Celebrating 21 Miles – My Story of Struggle and Enlightenment in the 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon

20th anniversary walt disney world marathon medalAround mile 16 I thought “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life”. I pulled my iPhone out of my fuel belt and started to tweet just that, and then I erased the tweet. What was I thinking?  This wasn’t the hardest thing I had ever done in my life.  Being in labor for 16 hours… Having a conversation with my father at Miami Baptist Hospital that we may have to bury my mother…those two things had to rank up at the top of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. This was merely 4 and a half hours into a slugfest I had picked with my own body.  It was hard…don’t get me wrong. But it wasn’t the hardest.

I only made it 21 miles that day. I had gone 13.1 miles the day before that. My feet had taken as much abuse as they could withstand. The sun had been beating down on my body for the past 5 miles with no shade in site. It was approaching 80 degrees and the humidity was thick. Not ideal conditions for attempting your first marathon.  I had seen my daughter and husband cheering for me when I entered the long stretch of road that would take me to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. They were there for me. Supporting me. If you run, you know how much this means. I could keep going.  There was a steady stream of runners coming the other way who had already made the long trek thru the sports complex. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. By this time I was walking.

The complex was a blur. I asked the voluntEARs at every water station to dump water over my head. My pace was slowing and my husband was texting me “You OK”?  I could only respond with a “no”. My heart rate had been elevated for almost 5 and a half hours and I felt like I might have an attack. I pulled over to a medic and asked them to take my heart rate just to make sure I was in a safe zone. I was…I was psyching myself out. If this is what the wall is…I don’t ever want to hit it again.

I continued on towards the turn onto Osceola Parkway. By this time I had already passed the Mile 20 Spectacular and I was getting encouraging texts from all of my other friends pounding it out with me.  I tried to repeat in my head what the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson had said to us a few days earlier at the DPB Meet Up…” When the going gets tough, the tougher keep going!” I could see that there were no more runners coming into the complex. The roads were being cleared. I still had a good 4 miles on em but it was another thing psyching me out. I was done. I was a mother who was about to quit something right in front of her daughter. Failure!  I never quit ANYTHING! I was also going to let down all of my online friends who had been cheering me on ever since I started this running journey of mine. Double Failure.  My girlfriend Carrie who was spectating texted me…”Make it to Hollywood Studios and I will run the rest of the race with you!”

As I climbed into the sweeper van I sent out this status update “It was a valiant effort but the marathon beat my feet at mile 21…”  I didn’t say so but it had also beat my spirit.

…and then, something Magical happened. My phone started pinging me with messages from all of you. Lots of messages. I still get emotional reading them even now… “Proud of you” “You’re still my hero” “You are an inspiration to us” Dozens and Dozens and Dozens of messages on twitter and on facebook and via text.

I didn’t even want the medal when the sweeper van returned me to the finish line. I hadn’t earned it. It would just be a big shiny reminder of my failure. But you all made me feel differently.  You had watched my struggles completing my first 5K. Then my first half marathon where I swore I would never do another again (I subsequently did 5 more) and now you were telling me that I hadn’t failed in your eyes and for that I am celebrating 21 miles with this big shiny Mickey Mouse Medal! Thank you everyone for believing in me!  You are my inspiration!

  • You inspired me to start my running journey and you continue to inspire me with each race. I couldn’t be more proud of all of your accomplishments. To even take on this challenge was amazing. Oh and let’s not forget you ran the Neverland 5K and Tinker Bell Half Marathon the NEXT WEEKEND! You are my hero and I LOVE you!

  • I really enjoyed reading this. You will continue to be an inspiration to many. My daughter is running her first ever race – the Princess Half Marathon next month in WDW. I am going to have her read this. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • She’ll love it! I’ve never felt more safe or had more fun than I have had running the runDisney half marathons!

  • It’s amazing the way inspiration works. Now you’ve put a fire under me to add in some strength training and increase my pace so I can keep up with YOU!

