I got a message from a friend a couple weeks ago who admitted she had slacked on her training and asked me if she should even try the Princess Half Marathon. My advice was if she wanted to try the race, go for it but just know that they might have to pull her off the course if she cannot keep of the minimum pace. The reality of most large races is eventually they need to open up the roads closed for runner safety and volunteers and paid race staff need to go home. This is especially true for the Princess Half Marathon and runDisney race because much of the course on the roads between the parks does NOT have sidewalks. If you cannot maintain a 16 minute mile pace and fall behind the dreaded “balloon ladies” you are in danger of being forced to quit the race also known as being “swept”.
Of course it’s NOT like a scene from the 70’s Sci Fi classic film “Soylent Green” with the scoop trucks sweeping people up off the road but talk on social media message boards and you can taste the fear of the sweepers and this scene always comes to my mind. I say to you:
That being said, I do think you need to be prepared to avoid the sweepers if you want to finish the race. Some things to consider:
- The 16 minute mile minimum pace that you must stay ahead STARTS when the very last runners cross the starting line at the race.
- At Disney Races, these last to start runners are known as the Balloon Ladies because they will have a balloon to try to make them easier to spot.
- The Balloon Ladies are volunteer pacers who maintain a 16 minute mile. They are there to encourage and help runners stay ahead of the minimum pace. Fall behind them and you are in danger of being swept. My friend Patty did a GREAT post and interview with the Balloon Ladies Here so you can learn all about them.
- If you see someone running with a balloon and are concerned if they are “The Balloon Ladies”, don’t be shy, go ask. I have known some pace groups to use a balloon also for members to stay with them. Talk about putting fear into people!
Here’s what happens when you fall behind:
- runDisney races have the people on bikes who will warn runners who are behind the minimum pace of the Balloon Ladies and are at risk of being swept. I have heard they are also very encouraging and will let you know when the next point of being swept – typically it will be at the next mile marker. Note: Medical personnel are also on bikes, if you are freaked out when you see a bike, don’t be shy ASK “Am I Safe?”.
- If you look in the photo below, you can see a 2 yellow buses behind the 8 mile sign. This was one of the sweeper points on this race – there are several along the course. Once the 16 minute mile pace of the balloon ladies has crossed this point, the road is closed to runners who are told they need to get on the bus. The bus literally pulls across and blocks the road.
- Runners who do not finish all 13.1 miles and are forced to quit will receive a race medal – the same medal as all who finish . Swept runners ride the bus to the finish area.
- I have heard the bus ride is very quiet and can be full of tears. I have also heard of people trying to refuse to quit; there is no arguing your way back into the race.
- I have heard the ride back to the start referred to the “Bus Of Shame” buy some. I disagree, sometimes just having the courage to start the race, is far more noble in my mind than knowing you can finish. How many people do you know who will attempt 13.1 miles – and get up at 2:30am to attempt do it?!
If you are worried about the sweepers, which we ALL have been there, please keep these points in mind.
- Have you trained consistently, up to minimum mileage for your training program at between 15-16 minute miles? Answer YES, you are good.
- Have you figured out your fueling needs and are well hydrated the week leading up to the race..that is good too. Here are some good hydration tips from Olympian Jeff Galloway.
- Are your dealing with an injury – um, been there done that. Be realistic in your goals….if there is a chance you will not finish because of your injury, accept it NOW and just do your best and set a mini goal. Mine was, I will make it to the Castle…I did and I finished.
- Have you slacked in your training, um been there done that too. If you think there is a chance you will not make 13.1 miles, go ahead and accept it before you start – and set some kind of mini goal…get to the Castle is a good one!
- Character photos and bathroom stops will add to your pace per mile, so plan accordingly and pay attention to your time. The further up you star in the Corrals, the more “extra” time you have to finish the race but pay attention to your time, Character Photos and bathroom stops, do eat into your finish time as illustrated here.
- If you see the balloon ladies and worried, just run with them. It’s the safest way to know you are “safe” is to have them on your heals.
- Race conditions in Florida in February could be vastly different from the area you train in – probably hotter and more humid. Slow down to accommodate for the heat. Jeff Galloway gave some great tips here on this very topic.
- You are running on the road. WATCH OUT for reflective lane markers, they are easy to trip on.
- Watch where you are going – it’s a crowded race and easy to bump into other runners. Also, be extra careful if you leave the course to go to character photo line or bathroom – don’t just STOP in front of runners.
People are swept for a variety of reasons: injuries, lack of training, dehydration, mentally just quit, accidents on race course, etc. And yes, can be VERY close behind the balloon ladies and get swept.
Try not to worry, trust your training and remember, race day adrenaline will get you far! And if you get swept, don’t despair. I have known runners who had “DNF” engraved on their medals which stands for “Did Not Finish” and used the medal as motivation. I have known racers who were swept once or twice and came back to finish a race the next year, what an accomplishment that is! Be proud of having the courage to start the race.
Are you concerned with getting swept? What do you do to ease your fears or help calm friends who might be?
For more info on the Princess Half Marathon from my perspective, including race course Restrooms (real ones, not Port O Potties), My Recaps and other info, check out my runDisney Page.