“You must give everything to make your life as beautiful as the dreams that dance in your imagination.”

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
― John BinghamNo Need for Speed: A Beginner’s Guide to the Joy of Running

2016 may seem to some like a bit of a paradox.  Here we have an encore of 2010 – a resolve to commit to a year of adventures so as to broaden our exposure to the world and challenge our inhibitions.  It’s a vast scope of work and one could argue that there are limitless adventures to undertake.  So why, in a world of such potential, would I elect to do something I’ve already done?

12540870_10103628520318000_361795023563503039_nI haven’t defined an adventure because each experience is unique to the individual.  One man’s ‘been there, done that‘ is another’s worst fear confirmed.  Even more, I’m an adventuring one-hit wonder.  Despite my best efforts I can never replicate an experience.  The set up, the sensation, the reflection, all changes.  While this helps keep life spicy (see: experience, spice of life), it also comes at a cost.  You see, I think fondly on my past year of adventure.  Sometimes I’d do just about anything to feel as unencumbered as free as I did when I first jumped out of a plane, or spoke into a microphone, or fell in love.  These are the memories we’d sooner remake, so it was with some trepidation that I embarked on Adventure #2, and ran my first marathon in 11 years.

That’s because I’ve been chasing that feeling for 11 years and nothing has ever come close.

This is a tall order.  I was a spry, spit-fire 20 year old when I registered for the 2004 Walt Disney World Marathon.  I had no running history, and a paltry health history.  But, a friend encouraged me to train and 8 months later I crossed my first finish line.

I was proud.  The world knew I was proud.  I told just about anyone who listened how much that marathon meant to me.  I called it the greatest accomplishment of my life.  The best moment of my life.  It was every superlative to me.  And I meant every word I said.

Now that’s a lot to live up to.  If experiences are uniquely their own, would I ever feel the same rush of possibility as I had in 2004?  Would that mean that my best day was behind me???

I’m sure, dear reader, that’s not true, but I’ve never been one to shy away from hyperbole. Still, I boarded the adventure train for a return trip in effort to challenge these assumptions.  Maybe my past best is over, but that isn’t to say the future won’t conjure something better.  Owing to this I registered for the 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon.  While the composition may have changed (see: age, older; body, WORN), the same sense of excitement and possibility remained.

So let’s get down to adventure tacks, shall we?  If you can heed anything from my words, heed these: no two marathons are the same.  I know this because I foolishly thought a marathon is a marathon.  Posh, I’d done this before!  And that sense of amateur bravado crept into my training by way of reduced training.  Come the month before the marathon I was down to 2 miles per week, if that.

Queue race weekend and all the excitement and energy I’d harnessed for this event evaporated into the sticky Florida air.  I wasn’t ready!  How was I going to do this?  I thought back to my first race and my favourite memories – the smiling still frames in my mind – were quickly replaced with recollections of sore knees and stopped breaths.  I remembered the exquisite pain not only in running past submission, but in feeling like I might not make it – that I may disappoint my own sense of purpose.

These are not the memories that should cloud an impending racers mind.  I’d argue this doom and gloom has no place in the Most Magical Place on Earth.  But somehow I couldn’t shake it and I walked into the pre-race expo full of dread and nihilistic pessimism.

BUT! fear not!  Disney ain’t free for a reason.  It truly is a place of dreams, and those are manifest in the smallest of details.  As in, I took two steps into Disney’s Wide World of Sports and felt my fear dissipate.  I can’t speak to the mechanics of this witchcraft, only its efficacy, because the ground swell of support – the 1000’s of runners amassed amidst cheering Mickey’s and Donald’s and Goofy’s – did something remarkable to my aching runners heart.  I felt a newfound sense of possibility and purpose.  I felt the pride of achievement in having gotten here.  I remembered that I had trained – was trained – and needed to forgive myself for a lax last month.  I’d argue that at that moment there was no one more excited than I.

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And that was just the expo!

I ran that race.  And even better, I ran that race in ways I hadn’t before.  It was a humid morning (100% humidity – FLORIDA!) and we were off to an auspicious start.  I was sweating 3 miles in.  This felt new.  The route had changed.  This felt outside of my comfort zone.  So I had to make some on-my-feet (get it?!) quick decisions.  I could ruminate over my discomfort OR I could distract myself into adventure.  Usually I’d be one to catastrophize (buying trouble is my comfort zone) but where’s the adventure in that?  So I took to talking.  I chatted with my running neighbors.  I waved hello to any group of spectators anywhere.  I blew kisses at Pooh Bear and Donald and Jack Sparrow as they cheered us on along the route.  I gave a high five to the children that lined the Main Street of the Magic Kingdom, donning an oversized Mickey glove screaming, “You can do it!”.  I sang along, aloud, to the pop songs that blared over the loud speakers, crooning in concert with whomever trotted alongside me.  I talked to myself – obsessively – sometimes out loud, sometimes silently.  I reminded myself to remember this feeling.  That it was new, that nothing was fixed.  That I was really capable of anything.  While other runners peeled away to take pictures with the elaborate character set ups at each mile marker I kept at it – running through the pain of poor training at mile 16 – pushing myself past limits at mile 22.  Seeing the mile marker for 25 and wiping away a tear knowing that this would all soon be over.  To date I can’t say whether I cried in relief or preemptively mourned the passing of another adventure.  But whatever it was I felt the rush of emotion I’d experienced a long 11 years ago.  12540608_10103628520512610_4739424661121333901_n

11 years ago I crossed that finish line and felt the greatest sense of accomplishment I’ll ever feel.  That’s true to date.  Crossing this finish line did not eclipse that.  Instead, I felt that feeling 26.2 times over.  In this instance it was the journey – the 4 hour 30 minute commitment that inspired a similar sense of pride and purpose.  This wasn’t my fastest time.  I’ve run faster marathons before.  So while we can’t call it a personal record, I will call it a personal best.  I have a long history of running from things, and here, on this course, I stayed steady and ran toward something.  And what a feeling.

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