Once upon a time, I was a runner who ran races. My first ever road race was the Newport Liberty Half Marathon in September of 2010. Immediately after crossing the finish line, I was hooked. Over the next year and a half, I raced my little heart (and wallet) out. It was rare for a month to go by without some type of race on my calendar, and my weekend routine almost always included a good, long run. After a few more half marathons and a bunch of shorter races, I ran the New York City Marathon in November of 2011, which to this day is the highlight of my running career. There were a couple of races after that – a Turkey Trot in Texas, a 10K a couple months later in January that I barely recall. (I very clearly remember post-race coffee, but the race itself was an unmemorable one for me.)
After conquering the 26.2 distance, my enthusiasm for racing dwindled. Over the next year, running gradually transformed from a passion that was a huge part of my life into a hobby that I sporadically engaged in, but still enjoyed. I think a lot of this was due to my life being in transition throughout most of that year – gearing up to move back to California, living out of boxes for the first few months until Chris and I signed our first lease that October, moonlighting for a few months as a nanny while hunting for a full-time job. By the time I settled into my new home/job/life, sometime around the spring of 2013, running had transformed yet again. This time the shift was a decidedly more negative one, from a sometimes hobby to a-thing-I-don’t-really-have-time-for-and-I-feel-guilty-for-not-doing. Every couple of weeks I’d try to jump back in, full-fledged. I’d map out a whole month of workouts, lace up my sneakers, go for a run, and feel……………..frustrated that I wasn’t as fast as I used to be. Disappointed about being winded after just a couple of miles. Angry with myself for letting my fitness level deteriorate. After a run, my internal negative feedback loop usually resulted in a worse mood than when I’d started. Not surprisingly, this didn’t inspire me to do it again the next day.
That summer, after cycling through this 1 step forward, 3 steps back routine for what seemed like the thousandth time, I finally had a bit of a breakthrough. After a particularly hectic day at work, the idea of a run afterwards had zero appeal, but I laced up my sneakers out of obligation anyway. I spent about 5 miles rehashing and sorting through the work day’s stress; since my brain was spinning on other things, I wasn’t at all concerned about my slower pace or my less than ideal endurance. By the end of my run, I was in a good mood. I’d found joy in running again.
A couple of weeks later, my friend Ross mentioned that he was planning on running Disnelyand’s Tinkerbell 1/2 Marathon in January 2014. We hatched a plan to run together and signed up as a team. Emails regarding racing in body glitter ensued. For the first time in a long time, I was excited about racing. Fast forward to race weekend, January 18th : I picked Ross up at LAX and we headed straight to the happiest place on earth for the race expo. We were both pretty giddy with race excitement, hence the following photo shoot.
Those are just the highlights, folks. There’s at least a dozen more….. Post-expo, while plenty of other runners spent a small fortune to enjoy Disney’s Pasta in the Park Party, Ross and I were fortunate enough to be treated to a homemade pasta dinner by my mom. Since she happens to be a Disney
employee cast member, it was sort of like a VIP Private Pasta in the Park Party. After a delicious dinner and a few episodes of Downton, we all hit the hay early since the race started at 5:30am. Admittedly, I was dreading the early start time. Having a 30-mile commute has turned me into an evening runner, so I wasn’t sure I could make the 3:45am wake up call, but fortunately, everything went off without a hitch. We were out the door around 4:15am and in our corrals by 4:45am. Unfortunately, we were in separate corrals, so I was deprived of Ross’s company while waiting for the race to get underway.
I spent the next 45 minutes mentally prepping for what would be my longest run in quite some time. In training for this race, I’d been running 3-4 times a week and had worked up to a little over 8 miles in my weekend runs. The goal was to get in at least one, and ideally two 10-milers in the two weekends prior to race day. Unfortunately, I twisted my ankle on a run a couple days into the new year (running at dusk on rocky paths), so I spent the two weeks before the race doing 4 to 6 mile runs 3 times a week instead. Still, in that stretch I had some of the best runs I’d had since getting back into the swing of a regular running schedule, including an awesome 5-miler at a 9:30 pace. Nothing to write home about compared to my pre-marathon pace, but it was the fastest I’d been in over a year. I was hoping to do the first 5 miles at sub-10:00s, then next 5 between 10:15 – 10:30, depending on how tired I was feeling, and then run the last 3 miles at whatever pace I could , since I knew I’d be gassed by then.
Once the gun went off, I settled into a comfortable pace pretty quickly. I was fortunate enough to be in the first corral, so there wasn’t a lot of congestion early on. I ran the first mile at 9:56 and was feeling like I could hold that pace as planned for the next 4 miles. And then, about 400 meters past the first mile marker, I stumbled over one of those raised reflective pavement marker thingies on Harbor Blvd. I re-sprained the same ankle that I had hurt a few weeks before and this time it felt twice as painful. Race photographers were kind enough to photo exactly how much pain I was in:
After hobbling over to the side of the race and trying to walk it off for a few hundred meters, the pain had subsided a little bit. I spent the next two miles alternating between jogging and walking, trying to see how bad the sprain really was; I’d never not finished a race before, and I was determined to keep that streak alive. By the time I hit the first aid station past mile 3, I was a bit more rational. I was signed up to run the Surf City 1/2 Marathon in Huntington Beach two weeks later, and I knew doing 10 more miles on a sprain was a bad idea if I had any hope of running Surf City. Begrudgingly, I let the aid staff plop me down in plastic lounge chair with a big bag of ice, and I threw in the towel on the Tinkerbell 1/2.
Admittedly, I was in a pretty fowl mood while icing my ankle. I sat there incapacitated, watching other runners go by, resenting the fact that I wasn’t going to finish – especially since Run Disney races cost a small fortune. Slowly, though, I began to talk myself out of the crankiness – watching the joy and excitement on the faces of runners that passed by took me from severely cranky to just slightly out of sorts. Seeing the sun slowly start to rise against the backdrop of the sparkly park lights and songs of Disney took me from out of sorts to moderately happy. And realizing that because I had to stop, I’d get to see Ross as he passed the 5k mark made me positively giddy.
After the med staff taped up my ankle and made me promise I’d get an x-ray that week to rule out a fracture, I found Ross between miles 3 and 4, right before the Central Plaza between Main Street and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. I kept him company – and slowed him down – until about mile 5. After that, we parted ways so that Ross could conquer the next 8 miles, and I could meet up with my mom in Downtown Disney to get off my feet until Ross finished the race. Afterwards, we met up for breakfast at the Carnation Cafe and squeezed in some
rides attractions at California Adventure, then wrapped up the day with some shopping on Main Street.
While the Tinkerbell Half Marathon certainly wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for – my triumphant return to racing! – having the chance to support and celebrate Ross’s accomplishment kept my race excitement alive. Yesterday, Ross finished the second half marathon in his Coast to Coast series, the Princess Half Marathon at Disney World. And not only did he finish, he shaved more than 10 minutes off his time from last month’s 1/2 in Disneyland. Well done, friend! I’m beyond proud of you, and so thankful that you got me to lace up my racing shoes for the first time in a long time this year.
A few days after the Tinkerbell Half, I followed through on the promise to the med staff (and my mother) and had my ankle x-rayed. The doctor was skeptical that I’d be able to run a 1/2 a week and a half later, but he gave me the all clear to go ahead to start running again. Details on that race coming soon….spoiler alert: I finished.