I was never going to be a runner.
In fact, I used to tell my friends that they were safe in a zombie apocalypse because I could never outrun anyone.
About three years ago while listening to the WDW Radio Show podcast, I heard Lou and friends talking about the most recent runDisney race weekend, and I thought to myself, “I want to try that!”
Fast forward to January 2017. With 2 runDisney race weekends and nearly a dozen half marathons under my belt, I was itching for a new goal. Something I never thought I could do, or even wanted to do: I wanted to see if I could run a full marathon. And if I was going to go all the way to Walt Disney World to run it, I may as well make the trip worthwhile. Go big or go home, right?
The Dopey Challenge is a 4-day endurance event held over Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend each year since 2014. It involves running the four Marathon Weekend events: 5k (3.1 miles) on Thursday, 10k (6.2 miles) on Friday, Half Marathon (13.1 miles) on Saturday, and Full Marathon (26.2 miles) on Sunday for a total of 48.6 miles in 4 days. The recommended training plan by runDisney’s official trainer Jeff Galloway is 29 weeks (more than six months) long! Still, the prospect of earning all those shiny medals – one for each race, plus TWO challenge medals – was compelling. I begged my friend Amy to do it with me, and she agreed – mostly because she’s as crazy as I am, but also because everything sounds better with a good friend.
In February 2017, I took the plunge. I got online at the appointed time and entered the Dopey Challenge. The adrenaline high from that moment lasted approximately twelve seconds – and then I realized I would actually have to TRAIN for the challenge and then RUN IT. Fear set in – but I believed in myself. I trained when it was 85 degrees at 5AM. I trained when I was busy or sick. I trained when Amy got pregnant and couldn’t join me because she would have a 6 week old baby by race time. I trained when I didn’t want to, when it got cooler (FINALLY!) and when my friend Stacey couldn’t be there to hold me accountable for my runs. Good and bad days, I put in the miles.
Still, life happened. I worked on a theatrical production in October that made it hard to get up and train during the week. My sweet mother-in-law died on Thanksgiving Day, and our resulting trip from Texas to Iowa took the place of my 4-day simulation runs. Suddenly, I was less than a month out and really feeling the pressure…but I did my best. I kept on with the training. Some people weren’t sure I could do it. Some people worried I was under trained. Some people knew how hard it was going to be and wanted me to stay safe and healthy, but everyone was supportive and kind to me as the time neared. I even had several friends from my hometown who were taking on the Dopey Challenge for the first time. We stayed in touch and cheered each other through the training process.
Christmas and New Year flew by, and suddenly I was on a plane. Expo Day. 5k. 10k. Half Marathon. All went by with success, and I had no fear because I was not in unfamiliar territory, yet. Then the Full Marathon loomed before me, huge and scary and overwhelming.
Enter my friend Holly, who drove in from her coastal Florida home to support me on Saturday evening and Sunday. She reminded me of all the work I’d put in. She spent the night with me, and we planned for her to meet me at Miles 14, 20 and the finish. I was ready as I would ever be.
Ready or not, race morning arrived. In the cold early morning, I faced the start. When those fireworks went off for my corral, I started running. I had my music going and my interval timer reminding me when to run or walk. One interval at a time, I ran that marathon. Mile 5 – Lou and friends greeted me in Magic Kingdom (and he took my extra pants, since my legs were warmed up). Mile 14, there was Holly with a “WORST PARADE EVER” poster and my pre-packed food bag. I was officially past the halfway mark, with 12+ miles to go. I made it to ESPN and started the winding path around and through the complex. Mile 20, there was Holly again with a sign and a hug. Just 10k to go. I CAN DO THIS.
Mile 24 – I was out of Disney’s Hollywood Studios and heading toward the BoardWalk Area. Panicky texts from Holly that she isn’t going to make it to the finish. I assure her that I will slow down, and she will make it. I decide to take my time and stop for photos.
Mile 25 – Lou and friends are there again! To my surprise, my friend Jen and her kids have shown up to support me. I ugly cry all over them (there is photographic proof) and head into Epcot’s World Showcase for the final stretch. A quick hug from a Cast Member friend at Mile 26, and I was almost there.
And then it was over. I headed into the chute, crossed the finish line and got my medal. I got my challenge medals and took photos. I met Holly, Jen and her kids at the race retreat. I did it – I AM A MARATHONER! This day, fear did not win. I conquered it and that can never be taken away from me.
This photo, my friends. This is what triumph looks like. How does it feel? Empowering. Amazing. Incredible. Unreal.
So, what’s your challenge? It doesn’t have to be a marathon; it doesn’t even have to be running. Whatever you want to do, don’t let fear hold you back. CHALLENGE YOURSELF. Work for it. And celebrate your achievements, no matter how they compare to others. You have the power within you to achieve your goals. Just remember that while a dream is a wish your heart makes, a goal is a wish your work makes. So work for it. Go and do the thing, the big scary monster of a thing that fulfills your spirit.
Want to see the photo highlights of my trip? Follow me on Instagram at @amillertx and look for the hashtag #AlyVsDopey2018 – and comment below with your personal challenge and your plan to work for it!
(Photos from the author’s personal collection.)
To learn more about Alyson and read her recent posts for WDW Radio, visit her author page by clicking the link on her name at the top of this post!