17 June, 2016

This Week in Orlando



These aren’t words I ever expected to hear connected to Orlando.  Actually, that’s not true.  I think most of us who live in the area, in the shadows of castles and other fantastic icons, in the post-9/11 world, have acknowledged the possibility.  Of coordinated attacks against a park full of families.  Of explosions and rubble.  But a nightclub downtown? One person, armed with guns and a hate-filled heart?


I woke up to see a headline on my Facebook feed – a terror attack in Orlando, twenty dead. 

It took another hour before the US media seemed comfortable mentioning that Pulse, the nightclub where the attack happened, was a gay club.    (UK media, LGBT-centric websites, and my local Orlando friends all pointed it out immediately)  It was my first inclination that this wasn’t just another mass shooting.*  I don’t think I’ll ever know whether law enforcement was willing to say “terrorism” before they were willing to say “hate crime,” or if that’s just how the media was playing it – either out of fear of offending the victims and survivors or to focus on another narrative.  But within hours, Orlando’s LGBT leaders were holding press conferences, offering support to the community, and taking control of the story by using the words that others in the public eye were unwilling to say:

Hate Crime

This was a targeted attack against a specific population.  These people, already marginalized by a huge percentage of the population, were targeted for nothing more than who they loved.  These were not gang members or drug dealers.  They were people enjoying a good time with friends.  Most were gay.  Some weren’t.  Some just went to dance.  Others worked at the club. 

At a news conference around 10:30 am, Buddy Dyer updated the press.  Initially they believed there were twenty dead inside the club.  There were actually fifty.  The gathered press audibly gasped.  Sarah and I, sitting on the sofa eating cereal, froze.  It’s a moment I will never forget.  I looked over at her, and she was still, except for her trembling lower lip.  My heart tightened, and time froze. 

Fifty dead bodies.

Fifty-three injured in the local hospital.    

Just over one hundred people hit by bullets, in one place, shot by one person.  One hundred individual human beings literally physically impacted by his actions.  Thousands of family and friends affected.

It didn’t take long before something amazing happened in the community: tens of thousands of people mobilized to give blood that very day.  Those who couldn’t donate brought water, snacks, and umbrellas for the people standing in line in the sun.  Local restaurants provided food free of charge.  There was such a tremendous outpouring of love!  Sarah and I tried to give blood that afternoon.  The Big Red Bus was overwhelmed, and after an hour and a half of waiting (and eating and drinking and being loved on by strangers) we realized we wouldn’t be able to donate that day so we went home.  I was so shocked and overwhelmed to see people in a fairly conservative corner of my world showing such support.  Seriously.  Even after seeing long donation lines in Orlando on TV, I thought Clermont would have its head in the sand.  Sarah asked if I thought there would be a line, and I said that although I wanted to say yes, I seriously doubted it.  I underestimated them.

I also underestimated the world.

London, New York, Los Angeles… it seemed as though every city in the western world had a rally or a vigil or a “come stand with us while we send love to Orlando” gathering.  They came together to hug, cry, and show solidarity. And unlike the aftermaths of other international tragedies, when major icons in cities are lit with the colors of the flag of the country attacked, this time those same icons were lit with all colors of the rainbow.

One World Trade Center

The Eiffel Tower


Ferris Wheels

Entire City Blocks

All beautiful rainbows.

The message was clear: while #orlandounited became the hashtag of choice, “Orlando” was simply a surrogate for LGBT.  The world stood up and said “you have done nothing wrong.”  “You deserve better.”  “We love you and support you.”

We watched the Tony’s, and cried fresh tears as Lin Manuel Miranda proclaimed “love is love is love…” 


Like a textbook grief sufferer, I hit the “anger” stage hard on Monday.  I let hate seep in on my periphery in a way I never have before.  I told Sarah that I wasn’t sure I could defend “those people” anymore.  I just couldn’t say with conviction anymore that radical Islamic is not the same as Muslim. I started to think that my friends who say “how many times do they have to attack us before you believe they need to be stopped?” might’ve been right all along.  Had I been naïve?  Had my kindness been taken advantage of? 

Yoda hit the nail on the head: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” But I never before realized it was a circle, and that the suffering led to more fear…more anger…more hate.  My heart and mind were spiraling into a dark place.  Work and the rest of the world continued around me, and I floated through, all the time wanting to dig in my heels and yell “I’m not done hurting!”

We went to a vigil in Downtown Orlando that night, on the lawn of the Dr. Phillips Center.  We broke out the rainbow tie-dye t-shirts we wore for the Rock ‘n Roll races in Brooklyn and Savannah for the occasion.  I didn’t want to go.  I’ve never been into public grief…or rallies…or large group things overall.  But Sarah wanted to go, and I thought it would help her heal, so we went.  And we met up with Amanda there.  When we got there, we were surrounded by thousands of strangers – representing every letter of LGBTQ+, and also bikers, politicians, Muslims, allies, friends, journalists, and strangers.  We were all so different, but brought together by the pain in our hearts. People handed out flowers and candles and bottles of water.   Friends hugged and cried as they found each other in the crowd.  Rainbow flags flew.  We held hands and watched the spectacle.  There were more smiles than tears.  The lawn was full of love and joy.

