Sixteen months ago I wrote a blog that documented my running achievements thus far and gave a few tips on staying motivated and inspired in your journey. At that point I had ran my first three half marathons and I was getting ready to take Dawn Brell, the winner of my first “How Do You Celebrate Success” contest, to run the Tinker Bell Half Marathon at Disneyland. I’ve learned a few things since then.
Sometimes life changes and things can get a little crazy.
I started working full time as a professional weight loss and wellness coach in an all-women’s gym facility and the time I used to have to write about everything I was doing suffered greatly, as all my extra time outside of work was being spent on trying to get my own exercise done and getting acclimated to my new situation.
My days off became the days I had to run errands and get things done around the house and all that free time I once had thanks to my old work-from-home, set-your-own-hours life started to dwindle. Finding the time to be a runner, a blogger, a puppy mom and a good girlfriend sort of took a back seat to my career.
In March of 2014, I held the second “How Do You Celebrate Success Contest” and my winner Amy Smith and I were off and running. First we were doing a couch to 10k program to get ourselves ready to run a 10k that we would submit as our pace time for coral placement and next, we were training for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon.
Sometimes the biggest struggle is admitting you need support and being able to ask for it.
I lost myself somewhere between June and October. A really horrible bout of anniversary grief took me for a tail spin in June and it really took quite a while for me to recover. I learned a valuable lesson though. I’m not impervious to falling into old bad habits and I don’t deal with the time of year that my Father passed away well when I try to do it alone.
But I had obligations to people that were important to me. I had a commitment to Amy, as well as a commitment to a client of mine, Megan Hyler, to run the half marathons with them that I had helped them train for.
As the time for the first half marathon I had to run approached I was terrified. I wasn’t sure I could do it. I was convinced that all the time I had let go by between June and September had cost me my cardiovascular endurance and I’d lost the confidence that I could actually run 13.1 miles so I did what I normally do when I start doubting myself.
Sometimes you gotta pull up your big girl panties and deal with it.
So I went out and ran a half marathon, by myself, with just my dad and the music as my chip and time-keeper and I reminded myself that though it might be hard and I might have to push myself, I could indeed still do it.
Two weeks later I ran my fifth half marathon next to Megan Hyler at the Wake Forest Haunted Hallowed Half and pulled a PR of 2:31:59
Two weeks later, I was on a plane to Orlando to meet up with Amy, her friend Stacey as well as my dear friends Tammy, Heather and Joy, to do the Wine and Dine Half Marathon at Walt Disney World where we all got to experience Heather running her first 5k. I learned so much about myself in that experience. I grew as a person and a coach thanks to the amazing women that were there to help support me.
Then came December, my first Christmas away from Oregon, and depression and sadness started sneaking their way back into my world. I sort felt like taking on a new career had taken over my life and put a dent in the things that were once a top priority for me, running, writing and sharing my journey with others.
My next half marathon was supposed to be in March. I had committed to running with a member of the gym that had tried to train for a half marathon two times before and had to stop because of injuries, and as March started creeping near I doubted myself and my ability to run a half marathon.
So I pulled on my big girl panties and signed up for another half marathon. I’d ran 3 half marathons in 2013, 4 half marathons in 2014 and now to try to get 2015 started right and convince myself I still had what it took, I did a last day registration for a local half marathon and got up early the next morning and went and ran the Wilmington 13.1 Half Marathon.
Less than a month later, with a lot of babying an unpredictable knee issue I ran my 9th half marathon alongside Ashley Hunt at the Quintiles Half Marathon
Sometimes you don’t realize your achievements until you write them down.
That half marathon really put some things in perspective for me. That morning Ashley and I went into that half marathon both a little unsure of what our bodies were going to allow us to do. When we finished that half marathon Ashley said something to me that will stick with me forever “Thank you, I couldn’t have done it without you.”
