Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Are you ready for the epic marathon post?

Our day started at 2:00am. I rolled out of bed and forced myself to eat a Zone bar for breakfast. I was pretty nervous but excited too. Karen drove to get my Mom and her friend Ula Rae from the Port Orleans Riverside resort and bring them back to the Port Orleans French Quarter resort where we were staying. At 3:00am we boarded a bus that would take us to the starting line. While riding the bus I turned to Karen and whispered, "This feels like the ride to the hospital to deliver Kylie. There's a part of me that is saying "Are you really going to do this?" and "There's no going back now". There was a 15 minute walk from where the buses dropped us off. Ula Rae was having some inner ear troubles so we got her a wheel chair from her resort for the walk.

From 3:30 -4:30 we mostly stood around the race prep area until we noticed a photo shoot opportunity.

Jeff Galloway was at the start line. He said that he attends all the Disney races. When asked what his favorite part of Disney races was he answered, "The Disney characters. I love how the characters bring out the joyful kid in people". This was certainly true when I saw Chip and Dale. I squealed like a little girl and jumped in line to get my photo taken.

And then acted like a complete goofball posing with Daisy Duck.

About 4:45, they announced that it was time for runners to start the long walk to the starting gate. We all hugged...


and I did my last sound check for my headphones (getting serious here).

Notice the bracelet next to my watch--it was a pace bracelet. I picked up a bracelet with a 4:15 finish time at the race packet expo. My goals were to a) finish the marathon b) finish faster than Oprah Winfrey's 4:30 time and c) finish in 4:15 if at all possible.

It seemed like the walk to the start took forever. I had been shivering in the 55 degree temps for hours and I was just ready to start running. I walked into the B corral and tried to move around just enough to get some blood moving to my cold-numbed toes. I spoke briefly to a guy who told me that this race was his 122nd marathon--how cool is that?

I had a few things during the race that really surprised me. The first was at the start. I noticed all this activity on my left. I looked more closely and there were hundreds of men leaving their corrals, running to the tree line, peeing, and running back. There was a solid line of men with their backs to me doing their thing for the whole 30-45 minutes we had before the race started. There were plenty of porta-johns nearby but these men chose a different option. I snorted out a laugh each time I glanced over.

The second thing that surprised me was in the few minutes before the race started. People were wearing "throw away" sweatshirts and coverups made of plastic (like garbage bags) to help stay warm prior to running. When we were just about to start, the people wadded up these warmups and threw them over to the side of the road. There were so many people doing this that it looked and sounded like like a scene from a movie where battle arrows fly across the night sky. Hundreds of items getting chucked over made me raise my eyebrows and simply say "Wow!"

Then the marathon started. For each corral's start there were beautiful fireworks.
(Photo courtesy Disney Photos)

By the time I crossed the start line, there were five minutes on the clock. And I was so happy to be running. I found my pace right away. I could barely see my watch. Since I never mastered hitting my watch light button without turning my clock off, I had to rely on looking at my watch when we passed the lights. Every time I looked, I was between 9:00 and 9:30 pace.

I was seriously impressed with this race course. We had plenty of room to run, usually 2 whole lanes on the highway. Anytime the course narrowed, there was a loud recording announcing "Runners! Course narrows ahead!" loud enough for me to hear over my music.

For the whole race, I never really noticed the runners I passed. I did notice the runners who passed me but the race was so incredibly huge that it didn't matter in the least. I didn't feel the need to run as fast as them. This was great because I was really worried that I would get caught up in "chasing" people and run out of steam.

There were Disney characters everywhere--at least every mile and usually every half mile. The only runners I saw consistently were two women running in tutus. Like tons of other runners, they ran with their camera phones in their hands. They would run to the characters, wait in the short line (usually only 2-5 people ahead of them), pose, then get back into the race. I would pass these two women as they were posing, then in a few minutes, they would pass me. The Disney characters made the race fun and kept pulling me along with the thought of "I wonder who I'll see next".

I ran the first 5 miles in 46:11. I remember checking my watch around the 8 mile mark. Mile 8 has been my "magic mile" all during my training. I noticed early on that if I finished my run strong, I had also felt strong and/or good at mile 8. If I finished my run feeling like crap, I noticed that at mile 8, I usually felt weak or nauseous. I was praying to feel good at mile 8 and felt like celebrating when I did, in fact, feel good.

After I got through mile 8, I started looking forward to seeing Karen at the Magic Kingdom Cinderella Castle at the 10 mile mark. At mile 10, I had been running for 1:32. I spotted Karen right away and made my way over to where she was standing. I grabbed her hands and said, "Karen! Karen! Karen!" as she looked right at me and said "Good Job! Good Job! Good Job!". I kept moving and she got a picture of me running away. (I'm in front of the man with the blue shirt. Look for the white hat and black long-sleeved shirt.)
We ran by the Cinderella Castle, looped around, then ran through it. As I ran through, I got tears in my eyes as I thought, "Oh Kylie would just love this!"

