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420lbs to a Half Marathon – The Tinker Bell in Reflection

1622089_708220655866564_1880926857_nRunning a half marathon wasn’t something I ever thought I would do. If you had told me five years ago that someday I would be running my fifth half marathon while studying to become a personal trainer and working at a lady only fitness establishment, I would have asked you what you were smoking.

But just three short weeks ago I was crossing the finish line at the Tinker Bell Half Marathon. The entire experience was amazing and I am thrilled to share it with you.

It all started back in June of last year when Father’s Day hit, and my mood was a little down. As many of my readers know, I lost my father, the champion behind my weight loss journey, just eight months into my story and developed a connection to him through exercise and running. When I woke up on Father’s day 2013 missing him more than usual, I headed out on what started out as a normal 5k run for me and ended up becoming my first half marathon. [ I ran a Half Marathon Daddy Happy Fathers Day]

The feeling of victory that I felt when I completed a half marathon was amazing, and something I instantly wanted to share with someone else, so I set out to put together the sponsorship to send myself and one of my blog readers to Anaheim, CA for the Disneyland Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend. I’d be doing my first official timed and bibbed half marathon, and I’d help someone else achieve that level of victory by crossing the finish line with me. That was my goal. [How Do You Celebrate Success Contest]

I fell a little short of meeting my sponsorship goals, but I did get enough funds together to pay one person’s way to the event. So that’s what I did. We had a contest on my blog, and one lucky winner received a trip to Disneyland to participate in the RunDisney Tinker Bell Half Marathon with me. [ Winner of Bariatric Fitness Half Marathon Contest Giveaway ]

With the help of my friends and sponsors at Pace Setter, I put together a 20 Week Training Program that intended to get us prepared for the event and we ran a virtual event for anyone that wanted to train alongside us and complete a half marathon themselves as event finale.  I coached our winner through the 20 week training program, and provided her with all the possible encouragement and motivation that I could from across the miles; seven months later, just three short weeks ago, Dawn and I were standing in our corral at 4:30 am getting ready to start.

a16d9e74940a11e3b8450e8c3b5b71be_8Dawn struggled from the beginning. Going from someone who has never run before to completing a half marathon in 20 weeks (after being benched for several weeks due to injury) was a big task and it wasn’t something that came easy. Of course, the coach and trainer in me says, “if it comes easy it isn’t worth having,” and pushing yourself is one of the main ingredients to successful long-term weight loss.

There was a moment during the race when we had just passed the 2 mile marker that I looked at Dawn and said “Remember this is fun, you wanted to be here, you won the opportunity to be here,” and she looked back and me and said “This isn’t fun, this is hell,” and in that moment, the response she got out of me told me that no matter what happened, whether Dawn finished the half marathon or not, the coach and soon to be trainer in me had emerged. If there was ever a moment that I doubted my destiny, the doubt had just vanished. I looked at her in disbelief, and the diatribe started…

“You think THIS is hell? Move your feet! Let me remind you what HELL is… Hell was 175 lbs ago. Hell was not being able to walk from your car to your front door without panting for breath. HELL was not being able to stand still in your kitchen because your body hurt so much. OBESITY was HELL … THIS is fun, THIS is easy, THIS is achievable. Now move your feet and give me a 60 second run interval Dawn.”

RunDisney has a pretty strict pace time. (16 minutes per mile) and when I say strict, I mean strictly enforced. At mile marker three and the 5K split Dawn and I were pacing out at 17:26 and the “Sweepers” as they call them–the RunDisney folks that remove you from the race if you are not making pace–were on our heels.

c9a382b4940a11e394501215243b1345_8“You are behind the pace requirement ladies, if you do not speed up you will be removed from the route.” We’d been warned a few minutes earlier when I stopped to take a photo of Dawn that we needed to speed up. But Dawn was struggling and she and I both knew it. We’d had an agreement before the race that I would stay by her side unless she got swept and unfortunately, that moment seemed to be upon us. With my hand on her back, trying to literally push her forward I said “I need you to speed up Dawn, we’re way behind the pace flag and we’re going to get swept.”