It was the first time that I had the experience of running beside someone who really needed me there to help push them. Most of the other women I have taken to a half marathon already ran one before they ran with me. They had done the same thing I had done, proven to themselves that they could do it first.
But crossing the finish line with Ashley as she completed her first half marathon was a new experience for me.
That’s the point that I sat down and started to look at what I had really accomplished. Since I started my new career this year I’ve had the privilege of giving several of my clients their first taste of running.
In the beginning of 2014 I had a goal to help inspire others find the love of achievements like your first 5k, your first 10k and your first half marathon. I had held these two contests on my site in order to help facilitate that dream and I had accomplished it. Being a part of Dawn and Amy’s journey to their first half marathon was amazing.
Through my career this year I have also been able to walk beside two women who are very special to me in their first 5k at the Wilma Dash with Jamie Martin and her amazing daughter Kylee. I’ve been able to run beside Nichole Marshall and Whitney Umberger in their first 5k at Color Me Rad. I got to be a part of Megan Hyler’s amazing journey from first 5k to first half marathon and got to cheer her on as she continued to take on her first full marathon and soon, her first ultra-marathon.
Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of running beside a new client turned friend, Sarah Hanson as she ran her first 5k. Sarah had taken on the personal challenge of running her first 5k in honor of her mother. Nervous and unsure of herself I decided to take the pressure of trying to do it with everyone watching off and take Sarah to run her first 5k with me the weekend before. Completing that 5k with her was really special, I got to see Sarah realize what she is capable of and though she swore to me she’d never run a full marathon, she didn’t exclude running a half marathon, and that brought a smile to my face.
Last weekend Sarah ran her second 5k in order to honor her mother and to do something healthy to deal with the anniversary grief of her mother leaving this world instead of falling back into unhealthy habits. In order to support Sarah two of her fellow Weight Loss Boot Camp ladies Crystal Conklin and April Turner took on running their first 5k alongside her.
I had led the entire group in a stretching warm up routine before the 5k started and one of the gentleman there told us that he was running his first 5k. We noticed him several times along the route and gave him the thumbs up every time we saw him to encourage him. Once all my girls had crossed the finish line I decided to go back for him and see if he needed a little encouragement or support. When I told the girls I was going back, Crystal and Sarah decided that they were going to go back with me too. April would have gone too but she was nursing a really bad blister.
Let me just say that for someone who has lost weight and changed their entire career in order to help others fight obesity to see my clients come out to support one another and then go back to encourage someone else like this is one of the biggest emotional rewards I have ever received. Thank you ladies, it makes my heart sing to know that my clients are adopting the same pay it forward mentality that I have.
Sometimes you just have to stop and breathe and be grateful for what you have done.
Being a part of all amazing women’s journey has been a blessing for me this past year. It’s taught me more about who I am, what sort of coach I am, and it’s shown me that almost every experience that I have gone through during my own weight loss and running journey holds the value of experience that I get to pass on to others.
To each of you ladies that have chosen me as your friend, coach, and running partner. Thank you. Each of you has gifted me with something that is absolutely priceless, the experience of seeing you grow into healthier and happier versions of yourselves and celebrating your successes with you.
Each of us has a personal story, our journey is one big book and we write each chapter as we go. While I am always amazed by how my story can help motivate and inspire others I am even more amazed by how being a part of your stories motivates and inspires me.
I think one of the most important things for us to remember is that even though things might be scary and thought we might doubt ourselves sometimes it’s important to remember that sometimes life gets crazy and we have to roll with it and sometimes we just need to stop, look at what we have done and appreciate the journey and be grateful for it.
Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies, a Motivational Speaker and Exercise Instructor at a women’s only fitness facility in Wilmington North Carolina.
When I last wrote, it was the night before I left for the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon. My injured knee threatened to take my dream of finishing this race and smash it all over the Magic Kingdom. So did I finish? Did I lose a knee? Did I get swept? Let’s start at the beginning.
