Mighty MO! Lessons Learned From the Walt Disney Marathon

MO’tivated to RUN a Marathon

Although my goal was simply to run a marathon in celebration of my 50th birthday, I achieved much more than crossing the finish line in pursuit of a Mickey Mouse medal at the 1n on January 8, 2012. I learned more about myself than I had in a very long time, I changed some habits and I got healthier in the process, not to mention keeping my marathon once every decade dream alive for another ten years.

This is my story about my running in a marathon. Perhaps it will motivate some of you to strive to do something outside your comfort zone this year. Perhaps you too will decide to train and run a marathon, or you might decide to train in a new area of fitness and learn to teach a new fitness class or personal training program. It’s not really about what you achieve, but the act of striving to achieve something that is important. It begins with a dream, but to fulfill that dream you must act and that requires vision, a goal, daily effort, and focus.

As soon as I made the commitment in early October to run the marathon, my vision and focus on my personal fitness became laser sharp. Although I like to run, I wasn’t running much more than a 5km and occasional 10km due to a chronic hip and back injury. That, however, was about to change because I was motivated to get out side my comfort zone. My focus sharpened and I began looking at the small things that I could change (but wasn’t as disciplined at changing up till now); that would make a big difference in my training and recovery. I was also committed to follow a structured running schedule without excuses.

As it was necessary to keep it relatively simple, I decided to follow the Walt Disney World Marathon training program. This program had already been proven to earn those who follow it their Mickey Mouse Marathon medal and as I wanted that medal, I followed the program faithfully. The program consists of three weekly training days consisting of two short runs during the week and a longer run on alternating weekends with the ‘Magic Mile’ on the regular weekends. Unlike my marathon runs in the past where I didn’t necessarily follow a structured program, following a structured running schedule allowed time to train appropriately and with enough recovery time between runs.

There are many training programs out there that you can follow based on your running experience and race goal. Running—the Complete Guide to Building Your Running Program by John Stanton and Marathon Training—The Proven 100-Day Program for Success by Joe Henderson are two of my favourite running resources each for their own unique reasons.

Five things I learned while training for and running my marathon

1. The importance of being consistent with training in order to build a fitter, stronger body in the recommended time in a safe and successful manner. This was something that I did not do consistently in past marathons. My mother always said “you get wiser with age” and so I have. I also became more committed to stretching (with yoga) and my personal training, in addition to teaching four fitness classes per week for maintaining my general fitness, strength, and lean muscle. I am not a morning person, but learning how to run at an early hour was necessary to prepare me for an early start time on race day and surprisingly, I learned how rejuvenating it was to run before sunrise.

2. Healthy eating habits contribute to your training before, during, and after your race. For me, this meant I needed to curb my red wine consumption, cut down on empty calorie snacking, eating more regularly throughout the day, and being committed to taking my supplements. I learned through training that if I did not eat enough or strategically before, during, and after my run, that I was extremely tired after longer runs, lost muscle bulk and lacked energy which resulted in prolonged periods of recovery.

3. The importance of adequate amounts sleep and its contribution to recovery and performance. I’ve learned to enjoy rest because my body was telling me to do so. For years, I have under-estimated the value of sleep and although I am not a great sleeper, I actually look forward to going to bed early so that I can get up earlier, more refreshed, and with more energy.

4. To practice patience and forgiveness. Thirteen weeks of consistent training leading up to marathon week, learning to listen to my body, breaking old eating and sleeping habits and creating new habits forced me to learn to be more patient and to practice forgiveness. I tended to quit, just like most people do when they are trying to build new habits. I decided when I signed up for this Disney event that I wanted to have fun and simply cross the finish line with Mickey, Goofy, Tinkerbell and my new running friends that I would meet on the run. I was clear in my vision that I would train efficiently so to avoid injury or illness and ensure a positive experience.

5. I am fitter and leaner even at fifty! Regardless of your age, you can improve your physiology and health score. I had a goal to stay healthy and injury free, keep physically strong while maintaining lean muscle, fire up my metabolism, and get re-motivated in my own personal fitness with a physical challenge. As fitness professionals, we know better than anyone just how powerful positive goals for training can be. Typically, as we age, we set our goals with a negative mindset–to lose weight, lower blood pressure or cholesterol, reduce back pain, minimize joint stiffness, lower risk of premature aging and disease, etc. While these are certainly motivating reasons to train and exercise regularly, I have found it much more fun and satisfying to aim towards a positive achievement or outcome.

According to a 2011 study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal, long distance running increases the tissue volume in the area of the brain (hippocampus) linked to learning and memory by two percent and also rescues other brain cells that would otherwise die. The hippocampus is most affected by neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia and long distance running lowers that risk. Maureen (Mo) Hagan, BScPT (physiotherapy), BAPE, is Director of Education for canfitpro, a Vice President at GoodLife Fitness as well as an international award-winning group fitness instructor and program director. She is a Canadian 3-stripe Adidas athlete and certified fitness professional and the author of GoodLife Fitness – 6 Weeks to a New Body, Newbody Workout for Women, and FIT-iology – The Study of Fitness in Action, Volumes I, II, and III.In a 2010 study, adult mice runners grew more neurons that made them better at making fine distinctions between shapes and colours than sedentary rodents. Decision making, planning, organizing, juggling mental tasks, memory recall may also be shown to improve in runners according to a recent Japanese study.

Running (and any aerobic exercise) is better than prescription drugs for treating depression by maintaining adequate levels of brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which help to improve mood and outlook. I recall days, where I would be jet lagged or generally tired, but I was eager and excited to get into my running gear and out the door. I remember thinking “I’ll do a short run because I’m tired and stressed but I know a run will help me feel better”. This past November, while presenting at the canfitpro conference in British Columbia, I decided to do a short run but before I knew it, I ran the entire Stanley Park seawall in Vancouver.

Disney’s 26.2 miles may have a finish line, which I crossed in 4:49;20, but I do not see that as the end of the benefits from my run. I have to be honest and say that approaching fifty came with some apprehension, but in training for this marathon (running 26 miles on that birthday weekend), helped me to realize that age is just a number, just like the 26.2 miles is a number, and if achieving one is seen as a success, surely the other must be as well.

Walt Disney Marathon Training Schedule For Experienced Runners

Yours in health and happiness,