I don’t remember all of the speakers, or what they said.  I was heartened to hear Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs say, “we stand behind you,” but when she added “and we will stand in front of you and beside you,” my heart leaped in surprise.  There were religious leaders saying prayers.  There were community leaders promising support.  The pastor of the AME church in Charleston, which suffered its own hate crime, brought me to tears.  She must’ve said “love” a hundred times.  “We love you.” “I love you.” And somewhere in her message, I realized what I knew all along – it’s not okay to hate.  The day I allow myself to wallow in hatred of “those people,” evil has won.  It felt like a gentle rebuke – a reminder of the way I was raised.  The President of the HRC also spoke, and I don’t remember a single thing he said.  But his words also lifted me up.  

Someone at the vigil spoke about Pulse, and about its importance to the LGBT community.  I realized then that it’s not EASY to be part of that alphabet soup, even when you live in a city as diverse as Orlando.  For many people who go to these clubs, it is the one place where they feel free to take off their masks and be themselves. Where there are no bullies. For those of you who have ever had a guest-facing job at Disney, picture all the time working in the heat, reminding parents that it’s not safe for a toddler to stand on a 10-foot wall to watch a parade, answering the same question 100 times, and always have a smile on your face.  Now picture that half hour in the break room where you get to relax your cheek muscles, make a sarcastic joke, and eat a sandwich.  For many members of this community, their LIFE is lived “on stage,” and clubs are their respite.  And today those safe havens are going to feel a little less safe. 

Note: there was also a very strong anti-gun message woven through the vigil.  I’m uncomfortable mixing grief with politics, but I understand the timing of a call to action.

All the Feels

Orlando is now part of an increasingly less exclusive club.  In the past few days, Buddy Dyer has spoken with mayors from Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino, New York...  Obviously these folks can say "I know how you feel" in a way no one else can.  It's wonderful that this unofficial fraternity supports one another, but terrible that it exists.  I imagine the calls go something along the lines of "I'm sorry for your tragedy.  Here's your grief manual.  Here's the list of friendly members of the media. Let me know what I can do for you."  The Aurora PD recorded a video for Orlando Police, saying "we're here for you."  I dare you to watch it and remain emotionless.

It’s been fascinating to scroll through my Facebook feed recently.  Many friends far and wide have proclaimed their solidarity with Orlando, and I don’t have any egotistical misconception that their gestures are in support of me personally. For the ones out of state, I happen to be geographically located near to the event.  For the ones in state, I’m near the bottom of the list of people they know who might’ve been connected to Pulse.  Still, I’ve gotten texts and calls and Facebook messages from a handful of friends and family, likely veiled attempts to check on my mental state, and I am grateful for their love and concern. 

Here’s the weird thing with me - I don’t necessarily feel a deep connection to the Orlando LGBT community.  I don’t actually easily, comfortably identify with any of those letters.  I’m only half joking when I say “I’m not gay, but my girlfriend is.”  All of my past romantic relationships have been with guys, and it surprised the heck out of me to realize that I had fallen in love with my best friend, who happens to be a woman.  I’ve never been to a Pride event.  I’ve only once been in a gay bar – on my 21st birthday, with Bill and his then boyfriend.  I’m pretty sure that most of the people I work with don’t know the nature of my relationship with Sarah, although I’ve slowly gotten more comfortable using the phrase “my girlfriend” in mixed company.   She was my date to two family weddings, and she’s in most of my Facebook photos.  At this point, if any of my personal contacts haven’t connected the dots, they are severely unobservant! I don’t know who cares, who wants to know, who doesn’t want to know, who would be uncomfortable, or who would be supportive.  I’d be lying if I said none of that matters, but I can say definitively that it doesn’t matter much. 

Because of this complicated self-identity of mine, I sometimes feel like I’m not “grieving right.”  I mean, this was an attack on a place I’ve never been, against people I didn’t personally know. So why can’t I get through a day without crying like a crazy person?  Rationally, I know there’s no such thing as “grieving right,” but I’m a little sheepish about yelling “Hey! This affects me!” when I’ve never actually yelled “I’m gay!”  But really, I think we’re all affected whether it’s personally, geographically, because we lost a loved one or friend, because we could’ve been there, or just because we’re members of the human race an capable of empathy.  So I’m allowing my tears.  I’m listening to friends who need to talk.  I’m talking to friends willing to listen.  I’m hugging – probably too long and too tight.  I’m having angry conversations with God (though that’s a whole different topic for another day).  I’m donating blood.  I’m volunteering.

I’m proud to be a member on the outskirts of this community.  My heart breaks for you, and with you.  This shooting – this hate crime – has left its mark on me.  But it’s also shown me that unimaginable love and support exists near and far, and given me the strength to keep moving forward.  Orlando is stronger.  The LGBT community will emerge from this stronger.  And I’m hopeful that perhaps the world has come one step closer to understanding to appreciate differences instead of fearing or tolerating them.

* How the f--- did we get to a point where “just another mass shooting” is a thing people say with no irony behind the words??

