There is a famous line from a famous movie of which I have never seen: “We’ll always have Paris.” From what I understand it’s a line used in parting as the lead character realizes that the end of their romance is over and he fondly consoles her by reminding her that they will always have good memories.
Obviously since I am quoting this movie, I will have to actually take the time to watch it. This might be a painful experience for me. I am not really big on 1942 black and white movies and no matter how good you tell me it is, I’m going to ask you why you need me to go back and relive the past. However, I can hardly use that as an excuse when that is what I am about to do here today.
Writing a memoir of my good memories and being pressured into watching movies that were made back when we lacked the technology of bright colors and high-definition picture are two very different things. Right? If you feel me here let me know.
I digress. The point here is that I have this amazing experience from my recent trip to Paris to share with you. My photos from it, unlike Casablanca, are in color, so in my mind that makes this entire blog a reasonable time expenditure from my normally busy day.
I’ve already written a very detailed account of my Paris trip that will be posted on The Bari Blog in the near future. I’ll spare you the details that will be given there and instead share the emotional side of my Paris adventure with you.
The emotional reactions that we have to things are unexplainable sometimes. As an example, I really thought that when I crossed the finish line of my first full marathon and completed the Dopey Challenge during the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend this last January I would break down in tears of joy at what would be a monumental accomplishment in both my fitness and weight loss journey. I didn’t though. I felt accomplished. I was extremely proud of myself, but there wasn’t an overwhelming emotional reaction to it.
Honestly, I haven’t had that sort of raw emotionally overwhelming reaction to completing a half marathon since the first one I ran in honor of my father on Father’s Day back in June of 2013. I’ve ran a few half marathons since then and while each and every one of them gives me that amazing sense of accomplishment and allows me to experience that all-so-often talked about ‘runner’s high’, none of them had quite touched my heart as emotionally and as deeply as that first one had.
Every run brings with it a different experience. Sometimes the joy I get from participating in a half marathon event is rewarding to me because I’m lucky enough to have the privilege of being next to someone who I have helped achieve the accomplishment of crossing their first finish line. Typically that is one of the biggest motivators and emotionally rewarding experiences there is for me.
Sometimes it’s the simple joy of running next to one of my dear friends. I run with one of my best friends quite often and every time we run together I think of how blessed I am to have a friend that enjoys the half marathon craze the same way I do.
Paris was different. Paris had an emotional charge to it that I am not really sure I can explain, but I am going to try….
When the opportunity to do this event came knocking on my door I knew it was a once in a lifetime chance that I couldn’t pass up. It was an opportunity I knew without a doubt my Father would want me to take. Unlike my previously sponsored runs, this one wasn’t about me taking someone else with me to have their first half marathon experience, it was about me going to France to represent the Bariatric Community and share that experience with everyone and that meant a lot to me.
I honestly believe that when it comes to fighting obesity we can achieve anything through determination, hard work and courage. I think those are three of the fundamental necessities of recovering from obesity.
Recovery from obesity is not a simple process. You have to be willing to keep fighting even when it gets hard. You have to be willing to make big life changes that are not always comfortable, fun, or easy.
You have to have the courage to face whatever is going on in your life on an emotional, mental and physiological level that has driven you into the depths of obesity.
You have to be willing to triumph over plateaus that make you want to pull your hair out. You have to be willing to eat healthy when your emotions are on overdrive and all you really want is comfort food. You have to be willing to rally yourself against the social pressures of using food as method of having relationships with people. You have to be willing to exercise even on those days that it’s hard to talk yourself out of bed.
The fight against obesity is a battle where bluntly often only the strongest thrive.
And yet, each and every one of us possesses that strength. Each and every one of us has it in us. We just find it at different times in our lives and at different points of our journeys. I’m a prime example of this. I didn’t beat obesity the first time I fought it. Heck I didn’t even beat it the third or fourth time I fought it. I tried and tried and I feel on my face time and time again.
In fact if there was a big boss to fight at the end of a video game and it was named Obesity I would have probably thrown the game controller at the television screaming in a temper tantrum that it was too damn hard.
Once I came so close that I lost nearly 200 lb. and weighed the lowest I had ever weighed in my adult life. Then I gained every single pound back and had that entire journey to have to do all over again.
But my inherent belief that if I can do this, anyone can do this was exactly what was driving me to be at the start line in Paris. That message is the one that I feel the most obligation to convey to my community.
I’d been to Paris before, as an overweight teenager. If you’d asked me to run twenty-one kilometers while I was there I would have told you that I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t at a point that I was ready because we all arrive at that juncture at a different time.
