear! I admit. I am a terrible, horrible running gear addict. And I have now officially added two more obsessions to my list.

Socks

It all began with a recent trip to our local running store – a dangerous and foolish thing to do. Hubby wanted to go check out another head lamp. While he was looking, I somehow was drawn towards the socks. Believe it or not, I’ve never actually tried good running socks. All the miles I have put under my feet, I’ve run them in plain old white ankle socks. But the colors on these socks in the running store were just so cute!

So after chatting with the running store employee, she steered me away from the Balega brand of socks – which is a light, breathable sock that feels a little bit like heavy panty hose (Hubby’s favorite pair of socks are a Nike brand that feels a lot like the Balega brand. He swears by them.)  and she guided me the Feetures brand. They felt okay to my hands, but honestly, the bright pink was what really sold me.

This particular style of Feetures, which is the Elite light cushion no-show tab sock, claims to grip your foot and provide a bit of support for your arch. I don’t really have any arch issues, but I thought I’d give them a try.

The second I put them on for a run, I was sold. They felt ah-mazing. We were off to a good start. The second I started running with them, I realized I had been missing out. They provided the right support in the right places, gripping my feet where I didn’t even realize I needed support and providing a great, breathable sock.

All in all, the girl at the running store didn’t steer me wrong. In fact, I am so obssessed, I have now ordered three more pairs.

Laces

If you’re like me and you just have to double-knot your laces, or you simply get tired of having to lace them – call me semi-lazy – give Nathan’s Lock Laces a try. They are a unique bungee-type cord that replaces your shoe laces. They can be loosened or tightened by a simple lock mechanism.

These are my second pair of Lock Laces. They are super easy to put in, no more difficult than regular laces. But the ease of just slipping into your shoe and heading out the door, along with never having to worry about them coming untied mid-run, has made this the best running invention ever.

Princess Half-marathon weekend – Orlando, Florida – half-marathon

It’s finally here!! 13.1 miles of pounding the pavement with perhaps a little bit of pixie dust following in our wake.

Excitement and energy is bursting from the seams. Sure, the clock went off at – yep – 2:45 a.m., but sis and I hardly even notice. We bounce out of bed, already tackling our race morning ritual of makeup, donning costumes and swallowing down a quick breakfast.

The entire house is up and ready to go in record time. We head downstairs to the car and even pass a few other runners dressed in costumes. This is going to be another great race!

I am a little bit nervous about driving to the race this morning, since this is by far the busiest of all races. I, however, never braced myself for the traffic we were about to encounter. Bottle-neck is an understatement. IMG_4444

I begin watching the clock, feeling my blood pressure go up with every minute that ticks by, watching the car not move an inch. Maybe we should have left an hour earlier. Maybe we should have stayed on Disney property and taken their transportation after all! If we miss our corral, we will be ushered into the very last corral…. a thought that makes my stomach turn.

But, by nothing more than pure miracle, we finally make it to the runner drop off area. In fact, we may even have a spare few minutes to snap a couple pictures! We don’t have much time to waste, though. We take some pictures, wave goodbye to the grandmas and little P, and head off in the direction of the corrals.

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For those of you who have never attempted this race, the walk to the corral from the runner drop off area is a good 15 minutes. Give yourself plenty of time when taking into consideration what time to arrive.

After falling in line with the rest of the runners, we finally make it to our corral. As we were heading there, we heard an announcement over the loud speaker that the race had been delayed because of traffic issues. I’m not exactly sure what the traffic issues were, but I was so thankful we had a few extra minutes to spare!

As our corral finally makes it to the starting line, we take off, thrilled to finally stretch our legs. In the beginning, the race is pretty bottle-necked. There are tons and tons of runners, all starting out with a bang, all running at their own paces. Eventually, the bottle-necking does thin out for a bit.