Pandora told me to forget the Mickey’s Jingle Jungle 5k the morning of the half-marathon. But we got to the race expo for packet pickup, and I saw the 5k bibs and shirts, and that little running demon inside of me started saying, “You can do it…it’s just 3 little miles. Go slowly.” I thought if I was going to skip the 5k ANYWAY, why not just start it, go slowly, use it to stretch out my body that morning, and if I got swept for slow pace at the 5k, no biggie. We got up at 4:15 am and headed to the race site. It was SO EXCITING! We had photos taken with Mickey and Minnie, music was blasting, snow was blowing in the Florida air (Disney magic!!) and we saw the sunrise over Animal Kingdom. I did :60/:60 run/walk intervals the whole time, and I felt fantastic! The race flew by. My legs felt great, my knee felt strong, and for the first time in weeks, I felt confident I could finish the half marathon by running intervals. My pace was well below 16 minutes a mile at the 5k.
During the day I ate small healthy meals, had my knee KT taped at the expo, and had a leg massage. I hydrated and took a nap, keeping ice on my knee throughout the day. I felt good. Then we opened the door to go to the race, and saw that the rain we’d feared had already become a reality. I’m kind of a wuss about weather. When it rains, snows or gets too hot, I run at the gym. I’ve seen rain in Florida, but never for hours at a time. It’s always been a quick shower, in and out. But this rain was here to stay.
Pre-race we snacked on some Kay’s Naturals cookies and I had a Celebrate Vitamins protein bar. We laughed a lot and Tammy handed out ponchos and glow-jewelry. Around 9:00 Pandora, Stacie and I headed to corral K. Behind us was the last corral, L, giving us about a 6-minute head-start on the sweepers. For anyone who doesn’t know, “sweepers” are the people who pull you off of a Disney race course if you fall behind the 16-minute mile pace. You’re put onto a bus and driven to the finish line. At the back of the corral there are ladies with light-up Mickey balloons, known as “the balloon ladies.” They keep a perfect 16-minute pace, so you know if you get passed by a balloon lady, you’re in trouble. I pushed them out of my head and worked on staying warm and dry. Every 3 minutes fireworks blasted, and another corral was turned loose onto the wet and slippery course. When we finally started running around 10:40 pm, I was already cold and my wet feet were aching from standing in a packed corral for almost 2 hours. There wasn’t even a way to really stretch right before the race, which is never good.
Pandora and Stacie let me set the pace. Because of the rain, much of the entertainment typically on the course wasn’t there. The first few miles were just on a straight roadway without much to look at except for rain. The road was slippery, and runners were still finding their grooves and there was a lot of weaving. It was a bit stressful. But we got into Animal Kingdom, and that part flew by. I’d run through there earlier during the 5k, and it made me remember how good I’d felt when it was dry and sunny. I tried to pretend the conditions were still ideal. There was no time for bathroom stops or character photos, but my pace was a good 14:00 mile, well ahead of the balloon ladies.
We came out of Animal Kingdom and headed back down that long straightaway. That’s when the wheels started to come off. I was favoring my knee, but this was adding stress to my shins, ankles and feet. I’d been so prepared for knee pain that I was mentally unprepared to deal with pain below the knees. The cold rain just made my bones ache. This was around mile 6, and I started to panic. I broke down and cried. Stacie and Pandora told me it was ok, get it out, keep moving, it would be ok. Pandora had been told that the balloon ladies were 20 minutes behind us. This was a huge relief, and I turned off the tears. With a 20-minute advance on the balloon ladies and 7 miles left, I could pace out at over 18 minutes a mile for the rest of the race and still stay ahead of them. I felt happy again, and we even stopped at a mile marker for a selfie.
