HARK… The Finish Line!

As I continue to tell the story of my first marathon experience, I am now onboard one of the Disney buses.  Runners who are staying at one of the Disney hotels have access to these buses which transport you to Epcot where the event begins.  Walking on the bus I smile at other runners and they smile back.  Some were talking animatedly to the person sitting next to them, some quietly reflective, and others had that dreamy look of anticipation on their faces similar to my own.

The marathon begins and ends in the Epcot parking lot.  As we arrive and the bus unloads, I start to walk in the same direction as thousands of other people.  It is now 4:00am.

I begin to shiver in spite of myself.  It is dark and cold.  I remember thinking why did I wear shorts?  Snapping out of my reflection zone, I look up and see more runners shuffling through the parking lot.  Taking a deep breath I say to myself, “Wow!”  The amount of people was extraordinary.

Making our way into the main area, loud music is pumping.  A live DJ blasts music old and new to motivate the runners.  The area is well-lit and there are pre-race refreshment stations, check-in bag locations, and rows upon rows of porta potties lining the side areas.  Approaching one of the many white tents which are organized and separated by the initials of your last name, I go check my bag.

A gracious woman in her 60’s wearing a bright smile on her face asks me if this was my first race.  After responding yes, I asked her whether this was her first time volunteering.  She responds, “Goodness no.  I have volunteered every year for the past 5 years.  I travel from Minnesota just to be here.”  We chatter briefly some more, and I thank her for being a wonderful addition to the event.

Walking out of the tent, one of the other volunteers standing outside the tent holds her hand up to me for a hi-five.  SLAP!  Another good luck is said.  My smile broadens.  Already feeling a deep sense of accomplishment for just being there, the hospitality of all of the volunteers and the runners made me feel very welcome.

There is just about a 1/2 mile walk (15-20 minutes) from the starting area to the corrals where runners are separated according to pace time.  Corral A, B, C, D, etc.  Now is a great time to use the porta potties one last time so you don’t have to stop soon into your race.  The lines appear to be a mile long, but you have to wait anyway so might as well take advantage of the time you have.  There are some who are jogging around already for warm up, but most sit on the cold concrete getting a good stretch.  This is exactly what I do as there would be plenty of time for warm up.

Large screens keep you aware of what is going on in the front at all times.  After what seemed like hours, it is announced that the race is about to begin! Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy come up to the stage to prep us for the big start.  Now the crowd is pumped!  I can feel the excitement rise up in the air.

The National Anthem is sung.  The goosebumps start to prickle my arms, and I feel my heart swell with anticipation.  My eyes water as other runners look at me and say, “Ready?”  I say back, “Oh yeah!”  The smiles abound.  The hopping up and down begins, and I join.  The music kicks up again and we jump up and down some more.  PUMPED!  If only to feel this wonderful energy I would do a thousand more of these.

The wheelchair starters and elite runners would lead the pack so they are the first to gear up.  The runners are pumping fists in the air and you hear woo hoo’s everywhere.  Mickey and the gang announce if we are ready.  Then suddenly it’s time.  A colorful and brilliant array of fireworks blast into the sky indicating the beginning of the race.  BOOM!  Corral by corral we move forward until it’s my turn.  BOOM!  I am off!

The exhilaration upon take off is like none other.  For some reason I can’t wipe the goofy smile away and find myself chuckling at the costumes some people have worn.  Princesses, pirates, and Disney characters everywhere.

I run, and run, and run some more.  People cheering to the left and to the right of me.  Strangers who have no idea who I am are cheering.  YOU CAN DO IT!  Irene Cara’s, “What a Feeling” song pops in my head and my legs pump on.  With each passing mile comes a new experience as a splash of a Disney character here and there wave us on.  I stop for a photo opportunity.  Quick hug from Mickey and Minnie and I’m off again.

Our first run through was Epcot.  It was still dark and my eyes glowed in wonder at the beauty of Spaceship Earth at night.  As we enter the World Showcase area, the lagoon is alit with beautiful lights.  Passing each country there is a thin line of people continuing to cheer us on.  Mulan and Mushu the Chinese dragon wave us on as we pass China.  Feeling the rhythm of my heart, the pavement beneath my feet, and my breath catching the cold air in and out of my lungs I feel free and joyous.

Mile 5 came up rather quickly I thought.  So excited was I that I was not paying attention to how fast I was going.  Too many distractions.  High school bands playing Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”  Drumliners banging on their drums and trumpets blaring as they rocked to the theme from the movie Rocky.  Things were only getting better.