As the words left her mouth they broke my heart, because I knew that there was nothing I could do in that moment to get her across the finish line and as we quickly said teary eyed good-byes I knew that what Dawn wouldn’t understand was that I wasn’t disappointed in her, I was disappointed in me. I had hoped that having me there at her side would help motivate her to make the pace she needed to make and help shave some time off her per minute mile. But in truth, Dawn’s times were slower than they were at home and I had to hope that by leaving her behind a sink or swim moment would kick in for her and that she would find the motivation she needed to finish.

I took off running. I turned on my headphones and played my Father’s memorial CD, listening to old-time country music by artists like Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty and Marty Robbins as I ran through Disneyland, trying to catch the pace flag.  I ran as fast as my little feet could carry me and I didn’t stop until I hit the 7 mile marker and had to take a detour to the port-a-potty. I’ve never been so afraid to urinate in my whole life. What if that potty break cost me the pace time? I figured by what my Nike GPS+ Sports-watch said that I was pacing out somewhere near 15 min/mile and I wasn’t far off; RunDisney had reported my 10K split time to Facebook at 15:36 min/mile – I’d shaved  1 minute and 50 seconds off the my time in about 3 miles thus far.


As I ran through the streets of Anaheim I stayed focus on my goal.  I had a half marathon to complete and people waiting on me at the finish line. Mile 9 came and went without much trouble, and surprisingly I wasn’t even feeling the need to put more fuel on board, though I did throw back a banana just to make sure I didn’t run out of energy along the way. My 15k split was reported at 15:03, so while the potty break cost me some time, I was still doing alright. I wouldn’t be seeing the twelve to thirteen minute pace times I was used to seeing on my runs, but that was alright, I wasn’t here to compete with anyone, I was here for the experience and to share that experience with Dawn.

I supposed I should have limited my hydration a bit, because Mile 11 hit and another potty break was eminent. In fact, if I am being honest, I was worried whether or not I was going to make it and hoping I didn’t end up with a repeat of my October half where I wet myself right before getting to a bathroom and had to strip down to my quick dry shorts and run the last mile while drying off and with a bag of wet pants and undergarments.

5750_10202982749632425_385513940_nbc0582f2812611e380a21273f828ffe7_8Mile 11-12 kicked my ass. I was struggling, and needed to take a moment to find a little inspiration so I pulled out my phone and checked in on Facebook to see what my cheer squad was saying. I started looking at all the names I was seeing liking posts about me running in the event. I started reading the comments and seeing the \O/ ‘s that people were throwing up. Then I saw a post by one of my best friends; my friend Kelly, who I’ve been friends with longer than I can remember, we went to grade school together, grew up in houses just around the corner from one another. There was a post with a picture of her son Logan; one of the cutest little boys in the whole world dressed up as a lost boy with a caption that said, “Lost Boy Looking for his Tinkerbell Pandora Williams \o/ You can do it!!! We’re waiting for you @ the finish line.”


That picture put the pixie dust in my tinker-toes and the next thing I knew I was hitting the 13 mile marker and hugging my Godfather, my friend Tammy and of course, Kelly, Logan and Heather as I made my way to the finish line. When all was said and done, I finished with a pace of 14:58 min/mile and an overall time of 3:16:08 which is proudly engraved on my medal, thanks to Kelly and Logan.

Standing in the finishers corral, I was reunited with Dawn, who did indeed find that inner drive to move her feet when I left her, and managed not to get swept at that 3 mile marker, and made it all the way to Mile 10. I’ll be posting Dawn’s write up about the event in the next day or two.  I feel it’s her story to share with you, not mine, but what I will say is that as a coach and soon to be trainer, I am damn proud of how far she made it, and her overcoming the obstacles and fears that she had to get that far.

