In My ‘Over 40’ Running Era :: “…Ready For It?” 

In My ‘Over 40’ Running Era :: “…Ready For It?”
Training for my first marathon and taking on the Dopey Challenge 

In March of 2023 I was wallowing in a pity party where life after 40 was really looking down. I spent the latter part of 2022 dealing with some health issues that required surgery and I was struggling to come to terms with my recovery. “Maybe this is just the way it has to be now,” I thought….maybe I’ve reached my expiration date. As I started to climb out of my pit, the registration for the 2024 Walt Disney Marathon Weekend race series was approaching. I have run several of the half marathons and virtual races through runDisney, but the marathon distance always seemed out of reach for me. 

Like any adult woman who never identified as an athlete in high school or beyond, fitness had become whatever the latest craze was until I started running here and there in 2018. I always managed to finish races, but never feeling strong until I got more serious in 2023. So when the registration date rolled around, I thought I was ready to sign up for my first marathon distance…but then a wave of confidence rolled through me and here I was: registered to run the Dopey Challenge instead of ‘just’ a marathon.

I had decided to train to run 48.6 miles over a series of four days.

The Dopey Challenge is a signature race series through Walt Disney World every January consisting of running a 5K, 10K, Half Marathon (13.1 miles), and then a Marathon (26.2 miles). The races are subsequent days and some say the hardest part of Dopey is waking up four days in a row at 2 a.m. in order to get on a bus and to the start line for 5 a.m. Spoiler alert: they are not lying and if you tackle this challenge, pack the fancy jelly under eye patches to feel like a princess.

In My ‘Over 40’ Running Era :: “...Ready For It?” After registering I needed a solid plan to pull this off. My husband is super supportive of my running goals and I turned to him saying, “I know I can do this, but I think I’ll struggle less if I hire a coach.” He agreed and I knew exactly who I wanted on my team. The stars totally aligned on this one because my running coach was also registered to run Dopey as a seasoned marathoner, and as mother of two girls, she gets my insecurities about not ‘looking like a runner.’ She let me have a little ‘Menty B’ on the phone and we came up with a plan to get me strong to the start line and for the next six months I did the training and trusted the process.

There is also this thing about distance running and ‘hitting the wall,’ aka ‘bonking’ and I did not want to end up in this realm of hell. I leaned into support from a sports dietitian because I was tired of feeling the need to eat an entire casino buffet after my long runs. That does not do well for the soul or for the waistline. There is a big, beautiful outcome when you can finally ditch things like macro counting and weighing food to learn the art of understanding your body’s needs to go the distance. Would you get in the car for a road trip with only 30 miles left in the tank of gas? No. So why this to our bodies while endurance training? Probably because we’ve been conditioned on ‘good vs bad’ and ‘earning’ your food in some capacity. We’ve all got a touch of whacked out thoughts around food. It is what it is, but solid education under my belt has shifted perspective and interestingly when I let go of being so strict around food, my body relaxed and let go of that extra 10 I’d been carrying around for a year…and I was able to hit new paces on my runs. 

In My ‘Over 40’ Running Era :: “...Ready For It?” I started training in the beginning of July and rolled through all the heat and into the fall waiting for cooler air. Some days were easier than others but I stuck with it. As a mom of a middle schooler with a busy ballet rehearsal schedule, some days I’d have to shift runs around to match other commitments. Another hot take I have for you is to find ways to get things off your plate. It might be saying no to an extra civic club commitment, hiring a housekeeper or asking someone to help with your kids for your weekend long runs, but do not be afraid to ask for what you need. 

Sometimes I run alone and sometimes I link up with a group.

If you are looking for running groups in your area, ask your local running shoe store or find a local Road Runners Club of America group near you online. When my weekend miles got really long, sometimes my husband or daughter would bike with me holding a cooler with all my hydration refills and a bluetooth speaker playing music. These were some of my favorite runs. In fact, my last 10 miler was with them on bikes and ‘The Eras Tour’ playlist and it was a perfect run. My husband and daughter weren’t able to make it to my race weekend so this will forever be a memory. 

In My ‘Over 40’ Running Era :: “...Ready For It?” I set off for Walt Disney World at the beginning of January with my mom for support (she was also running the Marathon as her first!) and after we got settled in, I grabbed all my race gear at the expo and kept the trip pretty low key limiting how much time I spent in the parks and grabbing all the early dinner reservations I could for carb loading. I am not much of a race costume creator, but I do love seeing all the costumes the runners create and wear on the courses. The slogan of runDisney is ‘every mile is magic’ and it really is. From character stops with Photo Pass photographers to giant screens playing movie clips and songs, the miles just roll on. The marathon is the only race that runs through all four parks, but every runDisney race has some element of running through the empty parks. My favorite is coming up Main Street at the Magic Kingdom lined with spectators cheering and then making my way through the castle. 

Each day I got to the start line a little sleepy but so happy, never grumpy.

We encountered just about every season during the four days of running and of course the biggest bump in the race for me was a rain storm that rolled in around mile 10 during the marathon. I kept going for the next 16.2 miles with soggy feet but a smile on my face. These races become their own community because so many repeat runners return for them year after year; I’d see some of the same faces each day doing the same hard things I was doing and over the days we’d all end up running with each other at some point. Sharing struggles, sparkles, and stories. That’s the real magic. 

In My ‘Over 40’ Running Era :: “...Ready For It?” 

I never hit the wall I was waiting for. I felt strong the entire time. I never questioned my ability to see this challenge to completion. Of course the last few miles were the toughest physically and mentally but holding on to a matra really helped: ‘See what’s in your rearview and let it fade away.’ Maybe you won’t need this to get you through a marathon, but you probably have another area of life that it could help. 

I crossed that finish line proud of every step. Not just the ones over the past four days, but for the ones I needed to get me there. You don’t have to run a marathon to be proud. Find what it is that lets you anchor to your next right thing and stick to your plan. It might get shuffled around, but progress is not linear. 

I would be remiss if I did not leave this bit behind: you do not have to run the entire time to have a successful race.

Using a run/walk/run method (aka, the Galloway Method) has carried me across every finish line and often faster than if I ran nonstop. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good; start where you are and seek out options. If you want to do something, there’s away. Please don’t let the super fast men (and women!) in neon Nike shoes at the start of the Boston Marathon keep you from pursuing your personal greatness. 

You can also have a successful training cycle by utilizing the free online runDisney training plans, as I did for many years. Adding a coach has become the next piece for me to do my next tough thing which is improve my time and pursue my goal to run a World Major Marathon.

No matter your distance, I’m cheering for you loudly behind this screen and if I see you at a race, I’ll pass some glitter and gummy bears your way!

In My ‘Over 40’ Running Era :: “...Ready For It?” 

About The Author

Kari Walker lives in Lafayette, LA with her husband and daughter. When she’s not running, she enjoys cooking, gardening, and caring for her dog, cat and 8 chickens. She is a retired RN who now helps others one one one as a trained health coach focused on habit changes, efficiencies, and goal setting. 

IG: @storybookrunners

Email: [email protected]


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