In my first marathon, I learned about strength. I was stronger than I thought I was. I felt like death the last 10k, I wanted to quit. I wanted to die. But I finished. And there’s no feeling like finishing your first marathon.
In my second marathon, I learned about humility. It doesn’t get easier. You get tougher, but you need to put in the work. My second marathon was terrible and painful and I questioned why I was doing this again. It seemed so stupid. But I finished and I’m proud that I powered through.
In my third marathon, I learned to believe in magic. Marathons are magical. There’s nothing like thousands of strangers coming together to complete a hard thing – and thousands more cheering them on. This race is still one of the greatest days of my life.
In my fourth marathon, I learned about community. Marathons are better when you run with a friend. I ran the first half of the race with my sister and having her by my side made this race so much more than it would have been had I done it alone.
In my fifth marathon, I learned about acceptance. You can’t go back, only forward. You can’t re-create, only accept new moments. I ran NYC for the second time and wanted o badly to have the same life-changing day I had when I ran NYC the first time. I didn’t. I was originally disappointed by that. But I’ve accepted it and have come to appreciate this race for what it was and how far I’ve come in my running.
In my sixth marathon, I learned that fun is more important than fast. Together is better than alone. And there aren’t a lot of options to wear a tutu and fairy wings as an adult – so take the ones you get. This was my slowest marathon by almost two hours, but I had a smile on my face the entire time. I loved every step. I need to find that feeling in every run. In every day.
It’s been a week since I got back from Disney. Almost two since I ran Dopey. And since then I have gone to yoga. Once.
Normally, this would make me feel guilty, anxious, ashamed. That I am setting my level of fitness back. That I am being lazy. That I am not working hard enough towards my marathon PR or losing weight or being stronger and faster.
This time, though, I am tying really, really, really hard to give myself a break. I ran two marathons in two months. I got sick in December and again in January. (Probably a sign I am pushing myself too hard.) Work is ramping up. So I’m trying to focus on being generous and gentle with myself. Let my body heal and get some rest. Enjoy sleeping in a bit later because I’m not heading to the gym or a fitness class before work. Enjoy spending a few hours reading on my couch when I get home. (I am childless, so I have the luxury of time when it isn’t consumed by fitness.)
This is difficult for me. But I’m trying. And I know it will be better for me in the long run. It goes back to working on my word of the year, after all.
My plan is to ease back into a routine the last week of January. Get rolling in February. Then on Feb 28, kick off a really, really hard half-marathon training plan.
Being still isn’t easy. In my body or my mind. But I need to keep trying.
You want to run 48.6 miles around Disney World over four days? I did it – here’s what I learned.
1. Pack more running clothes than you need.
Pack two pairs of shoes. Pack more than four outfits – especially if you are wearing a costume. The weather this time of year in Florida is crazy. We had a temperature swing of 20+ degrees and it rained. Pack stuff that works for hot and humid runs and runs in winter-like temperatures. And pack a throwaway layer. You might need it – even in Florida.
2. Wear a costume.
When we did Princess in 2016, we felt silly because we just wore thematic shirts. For Dopey we went all out – and it makes a difference. People compliment you more, people cheer for you more, it makes everything happier and more festive.
3. The running isn’t the worst part – the early mornings are.
Those 3:00am wake-ups are going to kill you. Plan to nap and to get in bed early, early, early to combat them. That said, don’t try to skimp on Disney’s recommended arrival time. Stuff happens – buses get lost, line-ups are long, bibs are forgotten. Disney’s starting area has so much stuff to do and see and can solve most of your problems. So suck it up, get there early and take it all in.
4. The courses are crowded.
Especially the marathon. Submit a proof of time if you can to get in an earlier corral, and therefore have a less crowded course. If you’re running in a group, don’t run 3-4 across. Stay in your lane and don’t get frustrated if the crowd is so big you can’t run your pace for a little while.
5. The points between the parks are looooong.
There are miles and miles of highway you need to get through before you hit up the four parks and ESPN. This is true in the 10k, half-marathon and full marathon. Try not to let it get to you. Use this time to refuel, enjoy the course bands, take a walk break, talk to your fellow runners, text your friends if you’re a runner who does that. Be completely present in the parks, zone out here.
6. Make fun your #1 priority.
This is a marathon with a roller coaster and an open bar at the halfway point and with childhood characters lining the route for you to meet. Embrace that spirit and don’t freak out if your times are slower than you’d like. That is not the point of Disney races. Go on the roller coaster, get the picture, thank the volunteers. Disney is about fun. So make it fun.
7. Wear the medals proudly.
When you go out and about and enjoy Disney afterwards, wear a medal (or 6). You’ll get so much kudos and see so many other runners out doing the same, it makes you feel like you are part of something special.
8. Share the Disney magic.
Run with a friend, if you can. Or bring your family to enjoy the experience. What you are doing is hard and amazing and you’ll need someone to share the journey, support you and celebrate the accomplishment.
1. Being chased down by a runDisney official photographer – thinking they were going to kick us out of the race when they wanted our picture for their Facebook page.
2. Spending all weekend dreading running through ESPN because we were told it was going to be terrible, but end up loving it thanks to A+ character stops, changes in terrain and school bands and cheerleaders and a banana station.
3. A chocolate aid station with 5k left.
4. A “Let’s Get Down to Business” singalong with the 3 Shirtless Bros at about 7k into the 10k.
5. When the half marathon got cancelled, an impromptu half happened at Pop Century resort, with hundreds of runners, aid stations and spectators that could be heard across the lake.
6. Getting a shout out from the runDisney MC at the beginning of the 10k.
7. Getting to feel like we were starting the race at the beginning of the 5k and 10k, thanks to the new mini-corral system.
