If Disney characters were runners, what kind of runners would they be?
The Disney Princess Half Marathon weekend of races kicked off today with the Cinderella Royal Family 5K, and continues Saturday with the inaugural Disney Princess Enchanted 10K and the Disney Princess Half Marathon on Sunday. Not to be forgotten is the first ever Glass Slipper Challenge, where runners complete both the 10K and half-marathon. Talk about medal envy; I’ve got it bad. You know I love me some Cinderella.
So in honor of the Disney Princess Half Marathon, I thought I’d share another installment of my runDisney Running Profiles.
Previous installments have looked at Sleeping Beauty as the runner who needs some rest and recovery, Alice in Wonderland as the newbie runner who has fallen down the running rabbit hole, and Cinderella as the hard working back-of-the-pack runner.
But who better to spur runners on this Princess Half Marathon weekend than Disney’s best cheerleader, Belle?
Beauty & the Beast: The Coach and the Runner
Great coaches—in running and in life—are the people who bring out the best in us. They cheer us from the sidelines, encourage us when we’re down, expect more of us when we give them less, and help us show the world, and ourselves, just how great we really can be. Never is that more apparent than when watching the Olympics.
In the Disney universe, the greatest coach of them all is Belle from Beauty & the Beast. And the Beast is a quintessential runner.
If I had to pick one Disney character to coach me, Belle would be my top pick.
For starters, she’s well read, with an insatiable thirst to know what’s really going on out there in the world. The best coaches know their stuff. They’re students of the sport and of its sciences. And, in part, it’s that knowledge that helps them guide their athletes.
She’s also selfless, almost to a fault, taking her father’s place as prisoner in Beast’s castle. Most great coaches are selfless. They often put their athletes before themselves and sacrifice their own training for more time with their pupils.
On my own running team, our coaches are regular runners just like us, training and racing for personal bests. But at track workouts, they stand on the sidelines with stopwatches in hand, shouting encouragement as we run by. They either squeeze in their own workouts earlier in the day or later or, sometimes, not at all. But they do it for the team; they do it for those of us who need the extra encouragement.
But Belle has something else that all the best coaches do: an ability to see the person that’s really inside of the Beast. More than that, she helps bring him out.
Great coaches see their runners not just as who they are, but who they could be. They see the potential and help bring it to light. It’s what you hear about so many Olympians as young children. Someone saw a spark, something special and worked to bring it to the surface. It can even happen as an adult.
Take Desiree Linden, née Davila. As a high schooler, she never won a state championship. So when it came time to choose where she’d run in college, she chose based on the coach. In college, she became an All-American but, again, never won any championships. Not exactly the makings of a world-class marathoner.
Then, she found the right coaching team: Kevin and Keith Hanson, founders of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project.
“The Hansons had earned a national reputation for turning second-tier college runners into national contenders,” according to Runner’s World. And it was the Hansons who saw Linden’s potential as a marathoner.
Linden started training with them in 2005. Going into the 2011 Boston Marathon, few in the running world considered Linden a contender. All the U.S. media was focused on Kara Goucher.
“It was baffling to us that people had Kara as a potential winner and Desi as a cute side story,” Kevin Hanson told Runner’s World. “We knew better.”
Linden finished second in 2:22:38, just two seconds behind the winner. She broke Joan Benoit Samuelson’s 1983 Boston Marathon American record and clocked the third fastest marathon run by an American women ever.
“In six years, Desiree Davila went from the third-fastest runner on a Pac-10 team to the third fastest American female marathoner of all time.” Read the Runner’s World article for her incredible story.
Linden worked hard; she put in the time and the miles. But she also found the right coaches. The coaches who saw the potential in her and helped pull it out.
That’s the very essence of the Beauty & the Beast tale. The old beggar woman’s warning that “Beauty is found within” is really about being the best versions of ourselves.
As runners, that means working hard like Desiree Linden to become the best runners we can be. For her, that means being an Olympian and world-class runner. For someone like me, it means working my way from the back of the pack to the front of the middle. For someone else, it might mean simply toeing the line in a first race. For the Beast, it meant being a kinder, more compassionate person. The kind of person who would give an old beggar shelter for the night, not the vain young main who turned her away.
I had a chance to interview Desiree Davila Linden at the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon. She was there to cheer on her teammates from the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. I was struck by the fact that when she talked about her running and her training, she spoke in terms of “We,” not “I,” referring to her coaches Kevin and Keith. She may be the Olympic runner, but to her, they’re a partnership, a team.
When the Beast found Belle, that’s what he got: a partner, a teammate, someone to be part of his “We.” Someone to help him be the best version of himself.
As the Beast discovers, none of us do it alone. He needed Belle, and all the inhabitants of his castle—Lumiere, Coggsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Chip—to help him become the champion he is. They’re like the runner’s support crew, the friends and family who cheer you on at home and along the course.
Without friends, family, teammates, and coaches to guide us and encourage us along the way, we wouldn’t be very good runners at all. We certainly wouldn’t finish marathons, train for personal bests and achieve them. We’d be stuck right where we are.
I came to the world of running as the beastliest of Beasts. I hated the sport, conditioned by years of pain caused by a bone tumor in my leg. But with the patience, guidance and support of many a Belle, I have seven marathons, four triathlons and 50+ other races under my belt. I’ve gone from running 4-miles at an 11:34 pace to a marathon at a 10:13 pace. I run a 5K at a 7:59 pace and a mile in 6:46. They’re milestones I never dreamed possible on my own.
Thankfully, I’ve got a few Belles by my side who dreamed them for me. One in particular—one of my own coaches and friends—once told me he thought I could run a 4-hour marathon back when my personal best was 5:54. I scoffed at him.
But over the years, he’s proven me wrong. Or perhaps, I’ve proven him right. My personal best is now 4:28 and I know I can do it a lot faster. And it’s thanks, in part, to him and all the other cheerleaders in my life.
So if you’ve ever been a Beastly runner who has benefitted from the guidance and encouragement of a Belle—whether it’s a friend, another runner, or a certified coach—give them thanks for bringing out the princely runner in you.
The Beast’s story arch is profound. He begins the film as “selfish, spoiled and unkind” with a magic mirror as his only window to the world. But he finishes it as a hero who willing to die for someone else.
Belle has her own aspirations, longing for “something more than this provincial life.” Like the Beast, she only gets to see the world from afar. Her magic mirror is a book, which she finds at the Beast’s castle by giving into her best nature: her need to nurture. She tends to the Beast’s wounds after he rescues her from a pack of wolves and in return, he gives her the key to his library.
But that’s what coaches do. Whether they’re coaching middle schoolers, adults on a club team or professional athletes, they’re nurturers. And by pulling out the best in their runners, they open up new worlds to themselves.
I like to imagine that, after the credits roll, Belle and Prince Adam’s life is filled with adventure. They hike mountains, sail oceans, and, of course, go for a few runs.
What Disney Running Character are you?
Read all of my Disney running character profiles!
This isn’t a sponsored post. I simply love Disney and running. But I still like to disclose my relationships. Disney sometimes gives me race entries, hotel, and park tickets for runDisney events. All opinions and posts are purely my own and are, frankly, honest. Read my Disclosure Policy.