Seven months ago, I signed up for the Disney Half-Marathon as a motivation tool to get into shape. Two weeks into my training, I got injured. I attempted to refund the money or switch days (or years), but it was a no-go. I was going to have to run it or forfeit.
The weeks leading up to the race I was a wreck. I do not handle failure well — especially the failure of a long-held dream. I was terrified. I was terrified of not finishing and proving to myself and the world that I was a fat good-for-nothing who couldn’t uphold her commitment to fitness.
The main reason I was so panicked about it was that I had to maintain at 16 minute mile pace. How the Disney Half-Marathon works is that after the last group of racers begins, three women with balloons attached to them, walk behind the last group at exactly a 16min/mi pace. Anyone who falls behind them is driven back to the finish line in a golf-cart and they cannot complete the race.
People attempting to console me tried to tell me that I could walk 16min/mi and be fine, to which I say — I have REALLY short little legs. I have short dumpy little legs that do not have a gait wide enough to manage a 16min mile walking pace. They walk at 18 when they are really determined (I know this because I have an ap that tells me so). So there was no way I was going to be able to walk, I was going to have to run, and although I can certainly walk 13.1 miles, there was no way I was possibly going to be able to RUN 13.1 miles with no training and an injured foot.
Knowing this, I decided that instead of considering it a failure, I would simply run 5 miles. 5 miles is a long way to run and I had never ran that far in a race, so 5 was a good compromise. I would run 5 miles, let the golf-cart of failure pick me up, and that would be that. I could still race some and feel accomplished. I had a plan. Then I hung out with Courtney…
Courtney is my “kick my butt friend.” She challenges me in such a way that makes it impossible to defy her — mostly because she always makes very logical sense. So, I was hanging out with Courtney, and I told her that I was going to run five miles of it, and if that’s all I did, I would feel accomplished. She said, “why don’t you run six?” I rolled my eyes. 6, sure. I was being generous at 5, is she crazy? Then she said I might as well try and do half of the 13 mile race. Angrily, I admitted that that made sense. I also discovered that 6.1miles was a 10K and I could pretend that I had signed up for the 10K instead of the half-marathon, and everything would be fine.
The weekend of the race arrived. I had my game plan — I would run the 10K, be picked up, and go eat onion dip/play video games with my dear friend Mikael. Then, I saw the medal…
While picking up my racing number and shirt the day before the race, I saw the medal that would be awarded to the finishers of the half-marathon. It had Han Solo on it. I LOVE Han Solo. He was my first and greatest love. I sighed as I looked at the medal, toying with the idea of what if — maybe, just maybe I– no way. There’s no way. I will be happy with my 6 miles and call it a day.
The day of the race arrived. I woke up at 4am and was at the starting line by 5:15am. Dressed in my costume, I was as adorable as can be:
I went as the Milennium Falcon with a “Deactivated Hyperdrive” (that means it cannot make the jump to “light-speed.”) I was covered in silver glitter and ready to sprint down the gangway — an hour later. At 6:15, we were finally off to the races.
Within the first few moments of the race, my shins were already hurting, and then my hip. I had decided to run with a CamelBak so I could have water and snacks with me, but the weight of it was starting to annoy me. I started making haphazard plans to ditch it in a Disneyland locker or throw it to any employee I saw who I happened to know.
I rounded the bend in California Adventure and finally took a look around. It was wonderful. Everything was Star Wars. People were holding up signs that said “May be the Force Be With You” or “I am the course and the course is with me” — My favorite signs were “Do It For the Dole Whip” and “walk like you walk through the park.”
We came upon our first mile just inside the entrance to California Adventure and people were lining up to take pictures with R2-D2. Being completely panicked about my timesand knowing that pictures and bathroom breaks would be included in the 16min/mi pace, I waved farewell to R2. I kept running, begrudging the stupid “balloon people” who would kick me out of the race if I fell behind because of an R2 encounter.