31 December, 2015

So Long 2015

I haven't been blogging a whole lot this year.  I wouldn't say I've been too busy, or that things have been boring.  Mostly, I just haven't prioritized writing here.  Life has been happening, and I've been experiencing it...and posting Facebook status updates!  One year ago today, I wrote the following:

It feels somehow selfish and ungrateful to ask for my 2015 to be better than 2014. This year has truly been an embarrassment of riches.  I feel guilty even asking for more of the same.  I think it's possible that I'll look back on 2014 as the biggest, boldest, craziest, busiest, newest, most eventful year of my life.  I hope that I continue to grow in 2015.  I hope I stay as happy as I am right now.  And more than anything, I hope that my friends and loved ones will be as happy as I am right now.  

Believe it or not, I feel like in most ways 2015 ended up actually being better than 2014.  Here are some highlights:
·         In 2014, I raced 148.3 miles.  I nearly doubled that this year, coming in at 282.6 miles.  I hit my goal of 12 half marathons for the year, and of course completed my first marathon.
·         I flew to California and New York for race-related vacations, and had race road trips to Atlanta, Tampa, and Sarasota.
·         Disneyland!
·         I sat in the sand in the dark and watched a sea turtle lay eggs, watched three sea turtle hatchlings take their first swim in the ocean, and watched Disney’s two turtles set off on this year’s Tour de Turtles.
·         I earned a 4.0 both Summer and Fall semesters. 
·         I learned to cook fish…and steak.
·         Alicia got married, and the family danced the night away down in Ft. Myers.

It’s been really nice to have a ‘partner in crime’ for most of this year’s adventures.  And it’s pretty wonderful to be happy and settled with someone who shares my love of running and Disney and cooking and adventure and… well, you get the point.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that, for today.

This year hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows.  Fall semester was by far my toughest yet.  But even when I was stressed out trying to finish multiple year-end projects, I never wanted to give up.  I just took a look at my plans and figured out what I could let go of or reschedule.  I feel like I missed out on a lot of holiday-type things in the first half of December, but most of those will be back next year when I no longer have this grad school monkey on my back. 

I’m also dealing with my first long-term running ailment, plantar fasciitis, which has taken the wind out of my running sails.  It’s tough to get motivated to train when it literally hurts to get out of bed in the morning.  As a result,  I’ve really slacked off on my morning runs.  Of course, that’s led to weight gain and a bit of depression creeping into my periphery.  BUT there’s some relief on the horizon.  I’m registered for my very first triathlon in April, so I’ll be getting my bike repaired and will be biking and swimming for the next few months.  I’m also trying to come up with a plan to add in some core/strength training when I’m not running.  Hopefully this new path will get me active again and give my foot some recovery time between races.  

I feel like 2016 is going to be a year for major life changes.  I can’t really visualize what life will look like a year from now, but I am highly optimistic.  At the very least, I should be able to retire the term “student.” And at the very best…I guess you’ll have to stay tuned!

03 February, 2015

A Tale of Two Races in Two Cities

Time must have gotten away from me.  I failed to do a proper recap of the Run Like a Diva Half Marathon in December, and then "marathon mania" took hold in my world.  Go figure!  Anyway, it turns out it's a good thing I waited because now I can do a comparison of two very different races in two very different cities.

Why compare the two?  Thank you for asking!

Divas is a series of races that take place in cities across the country, offering two distances (5k and half marathon), and is geared to women.  With gimmicks such as volunteers handing out tiaras and feather boas before the finish line, a rose and glass of champagne after the finish line, and shirtless "hotties" handing out sparkly pink medals, there are a lot of really fun things to get you to sign up for a race.

Hot Chocolate is also a series of races taking place in cities across the country, offering two distances (5k and 15k), and has more female participants than male.  Hot Chocolate offers a jacket instead of a standard race shirt, various treat stations on the course, and a massive hot chocolate mug at the end.  Plus it has awesome medals for the 15k.  Much like Divas, there's lots of incentive to register!

Divas Mini-Recap
I "ran like a diva" in St. Augustine the weekend after the Space Coast Half.   The race organizers required packet pickup at their expo in advance, which wasn't possible for me.  Luckily, Jackie was willing to drive up to St. Augustine and pick up my "swag bag" with hers.  She also invited me to spend the night at her place so we would just have the 45 minute drive up the morning of the race.  (in exchange, I drove up and back) 

Upon arriving at the race site (which required parking remotely and riding a school bus), I was immediately amused by just how girly one race could be.  They had pink port-a-potties for goodness sake!

