I am not a runner.  At least that’s what I told myself for my first 35 years or so, until I decided to run a 5K for charity (and to prove to myself that I could).  That run led to several more, including my first half marathon two years later. 

Those 13.1 miles were not easy, nor particularly fun, and I swore I wouldn’t run another half marathon unless it was somewhere special.  My bucket list run was the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Walt Disney World, Florida.

Fast forward five years to the fall of 2019 and I had recently returned to running.  I had also read Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Stop Apologizing and the message of going out and making your dreams happen resonated with me.

Surprisingly, there was space available for the Disney Princess Half Marathon – an uncommon occurrence months after registration had opened.  In case I needed any more signs from the universe, this race would be celebrating the 70th anniversary of Cinderella who is my favorite princess!  A few clicks of the mouse and I had signed up.

Katherine runner holding I did it sign at the Disney half marathon
Image courtesy of Katherine Axani

I tried to get my family to go too, but with teenage sons in hockey it looked like this was also going to be my first solo trip.  Although I have travelled to and from places on my own many times, I have never done a trip all alone – no meeting friends or family along the way, no work conferences to keep me busy.  I found this actually pretty scary, and I am almost backed out a few times. I even delayed booking flights until only a few weeks out.  

Thanks to a supportive husband and my newfound desire to reach for dreams, I ended up freezing my butt off in the Epcot parking lot at 5:30 a.m. on race day with 25,000 of my new running friends.  I may have been doubting my sanity then, but that wonderful Disney magic surrounded me a short time later when the Fairy Godmother sent us off with a “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo”, fireworks and fanfare!

I didn’t have any of my loved ones there to cheer me on, but runDisney volunteers, Disney Cast Members, and even local high school bands lined the route and encouraged everyone as they ran past.

I chose to enjoy the full experience rather than worry about my race time, so I stopped for pictures with characters, and reveled in seeing the castle at Magic Kingdom at sunrise.  Even the “boring miles” back to Epcot went by faster with the camaraderie and Disney distractions along the course.

The cheering for the last mile was inspiring, and I crossed the finish line with a big smile on my face, caught by the Disney PhotoPass photographers of course!

Image courtesy of Katherine Axani and Disney PhotoPass.

Running a Disney Princess Half Marathon Solo

As a somewhat introverted person, I really wasn’t sure how this solo trip would go.  I was happy that I went somewhere I was familiar with and was surrounded by people with similar interests, both running and Disney.

While I love coming up with vacation plans that keep the whole family happy, not having to worry about anyone else’s preferences for a few days was definitely liberating!  On the Friday that I flew in to Orlando, I managed to get to the Magic Kingdom that night to watch the fireworks, which is my all-time favorite activity at Walt Disney World.  

There was no waiting around in the hotel room for everyone to be ready, or figuring out who wanted to wait for what ride.  When the race was finished on Sunday morning, I was able to do a quick walk through of the new Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios, take the new Skyliner gondola to Epcot, and tour around World Showcase, stopping wherever I wanted and moving at my pace.

Honestly the hardest thing about traveling solo was trying to not feel guilty.  Yes, I was missing my son’s playoff hockey game.  Yes, my dogs were missing me and others now had to walk them.  But guess what, everyone survived without me!  I had accomplished something that had been on my dream list, and it truly fueled my soul.  

Check here for more tips on planning your first female solo trip.

Disney half marathon medals
Image courtesy of Katherine Axani

Tips for runDisney Events

  • Book early!  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do this, so I didn’t have a chance to join the 5K or 10K or any of the weekend challenges – which would have meant more bling!  Sign up for runDisney newsletters to stay informed about registration dates for each event.  Booking early also lets you take advantage of Disney specific tips like booking advanced FastPasses and dining reservations.
  • Leave time to enjoy the Runner’s Expo that runs from Thursday to Saturday.  You must attend to pick up your race bib, but there is so much more to enjoy from vendors to kids’ races.  Merchandise information will be released about 1 week before the event and you can preorder ahead of the expo.  Many popular items and sizes were gone by the time I made it to the expo first thing on Saturday morning.
  • Figure out your transportation. Disney resorts provide transportation to the race (at 3 a.m.!), but other partner hotels do as well.  I stayed at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek with their popular Marathon Weekend package.  They provided a great send off at 2:45 a.m. with energetic employees hyping everyone up and a spread of pre-race snacks and drinks, before busing us to the race start at the Epcot parking lot.  This package also includes 2 p.m. check out on race day, which was perfect for me to refresh after the race, get some park touring in, and get back to the room to collect my luggage.  
  • Give yourself a lot of time. One thing I had forgotten after a few years of not being at Disney was how long it can take to get from place to place.  Now that rideshare is allowed to the parks, ditch the free shuttles, especially if you’re on a very short timeline!
  • Don’t count on food along the race.  Unless you are used to the sports beans provided by the sponsor, bring your own race fuel.  Snacks are available before and after the race though.
  • Enjoy what Disney Springs has to offer for a light pre-race day walk.  I may have also enjoyed the craft beer while having lunch at the new City Works Restaurant.
  • Train for the race. I am no expert so I won’t give any running tips here, but I used the OnePeloton app and my home treadmill for all of my pre-race training and I felt much more prepared for this half marathon, even though I was 5 years older than I was for my first!
  • Strike up conversations with your fellow runners in character lines, at the Expo, etc.  Traveling solo can feel isolating at times.  There was one day I figured I spoke to my Lyft drivers more than anyone else!  I learned on race day that while there were lots of groups running together, there were also lots of us who had traveled on our own to join in the fun.
  • Enjoy the experience for all that it is, including the early morning and long wait for the start, because the magic of Disney will surround you if you let it in!