I don’t even know where to begin with this amazing woman… I met her in Key Largo 6 or 7 years ago (Candace, I can’t even remember), but from the first time down there – the people in Key Largo quickly became my family. Candace and her sweet family were no exception. So, when I was at their house in May of last year and she said, “Megan, I’m going to run a full marathon. The Disney Marathon in January 2017…” I smiled and said – “You can do this.” I told her if she wanted my help, I’d be there to help her out with training. Sure enough a few months later I got an email, and the rest is history!!
Candace – your strength, your heart, Paul and Birdie and your brother got you through those 26.2 miles. I hope you know what a huge accomplishment this is. It’s a memoir to your brother, an inspiration to so many out there, and a testament to yourself that you are capable of anything you want to do. Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey – I truly can’t tell you how much it means to me, and how very grateful I am for your family and all of my Key Largo family. I love you all so much!
I asked Candace a series of questions, and I’m going to let her answer them all below… Wait until you read her story, wait until you hear HER WHY…
Tell me about yourself – who you are, what you do, and all of that jazz!
My name is Candace White, I am a 42-year-old woman living in the incredible community of Key Largo, Florida. I was born and raised in another incredible small town in West Tennessee, Dyersburg.
I have a few roles in life. I am mom to my seven-year-old daughter, Birdie. My love is my husband Paul. Life is a beautiful mix of raising my daughter, being a best friend to my husband, teaching Spanish part-time at my daughter’s Montessori school and pursuing my passion for creative writing. I was pursuing a degree in Spanish but that’s on hold for now so I study with a teacher from Guatemala each week instead. I constantly follow and educate myself on social justice issues. I love to read, particularly literature on spiritual teachings, religions, culture and social justice. Our family loves to travel around the world with friends, experiencing cultures, languages and people. We own our own consulting company, The Helping Company and through it we assist with education and medications for a young girl I met in Africa in 2004.
What made you want to run a marathon? What was your WHY?
A friend approached me about the Disney Marathon in June of 2016. I ran two half marathons years earlier with her so I thought “why not go for a full together?” When I trained for my first half those years before, I bonded with friends and it was beautiful achieving our race goal together. A mom friend had trained us all, Amie Tucker, who is now a fitness instructor in Murietta, California at the Y. She actually ran the race with me, by my side, the entire time. I was over 200lbs when I started training with her and was very hard on myself and judgmental about my body. We would meet early in the morning in the dark to train. We shared about our lives and became good friends. She always knew I could do it when I doubted. It is a powerful experience when someone believes in you and loves you to a goal, especially a physical goal. I came away having lost weight and with so much more confidence and insight into my body.
So for the Disney full, after it was all said and done five other friends registered, we all committed to our first full marathon together. One friend was diagnosed with an illness years ago and she went for it, too! She’s an incredible inspiration to me.
Also, I habitually overeat and over-do-it with sugar so anytime I can exercise and keep pursuing a healthy lifestyle I try.
So that was the initial WHY for this marathon – bonding with friends, achieving a goal, run for health, strength, confidence and as a bucket list item, I could say I did it. Also, I am 30 pounds overweight and it was important that my daughter see me try to be healthy and achieve a fitness goal.
Then by August, my WHY for the Disney Marathon changed.
I preface this to say my spiritual life is the center of my life. My spiritual identity is the center of who I am and I feel a deep responsibility to stay true to that.
I found through the years that running and interval training is another way to train my mind and also to keep energy and emotions moving through my body. Running those distances helped me become a student of my body, to start to learn it, learn where it stores tension and learn to move feelings and pain through my nervous systems, to learn what impact feels like, what core strength feels like, what release feels like.
I began a committed meditation practice in 2009 and found that running gave me insight into what happens to my thinking when life gets hard.
Before this marathon, life got hard.
Over the summer my dad was diagnosed with cancer again and had a glossectomy (tongue removal) along with reconstructive surgeries. I went to stay with him for a week in the hospital in early August to help my mom and brother with his care. He had throat cancer fourteen years before and used an electronic larynx to speak. With this surgery, he could no longer speak or swallow and he left the hospital feeding himself with a feeding tube. I transitioned him home, he settled in then I returned to my family in Key Largo.
August was here, dad was healing, school was starting, we were back in routine and it was time to begin training for the marathon.
I contacted Megan to see if I could do this with only a few months to train. She said absolutely, four months would be plenty of time. Honestly, I didn’t believe her but I was willing to go for it.