Sis and I fall into a good rhythm and we’re trudging along at a good pace. We told the grandmas the best place to watch us run by is at the Polynesian, which is around the 7 mile mark and also plenty out of the way of too many spectators. But, they wanted to find us at the castle. They were there early and had plenty of time. By our calculations, they would be able to see us at the castle and make it back in time to watch us cross the finish line. If I could insert an emoji here, it would be the laughing/crying face. Because we never took into consideration the fact that getting from the castle to the finish line would be somewhat of a joke. In fact, mom was amazed at how many people were flooding the monorail! But, thank goodness for cell phones. They new exactly where we were and managed to snag a quick video as we passed them on Main Street!

 

After coming through the castle and hitting the Polynesian Resort, we knew it was reaching the portion of the race that was our least favorite. At this point, you’re beginning to fatigue a bit and the view gets, well, kind of boring. Luckily, sis and I know just what to do to keep each other entertained. For some reason, these two miles seem to be the longest of the entire race. And then, just up ahead, is our favorite hill. At the top of this hill, we know we are almost there! Mile 11.

By this point, our energy comes back and we know we’ve got this. We start coming back into more populated areas with spectators and this gives us the kick we need. It’s a blast to watch the spectators cheer for their runners and check out the hilarious signs they’ve made. And then, I hear it. Yep, it’s Gospel music. It’s a beautiful sound that tells me I have finally reached the end. Mile 13 is just around the corner where this church choir is standing at the bend in the road, singing their hearts out to music that reminds me of the soundtrack from Hercules.

As we cross the finish line, we are exhausted but exhilarated. Another AMAZING half is in the books!

Fortunately, our fantastic weekend was not coming to an end quite yet. We still had another full day at Disney where the Magic Kingdom was calling our name.

 

Half-marathon Race tips 

Parking. Oh Em Gee. I should probably leave it at that, but I will elaborate. Take Disney transportation if you can. Or, if it’s not an option, leave early. And I mean EARLY. Parking for the half marathon is bad. Sure, leaving post-race isn’t much of a hassle, but the lines to get to corral if driving on your own are lengthy.

Patience. I probably should put this race tip at the very top of the list for each of these legs of the race. Please, remember everyone is here to have a great time. Be patient and be kind to each other. I promise, everyone will make it to the finish line.

Character pics. If you just have to get your pic taken with a character along the route, my suggestion would be to pick one or two. The lines are INCREDIBLY LONG. Disney does an amazing job of keeping it flowing, but this will certainly cut into your finish time – if that’s something that’s important to you.

Have fun! Because isn’t that what Disney is all about?!

 

Hotels near the race site

Disney sponsored hotels: Okay, there is much to be said for this so I will break this up into a few different sections.

Luckily, for this particular race, all Disney hotels are now available with Disney race transportation! There is so much to say for staying on Disney property and the race transportation is a definite plus, especially when you’re talking about a 4:30 a.m. drive-time.

You will also see tons of other participants who are eagerly awaiting the races. This is a definite energy that you need this early in the morning. But….this also means longer lines to use Disney transportation. The more budget-friendly the hotel, the more crowded the lines can be.

You can decorate your hotel room window. This is so much fun! We got a little crazy creative here, but that’s half the fun. It’s a blast to check out how many other runners are staying right alongside you.

When we have stayed on Disney property, we usually choose the budget-friendly hotels. Warning – so do a lot of other runners. These budget hotels fill up fast! So don’t wait too long to make your reservation.

 

Staying off Disney property. If you decide to rent a condo, especially with a large group, this is the way to go. We have used VRBO and Trip Advisor to rent at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort – which is technically on Disney property, but not a Disney sponsored hotel. This is a fabulous resort, just a couple miles from the Disney entrance. However, if you stay here, you will have to drive yourself on race day.

There are also multiple relatively inexpensive hotels in the area. Most of these hotels do offer shuttles to Disney AFTER the race. I have heard rumor that some even offer transportation on race day to the corrals. Make sure to verify this with your particular hotel, though.

 

Princess Half Marathon weekend – Orlando, Florida – 10k

Day two of our exciting race weekend kicks off with another ridiculously early wake-up call. Fortunately, we managed to get to sleep much earlier last night, thanks to being up at 3:45 for the 5k.