Approaching mile 10, I knew Cinderella’s castle was coming up.  The sun starts to slowly rise above the peaks of the castle in the horizon.  Cinderella, Prince Charming, Gus (the mouse), Drizella, and Anastasia are all there.  At this point, I wish my kids were here to see this.  Running through the castle I feel like a kid again and well up with tears of joy.  Ten miles down and another 16.2 to go.  I kept telling myself do not think of the miles, think of the accomplishment.

After the excitement of Cinderella’s castle the run becomes boring.  Entering mile 11-16 the steam in my chugger begins to fizzle.  A few onlookers catch my dejected look and hold up their hands to hi-five me.  The crowd grows thicker and I pick up a little again as I hear, “YOU CAN DO IT!”  However, I start to feel tingling on the bottom of my right foot.

Deciding to ignore it (big mistake), I close in on mile 16 and Animal Kingdom.  The Tree of Life appears and my interest peaks again.  Before the race, I was sure to sign up for runner’s tracking.  This means my husband will be able to receive texts with up-to-date information on my progress. He would know where I was and how long it was taking me.

Carrying my cell phone, which I was also using as my iPod and camera at the same time, my husband calls me and excitedly says, “Babe you are rocking!  At the rate you are going you will be at the finish line in no time.  I am on my way there now with the kids to meet you.  See you soon.  I love you and I am so proud!”  Until this point I was keeping a nice comfortable pace between 11:10 and 11:45.  However, when I stopped to talk to my husband and attempted to pick up my pace again, the tingling feeling in the bottom of my right foot turns into numbness.

Trudging on to mile 17, I am trying to deal with the numbness on my right foot.  Now I have to stop and stretch some more.  Taking off again I approach mile 18, and feel a shooting pain from the arch of my foot to my hip upon take off.  No choice now I stop again.  The feeling can be compared to that of when your leg falls asleep and then you get those weird electric jolts.

On the side of the road I stop by a row of porta potties and feel more pain.  I begin to cry not believing that my body is giving up.  Looking up at the bright blue sky I think how could it be possible that I would not finish having come this far.  A sweet young woman from Jamaica (as I found out during my conversation with her) stops to use one of the porta potties and stretches by me.  She asks me what is wrong.  I tell her how unbelievably disappointed I am that my body is giving out on me.  She says she feels terrible too and is struggling at this point not knowing herself if she was going to make it.  We both provide some support to each other.  She hugs me and I her and we wish each other luck.

Giving myself 8 minutes more of recovery time, I walk it out for a mile and a half.  Feeling better at mile 20, I pick it up again.  Convincing myself that there is no way I am giving up now, I started with a light jog and before long there was mile 23!  Another group of people pace alongside me.  A second moment of encouragement comes when a woman is pacing with her daughter next to me and says, “hey honey is this your first?”  After some conversation I learned that she was 65 years old and this was her 12th marathon!  Inspired by her story I carried on.

Mile 25 I am approached by a beautiful woman who looks like a model.  Tall and lean.  She begins a conversation with me asking if this was my first too.  At this point I am thinking (is first-time marathoner tattooed on my head?)  In speaking with her, she says that she is a marathon runner and she was taking this one very easy because she was six months pregnant.  This was the third moment of encouragement for me.

Incredulous I could not believe her.  Not only did she not look pregnant, but she was running a marathon pregnant!  She carried me through until the end with her stories of running.  We crossed the finish line together, I thanked her for keeping me company, wished her luck on her baby, and told her what an inspiration she was.  She replies, “So are you. There are not many who do this.  You should be proud.”

At the finish line, the tears flowed freely.  The crowd is thick now with loud cheering.  I hear the music again and announcers pushing us on, “You’re almost there!”  Approaching the finish line, I catch a glimpse of my family holding their handmade signs of encouragement in the air cheering me on.  I cry with abandon from the emotion of what I had just accomplished not knowing if I was going to finish.  Alas, I did.  HARK… THE FINISH LINE!

The power of people, encouragement, and the will to finish what I started was stronger that day than anything I could have imagined or was prepared for.  Collapsing in my family’s arms, they hug me tightly and say how very proud of me they are.  Later I found that I developed plantar fasciitis.  After this, I learned how to safely take care of my body so that this doesn’t happen again. Nevertheless, I happily made it to the finish line completing my first marathon!  Proof that anything is possible….

I DID IT!!

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