It’s been just over a week since I returned from The Most Magical Place on Earth- aka- Walt Disney World. When I was pregnant with Cullen in 2010 I decided to sign up for the 2011 Disney Princess Half Marathon as a way to slingshot my body back into shape after having 4 kids. After his death the thought of running a glitter filled race was just about the furthest thing from my mind. I didn’t even bother deferring- I forefitted the race registration, tucked away my Cinderella inspired outfit and put the crystal encrusted tiara on the shelf- where it sat collecting dust for 4 years.
I spent the next few years riding the waves of a crazy medical diagnosis and infertility. When the twins were born I found myself admiring the light for the first time in years- and its warmth felt almost like the embrace I had always wished I could have from my son. I was ready to start living again- to start doing things for myself because as many of us know all to well- there is no guarantee of a tomorrow.
Last year I found myself coming back to the race. It was a big step both emotionally and physically. I stared at the screen last July and a little voice in my head said- do it, it’s time. I decided that if I was going to run I wanted to do something slightly different from the race I had intended to run in 2011- so I pulled the trigger on something even more shiny. Disney’s Glass Slipper Challenge- 19.3 miles over two days- the Disney Enchanted 10k followed by the Disney Princess 1/2 Marathon. Go big or go home.
Registration in hand, I filled my mind with grand ideas of training. At first I targeted the fall- September or October would mark my first return to running and I would jump in ready to smash through my old times. Then reality set in. My business was growing and with each monthly goal I set for myself I found a million reasons why I couldn’t yet start the training schedule. Days turned to months and before I knew it February was knocking at my door and realized I had not run in almost two years. By the first week of February I had to make a decision- I was either going to do the full 19.3 with absolutely no training or I was going to lose the registration again as it was too late to defer. Big surprise- I couldn’t admit defeat. Naturally there was only one logical choice to make.
I finished piecing together my costumes (although the tiara stayed on the shelf) and I set myself just two goals- complete the races ahead of the pacers, and without landing in the medical tent. I didn’t care what my time was- I just wanted to cross the finish line in one piece. Twice. Without being carried. We drove to Florida on Feb 20th and I headed into the expo about an hour before it closed in hopes that I would have enough time to grab my bib along with the laundry list of items I hadn’t realized I needed until a day before I arrived. Shot bloks, KT tape, body glide, and compression sleeves just to name a few. I circled the booths like a junkie looking to score. I had this awesome photo snapped of me as I finished my expo run with about 39 seconds to spare:
Dinner that night consisted of a plate full of veggies and carbs at 1900 Park Fare and a nearly bottomless margarita. On the morning of February 21st I woke at 3:10am after going to bed around 12:30am. A night owl by nature, my bed time isn’t until 3am so I knew this was going to be a challenge. I slipped into my gear and headed out the door to grab the monorail- unsure of what was to come and sucking down the remnants of a still cold margarita. Layered in my toss away clothes I chatted with another mamma as we made our way across the property an into the party area for the 10k. She had trained. Pretty much ever person I met had trained. This was going to be awesome.
We loaded into our corral and the gun went off at 6:20am- about 48 minutes after the first corral of elite runners. My new friend and I parted ways and as the sun began to rise I felt strangely secure about the race. My only fear was the thought of an unexpected pit stop in the port-a-johns if the margarita should decide to avenge its honor after my early morning pillaging. Luckily that never happened. I kept a slow pace in order to avoid doing any extensive damage to my legs before the 1/2. In all honesty I was shocked to see how easily my body slipped back into the routine that has been such a huge part of my adult life. The miles started to slip away I found myself taking in the sounds of cheers from the crowds. I saw some of the best signs ever along the course- including these gems:
We wove on through outer roads and into EPCOT- it was pretty cool to see the backside of Disney. I stopped for only one character photo- my old pal Jiminy Cricket. Long story, but this photo was about 6 years in the making and the timing was right so I went for it.
Character stops were a risk because I knew my pace would be slow and I didn’t want to risk losing more time. The course took us behind stage where we saw cast members arriving for work ready to load up the day’s dose of magic for park guests. As we re-entered the park and rounded the iconic geosphere I got giddy and realized that this race was almost in the bag. Short of an embarrassing face plant I had this one down- below my excitement is apparent:
I crossed the finish line in 1:26 and kept a pace just under 14 minutes. Pitiful for an avid runner, but acceptable for a crazy woman in a red wig who hadn’t run in ages. One down, one to go. Bottoms up!