Going into this, my goal was pretty much just to NOT SUCK like I did at Space Coast.  Physically and mentally I was in a much better place.  It was really cold, but I thought that would speed me up.  That's usually how I roll...  And for the first few miles, we were actually on somewhat of a PR (for me) pace.  Unfortunately, the sky got darker and the wind picked up, and instead of motivating me to go faster, I had ZERO desire to run into a ridiculous head wind.  We ended up walking most of the last 3-4 miles, though even then we kept a sub-16 pace each mile.  Our final time was 3:13:41, which was technically worse than my 3:09:11 time at Space Coast, but I still consider it a moral victory because I felt so much better during this race and actually enjoyed myself.  (seriously, after Space Coast I was worried I'd totally lost my race mojo)

Performance aside, Jackie and I were pretty underwhelmed by the race itself.  Though I didn't attend the expo, I heard that it was sparse and disappointing.  The course itself was not great.  There wasn't much fun stuff to look at, aside from some semi-deflated inflatables.  The sum total of on-course entertainment were a handful of DJs.  In fact the the most memorable moments during the race had nothing to do with the race organizers:
1. A man in a tutu loudly singing "if you're happy and you know it" at multiple points on the course.  I have no idea whether he was a volunteer, was out cheering for a family member or friend, or was just a wacky local, but the last time we saw him I took his picture and high-fived him.
2. A man with a box of Dunkin' Munchkins.  I said he was the sexiest thing I'd ever seen, and Jackie asked if he was single.
3. Three little girls in the driveway of a house, performing their own cheerleading routine.  They were adorable and so much fun to watch.

The course itself was mostly through nondescript roads and neighborhoods.  It certainly wasn't picturesque.  I was also furious at one intersection pretty early on when I realized that the cops were stopping runners to allow traffic through.  The race wasn't cheap, and part of the cost of a road race is road closures.  Not actually closing the roads?  Kind of an unforgivable sin.

That said, give this girl a feather boa and a tiara, and she just might jump for joy! (special thanks to Jackie for catching the amazeballs photo on the left)  From the finish line on, I was quite impressed.  Medal? Pink and shiny!  Champagne?  Bubbly! Rose? Red...and it lasted a week!  Food?  Plentiful!  Seriously - you walked through this pavilion, and there were cases upon cases of all sorts of individual snack packs of pretzels, dried fruit, cookies... And Jackie is a pro at stocking up on enough for both of us when I stop thinking clearly!  I know I've said it before, but this girl is a rock star, and my favorite person to spend 13.1 miles with!

So although I got some great photos at the end of Divas, and although 2015 race registration also includes a tutu, I doubt I'll run it again.  The lackluster race itself just doesn't live up to the fun gimmicks.

Hot Chocolate 15K Mini-Recap
Sarah and Carlie and I decided to take a whirlwind trip up to Atlanta to run the Hot Chocolate 15k, in part because one of my co-workers ran the one in Phoenix and said lots of great things about it.    This was definitely an "all about the bling" race for me.  A medal shaped like a chocolate bar? Yes please! 

Atlanta is about 6.5 hours from home, so we left bright and early and made it up to the expo in plenty of time to pick up our swag bags and take some ridiculous selfies.  We also had to walk the entire length of the convention center, surrounded by thousands of cheerleaders (and cheer moms) participating in "cheersport" championships.  Oh the curlers...and eye glitter... 

The expo was small, but incredibly well-organized.  Unlike every other race I've ever run, bib numbers weren't pre-assigned.  You walked up to any volunteer table, handed them your photo ID, and they printed out a sticker to attach to the next bib on their pile.  The computer linked the bib number to your name, and voila!  Somehow this one tiny thing made a huge impression on me, and I wondered why all of the other mega-races (I'm looking at you, Disney and Space Coast!) don't adopt a similar strategy.

There were also chocolate samples.  After being in the car for so long, that was a wonderful touch!  After the expo, we got to our hotel 20 minutes south of downtown, checked in, and walked over to IHOP for dinner.  I think we were all asleep by 9pm - I know I was!

Race day was cold - like hovering around 40 degrees cold - which meant wearing 2 pairs of pants and 3 shirts for this Florida girl!  I paid for a parking spot at Turner Field, which turned out to be my best investment of the race.  We got there super-early (the pre-race emails all said to be there by 6, though the first wave didn't start until after 7) and sat in the car 10 spots from a row of port-a-potties, enjoying the heater and listening to the entire Book of Mormon soundtrack.  We went down to the starting area, realized our corral wouldn't even be lining up until long after the first wave set off, and went back to the car to enjoy some more heat and sing along to more showtunes.

I could say this a dozen more times, but I think the race start would be the best place to mention it: the people who run this race have it down to a science.  Volunteers manned the entrance to each corral checking letters on the bibs.  Waves started on time.  We weren't tripping over other runners in the first mile (a major rarity in a race this big).  Aid stations were well-staffed - err, well-volunteered - and well-stocked, with the exception of the missing Tootsie Rolls.

Missing Tootsie Rolls aside, I got such a kick out of the treats handed out during the race.  We had chocolate drops, strawberry marshmallows, and then chocolate marshmallows around mile 8. 

Sarah took the lack of Tootsie Rolls pretty hard, so when we passed the last marshmallow volunteers and rounded a corner to see an unattended table piles with bags of the treats, she sprinted toward it.  I thought for sure she was going to grab a bag and stuff it down her jacket, but instead she tore it open and started handing them out to other runners until Carlie and I caught up.  That look on her face... Oh man, it was one of the highlights of my race!  Plus, I ended up having had a total of 4 chocolate marshmallows.  Who needs GU when you can have pure sugar??

