Mary Surprenant runs half-marathon around Ocoee

When Disney canceled its running events — including the Star Wars Kessel Challenge half-marathon —because of COVID-19, Mary Surprenant decided to set up her own race.

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  • | 11:54 a.m. April 29, 2020
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Finding time for your passion can be hard.

As a mother who also works as a midwife, Mary Surprenant has her hands full. Throw in the recent coronavirus pandemic, and her hands are now overflowing.

But whenever she can get away for a little bit, there’s a good chance you’ll find her running her usual route from her home in Ocoee down to the intersection of Clarke and Silver Star roads — a 4-mile jaunt.

“I love running — I have always loved running,” Surprenant said. “I’m not a very fast runner at all, but it’s my quiet time for myself.”

For Surprenant, the simple act of running is a liberating one that removes her from all the stressors and worries in the world. In that moment, it is just her and the asphalt — or concrete — beneath her feet.

That’s why Disney canceling its Star Wars Rival Run Weekend, which was supposed to take place April 17 to 19, was a blow for Surprenant.

“I have done multiple Disney races — they are my favorite races to do,” Surprenant said. “I registered for the Disney Star Wars Kessel Challenge, which is your own virtual half-marathon that is supposed to be done within the month of March, and then you do the half-marathon during the Star Wars Marathon weekend — which was supposed to be the 19th.”


Surprenant’s love of running goes back to her teen years, but like most things, finding time to enjoy her hobby vanished as she grew older.

Fast-forward to 2015 and 2016, when something in her brain clicked.

“I wasn’t happy with my weight, and I wanted to do something about it,” Surprenant said. “Gyms don’t do it for me — unless I’m going to a class —  but just going to a gym, I felt like I was paying for something and I’m not using it.”

Instead of the gym, Surprenant started taking walks around Peach Lake. From there, she built up her endurance. She went from a fast walk to running a mile without exhausting herself.

“I love running — I have always loved running. I’m not a very fast runner at all, but it’s my quiet time for myself.”

— Mary Surprenant

After months of getting back into shape, Surprenant finally was ready to try one of Disney’s half-marathons. In 2017, she was supposed to run the Disney half-marathon, but it was canceled because of hurricane-strength winds.

Surprenant may not have been able to run the half-marathon, but Disney offered to let her — and those who had signed up — run the half-marathon alongside the marathon runners the next day. She ended up running the full 26.1 miles.

“My family was like, ‘You’re nuts; you’ve only trained for a half-marathon — what are you doing?’” Surprenant said. “My thought process was, ‘They’re giving me this medal for the half-marathon, which I had not run because of the weather, and they were giving me the opportunity to run the full marathon because of that. 

“I just decided that I would run the 13.1 miles, and if I felt good, I would continue on and go for the second medal,” she said. “I ended up finishing my one and only — so far — full marathon.”


This year, Surprenant wasn’t alone in her disappointment. In the RunDisneyRun group that she is a part of on Facebook, the grief was widespread. But out of that came an idea.

“A couple of the administrators of that group threw it out there and said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be fun if we did a virtual run on that day?’” Surprenant said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that would be really fun to do that!’ 

“And I received my medal for the virtual half-marathon from Disney already, so I was like, ‘I have a medal for it and I can plan it out,’” she said. “I have a normal 8-mile run that I do in the community probably once a month, so I just took that and added on miles how I could.”

It wouldn’t be a full-on Disney run — there were not thousands of participants or screaming fans — but Surprenant kept some of her own traditions with which she had become familiar.

Just like the real thing, Surprenant started her race at 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Like usual, getting up and going was the hardest part of the day, she said.

“It was extremely hard to get up that early in the morning to do that run, but I just had it in my head that I’m supposed to do this run,” Surprenant said. “I have my medal for it, and I don’t want a medal I haven’t earned.”

For every three miles she ran, Surprenant stopped to take a photo of herself holding mile markers she had printed.

After passing the halfway point — where her parents stopped by to cheer her on — Surprenant continued her run around Ocoee with relative ease. She ran in intervals throughout the 13.1 miles — running for a minute, then fast walking for 30 seconds.

Despite finishing with no great fanfare like she would have had at Disney, crossing the finish line still came with its sense of victory. But the one thing she missed the most was the post-run celebration.

“This year was completely different than years in the past,” Surprenant said. “Normally, I would go and eat at one of the restaurants in downtown Disney, and this year was myself making some eggs, turkey bacon, and my husband made some fried potatoes for me.”

If there is any consolation for Surprenant, it’s that there are plenty of runs in the future— including the next marathon weekend at Disney in January 2021. And she said she has the rest of her life to cross more finish lines.

“I want to run until I absolutely can’t,” Surprenant said. “I want to be one of those 85-year-old women who are doing half-marathons. I see them and I’m like, ‘I still want to be doing this when I’m that old.’”


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