This morning, at around 3:15 a.m., Sis and I quietly slip out of our room, put on our makeup, eat a quick bite to eat, and don our tutus.

Not long after we get up, the rest of the crew slowly – and a bit agonizingly if you ask me – rolls out of bed. Other grandma isn’t exactly thrilled to be up this early two days in a row. I promise her this is really a vacation because, at this point, she’s sure questioning that.

Sis and I are the only ones running today, but the rest of our crew drives with us to the race start. We tried to do as much research as possible about whether we could go to the race site first and they could sleep in a bit, arriving just in time to watch us cross the finish line. But unfortunately, because of road closures, this just won’t work.

We arrive at Epcot with a little bit of time to spare. The crowd had definitely picked up for this race. I notice a lot of race bibs that match ours, indicating runners taking part in the glass slipper challenge – which is running both the 10k and the half marathon. Word to the wise – take care of this race bib if you do both legs. You only get one race bib for both of these races.

As always, we spend a little bit of time taking pictures. After some great photo ops, we head off to our corral, waving goodbye to both grandmas and little P.

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Once the race kicks off, sis and I fall into pace with the others. We absolutely love this route. You start out of the Imagination parking lot and work your around the back of Epcot. At about mile 3, you finally reach the back entrance of Epcot where you proceed to run around the entire lake. As you run past the countries, you continue through the park until you run through the Boat and Yacht Club. You continue through Epcot, running past the famous Epcot ball, and finally come to a finish in the parking lot, not very far from the start.

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Once we collect our medals and goodie bags, we slowly make our way to the car. We decide our best plan of action for this day is to relax as much as possible. Luckily, our hotel has a lazy river and the weather promises to be beautiful. So once we make it back to the condo, we truly take advantage of this perfect day. We spend most of the afternoon relaxing by the pool, having fun going around the lazy river, and eating delicious ice cream sundaes by the pool.

By the time 7:00 rolls around, we are beat. Two mornings of waking up long before 4 a.m. has done us in. Everyone happily and gladly headed off to bed not long after 7:00. We needed as much rest as we could get. Sunday morning was an even earlier wake-up call at a grueling 2:30 a.m. But we were ready.

So, I stuffed down the excited butterflies in my stomach, closed my eyes, and drifted off into sleep, only dreaming about the upcoming race once or twice that night.

 

10k Race tips

Parking. Surprisingly, parking for this race wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. It definitely drummed up some more cars than the 5k, but we didn’t have any enormous lines in order to make it to corral on time. However, if you want a stress-free ride to the race, I would suggest taking Disney transportation if it’s offered at your hotel.

Patience. I probably should put this race tip at the very top of the list for each of these legs of the race. Please, remember everyone is here to have a great time. Be patient and be kind to each other. I promise, everyone will make it to the finish line.

Character pics. If you just have to get your pic taken with a character along the route, my suggestion would be to pick one or two. The lines are INCREDIBLY LONG. Disney does an amazing job of keeping it flowing, but this will certainly cut into your finish time – if that’s something that’s important to you.

Have fun! Because isn’t that what Disney is all about?!

 

Hotels near the race site

Disney sponsored hotels: Okay, there is much to be said for this so I will break this up into a few different sections.

Luckily, for this particular race, all Disney hotels are now available with Disney race transportation! There is so much to say for staying on Disney property and the race transportation is a definite plus, especially when you’re talking about a 4:30 a.m. drive-time.

You will also see tons of other participants who are eagerly awaiting the races. This is a definite energy that you need this early in the morning. But….this also means longer lines to use Disney transportation. The more budget-friendly the hotel, the more crowded the lines can be.

You can decorate your hotel room window. This is so much fun! We got a little crazy creative here, but that’s half the fun. It’s a blast to check out how many other runners are staying right alongside you.

When we have stayed on Disney property, we usually choose the budget-friendly hotels. Warning – so do a lot of other runners. These budget hotels fill up fast! So don’t wait too long to make your reservation.

