Tammy Jo Budzynski

What is your impact story? 

Running a Marathon never made my bucket list. Meaning it was never something that was important to me. It wasn’t even my idea. It was my real estate coach’s idea. That’s right, not me, not a personal trainer, not a close friend. It was on our weekly call; where we analyzed my business, went over financials, worked on systems to bring better results to our customers. It was during one of these masterminds that Elizabeth said, “Tammy Jo, we always work on business, I want to also push you on a personal matter, on personal growth.” I of course said, “Sure, what you got.” She then replied, “I want you to run a marathon.” I laughed and told her absolutely not. I don’t like running and I have absolutely no interest. 

It wasn’t like I was out of shape. I am naturally blessed with a high metabolism. I consider myself to have an active lifestyle. I take my dog on a mile walk every day, I love to garden and constantly am chasing my 6 and 8 year old daughters around. But she persisted. Every meeting, every week, for weeks. I kept telling her No. She then texted me, “Why Not?” This is one moment in my life where it is etched in stone. I was in the car with my family. We were on our way out to dinner at Yesterdog to celebrate. We were celebrating our purchase of The VanderJagt Estate. We had just left the closing and our family of four was all smiles. We were excited. We couldn’t believe we owned this historic landmark. Our energy was high. The car could have floated that day. Even though we both knew the amount of work ahead with repairing the home, it didn’t matter. We knew we would make it work. 

It was at this high point that I gathered the nerve to ask my husband again about the Marathon. To my relief, again he said “absolutely not, you are way too busy with work. You already have too many meetings on top of meetings with customers and running your real estate team, you have a family to see. Where are you going to find the time that is needed to do this? This is a huge commitment, No. No No.” I knew I could rely on him!!! He said in one line, everything that I was feeling for the past few weeks. Not me, not now. I can’t. It just isn’t possible. All that added to the fact that I did not want to do it. 

So, while sitting in the car. I started writing up the best text message response to her. Everything that he just told me. Beautifully explained, I would let her down, but I knew it was for the best. Then I made a mistake. I read it outloud to my husband Max, to ensure it was worded properly. Out of the blue, he then said, “Why are you not doing this?” My mouth hit the floor. I gasped, ‘Did you not just hear what I read to you?” He replied, “Honey, I think you should do it.” My mind started racing, the one person who I could count on to support me in my easy answer of No, had changed his mind??? “I responded, “Didn’t you just hear what I read you??” “Yes, he said, “and then I realized you don’t do anything for you. You do everything for everyone else. Let her know that you will do it.” I got angry and then I took a deep breath. “Okay, how hard can this be? I had no idea what I was getting myself into as I started to delete, letter by letter, my text message of why I couldn’t and got back to a blank screen and wrote the words ….” Okay,I am in.” That was August 18th, 2021.

That night, I took a moment for myself. A time to think before I started. A book that made a large impression upon me is “The One Thing” by Gary Keller- the concept: What is the ONE Thing you can do today, that by doing it everything else would be easier? I took a deep breath and looked at the journey of what I was to embark upon. My goal: to run 26.2 miles, what is the one thing that I would have to do to ensure I could do this? I would need to eat healthy. That was a given. But I realized that I had to create a schedule of when I could run. Since I work 8am-4pm, see my kids and then go back on appts 6-8pm there weren’t many options. The only option that I saw was early morning. I normally got up at 6:30am, but that would only give me a half an hour before I had to wake the kids up for school at 7am. I groaned. I realized then that I would have to leave my house by 6am in order to have an hour to run in the morning. And if I had to get up that early, I had to make sure I had enough sleep. That sleep was the most important thing. Which meant that my One Thing had to be going to bed on time, every day to ensure that I had enough energy to wake up on time and enough energy to run. So 9pm became my new bedtime. No exceptions. 

