From Defeated to Undefeated: Realizing who you truly are inside when you have nothing left
Goals & Motivation runDisney Running & Fitness

runDisney’s 2019 WDW Marathon: From Defeated to Undefeated

Realizing who you truly are inside when you have nothing left

Last week, we shared a lovely guest post by Shawna Spaziani about her past struggles with runDisney guilt and shame. This week, I’m sharing an equally awesome story about perseverance and grit by Will Thorpe! After reading his post about runDisney’s 2019 WDW Marathon on his fantastic The Intentional Steward blog, I was moved to tears and immediately asked if I could repost it here. Thank you, Will, for allowing us share your story and for spreading inspiration to others!

Grab some tissues and enjoy! And be sure to check out Will and Stephanie’s blog for more on intentional living!

Victory and failure are usually fairly easy conclusions to determine. Either you pass the test or you don’t- it’s a black and white concept and is typically how my mind operates. It also tends to make me a rather competitive person, always striving towards the next goal. When I started running last year, however, I never realized how amazing, intense and radically life changing making a simple goal would end up being. To go from running my first 5k to completing a marathon in one year.  

This is about that last race: The 2019 WDW Marathon.

Everything had been going fantastic. The day before I cheered on my wife as she completed her first half marathon.  She did amazing and I couldn’t have been more proud! I woke up at zero dark thirty with sleepiness and adrenaline combating each other but managed to get dressed and bussed to the start without any issues. I even caught up with one of my amazing on line running communities: The Joyful Miles! The morning was still slightly cool but humidity had set in and tempertures were already increasing. Water. Water. Coffee.  Banana. Joyful Miles Photo. GO! Well, not yet with a half mile walk with people and port-a-potties everywhere we all herded our way to the corals. With fireworks blazing the sky we my ‘C’ coral finally made their way to starting line. Fireworks ripped through the air again and we were off. Time to see what my entire year of training was about to accomplish!

Through mile thirteen I could not have asked for a better race. It was a little warm and humid but I’ve been training in Florida the entire year- this was nothing. I followed my training plan perfectly and I was ready. I was going a bit too fast through first 4 miles so I slowed some but I was on fire and ecstatic making it difficult to slow. I was on top of the world, full of energy ready to completely surprise myself with how well this marathon will go. I was killing this race.

I even had the privilege of kissing my wife along the long line of spectators! It was brief but also one of the most meaningful moments with her ever as she never touches me when I‘m sweaty and I was pouring sweat. I’m a crazy blessed guy. Between seeing her, my music pumping in my headphones and the thousands of spectators cheering us on with their shouts and signs, I was completely electrified.

At the 13 mile marker, the half way point, I stopped at another water station gulped down some water and Powerade and took a second to catch my breath while viewing the stunning sunrise.  Perfection and serenity.

God is an artist- It’s certainly true what scripture says about nature proclaiming His existence. I offered up a quick prayer of praise to Him for the scene and began to walk back on the course. I stretched a bit and did some butt kickers to loosen up the knees as I started walking and then…

Out of nowhere my left hamstring completely froze up and I nearly toppled over from the paralysis. Luckily, I caught myself before falling over to the ground. What? A cramp?  I have never once cramped during a run. 

I tried to walk it off but it was clear this was going to take a few minutes to pass. I stretched some more and finally felt good. I began to run but I could feel my hamstring. It was tight and stiff. “Could I handle another 13 miles of this?” I thought? As it turned out that was just beginning of my issues…

I was hydrated and was drinking plenty of water yet over the next ten miles. My cramping, however,  got worse from my ankles to my upper thighs and, yes, even my groin. I had done 20+ mile runs in Florida heat and this has never happened. Not once. Why now? Why on race day? My spirit was failing quickly.

Within those miles I texted my wife to let her know my situation and that I wasn’t doing well. She gave some wonderful encouragement back that helped my perspective, so I charged on. Yet before I knew it the paralysis from the cramps flared up again. This race wasn’t going to end well and the beautiful sunrise was now a full blown sauna.

I was devastated at how this was going and how an overwhelming majority of my time was spent walking. I didn’t want to injure myself so I ran until the cramping came back and I’d walk until it left. Was this really how my big race day was going to go? Of course when I saw the photographers it gave me some extra motivation… can’t be photographed walking… right? The more I ran, the more difficult the walk became.

I had worked so hard this year and I wanted a good time but that idea went out the window when the next pace group from behind passed me. I wanted to not only finish but finished well. Yet when I look back to first half of this race I was running just as fast as I had ran my fastest half marathon and this was a full marathon. What was I thinking? The damage was done though and part was certainly my fault.

