How to Fail at a Half Marathon

I’ve recently really enjoyed failing. It all started when I decided to make a big career change and try my hand at teaching. I failed. I failed super hard. But this is not that story. This is the story of a girl who wants desperately not to fail, to succeed at something that others think is impressive. And I, that girl, decided one morning in May 2016 that a Half Marathon would be my shining achievement. I remember sitting at the desk in my classroom early in the morning waiting for Disney to let me sign up. Disney? Yes, of course. If i was going to drag myself 13.1 miles I was definitely going to get a Disneyland trip out of it. I convinced my parents and wife to join me in this crazy journey.

My mom, Sharon, and I at our first 5k!

Now me and running go way back but it’s not a great relationship. I ran cross country in high school but not well and eventually they just made me stand at the finish line and man the stopwatch. I’m not a long distance runner, I’m more of sprinter. But I also don’t like sprinting. Also I’m currently the heaviest I’ve ever been. Why did I decide to run a half marathon after all of this? Who the hell knows…

Around September I decided I should probably train or something. I bought some apps and started jogging on the treadmill. I ran around an 18 minute mile. Not great but hell, I was running more than one mile! Win! Only problem being that Disney wants their park back at some point and they require you to get your butt moving at least at a 16 minute mile or you get “swept.” You get removed from the course with a giant animatronic broom. Kidding, but not entirely impossible for the mouse.

I began training for real with my friends in October. We ran every weekend and had a whole schedule (provided by our wonderful Sassy Pants CEO, Nancy!). Did I faithfully follow the schedule? No. Did I complete all my midweek runs? No. Did I run every weekend? Almost! I even got to the point of running 10 whole miles at one time! It definitely took 4 hours and hurt A LOT. But it was also about 20 degrees out and shit was frozen, so I’m calling it a massive accomplishment.

So I trained but not well or fully, and going into race day I knew I’d probably not make the 16 minute mile cut off since I was still running around a 17 minute mile. I watched some YouTube videos and read some blogs about runDisney events where people experienced the “sweep” and got myself emotionally prepared.

The morning arrived and we woke up at 3am. It was really cold in Anaheim in January at 3am so we stood in our far away corral and waited until our 6:45am start time. It was freezing and my feet hurt before we even crossed the starting line. But we eventually started running. I started too fast and got overly excited. I burnt out whatever was leftover in my tanks by the 5k mark. Which was also around when the big Death Star balloons marking the 16 minute pace passed me. I mean, come on. They are Death Star balloons, that’s pretty funny.

Was it hard? Yes. Not just physically. It was emotionally really difficult to fully face that I couldn’t do this. While there were so many reasons why I wasn’t going to finish this race, the hardest feeling to face was the fact that I let everyone down. I failed. My friends running far ahead of me, my friends at home whom I’d told I was doing this, the internet! My Instagram! I’d have to admit my defeat to the world!

As we approached the exit to Disneyland, a man with a tub of red vines yelled, “You did it!” I laughed at him just out of confusion at first but then I thought, “Yeah, you know, I did it! I got out of bed all those Saturday mornings. I ran over 50 miles total during my training. I even knew my mile time! And it went down over those few months!” I even shaved 5 minutes off my 5k time!

Tears were shed but I also smiled for a picture with Chewbacca and waved at Phasma and gladly accepted a banana from the bus driver.

I realized and continue to realize every day that the journey from deciding to do this race, to getting on the treadmill the first time, to every weekend run I didn’t try to cancel with an elaborate excuse was in itself a win. I was winning so much that this small failure of not quite finishing all the miles (we made it to Mile Marker 5), couldn’t keep a smile off my face.

And at the end of the day, I got to cheer on my parents at the finish line and show them my favorite Disney park for the first time! And now, I’m not daunted by running (shorter distances, in warmer weather) and I’ve even done a couple 5ks since.

Go out there and try something you don't think you can do. If you're lucky, you'll fail. It'll be great.

Elizabeth Terry is a former DC public school teacher with a Masters in Special Education. She works on the Sassy Pants Operations Team and loves TV shows set in Washington, D.C. She and her wife, Erin, have a Disney Movie Podcast!