February 8, 2010 by Ryan Eickel
After nearly three months of training, I successfully completed the Walt Disney World Marathon on January 10, 2010. It was a phenomenal experience, and it has truly changed my life for the better. Before I begin to describe the pain and glory of each of the 26.2 miles, let’s rewind a couple of months. As you likely realize, running a marathon requires weeks and weeks of preparation. Not only do you need to train your muscles for running longer distances than usual, but you also need the opportunity to discover each and every one of your body’s quirks. Do you face an unquenchable thirst after mile 8? Do you experience an insufferable sense of hunger after mile 15? Does your right ankle start to ache after mile 20? In this way, training is a sort of experiment, in which you test your body’s limits and push them a little further. At the peak of my training, I was forced to balance running with studying for exams, writing final papers, and finding the appropriate clothing for unexpected wintry weather. Unfortunately, the busyness of college life sometimes forced me to take a day or two off, but I often resorted to running through the dark streets of Williamsburg at 10pm or later. Regardless of the schedule of my training, I somehow managed to run hundreds of exhausting miles and whip my body into shape to run a marathon by January.
So, you’ll understand why I was almost brought to tears as I watched Mickey, Minnie, and the rest of the Disney characters count down to the start of the race, at which point fireworks shot into the air, as they only would in Disney World. Although it was only 5:30am, the sounds of the cheers and my heart pounding were enough for me to realize, “This is it!” I was very fortunate to run with my dad, my brother, and my brother’s girlfriend, Lisa. We had a fantastic time running through Epcot, the Magic Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. Throughout the race, costumed characters and all sorts of performers greeted and encouraged runners. Coupled with my carefully edited iPod playlist, I managed to stay upbeat and positive for nearly every mile of the race. Now, during the 4 hours on my feet, I had the opportunity to do a lot of thinking. I thought about the incredible sense of organization and professionalism that defines The Walt Disney Company. I thought about how kind the hundreds of volunteers were to wake up at 4am to pass out cups of water, Powerade, and Clif Shots. I pondered the unlucky coincidence that I was running during the coldest weekend on record in Florida’s history. I even thought about (and enjoyed) the odd lyrics that compose the majority of the songs on Ke$ha’s Animal. After all, what exactly does P. Diddy feel like in the morning?
But most notably, I had an epiphany: Running a marathon is a lot like college. Similar to a marathon, college is arguably a long commitment–4 years. Each year brings new and exciting adventures, and they each require a great deal of preparation. In a marathon, your training may allow you to run anywhere between 2 hours, if you’re an Olympian, and 7 hours. This is a pretty long time to run. You prepare for every couple of miles by stretching, hydrating, and eating. In college, you may take anywhere between 12 and 18 credits a semester, and students usually prepare by registering, purchasing textbooks, browsing syllabi, and sometimes researching relevant material prior to the start of classes. Just like college, running a marathon often requires constant spurts of inspiration and motivation. I cannot tell you how inspiring the hundreds of people were that stood along the sidelines, holding posters and cheering for the runners, as they literally chased their dreams. In a similar way, family, friends, professors, administrators, and classmates all serve as sources of motivation during the four years of college. The students and professors at William and Mary, although pursuing their own goals, will always make time for one another. And of course, inspirational quotes and music work for both running and college. I was sure to include the entire Rudy soundtrack, which is absolutely amazing, on my marathon playlist, and I write this blog with more than a handful of motivational quotes taped above me on my desk.
Furthermore, if you’ve every participated in a competitive race, you’ll know that the running community is one in a million. During the six or seven hours of pre-marathon activities, running, and post-marathon celebrations, I had the chance to meet more smiling faces than I’ve ever seen in my life. Runners are simply some of the happiest, friendliest, and most inspired people you’ll ever meet. There is a tremendous sense of community present at any race–a mutual understanding of all of the hard work that each runner had put in to get to this point. And for that reason, they care for one another every step of the way. Sound familiar? I honestly can’t think of a better comparison to William and Mary. Every single student at the College has proven themselves in one way or another to have earned their ticket to study at this amazing institution. This shared sense of accomplishment and compassion translates into a Tribe community that exists in the classroom, on the athletic fields and courts, at organizational meetings, and in every corner of the world. Students and alumni of William and Mary share a unique bond that is quite comparable to that among members of the running community.
Finally, although I am a huge proponent of the idea that it is the journey that truly matters in life, I cannot ignore the undeniable truth that the finish line always shines as a beacon in the distance. In running, my smile grew bigger and bigger as I watched the numbers on the mile marker signs increase from 10 to 20 to 26. I imagined the finish line in my head and the feelings of pride and excitement that I would soon experience. Similarly, William and Mary students are always pondering the countless opportunities waiting beyond graduation: places to move, experiences to be had, jobs to be earned, lives to be changed. As I crossed the Walt Disney World finish line, greeted by Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, I raised my arms with an unparalled sense of accomplishment. Last week, I actually ordered a glass-framed box that will include a final certificate, my medal, and the very picture of me crossing the line. With graduation less than four months away, I imagine I will experience quite similar emotions as I am handed my diploma. While I may not raise my arms in the air, I will certainly feel that same sort of pride and overwhelming sense of accomplishment, as anyone would after such a long but meaningful journey.
Have a fantastic week!