 

Staying off Disney property. If you decide to rent a condo, especially with a large group, this is the way to go. We have used VRBO and Trip Advisor to rent at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort – which is technically on Disney property, but not a Disney sponsored hotel. This is a fabulous resort, just a couple miles from the Disney entrance. However, if you stay here, you will have to drive yourself on race day.

There are also multiple relatively inexpensive hotels in the area. Most of these hotels do offer shuttles to Disney AFTER the race. I have heard rumor that some even offer transportation on race day to the corrals. Make sure to verify this with your particular hotel, though.

Disney Princess Marathon weekend – Orlando, Florida – 5k – Part 1

Excitement seems to bubble over us as we set off on this annual weekend trip to Orlando, Florida. This year, we’ve added the 5k to our race weekend. Sis and I convinced mom to try this race, promising her it wouldn’t disappoint. So, being incredibly brave, she signed up – only waiting to tell us AFTER the race was over how nervous she had been!

On Thursday morning, we set off for Orlando. We booked a condo at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort. This was a first for us. Typically, we book rooms on Disney property so we could take advantage of all the race transportation, but this year we decided to branch out. And boy, am I ever glad we did! As we pulled up to our condo, we were greeted with towers of rooms, multiple pools and even a lazy river. I was already feeling confident this was going to be the right decision.  When we stepped foot into our condo, I was even more impressed. Right away, it was like a home away from home, exactly the feeling sis and I had been going for this weekend . We felt as if booking multiple hotel rooms in the past and being forced to eat out, we were always on the go and always being forced to eat more processed foods than necessary. This way, we had plenty of room to spread out, a living room and a full kitchen. This condo even had a fantastic little balcony we took advantage of one afternoon. So far, things were off to a great start.

Thursday turned into a pretty busy day, however. We dumped our luggage and set off for the expo. The expo turned out to be a bit more of a rush than we would have liked since time had somehow gotten away from us, but we managed to get all of our race bibs and packets with only one minor mishap. Note to self, make sure to bring a photo ID with you to race packet pick-up. Panic only slightly set in when one of us left our ID’s in the car, which was not exactly parked around the corner, and the expo was shutting its doors in mere minutes. I ran, literally, out of the expo, to the car and weaved my way back through the crowd in just enough time to deliver the ID.

Now that everyone had their race packets, we set off for Publix, managed to get a weekend’s worth of groceries in record time, and mad it back to the condo for a relatively early bed-time.

The next morning, the clock went off much, much too early. But sis and I jumped out of bed, more excited than we could stand. It felt like when we were kids, getting ready for dance recitals, putting on make-up (yes, don’t judge) and donning our costumes. We were even more thrilled to have mom join us this year so she could finally understand what the buzz was really all about.

Driving to the race was a first. And, to be honest, I was terrified. In all of these years, we have never taken our own vehicle to a race and I was worried this had been the worst idea ever. But, we managed to get out of the condo on time and traffic was not at all what I expected. We got this!

We made it to Epcot without a hitch, parking in a spot even fairly close to the finish and start line. While sis, mom and I donned our race bibs and running gear, other grandma and my beautiful niece P, got set to wave us goodbye. We stood around for a little while, enjoyed the subdued chaos, and took some pre-race pictures.

Other grandma and P found a fantastic spot on the bleachers where they could watch as we set off across the start line. We waved goodbye, setting out on this incredible course. On this course you run around the lake at Epcot, circling all of the countries. I had tried to explain to mom just how amazing it is when you follow the course through the back entrance of Epcot and suddenly, there you are, running alongside the lake as it’s lit up like Christmas with lights and music and volunteers cheering you on. The second we stepped foot onto this magical place, she completely lit up.

When we crossed the finish line, we were greeted by an excited P, thrilled to see us get our medals. Mom, as you can see, was more excited than anyone to finally get her first Disney race medal!

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After the 5k, we ran back to the condo, did a quick shower, changed P into her race outfit and set off for the kids races! I couldn’t have been more proud at this little girl. Wanting to be just like her mommy, she donned a tutu and matching tank – this year wanting to be Jasmine – and was ready for her race. She flew through the course like the wind, more excited than she could stand to get her very own medal.

