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Disney Wine & Dine ½ Marathon Weekend Part Two – The RACE!

The first thing I want to say about the race is Thank You. Thank you to everyone out there who supported me through donations, prayers, thoughts, hugs, encouraging words…all of it. Throughout the entire weekend, as I reveled in how much fun I was having, I was keenly aware of how much I owe you all. I am filled to the brim with gratitude for all the love and support I received as I trained for this race and prepared for the challenge before me. It was only through your support that Matt and I were able to make the trip a possibility and I am so very thankful for the opportunity to experience something so fun and so meaningful.

As race departure time approached I felt a sense of calm overcome me…its surprising, thinking on it now, I wasn’t really all that nervous or anxious…I was excited as I waited in anticipation of what was to come…but my usual jitters never came, thankfully!! (Perhaps a well timed prayer from a dear friend helped me out!) We made our way to the lobby of the resort to meet up with the Train to End Stroke team for one last group picture and just then George and Sandi arrived – perfect timing! They were able to help take a few last minute pictures and I was so happy to have hugs from all three of them as I hopped in line for the bus. They would go on to have supper and spend the evening together while I went with the runners to the starting/staging area. I was SO glad they decided to come too – it worked out so well!!

On the bus I chatted with several of my teammates as we made our way to the ESPN Wide World of Sports park, where the race was to begin. Now, I’ve run in several races before, but obviously I’ve never experienced anything of this magnitude. It was crazy!! Charter buses were pulling up and letting out streams of people into a big field lined with porta-potties as a DJ played music and encouraged people to dance and go nuts. We spilled out into the field and I was quickly engulfed in the crowd of runners. Mickey and Minnie Mouse showed up for photo ops and I decided I’d head up to get my picture taken with Minnie…since it was still going to be a good hour before we’d head to our staging lanes.
While standing in line – I quickly made a new friend. We chatted as we made our way up front…she was a trauma nurse from California. We talked about why I was running and she was touched to hear our story. As we parted ways she told me I was an amazing woman and wished me well. It was a brief encounter, but it touched me too. I think it was kind of in that moment that it really dawned on me, fully, what I was doing and WHY I was doing it. All this time I’ve known it…but to say it, out loud, to a stranger…it really brought it home. I felt proud – in that moment to finally be reaching for the goal I’ve been training for all this time. Me – the goal hater.

Eventually it was time to move to our staging areas…about 45 minutes before race start time. I could feel the energy surging through the crowd as we took one more step towards race time. I was excited! In my staging area, I made another new friend. A woman from Washington state. We quickly learned a lot about each other…we both shared struggles with infertility and loss. She and her husband happily adopted a baby last year and her sister died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 34 just a few years ago. I’m not sure why we opened up so much of ourselves as we sat there waiting, but it was neat to share my story with a stranger. She was also moved to hear of all we had been through and I shrugged as she said I was an inspiration. I can’t take credit for that, I honestly can’t. I am where I am because of God…that’s a plain and simple fact. I only have Him to thank for seeing me through the darkest times and bringing me safely to where I am today. And sitting there talking to her, getting ready to run my first half marathon (for REAL), I couldn’t help but think how things worked out for us. I thought – through adversity comes opportunity. I never, NEVER would have ever thought about even thinking about attempting something like this 5 years ago. Let alone experience the amazing support of family and friends who brought me to this place. Matt and I never would have had this wonderful weekend, which we will always cherish. It is all possible because of what he went through. What a wonderful thing to make joy out of grief…to find opportunity out of despair. Holy cow – we are so incredibly blessed!!!

And then…it was race time! The announcer counted down…then…FIREWORKS! And we all started shuffling forward. We all wished our neighbors good luck…as we made our way closer and closer to the start line. And then the pack broke up and we were off! I was running in my first HALF MARATHON!! I was exhilarated! Not that I enjoy running, don’t get me wrong, but the atmosphere…the energy…it was electric! It was 10:00 at night and I was running down the road at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida with 10,000 other people!!! WHAT!?!? ME!??? What’s going on here!!? It was surreal. I couldn’t believe it…I was actually doing it. I.was.running.a.half.marathon!!!

