By Nicole Irving

When I signed up for the Disney Princess Half Marathon, I had every intention of training. But, before I knew it, race day was here and I had not even started training. I was bound and determined to get that medal, though, and along those 13.1 miles, I learned some valuable and painful lessons.

1. Train

I know, it sounds like a simple, reasonable thing to do, but I did not do it. I found every excuse in the book not to train and, well, I paid dearly for it. In fact, over a month later, I am still feeling the effects of what I did.

Lesson Learned: Unless you truly plan to dedicate time to training for 13.1 miles, do not sign up for a race that requires you to walk farther than from your bed to the bathroom. Training is key!

2. Hydrate during the race

Again, sounds like a simple idea, but with the balloon ladies that dictated the pace getting closer, time ticking away and clusters of people by the hydrating stations (that should have been my first clue to stop), I decided to skip every other one. This was a mistake. Temperatures were closing in at 90 F and I know I was as dehydrated as a raisin by the end.

Lesson Learned: Stop and hydrate often!

3. Try on running attire PRIOR to night before

Full disclosure, I had previously worn the majority of my running outfit before, but there were some key pieces I was taking the tags off of the night before. Bad idea, as my top did not fit correctly, in fact, it did not fit at all. Thankfully, I was able to wear my new Disney marathon shirt to round out my outfit.

Lesson Learned: Try on complete outfit, undergarments included, BEFORE leaving home for the race.

4. Know where to go

We decided to drive ourselves instead of taking a shuttle and in doing so, left fairly early with plenty of time to spare. Thank goodness, because I was able to route us to the Epcot “Cast” parking lot. Note, this is not the correct parking lot for racers and we got no farther than the parking guard who promptly had us turn around.

Lesson Learned: Leave early if you are going to drive yourself and put the right coordinates in your phone.

5. Train with others, or be left in the dust

When my girlfriends said “let’s sign up to run a half marathon,” I jumped for joy. It was on my bucket list and what better way to do it then with my most amazing friends. Well, that did not quite work out that way. Since we had not been training together, our paces were different, which meant I lost them in the first five seconds of a 13.1-mile run.

Lesson Learned: Train together or go in knowing you will be alone for the majority of the race.

6. Leave the bling at home

When I run, my hands swell. Well, during the 13.1 miles, my hands did more than swell up a bit; each finger turned the size of a pickle! So, when I looked down and saw my newly shaped fingers swelling around my wedding rings, I knew I was in for some trouble.

Lesson Learned: Do not wear rings if you are prone to swelling.

7. Smile

As I was running, I noticed all these camera people. I thought that individual runners must have hired them to capture their photo, like the photographers at my kids’ gymnastic meets. WRONG. They get a photo of everyone!

Lesson Learned: Smile at the camera crew — trust me!

8. Try out all electronics before race

I thought I was so clever. I had my running earphones, downloaded some great running music and got a fun fanny pack. I was ready to go! Not quite. I had not checked out my earphones prior to getting ready and I discovered that one of the soft earpieces was GONE!

Lesson Learned: Check out your equipment! Try it on and make sure it all works like you want it to.

9. Go to the bathroom when you need to

Again, this sounds like common sense. But, I was behind the pacers and was fearful of getting swept up, so I did not go. I do not think this helped in anyway.

Lesson Learned: Go to the bathroom!

10. Stop and enjoy it

I was so worried about running out of time that I did not stop to pose or get a cute photo with any of the characters. Instead, all I have are hot sweaty memories!

Lesson Learned: Even if you are behind the pacers, stop and get at least one good photo with a character or by a mile marker to frame.

11. Shoes are the gateway to heaven

So, I knew the rule that I should not wear brand new shoes for the race. But, somewhere between miles 8 and 10, my toes hurt more than my swollen pickles of fingers. Later, at a lunch the next week, someone chimed in with the tip that my shoes should have been a size larger than usual since my feet would swell while running. Who knew?

Lesson Learned: Seek proper guidance as to what kind of shoes to wear if you want any chance of walking again! My toes are still not healed. Ouch!

12. Be mentally present

I think I talked myself out of actually finishing the race prior to even walking up to the start line. I knew I had not trained and I was rethinking my decision to have sangria and a burger for dinner the night before. By mile 5 I was swearing at myself and praying for it to monsoon over me so I could drown out my sorrows. Needless to say, I most likely talked myself out of being able to cross the finish line.

Lesson Learned: Be positive! Completing the race, whether with friends or alone, is just as much a mental game as it is about your physical strength.

13.1. Own it

 I only completed 10.3 of the 13.1 miles. I fell behind the 16-minute mile balloon lady pacers somewhere between miles 5 and 7. My little legs could not keep up. At a certain point they do a “hard sweep.” This is when they block the roads with cop cars and “make you” get on the bus to head back to the start. I was later told that they cannot actually make you get on, but I welcomed that air-conditioned bus like nothing else! When the bus came to a stop back where we started and I stood up, it felt like my legs each weighed 200 pounds and I hurt in places I did not know I existed. As I walked down the steps from the bus, I was offered a wheelchair — I looked that bad, I guess. I quickly turned it down and as I rounded the corner, they presented me with a beautiful medal. When I walked out to meet my girlfriends, I was not where I thought I was. See, the bus does not drop you at the finish line, because if you are on the bus, then you did not finish. But, it was OK. I still did it. Despite all the things I did not do right, I was still able to complete 10 miles, and that is something of which I am very proud. So, although my medal was not given to me at the finish line, I accepted it on the fact that I completed 82 percent of the race, and that was good enough for me!

Lesson Learned: There is always next year!