After mile one, I paused on the steps of the California Adventure vineyard to stretch. I watched as hundreds of people ran behind me. My whole body was already aching. The sun was not even up yet and I said to myself “this is nonsense, I’m not even going to make it to 6, this is pathetic.” But I took a deep breath, stretched, and continued down the path. Then, I saw it — World of Color. They kept the fountains for World of Color on so we could run past them. I got choked up. I wanted to take a picture with them, but I was worried about my time. I stopped. This was ridiculous. The whole point of running a DISNEY half-marathon is to enjoy the Disney part. So I paused, gazing at my favorite thing from both California Adventure or Disneyland. I adore World of Color and getting to see it just as the sun was coming up couldn’t have been more perfect. I handed my phone to a Cast Member and took this picture:
The first mile I completed in 14:56
The second mile, I completed in 17:48
But the THIRD mile, I completed in 13:53. In my cross country days I would always find some random strength in the third mile as I finally foubd my stride, and it happened again — all these years later. During the third mile, we went through an under ground tunnel where Disney prepared a Star Wars spaceship dogfight. Lasers flew everywhere as we were surrounded by sound in the dark tunnel. I weaved through the crowed, picking up my pace and bounding up a huge hill. I slowed only to admire the lady next to me whose shirt said “judge me by my speed do you.”
The costumes were all wonderful. An entire track team came dressed as Ewoks with captions about being “E-runs.” There were many Princess Lieas in honor of our beloved departed Carrie Fisher. My favorite part of the race was then they played R2D2 wandering through the deserts of Tatoone with C3PO saying “my joins are frozen.”
I finished mile four in 14:45 including a bathroom stop. The 4th mile marker was right on Disneyland’s Main Street. There I saw a line forming, but no character. I stoppped and asked someone which character it was for. They said Chewie.
There was only one character that I told myself I had to take a picture with — Chewie. I looked at the line, and I looked behind me for the balloon people. I didn’t see them, so I stepped in line, hoping that the time I shaved off my past two miles would be enough to get me to meet Chewie. I waited in line for ten minutes (which is NOTHING for Disneyland, but a lot of something when the balloon people are after you). When I was five minutes away from meeting him, a Cast Member came by and said that the “pacers” (the balloon people) were just behind us. I started to panic, but I refused to budge. I had to meet Chewie…
The Disneyland portion of the race was amazing. We ran through California Adventure, they took us through Toon Town and around the Matterhorn.
But we were out of Disneyland by mile 5 and started the long trudge, alone and un-charactered through the streets of Anaheim. We ran down the main roads as people with signs and high school marching bands cheered us on. There was even a team of cheerleaders. One sign said, “you know you’ve done dumber things than this when you were drunk.” We needed the laugh.
At five and a half miles I was still going strong, keeping a 13-14 min mile pace. I couldn’t believe it. I was running a 10K, like running, running — not walking it.
I completed the sixth mile in 14:16.
I had made it! I had made it to my goal! I ran-ran 6 miles and I was still feeling strong. I took a second, breathing it in and thinking to myself… maybe I could actually do this. Maybe I could actually run the Disney Half-Marathon… like, all of it. I took a drink of water and ate an apple sauce out of my bag. I was doing it. I was renergizing, and gearing up to do as many more miles as I could. The balloon people were no where in sight. Yes, they had started about 45 minutes after I did, after the final group of runners was released, but I had also kept my times down. Maybe I really could do this. I readjusted by Camelbak and geared up to start again, when my friend Megan caught up with me. I was thrilled to see her. She had been my racing guru for months giving me tips and encouragement. Then she was off at lighting speed, but not before yelling back “you’re doing it, we’re nearly half-way.” I sunk…. oh my gosh, this is only half-way…
I started to panic, rememinding myself that I had already reached my goal and everything after this was merely a bonus. I could walk if I wanted to and quit when the balloon people finally caught up with me. So I gathered my strength again and tried to start to run. But as any runner knows… I couldn’t do it. In running, you get into a “zone” where you feel like you could run forever. I had hit that through Disneyland and all the way until mile six, but I’d stopped and walked for a while and my brain caught up to my body thereby startibg to complain, and refusing to move my legs.
I finished the seventh mile in 18:59, only just reaching the half-way mark.
I was still trotting along, doing my best, but I was feeling drained and didn’t know how much further I could go. I ran the eighth mile in 19:12, but then I crashed. Everything in me started shutting down. There were no cute characters to make it worth-while. Everyone around me seemed to be in the same drudgery. I nearly started to cry. But then, I remembered the medal. My medal, with Han on it. And I said to myself, I didn’t think I was going to make it five miles and here I am at eight. I am more than half-way there now. The balloon people are nowhere in sight, we have to keep going. We just have to.So I trudged, the lowly trudge of someone who dared to run a half-marathon without a day of training.