Training started the next day. I had no idea what I was doing. I took out my tennis shoes, put the dog on a leash and left my house at 5:55am. Max told me I just had to move, I had to practice running and get miles under my belt. But there was a problem. I couldn’t make it even a mile. I just couldn’t do it. Every day I tried to run a mile. I was exhausted and never completed it. But to think, the last time I ran a mile was 28 years ago, my freshman year of high school. When you are forced to take gym, they require you to run an eight minute mile to prove that you are in shape. My joke back then that held until today was that I would only run if a lion was chasing me! Back then, every time I ran, I would get shin splints, it was painful. How was I going to do this?? I dreaded it even then. I was frustrated. A week had gone by. I was stuck. I only had 4 and a half months (20 weeks to train). I talked with my brother in law Justin, he had run races before. He said, “Sis you are doing it wrong”. I laughed. I already knew that. He continued, “You have to teach your body how to run, so take it in segments and you figure out what segments work best for you. Run 5 min and then walk 1 min. Or run 6 min and then walk 2 min. You figure out what works. The point is to get through it. Your body will then start to adjust.” So that is what I did. People say that the last few miles of the marathon were the hardest and although that may be true. For me, it was the first mile that was my hardest. It took me 2 weeks to run my first mile. It was the hardest increase I had ever done. I made my own intervals, I varied them up and I forced myself to abide by them. Run, walk, run, walk, repeat. And then after much sweat, a very unsure footed person, completed her first mile with my dog Miko (pronounced Meeks) by my side. 

For some, running is about the speed of it. How fast you go, for others, it is the distance you cover. For me and Miko it was about the journey in between. My dog was by my side every step of the way. As I started to get used to feeling the pavement under my feet, so did he. We started to keep each other motivated. It was during this time that I found out that a friend of mine was suffering from depression. I told her that I had a moment years ago when I discovered that on the days that I worked out, I seemed to have more energy and a better attitude. I asked her

what she was doing for exercise. She told me “nothing.” Perfect” I replied. Now you will be getting out of bed at 5:30am like me and I will be calling you at 5:55am when I hit the road with Miko. I will make sure that you are awake and taking your dog out for a walk. She was not so sure of this, but agreed. So it began. I set an alarm to make sure I called her on time every morning. No text, no small “buzz” but a real phone call to make sure she was up, and she was going on a walk. To prove to her that someone cared to make sure she was starting her day. Every day. What started out as helping a friend also played a reverse role as being my accountability partner. Soon, I caught myself waking up prior to my alarm going off because I was afraid I would miss calling her on time and letting her down. 

And that is how it began. Miko and I stayed close to home at first. I began to enjoy the quiet mornings. Mornings seem different when there is no one around. We would run down Plainfield, I would “window shop” as we ran. Silly, yes. But part of my new routine. I would know which store was my mile marker so that when I hit that, I knew when I needed to turn around to meet my mile goal for that day. But as the weeks began to pass so did the early morning sun. The weather had started to cool down and both Miko and I loved that. But dark mornings were a completely different feeling and Max was thankfully not nervous knowing that I had a dog by my side that would give his life for me. 

It was during one of these “new” dark mornings that I had mentally lost where I was. I was running in my pattern of run, walk, repeat. But it was so dark, I had apparently missed my turn for a nearby park that was my “turn home” point. I never saw it. I was listening to a podcast and by the time I realized that I was not where I was supposed to be I was just a little too far past it to just turn around. And frankly, when one is calculating distance when you remember it being a short drive, is not the same as a short distance running. That was my next big hurdle. I had only managed to run up to 3 miles before that day and now I found myself 3 miles in and still 2 miles to go. It was my next hardest challenge. Miko and I pushed ourselves. He would fall back again as I gained momentum and then a few minutes would pass and then I would fall back behind him again. It was my longest journey. I was exhausted. I almost called Max to pick us up. Silly, but that is how desperate I was becoming. I then grit my teeth and said to myself enough. Just get it done. Miko and I didnt’ step across the threshold of our home until 7:30 am. Max looked up and said, “Where on earth have you two been?” I just fell into a chair, “I missed my turn, it was dark, I am dumb. We ran 5 miles. I can’t even move, I am so tired,” I stammered. 

I was sore for 3 days. For 3 days I felt that mistake. But I still ran each of those days that followed. I just kept them light. But I took away from that experience two lessons. The first was to pay attention to where I was at all times. The second was that I just ran 5 miles!!! And if I could run 5, then my next goal would be six. 

A month had now passed, only 16 weeks to go. My mind started playing games with me. How on earth can I do this? Am I just fooling myself? I was sitting on the couch with the family. I voiced my concerns to Max. Honey, I just don’t know how I am going to run the 26.2 miles. Am I just a fool?” He replied, “What are you talking about? A marathon is only 16K. Races are measured In “K” not miles, you are mixing things up.” I looked at him again, “Babe, if it was only

16K I don’t think I would be as worried.” He began to argue. I said, “Honey, please double check”. He pulled out the I-pad to research, minutes passed. Finally he closed the I-pad; looked at me and said, “Sorry honey, you are screwed. It is 26.2 Miles. Dear Lord.” I replied, “I know, that is why I am so worried!!” 

