It’s 2am and I’m woke…and not tired. Just anxious and nervous. Everything is moving in slow motion as I brush my teeth and wash my face. I slip on my marathon relay shirt I picked up from the Disney Marathon Expo the day before. I look in the mirror and tell myself “You don’t look like a runner.” But the shirt fits well and that brings me a little joy this early in the morning. I pull on my pants, socks and then shoes. I eat 2 mini bags of Craisins and a mini Cliff Bar. That’s all my stomach can handle this morning. I pin my race number on, put on my race belt stuffed with Shot Bloks and gel. I glance at the clock. It’s 1 minute until 3:00 am. I take two deep breaths, grab my room key, and head to the bus stop.
I’m scared. Really scared. Am I ready for this? Did I train enough for this? Could have I have lost more weight? I can’t even answer my own questions. I reach the bus stop and the bus transporting runners is waiting. As I board the bus, In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins is playing. How weird. Soon as I take my seat, the bus is in motion. A song by P!nk comes on. I’ve never heard it but it’s speaking to me…”You’re mean when you talk about yourself, you’re wrong. Change the voices in your head, make them like you instead”. I hear you P!nk. I hear you.
The bus reaches the parking lot of Epcot…but I can barely see it. “This parking lot must be huge”, I tell myself. Lean on Me comes on the radio. I smile. I think of all my friends that have encouraged me to do this. Something very serendipitous is going on here. As I leave the bus, my game face is on. Not purposely…but I feel it. My walk to the gathering area is full of purpose. I’m trying to believe I can do this. I have to do this. I can’t back out. Hell, I’m here and it’s paid for. Wait? Did I check the mail before I left home?? Mail?? Focus girl! Focus!
I had already arranged to meet my relay partner at the bag check. As I wait for her, I take in the scene: lots of loud, upbeat music, excited runners milling about, and people warming up. If I wasn’t so nervous, I could probably enjoy this more. My partner arrives and hugs me. “Are you ready?” she asks me. I think she can smell my fear. Of course she can. “Yep. As ready as I can be right now.”
“You’ll do fine.”
“I hope so.”
“Don’t worry about it. Just have fun.”
I don’t say anything else. I can’t think of anything. We stand there awkwardly in silence. I notice that people are moving into a runner’s only section. “I guess I’ll go join them,” I say. She smiles. We hug. “We got this!” she says. I nod like I believe her. I’m trying to believe her.
The runner’s only section is not as upbeat as everyone seems to be mentally preparing themselves for either 13.1 or 26.2 miles. There are dozens of portable restrooms. Do I need to use one of these? I don’t want to. These things are terrible. But what if I don’t and have to go during mile 8? Dang it!! Okay, I’ll use it. I take a deep breath preparing for the rancid aroma but…surprisingly, it’s like it’s never been used. It’s still minty fresh. Yes!! However, it’s still a portable restroom so I quickly handle my business, disinfect my hands, and exit.
Runners are now gathered on one side of the meeting area and an announcement is made. “We will be making our way to the corrals in 3 minutes!” I remember advice from my partner: make sure that you line up at the front of your corral. I slowly make my way to the front of the group. Three minutes feels like 30 seconds. The gate is opened and we start the 1/2 mile walk to the corrals. Along the way, there are more portable restrooms and runners leaving the group to use them one last time. Volunteers are joyfully funneling runners into their proper corrals. I’m in corral G, the second to the last corral. I move to the front of the corral as instructed. I do a few stretches sit down on the concrete.
For the first time, I notice the weather. I can see my breath in the air but I’m not cold. It actually feels great. I look to my right. A young man sitting next to me is shivering and blowing in his hands. He sees me watching him. “You’re not cold?” he asks me.
“You must not be from here.”
“No. I’m from Georgia.”
“I’m from Florida and I’m not used to this.”
