Thank you, it's only at Disney: Acknowledging your Accomplishments
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Thank you, it’s only at Disney: A Story about Acknowledging your Accomplishments!

Sometimes you’re touched so deeply that you just gotta share.

We received an email from Shawna Spaziani about her running story and how it was clouded with guilt and secrecy until she learned to acknowledge her accomplishments! Her words brought tears to our eyes and after finishing, I knew it simply had to be shared here. Not to give Joyful Miles kudos of any kind. But for anyone who is battling the same guilt for their passion or downgrading their runDisney accomplishments because, “It’s only at Disney.”

You guys. No. Just no! Disney races are the same distances as non-Disney races. Plus you’re waking up super early and often have to walk nearly a mile to get to your corral, plus stopping for characters only adds to the endurance challenge so Disney finishes are just as spectacular and more so!

You’re going to love how Shawna came to this conclusion, so read on! And thanks again, Shawna, for sharing your lovely story!

Thank you, it's only at Disney: A Story about Acknowledging your Accomplishments!

The 2012 Princess Half Marathon was my first half marathon and I ran it with four girl friends from grad school. I loved it. After that, my husband and I had completed five runDisney events together, I walked the Princess 10K twice with my mom in 2014 and 2016, and I cheered on my husband when he ran the 2015 WDW Marathon. I was in heaven, but one by one, all these people gave up on long distance running or runDisney, saying it was “expensive,” “a pain in the rear,” and that Disney is “only out for people’s money.”

I quite frankly became embarrassed to be a grown woman who loved to run and to run in Disney.

I also battled with major guilt over participating in endurance running in general, taking so much time and resources away from my husband, our house and our dogs. Thank goodness we don’t have kids because I don’t know how I would have handled that! The problem was that running really made me happy.

I turned 35 in December 2016 and that summer I decided, as a big gift to myself, I would run the 2017 Walt Disney Marathon two weeks after my birthday. It was a big audacious goal, (my first marathon!) and I promised myself it would be my last run Disney event, ever. I really wanted to run at Disney again, but because I didn’t know anyone who felt the same as me, I convinced myself that no serious adult or serious runner would spend the time and money to run at Disney.

The marathon was to be my last runDisney indulgence (and potentially one of my last endurance events) and then I would have to “get over it.” Feeling left behind, my husband would innocently joke, “after this it’s time to retire those running shoes.” My parents told me, “we are proud of you, but you know you’re crazy, right?” They all meant well, but they assumed I had thicker skin than I did, and they didn’t realize the amount of guilt those comments triggered. It made me think that maybe it wasn’t OK for me to love running as much as I did and maybe I shouldn’t be running at all. Training for a marathon I was ashamed to run would unearth a lot of ugly emotions.

I was on an endless cycle of negative self-talk for the first few weeks of marathon training, logging long and lonely road miles in the late summer South Florida heat. I was in a tough place emotionally and mentally, struggling to accept and to be proud of myself and what I was striving to accomplish. I was torn between seriously enjoying what I was doing and embarrassed of anyone knowing about it. I worked my rear end off, but I was so ashamed that I barely talked about it.

I even created an Instagram album under a new account name where I would log my training experience, and only followed other runners. It was my running social media haven and I naively thought it was private. I was mortified when our friends started finding the account (not that hard – it was named, “RunShawnaRun” and was still linked to my Facebook account – I am not computer savvy). They followed my new account, and proudly started greeting me as “RunShawnaRun,” and I wanted to die every time they did.

Our neighbors would tell me they saw me running every morning on their way to work and would ask me how the training was going. I decided I needed to run earlier when no one was awake because I was afraid no one would take me seriously after they saw my odd running form, by middle aged chubby body, and the mis-matched old race t-shirts I trained in. I imagined them talking behind my back saying, “she says she is running a marathon, but did you see her out there? Of course, she is running at Disney because where else would an amateur like that go run? She is obviously delusional.” Obviously, they weren’t saying that, but I was saying that to myself every day.

At home I was thrilled at the idea of running a marathon at Disney; I spent months planning my race outfit and researching the course map and the best post marathon celebratory dinners. I made a Disney-themed training plan and hung it on an inconspicuous wall in my office closet (so no one would see it but me). I checked off runs with sparkly star stickers and bought myself Raw Threads shirts as milestone presents (but only wore them at home). I obviously loved the journey I was on, but I was so embarrassed for anyone to know that I would respond, “thank you, it’s only at Disney though,” to my well-wishers.

