Four years ago today, I couldn’t sleep. The night before, Lisa, my brother, my sister-in-law, and I were frantically searching for a tutu in my size at the World of Disney after housing wings at what I can only remember as some sort of delicious fast food chicken factory.
“They only have this one in extra small,” Lisa said, holding up a tiny tutu. Cinderella, all blue and silver tulle beauty, would only fit a child. Minnie only came in small. Snow White was nowhere to be found.
To be fair, the tutus are exclusively sold in the children’s section. “Adults wear medium to extra large,” the saleswoman told me. We hunted for an extra large because never, not ever, in my life have I been “thin”. I’ve never experienced this business of pressing my palm against a stomach unprotected by two pillows of excess birthday cake and Friday night pizza, pig-piled on top of one another. It’s my muff for my fingers on chilly nights. It’s a doughy mountain for Sammy to conquer. And we’re used to each other; I think we’d have separation anxiety if a miracle diet forced us apart.
Anyway, I had been training for months for the Disney Half Marathon, my first real race (I don’t count the Tufts 10K that melted me onto Memorial Drive in 80-degree October heat). A few weeks earlier, I’d powered through ten slow miles around my grandparents’ house in Ohio. My brother and I had started the run together, but he outpaced me within half a block and I spent two hours steadily making my way back and forth and back and forth between the house and Main Street. It was lightly snowing, the perfect temperature, and about an hour and a half into the exercise Jeff came out and cheered me on. It was a warm hug that stayed with me through the end. I then promptly fell asleep in a wingback, my Uncle John sitting one chair over, smiling at my snoring.
The night before the race, Rita convinced me to do something special. Everyone else was dressing up. Why not get a tutu? I was by no means at this point in my life “a runner”. I barely owned decent running shoes or clothes (as seen in photos), and during the race I kept my phone in my sports bra, which let to a lot of digging around in my sweaty cleavage in front of strangers along the course. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t dress up in the place where sparkly mouse ears are expected, if not accepted.
Lisa squashed by a pig in the line for Hogwarts Castle (after we’d just checked our purses at the lockers) and dressed as a panda in EPCOT.
The tutu was pink and black, Mickey leopard print. Completely other to my wardrobe, but perfect for the occasion. When I opened my eyes at 3:30 am to get ready for the race and put her on over my clothes, I danced a little. Just wiggled around in the bathroom light.
Starting the race was nothing like I’d expected; I didn’t actually run at first. I walked anxiously beside the runners I’d huddled with for the past hour waiting for our corral to go. With tens of thousands of runners in the mix, a gun doesn’t go off and everyone barrels forward. Tiffany, Shane, and I were packed into a parking lot in the dark. Neither had trained for the race, but their enthusiasm and the spirit of the crowd around us–two guys dressed as Cinderella and Snow White chatting with two middle-aged women dressed as Cinderella and Snow White–pumped me up. Gangnam Style was playing, but, old lady I am, I had no idea what that was yet. We alternately crushed forward and held back like traffic on 128 until we finally reached the starting line. The P90X dude and the whole Disney gang shouted us forward as fireworks blazed above and I started my slow jog.
It took me 2:30+ to finish, because my motto is slow and steady wins the race. But I finished.
Along the way, Tiffany stuck with me until mile 8. Shane burst forward almost immediately, but we caught up with him at the gateway to the Magic Kingdom–he’d stopped to take a selfie, and then he was off again! To run along the middle lane of the car turnstiles I’d only driven through in an air conditioned rental was unreal. We’d been on the highway the entire way so far, but the sun was coming up and just ahead was Tomorrowland.
Running through the castle was a ridiculous high that seems even more ridiculous when you think about how it all started with a mouse; that I’m a grown adult who gets goosebumps when I hear Jean Shepherd sing about that great, big, beautiful tomorrow; that I plan vacations around a man-made, fabricated Fantasyland that serves Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum; and that, for me, one of the best smells in the world is Splash Mountain water.
I’m just magically insane like that, I guess.
On Main Street, Lisa, Jeff, and Rita were waiting for me (I knew, because I’d called them from the Tomorrowland underpass, after fishing my phone out of my bra). I’d just run 6 miles, but I jumped for joy multiple times and was thrilled at Rita’s sign: Just Keep Swimming.
And I did. For miles and miles of highway, that tutu digging a ring of sweat into my stomach. I waved to the folks in the monorail that sailed by overhead and tried not to stop when I saw the mile 12 overpass back to EPCOT. (Who puts a hill at mile 12?) Instead, I kicked my iPod onto the best of the best and chugged along to the finish line to Katy Perry’s Firework.
In the end, I cried. Because I’m a crier. And because I’d trained for this race for almost a year. And because running is such a solo activity and finish lines can be such a visual personal goal. You have to push yourself forward. You have to believe in yourself, that you’re going to get there. You have to get through the hard days and celebrate the amazing miles.
My cousins Joanne and Jack who ran the marathon the next day and now run super crazy ultra far million mile races up mountains and on the moon and 20,000 leagues under the sea.
I’ve really missed running. Which is why I’m excited (and a little scared, it’s true) for the road ahead. For the Disneyland Avengers Half Marathon in November and the tough wagon I’m trying to get back on. But I’m not lacking in inspiration. My wife will be with me, maybe not stride for stride (those long legs!), but we’re doing this together and we’ll celebrate in style (Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum?).
Plus, there’s this memory.
Walking around EPCOT after the race in 2012, a woman came up to me. She was blonde and fit, the gold medal with the wide blue ribbon around her neck.
“Excuse me,” she said, breathless and smiling.
“Yes?” I asked.
“I just wanted to say,” she paused and rested a hand on my shoulder. “You were my inspiration throughout that race. I’m 50 and this is my first half marathon. None of my friends thought I could do this, and I wasn’t sure if I could either, but I trained and I got on the course and I just followed your tutu. Every time I wanted to stop, you kept going. And I just said to myself, follow that tutu.”
And I just said to her, grinning like crazy, “Thank you so much.”