Claire's Dopey Challenge

Before I joined Dreams I never thought I would be doing challenges like running, I mean, I hated running at school and as I got older I still couldn’t see the appeal of putting trainers on and heading out the door.

My Journey to Florida and the Disney Dopey Challenge

Before I joined Dreams I never thought I would be doing challenges like running, I mean, I hated running at school and as I got older I still couldn’t see the appeal of putting trainers on and heading out the door. 

2017 that all changed

December 2016 I had a meeting with Martin (Head of Events) at the Dreams Come True, talk soon turned to Florida and the Dopey Challenge. You see, for a number of years now Martin, the Disney fanatic he is, has organised a group of runners to take on the Dopey challenge in Florida every January. I think the ‘Dopey’ in the title sums up the challenge. He soon talked me in to taking on the challenge in 2018 which consists of a 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon over four consecutive days, he said if he could do it then I could. Having never been to Florida I thought okay it will be a new experience. In December 2016 I signed up, how hard could it be? 

At the beginning of 2017 I thought that I best start training and running, if I was going to do this challenge I wanted to run it or at least try, plus the scary thought of the balloon ladies catching me and putting me on a bus for not being quick enough was something I didn’t want to happen. Spring time approached and the running shoes went on and off I went, not even two minutes in to my run I was walking. A 3 mile run became a 3 mile walk with feeble attempts of running throughout.

In may time I realised that I needed help to run, it sounds strange and odd, I didn’t think running would be hard. I found a local running club and coach, Run Verity. I emailed Verity explaining what I was looking for and I have never looked back. Verity and the club provided a community of runners of mixed abilities, the thing I liked about the club was that it was inclusive and everyone understands that you need to start somewhere. Because I had done Silverstone and Liverpool (even though I walked!) Verity suggested I come along to a taster session to meet herself and the club runners. That Wednesday evening I ran my first 5k with no walking, something I had never done before. The group was so welcoming and as we ran we chatted, meaning that my mind was elsewhere and not focusing on what my feet and legs were doing. Verity not only provides a community of runners, but teaches running techniques, warm ups and cool downs which helps to prevent injury. Since that first run, I have not looked back. Throughout the year I was out with the club two evenings a week and as the Dopey quickly approached, I started long runs at weekend with some of the other club members training for long distance runs. My first long distance training run was 10 miles, the second part of Emily’s 20 mile marathon training. That morning I thought I would just run the first 6 miles or so with her, however Emily’s determination became inspiration and I ran my first 10 miles. Throughout the next few months I was out at weekends on long distances running with the club and supporting Emily’s marathon training, quickly I got myself up to 15miles running, something at the start of the year I never thought would happen. The last few months of the 2017 I completed a handful of half marathons, 5k’s and 10k’s in preparation for January, I felt stronger in my running abilities than I had ever done before.

December, the panic and health

As December approached and weather got worse, I found it hard to train and get out there. The dark nights, rain and cold really puts you off going out running and sometimes I opted for the sofa and TV remote. Verity again, was a source of support and encouraged me to get out there. A few 7am –3 frosty training runs with Sam, Graham and Verity I knew I needed to keep pushing through. I then had a health scare a few weeks before Christmas, which luckily turned out to absolutely fine, however this affected my training mentally, meaning my 20 mile training runs never happened and I headed out to Florida with weeks of missed runs and my furthest training run being 15miles.

The Dopey Challenge

Setting of from Gatwick on the second of January with the other dopey runners, there was never really any excitement for the trip and the holiday after the runs, I was apprehensive of the challenge and constantly asked myself why I was doing this. There was 3 villas, most taking on the challenge, most had done it before or done marathons before. This was my first marathon and the day after 3 days of running. The Wednesday we headed off to ESPN to visit the EXPO and collect our running numbers, a little twinge of excitement appeared but quickly evaporated to dread. The 5k, 10k and half didn’t bother me so much, it was the marathon after the three days, I knew I could do the first 3 days.

5k Race day!

