Here it is, folks. The post
you’ve all one or two people have been waiting for. I thought about naming this post How to Run a Marathon with IBS, or A port-a-potty marathon with some running breaks gingerly thrown in for fun…. but I don’t want to be a party pooper. Get it? Sorry. Despite my stomach’s best efforts to run me off course, I can proudly say, I am a marathoner. I ran 26.2 miles and, yes, I smiled the whole way… to the point that fellow runners probably wanted to physically harm me. I just couldn’t help it. I had the time of my life.
At 2:2o on Sunday morning our alarm went off. After getting dressed and sweeping on a coat of mascara (for the cameras, hellooooo), I set out to accomplish something that still seemed impossible. Me? Run a marathon? Even after months of training, blood, sweat and a few tears, we shuffled to the starting corrals in the pitch black of the (very) early morning. I still wasn’t convinced I’d be crossing the finish line.
This is what a bunch of strangers look like in the dark.
I had a well thought out race plan, a loose goal time, and enough Lady Gaga to launch the Spanish Armada. I had Gu. I had Chapstick. I had throwaway clothing and a fully charged camera battery. Once Nick and I were herded into our separate corrals, I was left to my own pathetic devices. Should I go hide in the woods? Maybe I should take a little nap? I chatted with a woman who hadn’t trained. I felt terrified for her, more terrified than I did for myself. Before I knew it, fireworks were booming overhead and we were moving.
Boom, boom, pow.
The first 4 miles flew by. I used to think that anyone who said “the miles flew by” was a liar, an a-hole, or a robot. Or all three. Turns out, it can really happen. Cool! I found our South Boston Team in Training teammates Amy and Bryan and we passed a little time making animal noises. I don’t really know why, but I know it sure was enjoyable. This was right around the time I got my first glimpse of Endorphin Dude, my favorite costumed runner on the course. As people called out to him, he made superhero noises and threw imaginary endorphins their way, calling, “Here are some endorphins for Mile 20… take these endorphins with you for miles 17-25,” and so on. Plus, he had a really cool Jimmy Neutron hairdo. I wanted to hug him. But I needed to keep running.
When you see a sign welcoming you to one of the parks, it means you have to run roughly 3 miles before you get anywhere close to that park. That’s why most people drive. Or take the monorail.
Mile 4.5 ish took us through Epcot. It was still dark and cold, but my throwaway fleece was getting to be a bit much. I discarded it (to be picked up and donated by race volunteers later) below the giant golf ball thing… and thought about running back for it when I got cold again a few miles later. “Mad props for starting your year off with a marathon, Elizabeth,” a race volunteer yelled. My face already ached from smiling and I was barely a 1/5 of the way done.
I passed one of the first medical tents at Mile 5, and though I had already hit up the port-o-potties, like, 5 thousand times, I was thankful to not need any sort of real medical attention. A fellow runner, however, went screaming into the tent like her shorts were on fire, yelling, “I’m fine! I just need to get this toenail out of my sock.” There was a collective vomit-in-our-mouth noise from the pack as we continued on. I kept thinking, what we are doing is caaaa-razy. At Mile 6, we looped over the highway, and around and down an off ramp, passing over and then under fellow runners. It was incredible to see the trail of runners going on, literally, for miles.
This is what strangers look like at daybreak.
Miles 7-10 were rather uneventful, though there were plenty of bands, cheerleaders, DJs and Disney characters to break up the long stretch of road. I chatted with fellow Team in Training runners and kept a slow, even pace. I was surprised at how strong and calm I felt. A TNT (because they couldn’t really use the abbreviation t..i..t..) coach from Southern Florida joined me around Mile 9 for a few minutes. He broke down the next few miles for me, and gave me a good idea of what to expect. On the opposite side of the road, runners were tackling the stretch between the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom. This would be one of the most difficult stretches, the coach told me. Having a better sense of what was ahead kept me focused on conserving mental and physical energy. He also told me his wife, a fellow coach, grew up not far from my hometown, and that she’s be on the course near Mile 18. I cannot say enough about how incredible the on-course support is from Team in Training. This is something I truly did not expect, and it so positively impacted my marathon experience.
The DJ on the bridge was not taking requests.
By Mile 10, I could see Space Mountain and Cinderella’s Castle as we took on a slight hill (nothing compared to the hills of South Boston, but an incline nevertheless). There was a huge turnout of spectators as I entered the Magic Kingdom alongside a few runners from the TNT Gateway Chapter. I stopped on Main Street to have my photo taken with one of the many race volunteers in green jackets.
I am the female Guy Smiley.
My pace was far enough off my goal at this point that I knew I had a choice: try and make up for “lost time” (and potentially kill myself trying), or commit to enjoying every, single minute of it (even the many, many minutes spent in line for the bathroom). If the following pictures are any indication, I chose the latter. My goal shifted from numbers to moments. I was going to savor each and every one. And I was going to finish this marathon. At this point, I just knew it. And I think I just invented my new running mantra:
The moments matter more than the minutes.
That’s a keeper. I should totally be a life coach. For other people. It’s not working out so great for myself.
Awkward pose #47 of the day.
Between Miles 10 and 11, I posed for photos with Cinderella’s evil stepmother and stepsisters, Prince Charming, and the castle. I thought about posing with the Mad Hatter, but he creeped me out, so I sped on. And by sped on, I mean I moved… but with very little speed.
Miles 11 through 16 were sort of boring, which is probably a good thing. My legs still felt strong, but I wasn’t sure how long this would last. There were still plenty of characters, water stops and entertainment along the way, but with no park or landmark in sight to focus on, these miles were a battle onto themselves, as fear and doubt seemed to be running alongside me. And then there was the battle against the fumes coming from the waste treatment plant. What I thought were Animal Kingdom smells turned out to be coming from Disney’s underbelly. They don’t list that feature on the race pamphlet, that’s for sure.
Peter Pan kept saying “Hello there” in a creepy voice into my ear. I was scared. And nervous.
As we approached the Animal Kingdom at Mile 17 or so, I stopped for pictures with the crew from Peter Pan. I figured my brother Christopher would get a kick out of seeing Smee… and me. Miles 18 through 20 was another stretch of highway, including a few hills at the overpasses. With the sun blazing down at this point, I was started to feel a bit nauseous and overheated. And slightly cranky. I may have entered what John Bingham referred to as the “Bite Me Zone” at our Team in Training Inspiration Dinner. And then I saw this.
Cue the chills.
Kevin was running his World Record 116th marathon. And he is mobility impaired. How’s that for a kick in the Spandex? I made sure to congratulate him, but only after wiping the tears from my eyes and the snot from my pointy little nose. This is what it’s all about.
For the rest of the course, whenever doubt or fear crept in, I thought about why I was running. Finishing the marathon would mark a tremendous personal achievement, but um… it’s not just about me.
It’s about our heroes, too.
That paradigm shift was all I needed to exit the “Bite Me Zone” and re-enter the obnoxiously smiling zone. That’s where I stayed… and that’s where I remain. I’ll give you Miles 21 through 26.2 (or, according to my Garmin, 27.4….) soon. There’s really no cliff hanger, since I already tooted my own horn about finishing, but I promise to bestow upon you some of the cheesiest photos of all time and regale you will stories of nearly needing to crawl into the bag check tent, while mumbling something about a gospel choir and Cool Ranch Doritos.
Update: Pop some popcorn and Read Part II here.
Also On Tap for Today:
When are you signing up for your first/next marathon? Come on… you knoooow you want to…. Is there anything you’re dying to know about running 26.2?