We chuckle and exchange names. His name is Skylar. I never asked his age but he’s clearly no older than 21. And he is nervous about doing his first full marathon this morning. We talked about our training and stretched together. An announcement is made that the wheelchair races are starting. We shoot each other nervous smiles. There’s a countdown then fireworks. Wheelchair racers are off and excitement is spreading. Skylar tells me his stomach just flipped. I feel it too. I suck down a Shot gel. Four minutes later, corral A takes off to more fireworks. We look at each other silently. Nervous smiles. I think he has nothing to worry about. But he’s as nervous as me nonetheless. Corrals B through F all start off with the same fanfare: a countdown then fireworks. Then it’s my corral; G. We’re standing under the start line. Out of nowhere Skylar grabs my hand and says “We got this!”
Before I can even let his words sink in, the countdown begins, fireworks boom, and we’re off! Skylar darts away. I’m alone. Alone with 50k+ people.
Start to Mile 2: It’s dark but it’s pretty. Mickey balloons align the road. Fireworks are still booming and everyone is all smiles. Big spot lights light the road that is already littered with clothes discarded by the runners ahead of me. The shuffle feature is obviously not working because 90% of the songs playing have been Rihanna. But it’s okay. She is giving me life right now. I’m running most of these 2 miles. There’s a school band playing music for us. Poor kids. But thank you high school band for waking up so early to entertain us.
Mile 2 – Mile 4: I’m upbeat and making good time. I’m still running with few walk breaks. I own this! I own the pavement! Oh there’s Stitch. Wish I could get a pic. Oh well. That’s okay. I’m feeling strong and energized. Time is flying by. My relay partner and Skylar were right: We got this! The route narrows as we approach Epcot. The spectators are upbeat and the energy translates. Before running through Epcot, I stop to take a pic. It’s beautiful! I complete mile 4 in just under an hour. Bomb time for me! Speed? I am speed! I eat 2 Margarita Shot Bloks. I know now that a margarita is not a margarita if there is no liquor. I grab water to wash it back.
Mile 4 – Mile 6: Route gets boring as we cover the first 1.5 mile portion of route again. I hate loops. But Honky Tonk Badonkadonk is playing and I forget about being bored. I find a personal pacer: sequined Minnie ears lady. I won’t lose her. She runs, I run. She walks, I walk. Mile 5 is a checkpoint to see if you’re keeping pace. I pick up the pace when I see the timing mat. I cross it as fast as I can but I feel like I’m slowing. I’m good for the moment. No flags or sirens when I pass. I’m not tired but I’m not as energized either. I’m averaging a 15:00/mile pace but I want better. I take off fast. Big mistake. I correct myself quickly. We head over a bridge then down an off ramp. I pick up speed there and let gravity carry me down. The ramp leads under the same bridge I came over. I see a few runners up top. I’m not last. That’s good. I look for sequined Minnie ears lady. She’s not far. But she’s not close. I try to jog to catch up.
Mile 6 – Mile 8: I’m kind of halfway. Kinda. Unfortunately there are 2 overpasses coming…back to back. My mind screams “kill the mutha…. hill girl!” I slowly jog the first one and power walk down the other side. The second one is easier than the first and I run the whole thing. I feel tough but tired. My power walk has lost power. My run isn’t as quick. I’m feeling stressed. I’ve lost sequined Minnie ears lady. Damn. Ugh! Only mile 8??? Damn! I haven’t found my finish line but I think I’ve found my wall…and it’s earlier than normal…plus this is looking like a long, boring stretch. Lil Wayne is driving me crazy. . Wait? Is that Lightening McQueen? Yep. Yeay! The Speedway. I giggle to myself. This was the landmark that I held on to mentally to let me know that I’m almost to the castle. I pop 3 black cherry Shot Bloks.
Mile 8 – Mile 10: It’s a looooong stretch to the vehicle gates for Magic Kingdom. I get excited! But I’ve been warned: it’s a long way from these gates to the actual castle…I get a pic and keep moving. A young girl doing what seemed to be 20sec run/40sec walk intervals passes me. I pay her no attention except I catch a monkey tattoo on her neck! I love monkeys! It’s a sign! She’s my white rabbit (or white monkey…whatever). She’s my new personal pacer: monkey tattoo girl. She runs, I run. She walks, I walk. She’s doing great. So am I. I almost feel like I’m stalking her. And I am. There’s a long downhill leading under a bridge followed by….What? Is that a real hill? Oh hell…really? After 9 miles, you give me a super steep hill? Damn you Disney! I can’t handle this hill. As I approach the hills incline, I look up and Aladdin has a banner. It reads “YOU can go the distance!”. Thanks Al. I needed that. Monkey tattoo girl did too!
