We Could Go the Distance

Posted on January 11th, 2017

A full marathon is in the books! Ian and I ran the 2017 Walt Disney World Marathon on January 8, an unforgettable experience. Months of training and careful collection of tips and advice prepared us physically, but we knew that only living it ourselves would give us insight into the psychological battle waged during a 26.2 mile run.




As it turns out, the run wasn’t even the hardest part. The weather in Florida has been gorgeous so far this winter and is getting back to its gorgeous self in the second half of this week, but as I watched the forecast in the days leading up to our trip, I noticed an undeniable dip in temperatures and sunshine levels only for the specific days of our visit. In fact, by the time we were packing our bags and boarding the plane, our fate was clear: temperatures would be in the 30s during our FLORIDA marathon. Oh, and did we mention there would be LOTS of wind?


The temperatures by themselves aren’t so bad—in fact, a lot of people prefer slightly cooler temperatures when running—but Run Disney events have an extra complication that makes that really difficult. Due to the sheer size and complexity of the event’s logistics, runners have to be in their corrals about 90-120 minutes before they actually start running. Standing still with the wind blowing, this would be immensely cold. I was completely terrified of it—dread absorbed me Saturday.


Fast forward to Sunday morning. It’s 4am, it’s pitch black, it’s 36 degrees with a 25 degree windchill. Ian and I are wearing the cute couples costume we had planned, but they are hidden by layers of clothing we plan to discard as the race kicks off and we warm up. We have handwarmers in our gloves, and we’re both wearing massive black trashbags on top of the whole ensemble. We’re huddled on a back road on the Disney property near Epcot, crouching as close to the cold ground as we can get without sitting on it, and we’re surrounded by tens of thousands of people in the exact same position. When the wind howls, our collection of 25,000 trashbags and heat blankets snap and billow and crackle against the frigid air. And this lasts for 90 minutes before we cast aside our trashbags and cross the start line.


I had often felt pumped up and resilient before our longer training runs back in Seattle, but on Sunday, I felt broken. I didn’t feel like I could walk a 5k for the promise of a latte and a cinnamon roll, let alone run a marathon. It wasn’t until we had run two miles that I started to be able to feel my toes again, but once that happened and I was no longer worried I would trip I regained a little confidence. The thick turtleneck sweater I had planned to discard in the corrals stayed on for an hour, but I tossed it right as we entered the Magic Kingdom.


The kitsch of the Disney Marathon is that you run through each of the parks, and that first run through the Magic Kingdom (the same as I had experienced in each of my two Run Disney halfs) was the most exhilarating moment of the whole event. You enter the park through a back service road, rounding the corner to race up a Main Street lined with cheering people is so romantic. Amped up from the experience, we saw our personal cheering section (my parents and brother) outside the Grand Floridian shortly after, and we felt amazing. This continued around the back roads, into the Animal Kingdom, and back out to the highway.


Around mile 18, I realized two things. On the one hand, I could definitely do it. I was definitely going to finish without walking, and I was pretty excited about that accomplishment. But on the other hand, I wasn’t really having fun anymore. I wasn’t injured, but my body was starting to feel uncomfortable. I was looking forward to being done, but I wasn’t looking forward to running for about 80 more minutes first. Everyone tells you about “The Wall,” and maybe for me, this was it. I put my head down and continued to put one foot in front of the other.


Things picked up a smidgen around mile 23 when we ran through Hollywood Studios and continued along the sunny boardwalk into Epcot. My amazing parents had come to Epcot to cheer us on for the final push, so we got to give them kisses (and pose for a picture with Belle) at mile 24. Naturally, spectators throughout the course try to be supportive, and no matter where you are in the course you hear various combinations of “You’re doing great!” “You’re almost there!” “You’re looking so strong!” At this point, the middle one sounded like it could actually be true, and the last one was clearly a flat out lie. (The physical discomfort persisted, and I’m pretty sure I ran through Hollywood Studios with a big ol’ grimace and my arms wrapped around myself in a hug.)


BUT we ran around the world in Epcot, out the side gate, around the corner past the famous gospel choir, and we were there. We finished our marathon like we had trained for it: side by side, holding hands. When the first friendly volunteer said “Congratulations,” Ian honestly wept.


The feeling of setting a goal, pursuing it through measurable milestones, and achieving it is a universally satisfying experience, and the fact that we got to do it while supporting Team JDRF made it all the better.  In fact, our national JDRF team of runners raised more than $125,000 for type one diabetes research this year!  But while it is a given that I will continue to support JDRF and will continue to run, I haven’t decided how I feel about the idea of doing another marathon. For now, I’m slowly tapering my mileage back up to help heal my body, feeling proud of my mental toughness, and feeling grateful for a body that allows me to stretch its limits.


We all ran happily ever after.