I didn’t have a trainer. I spent a few minutes online reading about how to train for a marathon, but it was overwhelming because there were so many varying opinions, so I pushed it aside. My thought was, this is simple math, right? I just had to do better than I did the week before. And the maximum number of miles that I needed to reach was 20 in one run, from what everyone recommended. So I worked it out. I would need to do my normal “short runs” during the week which were 3-6 miles each day. I would take Saturday off to rest my body and then my long run would start super early on Sunday mornings. I would run a 10 mile, 12 mile, 16 mile, 18 mile and 20 mile. 

“He we go” I said when I looked down at Miko. Ten miles today. It had started snowing. I laced up my tennis shoes, put on my jacket, hat and mittens and off we went. It was cold and wet snow. I decided to run through downtown Grand Rapids. I was cold. My perception of places while driving were completely different than when I was running. We ran down Division. Not a problem when I am in a car, but not the best choice when running by myself in the dark. So thankful that I had my dog with me. I was cold. My hands were shaking. I called Max. I told him Miko was tired, his feet were beginning to get covered in icicles . I needed to have him pick him up and I desperately needed dry winter clothes. Max caught up with us when we almost had made it not only past downtown, almost to 28th st. Miko’s whole body started to wag as he got excited when he saw our car pull up. He immediately jumped into the back. I got in the passenger seat. My hands were so cold, I couldn’t even pull my gloves off. I was shaking. Max said, “babe you sure you don’t want to come home? You are frozen.” “No,” I replied.” I have to get 10 miles in today and I am not done yet. I can’t fall behind already”. They drove away, with Mikos nose pressed against the back window looking at me. He didn’t understand. I then turned around and started running back. I was more nervous this time running the path I had just taken, because now I no longer had another set of eyes, 4 feet, and 75 pounds of muscle beside me. It was cold, but I started to feel my body begin to warm. I made it 11 miles by the time Max came to pick me up. I sat down in the car and exhaustion overwhelmed me. I had done it. He said, “You have one upset dog at home.” What? I replied.” He hasn’t laid down since we got home over an hour ago. He keeps pacing and looking out the window. I don’t think he understands why I took him away from you and why you didn’t come home with us. So get your butt inside before the dog tears me a new one,” he chuckled. 

That afternoon I reached out to my friends Trevor and Kaitlin, both avid runners. “ I hate being cold, what do I need to buy? What do I do for water when I go for this long of a run? What do I eat?” I blabbered. That long run crushed me. I was miserable and refused to be cold again. $500 later, I had warm weather gear and discovered running shoes! Who knew there were shoes made for running? You may laugh, but I honestly thought my normal sneakers were just fine. But I was so wrong. I couldn’t believe that a sport that only required you to use your legs, required so much expensive gear! At the store,my helper “showed me his favorite style and

most highly recommended. I chuckled. “It may be better to see what you have in stock in my size first” I said. “Why, what is your size?” The employee asked. “Size 11. Tall girl, big feet” I chuckled. There was then a pause. “Um, I will have to see if we have anything in stock.” Ten minutes later he brought out the only 2 pairs that they had in the entire store. He seemed thrilled to have anything at all! “Looks like I will be getting one of these, I laughed. But then I was perplexed when he told me that these new shoes of mine were good for 400 miles. What? I said. He responded, “With as much running as I was going to be doing, I needed to keep track of my miles and then replace them around the 300 mile mark to be safe. I rolled my eyes, “Okay,” I stammered. 

Now I went old school, grabbed a calendar and hung it by the back door. Every day I wrote down how many miles I ran and the total for the week. I did this just to keep track of the wear on my shoes. But it came to have so much more meaning for me. When I was done with my 10 mile run, I wrote it on the calendar. It was my first long run and every Sunday morning after was my next scheduled long run. Every week I was intimidated, and every week I could look at the week before and say to myself. Look what I ran 10 last week, what’s another two this week? 

