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!

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