Welcome to Part X, and the conclusion, of Lauren’s marathon series. Well, she made it, and in one piece! Thinking about training for a marathon? You’ll want to start from the beginning.
I don’t know how to approach the end of writing about the marathon. Actually running it neither felt like the start of anything, nor did it feel like an end point. Finishing the marathon feels like I should have this incredibly great story that I can wrap up with a bow and deliver to you, but it’s not anything like that. It’s more like celebrating one of those birthdays that seemed like it should have been a big turning point in life and wasn’t, like when I turned 30.
The last night of my 29th year, I went to sleep like every other night. When I woke up the next day – there was nothing. It was another day. Same me. Time is tricky like that. If I compare my life now to when I was 29, I see a difference and lots of accomplishments. Sure, I’m the same person, but I’d like to think that, in a lot of ways, I’m a more improved version of that 29 year old, at least according to my definition of “improved.”
When it came to completing the marathon, I didn’t feel any different than before, and in a lot of ways, crossing that finish line felt defeating. That feeling of defeat and the fear that I wasn’t fast enough is why I keep running. Once I run a race, there’s always another one. The more I run, the quicker my pace. Even if I don’t notice it, I’m getting faster. Improving distance and pace is not easy, but when I compare where I was a few years ago to where I am now, the difference is staggering. Just like any new accomplishment, the picture before can never be compared to the experience after.
Race Weekend Recap
We flew down to Florida and had a fairly packed schedule. The day before the race, we picked up our packets and headed straight to Hollywood Studios. One of the runners, Meghan, and I had been excited for this day for months. Our favorite ride, Tower of Terror, was a must-do.
I hadn’t been to any of the Disney parks in quite a long time, and viewing them through the eyes of an adult was pretty fun. Disney does a good job shaping their park experience down to every last detail. Spending time in one of the parks before the race made me more and more eager to run through them the next day.
I purchased a Mickey-shaped pretzel, enjoyed some of the other parts of the park, and before too long, it was time to head to the grocery store to shop for our last big meal prior to the run. Lots of pasta, salad, bread – the usual suspects. We were then joined by some of Jenny’s family and a surprise visit from her husband and brother-in-law, who had decided the night before to come down and support her during the race.
We forced ourselves to bed early that night. We had a 2:30 a.m. wake-up call and had to be on the road
around 3:30. I made myself some tea, ate some food, and packed a bagel with some peanut butter and a banana to eat about an hour before the start. Our rental, without traffic, was about a 10-minute drive to any of the Disney properties. With traffic, it took us over an hour to get there. We then had another half-hour walk to the start line.
The anticipation steadily builds before any race. My nerves make my knees wobble, so I end up jumping up and down, trying to shake everything out. Before this run, I didn’t feel like I was in my head too much. Fireworks were going off, the announcers kept things exciting, and I wasn’t too worried that the humidity was
high and that it was already pretty darn hot out. I wasn’t worried then, anyway.
And We’re Off
The race started and I was happy during the first half. Life was amazing. My feet were swelling because of the humidity, but I didn’t care. I was maintaining a great pace. Disney really goes out of its way to keep you entertained. Runners can take pictures with the characters along the course, and even the mile markers are adorably themed and ideal for selfies.
Around mile six or so, I passed through the Disney castle. This was easily the highlight of the entire run. My body felt great, and the castle was gorgeous. It was still dark out when I ran by and the lights around the castle made it look like it was dripping with ice. As we ran through, foam bubbles made to look like falling snow filled the air.
At mile 10 the pain started ramping up. The difference in temperature between upstate NY and Orlando, Fla., was obviously affecting my run and was not something I prepared for.
About halfway through, even though I had a good pace time, I could feel myself starting to slow down. I was hitting so many walls during the second half – pain walls, mental walls, emotional walls. At times I didn’t think I’d be able to complete the marathon. I planned to keep moving forward, no matter what, but I wasn’t sure if my body would cooperate. Luckily, there were a lot of cute, entertaining aspects that kept me going. Those plastic green army men from “Toy Story” were awesome. They were positioned on a hill around the 19-mile mark. It was a point where a lot of people were running out of steam. Some around me were still feeling pretty good and tried to race the drill sergeant up the hill. They lost. He would shout out, “What’s your excuse, soldier? I’m made out of plastic and can still beat you!”
All the characters were motivating in completely different ways throughout the race, which is helpful when your feet are pounding on pavement for hours and hours. Little details like that made the race fun.
What would have made it even more fun was if I had known that I could have reduced a lot of the pain. I chalked it up to one of those beginner things I learned about a little too late. Anyway, while I was running, some severe chafing was happening under my arms. Medic stations along the course were giving out Biofreeze, Vaseline, and tons of additional help. I was a little nervous to use the Biofreeze even though gloves were provided, as I didn’t want an accidental Biofreeze-in-the-eyes situation. I did finally realize by mile 20 what I should use the Vaseline for, and then I fell in love with every medic station after that. The things we suffer through in the name of running. It really was an amazing feeling once I made that connection and starting using the Vaseline to help cut down on the chafing. I wouldn’t say it was instant comfort, but it was pretty darn close.
I kept pushing my body and I finished. I’m still not sure how. It feels surreal. The defeating part was that I thought I could have done better. But I finished, I did great, and I didn’t quit. That’s an incredible accomplishment and at some point I know I’ll look back fondly on my first marathon.
One and Done? Heck No!
That’s right. I said first marathon. I will run another one and will take everything I learned from this experience and use it to run smarter and faster. I won’t sign up for another one tomorrow, but I will sign up. Maybe I’ll choose a place that’s either in our area or close enough so that climate isn’t an issue.
We all finished. We were in massive amounts of pain afterward – ice taped to our knees, limping – but we finished. It’s amazing. When we started, I wasn’t sure if or how we would succeed, but we did.
My dad called me after the race. He’s the type of guy whose attention span is somewhat lacking. When not discussing career or financial advice, I see his eyes wander, and then shortly after he will change the topic, usually when I’m in mid-sentence. He’s known for giving emotionally pointed speeches on Thanksgiving before dinner, but otherwise, he’s a rather closely guarded individual.
He congratulated me and reminded me when, as a teenager, I easily gave up on life. An example would be almost not making it through high school. It’s easy to point out now why being a gay teen in the 90s was difficult. Homophobia was rampant, and it’s tough to convince your teenage self that anything will change, especially when you’re stuck in that type of world.
Now I have this incredible support group, I’m surrounded by great friends, and I have the ability to avoid negativity. As kids, we don’t have that much freedom, and if you’re dealt a bad set of cards, you can’t fold and get new ones.
I’m essentially the same person I was, just older and with a lot more decisions under my belt. I know that everything I do nowadays is mine and mine alone. As a kid, I didn’t have that choice. I felt lucky to have made it out at all. Now I get to keep working on my own personal bucket list and make my life better and better, not just for me, but for everyone around me.
So Who Am I and What Have I Learned About Myself?
Here I am at the end of this journey. I can’t imagine having to do it alone and am so grateful for my support group. So many texts flew in right after my race ended that it was a little overwhelming. Thank you for sharing this ride with me.
See you at the next start line.