We spent the day in EPCOT and I found myself unnaturally attached to the bright red wig:
That night was spent in the company of a sweet friend/agent and her family- Via Napoli served up an amazing pasta dish that left me with a clear reminder of just how much I love Italian food. I laid out the next morning’s gear and headed to bed around midnight. 3am came all too soon and I woke up a bit sore, but ready to face the true challenge. I layered my shins in the awesome Minnie Dots KT tape and pulled on compression sleeves as I headed out the door. The morning was warmer than the last and I found that I didn’t even need my toss away pants which was a relief after several wake-up’s to frigid temps.
As I entered the gathering/party area for the race I tried not to let my nerves get the best of me. I was about to attempt 13.1 miles through walk/run intervals on legs that were already a bit sore from the previous race. I was also obsessively worried about the call of nature surprising me during the run. I met up with a few of my amazing agents, wished everyone luck and headed down the winding path to the starting corrals. I joined my corral and worked my way to the front where I promptly grabbed a seat on the cold asphalt to wait. And wait. And wait. Around 6:30am we were herded to the start line and the gun went off at 6:31am. This was it- there was no turning back.
The first stretch of the course was painfully boring. The elite runners had started at 5:30am and were now making their way back to cross the finish line as we headed into mile 3. It was pretty amazing to see these insanely talented women sprinting by on the other side of the highway and almost everyone slowed down to shout words of encouragement as they passed us. For the first 7 miles of the race I held a pretty decent jog and stayed around 13-14 minutes. As we entered Magic Kingdom the crowds thickened and the excitement of being on Main Street was palpable. The only disappointment was running through the castle- being that far back in the corrals means a lot of slower runners so there was huge bottleneck (mooooo) as we squeezed our way through the castle and down the ramp to cross to the other side of the park. I had my heart set on an awesome photo running through the castle but alas my hope we squashed and I was left with this pitiful shot:
We wove through the park and went behind stage in Frontierland next to Splash Mountain. Once again it was pretty amazing to see the back side of the park- even if It was through a haze of sweat and broken dreams over my failed castle shot. As we shot down Floridian Way my legs stared to fight my desire to place one in front of the other. My pace slowed drastically and my walk splits became longer with each 1/2 mile. Around mile 9 one of the DJ’s was kind enough to inform us that we were about 50 minutes ahead of the pacers (balloon ladies) which gave a momentary burst of confidence. I lost my favorite sleeve of shot box in the first three miles of the race and was left to gag my way through a warm bag of goo beans. I forced myself to drink at every water station and sucked down powerade like it was a cup full of unicorn tears.
I rounded the 15K split at 2:16- the end was finally in sight- though it wasn’t looking as pretty as it seemed nearly 10 miles ago. I looked at my hands and legs and found caricatures in their places. My fingers had swelled to three times their size and bending them was nearly impossible. My legs looked like tree trunks and the cankles I swore off with my last pregnancy were back to mock me in all of their bloated glory. Somewhere near mile 10 or 11 I realized that the
executioners race designers had the twisted idea to send us uphill across an overpass to make our way back towards EPCOT. Around mile TEN or ELEVEN. I cursed them the whole way up but took a moment to reflect at the top. There were still thousands of people making their way down the highway towards that very overpass. I was doing this, and come hell or high water I was going to finish.
Just ahead I heard the pulsating music of the finish line. Volunteers and spectators lined the path with cowbells and a gospel choir brought us in to the last few kilometers. As I rounded the corner to the finish line I saw the Mouse himself waving the runners on and I realized that as crazy as it seemed it was almost over and I was about to cry. Four years of anticipation. Through years marked by grief, despair, determination, joy and longing I was about to cross more than just a finish line. A desire to prove to myself that even though I never imagined it would, life after loss continued to move on, and somehow I had found a way to keep moving.
At 3 hours and 13 minutes my race came to an end across a confetti covered finish line littered with glitter. I had completed 19.3 miles over 2 days ahead of the pacers and without setting foot in a medial tent. I thought of my son and of all that his short life had taught me, and in those moments I was grateful just for the ability to put one foot in front of another. Mission accomplished.
I had a truly amazing time. Though I paid for my lack of training with swollen extremities and a very strange looking gait for the next two days, I kept on moving. I was proud of what I had accomplished and I spent the next few days chasing 5 of my 6 kids through the most magical place on earth- truly it is when you allow yourself the space to see it.
I’m going to do the challenge again in 2016- maybe this time I’ll actually get some training in. I’ll add one goal to the 2016 race- beat my time from 2015. Be sure to hold me to it :) Until then I’ll see what I can do for the upcoming (and final) Expedition Everest Challenge- there is always time to get that mile under 11 minutes- especially if you’re being chased by a Yeti.