The weekend of my very first Disney Race had finally arrived. I had the hotel, the magic band, the park tickets, and of course my bestie Jme who had our entire plan mapped out before she’s literally a pro at Disney. I kid you not, she is the most financially efficient and time-effective Disney-er you’ll ever meet. I landed at 11:15pm on Thursday night and was trying to find her in an airport when some innocent bystanders kindly let me know a that a woman was likely yelling at me-
“Alexa!”, I heard her, I knew that voice, “what the hell. I’ve been trying to flag you down for like two minutes”, Jme laughed. I ran over, slightly bogged down by my bags, and hugged her like I hadn’t seen her in ages- because I hadn’t. She and Lauren are my closest friends and I had left them behind in Fort Lauderdale. I was disappointed when Lauren had work obligations and couldn’t come but was glad I had at least part of my crew.I hugged her and we got on the bus to our hotel.
Small background; Jme runs all the Disney races and has more Disney race medals than I could enumerate. She’s also a frequent-flier to Disney outside of the races. I fully blame her for my addiction; like, second-hand smoking.
We got to the hotel, Pop Century Resort, and I had some technical difficulty. It was my first time using the new Disney MagicBand and the desk clerk had me do it about three times before my friend explained that you have to touch the Mickey face on the band to the Mickey face on the reader. Got it. The clerk then asked me for my PIN. What PIN? I ended up trying my traditional PIN for my credit card which was attached to the band. That was not it. Then I tried the four-digit code I use all other times and was in. We got her an extra key and took the long way to the room.
It was so cool, so magical, so Disney. Each building of hotel rooms was themed after a decade and had a wire sculpture surrounding the stairwell of something from that era. There was a Rubix Cube, which was probably the coolest thing there, and ours, the 80’s, was an old school cell phone; the numbers lit up at night and everything. Settling in, chatting a bit longer, and unpacking, we finally went to sleep around 1am.
I woke up and jumped out of bed to go run my 5k at around 4:30, head to the bus, get to Animal Kingdom, and hit the confusion wall again. As I follow the crowd of people, everyone already has their race bib. I knew I was able to pick it up the morning of but I had no idea where in this beautiful chaos I was supposed to find it.
Information Tent; perfect! I beeline straight toward it-
“Hi! Can I help you?”
“Yes, thanks. Can you tell me where I can pick up my race bib?”
“Do you have your authorization form?”
“Yep, hold on…”, as I dig out my form that Jme made sure I printed out before I flew out here, “Here you go.”
She passed it to the other tent-attendant who then looked through her file of bibs and handed me mine. They let me know that I can pick up my shirt after the race at the expo and just to not lose the bib or tear off the tabs until I get there. Check and check.
I head to my corral, and sit. There’s music, everyone is in race costumes, and I feel like I belong. It’s an interesting feeling. Being surrounded by strangers, not talking to anyone, and not feeling alone.
Race kicks off- I think I started around 5:30 and 6am- and we begin to run a winding and strange route; some through the Animal Kingdom guest grounds but also on back roads and through the parking lot.Throughout the race they had different, seldomly seen characters for photo opps, floats with music, and Disney crew members cheering everyone on throughout the trail. I stopped for a picture with King Louie (Jungle Book), and only King Louie. I couldn’t believe how many photo opps there were on such a short run.
Race ends, grabs medal, grabs water, grabs red Powerade off a table of blue and red, sees a new table with yellow, asks to trade, grabs a weird black and blue box with social media symbols in white, grabs a banana- lots of grabbing- and meanders with an armful to the busses. Asks a crew member in a vest how to know which bus is mine and he points me in the direction of the Pop Century bus. I was going to wait until I got to the hotel to open the box, but the suspense was too much. It was a snack box. At 7am, this snack box included nachos and cheese, oreos, applesauce, and cranberries. I was confused at the choices, but not disappointed in the slightest.
When I got back to the hotel, Jme hadn’t gone back to sleep so I changed and we got ready to Disney. We caught a bus to the park and hit the ground running. When we entered Magic Kingdom, it had been so long since I’d been there that Jme got me a “1st visit” pin and got herself a “celebrating” pin that she wrote “Alexa’s first visit” on. We were 2 hours in and had already done more than half the rides in the park.
We did the teacups and it was so fulfilling and exciting. She snapchatted me looking like a crazy person being so excited, giggly, and dizzy while spinning the cups and I could not have been more happy. We did the Dumbo ride, and a few other childhood favorites of mine. We had so much fun. Disney was so amazing, even as an adult, but was a memory and experience I’ll never forget because I had such a great friend with me.
