Towards the end of 2013, I made the goal that so many of us do.  In the New Year, I decided that I would take up running.  I know what you’re thinking, “why wait?”…or “resolutions are stupid…”  And yes, I agree.  But the reason that I decided I’d begin in January 2014 is because upon forming this plan, January seemed very far away.  And I hate running.  And it’s really cold in Massachusetts, so I wanted to avoid as much of the 10-month winter as possible.

Even still, I tried to prepare for my upcoming endeavor.  I bought a jogging stroller for Lexie, I mapped out several courses in the area, and I even joined up with one of the “G-words” to start practicing on an indoor treadmill.  With my iphone loaded with episodes of “Dance Moms,” I would enter the gym doors determined to run for an entire episode.  Then, like clockwork, one mile and ten minutes later, I thought, “nah, maybe I’ll try this again tomorrow.”

My procrastination was winning the war, but I knew that I had an official “outdoor run date,” firmly etched into my mind. January 12th. That would be the day, I’d decided, that I’d hit foot to pavement and begin my illustrious running career.  Leading up to my first run outside in over a year, I took stock of my “running equipment,” and noticed a few holes…literally.  The shoes that I’d bought seven years ago on a whim in an athletic store with my friend Dani had served me well, but I could see now that my toe was sticking out through one shoe and the side of my foot was showing through the other.  I decided I’d need new kicks before my first run.

Naturally, Nike had discontinued the model that I was familiar with, but a lady had a pair on eBay that were only slightly used.  I know how disgusting that sounds.  Used running shoes.  I didn’t care.  I wanted that model, and I felt like I’d won a small lottery to find a pair.  I placed my bid.  By the time the shoes finally arrived, my first run was days away.  I walked around in them a bit and then promptly placed them back in the box until the weekend of my first run.

By the time the morning of January 12th rolled around, I was enthusiastic about my upcoming trek on the road.  I woke up very early, dressed in my fanciest running attire, and put Amanda Beard’s (Olympic swimmer) audiobook onto my iphone to listen to for inspiration.  I laced up my brand new shoes (or brand new to me) and walked outside into the cool January air. Then I headed to the shuttle stop at the front of my hotel, pinned on my racing bib, and boarded the bus that would take me to the start line of Disney’s 26.2 mile marathon.

Oh sorry, did I forget to mention that my first run would be the Disney marathon?

Since my eBay shoes had arrived only the day before my parents and I left for Florida (“MY PARENTS ARE TAKING ME TO DISNEY WORLD!” exclaimed the 28-year old), I decided to break them in over the ten hours that we spent at Magic Kingdom… the day prior to the race.  You’re not supposed to walk around in the sun the day before you run a marathon?  You’re supposed to train in the shoes you’re going to wear for the race?  You’re supposed to train for the race?!

Somehow I’d spit on and then thrown away all of these memos and had my heart set on winging it.  When I’d registered for the “race” (which for me was really classified as “goal of completion”), I provided the organizers with my half-marathon time from the year before.  This put me into corral H, the one designated for the 4:10 pace group.  When I’d learned that this was my corral at the Disney Expo, I found the news absolutely hysterical.  “I’ll keep up with them for as long as I can,” I thought.  After all, who am I to say that I don’t have a Forrest Gump-esque running talent hidden deep inside.

Before I even get to the end of the story, let me assure you that I do not. And  I will not be traversing America on foot.

But there I stood.  In corral H.  In the freezing cold.  Wearing a backpack and eating a Power Bar.  It wasn’t a stretch to say that everyone around me appeared more prepared for this jaunt than I was.  In fact, I’m willing to “go all in” that this hunch was perfectly accurate.

After being forced to linger outside for what seemed like a very long time, beginning at 3:30am, the race came to an official start at 5:30.  I heard the horn; I saw the fireworks.  But there I stood, still in corral H, waiting on pins and needles for my turn to cross the start line.  The corrals went from A-P, and beginning at that first sight of fireworks, we all made our to the start…very slowly.  I saw seven sets of fireworks detonate before they were finally for me. I crossed the line just after 6:00 and easily jogged the first mile in the pitch black dark.

My pace felt slow, and within the first two miles, I’d joined the 4:00 pace group.  I decided to stick with them as long as possible, and then do my best to “hang in there” towards the end.  These are my people, I realized.  We’ll run the race together.

We all slowed down at the water stops, and I had my own Gatorade, fruit snacks, gels, and arsenic (in case things got really bad) in my knapsack.  I felt good.  Sure, I hadn’t run any training miles (aside from those mornings with the Dance Moms on the treadmill), but I was in pretty good physical condition and had just survived what turned out to be a delightful day in Disney World with my parents.  How much harder could this be?

The sun started to come up and the miles were ticking off quickly. 4, 5, 6. I started to realize what a joke it had been when I’d complained about running a 10k.  This is easy, I decided.  People want to make a big deal out of this to pump their own balloons!  Look at me, trotting with the 4:00 pace group… and there’s the castle just around the river bend!

By this point the sun was starting to come up, and I was making my entrance onto Main Street USA, running towards Cinderella…sorry, feeling like Cinderella…as I cantered passed the adoring fans who were cheering on our noble pursuit.  I floated by Her Majesty, who was likely asleep in her royal palace, feeling like a million bucks. “HEY CINDY!…CHECK ME OUT! LOOK AT WHAT I’M DOING!”