Then, on August 30 my husband called me one afternoon and said my brother had taken his own life.
My brother committed suicide.
Life stood still. I flew home to help my family and begin grieving. After his funeral in Tennessee, I returned to Key Largo and reached out to Megan again and she said I could still do it, that I really really could finish this marathon.
Now, I didn’t only want to do it, I needed to.
Megan set up my plan and I started to go for my runs. I ran to grieve. I needed to keep moving forward, to keep moving emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. I ran and cried, I ran and prayed, I ran and meditated.
The week after his funeral I went for one of my training runs and would cry then smile, cry then smile, my brother’s spirit with me every step. I ran into my pain, I ran into my sadness, I ran into memories, I ran into fears, I ran into the realities of life now that he’s not here. I needed to keep moving. I have a daughter to love and a husband to love and now I am my parents’ only earthly child.
I ran into a deeper understanding of myself, the power of love, forgiveness and compassion. Relationships in my life also began to change after my brother’s death, I was changing as a person and still am. It has been a confusing time but also a time of deep personal discovery. The emotions intense and also the Peace within. I hold on to a meditation practice and I have learned to allow myself to receive love from people in a way and at a depth that I had not allowed myself to receive before.
I ran for contemplation. I would contemplate suffering and breathe in all the people right now suffering like my brother suffered, all the people right now grieving loved ones, I contemplated the love that people need, the forgiveness and compassion. The love I was receiving from people. My spiritual readings suggested saying blessings and prayers for people as I passed them so I would do this and in turn experienced my own energy lift.
After my brother’s death, I watched my dad grieve not only his son, but grieve the ability to eat and the loss of speech. Then, during the months I trained I drew from my dad’s resolve and determination as he and my mom endured deep despair. In a few months, my dad in his grief taught himself to swallow and today no longer uses a feeding tube. He also learned to communicate through voice apps on his iPad.
How did you choose the one that you did?
Aside from our group running this one together, our family enjoys Disney. The Disney marathon is a low-pressure, fun race with 25,000 people, most dressed in costumes, running through all the parks. It is well supported for first time marathoners with food, lots of water stops, surprises and entertainment all along the course.
What part did training play in your marathon?
Essential. Crucial. Everything Megan said was right on, down to the science. Megan’s plan was great because training is a big time commitment. I needed someone to guide me to monitor progress and adapt my plan when my schedule went haywire.
I needed the support. Whenever I had doubts, Megan assured me. She said over and over, “don’t quit, you can do this.” I worried about being overweight and out of shape, she always said I could do it. Everything on her blog was useful and a one stop resource. Her enthusiasm and passion for fitness is contagious. She also told me the truth, “it’s going to hurt, you’re going to feel this way and this way, prepare, but you can finish.” I hydrated like she said and I know it made ALL the difference before, during and after.
Even writing the reminders to “keep going” and my “why” on my arm helped, like she does for her races. I looked at my arm a lot during the race, especially the word breathe and my brother’s name. I have lots of great memories from when we were little kids so I wrote my childhood nickname for him, too.
She was on call for me during the race, tracked me the entire time and texted encouragement.
Give me a run down of the race – highs/lows…what did you think?
– The temperature, literally. I sat in the 36 degree weather in my corral for almost an hour before our start time. I had one thought of “I didn’t want to do this” then I committed to stay mentally positive the rest of the race. By mile four, my body warmed up.
– For women, and as they say in India, I had my “monthly holiday” (period) so my hormones were elevated. My hip was hurting and inflamed. I was seriously nervous about my physical condition the week before. My hip was hurting from nerves and overuse. I needed to fuel up on iron, stretch, and roll out my leg and hip. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! My friend gave me essential oils which helped a lot. Megan told me to rest it. I did the day before especially. I rested and drank water literally all day and had some meditation time with a good friend.
– The last three miles were the toughest for me. I felt like it wasn’t going to end. We ran through Epcot with people watching and some cheering, high-fiving us. A couple of people told me to smile. The last three miles I started getting desperate for it to be over. It was hard to smile.
– I thought it was a low that my head phones died at mile 20, my techie husband bought me some snazzy Bluetooth headphones but when they ran out of charge it was a blessing because it was just me, my inner thoughts and attitude the last six miles with friends texting encouragement. I would read texts for a few minutes then zone.