The after party, though kind of deserted by the time we finished, was also really well-run.  Pick a line, wait in the line, hand them the ticket off of your bib, and get handed the most epic post-race food ever: a giant mug containing hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, a banana, and a bunch of other treats to dip in the chocolate.  We sat on the pavement enjoying the fruits of our labor, and then hobbled back to the car, drove to the hotel, showered, and left for the long drive back to Florida.

Umm... I seem to have forgotten to mention the actual race.  See?  Give me chocolate and everything else is immaterial!  Atlanta, as it turns out, is a helluva hilly city.  I became aware pretty quickly that the hills were going to be a challenge.  They didn't disappoint!  They didn't break my spirit, but I knew there wouldn't be a PR coming from this race.  The course went through some suburban neighborhoods, through part of downtown (past the CNN Center and we saw the aquarium from a distance), and there was plenty to look at.  Also, I have to give kudos to the Atlanta police doing traffic control.  They were at every single intersection, and were friendlier than most police you encounter during races.  In fact, Sarah asked one for a high-five and he said he gives hugs too.  So we both got a hug from a random cop...and I think I heard some people behind us getting in on that action too!

The only negative for me was the race photos.  They advertise free photos, but the only photographers were at or near the finish line.  Even that wouldn't have been so bad, but my photos were are partly obscured.  But, you know, I try to not complain about anything free...especially when the rest of the race swag (did I mention the jacket? it's awesome!) was so great.

I certainly wouldn't drive 13-14 hours in two days for another 15k.  That was a stupid amount of travel for a race.  I would, however, do this race again in a heartbeat - either in Atlanta or another city - if I could piggyback it into a short vacation.  You know, throw in a day at the aquarium in Atlanta, or family visit in Philly, or a full vacation somewhere I've never been like Phoenix or San Francisco...  It sure was an awful lot of fun, especially with friends!

15 January, 2015

Walt Disney World Marathon: A Marathon Post

Hello, my name is Jamie and I am a marathoner.  I thought perhaps a reintroduction was in order.  You know, since I am officially an elite endurance athlete.  OK, I admit that’s laughable, but only .5% of Americans (per this) have ever run a marathon.  So yeah – that puts me in a pretty small group.   I’d bet the percent of obese people is even smaller, but since they don’t take your BMI at the start line I’m sure there are no reliable statistics!

I guess I should’ve included a spoiler alert, huh?  


It’s taken me a few days to figure out how to approach this race recap, and finally I decided to not do my standard recap for the following reasons:

  1.  I work for a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, so it’s not entirely appropriate for me to provide commentary on Disney products and services. (although I have to say this was by far the most well-run race I have ever been in.  I saw literally ONE broken mile marker sign, and nothing more serious than that!)
  2. Although I had a goal pace (15 minute/mile), my ultimate goal was to finish and have fun along the way.  I never treated this as a “race,” but as a life experience.
  3. My brain has mostly categorized memories of the race into feelings (i.e. “things that made me cry”) rather than distances, which would make a traditional recap kind of strange.
  4. This race was more about me and the people I ran with than about the surroundings.

That said, if you’re considering the leap from half marathon to full marathon, this post might be helpful for you.  But know in advance that I’m not writing this post for anyone but me.  It’s going to be long (300+ words before any talk of the actual race? Yeah – that’s a sign of things to come!), but the race was long.  The training was long.  And darn it, I’m not going to short-change my memories for the sake of brevity!

I’m going to take just a second to introduce the main characters in my story:

Jamie (me): 35, first-time marathon runner with 13 halfs under my belt.  I’ve only managed to finish one of those in under three hours, and I currently do long run intervals of 25 seconds running/40 seconds walking.  (after this marathon though, I’m officially bumping that up to 30/40 for my next races)
Jackie: 40’s, has run the WDW Marathon multiple times.  She did the Dopey Challenge last year, proclaimed that she hates this marathon course and didn’t think she’d ever do it again.  Then I said I wanted to register, and she immediately signed up for this year’s Goofy Challenge so that I wouldn’t have to do my first marathon alone.  She and I met during the Orlando Half in 2013, when we were both weak-legged from Space Coast the week before.  By the end of that race, we were already Facebook friends. I think we ran about a half-dozen races together in 2014.
Sarah: 30, signed up for the Dopey Challenge having never done any distance races.  At the beginning, she said she hated running but Dopey and Goofy were her favorite characters so she might as well do all of the races at once to get it over with.  (she’s already signed up for three more race weekends with me before the end of February – I think she’s hooked)  We worked together in my last job, and compared notes during training.  She also did two of my longest training runs with me, even though I’m slower than she is.

Sarah and her sister ran the first 2.5 races of the Dopey Challenge together, but they split off around mile 9 of the half marathon and decided not to even attempt the full together.  This ended up benefiting me, because it meant Sarah would be starting with Jackie and me.  She said she’d probably stick with us for the first mile or two and then go on at her (much faster) pace.  As it turns out, she stuck with us past mile 14 and was there for lots of my “big moments.”  Jackie, as promised, stuck with me to the end.  