Once we got passed the Magic Kingdom, we were soon at mile 13 which was the Relay point for the Relay runners. A part of me sighed with envy when I saw the relay runners head off, I knew their race was done. And then the new runners came charging into the race with lots of fresh energy. I grumbled a bit in my head with ungenerous thoughts like, "Yeah you feel good; you just started!" but reminded myself to focus on MY race not anyone else's. I finished the first 13 miles in 2:01.

After the 13 mile mark, there was a long stretch of open road. It was 7:30 and the sun was up. I entertained myself by looking at all the different tattoos on people's calves. I had eaten about half the GU chews in my pack and drunk half the water in my pack water bottle. I started drinking cups of water at the water breaks.

There was an amazing 21 water stops on this race. The volunteers at these water stops were fantastic and I was so grateful for all of them. I drank more water than I ever had during a training run and my body felt much better for it.

Somewhere between mile 16-17 we went from a service road, right into Animal Kingdom. There was no real transition just boom! we were into the park. Straight ahead of me were two drummers in costumes. They were banging away on their drums. I almost stumbled to a stop because for just an instant, I thought I was hallucinating!

I started giggling to myself! I knew that my family would get a kick out of that story. I also thought it was a good idea to cool off a bit. The temps were in the mid 60's, heading toward 70. At the next water stop, I dumped an entire cup of water down my back, another on my head, and drank a third. I felt a little more normal after that.

There were lots of spectator spots throughout the race. It was great to see and hear so many cheering fans. The fans became even more important to me at this point in the race. I reached out to high-five people with Mickey Mouse gloved-hands. I remember thanking a tween boy who was high-fiving runners while yelling, "Go! Go!" At this point, I needed any little extra boost of energy. I was particularly grateful to the staff members in Animal Kingdom who held out tissue boxes. The simple act of blowing my nose on a tissue held me in grateful prayer for several minutes.

It seemed like we just briefly touched on Animal Kingdom and then we were back on a long stretch of road. I was thrilled when I saw mile 20 and was fine until mile 21.

I had read a quote from Dean Karnazes that went something like, "You can plan, train and condition for the marathon and that training will get you to mile 20. Absolutely anything can happen those last 6.2 miles". This quote had been one of comfort and of fear to me in training for my marathon.

At mile 21, my calves felt like they exploded. It was the weirdest sensation. It felt like they swelled up to twice their size within seconds. It felt like my calf muscles were going to explode out of my pants. And they started really cramping and hurting yet also feeling huge and numb. All of a sudden my quadriceps starting screaming in harmony with my calves. It didn't feel like "hitting the wall" (which I had experienced a few times before), I felt like my legs just reared up and started yelling at me to stop.

"All right," I told myself. "You knew this was going to happen. You've got to keep running. Just keep running."

Right before mile 22, my left knee starting hitching and my right heel starting yelling more than my calves. And bam! My run descended into a shuffle. I looked at my watch and my pace bracelet. I knew I was ahead of pace for a 4:15 finish but I didn't think there was a chance for a sub-4 finish. I decided to walk through the mile 22 water stop. I drank my first cup of PowerAde. I had never drunk anything but water on a run before and was fearful of breaking my "nothing new" rule. But I was desperate to try anything that might make me feel better. I ate my last 2 Gu chews. I drank another cup of water and threw another on my back. I walked somewhere between 2-4 minutes in the hopes of getting some blood to circulate in my calves. Walking hurt just as much as running.

"Ok", I told myself. Walking hurts just as much. It's just going to hurt from here on out. It doesn't matter how fast you run but you've got to run." I had run out of my "special" end-of-playlist music. I decided to start my playlist over. This was the best decision I could have made. My body had moved to those first songs on my playlist so many times so I was able to start running/shuffling again.

Then we entered Hollywood Studios. The park was open but there was a running lane just for us. There were spectators cheering but there were also people who had paid to come to the park and didn't look to happy to have to wait for a gap in runners to cross the street.

And at Hollywood Studios, there were small rolling hills. These hills probably wouldn't even register as bumps on a normal day for me. I could get up and down them in 8 steps. It was "Up, up, up, up" then "down, down, down, down" and then I was on a straight-away again. But the first time I went over one, I wanted to cry. All my legs muscles started cramping even more. "Brutal!" I thought.

There were a stretch of these. I could see each one ahead. These little bumps of agony. "Up, up, up, up, down, down, down, down." "AAAGGHHHHH!!!"

I was oh-so-glad to leave that park. Then there was a short down-and-back--a split highway where you can really see all the people that are ahead of you. I've never been a fan of these. I whimpered to myself "Just look down. Think about picking your feet up. Concentrate and help your legs."

And then, I was at mile 26. There was a huge choir singing. As I ran by, I took off my headphones. This beautiful choir raised their arms in harmony and sang one loud "Jesus!" as I ran by. "Yes!" I shouted out loud. I knew I was almost done. That I had survived. That there was just a little left to go.

I rounded a corner and there was the finish line. "Pick up your legs!" I told myself. "Pick up your legs and really run!"

My family was waiting in these Cheer Squad bleachers.

They say I looked right at them. But I don't remember seeing them.

I don't remember seeing Goofy and Daffy. All I could see was the finish line arch. They called my name "WENDY!" and I lifted my hands in celebration.