There was another big emotional drive for me in Paris. Several months ago I lost one of my dearest friends. A fellow bariatric patient, and someone whose presence in my life had made a substantial change in my direction. A mental health practitioner by trade, without ever really being asked to, she had assisted me in my pursuit of chasing happy after I had accomplished healthy. A fellow runner and fellow Disney fanatic, she had been a monumental person in my life. Joy was one of my true “ride or dies”. In fact, back at that first half marathon I ran, when I hit my wall and I wasn’t sure I could do it, she had been the one I called, in tears, looking for words of encouragement and motivation.
Finding out that I was going to be running in Paris had been a sudden thing. The opportunity first presented itself when I was in California at the TinkerBell Half Marathon and my friend Jess offered me a place to rest my head if I could figure out how to get myself there. I flew home from that trip and in a two-day turnaround headed out to Nashville to attend the WLSFA Annual Meet and Greet event. It was at that event that I had spoken to the folks at BariLife and knew that I’d be going to Paris for this run. Though that information wasn’t public yet, when I got home the following Monday, Joy was one of the first people who I called to tell it. I knew that as a fellow Disney maniac and someone who had been a pillar in my world, she was going to be super excited for me.
Five short days later on May 21st, when Joy passed away, I felt a grief I hadn’t felt since my father had left the world. It had taken my breath away. It took everything I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Now here I was in Paris, getting ready to run the event that we had talked about over and over again in the days before she had crossed life’s finish line and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt that Joy was going to be with me for each and every kilometer of that 21 kilometer run.
I feel the presence of those I have lost when I run. It’s something I cannot describe or give a real world explanation to. This half marathon had a double dose of that going on for me because I just knew the whole way through that Joy and my Dad where up there cheering for me.
And then there was you. The Bariatric Community and the amazing friends and family that I have within it…
When I woke up Sunday morning and grabbed my phone to rush out the door for the start line I noticed that there was an unusual number of posts on Facebook that I had been tagged in. I wondered what the heck was going on.
When I opened my Facebook app to investigate it, I was literally overwhelmed with emotion. My Facebook timeline was filled with posts of my before and after photo with a caption that said “Thank you Pandora, 260+ pounds lost, 32 Half Marathons, Inspiring Thousands” – Many of the posts included personal comments from people in the community thanking me for what I have done to try to motivate and inspire others as well as offering me words of encouragement for the event.
Tears fell down my face in what was without a doubt the most emotionally charged start line experience of my running career. Even now as I write this my eyes are watering.
I am unsure that words can convey the emotions that ran through me. There was a moment in this journey after I had lost my weight where I decided that what I wanted more than anything was to help other people fight obesity through fitness. When you make a decision like that, you do it because you want to help others. When the people who you want to help and that you care so much about do something like this, without you knowing that it is coming, it lets you know that what you are doing really is making a difference.
I felt something I can’t really say that I have ever truly felt in such a towering way. I felt recognized. I felt relevant. I felt appreciated. As I kept seeing my before and after photo with the words “Thank you” written on it, I kept wiping the tears from cheeks, and all I could do was hold my hand over my heart, try to catch my breath and keep whispering to myself “No, thank you.”
RunDisney uses the slogan “Every Mile is Magical” for all of their events. While I have enjoyed each and every RunDisney event I have done, they are by far my favorite half marathons, this run – this particular event – was by far the most magical run I have ever experienced. It had nothing to do with the fact that I was running through Disneyland Paris theme parks, it had to do with the fact that I had overwhelming sense of love and happiness right there in my heart every step of the way.
At the start line I vowed that I would do nothing but enjoy every moment of this experience. I stopped for any photo I wanted to take. I took moments to stop and appreciate every little thing that caught my eye and capture it to share with those that had touched my heart so much. There was never a wall where I was running out of steam or where I worried about reaching the finish line. There wasn’t a moment that I had to push. Every single mile was pure joy. This was by far the most beautiful, magical and emotionally rewarding run of my career.
Every moment of running through the Disney theme parks, running through the residential streets surrounding it, running through European countryside, cornfields, seeing castles off in the distance, every kilometer marker, every Disney character standing on the side of the course, every marching band and group of cheerleaders, each one was viewed with an appreciation and emotion I have never experienced during a run before. It was magic. Pure magic. And I had all the most important people in my life in my heart sharing it with me with every little rapid beat as I ran.