1546018_10151839935267447_249017529_nI always say there is no such thing as failure. Each time we fall short it is just an opportunity for us to do better the next time. And while I may not have given Dawn the experience of crossing the half marathon finish line like I wanted to, I gave her the experience of participating in her first half marathon. Just yesterday I saw a post from her on Facebook that said she was doing another half marathon in April and that she was going to participate in a mini triathlon. Apparently Dawn realized along the way that it wasn’t “Hell” after all and has decided to give it another go. This is both a victory and a success in my book as a coach and I will gladly stand up and say “I took Dawn to her first Half Marathon, I helped her find the motivation and determination to run, and I helped her find the fun in fitness enough to make her want to do it again.”

As for me, I found a few things during those 13 miles that I didn’t know I was looking for. I found closure on any doubt I had of the destiny that lies ahead of me. I found closure to a chapter I wasn’t sure about the ending of, and as I stood there at the finish line getting hugs from some of the people I know love me the most; I felt my father smiling down on me and I knew in that very moment, that standing there in the midst of the happiest place on earth, I had fulfilled a promise I made to my father. I was living a happy, healthy life.

I want to send a very special thank you to everyone that was a part of this day. To our sponsors, Kay’s Naturals, Celebrate Vitamins, Pace Setter Athletic and Ameriwell Bariatrics, thank you, thank you, thank you. Walt Disney said “I dream, I test my dreams against my beliefs, I dare to take risks, and I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.” Without your financial support this dream never would have come true. I can never say thank you enough for what you allowed me to learn, experience and give to someone else in my community.

To my on site Cheer Squad – My Godfather; Tom Geiger, My “WLS Parents” Sandi & Chuck Henderson and their lovely granddaughter, My dear friends Tammy and Kelly and my “Lost Boy” Logan, and of course, Heather. – I could not have asked for more loving, supportive and wonderful people to share this amazing experience with me. Each of you holds a special place in my heart and each of you is loved, beyond measures of time.

To my Facebook Cheer Squad – there are just too many of you to mention, but I’ll be writing a blog about just you and about “Social Media Motivation” and how you are all a pillar in my world. So look for that to come. But know that each one of you that liked or commented on anything related to this experience has been someone special in my world and given me a gift that can never be replaced and I am forever grateful.

Lastly, to my Father– thank you for opening my eyes and helping me find the runner in me. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish you were still here to share the happy healthy life you helped me achieve with me; that I don’t feel showered with your love, pride and joy knowing that though I cannot touch you or see you, I can always feel your presence… especially when I put my feet to the pavement. Below is a picture that was taken of me standing next to Eeyore at Disneyland when I was 24 years old and weighed 420 lbs. Next to it, you’ll find a picture of me standing next to Eeyore at Disneyland last month, at 37 years old and weighting 166 lbs. This is my gift to my Father, this is my promise fulfilled. I love you Daddy.


Now it’s time to wipe my joyful tears and get ready for work and start working on that Sponsorship Letter for my next dream… RunDisney Wine and Dine – November 2014 – Here comes Team Seeking Slender \o/


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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Introducing Coach Pandora! Heres to a new us Slender Seekers

30e6a8b80c6a11e2ab4c22000a1d0350_7About two years ago around this time, I had decided that I wanted to become a personal trainer. I knew I wasn’t anywhere near ready yet, I had a lot to do in my own journey still, but my goal was to get my ISSA Certification and be ready as soon as my body was.

As I started 2012 I had a goal of having several bouts of reconstructive plastic surgery after having lost 260 lb, during my own weight loss journey and I had one of my best friends in the entire world moving in with me to help see me through it. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that three rounds of plastic surgery would take so much out of me.

