It started off innocent enough. We were running a farewell "fun run" for our illustrious outgoing track club president when one of my regular running buds said she had a bib I could use for the half marathon at Disney. I hemmed and hawed a bit. I did the Disney full back in 2006 and I remember the very early wake-up call, the traffic and the huge corrals jammed with thousands of people. I also I ran my personal best and remembered how cool it was to run through the “back streets” of Disney – places the guests don’t get to see. I could have done without getting up close and personal with the waste water treatment facility, but all and all, it was a good run so I figured what the heck. On top of that, several of my friends had already gone in on a three bedroom condo for the weekend and were planning a big post-race brunch. Free bib number, cheap room & board, good friends and good eats; it’s hard to resist a deal like that, especially when we are all really just eaters with a running problem.
My Dad used to say “Bad decisions make for the best stories”. Like any good teenager – I had largely ignored my parent’s cutesy sayings allowing them to strike home only in my adult years and only at the most inopportune times. I largely ignored the weathermen also as they predicted a cold and miserable weekend. “Ignored” might be the wrong word – I think it was denial. As long as I didn’t believe them (how often are they right anyways?), the system bearing down on Florida would turn east and hit the Carolinas instead. It did nothing to change the weather, but it did help me sleep better.
I drove down to Orlando the day before in a cold and steely drizzle. There was no way it was letting up and there was no more denying it. Not only was it going to be cold – it was going to be wet. It turned out to be one of Florida’s coldest weekends in recorded history. I resigned myself to the anticipated misery.
Wake-up call was 2:45 am and wheels were rolling by 3:30am to beat the crowd into the park. The idea was to sleep in the car for about an hour, but sleep was really just assuming a shivering, semi-upright fetal position with eyes closed. If there was anything resembling sleep, it was probably just a state of unconsciousness brought on by shock. When we finally did decide to break from the relative protection of the car and make our way towards the start line, we heard tick.., tick…, tick…, against the roof. It had started to sleet.
From there it was like a scene out of Night of the Living Dead, but in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Hundreds of people shuffled zombie-like under a halogen glare towards the start line almost a mile from the parking lot. Although most were dressed in the finest of garbage bags and thrift store sweatshirts, there were a few deranged individuals in shorts and t-shirts. At this point, it no longer mattered. We had all drank the proverbial Kool-aid and there was no turning back.
I had planned to stay in pace with two of my friends who were also running the full the next day (That’s “The Goofy” for you Disney virgins out there). I’m not a fast runner, but at this point, I was bent on getting it over with. I took off and did my best to weave through the crowd as the sleet continued to pelt my face. From here, most of the race becomes a blur. I’ll concede that there were a few crowd pleasers like running through Cinderella’s Castle and my personal favorite – the pirate ship. Then there were the myriad of characters lined up along the route all available for photo ops. It was amazing how many people were waiting in line for a picture of themselves with their favorite star. I was thinking “What’s wrong with you people – it’s a race! You aren’t supposed to stop!” I know - I have to stop taking things so seriously.
When the finish line loomed into sight, I was frozen to the bone. Despite my attempt to drink the water they handed out at the finish line, my hands were too cold to grip the bottle. I bought a crummy cup of three dollar coffee. It tasted like hot water with a brown crayon dipped in it, but had there been a way for me to crawl into the cup – I would have.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before we regrouped to do what we were there to do in the first place – eat! Back at the condo, the cutting board came out, eggs were beaten, pots and pans clanked and the smell of coffee and bacon began to fill the air. We were making everything from shrimp to waffles while we exchanged war stories and laughed at the absurdities we were a part of that day. We smiled as we complained and giggled at the discomforts we experienced. Our frozen bones thawed and the icy darkness of the early morning became a distant memory.
Will I run the Disney again? I’m not making any plans. Will you still find me out in the early morning hours in the cold or rain with friends as we diligently put the miles behind us? Absolutely! It may not always seem like the best choice, but there are more stories (and occasional breakfasts) in the making, waiting for us.
Brigid Blaschak is an avid runner and freelance writer. Please check out her profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/bblaschak.
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