Hello, Slender Seekers! I can’t believe three months have passed since I got the news that I was the “How Do You Celebrate Success” contest winner. My life has been a whirlwind since then. I had a photo shoot, started training for the RunDisney Wine and Dine Half Marathon, started getting my butt kicked by Bobby Whisnand’s “It’s All Heart” program, organized a group of 30 people, most of whom had never run before, and did a color run, toured the Celebrate Vitamins HQ, and I’ve made some wonderful new friends. But I did one other thing that I never saw coming. Something that was probably risky and foolish, but since it turned out ok, I can confidently call it one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Slender Seekers, seven short weeks into my training, I hauled off and ran a half marathon.
I live in Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which hosted the first-ever Hall of Fame Marathon and Half Marathon in April. In the months before the race, I must have said 25 times, “I wish I could be ready in time for the HOF half.” For one, it has a generous four-hour open course, or just over an 18-minute mile. The course winds through the city streets of Canton, right through my own neighborhood, and finishes on the 50-yard-line of Fawcett Stadium, where the Hall of Fame game is played each year. The kicker, however, was that finishers not only got the coolest medal I’ve ever seen, but also a super sweet blanket. I’m not shy about the fact that I run for swag. No shirt, no run. Every bib I’ve ever raced in hangs on my fridge, every finisher’s medal hangs in my living room, every t-shirt gets worn. They are all badges of honor, reminding myself that I was brave enough to get off of the couch at nearly 250 pounds and start moving my feet, in public, with a timer running. So this blanket….I wanted it badly.
Two weeks before the HOF race, I was part of a relay team at another half marathon. My portion was 4.5 miles, the farthest I’d ever run. That day it was 84 degrees and windy, the first hot day of 2014. I struggled, more than I ever have before After the first mile, I was so hot I had chills. I couldn’t catch my breath, I was seeing stars, I couldn’t get enough water. At each station I took a cup to drink and a cup to dump on my head. When I got to the top of a hill and there wasn’t a water station waiting, I cried. In my last half mile, some awesome friends appeared (or was I hallucinating?) to encourage me. Without them, I don’t know if I could have made it. When I finished, I walked in circles, trying not to be sick. After that, I knew in my heart I was nowhere near ready to do a half marathon. I’d barely survived 4.5 miles. I was relieved I hadn’t decided to attempt the HOF.
Then comes April 26th, the day of the HOF race expo and packet pickup. I live right by the Hall of Fame, so I could see all of the excitement when I drove by. My heart started beating fast and tears welled up in my eyes. I wanted to be a part of that! I didn’t want to wait another year! I drove home and got online to see if they still had open registration. I texted my friend Stacie who is joining me for Wine and Dine: “if you had to walk 13 miles tomorrow, could you do it?” She said, “I know what you’re thinking, and I’ve been thinking the same thing.” The next thing I knew, I was in a tent in the Pro Football Hall of Fame end zone, swiping my credit card and committing to a half marathon that was starting in 14 hours. I’d been training for 7 weeks and only had a distance of 5 miles under my belt. And not only was I throwing myself to the wolves, but I was dragging Stacie into the den right along with me. I coerced her by sending her pictures of all of the cute “13.1” shirts for sale. I knew her weak spot… it’s the same as my own.
We went to dinner and started freaking out. We tried to focus on a plan. I suggested we do my :60/:60 run/walk intervals I’d been training with. Then we thought maybe we should run a quarter-mile, then walk a quarter-mile. Or should we run one mile and walk one? We knew if we had to, we could walk the entire distance at an 18-minute-mile pace, but we set a goal of 16 minute miles, which is the minimum pace required to stay on the course at Disney. We just wanted to know what 13 miles felt like. We decided not to say a word to anyone, in case we failed to finish. As I drove home, I watched the odometer on my car, gauging 13 miles. My stomach started to hurt. It was SO far. I came home and laid out all of my clothes, tape for my ankle, a brace for my knee, little snacks for on the course. Then I laid in bed panicking, feeling so guilty for roping Stacie into this mess with me. WHAT were we thinking?
Around 3am, I watched the video Pandora posted online the day she surprised herself by running her first personal half-marathon, for her dad, on Father’s Day. [ See Related Video: I Ran a Half Marathon for my Dad today ] She didn’t know when she left the house that day that she’d end up going 13.1 miles, nor was she fully prepared, but she did it! It made me believe that I had a chance at survival too. I also knew she would KILL me if I hurt myself and ruined my training! So even though I wanted to message her for support, I decided to just keep quiet and see how it went.
7am comes, and Stacie and I are at the starting line, freezing, with thousands of other runners. The race began and every plan we’d made went out the window. We ran for a while, and then Stacie signaled that she needed a walk break. Then we ran for a while longer, then I asked her for one. And I swear it seemed like no time went by at all, and we passed mile marker 3. We’d done a 5k, and we were still going strong. Run, walk, run walk… no particular plan or interval, just run until it was time to walk, walk until it was time to run. We settled into a pattern where we were around the same people on the course for a while. They began to feel like friends or comrades on the battlefield. During walks we’d pop out an ear bud and talk. We even laughed. We were astounded to realize that we were having a great time. A tuba band played music on the side of the road. People cheered from their front porches, and kids held up hilarious and encouraging signs. One guy high-fived everyone. There was water, Gatorade, music and even treats along the way. The sun was shining, the air was cool, the breeze was slight. Our feet were being good to us. And we were at a consistent 13-minute mile pace, 3 minutes ahead of our target pace, and 5 minutes ahead of the sweeper pace. By mile 6, we had a 30 minute cushion on the sweepers. Whew. So when we got to the 6-mile marker sign and still felt great, we stopped and took a selfie and posted it on Facebook. “The secret is out… we’re in the middle of a half marathon. Surprise!”
