The experience of a lifetime

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The night before the race, I couldn't sleep. I tried to go to bed around 10, knowing that I had to get up at 3, but I'm pretty sure I was awake until at least midnight. The next two hours were restless and terrible. I kept thinking that I either needed to cry or throw up (I did neither). But suddenly, all those thoughts started running through my head... what if I hadn't trained enough? What if it was a mistake to take the days before the race off from working out? What if all those extra carbs had caused me to gain too much weight and not be able to run effectively? 

But mostly... what if I failed? 

At 2:45 a.m., I couldn't take it anymore, and got up. I put on all the gear I'd carefully laid out the night before -- shorts (with four packets of GU pinned inside of them), my cute race t-shirt complete with bib, my throw away sweat pants and fleece, my Under Armour socks (complete with no chafe powder in them), and my shoes (the Mizuno's who'd gotten me through the last half of this training). I grabbed a bottle of water, choked down approximately three bites of yogurt, and left the room with my parents at my side. 

The shuttle we caught (at 3:20 a.m.) left from the front of our resort (Saratoga Springs) and out into traffic. At 3:30 in the morning, it was like nothing I'd ever seen -- bumper to bumper traffic all the way to Epcot. I was SUPER glad we'd stayed on Disney property and didn't have to drive ourselves, because it would have made me more stressed out. 

Upon our arrival at Epcot, the chaos really began. A sound stage with the loudest DJ ever welcomed us to the racing area. Porta-potty lines FAR longer than any I've ever seen at Notre Dame tailgates awaited, and I stood in one for over 25 minutes. There were t-shirts and shot glasses and hand warmers for sale. People were stretching, laying on plastic bags, sleeping sitting up back-to-back. 

I got distracted by trying to Facebook check-in on my phone, which was good, because if I hadn't, I probably would have puked or cried. So at 4:45, when they called all runners to report to their corrals, I got teary eyed, because I knew this was the end of the road for me being with my parents. I cried a little. My mom cried a little. My dad took a picture. And I got checked in and passed through the gates to my corral. 

The walk to the corral took FOR-EV-ER and was similar to moving like cattle. I talked to a few women in line, but was too nervous to really keep up many chats for too long. I slummed it all the way back to Corral H (the last corral, since I didn't have a seed time) and waited, knowing that the start would come a solid 47 minutes before I would begin running. 

Luckily, Disney rocks. They'd set up giant screens for those of us in the back of the corrals to watch the opening ceremony on. The Fairy Godmother was there, wishing us all the best of luck, which was super cute. When the first corral went, fireworks lit up the sky, and I cried again. Yep, I'm a big sappy baby. I don't care.

I made idle chit chat with the woman next to me. I asked, "Is this your first half?" "Yes, I'm really excited! You?" "Yes, mine too!" "Well, I did do a triathlon before..." So much for camaraderie.

And then 47 minutes later, it was my turn. I chucked off my fleece and pants, and threw the water bottle with it. 3, 2, 1, GO! 

Here's what I know about the next 2:16:07: it was a blur or excitement and energy and knee pain and people watching and frustration and happiness. It was amazing. And, for lack of a better term, it was magical. 

The first five or so miles were down a stretch of highway. Disney, though, kept you entertained with characters, bands, speakers, and cast members cheering you on. I had planned to see my parents at the Magic Kingdom and at the race finish, so I knew I had to get there and still be running strong. 

As we entered the Magic Kingdom, my adrenalin surged again. Two hours of sleep? What? Didn't matter. We turned on to Main Street, and there were at least 5,000 people there. No way, I thought, would I find my parents. We'd talked about them staying to the left of whatever the area was, so I stayed to the left. And sure enough, above the crowd, I saw my dad's blue hat. "DAD!" I screamed, along with everyone else running. I moved over and grabbed him, mid run, and then grabbed my mom's hand. We screamed "AHHHH!" at each other, and I kept going. I knew I was going to make it. :) 

I found out later that the texts being sent to my parents had the wrong time. According to my first split time sent, it had taken me something like an hour and a half to run the first three miles. Luckily, my parents knew I hadn't been running that long, and didn't trust it -- they showed up on Main Street only about five minutes before I did. 