Alarms set at 3am our villa woke and pulled on our dopey t-shirts and headed to the mini bus, cold was an understatement! Unseasonably cold for Florida we wrapped up in bin bags and made our way to meet the other villas and team! We were all dressed in the dopey team t-shirt and Steve rocked his snow white dress. The Disney runs aren’t like normal races, there are characters out to cheer you along, most runners stop and queue for pictures! Most of the team took over an hour to complete 5k, a few of us who felt the cold just ran a normal 5k while stopping for the odd picture. 5k done, quick change back at the villa, celebratory beer with thanks to Julian, then we spent a day at Disney! More walking, 13 miles, not ideal the day before race No 2!


10k Race Day!

Alarms again set for 3am we woke to freezing temperatures, this had to be the coldest day! as we crossed the start line I seemed to warm up a bit, but panic set in as I felt a sharp pain in my right knee, this isn’t what I needed the day before a half marathon, never mind the full the day after that. As I was running at the start I lost our team members, I think I went too fast oops! I bumped in to another team mate, Carion and we stopped and queued for pictures, Dan, Josh and Julian went passed and spotted us in the princess queue and joined us. This has to be my longest 10k ever but I think it was the race I had the most fun, we stopped at characters, phone boxes and different parts of the Disney parks for pictures. However in the back of my mind I knew my knee wasn’t right. After the race I visited the first aid tent and my knee got strapped with ice. Great, ice just what I needed when I was already frozen! Another quick change and celebratory beer, I joined the other villa at Universal, again more walking and not really what we should have been doing a day before the half!

Half Marathon Day!

3am and here we go again, day 3. In the bus dressed in our bin bags on top of running gear the only difference this time was my running gels was with me. Race plan, head down and run but a slower pace, I didn’t want to burn myself out before the marathon. We all split up before the race as we were in different corrals, I headed off to A which I was thankful for as it was the first corral to go (glad I didn’t have to stand in the cold plus I had a head start, the balloon ladies start at the back!). There was a sense of seriousness in this corral, people were here for times not pictures. As we crossed the start line I paced myself, having annoyingly forgetting my watch for timing I had to guess my pace, I didn’t want to go too fast. I was also a bit concerned as I really felt my knee starting to hurt, I pushed on. As I was running along I entered magic kingdom, the cheer squads were incredible and as I turned on to main street I seen the castle, it was still dark and the castle was lit up, it was an incredible experience and I was thankful I got there in the dark, my villa said it was amazing to see in the dark. I only stopped for a couple of pictures during this race and mainly to slow myself down. I felt strong in myself although my knee was concerning me, I knew if I stopped running I would feel the pain. As I crossed the finish line, I was glad I had done it, however as soon as I picked up my medal my knee hurt so bad that I couldn’t put my weight on it, I hobbled to the medical tent, got it seen too along with more ice. I sat there with other injured runners for a while, knowing the rest of my team were still to cross the finish line. I knew that if I still hurt when I stood up I would have problems on marathon day. I had the key to our mini bus, Josh the driver seemed to trust me with it! We had arranged to meet at the bus so I hobbled off…… but I spent most of the next hour walking round and round the car park looking for the bus, not being very tall it was hard to see over American cars, not to mention my phone didn’t work without Wi-Fi, oops. The rest of my villa wouldn’t be able to get in to the bus as I had the key and I couldn’t find the bus. As I wondered round I thought it might be best to go back to the finish line, but I knew the team would have most likely finished, out of nowhere I bumped in to Dan and Josh luckily. When we got back to the villa we had a celebratory beer and spent the day taking it easy. I was really concerned my knee hurt but a day taking it easy seemed to help. In the late afternoon we headed to one of the big shopping centres for a quick look round the shops and to meet the rest of the team for a cheesecake factory dinner. Afterwards it was an early night for all (before I tapped my knee).