I was now on my children’s schedule for bedtime. So as I tucked them both in and kissed them goodnight so that I could do the same, Addison said, “Mom, can I give you some advice?” I paused. I took a cautious breath and said, “Of course honey, what is it?” “Are you going to win the race? She replied. I paused again, knowing I needed to choose my words wisely as Natalie then leaned over the bunk to look at me and listen. Four ears and 4 eyes were now on me. “There are different ways of winning. One is to be the fastest to the finish line and the other is to know that you crossed the finish line. Mom’s goal is to cross it,” I said. Addison, stopped for a minute, she looked up at me and she said, “well I suggest you start slow, like I do when I run a race with the boys at school. They will start fast and lose their energy quickly. So at the end of the race when they are getting tired, that is when you can kick it up and run fast and beat them.” She was all smiles, pleased with herself. I smiled. Here I was up and out the door before the sun started shining and back in the house in time to wake them up. Yet, even though I thought that my training wasn’t affecting the family’s schedule and that the girls really had no knowledge of what I was doing, I was wrong. They not only did, but they were also paying attention. 

Sunday marked my next long run. Today’s goal was 16 miles. It wasn’t going well. I felt tired. Miko and I left at 6am. It was dark, it was cold. No one was outside. We jotted north on Monroe, then to Plainfield and aimed for the E. Beltline intersection. I was exhausted. It just didn’t feel like a good day. We stopped by a strip mall for a quick break. I grabbed a few treats for me and gave a few to Miko and got him some water. I thought to myself. But it wasn’t easy. We took another minute, I window shopped and saw an amazing antique chair with a lion head carved in it and made a note to come back when the world was awake and open for business to check it out. We started again on our trek. I kept telling myself that I had just run 13 miles a week ago, but for some reason today seemed impossible. I was in my head and it was an ugly place to be. I was at a breaking point. It was then that my I-watch read out loud a text to me. “Tam, you can

do this! Sixteen miles will be your toughest day. You got this, Go sis!” If I had been sitting down, I would have fallen out of my chair. Justin, my brother in law had just texted me that message in our family text and by the grace of God, my ear buds had read it out loud so I had heard it. I was 

right at my breaking point. I was running up a hill on the E.Beltline. One you dont notice when you are driving, but that is all that you feel when you are running, a hill with a very slow rise. My legs were dead, my body was exhausted and I was in the process of talking to myself that it was okay if I didn’t do this. If I gave up, it was okay, and then that message stopped me in my tracks. It came when I was at my darkest hour. 

Miles under my feet, every day, 6 days a week begin to add up quickly. Soon, it was time to head back to Gazelle Sports to pick up a new pair of shoes. Of course, it was poor planning on my end, with an insane work schedule and being a busy mom of two, it didn’t leave me time to “pre plan” or pre order my shoes. So in the hour of time that I had between thing one and thing two, I flew to the store with my “old” but newer running shoes in hand. The same sales person found me as I entered and chuckled, “back already?” “You were right,” I said, “Miles add up fast.” He grabbed my shoes and headed to the back to see what they had in stock. Minutes later he returned and said, “Your in luck. I have 2 different types of shoes this time!” As he was had me try them on, I told him it was hard getting started in the morning, but was so thankful that my dog was able to join me on my runs. Making small talk, he replied, “Oh that’s great, how long does he make it?” “His max is 11.5 miles,” I said. There was a pause. He stumbled. “He runs 11.5 miles with you?” “Yes,” I replied. My husband comes and picks him up, and then I keep going. Why do you ask?” He looked at me, with a wide stare of disbelief. He said, “I have a running dog and mine can only make it a mile. What kind of dog do you have?” “A Berndoodle, large, fluffy and never looks like he would ever be a runner, but he loves this cold we have and now I even have him strap on a pack so he can carry his own weight in treats and water! I laughed in response. 

“And while I am here, just take my card, take all my money. I will buy both pairs of shoes, it will save me another trip coming back,” I chuckled. He laughed, “Want me to dispose of your old pair?” I must have given him a funny look by the expression he gave me. “You do not know me well,” I said with a laugh. “Even though this pair is now retired from running, it can still do a lot of walking and gardening. Soon it will be so beat up, you won’t even recognize it as a shoe. That is when I know it has earned its keep.” 