I finished mile nine in 21:11 and at mile ten, I had to poop. Sorry to be gross, but it was the truth. I was in trouble. There was no way I was going to get through this if I didn’t use the bathroom, and there was no way I was going to make it if I did, because surely the balloon people would catch me by the time I was out of the porta potty. My wonderful parents had been following me on the marathon’s tracker ap and texting me encouragements along the way. I told them my predicament, and in a way that only a dad can say, my father told me to go use the bathroom — reminding me that I would be able to run a lot faster if I did.
When I got out of the porta potty, there they were — the ballooon people! With Death Star baloons hanging above them — right in front of me. I sprinted down the road in front of them and didn’t look back.
I completed the tenth mile in 19:30 –with a bathroom break.
The balloon people were still looming in the background , a quarter mile away, but I kept going — barely putting one foot in front of the other.
During the 9th mile I had started to tell myself that it wasn’t really like I had four miles left, only two and a half because everyone would be sprinting the third mile, as it’s the last one. If I could finish twelve, my body would take care of the rest.
I finished the eleventh mile at 17:49 in complete agony. I was gloomy and there was no way I was going to make it through this… until they brought in The Resistance.
A local chapter of a Star Wars fan club had come, all decked out, and lined along the road giving high-fives to the runners. Twenty Storm Troupers, a group of Sand People, a dozen fighter pilots — a hundred people in costume were all cheering us on. I gave high-five after high-five as a very convincing Obi-Wan Kenobi told me to “reach out with my feelings.” I started to chant “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me” while praying to my own God to get me through this.
I finished the twelfth mile in 16:02. The balloon people were 100 feet behind me and I was so angry at myself — pushing as hard as I could, running as fast as I could, I was still only a 16min/mile pace and I was sure they were going to pass me. I glanced back with the same dread as any prey being pursued. I kept telling myself not to look back, but I couldn’t help it. They were gaining on me. I nearly cried thinking about how darn close I was and how I couldn’t give up now. I turned the corner, and I saw it, Disneyland Drive, the last straight-away of the race. Frantically I searched the horizon for the finish line. I couldn’t see it. I looked back, the balloon people were still behind me. Without knowing if I had anything left in me nor how much further I needed to go — I. Sped. Up.
Everything I ever learned in cross country flooding back to me — eyes up, chest forward, arms moving before your legs–VISUALIZE. I was going to get that darn medal and no Death Star balloon was going to stop me. Stay on target!
Finally I saw the mile marker for the 13th mile,I heaved a sigh of relief. I completed my thirteenth mile in 15:34. I’d done it…. but then I remembered “.1” — stupid half-marathon what the heck is .1 miles anyway? I pressed on. The path narrowed and everyone slowed. NO! I screamed in my head. I can’t slow down or I will never get myself back up again. I elbowed my way through the crowd, barely apologizing. I was going to weave like I had never Disneyland weaved before.
I saw it. There is was, the finish line, I could see it! I was going to finish this thing. I was going to finish the Disneyland Half-Marathon. I ran as fast as my broken-down feet would carry me, the balloon people right on my tail. The sounds of the victory march from the end of A New Hope started to rise over the weary crowd. I could see the finish line. The blue arches with the words “finish” above them loomed in the distance. I walked under the archway and around the bend, and there they were, a group of people holding medals. I walked up to one and they put the medal around my neck. My own Han Half-Marathon FINISHER’S medal. I had run, not just run, but COMPLETED, the Disney Half-Marthon.
I completed the 13.1 mile race in 3hr 54 min and I was not last — my cross country record of never being last still held. My average pace was a 17 minute mile, which is pretty darn good for someone who hasn’t ran in ten years. Oh, and I burned 1,700 calories.
Ten years ago, during my freshman year of college, I made my first “Bucket List.” I wrote down “run the Disney Half-Marathon” and as I wrote it I was sure I would never do it. It was one of those things that I really wanted to do, but seriously doubted it could ever possibly happen. Now I’ve done it. At 207lbs, I completed a half-marathon and proved to myself that I can do anything… as long as there’s a Han Solo medal at stake.