by Kathleen Kelly
Wogging toward the finish, sprinting for the pink.
Truth is, I only signed up for that 5K because my husband tricked me into it. Stretched across the bed, he was the picture of innocence as he watched TV and flipped through a running magazine. I was deeply submerged in some online reading when he sent out the first ping. “There’s an ad in here for a marathon weekend at Walt Disney World this January.”
I caught my breath but kept my eyes on the screen as he continued. “There’s a 5K on Friday, a half-marathon on Saturday, and a full marathon on Sunday.” He padded over to the desk and nudged the magazine in front of me. I gave it a quick glance and said, “You wouldn’t really go all the way to Florida just to run, would you?” But I smiled to myself as I went back to my reading. Unfazed by the lukewarm response, he flopped onto the bed and gazed at the ceiling. “I’ll bet Disney does a really great job with an event like
that,” he said wistfully.
“You’re probably right,” I said as I minimized the screen.
“I think I could do a half marathon,” he mused. “I did pretty good on that 10K last week; I could start training with some longer runs.”
“Mmm-hmm, you sure could,” I murmured, bringing up the Disney World of Sports home page.
“If I’m going to try for a half marathon, I might as well make it a good one,” he reasoned. A couple of minutes ticked by as he stared at the TV. “We should do it,” he said finally. “We can run the 5K together and I’ll do the half the next day.”
“Sounds great,” I answered gleefully.
With a few point-and-clicks we were officially registered for the events. Airfare and hotel reservations soon followed. Elated, I rushed to message my cyber-friends about my good fortune. We were going to Disney and it was actually my husband’s idea! I began dreaming up romantic plans for our weekend. Gradually, however, reality began to sink in. What on earth had I done? Had I actually committed to running in a race?
For the record, I do not run. I never did. I walk the dog and that’s about it. A plus-sized woman in her forties is usually not inclined to squeeze herself into spandex shorts and go bounding around the neighborhood. It’s not very good for the knees, not to mention the property values. That didn’t matter to Ed.
Runners are addicts, especially if they first take to pounding the pavement during mid-life. If you’re married to one, you can be sure that he or she will want to get you hooked on those endorphins, too. Ed vigorously campaigned for me to join him on his runs, unable to grasp the concept that I would sooner go skydiving naked then trail after him, huffing and puffing. This promise of a weekend getaway, sans children, was nothing more than a thinly disguised carrot, dangled with the intention of changing my mind. Unfortunately, it worked.
I had been hopelessly infatuated with the House of Mouse since our first trip three years earlier. As she hugged Cinderella, our seven year-old temporarily forgot about emulating the teens on her favorite TV shows and twirled like a princess once more. Our five year-old broke through the invisible walls of his disability and asked Eeyore to play a game of patty cake. He used more full sentences in that one conversation than he had in an entire year. I was smitten with the magic and longed to return to its source.
Ed knew that I wouldn’t be able to resist! I had been conned and now I had to start training for that horrid race. No matter, I told myself, a little bit of running would be a small price to pay for another Disney fix.
Nine months later, on a cold gray January morning, I couldn’t have disagreed more. After battling a head cold for two days, my body was exhausted. Forcing myself out of bed, I trudged to the bathroom and turned the hot water knob all the way to the left. As steam filled the tiny room I tried, unsuccessfully, to inhale through my stuffy nose. Ed came in, took one look at me and said, “Hon, you look terrible!”
“Thanks,” I croaked, “I feel terrible.” It was not an exaggeration.
The three-hour flight from New Jersey to Florida was unremarkable except for the fact that no matter how much medication I had ingested, my nose kept running and my head felt like a lead balloon. I shifted uncomfortably in the cramped seat and hinted that perhaps I might not be able to run the next morning. Ed shot me a knowing look, but all he said was, “Try not to get me sick, okay?” He closed his eyes and tried to sleep.
He had been training for his race faithfully and had encouraged me to do the same. He even bought me an expensive pair of running shoes. I actually did fairly well through summer and early fall, but with the onset of winter weather, I had slacked off considerably. I sighed. Even without my temporary discomforts, I wasn’t prepared for the race. Gratefully, I took a cup of hot tea from the flight attendant and tried not to breathe on my husband.
We arrived in Orlando around four, the plane descending through a heavy blanket of clouds. Our driver, an older man wearing a jacket and a traditional chauffeur’s cap, shivered and apologized for the recent cold snap. Daytime temperatures had plummeted to the low 60’s! I smiled, thinking of the frigid conditions we had left behind, and was cheered by the sight of the friendly palm trees and colorful billboards that dotted the route to our hotel.
