It was January 8th 1999, the night before the big event, the Disney Marathon in Orlando, Florida... I listened intently to the speaker at the Pasta Party where we loaded our bodies with carbs the night before the Marathon. As he spoke about what is known in the Running Circles as a "Marathon Moment," he explained that it is a very special instant during the race, it may come at the beginning, or at mile 11 or 20, but it inspires you in such a way that at that moment, you know that you will make it… I then wondered if I would ever get there. My nerves were raw when I finally fell asleep that night.
After a restless four hours, I awoke before the 2:30 am alarm clock went off. My body and heart knew about the challenge ahead as I lay in bed before getting up. I could hear the loud but steady rhythm of my heart and was reminded of the loud tick-tock sound of my grandmother's clock when I was a little girl. When I finally shed the covers, I felt the chill in the room… it was a low 33 degrees outside. It felt as cold as it did when I lived in Chicago, when I would open the door to check the weather and an icy wind would greet me. Well, I was in Florida, and it was not supposed to be this cold on Marathon day. I have never performed well in sports in cold weather and had trained for six months in balmy, rainy, windy, South Florida weather. And there I was, facing a chilly, daunting day.
The night before I spent one hour planning what I would wear, and how I would peel these 5 layers of clothes off when it got warmer. I also packed the food I would need for six hours in my tiny water belt, things like a power bar, dates, pretzels and most importantly water. I also carried band-aids, Motrin, a hat, Advil, money and last but not least, a plastic garbage bag to keep me warm while waiting for the starting signal. I was probably carrying 4 lbs of ammunition and felt like a participant in the Survivor TV program.
I put on my battle gear and met my fellow soldiers in the hotel lobby where we proceeded to encourage each other, take pictures, exchange race plans, and get ready for the battle. At this meeting they announced that I was the winning fundraiser, which really raised my spirits.
At 3:45 am the buses started transporting the runners and coaches to the starting line. There were 18,000 of us covered with garbage bags, waiting in the cold, listening to a voice on a loud speaker providing directions, feeling more like prisoners at this point than runners. In this unreal scenario, I questioned my sanity and the last six months of training, when I joined Team in Training to run for the Leukemia Society. I was also terrified to be separated from my group, in this sea of humanity. Which, of course, happened soon enough. Luckily, Rene, my running companion remained at my side, so now it was just she and I. You feel pretty alone in a sea of 18,000 people, so we hung to each other like leaches and promised each other never to stray.
After a two-hour wait in our so-called runner's pod, fireworks started and Mickey Mouse, our grand Host, announced the start. My heart was thumping so loud, I was afraid I wouldn't make it through the first minute, but I said a little prayer, the gun went off, and so did we. It was 6:00 am, 33 degrees, and still nighttime. Two minutes into the race, Rene and I were ecstatic to see our friend Kevin's familiar face. Now we were three. Sunrise was at 7:19 am, so we still had to wait one hour for the warming sun, and for my toes to defrost... We were so excited that we chatted along the way as we kept our scheduled times. We also stopped a few times "to go," as we had drank a lot of water to stay hydrated, and since it was so cold, the water had to go somewhere.
I had studied the terrain and knew it was going to be flat except for one underpass between miles 9 and 10. I had previous problems with hills because of my injured left hamstring, so I was hoping my legs would warm up by then. By mile 8 I was still cold, and had not even shed my sweatshirt. I saw the underpass ahead and told my buddies that I would have to slow down. Bless them both, they also slowed down to keep me company. On the way up the hill, my hamstring started hurting, and I began to panic. I couldn't believe it! Furthermore, I didn't want to believe it. After going through the underpass, I had to stop to massage my hamstring and they stopped with me. I was so mad, that I mentally told my leg: "I don't care if you don't want to cooperate, but I have trained for six months and have sweated, missed sleep, stopped drinking, missed parties and begged for money from my friends to do this. Hamstring or not, I'm going to finish!"
By mile 14 we had warmed up, apparently I had scared my hamstring into recuperating, and I had shed my sweatshirt way back at the National Car Rental where the three of us sneaked into the bathrooms to avoid the long lines at the freezing porta-potties available to the runners. We thought it was a great moment. We had avoided the lines and had used a real, heated bathroom! Little comforts make Marathoners happy. By then, we passed the Magic Kingdom at mile 13 and entered Animal Kingdom at mile 16. We had passed the half mark, my legs were feeling OK, but we still had another 10 miles to go. We had quieted down, the joking had stopped, Kevin's legs were hurting, Rene's knees were bothering her, but I was seriously wondering if my legs would make it. It was then that, at a winding turn of the road, we saw a group of spectators who were cheering us. All three of us noticed a pretty young mother holding up a very cute, curly haired two-year old boy by the waist. He was facing us and smiling. She then came forward and yelled to the three of us: "Don't forget you are running for my son, you are running for him, don't forget!" as the voice trailed off.
We then looked at each other with tears in our eyes, and were speechless…It was at that instant that we knew we were going to make it! This was my "Marathon Moment" and I understood then what the speaker had meant. After that wonderful split second, I never forgot again why we were there and who I was running for…Matt Torres, my 10 year-old Patient Partner and all the other children and adults suffering from this horrible disease kept me going for the next 10 miles. We passed the finish line after six hours, 28 minutes, and 33 seconds. What an indescribable experience!!! Events like this change your life forever……….
I AM NOW A MARATHONER and I owe this to people like you who supported me so generously. Thank you very much for allowing me to live this moment.