After a few more grueling miles I eventually had to stop completely because my foot was locked at a forty-five degree angle from doing a simple calf stretch. I literally could not get it to go back down until after two minutes of massaging it. During that process the pace group that was forty-five minutes behind me at the halfway mark passed me as well. I lowered my head knowing I should have been to the finish line by this point… and here I was barely able to walk. And, yes, I cried.

I felt helpless.

I prayed.

I prayed one of the most raw, unfiltered prayers I’ve ever prayed. I made my case, as foolish as it was and let it all out. I told Him exactly what my situation was. My body had been broken for the last several miles and now… my spirit was too but I kept started walking again, albeit slowly and limping.

Through watery eyes I saw I was only at the 22 mile mark. I got my phone back out to text my wife the update: “Walking the rest…”

I admitted defeat.

Victory and failure are usually fairly easy conclusions to determine… 

What was victory for me? My perspective began to move off my circumstances. I knew I could run this thing. I had nearly done it in my training runs and with better pace times. This situation though was new. This was the challenge, not the run itself. I know I can run, even a marathon, but can I overcome my own self pity and this challenge, this pain? Life doesn’t always go as planned so why should this race? Will I let arbitrary numbers of time over distance dictate failure or victory for me? Or will I change my attitude despite the circumstance I put myself in?
I prayed again. I thanked God for the air in my lungs. My wonderful and supportive wife. The health in my body…  So much to be thankful for.
As I walked past the 24 mile marker I looked at my phone to check the time. Just twenty minutes until I’ve been out here for a total of five hours. I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. I then looked around and saw the spectators were now back on the course cheering. I felt life envelop within me. The pain was still there- pain on top of numbness, but there was also hope.

I decided to trot a couple yards.  Not bad. Ugly, painful, but not bad. 

I can do this.” I thought to myself.  I was tired of walking and I found a trot that caused minimal pain.

Two miles. Two easy, excruciating miles. That’s it.

I can do this…” 

I pull out my phone one last time and with resolution texted her again: “See you in 20 minutes.” I wasn’t going to be late.

Music blared motivation. Prayers soothed my wounds. The yearning to cross the line propelled my legs forward. Adrenaline, free emotions, physical pain, mental numbness and spiritual drive blended together in one indescribable rush. I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. I felt like I had gone through death and came out new.

I was now undefeated.

One more mile…

I wasn’t trotting anymore- I was running or as much as my body physically could. I pumped my fist in the air with a shout, unable to hold it all in. So many people cheering. Runners all around me. The finish line was waiting.

It all happened so fast. I rounded the corner knowing the finish was was right there in eyeshot but my legs started freezing up again. I looked for my wife in the crowds. So many people… I scanned the faces while still running and tumbling forward trying not to fall over as each step pounded through my legs…

THERE!  I saw her wave as I nearly collapsed. I raised both hands up to blow her a kiss but also to keep from falling over into the wall. I smiled as tears burst out from seeing her.  I felt Him surge through my whole body and mind: past pain and numbness, keeping my feet steady.

I charged towards the finish line with all I had left throwing my hands skyward in praise in an explosion of pain combined of overcoming sensation of joy. 

I crossed the finish line! I FINISHED! … “I finished… strong

Time: 4:59:10… And I wasn’t late.

Looking back:

When people say running a marathon is a spiritual experience, I believe them. I saw deeper into myself than ever. I was scrapping the bottom and had nothing left. Once I was out of the way, the way forward became clear: It’s not about me.

If it weren’t for the spectators cheering us on, my amazing wife giving amazing support, or for my gracious God showing me a new reality about myself during the race, then my ending would have been much different.
Be a spectator cheering on a stranger.Be that selfless supporter to a dear loved one.

Allow God to reveal to us the deepest, darkest part of ourselves.  Do it so that He can show us how to experience His best version of what we are capable of doing while still faithfully pushing forward despite adversity, even if it’s caused by our own pride or not.

Trust His process in our life as we run our race.

The race didn’t go as I expected but I can say I finished strong. An eternal, humble, Godly perspective is essential in our life, always. I didn’t finish with the time I wanted, but I still finished in the top third of all men and top half in my age group, after only running one year. I am happy to say I am more than content with that finish, Yet what I experienced was truly more than merely running a marathon: I got to see who I truly am inside and once I was defeated, God showed up to make a new judgement: undefeated.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” -The Apostle Paul to the church of Philippi


Thank you, Will, for sharing your amazing story about your 2019 WDW Marathon Experience! Congratulations, also, to Stephanie for finishing the 2019 WDW Half Marathon!

Be sure to check out their The Intentional Steward blog and have a joyful day!

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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