Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Spectating Disney

There is, honestly, nothing better than being there to watch a friend accomplish something totally amazing. To watch them overcome obstacles, stretch their limits, and realize their true abilities.

Okay, maybe there is something better...feeling like you had a hand in helping them to get to that life-changing moment is pretty freaking great.

Kristin's first marathon left me feeling awed and inspired. I was moved to tears throughout the day and was so humbled and grateful to be a part of it. In a way I feel guilty that being there for Kristin's big day gave me so much joy because really, it's about her success and victory, but I couldn't help basking in the exhilaration of the day. Being there was simply one of the best experiences and memories of my running life!
Kristin pre-race, courtesy of Stephen. She looks excited and ready!
Sunday morning, I kept waking up before my alarm. I was just so excited and ready to get to ESPN's Wide World of Sports (miles 17.5 and 19.3); I had been warned that traffic would be ridiculous and that GPS directions wouldn't work because of all the road closures. My hotel was only 10 minutes from WWS, but I gave myself two hours just in case.
At WWS extremely early, sitting in my car, way over-excited.
Luckily, I had planned ahead. I had all my notes printed and marked so I knew exactly where to see Kristin. I got to WWS around 8am and listened to the DJ go through his spiel a few times. He had figured out how to recycle his material so he could be on the course for seven hours and never run out of things to talk about.

My favorite was: "How many first time marathoners do we have out here? How many last time marathoners?" (chuckle chuckle) "You say that now, but this time next year you'll be frantically hitting refresh on the Run Disney website, waiting to sign up."

Well, he's not wrong.
Runners in the stadium.
While I waited, I got to see some really inspirational things. There were cancer survivors and people running in honor of others; I saw a blind runner and his guide (both at mile 17 and at the finish line, which reduced me to tears); I saw people well into their 60s conquering the course. It's truly awesome to spectate a marathon of this size. You really do get an idea of how unique each and every story is; what brought those runners out to the start line, and what will bring them to the finish. Each story is inspiring, and I loved being there to witness it.
The weather was weird. Overcast and cool (around 70), but very humid (92%). When the sun peeked out, it was hot, but it actually felt really cold when it drifted behind the clouds. Basically, it was all the best of Florida weather wrapped up into a single day, and the overall effect was a kind of clammy, sweaty feeling.

Around 9am I made my way to our first meeting spot. I was terrified I would miss her and texted Kristin's husband a million times ("What if I'm late? What if I miss her here and at 19? I just saw the 5:30 pacer, am I too late?") like a lunatic. I honestly was so, so afraid to let her down. I knew she was counting on me.

Finally, I spotted her! I handed her a cup of ice and ran alongside her for a bit. At 17.5 miles in, she looked great! She was keeping a steady pace, but seemed to be tiring out a little bit. I reminded her that she was into single-digits - only 9 miles to go! - and that seemed to lift her spirits a little.
Runners entering WWS. You can see how gray the weather was.
I left her and darted across the park, grinning like an idiot. I got to mile 19.3 (where I had parked) and waited at what I thought would be a good place to get some pictures. There were banners for the various weekend challenges, and a few runners stopped and I took photos for them. Not long after, I saw Kristin again. I wasn't able to get pictures after all because she didn't see me in time, so I just hopped back into the race and handed off her Glukos and gum.

At this point, she was struggling. She told me she understood what I had meant by the "dark" part of the race. I did my best to shake her out of it and encourage her. Tell your brain to shut up. Your body knows what to do and is ready for this. You can do seven more miles. At that point I had to leave her, but I knew she'd see Stephen again and then the finish line would be there!
Kristin leaving me for her final 10k!
Buses were going between WWS and Epcot (the finish line) every five minutes. I found the bus parking lot and got in line; ten minutes later I was on my way to the finish.

I speed-walked through Epcot, basically pushing people aside, because the buses were pretty far from the finish and I was on a mission. I refused to miss Kristin crossing that finish line.
The most crowded finish line I've ever seen.
I went through security check to see the finish line, then decided I was too far and wanted to be on the other side. The barricades were set up so people couldn't get near the actual finish chute, and the crowd was eight people deep. But I wasn't going to let my lack of height keep me down. I wove through the crowds and found a spot on the bleachers. I stood on them so I'd have a clear view of the finish line...and immediately knew why I'm unlikely to run a Disney race.

People were crossing the line in huge groups, walking, blocking each other, stopping to take photos...It was just a cluster.
Unamused by all the people between me and my runner.
I knew Kristin's approximate finishing time because I was tracking her on my phone, so I watched the  chute like a hawk. Ironically, it was those notifications that made me miss her actually crossing the line. The alert came and I looked down to check my phone, then looked up and immediately and blindly began snapping photos, hoping I'd catch her.

Luckily, I did. Kind of.
Official time: 5:55!
(She clarified later that the last timing mat was before the arch, which explains why so many people walked through the arch and didn't seem in a rush to get out of each other's way.)