Sweet Emotions
I joked the days before the race that I was taking on the “Grumpy Challenge.” This was the perfect storm of combining race nerves associated with your first marathon with a week of major PMS.  I cried, I hated people, people hated me…  I’m sure I still owe a person or two an apology, though I tried my best to only yell on the inside.  By the Thursday before the race, my mental clouds had lifted and I was left with optimism and excitement (and the unfortunate knowledge that the “P” in PMS stands for “pre,” which is all I’ll say about that except that “super plus” is a real thing and it is amazing).

In the car on the way to the race, I started to get choked up thinking that this was the big day and how hard I’d trained, etc.  To stop myself from getting all emotional, I told Jackie we should keep track of the number of times I choked back tears during the day.  “ONE!”  I think I hit four before we even parked the car!  Other things that set me off: getting into our corral (where I promptly yelled, “I’M IN MY CORRAL,” which the people around me didn’t seem very impressed about!), seeing the fireworks going off for the corrals ahead of ours, our fireworks going off, passing the start line (where I yelled, “I’M RUNNING A MARATHON!”)… you get the picture!

The first tears escaped my eyes right after we exited Magic Kingdom and turned onto Floridian Way.  There were speakers set up playing “Best Day of My Life,” and they had a poster that said “You are running a marathon. This is the best day of your life.”  Before I knew it, I wailed “ohhh…this IS the best day of my life!” and hot tears streamed down my cheeks.  Sarah grabbed her camera and took pictures, and Jackie was nice enough to pose as well, pointing and laughing at my ‘ugly cry’ face.  I’ve never happy-sobbed before.  It’s an amazing feeling, but sobbing makes it hard to run.  Still, we managed to keep our intervals up!

My next big moment, though tear-free, was about two miles later at the point where the marathon course no longer follows the same route as the half marathon.  At the exact moment we left Floridian Way and turned into the TTC parking lot toward the WDW Speedway, “The Impossible Dream” cycled on.  It was a perfect moment! 

I almost cried inside the Sports Complex (mile 18 or 19) when “This is the Moment” started playing.  Seriously – look at the lyrics for that and YOU try to not cry while actively pursuing a check on the bucket list!

Just before entering the Studios (mile 22+), I looked at Jackie in amazement and pointed out that we were now officially off the public roadways and wouldn’t be swept.  We then rounded a corner and saw volunteers handing out Hershey’s Miniatures.  I took a Mr. Goodbar, popped it into my mouth, and burst into tears again.  Something about the combination of chocolate and major milestone was too much for me!

Finally, I officially lost it within sight of the finish line.  I always kind of figured I’d finish.  I had trained well, and things had gone really well during the day.  My confidence grew to “I think we’re really going to do it” when we passed the sweep point.  But something about seeing the finish line and knowing I could hop/crawl/roll to it and there were only a few hundred feet between me and my goal?  Oh my GOD!  I cried again, and Jackie got this picture.  Then we started running toward the finish line, threw our arms into the air, and DID IT!  After that, I pretty much sobbed on and off for the next two hours.  I was so happy… and so tired… and so many other emotions.  It was just too much to process!

Flat Tires and Other Shoe-Related Crises
I had my first crisis-that-wasn’t-really-a-crisis as we were running the tunnel under the water bridge between Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon (around mile 4.5).  The guy running behind me stepped on the back of my shoe and it left my foot completely.  “Shit!  My Shoe!”  He picked it up and handed it to me, but we were on a bottleneck part of the course, without a shoulder (we were actually against the cones separating us from traffic), so I started to walk with one shoe, figuring I’d have to wait until we got to the top of the tunnel to put it back on.  Sarah’s logical engineer brain kicked in, and she told me to just stand between two of the cones and put the damn shoe back on.  That worked, and I was able to get my shoe back on (I’m not sure, but there may have been some “where’s Prince Charming?” jokes flying) without causing a major back-up of runners passing us.

A few miles later, while inside the Speedway, I realized I had a pebble in my shoe.  This time, I went to an infield wall, kicked my foot up above hip-height (seriously, how I managed to not pull a hamstring during this race is beyond me!), and shook out the pebble.  That was the point when I realized I was being quite rational about this whole marathon thing.  Eight miles into a half, I probably would’ve shaken the pebble to the toe of my shoe and kept going.  But I figured doing so with 18 miles to go was a recipe for disaster. 

I had another pebble in the Sports Complex, and stopped at a picnic table to shake that one loose.  There was a runner laying on the bench attached to the next table, waiting for a medic.  I think he was overheated or something.  I saw a bunch of people who wouldn’t finish during the day, and was so thankful every time that my training/luck/karma/spirit/body was stronger than theirs.