And then, bad news: We’d been misinformed, and the balloon ladies were actually only FOUR minutes behind us. Things got ugly. I couldn’t stop turning around to see if I could see them. My whole mental game flew apart. I was back to only having about 16:15 per mile, and my legs were killing me during every run interval. I could deal with the pain while walking, but the runs took it to a bad place. We got to mile 8, and the balloon ladies were just one minute behind us. It was here that I told Stacie and Pandora they HAD to leave me there to be swept. Neither one wanted to, but I could NOT live with being swept AND having them swept because of me. Pandora said, “you did the 5k this morning. You have 3.1 miles in for the day. The sweepers will be at mile 10, so you’ll have your 13.1 and everything to be proud of.” She made me promise to get looked at by medical when I was swept at mile 10. I promised. I knew my race would end with sweepers at mile 10, and I said I would see them when they crossed the finish line.
The balloon ladies passed me at 8.5 miles. I could hear them ahead of me yelling, “THE SWEEPERS ARE AT MILE 9. YOU WILL BE REMOVED FROM THE COURSE IF YOU ARE BEHIND US! GET RUNNING, PEOPLE! BUSES ARE WAITING!” Well this blew my mental game all over again. We hadn’t even gotten into Hollywood Studios yet, I’d spent almost the entire race on this long, straight, boring, slippery road. I felt so sad, so ripped off. And if I was swept at 9, I’d only have 12.1 miles for the day. I don’t know how I did it, because I truly didn’t have anything left to give when I’d told the girls I had to fall back, but I dug deep and I ran up that hill past the balloon ladies only moments before security pulled caution tape across the road behind us, blocking the other runners from proceeding, and directing them onto 4 waiting buses. I missed getting swept by about 10 seconds.
So now my joy became knowing I’d get to enter Hollywood Studios before getting swept at mile 10. I still couldn’t keep up with the balloon ladies, so I let them go by and just tried to enjoy my final mile. It was so cool! We ran “behind the scenes” past costume assembly shops, disco lights with DJ’s, and then came around a corner to the most incredible Christmas scene I’d ever seen. The shops were fully blanketed in lights. I felt so thankful I’d made it past 9 so I could experience this scene before heartbreak.
So I got to mile 10 and a curious thing happened… not a sweeper in sight. Volunteers were cheering me on. “Only 3 miles to go!” I thought it was so sweet, but knew I wouldn’t be allowed to go much farther. At this point I was walking 80% of the time, taking slow jogs just to give my walking muscles a short break. My phone started to die from the soaking rain. My music gave out. I wanted to text Pandora to tell her I’d just made it past 10, but I couldn’t. I knew she wouldn’t be quite finished anyway, so I just kept walking, riding the wave (literally, with the rain) as long as I could. I saw a woman in a wheelchair, soaking wet, holding a sign that said “hello, complete stranger! I’m proud of you too!” She said “You’ve got this! So close now!” It made me cry. She didn’t have to sit out there in the cold rain for hours and hours, but she did, just to be an encouragement to the runners. It meant everything to me.
Soon I saw mile 11. I knew the sweepers would get me there, so I approached it slowly, wanting to savor my final moments on this adventure. I was so tired, cold, wet, aching, sad…and at mile 11 was a Disney worker saying, “only 2 more miles! You’ve got this girl!” I said, “the sweepers aren’t taking me?” She said, “the mile 11 sweepers already took a busload out of here, you just missed them by a minute. If you get past me now, they won’t see you.” The fact that I’d slowly approached 11 to enjoy those final moments had saved me. At this point I felt like God, Disney magic and Slender Seeker support were all working together to make the impossible possible for me. I headed toward mile 12.