It was one of the proudest moments in my life. I ran a marathon in 4:12:57. As I'm writing this, tears are pouring down my face remembering it. My dream had come true.

I walked to the medal bearers and started sobbing as they draped my beautiful medal around my neck.

Marathon finish

I met up with Mom and Karen. This was a hug I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I told Karen that I wanted a ton of pictures. But it was suddenly hard and painful I would go from smiling...

to leg cramps, leg cramps, leg cramps!

By holding onto Karen, I hobbled my way over to the porta-johns to change clothes. Karen had to take off my shoes and put my other shoes on. I couldn't bend over or lift my feet. After getting my official times, we made our way back to our bus and back to our hotel.

I took the most painful ice bath in my life. Then a shower and then more ice (frozen pea packages are the best!) I ate my post-race bagel, a pack of pretzels, a bottle of PowerAde, and my celebratory Hershey's bar. Then I collapsed into sleep.

We woke up about 2 hours later. I was starving. So we got dressed and Karen presented me with her gifts. Flowers from the Disney florist

and this beautiful framed poster along with several cards and a marathoner coffee cup.

The Disney employees were great in congratulating the runners. I heard "Congratulations" over and over throughout the rest of the day. "You are loving this attention." Karen commented to me. "Oh Yea" I said. "I can eat this up with a spoon!"

On Monday, walking was doable as long as I went slowly. Sitting in the car made me stiff and I had to lean on Karen again to get around. We made it home in time for me to share all about my marathon with my Dad who had graciously taken care of Kylie all day Saturday and Sunday and taken her to school on Monday. My final gift from Karen was seeing Kylie come home from school on Monday afternoon with this great shirt.

That night, we started a Disney movie. At the start of the movie, there was the traditional shot of the Cinderella Castle. "Did you really run through that castle on your marathon Mommy?" Kylie asked. "And was there fairy dust?"

"Yes I ran through that castle." I answered. "And there was fairy dust. It was a dream come true."

Thank you dear readers for all of your comments. I've printed them all off for my scrapbook. You each became part of my journey and I'm so happy to have your words of support.

I may have to share my race photos from the official race photographers when they get posted, but for now, I plan to move on to telling more Kylie stories and less running ones.

Thanks again!


Stacey said...

CONGRATULATIONS!! That is amazing and you should be so proud of yourself. thanks for sharing as I don't think I'll ever run one but it's interesting to read about what it's like. You are inspiring.

Shannon said...

Wow, what an accomplishment! You should be so proud. I have tears running down my face after reading this.

K J and the kids said...

Just Awesome !
I was a bystander cheerer for a friend who ran a marathon. I gotta tell you....that is as emotional for us watching as it is for the runners.
One of the garages turned on eye of the tiger and other great rocky tunes and I felt like my whole insides would take off.
I read amazing shirts of people running for family or cancer. It's all just amazing.
You are my hero and I think you rock !

Lia said...

You are such an inspiration! Wow! What an amazing accomplishment. I've always shied away from anything 'fitness-y' or 'exercise-y' as too boring, but your posts are giving me new perspective.

(Long time reader, first time commenter...hello!)

kat said...

Congratulations! I ran a half last year and loved it. Can't wait to do another one :) in the race I Fijif, people were shedding clothes too. These articles were picked up and donated to local homeless organizations. Hopefully they did that for your race too :) thank you for sharing your experience.

Anonymous said...

A-Mazing!! So fantastic!!

Unknown said...

I cried. What a wonderful story. I love reading first (and even second and third) marathon stories.
I've taught learn to run and 10km clinics and there is nothing that makes me happier than reading about one of my 'I cant run' beginners completing their first marathon. There is nothing like it.
I remember someone telling me when I was running my first full marathon that less than 1% of 1% of people have run a marathon. Welcome to that minority!
I hope your recovery continues. There are some amazing runs out there, local and around the world if you've truly caught the bug.

ECW74 said...

i have tears flowing down my cheeks reading your experience. You are totally amazing and I am so impressed with your accomplishment. You are a total inspiration and I hope you include more running/biking/swimming stories. I really enjoy them and find them really motivating.

You totally rock!!!

Scooby Mommy said...

That's FANTASTIIC! Such an accomplishment. I was in tears reading that post, it's most definitely something to be proud of. I'm at the start of my fitness journey and you are definitely an inspiration to me!

Nada said...

Congratulations Wendy.
I was crying as I read your story, what a proud moment for you and your family. You are such an inspiration.

Margo said...

I am crying too! Warmest, warmest congratulations, Wendy. I am so proud of you!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations!!!! I have been waiting for this post!! You are so inspiring!!

Unknown said...

Yay! I knew you would rock it!
Are you planning your next one yet ;)

noxl said...

Oh maaaan how awesome, CONGRATULATIONS!
I know what I have to do in 2013!

Laurie said...

I am crying reading this. I'm so filled with joy and pride for you. You are such an inspiration.

Kataroo said...

the water works are fav part was at the end when you said that was the best hug ever! So proud of you :) Here;s to Disney all over again 2013!

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