Okay, guys, the time has come for the ultimate Dopey Challenge recap…the day I became a marathoner.
This post was hard for me to write. (Please do allow me to apologize in advance for just how long it is!)
Unless you’re a runner, it’s hard to understand what conquering those 26.2 miles for the first time really means. And for me, it’s especially hard to describe the feeling I had when I crossed that finish line because it’s just not something I ever thought I would do.
Before I write my final Dopey Challenge recap, I have to be perfectly honest and admit that I didn’t initially sign up for this 48.6-mile weekend race challenge because I wanted to.
I did it because I felt I had to.
Don’t get me wrong, I knew ever since I crossed the finish line of my first race that, someday, I’d probably run a marathon. Of course, I also knew it was going to HAVE to be the Walt Disney World Marathon.
But when the Dopey Challenge was announced, I felt a need to blow right past the accomplishment of “just” running a marathon and take on something that was so inconceivable, so seemingly impossible, because I needed to prove to myself once and for all that the “old me” is gone.
I know many of you already know “my story.” Clearly, this used to be a weight loss blog, so even if you don’t, let’s just say I used to lead a very, very different lifestyle than the one I have now.
As someone who was obese her entire life, and who at my worst was pushing 275 pounds and miserable and hopeless and really had absolutely no good reason to get up in the morning…I never thought I would be writing the following post.
Growing up, as I cried and stuffed my face with junk food every night because the kids at school brutalized me for being fat, or as I made my way through college and started my career thinking that I wasn’t worthy of achieving my goals and I was simply destined to be overweight and unhappy for the rest of my life, I never in a million years could have fathomed that, someday, I would be able to call myself a marathoner.
Someday, I would use my body as something other than a way to hide my pain and my sadness, and instead rely on it to accomplish this ultimate physical challenge.
It’s still hard for me to believe I did what I did earlier this month. And so that is why this marathon was so much more than a race to me.
Okay, sob story over (for now, anyway). Let’s get to the recap!
The morning of the marathon, I shot out of bed around 3am for the fourth and final day with adrenaline running through me. This was it. This was the moment I had been waiting for.
I got dressed in my Dopey costume — because you KNOW I had to go as Dopey for this one, even though it wasn’t the most original idea in the world — and we were out the door before 4am. I was BEYOND THRILLED to open the door of our room and feel a chill in the air. I had been fretting for months over attempting to run my first marathon in the sweltering Florida heat or humidity, which is what I faced on the morning of the half marathon.
I don’t do so well in the heat, so I thanked my lucky stars that it was going to be a cooler morning (temperatures only reached about 70 that day — not bad at all).
The race day guide warned of “SEVERE TRAFFIC DELAYS” on the morning of the marathon, so I was terrified we’d get stuck in traffic or roads would be closed or we’d have some other issue getting to Epcot that morning and I’d miss the start of the race and life as I knew it would be over.
Fortunately, I had been worried for nothing, because we made it to Epcot in under 20 minutes and I had plenty of time to munch on my usual pre-race fuel — a bagel with jelly, and my latest obsession, Belvita! — and take some pictures.
As I sat there checking out all the costumes and watching the other runners stretching and gearing up for the marathon, I know Todd knew I was nervous. I was quiet and anxious and I’m sure my fear was written all over my face.
What’s funny is that there was a part of me that was nervous about the 26.2-mile challenge ahead, sure…but I have to be perfectly honest and admit that I wasn’t nearly as scared as I thought I’d be. Somehow, that morning I had come to a place where I KNEW that I had this. I KNEW I was going to finish this marathon.
It was one of the first times in my life that I ever felt truly confident about something, and it really did throw me off guard a little bit. It’s not my usual M.O., by any means. I was really enjoying the feeling.
Around 4:30, Todd and I parted ways and I made my slow death march to the corrals. The plan was for him to see me at the castle in the Magic Kingdom, and then again at the finish line, since he’s a newb to The World and I feared that he would get lost or trapped in another park and miss my triumphant finish if he tried to spot me at other points along the course.
As I sat in corral G and waited for the race to start, I felt my nerves starting to kick in again. Although my sister couldn’t make it for this trip, I received the following text at 5:27am (edited slightly for clarity, haha). I didn’t ask her permission to share, but hopefully she won’t mind.
“You’re gonna do great, I have no doubt you’ll finish. Love you and so proud of you. Take it all in…remember how this time a year ago you were terrified thinking you couldn’t do a half….look at what you’ve accomplished in only a year…”
And that really took me back for a second. She was right. It really was less than a year ago that I took on the Princess Half Marathon, and here I was about to run a marathon. And after already successfully completing a 5K, 10K, and half marathon!
