January 10, 2016, I became a marathoner.  But the story started long before that.  Months of training and long runs all led up to that glorious day.  I call it glorious now…because it’s over.  That day I was not feeling like it was glorious at all. My alarm went off at 2 am.  Yep, 2 am – the middle of the night.  I got up and got decked out in all my running gear.  Let me help you understand my state of mind.  I am going to run at Disney – one of my most favorite places on the planet.  I should be excited right? Ecstatic even?  I wasn’t.  I was dreading it and had been for at least a month.  The long monotonous training had really made me disenchanted with the whole running thing.  I had been struggling in my pace and the 20lbs I had gained this year really slowed me down.  Running is a discipline of the mind.  Your legs and body CAN do it – it’s your mind that holds you back.  My mind had decided I sucked at running.

Anyways, got ready and David drove me to Epcot and dropped me off at about 3:30 am.  Hated that I had to walk to gear check by myself – for me running is very communal.  It’s all about the peeps you run with.  But I knew I was meeting Cindy and Amy and I was looking forward to that.  It was about a half-mile walk from the drop-off site to gear check.  Checked my gear.  First porta-potty stop.  Met up with Cindy and Amy.  Group pic with some peeps from my running group that were also there.  Cindy had planned to help me write two names on my arms. On my right arm, she wrote Beth, for my cousin who passed away this past June. On my left arm, she wrote Amanda, for my running friend that passed away in July.  I ran mile 13 for Amanda and mile 21 for Beth.  I just wanted to honor them in this run.

We headed to the start line – about a mile away – corralled and packed like cattle.  Second porta-potty stop.  Cindy and Amy were in Corral J.  They decided they wanted to stay with me in Corral M.  That was very sweet of them and I accepted their offer.

Disney does nothing halfway.  Every corral got the same high-quality send off including an announcer, a genuine Mickey Mouse countdown, and fireworks.

We started our race at 6:23 am.  I was on the struggle bus from the start.  Run walking but slow.  The first five miles were ok – two more porta-potty stops (one that took several minutes of waiting) and a couple of character stops.  I continued to struggle. 
Cindy and Amy stayed with me.  We had a couple conversations where I told them that they could go on without me and I would not be mad.  They were staying and would only leave if they were going to get swept (if you get too far behind they pull you from the race and you don’t get to finish).  Cindy knew that my commitment level was high but my engagement level was low – she had watched it tank while we were training.

Throughout the race, people kept yelling “Go Amanda”  or “Go Beth”. It took me a minute to realize that they thought my name was Amanda or Beth because the name was on my arm. I smiled and waved every time they said it because it made me so happy that they were shouting their names at this race.

Another porta-potty stop around mile 17 and the next thing I knew the balloon ladies were right behind us.  The balloon ladies are the pacers that determine who gets to keep going and finish and who gets swept.  You wanna be with or in front of them in order to not get swept.  A volunteer told us that we were just 30 seconds ahead of them.  Talk about terror.  Cindy and Amy moved ahead and I was still struggling – now with fear too.  A thousand thoughts about how there is no way I can keep up this pace for the next 8 miles and I can’t believe I paid all this money for a vacation with my family and I am not even gonna get to finish.  No more porta-potty stops now – there was no time.  The chatterbox was on a rampage. 

Then I looked over and I was literally shoulder to shoulder with the balloon lady.  I started to lose it – I was totally gonna start crying during this marathon.  I felt super defeated.  We crossed mile 18 and the sweep bus pulled up.

I started praying “God move my legs!  God move my legs!” and I sprinted forward for about 15 seconds.  Stopped to walk for about 15 seconds then sprinted again.  It was working.  I felt like I might vomit but I was putting room between me and the balloon ladies.  I stopped the negative chatter, started the positive self-talk and just kept sprinting and walking and praying God move my legs. Then something took over. 

I don’t know if it was the Holy Spirit or delirium (my money is on the Spirit) but I just started shouting the positive self-talk to others around me.  It was as if it wasn’t loud enough in my own head, so I started shouting it thinking it might help someone else.  As I would sprint I would yell “Keep Going!  You can do this!”  It was working.  It was keeping my legs moving and I was continuing to add space between me and the balloon ladies.

I did it for 8 miles.  Sprint and yell and then slow and walk.  Repeat.  Most people responded positively.  I got a few ugly looks and a couple snide comments, but overall it seemed to help morale so I kept doing it. 

Around mile 21 I caught up with Cindy and Amy.  Cindy was so excited and surprised to see me!  (she is the sweetest and kindest person you will ever meet)  Amy was hurting bad but I told her to keep going.  I think I said “keep going” at least 150 times during those miles.  I came alongside others and chatted with them briefly and encouraged them that they can do this – that they are doing this – right now.  That helped them dig deep – and ME it was HELPING ME!

I was running alongside real champions.  A man that was probably about 68 years old or more that was completing the Dopey Challenge (4 consecutive days of races : 5k, 10k, Half Marathon, Full Marathon) – I told him I was proud of him.  He returned the compliment.  I came upon two ladies wearing shirts that said on the back “Through Christ”.  As I approached I began to shout, “I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME!”  They agreed and one began to tear up.  I said “You are doing it now!  You are doing it!  He is in you and He is moving your legs right now!”

Even after they told us we were safe and there were no more bus pick-ups, I kept doing it – sprinting and shouting and slowing and walking.  I don’t know what came over me, but it got me to the finish line.  And a few other people too.  One lady thanked me on the course – another after the race.  She said, “thanks you really helped me get through those last couple miles”.

Mile 25 is always the longest. Well, really any last mile of any race or training is the longest. I’m sure you can guess why. But we finished. Cindy, Amy, & I crossed the finish line hands held high together. It was a real victory for all of us.

When we were training, I remember telling Cindy and Amy that I wanted to make sure that my run glorified God. That I was struggling to figure out what’s the best way to do that. I really wanted this marathon to have a meaning and a purpose for Him.  I didn’t really want it to be all about me.  That’s part of why I didn’t tell a lot of people at least not publicly on Facebook or anything like that until late in the game.

When I found a shirt that said “Run with Purpose” I thought – that’s it!! What I didn’t realize at the time was that His purpose was to use me at the actual race itself. I am thrilled that all of that training came to good use to help others.  After all, that is my calling, my mission, my purpose – to help other people in their journey.