We checked in quickly, dropped our bags, and hurried to catch a cab to the Sports Complex. We needed to pick up our race packets before the 7pm deadline. There were the obligatory release forms to be signed and then tee shirts and goody bags to collect. I noted, with dismay, that most of the items in my bag were samples of various analgesics: Icy-hot rub, Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve. “I’m sensing a general theme of pain and discomfort here,” I muttered. Ed laughed, but he did not argue the point. Somehow he persuaded me to accompany him on a quick tour of the Health and Fitness Expo.
The main floor of the indoor stadium was jam-packed with noisy people and the
clamor reverberated through the vast space. We took one slow lap around the floor and then I rebelled; I desperately needed to lie down. Our hotel room boasted a “Heavenly Bed” and that pillow-top mattress was calling my name. I finally resorted to bribery and managed to pull him away from the endless displays of shoes, fitness equipment and energy gels with the promise of a juicy steak.
That night he carefully laid out his clothes and running shoes. The alarm was set for 5am. Hoping for a night of unbroken rest, I took a little insurance in the form of two Vick’s Nyquil gel caps, which as everyone knows, have the power to knock out a small horse. With a box of tissues safely curled in my arms, I turned off the light, settled into my side of the Heavenly Bed and wished my other half a good night.
“So,” he whispered to my back, “are you really going to run with me tomorrow?”
I closed my eyes and sighed, “We’ll see.”
Morning came all too quickly. Ed shook me. “Come on, Honey, you’ve got to get up, the alarm went off twenty minutes ago.” He found the remote and abruptly clicked on the TV. I groaned and shielded my face from the sudden glare. Unfazed, he flipped to the Weather Channel and turned up the volume. Cocooned in the fluffy down comforter I watched, silently, as he dressed in his running shorts and tech shirt. He listened intently to the local forecast as he tied his shoes.Partly cloudy, warmer, more humid…
“Well, are you gonna run or not?” he asked, keeping his eyes on his shoes and acting like it didn’t matter one way or the other. But I knew that it did. Taking a deep breath, I proceeded to have a violent coughing fit and sat up on the edge of the bed. I had made a bargain with him and with myself: a trip to Walt Disney World in exchange for running my first 5K.
It was time to suck it up.
I frowned and struggled with the four safety pins I had been given to fasten my race number to the front of my shirt. It was still dark and the morning air was cool, yet I felt beads of perspiration trickling down the sides of my face as I pinned and re-pinned the paper, desperately attempting to make it straight.
It was, after all, the first race number I had ever worn. Ed assured me that it looked fine the way it was. I abandoned the pursuit of perfection and gave my calves one final stretch. The crowd assembled in the Disney-MGM Studios parking lot buzzed with excitement. The Pirate & Princess 5K Family Fun Run had attracted participants of all ages, shapes and sizes and that made me feel better about my own less-than-athletic figure. Scattered among us were Disney enthusiasts wearing pirate bandanas, Mickey Mouse ears, Goofy hats, and princess tiaras. Amazingly, some runners had gone all-out for the occasion and sported full costumes.
I nudged Ed and nodded in the direction of a thirty-something woman dressed head to toe as Tinkerbell. “Now that’s what I should’ve worn,” I said. He looked at me incredulously. “You mean…a costume?”
“No, silly, I’m talking about the wings!” He snorted and I nervously unwrapped a cough drop and popped it into my mouth. Nothing short of wings and a barrel of pixie dust was going to get me through this ordeal. An enormous digital start clock flashed the seconds to race time and I silently prayed for strength as the people around us began counting down with all the excitement of Times Square revelers on New Year’s Eve.
With the crack of the starter’s gun, the eager mob surged forward between the two rows of bright yellow traffic cones. The serious runners at the front–the lean and lanky ones–sprinted ahead into the semi-darkness, leaving the rest of us to work our way through the bottleneck. Eventually the crowd thinned as the casual joggers began to pull away from the walkers.
Like so many splotches of paint on a drop cloth, people in colorful t-shirts clustered together, walking for charity. I brightened with a sudden thought. Perhaps Ed wouldn’t mind if I let him go on ahead! After all, he wanted to run this 5K as a warm up for the half marathon. I could just hang back with these nice ladies in the pink shirts. Yeah, that’s what I’ll…
“Come on, Kathy, let’s run.”
Somewhere around Mile Two, I stopped breathing. Well, not really, but it felt that
way at the time. The humidity had intensified and the moisture pressed against my lungs with all the heaviness of a weighted vest. My scratchy throat, however, was dry as dust.
