Harnessing the Power of Running Like a Girl

Harnessing the Power of Running Like a Girl

My sister and I run through Cinderella Castle. (Photo: MarathonFoto)

When I was 8 years old, I promised myself I’d never forget what it feels like to be a kid.

The inciting incident was simple enough: a grown-up yelled at me, essentially, for having fun—the kind of fun a kid has on warm spring days, doing cartwheels, playing, and running like a girl is apt to do. Maybe I accidentally cartwheeled into her, or maybe I was giggling too loudly. Whatever I’d done, it was completely innocent.

But her grumpy admonition, that I wasn’t being “lady like,” stung. As I sat sulking, staring at the grass stains on my pants, I promised myself I would never be that grumpy grown-up, that I would never forget the glee of childhood, that I would never forget the Barbie slogan of the era: “We girls can do anything.”

It was a solemn promise that I’ve held close to my heart. I run Disney races—dressed in costume as a parade of princesses who stir the child-within—because of that promise. In other words, I run like the girl I used to be and the child at heart I continue to nurture.

I ran the 2015 Disney Princess Half Marathon as a media guest of runDisney, with my sister by my side, and wrote about it for Shape.com.

It was my second go at the race. I’d run it in 2012 dressed as Cinderella with my real-life Prince Charming by my side, in costume too. Having my husband pace me to my then half-marathon PR is still one of my favorite running experiences ever.

But I found running a women’s race with one of the most important women in my life to be another running career highlight.

I make no bones about it: I really enjoy women-focused races. My first 10K was the Oakley New York Mini 10K, the original women’s road race. I’ve since sung the national anthem at that event and worked it as a race announcer, too. I’ve gone on to run the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco, Tinker Bell Half Marathon at Disneyland, and SHAPE Diva Dash in New York and Minnesota. I believe that races that focus on women still have a place in the fabric of our sport. Here’s why.

Why I’d Rather Run with Women

By Karla Bruning for Shape.com

Running side-by-side as Frozen’s Elsa and Anna—Disney’s most famous sisters—my sister and I marveled at how fast her first 13.1-mile race was flying by.

Harnessing the Power of Running Like a Girl

My sis high-fives Mickey at the finish. (Photo: MarathonFoto)

The furthest she’d run in training was 10 miles. Normally, she’d stare at her watch, time dragging on, she said. Normally, she’d be plugged in, tuned into her music. But we were sans earbuds, happily chatting mile by mile, admiring other runners’ costumes, taking photos with Disney characters lining the course, and laughing so hard, at times, that we couldn’t breathe.

I’ve run more than 20 half-marathons, but was most excited for this: pacing my sister to her longest run yet at the Disney Princess Half Marathon at Walt Disney World in Florida. It was as magical as I imagined, thanks to the power of togetherness.

For most women, it seems, that’s what running is all about. In fact, 92 percent of young women believe a group of females are very powerful when they come together to achieve a common goal, and 90 percent believe they can accomplish more with the support of friends, a group, or a team—specifically, other women, according to a national survey commissioned by active wear brand Soffe. Further, 83 percent feel they accomplish more and push themselves farther when working out with a female friend, group, or team, and 81 percent are more motivated to exercise when they’re with other women

At the Princess Half, mothers and fathers ran with their daughters, husbands locked step with their wives, and best friends donned coordinating costumes—celebrating the women in their lives.

Notable among them was 1500-meter World Champion and Olympian Jenny Simpson, who paced her sister Emily Bradshaw to her first half-marathon finish.

“She is the most important woman in my life. Being able to do this with her—the whole Princess Half Marathon Weekend experience, from the expo through the race—I’ve really seen running through her eyes. And it’s brought me a fresh love for the sport again,” Simpson told me after the race. “There are so many training runs that I do selfishly, trying to prepare myself for different events. This was so fulfilling in that I was doing it really just for her and with her.”

As one of the five largest 13.1-mile runs in the U.S. (the largest is Nike Women’s Half Marathon), Princess has brought a record number of females to the sport. Thanks to these types of events—including the Oakley New York Mini 10K, the first women’s race, which debuted in 1972—women now make up 57 percent of the running population, versus just 25 percent 25 years ago. The Nike Women’s Marathon and Half Marathon debuted in 2004. The Disney Princess Half Marathon followed in 2009. Between 2005 and 2010, women went from 48 percent to 53 percent of all runners. Why? These races create an environment where women feel welcomed, catered to, and not discouraged by the race experience.

Simpson agreed. “Even for me, there are times where going into a gym or being out on a running course can be a little bit intimidating,” she told me. “Princess is a less competitive atmosphere and more of a sisterhood. That has been a surprisingly fulfilling part of this weekend for me.”

There’s a reason Always’ “Like a Girl”  Super Bowl commercial resonated with so many women, myself included. My entire life, I’ve heard “you run like a girl” as an insult. But at the Disney Princess Half Marathon, running like a girl—and like a woman—is celebrated…

You can read the entire essay about running like a girl at Shape.com.

As mentioned above, I attended the Disney Princess Half Marathon as a media guest of runDisney. But as always, all opinions are purely my own. Seriously. For more information read my Disclosure Policy.

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Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


07 2015

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  1. 1

    LOVE it. Great story! I totally relate — I’ve made it a life goal to not “grow up,” as cheesy as that sounds. People look at me like I’m a few grapes short of a fruit salad when I tell them I’m going to Disney AGAIN, and I’ve even had my piano students ask me “why do you go to Disney if I don’t have any kids?”

    I don’t care what people think — there’s nothing wrong with staying in touch with your inner child and letting yourself have FUN, and there is DEFINITELY nothing wrong with celebrating the power of being a woman! Other than Princess, I still have yet to run a woman-focused race…but I know I definitely need to change that. :)
    Jennifer @ The Final Forty recently posted..Race Recap: Firecracker 4-Miler 2015My Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      Totally agree! And tell those kids–Disney is sometimes more fun *without* kids. Don’t get me wrong: I love going with my niece and nephew. But Phil and I have a blast all by ourselves. Maybe they’ll get it someday :)
      Karla Bruning recently posted..Run Disney Princess Half Marathon 2016 For CharityMy Profile


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