I fumbled with my phone, trying desperately to contact Pandora, Heather or Stacie. I knew by now they would be finished and wondering where I was. They would be positive I’d been put on a bus 2 miles back, and concern would be setting in. I couldn’t get anything to work. My phone froze, then shut off. I powered it back on but couldn’t get the keyboard to work for text, and my calls weren’t going through. At mile 12 I asked the worker if I was safe. She said, “Nobody’s getting swept after making it 12 miles. Go finish this race, you’re doing great!” I cried for about the 15th time. There were people cheering, shaking cowbells, and shouting “you can do it!” Up ahead I saw a girl moving at about the same pace as myself. I made up my mind to catch her. I wasn’t sure I could keep putting one foot ahead of the other. I had nothing left to give mentally or physically, so I made it my mission to just get to her. When I caught up, she was as happy to see me as I was her. Her name was Beth, and we spent that last mile getting to know each other, commiserating about our difficulties with the race, and telling each other “only .75… only .50…”
Finally we came around a curve and there it was. The finish line was lit up, music playing, Mickey and Minnie waving at us. Suddenly there was a medal around my neck and a bottle of water in my hand. I was in tears. Pain, pride, exhaustion, disbelief…it all washed over me and I lost track of Beth. I was ushered to a photo stop and got dumped out at gear check. No one was around. I didn’t know where my friends were, my phone wasn’t working, I was shivering, and I was at once overcome by such excitement at finishing, and such sadness that I didn’t know how to tell anyone what I had done or where I was. I managed to pull a dry sweatshirt over my head, and then I saw Stacie. In the rain and confusion, she’d become separated from the group as well, and with our phones all fried from the hours of rain, we couldn’t get in touch with each other. Finally a message got through from Heather asking where we were, and I told her we were getting on a bus. It wasn’t until the next day that any of us were able to find out what exactly had happened out there.
Pandora was pretty upset to have missed me finishing this race, and I was sad that she didn’t get to witness the moment she’d worked so hard to create for me. I’d told her I promised to get off of the course at mile 10, so when I wasn’t at the finish line when she crossed, it was very confusing, and then there was no way to communicate thanks to the monsoon. When I made them leave me at mile 8, I just never ever dreamed I’d be given the option to keep going, behind pace. Disney clocked me at 17:41 pace, 1-minute 41-seconds pace behind the balloon ladies. It was determination that saved me at 9, luck that saved me at 11, and a miracle that got me across that finish line with a knee that was fully working.
I’ve never worked harder for anything, both in training and on that course. There were times when I desperately wanted to be swept, to be told I had no choice but to stop. But when they didn’t come for me, I just couldn’t live with knowing I’d made the decision to quit. Maybe I should have. Maybe I shouldn’t have done the 5k. But I finally went to bed at 5:30 am, 25 hours after waking up, knowing I’d gone 16.2 miles in one day, earned two medals, and completed everything I’d set out to do when I was selected as the contest winner. Not as fast as I’d planned, certainly not as easily as I’d planned. Running is such a personal thing, and the only person you’re ever competing with is yourself. So while I’d planned to do this in a 12-13 minute mile pace, finish feeling strong and spend the night partying with the Slender Seekers at Epcot, I still finished. I fought harder than I ever dreamed I could. And I have no regrets. I certainly took risks even by starting the race, especially by doing that 5k, and by continuing to move myself 5 miles past where I felt enough pain to stop running. I’m never going to say that what I did would be right for everyone. But it was right for me, I made it, and I get to tell all of you that I finished that race for Team Slender Seekers.
I ran in a shirt that had Desperately Seeking Slender on the front and all of our sponsors on the back. I carried each and every one of you with me through each mile. I knew I wasn’t only running (and walking) for myself, but for each of you and the success you’ve had or are seeking, and the belief the sponsors have in creating healthier lives for all of us. Even when I sent the team ahead of me, I was never alone because you were literally the shirt on my back. Thank you to everyone who believed in me, encouraged me, and made my dreams come true. What a way to celebrate success.
When we finished on Saturday, Stacie and I said we probably wouldn’t do another half marathon. By Wednesday, we were looking up schedules for future Disney half marathons. So this isn’t the end of the road for us, Slender Seekers. It’s only the beginning. Sincerely and humbly, thank you.