Up ahead, a water stop loomed like a desert oasis. Cast members (Disney-speak for employees) lined the route, smiling and waving with white Mickey gloves the size of catchers’ mitts. Volunteers stood by the tables, handing out encouragement and plastic cups filled with Gatorade and water. Foolishly, I attempted to drink while on the move and most of my water ended up on my shirt. I peeled it off and wrapped it around my waist, thankful that I had worn layers. Ed motioned for us to get moving, but I waved him off and stumbled back and forth, trying to catch my breath.
This particular leg of the race was closed to spectators. With the exception of a steady stream of fun-runners, the theme park at this hour was eerily devoid of its usual hustle and bustle. Disney-MGM Studios was designed, in part, as a nostalgic tribute to Hollywood of the 1940’s, the Golden Age of the moviemaking capital of the world. The rest stop had been erected in the shade of a full-scale replica of Graumann’s Chinese Theater. As I bent over, gasping for air, I stared at the famous hand- and footprints in the cement. I laughed wryly. I had been fooling myself thinking that I could do this. I was no runner, I was an actor trying to play a role that had never been right for me. I was old…I sick…I was fat. I gave myself a dozen reasons to quit right then and there. Ed could see that I was having a hard time so he encouraged me to keep going. “You set the pace,” he offered. “I can’t run any more, I have to walk,” I puffed. So we did.
We walked across the plaza and past the 122-foot-tall icon of Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat that marks the center of the park. I began to feel a little better. The course took a left onto palm-fringed Sunset Boulevard, which had been divided in two by a long row of traffic cones. The crowd lining the street on both sides cheered. I didn’t feel very cheery, we were only about halfway done! I envied the runners who were coming down the boulevard toward us. Ed must have envied them, too. “Next year, we’re running this together,” he chided gently. I begged him to go on ahead but he refused to leave me. Now guilt was added to my list of woes.
Eventually, though, I began to kick myself for being such a pessimist. Weren’t we surrounded by a patchwork of hope? I had noticed the tee shirts representing a multiplicity of charities at the start of the run, but I had not really seen them for what they represented: thousands of people struggling with Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and AIDS. I thought of my own son and the daily challenges he faced because of his Autism. By comparison, my complaints seemed petty and small.
I broke into a light jog. Surprised, Ed jogged along with me for a few minutes until I had to slow down and walk. We kept on “wogging” (walking and jogging) for the next mile or so. I may not have been able to run, but I could do a pretty mean wog! Clinging to an internal cadence of “Just keep moving…just keep moving…just keep moving,” I pushed forward. We worked our way around some of the larger landmarks until we found ourselves headed back down Sunset Boulevard.
Now the cheers of the crowd buoyed my spirits and I kept my mind on nothing but good things as we turned and slowly began moving up Hollywood Boulevard. I thought about taking a long, hot shower back at the hotel. I thought about the lovely spa treatments I had scheduled the following day. I laughed, realizing that I sounded like a child who was determined to finish her lima beans so she could have her dessert! Soon the hard part would be over and the fun could begin.
At the end of the street, we circled around a large kiosk at the park entrance and passed through a gate. I almost wept for joy when I realized that we were headed in the direction of the parking lot once more. In the distance I heard an announcer making lighthearted fun of several costumed participants as they crossed the finish line, and the welcome sound of music.
We rounded a corner and that beautiful arch of balloons came into view. Sagging with relief, I instinctively began to slow down, but Ed called out, “Come on, Kathy, let’s sprint! Big finish! Big finish!” He leapt ahead and I dug down to the very bottom of my Sauconies and took off after him. Only a few more yards to go! Running at full speed, we crossed the line together, our hands held high!
Panting hard, we gradually slowed to a walk. I felt a bit disoriented and it took me a minute to realize that I had really done it! I had not quit! Volunteers directed us to a large canopied area where cast members offered hearty congratulations and hung two huge medals around our necks. This was the first time in my life that I had earned an award in any sport. I held it in my hand, turning it over and over and admiring its gaudiness. One side boasted a bold pirate design in blue, the other a vibrant princess in two shades of pink. Although I was hot and sweaty, I still considered myself a princess,
so I turned mine pink-side-out.
I wore my pink medal proudly. To me, it was as good as Olympic gold.
Kathleen Kelly won the Travel and Sports Bronze Award for “Beyond Thunder” in the Fourth Annual Solas Awards. She lives with her husband and two children in New Jersey, where she has worked as a Registered Nurse for twenty-five years. She is currently writing a book about the true-life adventures of families that have traveled to Walt Disney World with autistic children.
About Editors’ Choice:
Every week we choose one of the great stories we’ve received from travelers around the world and present it here as our “Editors’ Choice.” For more about the editors, see About Travelers’ Tales Staff.