Heather Montgomery: From 100 Meters to 26.2 Miles!

A sprinter in high school, Heather Montgomery never imagined running 26.2 miles. But after watching the Disney Marathon two years ago, she vowed she would come back and run the same race. By gradually increasing distances and surviving Mississippi’s humid weather, Heather finished her first marathon in January in Disney World. Congratulations Heather –she makes running a marathon look like a blast!

A lot of people get inspired to watch a marathon when they’re watching one. Did that happen to you?

I was definitely inspired to run a marathon, thanks to some of my close friends. In January of 2009, I went with a friend to Disney World to hang out with some other friends and watch them run the marathon. While we were watching the runners come by, we were inspired by all of the amazing athletes, the huge amount of crowd support, and the determination on everyones faces. Tears welled up in my eyes and right, then I decided that was going to be me one day! The next year, we ran the Disney half marathon; and this year, we came full circle and lived our dream of running the Disney full marathon! It took two years of hard work, but we accomplished our goal, and I am so proud!

You decided to run a half marathon before the going the full distance. Why? Were you glad you bumped up the distance incrementally?

As a self-proclaimed sprinter, the thought of running 26.2 miles was so daunting. I had never even run in a 5k race before! I started small. I ran a couple 5ks and a 10k as part of my training for the half marathon. Once we got that distance under our belts, I felt a lot more confident in my ability to go even further. I ran four half marathons before I ran the full, and I am so glad I did. It was a great confidence booster to gradually build up my mileage. I didn’t feel as pressed to gain endurance quickly, which I know can also sometimes lead to injury.

You were a sprinter in high school. How did you adjust to the increased mileage?

It was tough at first! When I began, I started off with just one mile. That one mile was so hard for me! But over time, each distance got a little bit easier. I am very goal-oriented, so setting small mileage goals worked well. I never increased my mileage by more than 10% in a week. I tapered about two weeks for my half marathons, then built the mileage back up after recovering from my races. My runner friends and I talk all the time about how distance running really skews your perception of what a long distance is. Three miles used to seem like forever, and now I get excited when I “only” have an 8 mile run to complete.

What were some of your training ups and downs? Did you train with your husband?

Living in the south, one of my biggest hurdles to overcome was the heat! We routinely have 97 degree days with 95% humidity.  Not only is it unsafe to run in those conditions but it really can do a number on your self-esteem if you are not careful. I had a gym membership, so I could run on a treadmill, but completing a 13-mile run on a treadmill isn’t my idea of a good time! My husband has run in every race I have run. We ran the Disney half marathon together, as well as the Disney full marathon. We wanted to cross the finish line as a team, along with my friend Karen who was with me that day when we first decided to start training. Having an accountability partner like my husband was a great help during grueling training runs. We ran all of our long runs together, even though I ran a lot of my weekday runs alone due to scheduling conflicts. Going through a training cycle with someone, blood sweat and tears, and then crossing the finish line with them is an amazing feeling. There is just something about being in it together that made it so special. Another roadblock for me was injury. In October, I came down with a severe case of ITBS. I tried running through it, and it didn’t work. I tried resting, which ultimately helped me to finish my marathon, but not pain free. I took 6 weeks off in November and therefore I missed crutial training time and the pressure of not feeling ready started to get to me. Also, just not being used to running such long distances was sometimes hard to deal with. Some days I just didn’t feel like running; but knew I needed to do it, and those runs seemed to go on forever! Not having a long distance training plan hanging over my head for now is nice! I think I was starting to deal with some burnout towards the end and think my training plan may have been too lengthy.

What was your race day experience like?

It was amazing — my favorite race to date! It helps that Disney does everything big. From having fireworks at the starting line, to stopping along the way to take pictures with characters, to running through Cinderella castle — it’s about as fun as it gets while running a marathon! We decided to not set a time goal for ourselves and just have fun, and I am so glad we did it that way. I know of some people who didn’t stop at all for pictures, which is fine, but this race for us was all about the experience. I loved just soaking it all in. When we came down the final stretch and I could see the finish line, I got so emotional. I thought about all of the trials we had gone through to get where we were. I thought about how two years ago I couldn’t even run a mile, and here I was, finishing 26.2. To me, a marathon was one of those things that only crazy hardcore people run, and it always seemed impossible to me. One of my favorite people, Walt Disney, once said: “it’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” I feel like that sums up my marathon experience. The road was long and hard, but in the end, the reward was great and I had so much fun! I wouldn’t trade that experience for all the pain and hard times I went through to get there. I feel so blessed to have a healthy body that carried me across that finish line!

Why did you pick the Disney Marathon? Would you recommend it to others?

As a Disney travel agent, I am pretty obsessed with the place! The real reason behind picking this race though was the story behind it. On that day when we watched our friends and made a vow to run a marathon, I figured what better way to accomplish our goal then at the very race where it all started. I would 100% reccommend this race to others, especially if you love Disney! I don’t know of anywhere else that gives you the kind of race day experience that Disney does. The Disney touches were great and the crowd support was so uplifting. I can’t wait to do it again!

You didn’t experience the post-marathon blues like many of us do. Why do you think that is?

I will be honest, marathon training was not my favorite thing. While I am so glad I did it, and I know I will do it again, there was a lot going on in my life while I was trying to train.  Not to mention, I struggled to get in some of my long runs. The severe IT band injury from October until the race also made training runs painful and difficult. I like to sleep in, so it’s nice to have my Saturday mornings back, and not have to go out on an 18 mile long run instead! I do have the itch to race right now, but I am going to focus on shorter distances to gain more speed. I am aiming to run Goofy (both the half and the full) in Disney in 2013. Hopefully by then I will be ready to give it another go!

What advice would you give another first time marathoner?

I would say to not put a time goal on your first marathon. It really took the pressure off of the race for me and I was able to have fun. I knew even if I had to walk the last 5 miles I was going to FINISH. I am so competitive- I knew if I did set a time goal and it started looking like I wasn’t going to meet it, I would have been upset and not enjoyed the race. You only get one first marathon. Soak it all in, and take the time to think about all you have accomplished and how awesome you are for coming this far!  There will always be other races to improve your time and get a PR. But hey, it’s your first marathon, so you get an automatic PR!

P.S. Where did you come up with the name of your blog?

Funny story actually. I have a toy poodle named Sassy. In High School, my basketball coach used to call me Sassy after my dog, and my attitude. I also love to run in skirts and have fun with my running wardrobe, so it just made sense to tie it into my blog name.

Melinda Hinson