I have an absurd amount of runDisney Marathon Weekend and Dopey Challenge 2020 content in a bottleneck waiting to be shared with you. All because this was something that I felt like I needed to write first. To clear the air and my mind before I got into the more mundane talk of courses and crowds and characters.
It wasn't that I didn't want to talk to you about this. I knew I would. But I needed to process it. And more so I needed to figure out how the heck to package it. Do I write about self forgiveness? Do I write about the nature of this particular run? Do I write an article about the art of cheering a race – laden with gratitude for the selflessness of the people doing it?
Or, true to form, do I just put it all out there in all of its unpackaged realness?
As a surprise to no one, I'm opting for the latter. And so…..
Let's forge ahead.
You guys. Marathon Weekend 2020 was, in hindsight, one of the best weekends of my life – but in part due to the grand emotional rollercoaster of it all. We all know I'm emerging from a crippling case of plantar fasciitis that grounded me from running until I stumbled into Wine & Dine race weekend having no idea if I'd get through it. By the time Marathon Weekend came around I knew that I was too undertrained to slay the 48.6 miles ahead – but also that I was fully capable of getting through them.
I'm so proud of you Marissa!!
The 5K, 10K, and half were a BLAST. The weather was beautiful. The community was out in force. I was running with a friend who was tackling her first full AND her first Dopey (something I did back in 2018 – so I know how nuts it is). She had been fighting a hip injury and was very nervous going into the weekend – but we daydreamed out loud about the tearful moment when she'd get her final medals.
The morning of marathon was more of the same. The corrals were a full of fun. I got to talk to my buddy Riley Clermont on the big screen as we waited to start. Kicking off the race, the weather was warm but tolerable and the new course – winding a different path through the parks and skipping ESPN altogether in favor of a dip into Blizzard Beach – was a welcome change for everyone that used to loathe the ESPN portion of the race. (As an aside, I'm not sure if this change will be permanent. Inside sources have told me that it happened because they couldn't close Osceola with the craziness surrounding Disney's Hollywood Studios these days for people hoping to ride Rise of the Resistance. Since it was closed for scheduled refurbishment at the time, Blizzard Beach made sense to include instead.)
As the hours passed and the sun rose higher into the sky, it got hot. Really, really hot. I was thirstier than I've ever been on a course despite drinking pools of water and Powerade at every stop. I was religiously taking salt tabs every few miles but still saw my wrist swelling around my Garmin Forerunner's wristband and my fingers swelling beyond the confines of my phone's Popsocket. I know my body well enough to get through something like this – but I was feeling it. And I could only imagine how much someone who'd trained further north through the winter months might be feeling.
Medical tents were starting to get more and more crowded. True to form, runDisney was on top of it. There was medical staff all over the course. Still, runners were down everywhere and people all around us were struggling.
As we exited Blizzard Beach at mile 22, masses of people started joining the course from somewhere else. Everyone was confused: There's no way anyone had managed to get lost on a course covered with tens of thousands of people all moving along the same path.
The “newcomers” asked where we were coming from and we told them. Blizzard Beach. We asked them the same and they said they were leaving Disney's Animal Kingdom – the prior park.
What runDisney hadn't announced publicly yet – but what we all quickly realized – was that the course had been cut due to conditions and people were being merged in further down the course.
The section of the route into and out of Blizzard Beach had been eliminated in order to help to get people across the finish line before the full heat of the day kicked in.
The course was suddenly that much more crowded – and, understandably, as runners realized that their course had been cut and they wouldn't technically be finishing the full, many of them were devastated. And so, in a matter of less than an hour, the course went from the highest of emotional highs to something much much different.
All through this, I'd been in touch with my family who was cheering the course at the Boardwalk Bakery, around mile 25. As I closed in I shot them a text asking if they could grab me some sort of juice to drink when I reached them, as I felt like I might need the sugar.
As you probably guessed, I lifted this picture from another race since I did not stop for pics this time around…
When I got to them, cheering with my incredible running team just before mile 25, I fell apart emotionally. It was the first time I'd seen anyone I knew cheering since around the Polynesian at mile 12 and since then I'd seen some tough things. I was physically exhausted, operating on autopilot on mile 47 of the weekend. I'd seen people in frightening conditions along the course – down on the side of the road with medics over them and IVs in. My own limbs were swollen to the point that my Garmin's wristband was cutting into my skin. In short, I was just hurting at that point – mentally and emotionally and physically.
They started offering me food and drinks. Water and Powerade and juice and crackers. I took some of the juice but waved off the rest. I had been guzzling water and Powerade along the course and couldn't stomach the thought of dry crackers. I'm sure I was more dismissive than I should have been but this is where the self forgiveness has to start to kick in, because I was honestly doing the best I could in that moment.
Then I went to start running again and my mom gestured that I'd forgotten to acknowledge my kids, who were sitting together on a chair a few feet back from the course.
Truth told, I hadn't seen them. I'd stumbled down the line and interacted as best I could with everyone, crying and hugging and moving on. I (probably wrongfully) interpreted my mom's words in that rushed moment as an admonition that I'd forgotten my kids – which I don't have to explain to any mother is a heck of an identity punch, no matter how much it wasn't intended that way, even if you aren't stumbling through mile 47 of the Dopey Challenge in a heat index of 90+ degrees. And so, in that moment, I snapped at my poor mother. I snapped at the woman who loves me more than anyone else in the world after she'd stood on the side of a marathon course for more than 3 hours just to see me run by.
I'm telling you this because I'm always honest with all of you. But also because I want to reflect on the following:
- We argue most with the people we love. We do it because they are the only people capable of really hurting us. And because it is safe.
- We are imperfect creatures – even at our most clear headed and well rested. In the middle of a marathon, we are wildy imperfect. Be kind to yourself in the middle of those moments. Forgive yourself. But also try to keep in mind that the people that you love that are on the course cannot climb inside your head and understand how you feel in that moment when they finally see you. Try your hardest…but also prepare them. My mother had never been on the marathon course with me before – only in the reunion area after the finish line. I should have prepared her better for how “in the zone” I might need to be that far into the race.
- Make sure that your cheering family members understand that their being on the course to support you is not about those few seconds when they finally get to see you go by and perhaps grab a hug along the way. It's about knowing that they are out there for you during the ENTIRE race. I might have seen my family for 45 seconds on the course. But what mattered was that I knew they were out there waiting for me the whole. damned. time. From their perspective, it was all leading up to that moment when they saw my sweaty face. But for me, it was that I had been running toward them for the better part of 6 hours. And for what it's worth, that's something that your loved ones deserve to know. Their presence supports you through every single step of the race and regardless of what you are still capable of expressing to them at mile 25, they have carried you to that point.
- You guys. Cheering is the most selfless act in the world. It is thankless. There are no medals. It is hour upon hour upon hour of standing on the side of the race course, in the dark or the cold or the heat or the rain, clapping for runners – 99.9% of whom are complete strangers. And built into the nature of what it is – perfect case in point, me at mile 25 of the marathon earlier this month – is the inability to expect anything in particular at all from the person that you are out there to support. It is giving at its most pure and complete and we love every single person who we pass on that course.
And so I needed to get all of this out there. Both my admission of my mistakes and my ability to forgive myself for them. But also, more importantly, my gratitude to the people that cheered us along the way on that incredibly challenging course. I learned a lot about myself that day – but I also learned a lot about how to better prep the ones I love if they plan to be out there for me.
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If you missed my bout with injury, you can find an open talk about it HERE.
If you missed my getting through Wine & Dine race weekend, you can find my gratitude post and recap HERE.