Sometimes you need to slow down to take it all in.
If the 10k was my race effort of focus and determination, the half marathon was something completely different. After yesterday’s second best official 10k, I knew my efforts for 13.1 miles would look more like a long recovery run.
In the weeks leading up to the Wine and Dine Half Marathon weekend, I had considered walking with the Balloon Ladies. It would be interesting to see how they managed their pace and enthusiasm over several hours. However, after the rain and wind of the last couple of days, I needed to just do my thing in my own way. I took things much slower, taking every moment in, and it all became so much I didn’t know how to process it.
The Half Marathon morning brought wind, but no more rain. The weather had cleared up, but was still chilly. The drier conditions allowed the DJs to be onstage for the first time this weekend, and we were all there for it. Their excitement and enthusiasm met ours. My friends and I descended on the announcers stage for the Pre-race Dance Party — one of my favorite parts of any runDisney Weekend. It’s a great place to warm up, have fun, and get pumped for the miles to come.
As I did with the 10k I spent some time in the Start Area doing a couple of quick laps and warm-ups, then meeting up with my “Slacker” friends to start the race. I kept pace with them for a couple of miles, but we all got separated in the dark. Looking for a short bathroom line, I found one at a medical tent. As I dropped off the road and down the embankment, the medical volunteer warned me of the huge puddle. I managed to stop short of said puddle, took a flying leap over it…and missed the other side, stomping firmly up to my left ankle in water. 10 miles with a wet foot ought to be interesting (turns out, it was no big deal).
For the first 5 miles I was keeping a very strong pace — much stronger than was planned or necessary after yesterday’s hard effort. I didn’t really stop at all, slowing only for aid stations. The mental focus from the 10k was still prickling the edges of my mind.
Once through Animal Kingdom, I approached the halfway point and thought, “what am I doing? I was going to walk this whole thing!” Turning the corner, I texted Jen, who was running her own race, telling her where I was and that I intended to walk it out for the last 7 miles. As I hit “send,” I look up, and see Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove. I had to stop for one of my son’s favorite characters. As I turned toward the back of the line, I heard someone shout my name. Jen, Laura, and Will were waiting in that same line.
After this, my first — and ultimately only — Character stop, Jen and I joined up and stayed together for the rest of the race. Several other friends were “leapfrogging” with us, stopping for characters and then running ahead to the next one. I however, realized very quickly how hard it was to start and stop for these races. I made the decision to just keep walking. Don’t stop.
I got uncomfortable. Physically, I was fine aside from the usual RunDisney discomfort (sore feet). My head space and mental game was starting to crumble. I couldn’t have told you at the time, but my emotions were starting to creep up. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, even when I found myself among half a dozen friends. Screwing a smile on my face, I tried looking strong…even though I was falling apart inside without really knowing.
At that point, I told Jen what was going on. That all the emotions of returning to a RunDisney race were finally breaking through. That over the course of the last 2 years of feeling alone and wanting to quit it all, You…dear reader, listener, viewer…were out there. You found me this weekend…on the course, in the parks, at the start lines…telling me your stories full of emotion and gratitude…sharing with me your victories and love for this community.
I finally realized what it was I missed. It was you. And I couldn’t deal with the emotion of it all.
The last 4 miles were an emotional roller coaster. If you had asked me I couldn’t have told you any of this. I cheered with the spectators, and retreated back to my own mind. I needed the people that were my safe space.
It was after mile 12 that I decided I wanted to wait for the Slackers and cross the finish line with them. I started the race with them, I wanted to finish it with them. Standing around for 10 minutes or more (it was probably more but it doesn’t matter), I was happy to share the last finish line of the first weekend back with the people I love.
There was no plan. There was no strategy. I did what I needed to do, and I allowed myself to process what had just happened…to me and for all of us.
What I learned through this weekend, is that yes, we missed RunDisney, and it was a joy to be back. While many of us missed the usual things — Carissa’s countdowns, the fireworks, the confetti, running through the parks — each of us found something unique to our experience that we didn’t even know we missed. I had no idea how much I missed you. How much I needed to see you. To shake your hands, to give you hugs, to hear your stories. I missed you more than any castle, mile marker, or finish line.
Thank you for sticking with me through all of this, for saying hello. You will never know how much I needed to see your smiles. Until I see you again, Happy Running.