My plans changed along the way a little. I became more focused on getting through the plastic surgeries and the weeks and weeks of healing that came after each one, and I became passionate about blogging about my weight loss journey and the experience of reconstructive plastic surgery because I didn’t really feel like there were enough people out there doing it.

a868851aa37c11e2934e22000aa800af_7Last year I started 2013 with the same goal, to become a personal trainer and an additional goal to start my own business. In March I started that journey by taking the Personal Trainer Education course at the Cooper Institute. – As much as I thought I would take that class, take the test, ace it, and move on with my dreams, things changed a little when a fourth and final round of reconstructive plastics took precedent in July and the year really became a time of personal growth for me when it came to the mind and wellness part of my journey. In June of I returned to Cooper Institute to take some additional courses in Coaching Healthy Behaviors and Weight Management Strategies because I wanted more education and training under my belt to start my career with.

The truth was, I was intimidated by the Personal Trainers course. I love cardio, but strength and toning and resistance training had been a big missing piece of my fitness profile because I love to run so much and I love cardio so much that when I get out there and I want to exercise, that’s what I want to do. I felt inept when it came to this aspect of fitness and I didn’t know how to get around it. It started holding me back; a lot.

I also realized quickly that perhaps the best thing I could do, was to get a job in the fitness world that would allow me to get some experience under my belt in a gym environment while I worked on these very things myself but still allowed me to do what I am most passionate about doing, helping others achieve their weight loss goals. I started applying at gyms and looking for a place I would fit in.

In October of last year, a visit to my family & friends took me out to North Carolina and suddenly, just like that, things started falling into place for me. I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Brian Autry, Personal Trainer and Co-Owner of the Wilmington Ladies Fitness Gym located on Carolina Beach Road in Wilmington. Together he and his wife Krista Autry, have been working at getting women the results they are looking for through fitness and exercise for over 10 years.

slide-1.1I feel in love with their club right away. One of my biggest reasons for wanting to help other people with their weight loss journey was that I felt there was a gap in the industry were the comfort of people of size was concerned. When it comes to those of us that have suffered with morbid obesity and have the daunting task of losing over 100 lb., being in a gym can be a very intimidating place. I wanted to create a situation and a program where I could get people exercising in environments that they are comfortable in, be that a back yard, a space in their house, or a private gym. That was the ultimate goal.  Suddenly there I was, talking to Brian about what I wanted to do and how passionate I was about doing it and as I looked around the women’s only gym, I thought to myself “This would be the perfect environment to work in, most of the women I know would be so much more comfortable in a women’s only facility, and it’s very obvious that the club is a positive and welcoming place for women of all shapes, sizes and fitness levels.”

1f3948b8694411e3b28012d40f8b39a1_8Within the next two months, after a few conversations with Brian, I’m excited to announce that this is where the next chapter of my journey is taking me. As of February, I’ll be taking a dual position and joining the Wilmington Ladies Fitness team as a Membership Service Manager and a Weight Management Program Lead where I will be developing a weight management program for women that have 50, 100 pounds or more to lose and working as a Wellness & Weight Management Coach consulting with members on nutrition, exercise programming and lifestyle changes for effective weight loss.

And while I am at it I will be continuing to work on my own fitness goals of making resistance and strength training a big priority in my life and continuing to work on obtaining my personal trainers certification, at which point, I’ll also start working as a personal trainer at Wilmington Ladies Fitness.

I am so excited about taking this job, so thrilled about being a part of their team, and just bursting with enthusiasm at the thought of how many people’s lives I am about to be able to touch through this opportunity.

bariatric-foodie150I started 2013 with so many goals and so many aspirations and I made a lot of them happen, not all, but a lot. I think my dear friend Nikki Massie (Bariatric Foodie) said it best in a Facebook post she made on New Year’s Eve; 2013 was “a healing year that also brought some unexpected new beginnings.” I love the way this woman thinks, if you don’t follow her blog you should, she’s an icon of the Bariatric Community when it comes to all things food oriented.

And now, it’s time for this Wellness & Weight Management Coach to get to packing, I have a two more weeks of half-marathon training for the Tinker Bell half-marathon weekend, a cross-country road trip, a new fitness focus and a new job to get kicked into gear and only a month or so to do it. It’s the second day of 2014 and I’ve got the beginning of a lot of new chapters started. Now it’s time to write the story Slender Seekers, now, it’s time to rise.


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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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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