After her race, we set off back to the expo, did a little shopping and then spent the rest of the afternoon at the condo, lounging by the pool. I knew if there was one thing we needed to do, that was rest up. We still had a couple of big days ahead of us!

Stay tuned for Part 2 – 10k race. Don’t forget to check out my race tips below!

5k Race tips

Parking isn’t too much of an issue on this race. Yes, don’t get me wrong, it is definitely crowded, but if you want to drive to this race instead of taking the Disney transportation, don’t even hesitate.

Patience. I probably should put this race tip at the very top of the list for each of these legs of the race. Please, remember everyone is here to have a great time. Be patient and be kind to each other. I promise, everyone will make it to the finish line.

Character pics. If you just have to get your pic taken with a character along the route, my suggestion would be to pick one or two. The lines are INCREDIBLY LONG. Disney does an amazing job of keeping it flowing, but this will certainly cut into your finish time – if that’s something that’s important to you.

Have fun! Because isn’t that what Disney is all about?!

 

Hotels near the race site

Disney sponsored hotels: Okay, there is much to be said for this so I will break this up into a few different sections.

Luckily, for this particular race, all Disney hotels are now available with Disney race transportation! There is so much to say for staying on Disney property and the race transportation is a definite plus, especially when you’re talking about a 4:30 a.m. drive-time.

You will also see tons of other participants who are eagerly awaiting the races. This is a definite energy that you need this early in the morning. But….this also means longer lines to use Disney transportation. The more budget-friendly the hotel, the more crowded the lines can be.

You can decorate your hotel room window. This is so much fun! We got a little crazy creative here, but that’s half the fun. It’s a blast to check out how many other runners are staying right alongside you.

When we have stayed on Disney property, we usually choose the budget-friendly hotels. Warning – so do a lot of other runners. These budget hotels fill up fast! So don’t wait too long to make your reservation.

Staying off Disney property. If you decide to rent a condo, especially with a large group, this is the way to go. We have used VRBO and Trip Advisor to rent at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort – which is technically on Disney property, but not a Disney sponsored hotel. This is a fabulous resort, just a couple miles from the Disney entrance. However, if you stay here, you will have to drive yourself on race day.

There are also multiple relatively inexpensive hotels in the area. Most of these hotels do offer shuttles to Disney AFTER the race. I have heard rumor that some even offer transportation on race day to the corrals. Make sure to verify this with your particular hotel, though.

 

Atlanta, GA – Hot Chocolate 15k & 5k

Talk about a sweet race. Okay, okay….. I can just see the eye rolls.  But all terrible puns aside, this race is truly a fantastic one.

Sis has been telling me I just HAD to try this race. They have two legs, a 15k or a 5k that runs through downtown Atlanta. But the best part of it all, a delicious chocolate goodie bag at the end.

Luckily, the weekend hubby and I decided to join, it was an unusually “warmer” race. In the past, since this race is held in January, it has been near-snowing at time. Honestly, I was a little nervous about running in such cold temps, but I’m always willing to be adventurous. However, a week before race day, I had to do a mad search for cold weather running gear. Sure, it gets cold in Florida, but not THAT cold. But, we lucked out. The weather promised to be chilly, but not reaching anywhere near icicles, and rainy. Ugh.

When we arrived in Atlanta, sis and I set off to Dick’s Sporting Goods to the boating equipment section. We both found pretty cheap cell phone covers to use just in case we were in a deluge like the weather channel promised. Hubby had signed up for the 5k and since sis and I  were tackling the 15k, I knew we would never find him after the race. (Check out my race tips below for that one.)  So, with our waterproof cell phone covers in hand, we were ready to take on the expo.

True to its name, the Hot Chocolate expo was full of delicious chocolate treats to eat and fun swag to buy. They offer hot chocolate, mini chocolate bites and anything to quench your sweet tooth. Most of the standard race booths were at this expo and I was pretty impressed. Hubby was also able to switch out his race sweatshirt here – which by the way is an awesome hoodie with thumb holes! Total score. Sis and I also bought our first Bondi Bands with the Hot Chocolate logo on it. Check out these super cute head bands! Although it did tend to slip on my hair, bobbi pins are the key to keeping these in place.