It was just after this checkpoint, at around mile seven, that I received the first inkling in my head that I might die in this race. I had made the “joke” several times leading up to this idiotic undertaking that “one person dies in every marathon, and it could be me,” and it was just after Cinderella’s castle that I started to wonder if this statement might actually come to fruition.  I had no choice but to abandon the 4:00 pace group.

Fear not, my friends!  Because chugga-chugga-choo-choo, here came the 4:20 group!…And there went the 4:20 group….and the 4:45 group….and the 5:00 group.  And then it was just runners on their own who started passing me in overwhelming droves.  Runners in costumes.  Runners who looked like they needed a visit from Jenny Craig, runners who were part of the Dopey Challenge and had already completed a 5k, 10k, and half-marathon in consecutive days leading up to this event.

By the time I got to Animal Kingdom, my legs felt like they’d been pierced by thousands of Robin Hood’s darts, and I realized I was completely screwed.  I felt light headed and thought I might pass out…permanently.  I decided to take a bathroom break, and as soon as I’d stopped moving, I felt even weaker.  I swallowed some gushers that I’d brought in my satchel and continued on my journey to Galilee.  Finally, I crossed mile marker eleven.

It was at this point that I began to walk.  Like the Tin Man.  In desperate need of some oil.

As the group traversed an overpass, I suffered my second panic attack of the experience.  If I passed out near the edge of the road, I’d fall over the side of the bride – onto the interstate below – and I’d be run over and killed.  I decided to stay as far away from the cliff of doom as possible.

At some point I was halfway finished with the marathon.  I went to a medical tent.  “How do I seem?!” I demanded from the medic on duty.  “I feel very lightheaded!”  I was relieved to speak with someone after hours of solitude, to hear my voice, and to know that I was alive.  The medic, expecting to deal with blisters and sprained ankles, was likely thrilled when I literally stumbled upon her.  There I was, in the midst of normalcy.  An existential crisis.

She asked me if I was quitting the race.  “No, I don’t think so,” I responded nonchalantly, “do you think I can continue?!”  She told me that I had good color and suggested that I sit under one of the blankets that had evidently been sponsored by Reynolds Wrap.  She gave me a banana.  Eventually I stood up and confidently announced that I’d be back on my way.  She told me that there wasn’t another medical tent for ten miles.

There’s an episode of “90210” [for every situation because it’s the greatest life guide of all-time] where Kelly, Clare, Donna, and Valerie mistakenly end up at a convent on their way to a spa called Elisha Springs.  The nuns tell them that the only service station for their broken down wheels is “miles down the mountain,” so rather than going for it, they hole up with the sisters, eating mashed potatoes.  I decided in that moment that all four of them were losers.

I was determined to continue onto my ultimate destination whether it be with Mickey Mouse or Jesus.

I kept walking.  On a slow and incredibly painful march.  I was an early American settler making my way out west…voluntarily…instead of sitting at a pub in Epcot drinking an imported beer.

The mile markers that had ticked off with ease when I’d first set out now seemed to be light-years away from one another.  I made it to the ESPN center and jogged around the practice field of my beloved Atlanta Braves.  The coolness factor of this experience gave my step some pep for about ¼ of a mile.  Then it was back to the tin man.

By the time we got to Hollywood Studios, I was scrounging my bag for the arsenic.  I still had about six miles to go.  I thought about the long and difficult challenge of a 10k, and I wanted to cry.

For a while now, I’d been walking on grass.  Shortly before I crossed into Epcot though, signifying the final stretch, I was forced to walk on the wooden planks surrounding the Boardwalk Inn.  I’m now certain that Walt was a cruel and heartless man.

It was early-afternoon, Epcot was open to the public, and happy-go-lucky park-goers with beers in their hands stood alongside our running path eagerly cheering us on.  I wanted to smack each one of their heads with a Whac-A-Mole mallet as hard as possible.

At long last, I reached the final mile marker, indicating only two-tenths of a mile to go!  And then I saw an odd sight.  A line of people, just a few short minutes from the finish, casually standing around and chatting…waiting in line…to meet…Dopey?!  The thought of purposely waiting to put this nightmare behind me was too much for my weakened brain to handle.  Eventually though, I realized what was happening.  These were the geniuses who’d signed up to do the four-part Dopey Challenge…running 48.6 miles in four days. I ferociously straight-legged my way passed them.

And there I was, ten-hours after I’d boarded the bus to take me to the start, finally lumbering my way across the finish line.  Adorned with a gigantic gold medal, my best guess is that I must’ve won the race.  I finally sat down on the curb.  And then I was yelled at for sitting on the curb.  And I had to keep walking.

I found my parents who had waited in a huge crowd for hours to see me finish.  I screamed at them within five minutes of our reunion.  And then we all headed to lunch.

Walking through the airport the next day was a real big challenge.  But within four days, I had decided that completing the marathon hadn’t been that difficult.  “Yes,” I assured someone, “I’d do it again.”  And then… “But I might practice a little more next time.”

As I reflect on my experience “running” the Disney marathon, I am truly thankful for the fact that despite the long shot odds, I was able to complete it. And as Marathon Monday in Boston approaches, I know that many people have meaningful stories behind their desires to complete their races, and I wish each one of them the very best in their pursuits of the finish!

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Nothing says “togetherness” like frog hats at the Rain Forest Cafe!

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Finding the perfect ball cap to wear at the park

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Not quite right

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Getting closer

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Bingo

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Slowly making my way to the start… in the middle of the night.

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Tearing down Main Street!

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A tomahawk can brighten any day.

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First place finisher

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Disney marathon victors (nearly two decades apart!).

 

 

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