We’ve all had those races that are a struggle. Either we are not prepared or the weather is bad or we are just not mentally in the game. Jenna went into the Disneyland Half Marathon not feeling so great, but ended up persevering and finding new friends along the way. I first met Jenna during the 2013 Princess Half Marathon Weekend and we have remained friends since. Her positive attitude, infectious smile and ability to laugh during the difficult times make her a joy to know. All of that is what got her and others through a difficult race. I dare you to not tear up by the end of this race recap…CONGRATS JENNA!
Before the 2014 Disneyland Half Marathon, I had a pretty strong feeling that this was one race I would not be finishing. I was undertrained, overweight, and had half-healed injuries. Two weeks before the race, I made one last attempt to get in a 10 mile run, but got a blister 6.5 miles into it, so quit after 8 miles. All of this left me extremely worried as race day got closer. I studied past results and run blogs obsessively. My one goal was to get to the other side of Angel Stadium, where I knew I would see the last sweep point.
I did the 5K on Friday and had a nice, fun run around the parks to settle myself down and enjoy the scenery without worrying about my timing chip. On Friday night, I watched the Magical fireworks show at Disneyland and heard the words “Wishes make your dreams come true.” No, I thought. Hard work makes your dreams come true. But if I had one wish, I knew what it would be.
On Sunday, I got to the race start just after the corrals opened. I was in Corral I, so I had plenty of time, but I wanted to get as close to the front of the corral to squeeze out as many extra minutes as possible.
I had met a cast member in my corral on Friday night and Christina and I spent the endless time before our start chatting with her and trying not to worry.
And then we were off!
I felt pretty good at the beginning, though I kept thinking about the 20 ounces of water I drank in the corral. My calves felt tight and my shoes felt loose, so as soon as we were in California Adventure, I stretched one and snugged up the other. One quick bathroom break in Cars Land and it was back to sticking to my intervals as much and for as long as I could.
Along the way, I settled into a pack and chatted with people around me a bit. I got a piece of advice from one runner that would prove to be invaluable in more ways than I knew.
She advised me to breathe more deeply, from my diaphragm and gave me some techniques to help. It was great advice and just what I needed. I remember thinking, she knows what she’s talking about and she’s going about my pace. If I can keep her in view, I will finish this race. She was easy to spot in a mermaid patterned Sparkle Skirt, purple shirt, white ball cap and CamelBak. And this plan absolutely worked. There were times when I’d pass my mermaid runner. There were times when she passed me. But we were usually pretty close.
Through the middle third of the race, I was acutely aware of my blister. Though it had healed in the week prior to the race, walking around Disneyland for three days before the race had brought it back and made it… angry. I’m pretty sure it broke sometime around mile six. So while I remember the Mexican folkloric dancers on Cerritos Avenue and the step dance crew on Lewis Street, I was way more focused on the pain in my foot.
Soon, I’d reached the halfway point and the sea of signs cheering on runners (mostly from MousePlanet). I knew I didn’t have a sign there, but it didn’t stop me from making a muscle for Parker or cheering for the real men who were running in kilts. I was just so happy to see that spot! I was also happy to see my mermaid runner making a beeline for the Team MousePlanet support tent. Got a hug from Ken the Free Hugs (to end racial discrimination) guy, and I was off and trudging along again.
Mile 7 found me totally distracted by the sheer number of flooring, kitchen and bath stores on State College Rd. A little voice said, “Drop out! Buy tile instead!” I think I was delirious.
Angels Stadium… Angels Stadium… It became a mantra for me. And at one point, I could see the top of the A. I tried to take a picture of the A. And then my music stopped playing and I couldn’t get my phone to work again. So I had to be stuck in my own head for the rest of the race. That is not a happy place to be when you’re rapidly approaching the furthest distance you’ve run in 18 months. (Unbeknownst to me, it started working again two miles later and took pictures from inside my pocket.)
I didn’t even notice when we passed the Honda Center, even though I was looking for it. I said out loud, “My feet feel like water balloons.” A passing runner said, “That’s really… That’s a really good… I know just what you mean.” My feet were so swollen within my shoes that I could feel the fluid in them and later discovered that my pinkie toenail sliced right into the swollen piggy that didn’t have roast beef.
I could see other runners struggling. There were the sisters dressed as the Potato Heads. There was the woman who was literally pulling her friend up the hills. There were all the people telling each other how much they hurt, as they kept walking, running and moving forward.
When we got on the Santa Ana Trail, I heard the dreaded sound: balloon ladies calling out, “We’re behind pace! Pick it up! Don’t slow down!” They were right behind me! I did what I could to get back to intervals whenever possible, but the trail was getting narrower and the pack was getting more confined. When we approached the bridge underpass and people realized that Angels Stadium was still on the other side of the Orange Freeway, you could actually feel people slow down in disappointed shock. Then the balloon ladies yelled again and it sent us scrambling down the hill.
The tunnel into Angels Stadium was wet, downhill and gritty, but you could hear the roar of the crowd on the other side. All of my exhaustion and soreness was no match for a stadium full of cheering Scouts! I high-fived every kid in reach! In the melee, I didn’t notice precisely when the balloon ladies passed me, but by the time we emerged from the tunnel out of the stadium, they were in front of me. And so was some guy running with a small broom. Oh, no! No, no, no! I didn’t come this far to get swept! I could see busses at the far side of the parking lot. I could see security guards.
I ran past them.
I don’t know how long after that they closed the last sweep point, but I was past it!
About a half mile later, I caught up with my mermaid runner, thanked her for the breathing advice way back in Disneyland and we fell into chatting. She said her name was Janna and she told me the story of her Tinkerbell Half experience. At some point on the route, she was shoved by another runner, stepped into a pothole and twisted her ankle. She didn’t finish. She was doing Dumbo this time, after months of loss and illness.
“I just don’t want to get swept again.”
“Janna, we’re past the last sweep point.”
“What?! Where is it? Never mind, don’t tell me.”
“It’s almost a mile behind us. We are finishing this race.”
“I’m not getting swept? I’m finishing the race?”
She started crying in relief and I gave her a sideways hug as we kept walking.
“You are crossing that finish line if I have to human crutch you across it.”
From then on, the race was all about sheer stubbornness and solidarity. We stuck together the remaining two and a half miles: keeping an eye out for mile markers; keeping our feet going; keeping each other’s spirits up. At some point, when we were finally back on Disney property back behind California Adventure, a couple of high school cheerleaders danced alongside us chanting “WE’RE! SO! PROUD OF YOU! WE’RE SO PROUD OF YOU!” I grinned like an idiot. I was proud of us, too!
Finally, we were into the finish line viewing area and I could see my friends, F.J. and Andy cheering for me. They were in Corrals A and D and were showered and changed already! I hugged them and got them sweaty again. They told me how proud they were of me. I ran back to catch up with Janna. “There’s no time for hugging our people!” Janna said, right before she ran over and hugged one of her people.
I saw a sign that said “You look hot when you sweat!” and said “Darned right I do!” and started strutting down the approach to the finish line. The remaining, die-hard crowd went wild!
Then I turned to Janna and said, “You ready to run across that finish line and end this thing with style? Gotta look good for the pictures! “
“You know I am!” she said. We ran the rest of the way, dodging people going in for the hug with Mickey and Minnie.
Across the finish line, we had another tearful hug and got our medals (Half for me, Half and Dumbo for Janna!), then went our separate ways. I was off to gear check and medical (dry socks and ice packs were all I could think about), and Janna went to find her husband. We are now Facebook friends and I think of us as foxhole friends. Shared strength and solidarity are vital pieces of running gear!