Aside from talking with someone on the phone while I ran, I never ran side by side with anyone. My training was by myself. I had invitations to join clients and friends who were avid runners for their evening runs or groups that they were a part of. But since my real estate career was not a 9-5 job, evenings were left for appointments. So it was just me. I listened to music, but I 

preferred podcasts. I would get engulfed into learning about a business strategy, or real estate tidbits. Crazy I know. But my mind would leave and be kept busy as I learned, and my feet would continue to move. 

As Christmas approached so did the many holiday parties. I attended our company holiday party. Looked around and people watched, as couples mingled and mixed. I held my glass of

water proudly as people sipped their cocktails and beers. I already knew Max and I would be one of the first couples to leave, because it was a Saturday night and I needed to be in bed by 9pm. As I was making my rounds through the room, I came upon my friend Katie, who I knew was an avid runner. She asked me, “How was it going?” “I told her, “Great, I was going to be running 20 miles tomorrow, it was my last big run before we headed to Florida for the Disney Marathon.” She replied, “OMG, 20!! My max is 13 miles.” I stared at her in disbelief. She loved running, running was her hobby. Which means she did it by choice. Not because she made a promise to her real estate coach! “What do you mean 13 miles is your max?” I replied. She said, “That is as many as I can do.” Again, I just looked at her,I was puzzled. Not once had it ever occurred to me that someone couldn’t’ do a marathon. I had looked at it systematically, go 10 this week, train some more, add 2 miles more to the long run next week. I was shocked. She must have seen me paralyzed in thought, “Aren’t you nervous?” She asked. “Well no,” I said, “I ran 18 last week and I ended well, what is 2 more miles?” 

And then it was 20. I can now say that the jump from 18 to 20 miles was how it felt when I went from 13-16. It was now the most difficult run of my life to date. By mile 10 I felt good, so good that I chose to go a little farther down the E Beltline to head east on Michigan street. That was when feeling good started declining quickly as I realized I chose a very hilly route. Not one that I necessarily paid attention to while I was driving. The hills tired me quickly. I passed a guy across the street who was also running. I tried to match his pace and then quickly fell behind. I laughed as my thoughts went through my head that he must have just started running, he didn’t look sweaty. And he isn’t going for a long run because he doesn’t have a water backpack and I didn’t see any treat holders around his waist. Yep, just going for a quick jog. No wonder I couldn’t keep up. To think, how quickly I judged who he was and what he was doing based upon the type of gear I saw him wearing still cracks me up. Yes, I had learned a lot in the 4 months I had now been running, but by no means was I a professional. I then wondered what people thought of me as they watched me run by. 

The run continued. I chose to head north on Fuller to get back toward Plainfield and that was when my decision making went from bad to worse. If I had thought Michigan was hard on the legs, the hills of Fuller would make a grown man weep. I know, because it made me cry. I was tired, I had just hit 18 miles and my body was starting to fold over. My shoulders were drooping, my feet were no longer moving to a good beat. It was then that I heard a honking horn! I shifted my eyes toward the road to see my husband driving by with 2 girls hanging out the windows yelling, “Go Mom!!!” My heart filled with love and I felt their support. I wish I could say that the next two miles became easy, but that would be a lie. I fought for every step, I fought for the distance that I covered and I fought for my right to say that I finished. When I finally stepped in the house I collapsed into the chair. Max, were you out running an errand and happened across me? “ No” he laughed. I pinned your phone. The Ipad told me exactly where you were. I saw you were getting close to home and figured you were tired and could use a little cheerleader squad and so we all jumped in the car. It was absolutely perfect,” I replied, as tears welled in my eyes. I would have gotten up to hug him, but I was too tired to move.

And that was my last long run before the race. But long doesn’t always mean in miles. For my family and I it also meant long, emotional days. Emotions ran high during my training, but my training also gave me a consistent and dependable schedule. During the month of December the need for dependability and a way to cleanse myself only escalated as my grandfather and 

uncles were both diagnosed with Covid and then passed away between Christmas and the new year. The world turned upside down and then right side up and back again. But having a daily goal, and the physical act of running, allowed me to process and to release the hopelessness that I had felt and allowed me to grieve