Mile 10: We finally enter Magic Kingdom! We head through the village and it’s packed with cheering spectators and volunteers. High fives (and 4′s from Mickey) all around and the traditional “You’re almost there!” chants ring out. Between them and Stevie Wonder, I’m on a high for so late in the race. But wait? I’ve lost monkey tattoo girl. I frantically look around for her. She’s gone! I’m almost mad that she got lost. Did she leave me? Dammit! I keep running and hit a right…The Castle is right in front of me! I break into tears. I mean Tebow tears (sorry Tebow). Besides Mickey’s head, it’s the most recognizable symbol of the Disney brand and I’m running my first half marathon in this magical place. It’s where every girl wanted to live and be a princess. I never thought I would be doing this! I never thought I could do this! I was almost 350lbs when I started this journey! I only wanted to lose weight but instead I’m here. Running my heart out for a big shiny medal and personal glory! I can’t stop crying. My castle is blurry. People see me and they probably think I’m in pain. Nope. I’m just emotional. I lost my pacer and the castle is so beautiful! I tell myself to “woman up” long enough to take a pic of the castle. I take a deep breath from the crying and proceed. I see all the princesses are here and the tears continue to fall. I’m dying to take pictures with all of them. But I got a pace to keep. And it’s getting hard to keep my pace between fatigue and crying and the loss of my pacer. Oh, hey Princess Tiana!
Mile 11 – Mile 13: leading out of the park I see Alice. She gives me a high five. On to another long boring stretch of the route. My partner sends me a text that I’m right at the limit on the pace. I’m exhausted…but I see sequined Minnie ears lady and I speed up. But not by much. I don’t know if she slowed down or I sped up but I’m glad to see her. The gnats at mile 12 are so disrespectful. I eat 3 (I counted) along this boring stretch and the looooongest mile for sure. The route planners knew it. Hence, the random Disney facts posted along the way. Did you know that Donald Ducks full name is Donald Fauntleroy Duck? Yep. Me neither.
Mile 13.1: My calves are dying but I’ve only got .10 to go…I kick into high gear for a strong finish. “I’m getting a medal y’all!” An old lady running past me says “Good job! You did it!” Didn’t realize I said it out loud but thanks old lady!
I cross the finish line exhausted. I want to drop to my knees and cry. But I’m tough and I’m done crying. I get my medal and goodie bag. My mom is not there. She’s at the other finish line. Great. I don’t care though. That means I don’t have to talk to anyone. I walk for a minute before finding me a place on the ground in the middle of the parking lot. I dig in my bag, grab my banana, and crack open my PowerAde. I chomp and guzzle for about 5 minutes. I watch as others come through the finish. I’m happy for them. I know how it feels and what it took. I check my phone. Fifty-four Facebook messages. Really? I read each one and smile with tears in my eyes. Damn, I have great friends. It’s funny how you never know how much you are loved until you need to know how much you are loved. Medical personel comes to ask me if I’m okay. I nod and smile with watery eyes. “I’m just happy.”
Somehow I get to my feet so I can take pictures with Chip ‘n Dale and board the bus to meet my mom. When I get off, she hands me two roses with Mickey ears (I love my Momma). She’s sorry about being at the wrong finish line but I don’t care. I’m feeling too good and she looks so proud of me. Strangers congratulate me as I make my way through the finish line party. My teeth are dry from all the smiling I’m doing.
As I make my way back to the room, my Mom decides to find me some real food. While she’s gone I shower and reflect over the last 7 hours. It was surreal and great. It was painful and perfect. It was truly magical.
I look in the mirror. I still don’t look like a runner. But I am.