I wound my way back out of the stands and found Kristin sitting on the ground surrounded by family, and I immediately dropped down for the best hug ever. I was grinning wildly, and I kept saying, "You did it!" and she kept saying, "I get it now, I get it."

And that's it, isn't it? You really can't get it until you do it.

We took some pictures and made our way to the resort buses. Kristin and I sat together on the incredibly smelly bus and rehashed the race a bit. Listening to her talk about her experience was so rewarding.
Pure joy! 
Kristin and her support team. Check out Stephen's awesome shirt.
I hung out while Kristin cleaned up and then we had a huge, amazing lunch at the Wilderness Lodge (where she was staying) and Stephen dropped me back at my car so I could head home.
Gluten-free everything, including cornbread and dessert. Best post-race meal ever!
The highlight of the day may have been the conversation we had before lunch. Kristin, still reflecting on what she'd accomplished, said, "When you're around runners, you start to feel like everyone has run a marathon. And knowing that you had done it made me feel like it was the next logical step after running halves. So if you hadn't run a marathon, I never would have even thought about it."

To which I replied, "So you're blaming me?" and we laughed.

Then she said, "Not blaming. Crediting." And I can take that compliment and enjoy it, because it really did remind me that you don't have to be a particularly gifted runner to inspire others and help them reach for new goals - goals they may never have even considered otherwise.

And really, it felt so good to feel included in such a huge moment. I'm just overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. Kristin deserved to have a million people out on that course supporting her, and I feel so lucky that I was able to be there for her like she's always been there for me.

And now, she's enjoying a few days on a cruise with her family and hopefully basking in the glorious afterglow of finishing her first marathon. I'd say she deserves it!



  1. Why do stories about runners always make me cry? I know that spectating for a friend at a marathon is incredibly rewarding because I felt the same way at your last marathon!

    Way to go Kristin!

    1. Because they're stories filled with hope and determination and strength and obstacles and happy endings, that's why!!

      I guess I now kind of get why people don't mind coming to spectate for me...I still feel guilty about all the attention, but it's such a rewarding experience!

  2. Wow now this post had me crying! I love seeing people run a marathon, it is so inspiring!

    Also, that one picture is totally your teacher face, right!?

    1. It's definitely ONE of my teacher faces. I'd call this the "you're doing something weird but not really BAD...YET...so cut it out" face, as opposed to the more serious "WTF DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING YOUNG MAN?!" face.

  3. Awww! Congrats to Kristin! So happy you had this experience with her. You're right that watching a marathon is inspiring. This fall I volunteered at the first water stop of the marathon that I ran in 2014 as my first. Not only did it bring back great memories of my special day a year ago but at that time I was in a place where I didn't even want to think about running more than 8 miles at a time and seeing everyone out there made me so inspired and eager to start my own marathon training!

    1. It's amazing how inspired and on fire I feel for A1A now. I'm hoping the weather cooperates. Spectating really did amp me up!

  4. There really isn't anything better than watching people complete a race of any distance. Think back to your first 5k....you never thought you'd do it...and then you did. It's such an amazing experience watching that!!! What a great friend you are for going and cheering her on!!!

    1. That's exactly what I told Kristin the night before her race - about the 5k. There was a time 5k seemed impossible and like the biggest accomplishment in the world! Looking back on how far we've come is such a great motivator and a GREAT way to mentally prepare for a marathon!

  5. Congrats to Kristin! That's really wonderful that you were able to cheer her on. Having friends and fam at a race really helps me find motivation at the end. This post makes me super excited to run my first marathon.

    1. The first is funny because you have no idea what you're getting into. I was able to be in denial through most of my first ("Oh, it's just another long run") and then I was just so happy to have done it that nothing could bring me down! But no one could ever explain to me WHY things get dark or HOW dark the middle miles can get - in a long run, they're totally fine, but on race day, those miles are bleak!

      Hm, this comment seems kind of negative. But what I mean is, there's nothing like your first marathon and I'm SO excited for you to run yours!!

  6. She's right, when you're around so many runners it feels like everybody has run a marathon. Really we are a tiny minority. It's an exclusive club! Welcome to the club, Kristin!

    1. That's what I told her! A tiny, special club of people who GET IT.

  7. This is really inspiring - I've never thought about what it would be like to spectate. I'm planning to this year, for the Chicago Lights team and this has me excited to do it! (And also makes me want to run another...)

    1. I'm so glad you'll be spectating...especially if you get to see the later miles. You see so many people digging deep and pushing it and it's just awe-inspiring.

      It made me excited to run another, too!

  8. I was there running that same marathon!!! Congrats to your friend! I felt the exact same joy you did when I saw my sister run her first half and her first marathon. I can remember standing on Main Street in magic kingdom in the wee hours of the morning waiting for the runners! For not actually running, it was one of the most exhilirating feelings ever! I get it!

    1. I like spectating, but I've always wondered about people who truly LOVE it. My sister has cried watching me finish races before, and I thought that was sweet but didn't necessarily understand it haha. Now I get it!! It really is just a totally awesome feeling.