When Paige Wallace signed up for the 2017 Walt Disney World Half Marathon, she had planned for her third half to be a memorable one. After all, it was her first trip to Disney World, and she was beyond excited for a chance to meet Jack Sparrow.
But when race weekend rolled around, Wallace realized she’d be in for a challenge much bigger than she had planned — about twice as big, in fact. As severe weather threatened the half marathon event, which was taking place the day before the marathon, race directors announced they were canceling Saturday’s race.
“I first heard the news from another runner in the hotel elevator,” says the 28-year-old from Dallas. “I didn’t believe it at first; my friend told me they had never canceled the race before, plus I just didn’t want to believe it.”
But it was true. Nearly 12 hours before thousands of runners were set to take Walt Disney World by storm, an actual storm crashed the party.
Race organizers offered a number of options for those who had signed up for the half marathon, including Walt Disney World park passes, deferred registration to a future runDisney half marathon or — for the brave — the chance to transfer their registration to the full marathon on Sunday.
“My boyfriend told me, ‘You have to sign up for the marathon,’” says Wallace. “I laughed at him. I said, ‘There’s no way.’” But after sleeping on it and shedding a few tears about the wasted money and time, she called her father for his opinion. She received a resounding, “Go for it.”
“He told me to just do my 13 miles and whatever happens after that, just have fun with it,” she recalls. And that’s exactly what she set out to do. Little did she know this experience would have a lasting effect on her running.
Once Wallace decided she was going to partake in the marathon, her two focal points became having fun and meeting the course time limit.
“My biggest worry was that I was going to get picked up because I couldn’t maintain the 16-minute-per-mile pace,” she says. “I was concerned about the balloon ladies, who were the pacers at the very end of the race with balloons tied to them. If the balloon ladies pass you, you get pulled from the course.”
But the balloon ladies never caught Wallace, and she even had time to stop and pose for a picture with her favorite Disney character, Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Her winning strategy? A combo of taking it one mile at a time and using a running method she learned from an Olympian.
“I had looked at the race map and saw where everything was going to be, like food, water and bathrooms,” she says. “I would tell myself, ‘At the next mile, I’ll get a drink of water. At the next one, I’m going to get Powerade.’ There was also a ton to look at, so I was always looking forward to what the next mile would bring.”
The second half of Wallace’s strategy involved a method invented by Olympian and renowned running coach Jeff Galloway, simply referred to as Run Walk Run.
“[Galloway] actually did a seminar on Saturday and recommended this approach for those of us doing the full marathon [who had originally signed up for the half],” she says. “So I did exactly what he recommended.”
For the first 13 miles, Wallace did a two-minute run, followed by a 30-second walk — and repeated that sequence until she got to the halfway point. To change her mindset during the second part of the race, she switched to a 30-30 (30 seconds of running and 30 seconds of walking) technique and was surprised she was able to maintain her pace.
“I could feel myself running faster and passing people during the running portions,” Wallace says. “It worked out really well. I even got faster near the end.”
FINDING HER STRENGTH
Wallace admits she had zero confidence in finishing the race the day before and even on race morning.
“I knew I could do 13 for sure,” she says. “But whatever happened after that, I didn’t want to think about because I knew it would make me sad to not finish.”
But once she started running, all doubts were erased.
“During the race, I never did think once that I wasn’t going to finish,” says Wallace. “At mile 15, I saw someone holding up a sign that said, ‘YOU WILL FINISH A MARATHON,’ and I started crying. It was the first time I thought about it and told myself, ‘I might do this.’”
At mile 20, she began to take pictures of every mile marker.
21. 22. 23. 24. Then, at mile 25, her confidence soared.
“My friend texted me and told me that the balloon ladies were an hour behind me,” she says, proudly. “My pace jumped after mile 25 because I was running as fast as I could on those 30-second running intervals. I knew I was almost there.”
She also drew motivation from those around her. While she was disappointed to learn she wouldn’t receive a full marathon bib, it worked in her favor during the race.
“Because I had that half marathon bib on my shirt, everyone knew what I was doing,” she says. “Everyone — all the volunteers, the other runners, everyone — was so encouraging and talking me through it. It was great.”
Another perk was the thousands of park visitors-turned race spectators. Since the race is held inside the Walt Disney World park, runners have the advantage of up close and personal cheering sections when the park opens at 9 a.m.
“I wanted to do it just to prove to myself that I could.”
“There were people lined up everywhere cheering you on, so that was really cool,” says Wallace. “It was really helpful to have what they call ‘Disney distractions.’ I would have been much more negative in my own head if I didn’t have the encouragement of the other runners, the staff, spectators and my friends and family.”
GETTING A LITTLE DOPEY
Even though a marathon wasn’t something Wallace thought she would ever do, she plans to raise the stakes in the future.
“I have been asked before if I would do a marathon, and I always said, ‘I don’t think that I can,’” she says. “I wanted to do it just to prove to myself that I could. Less than a year ago, I did my first half marathon at 50 pounds heavier than I am now and really down in the dumps. But I’ve come so far since then.”
Her performance left her encouraged to sign up for the runDisney Dopey Challenge in 2018, which includes four races over four days: a 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon — a total of 48.6 miles in one weekend.
“I loved the atmosphere so much that I’m going to attempt it,” she says. “Why not, right?”
She’s already registered for multiple half marathons and races this year, and while a full marathon isn’t included, she plans to add one to her calendar to keep her mileage up for her next big challenge. And even though she’s only on her first of hopefully many marathons, she has some solid advice for others wanting to run their first marathon.
“I never looked back during the race because I was afraid I would see the balloon ladies,” she says. “I recommend never looking back, both physically and metaphorically — always keep your eyes and focus ahead of you.”