Posted on | February 26, 2013 | 24 Comments
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past three days wondering what I’d say about three days ago. I’ve turned and twisted it in my mind, looked at it from every angle, smiled and nodded and turned it again, hoping that somehow I could capture the essence of what happened from 2:00am until just before 9:00 on Sunday morning. But here’s the thing… there’s no way I can do that. There’s no way I can paint for you, the feeling of waking up twenty minutes before your alarm with every muscle in your body pulsing with excitement and fear and angst and wonder. There’s no way I can give you the smile that runs from the base of your spine all the way to the nooks and crannies of your smallest tooth just from hearing the first note of your alarm and knowing that yes, it is finally time.
My alarm went off and, no lie, my feet barely hit the floor. It was like I was floating across the rough blue carpet, in a daze, hardly believing that it was time to lace up my shoes and do what I’d been talking about doing for almost five months. I’d laid out my outfit the night before, making sure to have everything carefully planned and placed. (Of course, I did NOT plan on forgetting to give my parents J’s pacifier and waking up in a cold sweat of realization at 10:45, then running barefoot across the hotel to their room at just past 11:00, three hours before I’d need to wake up, only to find that he slept quite well without it… and has ever since.) I was dressing as Rapunzel, complete with a ridiculous child-sized hair piece that wound around in a circle and then pinned down the side of my running shirt. I worried that the hair piece was too much, worried that it would fly off mid way through and injure me or someone else… but hell, it was a Princess race so yes… I would be a princess.
I met up with my teammates in their room and we got ready to catch the bus out front. Everything was glistening, from the too-much tulle and glitter scattered across the crowded bus, to the squinty-eyed sleepy haze of our fellow competitors. We moved in a trance, pushed like wide-eyed does down the steps of the bus and out onto the cold concrete. Each step carried us closer, each motion almost rote… mimicking the steps and stops and glances of the women (and men) around us. It was 3:30 in the morning and we were up and moving.
The farther we moved, the more the world lit up around us. Ahead were the flashing car-lot tractor beams and the loud, fast-paced chatter of a DJ playing only the jumpiest of beats. All around us, people started moving, at first subtly then as a group, bouncing in time to the music. Some sang along, some flat out broke it down… but all were moving even if it was just step by boring step across the parking lot. Finally we reached our corral, in our case lovely “E”, and we settled in to stretch and wait some more. It was 5:15 in the morning and we were taut and anxious.
Just before 5:30, the loud-voiced announcers on the jumbo-tron somewhere in the distance, moved aside for the warm-milked voice of an older woman… a fairy godmother. She purred out the “magical words” and counted down from three, signaling that the first round of runners were off. As she hit “one”, the night erupted with brightly colored cheers… fireworks bouncing up and around us with each new flight of runners. Corral A, Corral B, Corral C and D. And then it was 6:00 in the morning, and it was our turn.
With a pulsating “Firework” by Katy Perry, we were off… foot after foot of rubber soled shoe hitting against the pavement. There were 26,000 runners; every where you looked you saw another set of elbows or knees or swinging ponytails. By the end of the first mile, everything smelled of wet heat and sweat and people were using the grassy median of the highway as extra jogging space. It was impossible to run, even if I’d wanted to… I was at the mercy of the people around me, limited to their pace and the pace of the people before and beside them. Some walked four across, making it impossible to safely pass. Some stopped immediately when their watches beeped, yelling out “WALK NOW” to their run/walk partners who also jerked to a stop causing stubbed toes and jostled knees for those behind. The hair piece made it across the start line and then I ripped it off and carried it in my hand, hearing the calls of “Hold your hair, Rapunzel!” from the people we passed.
But oh was it all worth it when the world opened up to the sunlight and we runners poured through the mouth of a tunnel and tumbled into the sweet charm of Main Street Disney. There were cheers and signs and inexplicably cowbells ringing out a tune of “Keep it up, you’re doing great” and suddenly it felt like, yes, we were doing great. The curves and turns ran through Tomorrowland and up the incline to Cinderella’s castle and there, just as my feet felt as though they would curl into themselves, two men perched on the second level played a fanfare and my steps were my own again.
Curving back amongst the princes and villains, princesses and brightly clothed characters, it was clear that the worst was over. All around me a buzz grew, gathering steam and force and propelling us up the ramp to the highway and into our last three miles. It was 8:10 in the morning, and I was still running.
The last mile ran through the entrance to Epcot and looped the fountain. On every side there were people… spectators, cast members, telling us all we were so close, so very very close to what we were looking for. I was numb from the waist down, my knees still lifting, my feet still touching down but it had ceased to make any real sense until I spotted a sign at toes of someone’s sneakers. She was a spectator, probably tired of standing, and she’d propped the sign up against her. It was handmade and simple but it was inexplicably the one thing I needed to push me forward “Keep Calm and Oh Em Gee!” it said and OMG indeed. I grinned at her, gave her a faux high five and found my stride again, adrenaline pushing me forward. Just around the corner was a gospel choir in saintly robes swaying and singing and suddenly it felt like heaven, this pounding in my soul and I knew I’d come too far to give up now. And then, just past the choir, just when my quads and calves and spirit felt cramped and contained… just up ahead… the swaying purple arch of victory.
My face exploded. My pace exploded. Every ounce of happy I’d ever felt in my life exploded out onto the pavement, pushing me forward with the rush of runners sprinting towards the finish line. As first my right foot and then my left hit down against the raised line I started to cry… just a bit at first and then the sweetly broken cry of knowing I had done something amazing…. I had done something I had never thought I’d be able to do.
For the rest of my life, I can say that I did this… even if I never do another one. (But I will. ) For the rest of my life, I can say that I am a runner, my son can say that his mother is a runner. I can’t put into words what crossing that finish line meant to me. I can’t even tell you how empowered and strong and fearless and brave I felt when I came out of that chute with my Princess Medal. I can’t begin to describe the heartfelt, cleansing, rebirth of tears that washed over me as I ran my tired and swollen fingers across the raised metal letters.
But what I can say is simply this… I am healed. I am strong. I am a fearless single mother. I am a runner. And yes, unexpectedly.. I AM a princess.
And I can do anything.