Week 14 - Spirit

Early in 2016 my wife Laura told me that her friend Prasanthi decided to run the Walt Disney World Half Marathon. Prasanthi is not one who would classify herself as a runner. This would be the longest distance she'd run and she challenged herself to do the training and complete this milestone in the self-proclaimed the most magical place on earth. In a show of support, Laura also registered to run the race so they could train and travel together. Now being the astute mathematician she is, Laura saw that the registration fee for the full marathon was the same as the half distance and discovered she could run twice the miles for the same cost. Naturally that option was the most economical, and so she chose the full distance. I, possibly being not of sound mind at the time she told me this, too decided to register for the full marathon. One participant soon became three which then grew to five after another friend and her friend registered. All said and done, we had 12 people traveling to Walt Disney World to either support Prasanthi or run a race ourselves, including Prasanthi's sister, father and mother. Friday night, the night before the half marathon, an electrical storm rolled. For the first time in history a Walt Disney World race was cancelled.

Needless to say, a wave of disappointment rolled through all of us. I was upset when my knee went out a month before the race, but at least I had that time to deal with it mentally. My entire family wasn't flying out and spending a week at Walt Disney World, either. We felt terrible for all those runners who spent hundreds and thousands of dollars to spend time at Disney and run this race, just to have it ripped out from under them. Then, something amazing happened.

The remnants of the electrical storm lingered Saturday morning, leaving the weather cold and rainy. Laura, her friend Vicki and I all slept in a bit then meandered across the Caribbean Beach Resort to hunt down some breakfast. As we strolled the 1.2 mile loop that circles the lagoon connecting the island-named habitations of the resort, we saw a couple of people running the path...wearing race bibs. We continued our walk and more appeared, this time some in costume. Then more. We were awestruck. We look out around the lagoon to see so many more people running 11 laps around the resort in the cold and rain to earn their race medals, which Disney gave to half-marathon participants even though they did not participate in half marathon.

I've never met a single non-runner who saw a race finishers medal and said, "I have to have that! How can I get it without actually running the race?" As runners, the medal is a certificate of accomplishment. Without the race it is meaningless. So, it only stands to reason that if you are given a medal without having run the race, especially one as prestigious as a Disney World race, then you run the race yourself and earn your medal.

We passed these runner's on our way to breakfast, teary eyed and inspired, cheering them on all the way. As we approached our destination at Old Port Royale, there weren't just runners in the square, there was a full fledged cheering section complete with spectators holding signs, cowbells, and even a makeshift water stop! If the runners were going to run through the rain, we were going to cheer through it.

After gathering some breakfast we returned outside to eat and cheer. The longer we sat, the more the magnitude of the whole thing began to sink in. There were a ton of runners out there on that loop, all feeding off each other. No one complaining about the canceled race or the weather. Just running, jumping, cheering, and smiling. Eventually word started to trickle down that this wasn't just happening at our resort. Resorts all around Walt Disney World had been taken over by hoards of spirited runners and spectators. Spectators who turned luggage tags into ceremonial medal for finishers. Who borrowed toilet paper from the resort to use as finishers tape. Who hijacked cups from the to-go stations inside and filled them with water from the complementary pitchers at the concierge desk to hand to runners. Who started Facebook events to commemorate the day and organized group photos. I even jumped in and started taking photos with my iPhone of every runner who came by so they could have and official unofficial race photo. I never saw this person, but I heard rumors that Disney was actually sending official photographers to the resorts to document the spectacle. Weather be damned, we made our own race.

If my knee could have held up I would have been out there running it myself. And for Laura, who was preparing for her full marathon the next morning, this was an incredible inspiration. For the vast majority of us, running isn't about the medals or the accolades. We run for ourselves against ourselves. We run because we can and to push ourselves to find out limits. Some prefer to run alone, and others thrive off the group camaraderie. Sometimes it hurts, but those bouts of self-inflicted pain help us appreciate all the joyous feelings. The spirit of the running community is infectious, and it's something I hope I never take for granted.

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This may be my last post for this race, but there will be more running and more fund raising to come.