Then, we had to reach our brunch reservation. This is probably one of the highlights of my trip. The food delicious; red velvet cupcakes, lox and cream cheese I had put on a croissant, and something called “strawberry soup” that was like a more liquid version of a smoothie that I added chocolate chips to, among many other dishes. Better than the food, though, was the company. Pooh Bear and Tigger both stopped by for pictures. I also got a picture with Mary Poppins in her white and red dress from the musical scene with the penguins, and, best of all, Alice and The Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. It was such an amazing start to the day.
We hit the park again and finished up the Magic Kingdom rides. We crossed over into Animal Kingdom for Mount Everest and a night safari. Mt. Everest is my new favorite ride. You have to sit in the front to experience the fully amazing view, but the ride is a thriller and the views throughout are breathtaking.
Out of energy, with sore feet, we went back to the hotel so I could wake up for the 10k. Woke up, feet mostly recuperated, and had the bib-pick-up adventure a second time. Ran the 10k, stopped for one or two pictures, and went with my armful of snacks and drinks to the bus again.
Jme, awake and ready to go, waits for me to shower and we hit the Expo so I can grab my shirts, my half marathon race bib, and do some Disney Race gear shopping. I also needed to try to change my race corral. The woman behind the counter sees that I submitted a race with a decent finish time but that I had clicked a square indicating I had not intended to finish in under three hours; she gave me a new corral based on my submitted finish time.
Pictures with Remy (Ratatouille), some gushing over how cool the race shirts are, and some contemplating about buying roughly everything at the Expo, we head back to the hotel, drop everything off, and finish up Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and the second half of Hollywood Studios. We meet my parents for dinner and had a great time overall. We get back to the hotel, Jme pops in the shower, and there’s a knock on the door. I open it, am speechless, then start shrieking and screaming at Jme to get out of the bathroom; it was Lauren! I was the absolute happiest. Here I was, in Disney, two out of three races done, all parks completed sans Epcot, and I had both my best friends here. Jme came out of the bathroom and explained that she had orchestrated park tickets and timing for Lauren; she had known the whole time. We laughed, chatted for a few hours, and went to sleep.
In the morning we, I woke up and headed out for my half marathon. This would be my first half in over a year, and only the fourth I’d ever done. I had hoped that since I lived in Colorado now and was training at a high altitude and on hills, that the race wouldn’t be too rough. I saw around for a little over an hour in my corral and the race began. At a slight uphill, compared to Colorado anyway, I made way through quite a bit of running-crowd. I stop for a picture with Princess Atta and Flik (A Bug’s Life) and continue running. About halfway through, I notice I hadn’t let up on my pace; I grinned to myself. It was a beautiful day, I was making good time, and I was doing a great job being selective of my photo opp stops. I came to Mike and Sully (Monster’s Inc.) and stopped. But after two minutes of not moving, I decided it wasn’t worth the wait. A few hundred feet later, I was so glad I hadn’t spent that time because I spotted Darkwing Duck and Launchpad (Darkwing Duck and Ducktales). I didn’t care how long the wait was, I needed this picture! It ended up being only about five or ten minutes and I was beaming when the camera snapped. I picked up the race again and when I had a little over a mile left I started to tear up. My feet were filling me but I had mustered through and was almost done.
The cancer survivor who had odds against her in being cured, who had a high potential in mental disability as a result of chemo and radiation, who had fought to overcome minor heart issues and other nay-saying side-effects, I was finishing a race challenge and I couldn’t have had more pride in myself.
Turned a corner, and there was Clarabelle and Horace at an old fashioned fruit stand. I thought most of the pictures were behind me, but there they were. Classic, dating back to Steamboat Willie classic, Disney Character. I wiped my eyes and got ready to smile.
Finished the race and felt weightless. Well, my feet felt like they were cinderblocks given all the walking and running I had done prior. Repeat of my water, Powerade, snacks, and snackbox grabbing, then re-corral-ing for medals.Once free of the re-corrals I found my bus and went back to the hotel.
I walked in, got my congrats’, took turns checking out my medals, showered, and then I asked if we had a spot for Lauren on our breakfast reservation. We called the restaurant and updated our count from four to five. My parents got there and gave the name on the reservation, but we hadn’t told them of the change so they had some confusion with the host. We sit down, Lauren introduces herself, and about halfway through breakfast my mom exclaims, out of nowhere, “Oh, you’re the Lauren Alexa is always talking about!”. We all had a good laugh, a great breakfast, and after my parents left Jme, Lauren, and I ran around downtown Disney, did some shopping (I got my BB8 Alex and Ani bracelet as a self-reward), some discounted cupcakes courtesy of all my medals, and went to the Wine and Dine festival for race-runners and friends and family, only. The unmistakeable Disney Epcot ball was lit up in typical nighttime fashion and we ate, drank, and rode a few rides.
All in all, the trip was amazing, my friends are the best I could’ve asked for, and my first Disney Run Challenge was a complete success.
I’m so glad to have already signed up for two more and decidedly committed to another Wine and Dine Race Challenge in November 2017.