Our Support Crew
Part of my “Grumpy Challenge” was knowing that I didn’t have a Jamie out on the course for me this year.  Last year, I solicited requests from my running friends, and was camped out at a corner they passed around miles 16.5 and 20.5.  I had drinks and snacks, and made a poster and cheered on all the other runners.  Although some people said they would be out cheering, none would commit in advance to a spot and I finally realized I was going to have to be my own Jamie.  So I made “runner love kits” with special things for me (Combos and orange soda), Jackie (oranges and Sprite), and Sarah (diet Pepsi).  Plus I added Swedish Fish and Skittles.  We ended up having two separate mobile cheer/pit stops with kits that I made up.  Daryl was at the Grand Floridian, Studios, and finish area; and Jodie and Kevin were at Animal Kingdom and Studios.  Although I didn’t know where they would be when we started, we were able to get good locations from them by texting back and forth and caught them every time.  We enjoyed a soda/walk break just past the halfway point, and grabbed goodies from them every time we saw them. 

I was so grateful to have them out there, because they all spent a huge chunk of time traveling and waiting just to see us for a minute or two at a time.  Once I realized that, my pity party stopped.  As it turns out, I didn’t even mind making up my own survival kits.  I’m pretty type A, and this way I got exactly what I wanted!  It was also nice having a random snack bag of leftover Swedish Fish to snack on Sunday night. 

Signs of Awesomeness
Right around mile 11, we passed a sign I hadn’t been expecting, which was made by my boss and hung up by one of the workers on that stretch of road.  I was on the right side of the road when I noticed it hanging on the fence over on the left.  I screamed (it was more like a squeal) “I HAVE A SIGN!!!” and took off running straight across the road.  I had tunnel vision…hopefully I didn’t run over anyone or trip anyone up!  I took a selfie, and Sarah took a picture from a respectable distance, and then we took off running again.

Side note: I heard later from someone working that day that there must have been a bunch of other Jamie’s, because he saw at least a dozen people stop and take pictures with my sign.  I love that! 

There were lots of folks out with posters, both funny and motivational, but I only remember the ones that I took pictures of – “Do it for the Dole Whips” and “Someday you will fail. Today is not that day.” (yep, got choked up by that one!)  The last poster to choke me up was right before mile 26, at the turn to enter the backstage area:

That’s Carlie, who had run her first half marathon the day before, plus Mark and Reid.  After I took this picture, I took a selfie with her and warned her not to touch me because I was so sweaty.  She said she didn’t care and gave me a big hug. *tear* (almost)  I didn’t expect to see her out there at all, and only found out about 10 minutes before that she was there.  It was a great way to finish running through my fourth theme park!

Seeing “My People” Who Were Working
One fun thing for me about running Disney races is that I see a lot of old friends and co-workers out on the course.  I saw a bunch of Security folks I know, and even a few familiar law enforcement faces.  I saw Roy from security, and circled back to hug him (early, before I was really sweaty).  He asked “what are you doing?” and I replied “I’M RUNNING A MARATHON,” right in his ear.  I still owe him an apology for the temporary deafness I caused!

Scott waited backstage at Animal Kingdom – near stinky port-a-potties no less – to say hello.  I saw Matthew working a medical tent around mile 15.  Dan was at a post right where we entered Studios.  I think the last person working that I saw was Sharmain, right at the exit of Studios.  I know that none of these folks were out there for me but it’s so nice to have an extra person cheering, or smiling for a picture, or telling me I’m doing great (or in Matthew’s case, telling me to speed it up so I don’t get swept).

One-Liners and LOL Moments
Oh man, I wish I could remember more of these.  There were so many times I laughed so hard I could barely run.  If I get more from Sarah or Jackie, I’ll be sure to add them.

Scenario: Jamie chokes on a sip of water at the mile 6 water stop, proceeds to spit the contents of her mouth back in the cup and have a coughing fit.  Sarah says “are you choking? Do you need a throat punch?”  Jackie almost dies laughing, Jamie recovers enough to drink the remainder of her backwash cocktail.

Scenario: Jackie chokes on a Skittle, Sarah again offers a throat punch.

Scenario: Jamie looks around the interior of the WDW Speedway and says “it’s bigger in here than I thought it would be.  Heh…that’s what she said.”  Jamie and Sarah both at the same time correct the statement to “no, that’s what HE said.”  The man running right in front of us turned around and must’ve made a face.  I said sorry, and Sarah said “no we’re not!” 

While I was shaking the first pebble out of my shoe, a guy dressed like Goofy asked to take a picture with Sarah, who was also dressed like Goofy.  Later on, Jackie and I saw the Goofy guy in line for a character photo and she yelled “hey Goofy!” and tried to high-five him.  She was totally ignored, so I high-fived her.

Scenario: Sarah attempts to hitch-hike headed towards the Contemporary from the TTC.

Scenario: Ten miles later, Jackie and Sarah try the same thing on Osceola Parkway.  Jackie at least got a bus driver to honk at her, which I rewarded by mooning him.  It’s ok – the sparkle skirt is sheer anyway and I had pants underneath it!

Early on in my race planning, I decided that I wanted to be one of those people who stops mid-race to ride Expedition Everest.  Jackie had never done it before, and I figured that this might be my one chance EVER to ride a roller coaster during a race so I should take advantage of it.  We ended up waiting about ten minutes just to ride, but I’m so glad we did it.  Not only was it a fun break from the running, but it was a photo op, and a chance to scream and yell for a minute.  I rode next to a man dressed like Winnie the Pooh, and his Piglet was in the seat right ahead of him.  They were nice, and we had a great time.  Amazingly enough, I was able to get in and out of the car with no trouble, and wasn’t dizzy at all when we started running again.