And then, it was up to Cinderella's castle. You know the feeling of running through the Indiana corn fields at mile 6 when you hate everything? This was NOTHING like that! It was invigorating. And I didn't even get too mad when immediately on the outside of the castle, everyone came to a dead stop to take pictures (move it, people!). 

At the halfway point, speakers blaring Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger" blared, which was a nice pick me up. But at mile 7, nature came calling, and in to the porta-potty's I went. I was bummed because this stopped me for a solid six minutes. Stupid nature. 

When I started running afterward, miles 8-10 were rough. My right knee (also known as my formerly good knee) started talking to me, LOUDLY. So, around mile 9, I whipped the IT band brace off my left knee and put it on the right (hence why the before picture has the knees both on my left and the after picture has one on each.). It worked, sorta, but I walked far more than I wanted to... at least four or five stretch breaks. (I'll write about why these miles were so tough in detail in a later blog.)

But, by mile 11, we were getting closer to Epcot, and I started to get excited again. Actually, I started thinking about all of you... my Jazzercise students who told me they'd be with me in spirit, my students at school who encouraged me at the end of the journey, my friends, family, and everyone I've never met who can't run due to diseases that are entirely out of their control. That was all I needed. 

I went tearing in to mile 12 and through Epcot and came out of the park so ready for the finish line. Amazingly, I heard my mom screaming my name, but couldn't see her in the crowd. I heard her over my BLARING iPod, that's how loud she was screaming. And then, about thirty feet later, I saw my dad, and he saw me! I screamed, "Dad, I love you!" and then took off. Note: I took off too soon, as I almost slowed down at the end, but when I saw Mickey, I knew I was there. I finished in 2:16:07, and in 2,808th place. It felt like first to me. 

Crossing the finish line was the most amazing feeling of my life. I've never felt more alive. It was one of those moments where I didn't want to go another step but could have kept going forever. There aren't words. But if you've had this feeling, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

I got my finshers medal from a woman who was approximately 117-years-old and exited the shoot with my little goodies. I couldn't wait to see my mom and dad! Forty minutes, and three strangers' cell phones later, I finally found them. I didn't care that it had taken so long for us to find each other, I was just so excited to see them. I jumped into a hug with my dad and then hugged my mom and we both cried. It was honestly one of the coolest moments of my life, right up there with graduating college, getting my first teaching job, and probably birth. :) I'm so, so happy my parents were able to be there. That meant more to me than they'll probably ever know. 

I keep thinking back to two summers ago when I ran my first 5K. I didn't think I could do that, and I did it. And now I've run 13.1 miles. And there were times I didn't think I could do that either. 

If anything, this experience just reminds me that anything is possible. And that achieving my dreams will happen if I do it. I'm so glad I'm a doer. 

More to come in the following days... lots of things I want to talk about more! :) 


  1. Awesome report! I'll be watching for more. I'm so happy for you. So happy you made it - I knew you would :) How long is your rest break before you start training again?

  2. I'm getting a runner's high reading about your half! Way to go Angela with a fantastic time too! It's crazy how emotional races can be. Crying & laughing at the same time is my favorite emotion.

  3. I'll keep updating over the next few days! Sherry, I'll make sure to write about running Disney too (the expo was INSANE!)! I'm going to try short runs tomorrow and Sunday. My body finally feels back to normal -- I had an AWESOME full body massage last night!

  4. A massage sounds really good though I've never had one. What stuff did you buy? Hope your short runs go well. I'm trying a few more things this weekend "to heal theyself" and if that fails I'm gonna have to break down & see the doc & probably therapy. I got the piriformis under control but the pain by the iliac crest (I'm thinking it's the gluteus medius muscle) is worse :( I just can't get rid of this & it needs to be gone...I have work to do!!!

  5. I'm crossing my fingers and beat up toes for you, Sherry! Injury stuff is the pits!

    So, I ended up with a finishers t-shirt, a key chain (which I'm going to use as an ornament for my Christmas tree), a shot glass, and all the swag that came along with it! Have you been to big expos before? They are INSANE (but really, really awesome!)!

  6. Sounds like a nice variety of momentos. Are you still wearing your medal around your neck? lol. Someone from my work always picks up our packets for Sunburst so I've never seen what they have. The other races I've done are very small & you're in & out in a few minutes. Only a few vendors & some peeps representing other races. This is how I saw the Geist medal that I really liked 2 years ago. Of course the medal will be different now but I'm signed up to run!


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