Though it was dark outside at 5:00am on Sunday morning, I could just make out a light coating of glitter on the ground leading up to the race start.
No, that was not a ploy by race directors to spread more Disney magic. It was the unintended consequence of more than 52,000 racers, many of whom donned tutus, elaborate costumes, tiaras, fairy wings and other glitter-shedding ensembles to the ninth annual Princess Half Marathon Weekend in Orlando.
As a first timer to RUNDisney’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend, I felt an immediate difference in the Disney’s Princess race events compared to other races I had attended in the past. Whereas, I’m used to catching a case of pre-race jitters as others emit waves of serious runner vibes around you, the sea of runners and walkers dressed in princess costumes gave the Princess race weekend (with the half marathon Sunday, 10K on Saturday and 5K on Friday) a playful, light-hearted air.
But one of my biggest observations was the sheer number of women runners of all ages, races, shapes, sizes and fitness levels. And I have to admit, it was epic to be among so many women, who all attributed to making the Princess Half the largest women’s race in the nation (the race has roughly 86 percent female participation).
“Because it’s programmed to appeal primarily to women, I think one of the best things about it is the sisterhood you feel when we come together,” says Tina Trybus, a RUNDisney spokesperson. “The distance is amazing for anyone to take on and train for and get to the finish. We have so many first time runners, who I don’t think in their wildest dreams or even just an year earlier had ever entertained the idea of taking on a distance that long. And they take it on; they encourage each other; they do their training, and I think that is the most empowering.”
And that was the situation for first-time half marathoner Janay Sapp from Redwood City, Calif., who signed up for the race and trained in conjunction with her friend Melissa Garcia from Miami.
“The Princess Half marathon feels really empowering. It’s a bunch of women,” says Sapp. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I wanted to enjoy the Disney experience while running.”
Similarly, Misty Tate from Charlotte was equally impacted by the girl power.
“This is the first time I’ve been where everybody is dressed up and there is glitter, sparkles and tutus,” says Tate, who already has four half marathons under her belt. “It is freaking awesome. Everyone is just encouraging everyone, and it’s a fun time.”
And I have to admit, running through the Disney theme parks among throngs of tutu-clad princesses—and princes—really contributed to the energy and excitement of the half marathon race. Perhaps distracted by the magic of it all, I neglected to focus on my usual race-day self-defeating voices and actually ran a personal record.
There was so much inspiration all around. I saw women running or walking for charities, such as the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the official charity partner for the Disney Princess Half Marathon But it was also a motivating sight to see so many groups of friends, sisters, coworkers, mothers, daughters and couples tackling this extraordinary feat together.
Marian Smith from Stanford, Conn., initially signed up for the half, thinking it would be a fun way to get in shape. But she, too, found the girl power overshadow any jitters she had about taking on her first half marathon.
“I’m nervous but it’s very magical right now, so I’m loving it,” says Smith who signed up to run the half marathon with her boyfriend. “I feel a lot of sisterhood. So you see a lot of women who have the same love for Disney like yourself. So this feeling of sisterhood is very strong.”
But another great benefit of all an women’s race was summed up best by Cheri Thome of Gainsville, Ga.
“At least they knew to put plenty of porter potties out for the women,” Thome joked, “there’s no huge wait for the ladies room.” And by the end of the race, all those porter potty floors were, too, coated with their own sprinkling of tutu glitter.
Nina Reeder is a professional journalist, who has worked as senior editor at Upscale magazine and contributed to publications and outlets, such as EBONY magazine, AOL.com, Marriott Hotels, BMWK and more.