As we made our way towards Animal Kingdom, I was pleased with my pace. At each mile marker there were musicians, Disney characters, supporters etc. It was really, really neat! As we made our way into Animal Kingdom, and ran through the park, I was trying to take in my surroundings…but mostly I was just focused on keeping my pace and not running into anyone or anything! I can so easily be distracted, I didn’t want to hurt myself!! Before long we were leaving the park and back on the road heading towards Hollywood Studios. I was a little disappointed that most of the race was run on the highways or back streets of the parks…but when we were running IN the parks, it was awesome! My Train to End Stroke crew from Boston (the race coordinators) popped up along the race course a couple different places and shouted at me. How awesome to have people yelling ‘GO EMILY!!’ it was sooo encouraging!

Making our way into Hollywood Studios, my pace had slowed quite a bit at times. I knew I was going to run in intervals, but there was a lot of walking at miles 10 and 11! I did stop and have my picture taken with Buzz Lightyear and of course, I did take a few other pictures too…I mean, who wouldn’t? But by mile 11, my feet and knees were really starting to hurt. (Its funny, I didn’t really have muscle soreness, so much as joint soreness…I guess that’s probably because I’m getting old! But, it also made me feel good that my training was appropriate and my muscles were prepared to go that distance…I wasn’t even very sore the next day! Just my feet…go figure.) Rounding out mile 12 I got another surge of emotion…for some reason…thinking about running for Matt. Thinking about him at the end. I couldn’t wait to see him…couldn’t wait to finish out this journey I was on. As we approached the final stretch the crowd along the fence grew bigger and bigger and louder and louder….I rounded the final corner and tried to scan the faces looking for those familiar to me as I pushed to the finish line. And the I heard them…my cheering section. My Matt and his parents yelling ‘EMILLLLLYYYYYYYYYYYYY’, I looked over and saw them and oh, the joy I felt!!! I waved and yelled ‘Hi Honey!!!!’ as I ran to the finish line. Sandi captured the moment so beautifully it makes me well up with tears every time I see the photo. I will never forget how I felt in that moment…seeing them lined up…Matt had pulled himself up to stand against the fence and was yelling. My husband. My dear, dear husband. My motivation. My inspiration. It was something…really something.

After crossing the finish line, the rest is a blur of people, music, chaos. I got some snacks, water, my medal (which might be my most valuable possession for a while, much to Matt’s dismay…he says I’m SUCH a dork for wearing it as much as I did this weekend!), and then called Matt to try and figure out where the heck to find them. It took a while, but finally I saw George in the crowd and he brought me to where Matt and Sandi were waiting. I fell into Matt’s arms and onto his lap…where I sat the rest of the night as George wheeled us both. I was so relieved to be done. So excited that I actually finished. So stinking proud of accomplishing what I had set out to do…and for such a great cause.

Of course, I was also exhausted and the crowd…INSANE. So rather than stick around and check out the Wine and Dine part of the half marathon, we made our way back to the bus to take us to the resort. I had my medal. I had my husband. I was full up with the happiness I got just from completing the race. Walking back to the bus, we were all giddy with talk of the race and the night’s events…it was so special to have George and Sandi with us. I felt so supported and loved. Knowing that Matt was with them while I ran, I didn’t worry one bit…and while they had a few hiccups making their way to the finish line…they had someone special watching out for them (as well as more super friendly Disney employees) and they made it just fine.

It was after 2:30 AM before we made it back to bed…exhausted and happy. I don’t know if I’ll ever run another half marathon…it was so tough…but the joy I felt finishing the race and seeing my family there…I can’t describe it in words. I felt their pride beaming off their smiles and my own heart just swelled. It was simply an amazing experience.


Emily said…
A person can't help but love you guys. Congratulations on the accomplishment - your medal is your "crown of beauty instead of ashes." (Is 61:3)
Matt and Emily said…
Thanks Em!!

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