For really fit people, climbing the real Everest might be on their bucket lists.  For me, finishing a marathon was on my bucket list.  It was fitting to add a little Everest to my big day!

While running just past the Mexico pavilion in Epcot, at mile 25.5ish, I saw a Disney tour guide walking with a man and woman.  Although I intended to nudge Jackie and point them out, instead I yelled “HI JOHN STAMOS!”  He turned so fast in my direction he might’ve gotten whiplash, but recovered quickly and smiled.  He yelled back (not nearly as loudly), “hi everyone! You’re doing great!”  Thank God he did, because if he had ignored me I would’ve assumed that he was the most random hallucination ever!  As it was, Jackie and I were both sort of head-scratching and asking if it had really just happened.  Mr. Stamos, by the way, is much better looking in person than I would’ve expected.  Wow, what a smile!

Best Day of My Life
I have to say that 35 has been quite the milestone year for me.  What started out as “halfway to 70” became the age I finally got my bachelor’s, started my master’s, got a new job, ran my 8th-13th half marathons, and completed my first full marathon. 

If you had told me that I’d laugh so much, or that I’d cry actual happy tears, during the marathon I wouldn’t have believed you.  If you had told me that I’d feel overwhelmingly loved by my friends that day, I wouldn’t have believed you.  If you had told me that I’d be genuinely smiling in photos all day long, I wouldn’t have believed you.  But I did.  And right now, if you tell me that I will ever have a day better than January 11, 2015, I won’t believe you.

The day wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows.  I got really tired on the path from Studios to Epcot, and couldn’t keep up with Jackie.  She was only 5 feet ahead of me, but I felt completely abandoned… for all of a minute or two.  After that, when I started to fall behind, she would reach back and grab my hand and pull me back up to her side.  I thought I was having a major blister crisis when we were going through the World Showcase, and stopped running almost completely because I thought it was way worse than it ended up being.  I was hot, and tired, and deliriously exhausted by the time it was over.  And although I might have resented playing “mommy” for all of us in advance of the race, I’m glad I did because Jackie totally took over that role for me at the end.  She crossed the finish line right at my side, waited to get her own medal until after she took a picture of me getting mine, and collected enough water, bananas, etc. for both of us.  She selflessly let the day be all about me, even though she took just as many steps as I did after running the half marathon the day before!  I can’t imagine ever doing that for someone else, but I’m going to have to find a way to pay it forward someday. 

I also can’t say enough about the half of the race that Sarah spent with us.  The three of us had so much fun in those 3+ hours.  We laughed, I cried, we took pictures…

I know that I could’ve finished the race if I had been out there by myself.  I probably would’ve done it way faster, because I wouldn’t have “wasted” all that energy laughing and carrying on.  But, although we never talked about any sort of strategy in advance, we decided to make the day be more about the journey than the destination.  It was an experience more wonderful than I ever thought in my wildest dreams would be possible.

Jackie and I crossed the finish line about 30 seconds before the “balloon ladies,” which was a little bit embarrassing for me.  I didn’t realize we had done that badly.  But when you consider we probably lost a total of 15 minutes for Everest, and I stopped and talked to every person I know, we definitely could have finished in under 7 hours.  I actually think 6:45 wouldn’t have been unrealistic if we had taken it more seriously.  In the end though, I wouldn’t change anything about the way we handled the day.  When I run my next marathon (yep, “when,” not “if”), I’ll be able to knock a huge chunk of time off and have a massive PR.  That seems reasonable, right?  So here are my official results, posted only as a frame of reference for next time, because as far as I’m concerned “FINISHED” is the only result that matters!

Clock Time: 8:06:29
Chip Time: 7:16:17
Pace: 16:38 min/mile
Overall Place: 19164/19970
Gender Place: 9739/10285

So thank you, Disney, for giving me the opportunity to run through all four theme parks in one day.  Thank you friends who cheered for me on the course.  Thank you Facebook friends who didn’t mute me during my “marathon mania” posting period, and for liking and commenting on so many of my posts and photos.  Thank you Sarah for training with me and for sticking with us for as long as you did on race day.   And thank you Jackie for literally holding my hand when I needed it most, staying with me for the whole damn 7 hours, and putting yourself aside to focus on me.

By the way, the tally of “times Jamie got choked up” ended at 21.  After that I kind of lost count, and I consider everything after the finish line one big cry.  I’ve gotten choked up a few times since, triggered by a song on the radio or driving by part of the marathon course and having flashbacks, and I figure I might have a few more of those still to come.  I did cry some big fat tears again typing these last few paragraphs (which I bet no one but my mother and I will ever read this far), and I think after this I’m probably done with the tears related to this race.  It was an amazing journey, but it’s time to start looking forward to the next set of challenges and experiences.  

After all, I turn 36 in a few weeks – I have to figure out how I’m going to make that awesome too!