– When I crossed the start line I knew I would finish. I knew. I really wholeheartedly knew. I knew my brother’s spirit was supporting me all the way. I knew it was in me to do this even though my training was messy and I skipped runs and had a hard time staying consistent with my training plan. I still knew I had enough to do it. I wanted to celebrate the life my brother and I shared and also mark that it was time to forward.
– This race was about shedding beliefs about myself. It is about being the most authentic person I can be and not neglecting, evading or hiding that. Life is too short. The race was a way to respond to the challenges of life with love and strength. It was about empathy and compassion for my parents.
– It was about enjoying life and having fun, the paradox of having both joy and pain at the same time.
– Breathing. I caught myself at one point taking short breaths and holding. Fear-breathing. It was a gift to be aware and adjust it to harmonize it with my pace, slow it down and make it rhythmic. Having my mind and body in harmony felt amazing. I judge my body and think negatively about it. This race was about stopping that. My brain feels so oxygenated and clear today, my blood feels like it’s fully oxygenated today, the day after. Feels wonderful.
– Bonding with my husband. He is my number one supporter. He is a kind kind soul. He came to cheer me on with my daughter to three spots on the course in addition to the finish. At the final six he said “go within, meditate your way to the finish.” It was exactly what I needed to hear. No band or Disney character or music or anything external was going to get me to the finish line. I had to go within myself.
– Choosing my thoughts under challenging physical conditions. Jesus said “take no thought.” The Yoga Sutras of the Pantanjali say “starve a thought.” It was wonderful to do that when a negative thought came. My mom always said “can’t never could do anything.” So “I can’t” was not an option. Nor was it the truth. I could and I knew I could at the start.
– This race was a symbol of running toward what I’m passionate about and stop limiting myself with certain beliefs I have about myself. It’s time to deepen my trust of my spiritual journey and to follow my heart to create art. The race signified the start of a new season of my life. To forgive myself and others.
– My goal for the race was to keep a smile on my face. I had practiced smiling as much as possible in training (when I wasn’t crying or processing emotions or worrying about my body). I read that even fake smiling can produce serotonin in the brain. My meditation teachers said the first thing to do when you start meditating is to smile. I smiled until the last three miles or so. Those were tough. But I still tried.
– How much I ran. I trained with intervals which I did pretty steady for the first 13 miles. I walked longer stretches when I needed to conserve energy. Then in the last half of the race I found my legs felt best at a slow jog instead of walking so I was excited to run as much as I did. I feared I would walk too much and stiffen up but I didn’t.
– My daughter. She saw me train. She saw me grieve. She saw me finish healthy. She saw me smile. It felt incredible to model this for her.
If you could give anyone advice thinking about running a full what would suggest?
Trust the training plan and follow it as much as you can as consistently as you can.
I would say embrace pain, make friends with it, be open to discover its purpose for yourself and others.
Use the training to shed the past or run toward a hopeful future, to question and test beliefs about yourself, to train the mind and body to be in harmony then use the race as a celebration.
Connect with life, Spirit, those you love, your Faith that there’s something bigger. Stay present. Don’t think about the miles ahead, starve those thoughts, don’t look behind. Focus on the present step. My friend went to Tibet and said the monks never looked more than seven steps ahead. I practiced that especially when it got tough. I found it to be a very meditative experience. My mantra during was “Peace” and “Forget your legs.”
What did you learn from this experience?
Fear and worry waste time, energy and they affect my physical health.
Enjoy my body, stop judging it.
I made a commitment to myself to grieve my brother as unaltered as possible. I do not drink or smoke. I do not take any mind or emotion altering medications. I do use food and sugar for emotional comfort. Training and the race definitely gave me another way to channel my grief and cope with emotions in a positive way.
Change is good.
What was the hardest part of doing this? What was the best part?
Hardest was the discipline to stay consistent with my training. I know I made it harder on myself than it needed to be.
Best part was knowing I was going to finish at the starting line and the inner peace during the race.
What will your next goal be?
Nothing planned for running. I want a consistent exercise schedule (yoga, pilates, walking, and Nia) and make a true healthy lifestyle change to eat more plant-based and limit or abstain from sugar and processed food.
Candace – I saw this picture on your Facebook page yesterday… thank you for inspiring others. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your amazing story. Your brother is with you…I hope you can see him and feel him everywhere. Just in this picture I can tell he was with you in that moment. You’re an amazing human. Thank you for sharing your story.