After the last long run I tapered back. Emotionally exhausted from our families loss and knowing I had physically pushed myself hard with the 20 mile run, I kept it simple. Small runs, nothing to push me too hard as I began the new year (2022). The girls were really excited to fly on their first plane and to see me run. We never told them that I was running in the Disney marathon. We even told them the race was in Miami to keep their minds at bay. Since Addison had already informed us on multiple occasions that Disney was in Orlando and wanted to know how far away that was from Miami. We didn’t tell them on the car ride to the airport and we still chose not to tell them even while we waited to board the plane. It started to snow and we started to board the plane early. They wanted to take off as quickly as possible since a blizzard was moving in. We waited and we waited. I was starting to run out of snacks and games to keep the girls occupied. The plane pulled out to the tarmack to take off, only to be called back because there was an “emergency”. We were held on the airplane for over 4 hours before they officially canceled the flight. Our girls looked at me, then looked at the stewardess and said, “We are not flying?” She looked at them, their eyes already filled with tears, “No” she replied. And then the crying and screaming started. By that time, they had held it together for a total of 6 ¹⁄ hours by that time and they had nothing left. Another hour went by as we waited for our luggage to be unloaded by the plane. All the passengers were panicking. Rental cars were getting snatched up. I had to physically hold Natalie down as she unleashed her wrath in the middle of the airport. I am still waiting for a video of that to be shared on facebook by someone. The person that had dropped us off at the airport at 7am was now coming back to pick us up and it was after 2pm. The roads were treacherous. Chicago, Grand Rapids and the Detroit airports were now all closed for the whole weekend. Max was so upset that he couldn’t even talk. I chose my words very carefully as we rode as passengers in our own car as our friend was navigating the sheer white outs on the way home, Babe, I can’t train for this again. What are our options.” He gritted his teeth, “Your check engine light is on,” he said. Then he paused, “Call Toyota, find out what service needs to be done.” 

I reached for my phone, and called Toyota. I talked with them. “Max, they said it is only an oil change and they can see me right away.” “Okay” he replied. “Drop us off at the house and go to Toyota. We will get you to that Marathon, even if we have to drive you.” 

An hour later, we were on our way. The back of the car was filled with suitcases, I grabbed a bag of anything I could throw into it quickly to provide us snacks and a couple of pillows. We fought for 2 hours through the snow just to get us out of Grand Rapids. We pulled an all-nighter. We took turns driving, but of course Max did the most. With 20 hours of driving under our belt,

the kids still didn’t know we were even going to Disney until we were pulling into the hotel. That road trip turned out to be one of the best times we have had as a family. 

With the unexpected drive, we lost my “day to relax” before the race. Instead I had to hustle. I still had to go, sign in for the race, and pick up all the items they gave you. I navigated the buses I had to take and was completely clueless. I chatted with people on the bus and everyone was excited. I told them I was lost on what to do with all this stuff we were getting and so that clued them into the fact that I was newer at this. It was then that someone said, “what race are you running?” The marathon,” I replied. It got quiet. “What? Someone else said. At that moment, I learned that what I was attempting to do is not normal. Normally, people prepare for a marathon by running multiple races. First running multiple 5Ks, 10Ks and then half marathons before they work themselves up to a marathon and some people never even attempt the marathon because it is so difficult. I took a deep breath. I didn’t know that what I was doing was unusual. But, it was too late to rethink the path before me. Perhaps it was good that I didn’t know. A limited mindset had not been pre set for me. 

My alarm rang out loudly at 4am. I scrambled to turn it off quickly. I was no longer home. My family was stuffed all together in a hotel room. I inhaled and exhaled slowly. This was it. Everything I had trained for. My mind fluttered, was I ready? I pulled out my paper calendar that had become so dear to me and reviewed all the miles I had run, every day for months. Yes, I told myself. It is time. I suited up. Running shoes, special running socks, my ankle brace, shorts, shirt, hat and even my newly purchased head band that said “I hate running. I love running.” When I saw it, I summarized everything that I was feeling! I strapped on my water pack to my back, filled my fanny pack with my running gummies and headed out in the pitch black to find my bus. 

The amount of people was staggering. It was a sea of people. They were everywhere. I never doubted that the Disney Marathon would be big. But the amount of people was simply overwhelming. I felt so small, so lost in the crowd. We were shuffled to where you started. There were so many people that they started sections of people at different times. All of this was new to me. The air was humming with anticipation. People started sitting down, some stretched, some talked, some did both. All waiting to go. It was then that I learned about sweepers. Someone told me that at the end of the race that people come to sweep out the people that are falling behind, you only have a certain amount of time to complete the course. A new wave of nervous energy washed over me. What if I was swept away. Oh how embarrassing! I couldn’t stand the thought. They told me just to watch out for the balloons, the sweepers carry balloons. I gulped another breath of air. 