8. The spectator who went crazy for as at every spectator station. We saw her about 5 times (including the finish!) and she cheered so loud for us.
9. Roller coasters and shots halfway through the marathon. We didn’t do either but appreciated it was an option.
10. Seeing all the half marathoners who upgraded to the full crushing the full course.
11. All the princesses in Epcot!
12. A+ medals.
13. Beast character stop!
14. Genie character stop!
15. The dude we met before out impromptu half. We weren’t excited about it but he was so so so excited – he called it his most favourite Disney race ever – we fed off his energy and were pumped to crush 13.1 on our own.
16. Cruising to the finish line with a full crowd in the stands.
17. Accidental post-marathon cider.
18. DJs with more energy at 4:30am than I’ll ever have in my life.
19. The people who dressed up as the 101 Dalmatians. There were 101 of them.
20. The people who dressed up as the monorail.
21. The petting zoo at 25k.
22. Mickey and Minnie character stop!
23. Everyone who made a “fly, don’t run” joke on the course.
24. The guy who ate the best banana of his life at 26k.
25. Starting a mass wave of people using the bathroom in the woods in the marathon starting corral.
26. Wearing a tutu and going to the bathroom in the woods anyway.
27. Every kid who held out their hand for a high five.
28. Every person who cheered for “Flora, Fauna and Merryweather!”
29. The marathon shirt matching Jill’s costume perfectly so she wouldn’t get cold but could still be in costume.
30. Singing along to “Let It Go” in the 5k.
31. Canadian Donald Duck character stop!
32. Being Tweedles with my sister.
33. Seeing people buy beer, margaritas and turkey legs on their way to the finish line in the marathon.
34. Running through Animal Kingdom for the first time ever.
35. Running through Hollywood Studios for the first time ever – and there being huge crowds of people cheering.
36. In fact, the last 5k of this marathon might be the best final 5k of any race I’ve ever done.
37. Wearing a tutu and fairy wings for a marathon wasn’t terrible.
38. Seeing a group of minions several times out on the course and cheering for them.
39. Oreos in the snack boxes.
40. The many, many congratulations from visitors and cast members when we wore our medals out and about the next day.
41. How, after a terribly cold start, it became perfect marathon weather.
42. Running through the castle.
43. Being able to sleep in a bit because the half was cancelled.
44. Being randomly filmed or photographed because our costumes were awesome.
45. The Big Bad Wolf’s theme song blasting on the marathon course.
46. Seeing the classic rides on display on the marathon course.
47. Fireworks to start the race. Always.
48. Feeling so strong and happy throughout the entire marathon. I never bonked, never felt weak and never wanted to stop.
.6 So many stressful things happened – Jill’s flight was delayed and she missed the expo, the half was cancelled, I lost my bib and my flight home was cancelled – and it was still a memorable, magical weekend.
I’ve had a huge shift in my running attitude over the past six months. This time last year, I was “over” running. I struggled to find motivation through my Chicago Marathon training cycle. I did it, and the race was great, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the “point” of it all.
Then, in February, I ran the Disney Princess half-marathon.
It sounds silly. But it was supposed to be. My sister and I wanted to run a race together to celebrate her 30th birthday. The Disney Princess half was three weeks before the big day. It seemed like the perfect kind of sisterly memorable weekend we could have to commemorate her entering a new decade.
We loved Disney growing up, but we weren’t fanatics. We went to Magic Kingdom once as a family, when we were in elementary school, but we hadn’t been back, and we were fine with that. I thought the race would be a little bit weird, a little bit over the top, and that would be that.
And it was. But it was also so much more.
We did the Glass Slipper challenge (10k on Saturday; half on Sunday), because that’s how we roll.
On Saturday morning, it was the Enchanted 10k. We lined up at the starting corral, the fairy godmother from Cinderella cast a good luck spell. There were fireworks, and we were off. The first half of the race was unremarkable. It was dark and there were character stops, but we were running on the highway outside Epcot. “Okay,” I thought at the time. “This is fine. It’s nothing special.”
Then we turned into Epcot, all lit up. It was beautiful.And it hit me so hard. I was running through Disney World. I don’t know if it was running endorphins or if it was because it had been more than 20 years since I had been to Disney World or because I was with my sister, celebrating an important milestone in her life, but the emotions came in huge, pummeling waves. I held back tears.
I was running through fucking Disney World.
It was as magical as you would expect. I never, ever expected to feel that during this race.
The next day, it was the half-marathon. And the same thing happened. The first 5 miles are dark and unremarkable. Then you turn onto Main Street in Magic Kingdom, you see the castle. There are spectators lining the street as you run towards it. The only thing that has ever come close to this, in all my races, is running through Central Park at the end of the NYC Marathon. There’s electricity in the air. Everyone is connected. Everyone is joyous. Everyone feels part of something bigger than themselves, and this race is bigger than their 13.1 mile run.
I was running through Disney World.
We didn’t do much research into the trip, so I had no idea you actually got to run through the castle. When we figured that out, we were screaming in delight. Elsa said “hi” to us. I was 8 years old all over again.
And that’s why this race matters so much.
It was a celebration of fitness, of silliness and make-believe. It’s not about finish times or a solid training cycle. It’s about opening yourself up to joy. To do something because you want to do it, and to be celebrated for that. Wear a damn tutu or fairy wings. Run fast or slow. Make the race what you want it to be. Disney will make that happen for you. It was the first race I ran where the goal was fun.
And what a difference that made.
That’s when I realized running is a celebration. It’s a celebration of community. A celebration of what your body can do. A celebration of setting a goal and seeing it through. Each run has a different purpose, but each run can – and should – be a celebration.
That’s a feeling I want to carry with me on every single run.