Leading into this run I had concerns. I’d flared up my achilles tendonitis really bad trying to switch over to new running shoes and I was having to take extra special care and precautions to try to ensure that my ankles were not hurting too much to be able to run on them. Just a couple of weeks prior I’d had the experience of having to walk the last three miles of an event I was running because the pain in my ankles would not allow me to run. Yet on this day, on this run, for 21 full kilometers my ankles never once complained. All my worry and fears were gone and the only thing I felt was this overwhelming sense of love, appreciation, and closeness to those that mattered most to me.
If you had told that overweight teenager that was in Paris twenty-five years ago that someday I would be back here, and that I would spend nine months of my life on the year I turned forty, participating in a Disney based running adventure where I ran a total of 84.1 miles with countless training miles in between, I would never have believed you. Heck if you had told me that six years ago the day I was having my surgery I wouldn’t have believed you then either. I wasn’t ready to be that girl yet. I was nowhere near ready. I didn’t have the determination or the courage yet. Like I said earlier, we all get there at different times in our journey.
But when I crossed that finish line… or I should say when I flew over the finish line, with my arms stretched out like wings and the RunDisney volunteer put that Castle to Chateau medal around my neck commemorating my journey from the Dopey Challenge in Orlando to the Pixie Dust Challenge in California to this Inaugural Half Marathon in Paris, I started to cry.
I knew that something extraordinary had just happened to me. I knew that my Father, Joy and my community were all proud of me, and I knew that I had just done something I would be telling stories about for the rest of my life.
The finish line in Paris doesn’t actually say “Finish”. It’s in French, so it says “Arrivee” which translates literally to “Arrival” and somehow, this particular finish line had a completely different meaning to me. I knew the moment I approached it, because of the emotional response that I had to it that I had just arrived at a new point in my weight loss journey.
This was a defining moment for me.
This moment changed something inside me.
I knew, with more certainty than I have ever known anything before, that I was and am headed in the right direction and that I am nowhere near finished yet.
Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.
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Star Wars The Dark Side Half Marathon…
The name alone should tell you why I originally signed up for this race. I’m a geek girl at heart and almost every man I have ever dated was a Star Wars geek. This half marathon was sure to help me get my nerd on and really who could resist running in an event that allows you to dress up in a Star Wars running costume.
I’m not going to call myself a RunDisney veteran, but I have run quite a few RunDisney races in the last two years of my post weight loss journey. My first RunDisney event was the Tinker Bell Half Marathon in 2014, I ran the Wine and Dine Half Marathon in 2014 as well. In 2015 I repeated both of those events to achieve another Coast to Coast Medal. This year, I participated in the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and completed the Dopey Challenge running a total of 48.6 miles in four days.
I had very high expectations of the Star Wars The Dark Side Half Marathon. I expected it to be one of the best half marathons I have ever participated in. I expected it to be even more amazing than any RunDisney event I had done so far and regretfully I have to say that I was a little disappointed.
Things seemed really unorganized to me this time around which is not something I am used to feeling at a RunDisney event. With as much as we pay to participate in these events I just expect them to seem almost flawlessly organized. When I am dropping nearly $400 in registration fees for the privilege of running for two days in a challenge event I have a few set expectations.
I expect the characters that are available for photos to be there for photo ops both at the before and after gatherings. Many people were upset about how quickly the characters had gone inside the morning of the 10K and the morning of the Half. We were able to get quite a few photos after the half on Sunday morning. But I really felt like we got lucky. We got everything in RIGHT before the lines closed. There was a lot of pressure to try to get those photo ops and that’s not a good feeling when you are at an event that is supposed to be fun.
I expect the opportunity to run by all the characters that are on the route and take a picture of them. I’m not saying I expect the lines to stay open and that I expect the ability to stop and pose with each character. If I am not a fast enough runner that I can afford to spend the time on stopping and standing in line to take a photo with a character without jeopardizing making the required pace time I understand that. Close the lines once it is too late to take photos. But I do expect that the characters are out there and I am able to take a photo as I run by. Pulling the characters off of the route early seemed awful unfair to me.
I was running with a friend that was an absolute Star Wars nerd. This wasn’t his first RunDisney event, he ran the 10K part of the Dopey Challenge with me back in January. But it was his first RunDisney half marathon and he was very excited about the photos of characters. We were counting on the fact that even though he might be very close to pace time, I had the ability to run ahead, snap a photo and then fall back into the crowd with him. But by the time the latter corrals got there, lots of the characters had already been removed from the route.
