Running a Marathon on a Whim

When the 2017 Walt Disney World Half Marathon turned into a FULL marathon with 36 hours’ notice.

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Colleen, left, holds hands with best friend Evelyn, as they cross the finish line to the Walt Disney World Marathon last weekend.

To put the outrageously amazing thing I did last weekend into context, let me give you, a little of my backstory.  In October of 2014, I weighed 270 lbs.  I had yo-yo dieted and flirted with workout programs most of my teen and adult life, however I was ready to try “just one more time.”  I began working with a personal trainer on a weekly basis. That accountability, combined with a new “eating to fuel” mindset, caused the weight to finally begin to come off – and stay off.

I began looking for new challenges, wanting to do the things that my weight and poor health had prevented me from doing before.  My new mantra was, “A goal should scare you a little, and excite you a lot” (Joe Vitale) and I kept this in mind to force myself outside of my comfort zone.

In January 2016, I completed my first indoor triathlon and was hooked. I spent the next few months increasing my distance and endurance. I set my sights on an Olympic distance triathlon in late summer 2016, which finished with a 10K run, the longest distance I would have ever covered.

That is why, in April 2016, I pulled the trigger on registering for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon (on January 7, 2017), and was immediately filled with excitement and dread.  Even in the midst of triathlon training, when I registered for the race, I had never run more than three miles – and even that was challenging.  I signed up to run with Evelyn, my cool-headed, down-to-earth best friend whom I have known since kindergarten.  We had nine months to prepare and figured, come race day, the distance would be doable.


By Marathon Weekend, I had competed in four triathlons and even completed an 8-mile race that fall.  I was down 90 pounds from my starting weight two and a half years prior.  I was finally in great shape, and the idea of running a half marathon was no longer something that left me with butterflies in my stomach.

Evelyn and I were planning to spend a few days in the Disney parks before running the half on a Saturday morning and were compulsively checking the weather as race day approached.  Forecasts were predicting rain, and there were rumors that it may affect the event.  That Friday night we ran out to get last-minute ponchos, in order to prepare as best we could.  We headed to dinner, buzzing with anticipation and praying that even if it was wet, the race would still happen the next morning.

As we sat down to dinner, our phones pinged with a Facebook notification from RunDisney.  “In an abundance of caution, the Walt Disney World Resort has cancelled all running events on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 due to weather conditions. This includes the Walt Disney World Half Marathon…”.

We stopped reading after that point, sitting in silent shock for a few minutes.  We had trained for months for this day.  We flew all the way here – her from Seattle, me from Chicago.  We had spent all this money (RunDisney races are NOT cheap) to run our very first half marathons togetherHere. And just like that, it was over.  It was like a punch to the gut.

As we debated ordering margaritas (I mean, we weren’t racing in the morning anymore!), we reread the message we had initially only skimmed.  Amongst the lines about refunds and reimbursements, one line stuck out to me, “There is limited availability to run the full marathon Sunday, January 8, 2017.” I reread it a few times and paused before I proposed what might be the most outlandish suggestion I have ever made: “What if we did the full?” Evelyn stopped mid-sip of her margarita and just started at me as I began to explain the master plan that was hatching.

Luckily, we both had evening flights on Sunday, which would leave us plenty of time to run the race in the early morning and still get to the airport.  We weren’t really interested in the other consolation prizes, and this option still let us run through the parks and truly earn our medals – heck, this way we could run through ALL the parks instead of just a few!  The way I saw it, we would at least make it to mile 13;  anything we did after that would be a bonus.  Worst-case scenario, we’d get swept (pulled off the course) at some point after the halfway mark – best-case scenario, we would actually finish the marathon.  As we continued talking about it, I began giggling – the butterflies were back in my stomach.   I was terrified. I was excited.  It felt right!

We spent the next 30-ish hours scrambling to make sure we would be ready to run double the distance we had prepared for.  We transferred our bibs to our new race, loaded up on gels, and picked up a few last-minute necessities at the race expo.  Every once and a while, one of us would look at the other and just shake our head saying, “I can’t believe we’re doing this!” That feeling lasted through Sunday morning when, after a few hours of fitful sleep, we checked out of our hotel and boarded the bus to the staging area.  Three hours later, as our corral was finally called up to the starting line, we gave each other one last squeeze, watched the fireworks soar overhead, and listened to the timing mat beep as our chips crossed the starting line, unsure of what the rest of the day would hold.

The temperature was in the 20’s and there were wind gusts of 20+ miles per hour.  We had decided to attack the race with 5/1 run/walk intervals. Our first few miles went great!  The sun was up by the time we made it to Magic Kingdom  – the first quarter of the race – and we continued to plug along, slow and steady, knowing that a PR was not our goal. We wanted just to finish and not get swept.

We made it to Animal Kingdom and the halfway point at about the three-hour mark. I’d be lying if I said I felt like I had another 13 miles in me.  By mile 15, I felt I had hit the infamous marathon “wall” and, when I saw a sign on the side of the road pointing the direction to our hotel, I seriously considered calling it quits.  Evelyn was amazing, though, and encouraged me in the tough-love way only a best friend can.  We entered ESPN Wide World of Sports (widely rumored to be the worst stretch of the course) and, by the time we left it at mile 21, I had my second wind and the energy to coach Evelyn through her inevitable run-in (she’d say it was a head-on collision) with “the wall.”  We were in the home stretch and knew if we got to mile 24, we were “safe” and wouldn’t be at risk for getting pulled off the course.  That became our goal – get to mile 24 and then walk to the finish line.

The race ends by circling through the Epcot World Showcase, which was packed with so many spectators, it was, by far, the best part of the race – especially when people would notice our half marathon bibs and call us out as “rockstars” and “badasses” for making the jump to the marathon.

As the finish line came in to view, about 6 hours and 43 minutes after we had first funneled through the starting chute, a gospel choir was literally singing along the side of the course. We grabbed each other’s hands and made our way to the finish line.  As we crossed, I burst into tears (let’s be real, it was an ugly cry), out of exhaustion and shock that we had actually finished.  We were both in such a daze that we almost forgot to take a picture together with our finishers’ medals!

Aside from a few aches and pains, we both came out blister, chafe, and injury free – a minor miracle in itself.  It just goes to prove that human bodies are amazing machines that can do so much more than you may think!  This race showed me that I can dig deep, I can push through the pain, and I can complete 26.2 miles – and the best thing is that I was able to do it with my best friend in the “happiest place on earth.”

Truthfully, I don’t see myself signing up for another marathon any time soon. But, as Evelyn said on the drive to the airport that afternoon, “Well, now we know a half marathon isn’t that bad.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. WOW! I’ve run a few HM, and I’m currently training for my first ultra, but I cannot imagine having the courage to say “What if…” in this situation. Well done to both of you ~ that’s amazing!

    Musta been the margarita talking, right? 😉

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