I’ve had a huge shift in my running attitude over the past six months. This time last year, I was “over” running. I struggled to find motivation through my Chicago Marathon training cycle. I did it, and the race was great, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the “point” of it all.
Then, in February, I ran the Disney Princess half-marathon.
It sounds silly. But it was supposed to be. My sister and I wanted to run a race together to celebrate her 30th birthday. The Disney Princess half was three weeks before the big day. It seemed like the perfect kind of sisterly memorable weekend we could have to commemorate her entering a new decade.
We loved Disney growing up, but we weren’t fanatics. We went to Magic Kingdom once as a family, when we were in elementary school, but we hadn’t been back, and we were fine with that. I thought the race would be a little bit weird, a little bit over the top, and that would be that.
And it was. But it was also so much more.
We did the Glass Slipper challenge (10k on Saturday; half on Sunday), because that’s how we roll.
On Saturday morning, it was the Enchanted 10k. We lined up at the starting corral, the fairy godmother from Cinderella cast a good luck spell. There were fireworks, and we were off. The first half of the race was unremarkable. It was dark and there were character stops, but we were running on the highway outside Epcot. “Okay,” I thought at the time. “This is fine. It’s nothing special.”
Then we turned into Epcot, all lit up. It was beautiful. And it hit me so hard. I was running through Disney World. I don’t know if it was running endorphins or if it was because it had been more than 20 years since I had been to Disney World or because I was with my sister, celebrating an important milestone in her life, but the emotions came in huge, pummeling waves. I held back tears.
I was running through fucking Disney World.
It was as magical as you would expect. I never, ever expected to feel that during this race.
The next day, it was the half-marathon. And the same thing happened. The first 5 miles are dark and unremarkable. Then you turn onto Main Street in Magic Kingdom, you see the castle. There are spectators lining the street as you run towards it. The only thing that has ever come close to this, in all my races, is running through Central Park at the end of the NYC Marathon. There’s electricity in the air. Everyone is connected. Everyone is joyous. Everyone feels part of something bigger than themselves, and this race is bigger than their 13.1 mile run.
I was running through Disney World.
We didn’t do much research into the trip, so I had no idea you actually got to run through the castle. When we figured that out, we were screaming in delight. Elsa said “hi” to us. I was 8 years old all over again.
And that’s why this race matters so much.
It was a celebration of fitness, of silliness and make-believe. It’s not about finish times or a solid training cycle. It’s about opening yourself up to joy. To do something because you want to do it, and to be celebrated for that. Wear a damn tutu or fairy wings. Run fast or slow. Make the race what you want it to be. Disney will make that happen for you. It was the first race I ran where the goal was fun.
And what a difference that made.
That’s when I realized running is a celebration. It’s a celebration of community. A celebration of what your body can do. A celebration of setting a goal and seeing it through. Each run has a different purpose, but each run can – and should – be a celebration.
That’s a feeling I want to carry with me on every single run.