    Everyone check out Sarah’s blog http://runningatdisney.com/

  • Thank you for sharing the full story of your Marathon experience. You were so smart to listen to your body and know that you needed to stop, especially with Tinker Bell coming the next weekend. I hope to start running again and do another runDisney event, and hopefully see you there!

  • Thank you for your comment. I’m wondering if I’ll lose the running bug… How long have you been on hiatus?

  • Chris931

    Thank you for sharing your story. I was swept at Mile 11 of the WDW Half this year. I gave it my best effort but the heat and humidity took its toll early on. I didn’t want to quit so I kept walking until they told me I was too far behind and I had to get in the sweeper van. I also did not want the medal. So many people also encouraged me afterwards as well. I have hung up the medal to remind me of the experience and inspire me to keep working at running so I can return next year to go for it again.

  • Michelle

    Thank you for sharing this! I think you did great. I don’t know if I could ever make it anywhere near as far as you ran. I must say that you do give me inspiration though. I did my first 5K last year during the Princess Half weekend. I was the one that commented that you caught a picture of the back of my head near Test Track, so you must have been right behind me. LOL I just recently finished another 5K and will be doing the Royal Family 5K again next month, and half marathons seem so far away in my mind. Seeing how far you’ve come and how many races you’ve completed gives me the motivation to keep going and the hope that I can do it too. Don’t know if a marathon is in my future, but you accomplished way more than most people. Be proud of that!

  • Your post has me sitting here in tears. I’m so proud of you Amanda, I tweeted you then and I’ll say it every day if you want. You are amazing. We started the running adventure around the same time, I went back to the couch, you kept pushing forward. You are inspiring and I love you. I renewed my YMCA membership yesterday, it’s been a year (2012 Royal Family 5K) since I’ve worked out at all. You did that, you and Sid and Sarah M all of your hard work and effort makes a difference. Every mile I read about and every struggle you write about let me know that I can do it too. I just have to get back out there and get it done. Be proud of that shiny medal, you earned it :-) Me, I’m taking Tori to work and starting back to the gym.

  • Thanks for sharing Chris. 11 Miles is no small feat. My favorite part of your story…”so I can return next year to go for it again”. LOVE your spirit and I believe in YOU! That medal at the finish line will be oh so sweet in 2014

  • Thank you SO much Michelle. Always a good thing when there are people behind you =)

    If the 5K is your farthest distance let me tell you that the first three miles are the HARDEST for me when I am doing a half. It’s that time when my body is building up adrenaline and my muscles are warming up. After that….I kind of hit a stride and the miles seem a lot easier. Just want to encourage you to try for a half marathon in case you’ve been thinking its not possible. It totally is! Even if you run/walk/run it…it’s still 13.1 miles all the same. =)

  • You my dear are extra special inspiration having to push thru additional health challenges. Whether you take a 1 week break or a 1 year break, the point is you are continuing it. Health and fitness are lifetime pursuits and you never know who YOU are inspiring. Proud of you and I can’t wait to runDisney with you soon!

  • Beth Barbara

    Thank you for posting! You are a winner. Not many people can do a 1/2 and then a full-they wouldn’t even consider it. But you went for it. And you know what-I have also known people who have pushed themselves way too far. You knew what your body could take. You should be very proud of yourself. Congrats-job well done!

  • Thanks for the encouragement. It makes such a difference in my desire to keep doing what I’m doing

  • What a beautiful post Amanda, 21 miles is an amazing accomplishment that anyone should be proud of, not to mention the day after 13.1 miles! Good for you for listening to your body and being strong enough to make the decision to stop before you hurt yourself. Congratulations!

  • mb168

    I’m gonna haunt you because I KNOW you can do a marathon. You did great and I know you could finish one!

  • Thanks Danielle. Thinking it was the amount of hours I was pounding my feet on the pavement. Only way to decrease the hours is to decrease the weight I’m carrying around so I can run faster. Working on that now…Does that mean no more yummy breakfasts at Kouzina?

  • If I can get as fast as you and run one WITH you then maybe

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