On multiple occasions, I even asked my husband, “Is this a ridiculous idea? Am I ridiculous for wasting my time doing this?” He would look me in the eyes, hug me, and say, “Of course not! Why would you say that?” Honestly at the time, I didn’t even know why I was feeling the way I was. In hindsight, I can see my definition of a serious adult and a serious runner did not align with what made me happy. I was at odds with myself. That’s when I found Joyful Miles.

I connected with your podcast on a hot and humid 6-mile solo run, when, yet again, I was feeling stupid for being out there alone on a Sunday morning, when I could be what? at home watching TV with my family like a normal person? I don’t remember what you were talking about, but I remember it dawning on me that I was listening to functioning adults, who worked, had kids, exercised, and LOVED RUNNING AT DISNEY! Wait, what?! Not only are they admitting it, but they are broadcasting it for the world to hear! I was validated. For whatever reason, that was the lightning bolt from the sky saying, “it’s OK to be you.”  

I have since been inspired to embrace what makes me happy no matter what I fear people may think. It wasn’t an instant change (few personal journeys are) but Joyful Miles was the catalyst I needed to start celebrating all the things that made me who I was. I remember specifically Laura talking about the first time she ran Princess and feeling like it wasn’t OK to be a grown woman who likes pink. And Jackey was talking about how nervous she was to put herself out there when she didn’t know anyone at race weekend. I replayed that part of the podcast episode at least a dozen times in a row so I could absorb every-single-word. I realized I wasn’t alone.

Since then, I strive constantly to shut out the false and berating voices in my head that tell me I am not good enough, thin enough, or fast enough to be a proud runner. Not only did I love that first marathon at Disney, but I have run the Disney Marathon three times. In 2018 I ran the Star Wars Dark Side Half on a whim, and in February I will be running the Princess half as a training run for the Big Sur Marathon. I truly believe that this newly found confidence and joyful focus has been a significant factor in PR’ing the 5K, 10K, half, and now full marathon over the past year. Since finding your podcast, I placed in four local races and have blown all expectations I had for myself out of the water. As I head into training for the Big Sur Marathon in April (it’ll be my 6th marathon and the most intimidating to date), I know I am forever changed for the better. I am happier, more confident, and more at peace.

A year ago I had to give a presentation to 40 work colleagues a few days after completing my second WDW Marathon (the 2018 25th Anniversary). I hadn’t talk about the marathon at all during the work event, because again, I was embarrassed. But at the end of my presentation,  I posted a giant picture of me wearing my medal and the silver and blue mickey ears proclaiming, “I just ran my fourth marathon!” I was scared to share that (what will these people think of me if they know I run at Disney?) but that’s why I did it, and I am glad I did. The entire room cheered and a woman, who two weeks later was honored as a Legend of Ivy League College Basketball, said I was her hero.

I promised everyone that the 25th Anniversary Marathon would be my last runDisney event. “It’s an anniversary year, it’s special! I’ll run that, and then that will be it!” So the following April when my husband told me, “everyone we know is sick of this except for you” as a response to me informing him that I was escaping to Orlando for a night to run the Dark Side half because the course looked awesome, I confidently replied, “I know, but it makes me happy and that’s all that matters. We need to accept I’ll keep doing this until I stop enjoying it, which may never happen.” He hasn’t said a word to me about runDisney since.

By the way, I PR’d that run, even while stopping for pictures and high-fiving storm troopers. 2’01’23”! (yeah, I could have broken two hours if I hadn’t stopped for pictures, but who cares. It’s about the journey!)

And last week, at my third WDW marathon, my seventh time running down Main Street, I cried. I was embarrassed to cry in public, and then I remembered you all and the lessons your podcast have taught me. I decided to embrace the moment, tears and all. I was happy and grateful and blessed just to be there. Then my husband, who was working that morning, called me around mile 9 to serenade me with “When You Wish Upon A Star.” I burst out laughing and ran with the biggest smile on my face all morning long. I beat my Chicago Marathon PR by 20 minutes, and I ran with joy in my heart. My HM split was 2’06”! I would have died to finish a half in that time a few years ago and now that is my marathon halfway point split! Afterward, I bought a Disney Marathon tank top and hat, which I never allowed myself to do before out of embarrassment. I was proud and happy and it was time to let the world know. 

I now have only one Instagram account, and regularly share the fun I have running at Disney and preparing to run at Disney. The optimism and positivity I gained in this running experience, and thanks to you all, has extended to my marriage, my work, and really every aspect of my life.

Laura Bowers

Laura is a writer, runner, reader, runDisney addict, blogger, vlogger, wife to an amazing guy for 26 years, mom of two wonderful boys, excellent chili maker, and obsessive list keeper. She still thinks Spice World was an awesome movie and feels no shame about that plus she can quote most lines from Talladega Nights. Shake and bake!

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