Marathon Day, my first marathon

Alarms set before 3am this time, we got up and ready. I was nervous, this was my first marathon and I was tired from the early starts and the three races beforehand but luckily my training meant no stiff legs from the previous days. Also my knee seemed to be behaving for the moment. The difference with this race is that there was a lot more runners and we got caught in traffic. Aaron and myself started to get nervous, we didn’t think we would make our start time, I was due to set off at 5:30 and we didn’t park the bus until 5:15, as we rushed out the bus Aaron told me to run ahead to get to A, I sprinted the 20 min walk to the start line with 2 minutes to spare I decided to jump in corral B even though they said I could go in A, I needed the time to compose myself before I set off on my 26.2 mile journey, not the best start to my first marathon. As the fireworks went off I set off, this time I had my watch to pace myself and I kept to a steady 11 and a half minute mile pace. The first part was the same as the half, I entered magic kingdom around mile 6 (I think!) and again was blown away by the castle and crowds, I even stopped for a picture outside the castle. As I left magic kingdom I knew I had a long way to go. I made myself slow down at every water station and take the time to regenerate some energy, I used running gels at mile 4 and 8 for a boost, but I knew I was exhausted. As I approached mile 13 I thought to myself just half way to go, I thought I would have in my mind that if this was a half I would be finished by now, my concern was that I would stop running at this point I wouldn’t start again. As mile 13 went past I was still running, I was determined to keep running. Mile 18 came and although I was running much slower, I was still going. My legs were now sore and stiff and I entered ESPN, where we picked up our Expo numbers, this was the worst part of the run and seemed to go on forever! At some points I walked round, it was depressing the only bonus was the crowds, they handed out sweets which kept me going. As I left ESPN I was heading down a long road and on the other side runners who were just entering ESPN, I kept my eye out for fellow dream runners and I got a lift when I seen Martin and waved to him, then Julie and Steve. I hadn’t seen any of the team since Dawn, the American Ironman professional J and Carion at the start. It was good to see friendly faces which gave me the boost I needed. As I ran the last 5 miles, I would talk about the experience of entering Hollywood studios and EPCOT but if I’m honest it is a bit of a blur, I just wanted to get to the end. The crowds in both parks were incredible and really kept me going, as I crossed the finish line I had a wave of emotion, I had done it. The training with run verity, the early morning weekend runs all were worth it, I had completed my first marathon after 3 days of running. I waited at the finish line with Carion and soon Dan, Julian, Brent and Jason crossed. It was amazing to share the achievement with the team, we had all done it, and done it together. We waited for the rest of the squad to come through and cheered them cross the finish line. When everyone crossed we headed back to the villas, another celebratory beer and a day to relax by the pool. You see, marathon day was a hot day and more like Florida weather so we made the most of it. That evening we all went to Martin’s villa for pizza and drinks to celebrate the teams achievement, plus now we could all relax and enjoy the holiday, as Dan said at the marathon finish line ‘ the holiday starts now’.

The goodbyes

Slowly throughout the second week people started heading home, it was sad to see people go and that our trip was coming to an end. These challenges do more than physically and mentally push you, they allow you to meet and make friends with incredible people from all over in which you defiantly can’t put a price on. I intended to retire from running after Dopey, but a team reunion in Nashville 2019 with another Marathon to complete, I don’t think this year will be my running retiring year.

I have shared this journey with so many different and incredible people. Firstly a huge thank you to Verity for pushing me beyond what I mentally thought I was capable of. Also to RunVerity running club, without this group I would not be where I am today.

Thanks to my villa in Florida, Julian and Becky, Josh the driver, Aaron (Crazy Mountain and long distance runner) and Lisa for all the support and laughs throughout Dopey. To Dan who has supported all my running throughout 2017 and continues to support day to day running and helped me believe I can do it ( although he says I’m not to sign up to as many races this year, well maybe a few J). And lastly thanks to the Dreams Come True Dopey 2018 team for making this challenge a memorable experience and also making a child or young person who is seriously ill’s dream come true, see you all in 2019 for our next adventure and challenge.

On reflection, life is short and you can do anything you put your mind to. My advice is to push yourself out of your comfort zone, experience different experience and live life to the full. I intend to keep running and training, I want to complete a full marathon on fresh legs to see what I can do, something I never ever thought I would say.

Happy 30th Birthday Dreams, what a way to start!


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Author: Claire Smith

Date: 24/01/2018

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