I ran the 10k that was held on Saturday by myself. My very dear friend Carrie Zavitz was running it as well but she wanted to run solo. So we started together and then planned to meet at the finish line. For me this meant running at my pace rather than that of whoever I am running with. I had an overall time of 1:23:00 and managed to get a photo of every character that was there and stop in several places to snap a quick selfie with a few of the characters that were standing around.
I expect to be able to get a beer at the finish line. — Lot’s of runners feel the same way. I promise, there was a lot of complaining at the finish line when there was no beer available. Apparently we were suddenly in county where we were not allowed alcohol before 11:30am on a Sunday. — I’m not sure when this rule suddenly changed because I know that when running the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend just a few months ago there was plenty of beer available after the morning runs. The only thing I can guess is that somehow finishing the race at ESPN Wide World of Sports instead of at Epcot changed the rules somehow?
The Dark Side Half Marathon race route was different to say the least. There were some things that I really didn’t love about it. The slanted road was hard for a lot of people to deal with. Luckily I had experienced this part of the road during other races and knew to stay to the left where it was a little more flat. The dirt road leading us back into EPSN wasn’t great either.
I think the most disappointing thing to me though was the lack of energy that I felt at this event. RunDisney events are usually packed with people dressing up in cool costumes to run and have this amazing energy to them that just makes you want to keep coming back for more. I really didn’t see THAT many people dressed up this year and the overall energy to the crowd was a bit dismal.
Whether everyone else was dressed in a themed outfit or not, I was. I love dressing up for runs. I rocked a cut little Storm Trooper costume for the 10k and a cute little R2D2 outfit for the half marathon. I have to give a big shout out to my sole-sister, running buddy and dear friend Ronda Rhodes for making sure that our costumes were amazing. If it had not been for her and her amazing last-minute sewing and alteration skills I wouldn’t have looked nearly as cute as I did out there.
My best friend, partner in crime and the first guy I have ever coached and taken to run a half marathon beside me, Jeff Newell, of DefyingObesity.org matched my R2D2 costume with a Storm Trooper outfit that required he stay on my right hand side the entire time we were running with “I’ve found the droid I’ve been looking for” written on the back with an arrow pointing to the left. We got lots of compliments on our outfits along the route that day.
I think Jeff will be telling a story for years to come about how I had gotten a little ahead of him and suddenly there was another girl running next to him. She was dressed as C3P0 and she had run up beside him so that her friend could take a picture of her running next to him and said “It looks like I am your new droid.” Her and her friends that were dressed as BB8 and R2D2 took turns getting their photos with his shirt and then ran off.
This is my third time now taking someone through an online and long distance 20 week training program that leads them to a RunDisney Half Marathon – I learn something new as a coach every time I do this. This time I had the ability to make sure that the person I was training had some opportunities to run with me during the 20 week training leading up to the event. Jeff ran his first 10k with me back in October when he was visiting Raleigh NC for the Obesity Help Convention and then he was able to run with me in December, January, February and March during my trips to Boston and when he ran the 10k next to me during the Disney World Marathon Weekend.
As a coach this was a big advantage to me. I knew his patterns, I had run with him a couple of times so I knew the difference between him losing steam and him truly needing to slow down. It was easier for me to tell the difference between a mental struggle and a physical struggle and to know when I could push him and when I couldn’t.
Jeff was dressed as a Storm Trooper when we crossed the finish line and I have to give this man a lot of credit because he had been quite a Trooper through his training. Our training schedule ran from the end of November through April and in January he had experienced a major set back when he had to have emergency surgery to fix an intestinal blockage. It is not easy to get benched in the middle of a training program, spend weeks recovering before you can exercise again and then rebuild your cardio stamina back in time to complete an endurance event like a half marathon. I give him a lot of credit for coming off the bench and running not one but two half marathons within three months.
I may have ran the Star Wars The Dark Side Half Marathon at his pace instead of mine, but I have no doubt that someday he’ll be running a pace slower than his next to me. Of course that’s only because those long legs of his are going to give him a much bigger stride than mine.
I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do come October when it’s time to run the Jazz Half in New Orleans where I’m leading a group of my friends in the WLS community in to their first half marathon. But I have a few half marathons to run before then so I am sure I’ll be seeing you for another race re-cap soon. Plus I have another blog to write to tell you all about the milestone I hit in my weight loss journey during the Star Wars The Dark Side Half Marathon. I’m going to save that for another day though. But until we talk again… get out there, get moving and find your happy pace slender seekers.