If you like to do things in order (you’re probably one of those people who reads the directions), and you’re wondering what happened to the first 20 miles, feel free to start with Part I. Or maybe you just want to dive in, you wild thing, you.
Here we go again. I’m guessing I misjudged my mileage in Part I, because I seem to have omitted the Animal Kingdom entirely. Maybe I was high. You know, with runner’s high? Or maybe I just can’t handle simple math. To make up for my error, here’s a photo of me, awkwardly posing with Chip and Dale.
The route through the Animal Kingdom was shady (in a good way), and offered a welcomed break from the heat. Our little Southie team planned to visit that park the following day– marathon finishers got free admission, so it was nice to get a preview. I even got to see some live monkeys!
Soon we were back on the road. As I neared Mile 21, a bit of panic set it. Our training plan maxed out at 20 miles, so I was entering uncharted territory. Would I hit the proverbial wall? Would I die, you know, like that fabled Greek soldier, the second I crossed the finish line? I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Mostly because I didn’t study the course map very well.
Whoever said that Disney is the happiest place on Earth was clearly unfamiliar with Miles 20 and 21 of the Walt Disney World Marathon, an out-and-back stretch of highway. I had no idea how far out I’d have to run before the hairpin turnaround, and considered laying down on the pavement so I could be trampled and henceforth have a legitimate excuse to seek medical attention. But there were people watching. And I think that sort of behavior is general frowned upon. So I kept running, and I kept smiling (like a maniacal freak person).
Nearing Mile 22, we climbed an on-ramp and I was once again thankful to have been training in our hilly neighborhood. Sarge from Toy Story was yelling to runners, “Climb that hill, civilians! Double-time it!” It was nice to see that I wasn’t the only person on the course wearing makeup. There was no line, so I took a mini-hill break for a photo.
I worried that I had begun hallucinating when an accordion band, people jumping on a trampoline, and a woman holding an owl started popping up along the side of the road. Scrolling through my digicam, there seems to be no photographic evidence of any of these… so maybe I was hallucinating. Can anyone confirm or deny?
I barely used my iPod at all, listening only to a bit of Michael Jackson during the long stretches of highway. Shortly after stalking Sarge however, there were speakers along the road playing “Sweet Caroline” over and over and over. I love the Red Sox (and Neil Diamond, sort of) as much as the next girl, but this was a bit much. I tried to drown Neil out with my own music, and subsequently went deaf for a minute or two.
I’m sorry, did you say something?
Mile 23 brought us through Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While standing in line for the photo above, a woman asked me who I was running for. She was running for her son. I could feel the tide of emotion rising and wondered if I’d be able to keep it together for the last few miles. Then I was distracted by a group of tourists taking a bunch of pictures of me, standing in line… That didn’t strike me as odd until just now.
The route took us through the behind-the-scenes and costuming areas, which was rather cool. I knew my friends Kristine and Christie, who ran the half marathon the day before (wahoo!), were planning to be in the park, so I kept an eye out as I came around each corner and tried to look as alive and well as possible.
Shortly before exiting Hollywood Studios, an older woman called out, “Thank you, Elizabeth” in a voice that rang out above all the others. Later, my teammate Amy would mention that same woman– she was thanking every Team member as they passed her. I burst into tears. Fortunately, there was a little narrow curve that took us behind a building before the next cheering section, providing just enough time to catch my breath and stabilize (a little). Though I was still running, albeit at the speed of an injured slug, and my body felt strong, at this point I was emotionally exhausted.
As I rounded the corner, a TNT coach whom I had seen earlier on in the course called out, “Great to see you still smiling, Elizabeth!” and I couldn’t help but laugh. I was ready to be done. I exited Hollywood Studios and worried that I had run right past Kristine and Christie. And then I saw them, about a quarter mile away, standing on a bench. I started waving frantically and suddenly had the energy to sprint up to them.
Man Women, that was exactly what I needed. Thank you!
I spent the last two miles in the proverbial zone. I remember running along the Boardwalk and through Epcot, but it was pretty much a blur. As much as I felt like I had been running forever, it was hard to believe I was nearly done. I stopped to have my photo taken at Mile 26, which in retrospect seems basically demented. Why stop now? I could hear the crowds cheering, but um… I sort of didn’t want it to be over.
After a quick right hand turn, the finish line was before me. There were people clapping and yelling, a Gospel choir singing, and… it was over. Before I knew it, there was a medal around my neck and an over-sized piece of tinfoil being wrapped around my shoulders. I am a marathoner. I got to the finish line, with a lot of help from my friends.
A few final (um… until I start talking about this again) thoughts on the experience:
- The marathon is a gift you give yourself. Like most experiences in life, you get out of it what you put into it… but I hobbled away from the marathon feeling like I had hit the jackpot. I learned a lot about myself during those hours on my feet, and over the course of our training. I proved to myself that I can do something pretty incredible. I overcame physical weakness with emotional strength I didn’t know I had. And on top of that, I had a really, really good time (as in experience, not clock time… obvi).
- The marathon is a gift your fellow runners give you. Unlike 5k or 10k races, people actually talk to one another during a marathon. The “we’re all in this together” spirit is pretty unbelievable. My marathon experience feels sort of like a quilt of people sewn together. It boasts patches of Endorphin Dude, TNT runners from chapters across the country, and a leukemia survivor from Long Island that I was blessed to run alongside for a quarter mile or so. These people gave me laughter, inspiration, and courage.
- Running a marathon is hard. That’s sort of the point. There were moments that broke my heart, and miles that nearly broke my legs. There were times when I wanted to quit, and felt so sick that I worried I would have to quit. But nothing– nothing– can compare to the overwhelming joy I felt when being thanked by a spectator, encouraged by a coach or fellow runner, and having a big, fat medal draped around my neck. I did it. And if I can do it, you can too.
I am so thankful for all the kind words, and I appreciate your letting me share this experience. And I am sorry for the Spandex photos. Very, very sorry.
Also On Tap for Today:
- Breaking out the wellies
- From the Globe: Puppies in the snow!
- Must get to the grocery store… or eat pickles for dinner
What’s your big goal for 2011? I need a new challenge to take on. 🙂