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Monday, February 25, 2013

the sweaty princess experiment

I have never in my life crossed a finish line. Ever. I never had Phys Ed in grammar school or high school. My family was more concerned about academics than sports. I've in fact never played any sports. Ever. So what happened on Saturday was out of character for me. It was a challenge. It was hard. It was an experiment.

On Saturday morning, at Epcot in Walt Disney World I crossed the finish line of The Royal Family 5K as part of Disney's Princess Marathon Weekend. I know it's just a 5K and people do these races all the time but for me this may have well been a 100 mile race. It was something I never thought I could do and that's the greatest part of this experiment. When you actually do something that you trained for, that you worked so hard for, that you wondered if you could actually do it, the reward is so sweet. 

Months ago I registered for Disney's Princess 1/2 Marathon--13.1 miles. I started eating healthy (lost 62 pounds) and trained HARD but  injured myself over and over-- my IT Band, my ankle. . .but I pushed through. I believed in working through the pain. It was infuriating when I injured myself not long ago because I knew that no matter what my mindset was, that I just couldn't do the 1/2 marathon. I couldn't do it. I cancelled the trip to Walt Disney World. I was sad and I wanted to quit this whole healthy lifestyle. I thought of how good Doritos would taste again.

I felt defeated.

But I knew that if I quit now that I would just go backwards and I worked too hard to get where I was. When you're at a crossroad and you know that life can go one of two ways, it's empowering to make the right decision. I decided that I still needed a goal. If I couldn't run the 1/2 marathon, I could still do a 5K. I registered for the Royal Family 5K at Walt Disney World and trained every day.

On Thursday I flew into Walt Disney World and on Friday I attended the Expo, where I had my ankle and IT Band area taped. I listened to running expert Jeff Galloway talk about his method of training, I picked up my registration packet, I drank a glass of champagne with a group of running moms who encouraged me to join their group (someday, I hope!), I met a runner named Bre who walked me through what to expect. I told her that the elite, perfect runners intimidated me. She said "Taylor, they all started somewhere. This is your start."  I started to get excited. I was going to do this.

I didn't sleep at all Friday night. I was staying at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort. At 2:30am I went for a walk down to Bay Lake.  It's that strange exciting/nervous feeling, you know?  I took a shower, dressed and headed out to the bus at 4am. By 5am I was heading to my corral (D).  The DJ was rocking out and we all stretched, danced and prepared for the race.  By 6:30am the first corral (A) was ready to go.  It was quiet as we listened to the National Anthem. There were fireworks, Mickey and Minnie Mouse and they were off. Then B, then C and then it was D.

I was the very first in line and as they opened our corral with a thousand+ runners behind me, we walked to the starting line holding the RunDisney banner. That is when it became real for me. I was going to be running. Me. In a race. We were at the starting line. I took a breath and tried to remember this moment.

3. . .2. . .1. . .we're off!

Then I forgot how to run. 

I forgot how to walk. I stood there for a moment as runners BLEW PAST ME. Then it was innate. Run. Fast. Go. Run. I started to run. I was slow and runners were literally blowing past me as if I was standing still. I started to feel my face get hot and I thought "I have no business being here. I can't do this." I became panicked as I looked at the fast, tiny, fit, zero fat, gorgeous women running by me.  They belonged here in this 5K. I didn't. What if I was the last one? I had heard that runners had to maintain a 16 minute mile or you would get swept off the course.  I had this image in my mind of a shepherd's hook coming out from behind a bush and snagging me, pulling me off the course humiliated.

In the midst of my panic, something magical happened. I didn't see any other runners. My vision became myopic. While Disney recommended not wearing a headset, I wore mine. I listened to my RunDisney playlist and as "Be Our Guest" played. I ran through Epcot past Germany, Italy, the American Adventure, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom and Canada.

There were water stops and opportunities to take pictures with Disney characters but I ran past them. I thought if I stopped I wouldn't start again. This 5K was actually harder than I thought it would be. I tried to be in the moment and enjoy the smells, the sights, the sounds of every single thing I passed. I ran past Spaceship Earth as Disney cast members cheered for us, as they did throughout the course. One cast member waved at me and said "GREAT job! The finish line is just around the corner. You can DO IT!"

I took off my headset. I wanted to immerse myself in the moment. I could hear the families and friends and supporters cheering as I rounded the corner. I felt my face get hot. As I saw the finish line banner against the blue sky my lips started to tremble.

As I approached the finish line I saw a woman holding a sign. It said "Stranger, I am cheering for YOU!"

That was all it took for me to start the ugly cry. I crossed the finish line and I sobbed. (I'm actually tearing up as I write this). One of the volunteers slipped the medal over my head as I cried. She looked in the bleachers and asked where my family was. I said they weren't able to come. She said she would take a picture for me and she did. The picture at the top of this post was taken just moments after I crossed the finish line. As I walked to the retreat center for breakfast I was overcome with emotion. I wished L. had been with me. He's all I could think of. I wanted him to know how much his encouragement meant to me. That every time I trained out in the rain in Seattle I thought of him. And in the retreat I sat enjoying possibly the best eggs I've ever had I thought about how happy I would be when I finally got to hug him as a runner, as an athlete.

the front of my t-shirt

the back of my t-shirt

I know that this wasn't a marathon or a half marathon but to do something that you didn't think you could do is such an amazing experience. It proves that you can do something--anything--if you set your mind to it.

Afterwards,  I headed over to the Magic Kingdom still wearing my runner's bib and medal. I heard over and over again "Congratulations!"

Would I do it again? Yes, absolutely, as long as it is a Disney race. They just know how to do this to make you feel special.  The expo was educational, fun and inspiring. Every Disney cast member and RunDisney volunteer made the experience exciting whether you were doing the 5K or the 1/2 marathon.

How does this experiment rate: One of the best I have ever tried as The Happygirl. This experiment increased my self-confidence and is pushing me to keep going with being New Taylor. I wish I had done this sooner but I realized that I wasn't ready earlier. This was the moment. This was the moment I became the girl I always wanted to be.

As I waited in line to ride the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction a little girl reached up to look at my medal. She asked me what it was. Before I could respond, her father said "This girl is an athlete. She just ran a race." I couldn't have been happier to be called anything else.

To register for a marathon/5K weekend at Walt Disney World or Disneyland check out RunDisney's site. It just might change your life too.

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