And then it started. The buzzer rang, the timer sprang to life and the wave of people exploded across the start line. My adrenaline surged. It was time. 

Elizabeth, my real estate coach, said she had heard that the Disney Marathon was like no other, there was stuff going on the whole time, pictures, videos, entertainment, and that I wouldn’t even know I was running as I went through it. I still chuckle at that. Oh it was exciting, it had

amazing views, they even had a huge movie screen that was playing Cinderella as I ran toward Cinderella’s castle. But it was still running. You can’t take the “run” out of the marathon. 

Having never run a race before, I had nothing to compare this experience to. So I had to take it one stride at a time. The sea of heads all bobbing to the same rhythm was an incredible feeling. The movement of people was so massive that Disney had shut down entire parts of highways and the runners ran up on ramps and then back down later on. It was still dark, but I am sure that a lot of people have never run around the globe of Epcot in pitch black as the globe changes color. Inspiring. Every mile was marked with a Disney character. I hadn’t known about this, but started taking pictures with every single one. One character done, one mile done. It became a mental game with me as I continued. What is the next character? I want to see it. That means I have to run there. 

Mile 10 marked the Magic Kingdom. I felt good. The sun was now awake, sweat started to glisten. It was an amazing view as I turned a corner to see the castle blanketed in the beautiful morning light. The sea of people around me continued and I giggled as I watched a man dressed as Ursula (From Disney’s The Little Mermaid) bound past me. Costumes were everywhere! Cruella Devile, Transformers, Scooby Doo, you name it, they made their appearance. I enjoyed the comic relief. Thinking to myself, I was just having a hard time focusing on running, they are not only running, but wearing a costume on top of it. In meeting runners that morning, I had heard some horror stories of what had happened to them. They had decided to bypass the mass of people, took a wrong step and had missed a curb while running through the Magic Kingdom and had shattered their ankle. Their advice, “Stay on the course. Don’t deviate. Don’t assume your way is better. Be mindful”. 

We made our way through the magic kingdom and even went through the main level of the castle that is filled with a large mosaic of the princesses. The course was fantastic. As we headed out we now took the backroads between the parks. Roads not traveled nor seen by visitors. It was getting warm outside. I was covered in sweat. By mile 15, my body was getting tired. I had been training during Michigan’s winter. Snow, Ice, and temperatures that were ranging from 10-20 degrees on a good day. Florida’s race started at 6am because they wanted runners to beat the heat. To be done, before the Florida sun took hold and punished you. The highs today were expected to get to 90 degrees, hot and humid and I could already feel its toll, both on my body and my mind. 

By mile 18, I was wearing down. In order to get to the full 26.2 miles, there were a lot of areas that we would run one way and then double back on ourselves to get to the mileage that we needed. A marathon is a really long distance and even Disney had to come up with ways to get the miles in. At one such point we were rounding a bend and it was just flat, grass, some trees, some woods, nothing special. An area that is between two of the parks. I saw the flood of people taking a sharp right and then I saw that same group doubling back on itself heading back the way we had just come. I rolled my eyes. It could be as easy as me just stepping into the next running group going the opposite direction and I could miss the extra turn. No one would know, I told myself. I could save myself a quarter mile? I snapped out of it, and just told myself

to buckle down. No shortcuts. It turned out that the sharp turn wasn’t a quick turn, but actually the turn to enter the Animal Kingdom. If I had cheated and made my own short cut I would have missed my favorite part of the entire run. It was exciting. Animal kingdom hadn’t even been built the last time I had been to Disney in my youth. Simply said, it was the most beautiful run I had ever taken, the thought and care into the design of the park, took my breath away. 

The journey continued. My running was slowing down, I was now incorporating some walking. I never had to have shorts when I trained in Michigan. So I had to order some online just so I would have something to wear in Florida. Not used to that, I started to chafe. Every step hurt. Those last miles started really slowing down. Even more intently I started focusing on finding my next character for the mile marker and taking a picture to prove I had made it that far. Sometimes I thought, To prove it to myself or to others? The last few miles were the worst. My shoulders dropped, my feet were trying, but they moved slowly. More walking than running. How was I going to make it? So close but I was still so far away. We were now heading toward Epcot again. To finish where you start. Or to finish what you start? Either way you thought about it, it worked. 