It helped give me the boost I needed, and before I knew it, they were letting the corrals go. One by one, until it was time for my fireworks, for the start of my race, and the start of this final leg of my journey.
My plan was to start out slow and steady. I had no time goals whatsoever, and that wasn’t only because this was a Disney race and you know I planned to stop for photos! My goal was to cross that finish line in an upright position with a smile on my face (and maybe even have enough energy afterwards to play in the Disney parks afterwards!). I knew the best way to do that was the conserve my energy as best I could.
That being said, I really never walk in races. The only time I’ll allow myself to walk is when I’m going through a water stop, which is when I typically take my fuel. And, of course, if I MUST use a bathroom, then of course I will stop for a call of nature. I decided I was going to apply that same race strategy here, and force myself to walk — even if I didn’t want or need to walk — any time I came to a water station.
Oh, and my other plan was to stop for a.) any characters that I really, really like and b.) skip any characters that Todd and I had already seen the previous day.
I started the first few miles with a slow, steady pace — no faster than a 10:30/11-minute mile. I felt pretty good. My legs and feet were only slightly sore from the previous days’ races (and park walking).
I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t feeling a whole lot of emotion in those first several miles. I couldn’t believe I was really doing this, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how far I’ve come or everything it took to get me to that starting line.
I passed up a couple of characters on the way to Magic Kingdom because they were pretty much the same as the half marathon and I really wasn’t all that interested in them.
(Am I the only one in the world who has no idea who Launchpad McQuack is, BTW?)
As always, I was thrilled to see the gates of the Magic Kingdom, and I knew I’d be seeing Todd soon. But, first, a quick stop at the TTC bathrooms, since I try to “save it,” if you will, for “real” bathrooms instead of relying on yucky port-a-potties.
Before I knew it, we were on Main Street again, and the castle was all lit up and it was amazing.
Including, of course, what is always the LONGEST LINE EVER — Mickey and Minnie.
And soon it was time for my favorite moment, yet again — it was time to run through the castle!
There really are no words to describe how I felt at this moment.
I spotted Todd pretty quickly — as a ChEAR Squad member, he was privy to a spot right in front of the castle, so we had our few seconds of smoochy and snuggly time and he took a few pictures and I was on my way again.
I knew Magic Kingdom was going to be a highlight of the race for me, so I did worry a bit about how I was going to keep myself entertained for the next 20 miles!
Here’s some entertainment for YOU, though — somewhere in mile 7, I looked down and realized that my belt had fallen off my costume! It was secured with velcro, and after fiddling with it through the early miles of the race because it kept spinning around backwards, I secured it extra tight for Magic Kingdom so it would be in the right place for photos. Unfortunately, that meant that the velcro came unattached, and, yes, this CRAZY PSYCHO decided to run BACKWARDS IN A MARATHON to go and find it! There was no way I was finishing the marathon without my costume intact. Shows you where my priorities were that morning…
Fortunately, it had fallen off less than a quarter-mile back, and some volunteers had moved it to the side of the course — so when they saw me running backwards, they shouted and pointed out where the belt was. Not wanting another such episode, I took a pin from my race bib and stuck it right through the middle of the belt — you know, kind of what I should have done in the first place. It didn’t budge for the rest of the race.
Running through the Walt Disney World Speedway — our next stop — wasn’t the biggest of thrills for me. I just don’t care about cars, sad to say.
Also, I really, REALLY do not care for the ridiculous dip in the road as you make your way in — it could not be more dangerous for a race course!
There was another (boring) stretch of course as we made our way out of the speedway and towards Animal Kingdom. I did find a few characters along the way.
And as always, I was excited to actually make it into the park — although I was disappointed by just how little time we actually spent in Animal Kingdom. I feel like we saw more of the parking lot than anything else.
After leaving Animal Kingdom, I knew we would be headed into ESPN Wide World of Sports.
As we were headed towards Hollywood Studios on this relatively boring out-and-back section of the course, I also couldn’t help but stop for THIS photo opp! The chance to lie down for a second felt really good, not gonna lie.
It was cool running around the track and through the baseball stadium at Wide World of Sports, but, still, not quite enough distraction for me, personally — I really only like running through the parks, in case you couldn’t tell.
I want to pause for a moment and say that, honestly, I will still feeling pretty good. And I was having the time of my life. Really.
The temperatures were warming up and now the sun was out and beating down on me, and that naturally slowed me down a bit. And, yes, my legs and feet were sore — but, honestly, even as I approached miles 15, 16, and 17, I was still feeling pretty strong.
