I've been stalling. I don't know how to put my experience into words, and I don't quite know where to start recapping the race. I do know that I'm not going to do a linear, mile-by-mile type of recap. I'll most likely just be sharing my thoughts about the race weekend randomly as I think about it.
I thought I'd start with a FAQ. I sent this question and answer series as part of a thank-you email to my friends and family that contributed to Andy's incredible scheme. The most relevant part, for those of you who are curious about how the actual race-running went, is the question about the hardest part of the race. If I was going to tell you one story about the race and how I pulled through (besides, of course, my audio cheering squad), that would be it.
Amy's Half Marathon FAQ
Were you surprised by Andy's scheme?
YES! I had no idea what he was plotting.
How did you find out about the surprise?
Towards the beginning of the race, somewhere in the middle of mile 2. All of a sudden Andy's voice came on in the middle of a song, explaining what he had arranged. From then on, every couple of songs, I was surprised with your messages - he had sprinkled them throughout my playlist without me noticing.
Did you finish?
YES! I crossed the finish line and got a medal that I've been proudly wearing around my neck for about 48 hours straight now. It was one of the most meaningful moments of my life.
A half marathon is HOW long?!
How many people ran the half marathon?
A whopping 12,000! About 2/3 did the entire half marathon, and the other 1/3 did the half marathon relay (split the race between 2 people).
What was the hardest part and how did you get through it?
Mile 5-9ish. As most of you know, the race organizers had announced the possibility of being kicked off the course for being too slow, and I had a lot of anxiety about this. I wasn't sure whether that threat was actually going to be enforced until I saw the evil dudes on bikes. At around mile 5, a guy on a bike in an orange safety vest who looked uncannily like John Malkovich rode up to those of us who were towards the back of the pack and informed us that we had 7 minutes to get to the next mile marker to stay on pace. I took my headphones out and asked him if they were really picking the slowest people off. A really sad look came over his face as he told me that, yes, people who fell too far behind would not be permitted to finish.
He also pointed out 2 volunteers just ahead of me who were running with big balloons. These women were the "pacers." In order to maintain a successful pace, I needed to stay at or ahead of their pace for the rest of the race.
From then on, with a determination I had no idea was in me, I made it my mission to keep up with them. For the next 4 or so miles (which were the most boring part of the course - on relatively dark roads/highways between the parks), I ran with them and chatted with them. And listened to your messages. I was far beyond what I believed was my physical capacity at that point, but I refused to let them slip too far ahead of me, and knowing that another message from one of you would be coming soon helped me keep my head up.
Once I hit mile 10, there was plenty of distraction. I felt like the finish line was in sight, and the sights and sounds of Hollywood Studios and the rest of the course carried me through to the end. I stopped caring about how uncomfortable I was because I knew then that I would finish.
Did you run with Disney characters?
They didn't actually run with us, but they were stationed along the course cheering us on. Some highlights included Rafiki, Timon, Woody, Chip & Dale, Goofy, and the old dude from Up! Mickey and Minnie were also at the start and finish lines. I got a high five from Minnie as I crossed the finish! There was also live entertainment throughout the race.
Really?! You didn't know about the messages?!
Really. It was a complete shock. I wish I could have seen the look on my face when I first heard Andy's voice come through my headphones.
What did you eat at the Food & Wine Finish Line Party at Epcot?
When I was planning to run this race, I was sure that the party would be a huge motivation to finish. But for the last few miles, I got more and more nauseous (not surprising considering I was pushing my body much harder and further than it had ever gone), I couldn't fathom eating or drinking. Especially drinking. My hats are off to the atheletes who went straight for the beer & wine. Just before we left, I used my voucher (for 1 food item) for a Nanaimo Bar from the Canada booth. Nanaimo bars are one of my favorite things ever, and I thought I might be able to stomach it, but it was really disappointing in every way. Just wrong. It was just as well, probably shouldn't have been eating anything, but I was sad to see that Epcot didn't do my favorite treat proud. Andy got spanakopita from Greece and we called it a night. We did go back to Epcot the next day and wandered around the festival booths a bit, but this trip wound up being a lot less about food than I expected. In a good way.
How long did it take you?
A long time. Let's just say it was over 3 hours. But I don't care about the time at all. I just wanted to cross that finish line!
I heard you had another surprise this weekend...!
Yes! One of my dearest friends from college, Jeff, flew down from New York to surprise me at Disney World. He and his best friend Stella (who I was also friends with at Cornell) were waiting for me in front of Cinderella's castle on the first day of our trip!! Andy and Jeff spent months coordinating this.
Are you going to do another one? How about a full marathon?
Not in the plans. I'm really excited to continue running, but I plan on sticking with much shorter distances. 5k is much more my speed. We're already signed up for a 5k race next month!