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The next day, after a pretty good night’s rest, we set off for downtown Atlanta. Fortunately, sis had an in on a great downtown parking spot, so we set off super early and scored a great parking space. By the time we got there, we learned that there was no more rain! We couldn’t believe it! So we left our plastic baggies and new cell phone covers in the car and set off toward the race start.

I think everyone in Atlanta and all of its surrounding cities were at this race. It was PACKED and I mean PACKED. I had heard about the popularity of this race, but I hadn’t expected quite this crowd.

Hubby was in a different corral than we were. He was quite a few corrals behind us, since he was running the 5k. At first I was contemplating on how to sneak him into our corral, but we just left well enough alone. We decided this would work in our favor. By the time we reached our 5k mark, he would be just starting his.

We took off at a great pace. For a short time, everyone is running together. Then, at a couple of miles in, the 15k runners break off into a different course. Well, this was sis’s first year running the 15k soooooo she had no clue about the dreaded hills we were about to tackle. And when I say hills, I think baby mountains would be more accurate. In the beginning, when we were fresh, the hills were all right, but, as we started to fatigue, the hills were beginning to grow in size. It felt like at every corner, we were coming up on yet another hill. By mile 8, sis was on the verge of having a baby meltdown. In fact, she was about two seconds from plopping down on the concrete and waving a white flag. But like a trooper, she pushed on.

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On some positive notes, you do run through some very cool parts of downtown Atlanta I would never have ventured to on my own. One guy was sitting out on his beautiful condo balcony with his French doors open, a roaring fire on his TV, and jazz music drifting out onto the street. Whoever you are, thanks for that little pick-me-up I needed about halfway through the race. Others came out to watch the runners and some even made little motivational signs! Got to love this genuine southern hospitality.

When we finally reached the finish line, which by the way was FINALLY downhill, I called hubby where he directed us to Centennial Park. It’s here that our chocolate goody bag awaited us. Seriously, I am not a huge chocolate junky like some others, but this was ah-mazing. In fact, so amazing, I ate every morsel in the bowl. Warning – do not attempt this unless you’re a professional sweets eater. I had an awful stomach ache post-race because of this. Not only does your bowl come with a cup of hot chocolate, but it has chocolate fondue with a banana, a Rice Krispie Treat and other delicious dipping snacks.

All in all, even though the 15k was a much bigger challenge than I had expected, I loved it and I’ll be going back for more. In fact, hubby even said to me the other day, hey, when are we doing that Hot Chocolate race again?

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Race tips

Parking, parking, parking….. this is a definite source of angst when running in this particular race. If it’s offered, the Marta is always a great option. If not, carpool. Parking is extremely limited downtown.

Be prepared for hills. Do I even need to elaborate on this? I never in my life knew that downtown Atlanta could hold so many grueling hills.

Traffic. Yes, if you’re tackling the 15k, you will run into some traffic. Honestly, the locals trying to navigate downtown Atlanta are pretty patient with the runners, but you will always have your few that don’t make life easy. Just keep your eyes open and watch for the race volunteers that are in the area, helping to direct you through the traffic.

If you lose your running buddy, designate a meeting spot in Centennial Park. Sure, this sounds like a no-brainer, but finding a good spot post-hot-chocolate-goody-bag will make your life so much easier. Take it from someone who failed to do this.

 

Note-worthy restaurants in the area

Flying Biscuit. A delicious twist on a typical southern breakfast. A perfect post-race spot to grab a cup of coffee.

Dutch Monkey Donuts. It’s a bit of a drive from downtown Atlanta, but depending on how far you’re willing to go for a donut, it might be worth every mile. I mean, you did just run 10 miles…

Home Grown Ga. A local establishment in a house that looks…. well, let’s just say you wouldn’t just drive by and decide to pop in necessarily. But talk about a place where you can find the southern breakfast your grandma used to cook.