I attribute a lot of that to the fact that I think I did a pretty good job of fueling myself before and during this race. I had a plan for approximately when I would take my Clif Shot Bloks, and I also made sure to drink Powerade (I dilute it with water because I hate the taste and it sometimes bothers my stomach) at every water station.
Throughout the course, there were also two banana stops, which I gobbled down hungrily, and many spectators along the course were handing out goodies like Twizzlers, pretzels, and crackers — all of which I took and munched during a walk through my next water stop. Even if I wasn’t feeling especially hungry, I took whatever they were handing out — solid food tasted good, no matter what, and I wanted to avoid hitting that “wall” I often experienced during some of my long runs where my energy just gave out on me and every step became a struggle.
I was so excited to reach the 20-mile marker. After that, it was all virgin running territory. And, best of all, it was FROZEN — which I am obsessed with.
Todd had texted me with some encouragement when I hit the halfway point, and it was during the last 10 miles or so that my sister continued to send me some personal notes of inspiration, like:
“Your pace is great, keep it up…you can do this.”
“Fight the pain…it’ll still hurt later, and you can worry about it then.”
And even some motivational quotes:
“A true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart.” — Hercules
And, my personal favorite…
“Do or do not, there is no try.” — Yoda
Honestly, I don’t know if I could have done this without either of them. In all of the months that I poured my time and energy into the training process for Dopey, any time I said I couldn’t do it…they were always there to tell me that I could. So, Hopper and TL, if you’re reading this (which you BETTER BE!) — thank you. I couldn’t have done this without you.
It was within the last 10K that I really started to feel it. I was excited to run through Hollywood Studios, but, first, there was a whole lot of course that wasn’t really the most exciting in the world. I didn’t know if it was truly a physical thing, or if it was my mind taking over — 6 miles is SO CLOSE, and yet still SO FAR — but I felt myself starting to struggle. Suddenly, everything HURT, and I was basically going back and forth between being able to push myself to about a 10:30 pace for short periods of time, and then having to slow down to about a 12:30.
Also, my feel were on FIRE. I felt like every muscle in my legs was starting to tighten up. I continued to allow myself to walk only through the water stations, and the smiles and the encouragement from the volunteers (who often refer to you by name…or, in my case, as “Dopey”) helped keep my spirits up.
There was a stretch of road at one point after the 20-mile marker that had a whole bunch of signs with quotes…including my absolute favorite. A photographer for runDisney happened to be standing there, so he kindly took this picture for me — and it turned out to be one of my favorites from the entire race.
Fortunately, making it into Hollywood Studios, and a much-anticipated candy stop in Mile 22, also helped perk me up a bit — they had mini chocolate bars and MONSTERS INC. FRUIT SNACKS! SCORE!
Running through Hollywood Studios was definitely a highlight of the Wine and Dine Half Marathon for me, so I was excited to be back!
As we made our way out of the park and towards our final destination — Epcot! — I remember texting Todd somewhere in those final miles that I was in quite a bit of discomfort now…but that I knew I was going to make it.
Shortly thereafter I spotted Dopey, and almost had a heart attack — this was the ONE character picture I really, really wanted, and he had hardly any line at all. I ran over to him like I was on fire, and this totally made my day!
Heading into Epcot, I felt like I was taking my victory lap. My pain virtually disappeared once again, and I couldn’t stop smiling.
I was doing this…the end was in sight…and in just moments, I would be a marathoner.
The park was already open for the day so, of course, there were tons of people everywhere, but there were plenty of spectators and even runners who had already finished cheering us on.
And, perhaps even best of all, there were a bunch of characters out with absolute ZERO WAIT! I’m guessing nobody wants to stop in miles 24-26 of a marathon? Understandable…but…this person did.
And, FINALLY, at long last…was the glorious 26 mile marker.
This was it. After more than 5 hours and 45 minutes on the course, I had finally made it.
I spotted Todd, waved like a maniac, and headed straight towards Mickey for a much-deserved high-five.
And then it was over. I COMPLETED THE DOPEY CHALLENGE!
And…then…I freakin’ lost it. Like, LOST. IT. So much so that a volunteer came over and hugged me for a solid 45+ seconds. I must have looked like such an giant idiot.
But I didn’t care. I had earned this moment. And some serious bling!
I worked so, SO hard for this and it was an incredible feeling and I still to this day am having a hard time writing about it.
I will likely carry the memories of the person I used to be with me for the rest of my life. But I will always and forever remember my first marathon as the day when I finally let go of the “old me.”
And in her place is a freakin’ MARATHONER!
I will, of course, subject you guys to just one or two more posts on the Dopey Challenge — including my overall thoughts and a final recap of the rest of our Disney trip — but until then…thanks again for all of your support and encouragement along the way! I really do appreciate it!