We were feeling pretty cool around 8.5 miles. Look at us go! We were running through the park where I do my training runs. Then suddenly someone started kicking me hard in the calf from behind. I turned around and was surprised to find no one was behind me. It was my muscle spamming, painfully seizing up and releasing. We stopped while I stretched it. When I ran again, it happened again. We passed mile 9, and I posted on Facebook, “send us some positive vibes, it’s getting tough out here.” Soon every muscle in my legs was screaming. It felt like I had a softball in my left thigh. My feet were numb, and my calves kept cramping. But we kept going. Run 25 feet, cramp, stretch, walk, repeat. By mile 10, Stacie’s muscles had joined the party. We were close enough to know we could finish, but we knew we were going to have to walk most of it.
I don’t know what I would have done if I’d been out there alone. In my tough moments, Stacie made me laugh, gave me a pep talk, reminded me of how it would feel to put that 13.1 magnet on my car. In her bad moments, I told her to think of the blanket, of going home to her husband and kids and saying, “look at this blanket! I finished!” Soon we passed mile marker 12, which was near mile marker 1, where the street was still littered with the shirts runners had tossed as they got warmed up. We could see the Hall of Fame. We were going to make it.
But it hurt. My legs were weak and tired and cramped up tight. A girl just ahead of us was in even worse shape; she looked like she’d ruptured something. She was crying as she dragged her leg behind her, just trying to get to the end. “We’re doing this for a blanket?” I asked Stacie. “Damn right we are,” she said. And we ran another 20 feet before grabbing our calves.
Finally we entered the gates of the stadium to run across the end zone and down the sideline to the finish at the 50. The stands were full of people cheering. Our names were announced over the PA as we came into the stadium. I saw my friend Sally cheering for me, and that’s when I realized we were running hard. The adrenaline trumped the pain, and we took off as fast as we’ve ever run, feeling like we really belonged there. Stacie and I crossed the finish line together and were promptly draped in our medals and blankets, then ushered off to have our photos taken like celebrities.
It was the single greatest moment of my entire life.
We ate a sandwich, drank some water, spent an exorbitant amount of money on “half marathon” jackets they were selling…. “We deserve it!” was our mantra. We got adjusted by chiropractors, then dragged ourselves up a hill (the only complaint I had about the entire event) to the buses waiting to take us back to our car at the fairgrounds. The bus driver opened the door, and I said, “you mean I have to climb 3 steps?” She said, “I have had a lot of requests for the wheelchair bus today.”
At the fairgrounds, weary runners slowly limped in all directions toward their cars, all draped in the same blankets, dust blowing at their feet. It looked like the zombie apocalypse. When we got to Stacie’s car, the first thing we did was take out the 13.1 magnet we’d bought with our hopes high, and I took a picture of her putting it on her car. Until you move your feet for that great distance, you can’t really comprehend how meaningful that moment is, putting that badge on your car. I’ve always admired them when I saw them, but now I respect them. I don’t want to even THINK about 26.2…
I texted Pandora from the bus, “so…I just did a half marathon….don’t kill me.” She was awesome, of course, and full of congratulations. At home I dragged myself into the shower, sitting down a few minutes into it and switching it to a bath because I just couldn’t stand for another minute. My parents showed up that evening with pizza and Advil, and I went to sleep on my couch wrapped up in my finisher blanket.
When I first started running, my C25k podcast had me running for 60 seconds, and i thought I would die. The first time I ran a mile without stopping, I almost cried, thinking about how it took me until I was in my 30’s to accomplish what I never could in school. And now… now when I’m at a red light, I secretly hope that the gym teacher who humiliated me because I was overweight and couldn’t run at age 13 is sitting behind me looking at my car magnet thinking, “13.1…I wish I could run that far.” I can. And I have. And I’m going to do it again.
Note from Pandora: Normally I would say that Amy should have trusted me enough to tell me that she was taking this on and let me help guide her, encourage her and cheer her on from the sidelines. However, running can be a very personal and emotional thing and the best motivator anyone can ever have is the one inside them that propels them to do something. I completely understand needing to know you can do something for yourself before you put yourself out there in front of the world trying to do it for the first time. Congratulations Amy! I am so proud of you and what you’ve accomplished and I am honored to have been a part of it. I can’t wait to run with you at Disney World as we both take on our farthest distance in a day. Here’s to another first for #TeamSlenderSeekers.
I’d also like to take a moment to thank our sponsors, without whom none of this would be possible. Ameriwell Bariatrics, Celebrate Vitamins, Kay’s Naturals, Wellese and BariMelts thank for being the sponsors of a contest that helps people celebrate their weight loss success and share these amazing stories of accomplishment with us.
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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