I thought long and hard about this post’s title. The last time I hit a major fitness milestone, I was proud but kind of flippant about what I had accomplished. Yes, it was hard and I was taxed, but I never had a “Come to Jesus” moment. Not like yesterday. Not like last week. Not like ever.
On Saturday, January 2, my grandfather passed away in his sleep. He had Alzheimer’s and was getting worse, so in some ways it’s a relief that we didn’t have to see him suffer longer, but it was still a shock. I wasn’t close to him, but we did have one thing in common—fitness. He was the first and only one in my immediate family to run a full marathon, and he did so after the age of 50. I wasn’t around when he ran the 26.2 miles, but I remember seeing pictures of him on race day with his bib number attached and a smile on his face. (I especially enjoyed the photos of him chugging a ginormous beer post-race.) I always believed that it would be cool to run a marathon…it looked, well, fun—for someone who was a runner that is.
And then, in 2009, after a year of regular dedicated running and two successful halfs under my belt, I decided that, yes, I could run a full marathon! Like him, and so many others in the fitness blogging world that inspire the heck out of me. I was REALLY going to be a runner! The marathon is the Holy Grail of running after all, and one of the most coveted prizes in the sport is the Disney World Marathon medal, with its Mickey ears and shiny gold exterior. Plus the course is filled with cartoon characters and is pretty dang flat, which makes it a target for first-timers.
I trained my arse off (quite literally) from September 2009 to January 2010 and anxiously awaited THE day—Sunday, January 10. It was not only a time for me to be rewarded for all of the tough and time-consuming training, but I’d also get to spend time with my best friend Tish and have some extra support from her (she lives in L.A.) during the mourning of my grandfather.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to throw a wrench in my warm-weather plans by throwing a blizzard at the Midwest and East Coast, making travel to and from the airport treacherous at best and entirely canceling my original flight. Thinking that I was going to miss most of my vacation and fly in just before the marathon without relaxation time, I lost it and had a complete pity party (table for one, please).
Thankfully, my parents were able to see through my tears and keep their wits about them. Soon after, I had another flight on a different airline and was on my way to Orlando. The entire weekend was a blur of fun, fear and nervous anticipation. We went to the Animal Kingdom (which was awesome—go early and ride the safari and Everest first!), met up with some awesome fit bloggers for lunch and spent the night before the marathon watching The Spirit of the Marathon, which simultaneously inspired us and freaked us the heck out.
Then we rose at 2:15 a.m. (Yes, you read that right) to be on a 3 a.m. bus to the race start at Epcot. We were in the Epcot parking lot by 3:30 a.m. and proceeded to eat peanut butter and honey sandwiches and freeze our fit bottoms off. The temperature was in the 20s, but with gusting winds, it felt like it was in the teens. (So much for a warm vacation. And thank goodness for my Girls on the Run running tights!) After two hours in that weather, I couldn’t feel my toes or my hands, and the only thing saving me was Tish and a $9.99 cheapo blanket we bought at CVS the day before.
When the gun went off at 5:40 a.m. though, the adrenaline was pumping. I WAS RUNNING A MARATHON! HOLY CRAP! And I was uber happy to be moving and have the possibility of feeling my extremities again. About five miles in, Tish was cruising. But I was not. I had regained feeling in my fingers and toes, but my hip began to ache…then my entire leg…then my lower back. Uh-oh. I knew it was too early to be in pain. And I was disappointed that my earlier “easy” 20-mile training run wasn’t going to be repeated on race day. But I put my head down and pushed through.
During the race you run through four parks in this order: EPCOT, The Magic Kingdom, The Animal Kingdom and Disney Hollywood Studios. Between those you run on Florida highway, and at the end you finish at the same place you began, EPCOT. Running through every park was a surreal and exciting experience. Each park plays music, people are cheering you on, and you’re in Disney World! It just doesn’t get much better than that, even if you’re screaming uncle. It helped, too, that I was running for a fantastic cause, and a special shout out to lovable Monique, her super cute friend Monica (whose daughter is a true artist!), and new FBG fans Darrin and Steve for cheering us on with these homemade FBG signs! IT WAS SO AMAZING. AND NEEDED.
Tish was also a doll, taking walking breaks when I needed ’em and Twittering throughout the race. She also gave me words of encouragement when I was really hurting and kept me looking at the bright side, pointing out things on the course and other runners in funny costumes or outfits. I really, really love runners and how awesomely goofy they are. They’re also a great community of obviously energetic, loving and caring people. The entire race was like a big ol’ community where we were all working towards a common goal and dream, no matter our gender, race or the shape or size of our fit bottoms.
Although I was hurting a good part of the race, I enjoyed every second of it and soaked in as much as possible, taking photos and videos to document the trek. We posed with Disney characters, sang to music being played, cracked jokes, cheered others on (including the volunteers for being out on such a cold day) and, eventually cried when Tish and I rounded the final corner at Epcot, “sprinting” (that’s a relative term after 26 miles) and crossed the finish line together, arms high in the air. I was exhausted, elated, proud and hella thankful for my best friend. And the irony of me talking her into doing this marathon in the first place and then having her push me is something that was not lost on me at any point of the race, especially at the finish.
After you run 26.2 of the hardest miles of your life, you really feel like you can do anything. And I mean anything. With dedication, consistency and perseverance, darn near anyone can run a marathon. Including me, the girl who never considered herself a runner. The girl who loved the number 26 (my birthday number) but never really thought she’d run a marathon. The little girl who was amazed by a photo album of her grandparents. The girl who earlier in the week came close to mental breakdown. Yes, indeed, I can do anything.
And now, for five things I learned while running a marathon:
- Listen to your body. Pushing through some pain on race day is one thing, but pushing through pain while training is another. If you’re wiped or hurting, don’t be afraid to take a day off here or there or reduce your mileage. Staying healthy for the entire marathon training process and race is of the utmost importance!
- Have a buddy. I could not have finished the marathon if it wasn’t for Tish. Having someone there to keep you going and distract you is essential. With a time of 5:27:26, we didn’t win the race, but we definitely pushed ourselves.
- Use the Porta Potty. It was so freaking cold that the idea of standing in line and taking our eight layers off seemed like torture. But I’ll tell you what real torture is: Having to go No. 2 at mile 17 and hoping it passes. (Note: It rarely does.)
- Don’t plan on sleeping. The night before a race, you will be terrified, excited and wondering what the heck running a marathon will be like. With all that going on in your head and early start times, don’t worry about not sleeping. It really won’t matter. But be sure to sleep good the nights before!
- Have faith. Our motto was “just keep running” from Finding Nemo’s “just keep swimming.” Find your motto, repeat it and have faith that you can do it. Remember, you can do anything!!!
Stay tuned tomorrow for Tish’s post and view on the Disney 26.2 and the five things she learned! We made sure not to look at each other’s posts, so it would be a surprise for everyone. And if you’re dying to know more about our marathon experience, check out our goofy and shaky videos on YouTube! —Jenn