When I started this, I focused on what was obvious to me: The physical aspect. What I didn’t understand at that time was the mental aspect of what it took. The grit you need behind the run. I was at the end. I could feel it, my body felt it. I wasn’t sure if I could make it those last few miles. So close, but yet so far. It was then that I rounded the corner and there was a group of strangers standing on the sideline. They were yelling, rooting us on, holding signs. My heart leaped into my chest. I started to tear up. They were complete strangers, and yet now I didn’t feel alone. I had someone, more than someone, I had people there!!! Signs read, “ I don’t know you, but you are doing great!” I felt compelled. Compelled to keep going. Encouraged and supported, by complete strangers. I don’t know their stories, perhaps they were bored and didn’t have anything to do. Perhaps they were runners before and knew the impact that a stranger could have on someone. Whatever their reason, it was that the runners mattered. That I mattered. Don’t stop, keep going. You are almost there, we believe in you was their message. 

I was no longer looking for my mile markers now, I was looking for the random groups of strangers that offered funny signs, and rooted the runners, rooted me on. I was a runner! 

I heard music, either a band started playing, or I was now just in ear shot. It was the last turn. I made it. I wish I could say that I had a sudden rush of energy to sprint across the finish line but that only happens in the movies. For me, my speed didn’t change. A lady started handing me a 

medal, I took it, felt its weight in my hand and then I cried. I did it. The weight of what I had done cascaded over me, and I just stood there and wept. I was done. 

I stumbled off to the sidelines, Grabbed a box lunch. I scanned the bleachers, but did not see my family. I walked right to the bus and collapsed into the chair. No one on the bus talked. But we know what we have done. I called Max. “Babe, I did it, I am done.” I started sobbing. “Congratulations honey!” He said, “We are at the pool. I have a lounge chair ready for you. The girls are swimming.”

I dragged my feet to the room, stripped off my wet clothes and put my swimsuit on. I walked right into the pool as the girls instantly jumped on me wanting to play. Shear panic crossed Max’s face as they tried to tackle me and he jumped up to talk with our kids again that mom needs a few minutes to rest. 

I have never been more proud of a medal than I have before this. Honestly, I never knew we would get a medal, which made it even more special.” Runners were wearing their medals all week. Max asked, “Why are you not wearing yours?” I chuckled. “I know what I did and it is way too heavy for me to carry. I am too tired.” He giggled, “Honey, you can tell everyone that has run the marathon, those that ran weren’t sitting down normally, they were all leaning back and trying to lower themselves into the seat.” I laughed. It wasn’t just my body that had been pushed to the breaking point. 

At dinner, Addison then asked, “Mom can you explain the races to me.” “Yes,” I replied, “Disney has one day for the 5K race, the 2nd days is for the 10K race, the third day is for the half marathon and the last day is the full marathon. Mom only ran the marathon, but I heard that if you run all four races, it is called the Dopey challenge.” She looked at me, thought for a moment, “No it shouldn’t’ be called the Dopey, it should be called the Droopey Challenge.” I giggled. She said, “You get the joke, right mom. You are droopey because they ran all four races.” The first time I laughed because she made a funny joke. The second time I laughed because my 8 year old thought I didn’t’ get it and that she had to explain the joke to me. Then she asked, “Mom, next year are you going to run the Dopey Challenge?” Without any hesitation I replied, ‘Absolutely not.“ 

For me, I started my marathon on August 18th, 2021, I finished my marathon on Jan 9th 2022 at 11:27am. My marathon took me 135 days, 11 hours and 27 min to complete. For some people running a marathon is about the time, for others it is about the distance, for me it was the journey. It became a journey about not what I can’t do, but what I can do. About what was not impossible, but what is possible. Now when I am faced with a challenge personally or professionally and find myself giving reasons about why I can’t do it, I look at a silly medal hanging on my wall that has Mickey and Minnie Mouse running on it. If I can accomplish that, with the mindset of only adding a couple of more miles per week, then I must not have a plan for this next challenge. It isn’t that the challenge is insurmountable, I just haven’t created the plan yet to achieve it. 

I never had running a marathon on my list, but now I can proudly say that I added it to my bucket list and then promptly crossed it off. 

The End.